For the Pauline epistles, discuss how the opening and thanksgiving sections shed light on the purposes
of and main themes in the letters
The standard structure of an ancient Hellenistic letter consists of an opening, a body and a closing. Usually the letter starts with a salutation (chairein) of “A (sender) to B (recipient), greetings” format. Apostle Paul’s letters usually follow such Hellenistic conventions but he would also significantly expand on its basic pattern to incorporate certain distinctive Christian features that often introduce the main themes or specific purposes of his writing. Typically, Paul would identify himself as an “apostle” and “servant” and address the recipients as “saints”, “beloved” or “the church of God” at a certain geographical location. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor wrote that a number of Greek private letters from Egypt from 200 BC to 200 AD contained an “I give thanks to the gods" formula. It was not a banal convention but was used only where the parties were genuinely religious and “what is uppermost on the writer’s mind surfaces in the thanksgiving period”.1 Paul’s thanksgiving content showed more evidence of Jewish than Hellenistic “eucharistic” influence as they were directed to God (1 Cor 1:4; 1 Thess 1:2) who is known as the “Father of Jesus Christ”.
Unlike secular greetings, his opening sections would often contain a benediction (“grace and peace to you”), prayer, blessing, doxology or thanksgiving to God that often set the tone and preview of the following content. The benediction affirms the spiritual blessings that the recipients partake of and express the desire that they may experience these blessings more richly. More often than not, the opening sections have a didactic
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer: His World, His Options, His Skills, (The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, Minnesota, 1995), page 57
see Walter A. we shall review the opening sections of New Testament letters that explicitly bear the name of Paul as sender according to its canonical order. 1998 ). it would be rewarding to pay close attention to the opening sections of Pauline epistles and observe how light is shed on their main themes and purposes. The thanksgiving sections could show the apostle’s deep pastoral concern for the readers. Yarbrough. In the thanksgiving.function that sets forth certain theological teachings that he deemed to be important. page 276
. As such. Elwell and Robert W.2 It was his obligation to preach the good news to Greeks and non-Greeks for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe (1:16). 15). Paul found it necessary to lay out the gospel message which he intended to preach amongst them.
The letter to the Romans was written to a community that Paul had no personal acquaintance of.
Major theological themes in this grand exposition of the gospel can be found in the opening salutation as well. (Grand Rapids. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and Theological Survey. he thanked God that their faith was reported “all over the world” (1:8). Michigan: Baker Books. Paul would highlight that this message of salvation was divinely promised through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures concerning the Jesus Christ who mediated humanity and
For a discussion of the purpose of Romans. For the present paper. After identifying himself as an apostle set apart for the gospel. Paul planned to visit Rome so that he may preach the gospel and have a “harvest among you” (1:13. In doing so.
Isaac. he received grace to call people to the “obedience that comes from faith” (1:5). Paul would argue that Jews and Gentiles alike were morally responsible before a holy God. (5:12-21) According to Paul. But through the gospel. It was also testified by the Law and the Prophets so Paul would make his case by constantly appealing to Old Testament figures like Abraham. Paul would highlight his weakness and suffering for the sake of Christ. In the following content. Because of Christ. persecution and abuse that an apostle had to go endure. Sosthenes was mentioned as a co-writer but Paul seemed to be the main speaker in the ensuing content. sinners are justified freely by His grace through faith in his atoning sacrifice (3:24-25).
The opening salutation identified Paul as having been called to be “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (1:1).God. a righteousness from God through faith in Christ apart from law has been revealed (3:21). This is the obedience that comes from faith. Jacob and Adam. life and righteousness came through the obedience of Jesus. In the letter. The general revelation of God available to all humanity rendered everyone without excuse. While we were still sinners. Paul planned to send Timothy to remind them of his way of life is consistent with his teachings as well as to make a personal visit (4:19-21). Paul would need defend his vocation and rights as an apostle against critics (4:1-4. 9:1-23). Although sin and death came through the disobedience of Adam. Instead of boasting about his achievements and miracles. His critics may also boast in their
. Some arrogant people may have an over realized eschatology that had no room for the hunger. Christ died for us (5:8).
page 281 – 282
The opening thanksgiving was conspicuous in that it complimented the Corinthian church as having been enriched “in all your speaking and in all your knowledge” (1:5) and not lacking any spiritual gift (1:7). B. Winter argued that Paul consciously framed his polemic against their claims. An Introduction to the New Testament. 14:2-5). Moo and Leon Morris. persuasive words” but the Spirit’s power (2:4)3. 1992). D. A. Michigan: Zondervan. the gift of tongues and prophecy and knowledge would be meaningless and profitless like noisome cymbals. 3940). Paul would point out that these spiritual gifts need to be exercised in love (13:1-3) and for the purpose of edifying each other (14:12).wisdom and eloquent speech so that Paul had to stress that God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1:27) and the power of the gospel does not depend on “wise. But it said nothing about their growth in genuine love and fellowship. The spiritual gifts of “speech” and “knowledge” were points of contention which Paul would need to address later in the letter (8:1. 13:8-9. W. While the Greeks demand wisdom and the Jews demand a display of divine power. See D. The one Lord dispensed diverse gifts so that the different members of Christ’s Body would be interdependent and had no ground for boasting. not to mention students to their schools”. Therefore all ground for arrogant boasting was removed. Paul pointed to the crucified Christ as both the wisdom and power of God (1:24). The church needed correction because it had become arrogant in its own human wisdom (3:18-21) and gifts of tongues were practiced in a confusing and disorderly manner (14:17-18. (Grand Rapids. Without love. J.
The Sophist movement was “characterized by rhetors whose skill and training in oratory attracted public admiration.
Paul’s apostolic identity by the will of God was again expressed in the salutation found in 2 Corinthians 1:1. Just as the sufferings of
. It would also hint at the collection to be made for the people of God in Jerusalem (16:1-4). Paul may have in mind the fact that the church was divided into different parties aligning themselves with important leaders like Apollos and himself (3:1-23). They need to be reminded that other churches exist who also call on the name of the Lord. the church in Corinth was described as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” along with other churches everywhere who call on the name of the Lord. Their calling to be holy was not answered yet. Paul needed to remind them of their new sanctified position in Christ so that they must not tolerate sexual immorality in their midst.In the salutation. Like different members of the same body. It was not his business to judge those outside the church but the church must preserve her integrity by expelling those inside who committed sexual sins that were prevalent in the city of Corinth (5:9). Jesus is stressed as both the Lord of the Corinthian church as well as the other churches (1:2). these believers should be interdependent and share resources. He praised God for His comfort in all his troubles so that he could comfort those in any trouble with the comfort received from God.
There was also a scandalous case of sexual immorality involving a man with his father’s wife in their midst. Some of the church members were proud of their wisdom and spiritual gifts but they lacked love for others. In doing so.
Daniel G. : InterVarsity Press. (Downers Grove. The hardships he endured served to drive him to rely on God for deliverance rather than on his own ability (1:8-10). 1993).4
The opening salutation pointed to a major theme in the epistle as the church was divided regarding the legitimacy of Paul’s apostolic authority. Martin.. so also through Christ his comfort overflows to others (1:37). and to introduce an implicit appeal to his readers in response”. Paul’s willingness to preach the gospel at his own expense was evidence of his sincerity and divine calling (2:17). Indeed the life and existence of the church itself was proof of God’s work in and through the ministry of Paul (3:2–3).
Paul identified himself in the salutation to the churches in Galatia as an apostle sent “not from men. Gerald F. Paul’s apostleship was criticized by so-called ‘super apostles’ as inferior because of his suffering (11:23–33). Ralph P. Reid. . S. nor by man”. Ill. “These thanksgivings function in Paul’s letters to introduce the main themes of his writing. Therefore.Christ overflow into his life. but appointed by “Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised
Hawthorne. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. to express his perspective on them. . Unlike the ‘super apostles’ who peddle the word for profit. his defense would focus on his sufficiency as an apostle precisely because his suffering served to reveal the knowledge of God to the world (2:1516). 167
. The church in Corinth was expected to share in both sufferings and comfort. his unimpressive outward appearance (10:10) and his insistence to preach the gospel free of charge (11:7-12).
Instead he went immediately to Arabia and later came back to Damascus. Paul argued that God’s promise is freely given to those who put their faith in Christ who “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (3:13). When he met with the apostles like James. they gave him the right hand of fellowship and recognized his ministry to the Gentiles. The letter did not have the typical opening thanksgiving as Paul seemed astonished at how quickly the Galatian believers had turned away from the gospel and quickly moved into the issues of concern (1:6).
In the following benediction. In the following passage. 6:12. Throughout the epistle. 3:1. 24. Paul declared that the death of Christ for our sins rescued us from the present evil age (1:3). Paul would defend his apostleship from detractors by highlighting that he did not go to Jerusalem to meet any of the existing apostles after the Damascus experience.
. 14) and therefore all attempts to preach another gospel that adds works of the Law to the gospel of grace must be totally rejected (1:6-9). 5:11. 4:5.him from the dead” (1:1). circumcision and observing the law in order to be justified. 21. The double stress on the divine origin of his apostleship and denial of any dependence on human authority will be an important key theme in the letter. John and Peter. the cross of Christ is stressed as the means of our salvation (2:19. 13. Against the Judaizers who insisted that the Gentiles must keep Jewish food laws. The emphasis focused on how those who seemed to be important did not add anything to his gospel message.
dominion and authority (1:19-22). A lengthy benediction with exalted language followed with praises to God for His election and redemption through the blood of Christ (1:4-7). The doxology was punctuated with the recurring phrase “to the praise of his glory”. 247
The letter to the Ephesians began by identifying the sender as Paul.. Paul also gave thanks for the faith and love of the Ephesian church for all the saints (1:15) and prayed that they may know God better especially the mighty power “for us who believe” (1:19). 4:8–10). an apostle of Christ by the will of God and the recipient as “the saints in Ephesus.
The lengthy opening section anticipated a major theme in the letter with regards to conflict of the church against “powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (6:12). Magical practices in Ephesus were promoted by the Artemis cult where the goddess of the underworld was believed to have cosmic supremacy. S. This power manifested at the resurrection and enthronement of Christ is far above all other rule.5 People in the region had great fear of spiritual “powers” so with pastoral concern Paul stressed the supremacy of Christ’s power over all principalities and dominions (1:19–23. even Christ” (1:10). Paul understood this salvation plan as originating before the creation of the world and revealed at the appointed time to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head. the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). The believers were urged to put on the full armor of God so that they would be able to stand their ground (6:13).
He reminded them of his constant prayer and affection for them while being confident that God will complete the good work he had begun in them. The church had been generous in providing aid when Paul was in need in the past. Paul the Letter-Writer. He would counter them with the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and sharing in His sufferings and life over against any confidence in the flesh (3:4-11).
It called attention to the warning Paul would later issue regarding those ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ who put their confidence in circumcision for their righteousness (3:2. Then he prayed that their love may abound more in knowledge and discernment until the day of Christ (1:9-11). The opening thanksgiving section also anticipated Paul’s expression of gratitude for the church’s gift through Epaphroditus at the end of the letter (4:10 – 19). an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God” (4:18). hope and charity of those among “the faithful among the saints” in Colosse (1:314).Philippians
After the opening salutation.18). page 64
. Paul thanked God for the partnership of the church in Philippi in advancing the gospel since the very beginning (1:5). The church needed the reminder to imitate Paul as he imitated that humility of Christ (2:6-11). Paul made a distinction between the faithful and the saints unlike in Romans.6 He
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. Their ministry of generous giving was “a fragrant offering.
Jerome Murphy-O’Connor observed that the ground of thanksgiving section lies in the faith.
Downers Grove. Craig A.8
The simple salutation identified Paul. These remarks implicitly anticipate Paul’s main purpose in writing in response to the ‘Colossian heresy’ infecting the church.
The missionary team had left the young congregation under the pressure of persecution so they were anxious to find out how they were doing in their absence. 5.. IL : InterVarsity Press.7 MurphyO’Connor also saw the “emphasis on the universality and fruitfulness of the gospel implicitly condemns the sterile parochialism of the Colossian heresy”. observation of religious festivals. 2000 8 Ibid. Their conversion from idolatry took place with a demonstration of power and deep conviction in the gospel that had produced good work.appeared to have in mind the faithful who kept the faith in his thanksgiving. page 64
. In doing so. Evans. Silas and Timothy as the senders (1:1) but Paul probably played the main role in its composition. they became a shining example to other churches to be imitators of the missionaries and their Lord. Timothy had
Porter. His gratitude also encompassed the fact that the believers had heard “the word of truth” and understood “God’s grace in all its truth”. 9). worship of angels. He wanted to ensure that the Colossians were not taken captive by “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (2:8) which required circumcision for the Gentiles. . labor and endurance (1:3. food laws. Stanley E. The ground of Paul’s thanksgiving rested on the remembrance of how they “welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit” despite persecution and severe suffering (1:6).: Dictionary of New Testament Background : A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. false humility and ascetic restrictions (2:19-23). electronic ed.
Paul mentioned the believers’ steadfastness in the midst and their exemplary faith to other churches.
The themes of eschatology and endurance in the face of trials would loom large over the rest of the epistle. Paul earnestly prayed that the believers would increase in love and be kept blameless and holy until the coming of Christ (3:13). including the Thessalonians who received the apostolic testimony (1:10). Paul would correct the confusion created by certain reports that the day of the Lord had already come (2:1-12). Silas and Timothy as the senders (1:1) but Paul probably played the main role in its composition. These were the concerns that Paul sought to address in the letter main body.
The simple salutation identified Paul. hold on to the apostolic teachings that had been passed on to them and be strengthened in every good deed and word (2:13-16).successfully reestablished contact with the church and returned with joyful news of their perseverance in the midst of opposition (2:17–3:10). One of the purposes of Timothy’s trip was to encourage them to persevere in their faith and not be surprised by the trials they were facing. the eschatological perspective that God will act justly by judging their persecutors and comforting to the troubled was a source of strength (1:5-12). He would also encourage the church to stand firm. In his thanksgiving. For those who suffer. In reminding them of God’s initial work of grace in their midst. Paul encouraged them that Christ would one day come to be glorified amongst those who believe.
As an experienced campaigner. He was keenly conscious of the divine origin of his vocation and the “glorious gospel” entrusted to him as a result (verse 11). It was precisely because of the grace poured out in his life and the truth of the gospel entrusted to him as an apostle. Paul was eager to instruct Timothy to devote himself to preaching and teaching the
. that Paul was concerned about false doctrines. the main theme of warning Timothy against the false teachings of ‘gnosticizing Judaizers’ and “guard what has been entrusted” to his care became evident (6:20). he wanted to encourage his young “son in the faith” to fight the good fight. Divine grace and mercy he received despite his past as a blasphemer and persecutor of the church (verse 13) and a chief of sinners (verse 15). he thanked the Lord Jesus Christ who has enabled him and considered him faithful to be appointed to His service (verse 12). The display of Christ’s patience in Paul’s life served as an example for those who would also believe and receive eternal life (verse 16).1 Timothy
In the opening section. The recipient Timothy was addressed as his “own son in the faith” (verse 2). Some of these false teachers were claiming to be teachers of the law but did not know how to use it properly. as we have seen in the opening section. myths and endless genealogies (1:4).
Even in this introductory passage. Legalism obscured and distorted the gospel of justification by faith. Therefore. Paul identified himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the command of God. In the thanksgiving section. holding on to faith and a good conscience (1:19).
Paul could encourage Timothy to carry out his responsibilities as a preacher of the gospel (4:2). of love and of self discipline (1:6-7). Again. In a personal thanksgiving.
In the opening section. Paul identified himself as an “apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. The recipient Timothy was addressed as his “dear son”. In light of that redemptive plan. He also encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” that was in him for God did not give them a spirit of timidity but of power. this gospel of grace that leads eternal life was revealed. which was promised before the dawn of time (1:9). according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” (1:1). He was also instructed to pass on
. They were able to endure suffering because of God who had saved them by his grace and purpose. we notice the pastoral burden in Paul’s heart that the truth be kept and guarded. It was for the sake of this “promise of life” that Paul understood as the reason for his suffering (1:12).Scripture (4:13) as well as to appoint qualified men to be church leaders who “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience” (3:9). With the appearance of Christ. he reminded Timothy of his sincere faith which was nurtured by his grandmother and mother. He was to keep the pattern of sound teaching which he received from Paul and guard the deposit that was entrusted to him with the help of the Holy Spirit (1:13).
The purpose of Paul’s reminder in the thanksgiving set the mood for his call to Timothy not to be ashamed but to join in his suffering for the gospel (1:8). It was for this gospel that Paul was entrusted as a herald and apostle.
”10 He warned of a time when men will not tolerate sound doctrine but chase after teachers who will say what they wanted to hear (4:2-5). See Martin.
In the salutation.. His commission was for the “faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (1:1).9 “In the face of defections and of the depredations of false teachers they emphasize instructions on ministry. the young preacher should present himself to God as a workman who correctly handles the word of truth (2:15). church order and related themes in order to protect the apostle’s congregations in Asia Minor and Greece during the final years of his life. 658
. Davids. Titus was addressed as his true son in their common faith (1:4). Instead of indulging in quarrels. Paul was burdened to guard the legacy of sound teachings entrusted to him because of its divine origin and promise of eternal life. Peter H. S.
The adversaries of Paul were identified as Hymenaeus and Philetus. IL : InterVarsity Press. The opening greeting made evident how Paul perceived his own calling and message in the context of redemptive history. c1997 10 Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.these teachings to reliable men who would in turn teach others and endure hardship like a good soldier of Christ (2:2-3). Ralph P. electronic ed. Downers Grove. This faith and knowledge was promised before the beginning of time and revealed at the appointed time through the apostolic preaching entrusted to him by the command of God (1:3). Paul identified himself as a “servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ”. who claimed that the resurrection had already taken place. 2000.: Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments.
mere talkers and deceivers. Paul was eager to guard it by appointing sound teachers. Apart from being men of integrity and “blameless”.
. Paul identified himself as “a prisoner of Christ Jesus” and Philemon as a “dear friend and fellow worker” (verse 1). this sound doctrine comprised of the grace of God that taught everyone to live godly lives while waiting for the coming of Christ who gave himself to redeem people from wickedness and purify for himself a people eager to do good (2:11-14). It was due to the divine origin of the apostolic message and its crucial importance that Paul also commanded Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (2:1). Paul mentioned Philemon’s faith and love “for all the saints” as the ground of his gratitude. especially those of the circumcision group” motivated by dishonest gain (1:10-11). the elder must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it had been taught so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (1:9). Evidently. In his thanksgiving.Therefore he had assigned Titus in Crete so that he may appoint qualified elders in every town.
In the opening greetings. Since the message entrusted to him was of divine origin. His love had given Paul great joy. The reason for such requirements was the presence of “many rebellious people. encouragement because he had “refreshed the hearts of the saints” (verse 7). We have no knowledge of Apphia and Archippus but Paul named them as the other recipients along with the church that met in Philemon’s home.
Paul urged him to refresh his heart in Christ (verse 20). The mention of his state of imprisonment highlighted the emotional side of his plea. He was careful to make a firm request that he would be forgiven and welcomed back no longer as a mere slave but also a dear “brother in the Lord” (verse 16). this overview of the epistolary function of salutary greetings and thanksgiving in the writings of Paul showed that they often served to shed light on their main themes and purposes.The opening remarks set the stage for Paul’s delicate plea on behalf of Onesimus.
. Onesimus became his “son” while he was in chains for the gospel and proved to be a source of help (10-12).
In conclusion. which called to mind the earlier commendation of Philemon’s love which had refreshed the hearts of saints (verse 7). But he did not want to do so by compulsion or command (verse 8) but to elicit Philemon’s response on the basis of love. One could imagine how difficult it would be for Philemon to refuse this intensely personal request after the ‘open letter’ was read in the presence of the church that congregated at his home. the runaway slave of Philemon. In prompting for Philemon’s response at the end of the letter.
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