The Pauline Epistles: What They Really Are- Introduction

The Epistles are the letters found in the New Covenant that were written by the Jewish Apostles to the communities of believers in Yeshua, the Messiah. Most were written to Gentile converts to this new sect of Judaism, called “The Way” (much later redesignated as Christianity), as well as the Jewish believers in Messiah who worshipped with them. The two exceptions are “Hebrews” and “Jude”, which were written exclusively to Jewish believers.

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The purpose of these letters was to help these neophyte believers maintain a proper form of worship and to keep them walking a straight line on the path to salvation by reinforcing the lessons they were first given and help them to overcome external forces that were weakening their faith and obedience to God’s commandments.

The purpose of this study is to remove these letters from the heavenly realm which Christianity has placed them into, and bring them back down to earth, where they belong, by demonstrating they are not God-breathed scripture on the same spiritual level as the Torah or the writings of the Prophets; rather, I intend to show that they are nothing more than managerial instructions to communities who were losing their way along the path to salvation through outside influences, as well as inter-personal issues within the congregations (there were no “churches” at that time).

Yes, they did refer to God-breathed scripture, but referring to scripture does not make something scripture, itself.

Of the 21 Epistles, it has traditionally been believed that 13 of them were written by Shaul (Paul), but recently scholars believe he only wrote 7 of them (Romans, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians.) The remaining epistles accredited to Shaul are believed to be (what is called) “pseudo-Pauline” letters, with some written by an unknown author, and others (maybe) by a secretary of Shaul with his input or based on notes he may have made.

With regard to these epistles, especially the ones written by Shaul, as we go through them you need to understand that the proper way to interpret these messages is to take all things in their proper context, validate them hermeneutically with the rest of the Bible, and use the proper cultural understanding of the words, phrases, and idioms prevalent at that time.

Shaul was a Pharisee, a “Jews’ Jew”, and he never converted to any other religion or belief system than the one he was trained to know by his mentor, the great Rabbi Gamaliel. The only thing that changed with Shaul on his way to Damascus, when he received a vision of the Messiah (Acts 9), was that he stopped rejecting Yeshua as the Messiah and believed he was, truly, the anointed one of God who’s coming was announced in the Tanakh. From that time on, his purpose for living changed from persecuting followers of Yeshua to making more of them.

When Shaul wrote his letters, he used what I call “Jewish Logic”. Being Jewish, myself, I am very familiar with the way we debate a point, and we see this very clearly and often in the way Shaul writes his letters. I often recommend that the best way to understand what he is saying is with each paragraph, read the first couple of sentences and then the last couple of sentences, and ignore the middle. He tends to expound a little more than most people can follow, and if you stick with the first and last couple of sentences in each paragraph, you will probably get the gist of his meaning much easier.

You see, a Jew will never tell you what something is until he has told you everything it is not. For example, explaining that robbing people is wrong:

If not a law, then I could take what I wanted to at will, and there would be no sin to what I did. I could be forgiven for doing so, since it is not against a law. I could even be congratulated for being a good robber.
But there is a law, so I can’t rob people.

Why not just say robbery is against the law?

Another factor is that Shaul knew what he was trying to “sell” (yes, like it or not, missionary work is a sales job) was a difficult product to push to his chosen market. To the Jews, at least they already were living (for the most part) a Torah observant lifestyle, so to them all he had to do was prove that Yeshua was the Messiah, the one that every Jew was waiting to arrive.

But, with the Gentiles, it was a totally different story.

They were living a hedonistic, drunken, and sexually perverse lifestyle, i.e., having a really good time, and that was how they worshiped their pagan gods. Now, here comes this little Jewish tent maker from Tarsus, and he is telling them to give up all the fun they’re having and live a righteous life of self-control so that when they die, they will be rewarded with eternal life and joy.

Okay, the eternal part sounds like something I would want, but giving up what I have been enjoying all my life for the unsubstantiated promise of an afterlife? From an invisible God? Who sent a son who isn’t even here?

I was in Sales for a long time, and you can take it from me- that’s a tough sell!

So, what he did (as we will see when we analyze these letters) was to bring these pagans along a path to righteousness slowly- a step at a time. The letter written to the neophyte believers (Acts 15) clearly indicates that the Elders in Jerusalem agreed to this process, in that they only required four things as an immediate change in lifestyle and worship, stating that the laws of Moses would be heard in the synagogue every Shabbat. Unquestionably, they were expecting that the Gentiles accepting Yeshua as their Messiah would, eventually, be living a Jewish lifestyle.

As we examine the letters Shaul sent to the different communities of believers (what we would call in Hebrew a Kehillat), we will see this pattern over and over, which is (I believe) one of the main reasons that they have been so terribly misunderstood. By the end of the First Century, when the leaders of what had become Christianity were almost exclusively Gentile, they could not properly interpret Shaul’s meaning. They mistook his negative side of the argument as his conclusion, which will become easier for you to understand as we go through this teaching.

Besides this, there were political influences that made these Gentile believers afraid to be associated with the Jewish population, which was a major factor in their separating themselves from a “Jewish” form of worship. But that is for another study.

We will take a look at each letter in detail and the order in which they appear in the New Covenant. We will discuss who wrote it, to whom it was written, and what the writer wanted it to accomplish.

My source document for the information regarding who wrote the letters, when, and to whom is the “Quest Study Bible” (NIV version) and Wikipedia; any other reference material I may use will be annotated in the lesson.

I will start this teachings series on the next posting; if you are not already a subscriber, I would ask that you do so now, “like” this post, click on Notifications and that little bell so you will be notified the next time I post. Please share this lesson with everyone you know so they also have a chance to learn.

If you miss anything, you will find each lesson on my ministry website ( under the BLOG tab, in the Teaching Series subgroup.

That’s it for now, so until next time: l’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

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