In my last blog, I examined the importance of grammatical structures in Scriptures, specifically in the writings of the life and words of Jesus which are found in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
My husband David, who is a Bible scholar by heritage and by his own study, suggested after reading my blog that I also examine the writings of Paul, as his voice and grammatical style are so different than the Gospel writers. In addition, Paul wrote almost half of the letters in the New Testament.
David noted that there continues to be a debate of Paul’s authorship to the book of Hebrews. Many of the thoughts of Hebrews are similar to those found in Paul’s writings. However, based upon the grammatical style, vocabulary, and structure of Hebrews, there are many contrasts to his church letters.
As I look at the writings of Paul, these are much different than the other writers of scripture as his letters are very personal; just as the grammatical structure in an academic essay is much different than in a personal email or letter to a friend. Demetrius of Phalerum (360-280 B.C.) once wrote, “Every one reveals his own soul in his letters. In every other form of composition, it is possible to discern the writer’s character, but in none so clearly as the epistolary (On Style, 227).”
In Paul’s letters, he opened his heart and mind to those he loved. He struggled with the problems of the Early Church and how to guide their members, much like a Modern-day Pastor.
Even though a letter should be written in the same manner as a dialogue, we are only getting one side of the dialogue in Paul’s letters. We do not have in our possession the letters which he was answering, or the letters in response to Paul’s from the churches. It is much like listening to one side of a phone conversation.
Therefore, in understanding the grammatical structure of Paul’s letters, we also have to use the skill of inference. Based on the writings of the Old Testament, World History and Biblical scholars, we have to deduce the situation that Paul is referring to in his letters.
Paul was writing to meet the needs of an immediate situation, usually a threatening situation such as in Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, or Thessalonica. He was not giving thought to anyone else in the immediate world in the present or in the future (Barclay, Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians)! In spite of this, his letters are still relevant today. One of the things I love about Paul’s letters is how they continue to speak to me and inspire me today- 2,000 years later.
As a new Christian at fourteen years of age, I clung to every word in the book of Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but pray about everything. Tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank Him for His answers. If you do this, you will experience a peace that passes all understanding which will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Living Bible Translation, Phil 4:6-7). This verse helped me get through many trials at that time in my life and continues to be a guiding principle today.
One important aspect to keep in mind, however, as we look at the grammatical structures of Paul’s letters is that he did not normally “pen” his own letters. He dictated them to his scribe, or secretary, and would then add his own authenticating signature. We do know one of his scribes, Tertius, who added a greeting in Romans 16:22.
In I Corinthians 16:21, Paul does write his own letter as he states: “This is my own signature, my autograph, so that you can be sure this letter comes from me.” Is there much difference between this passage and the other passages that are “penned” by someone else?
Yes, there is. David also stated that in Paul’s personal writings, his sentences go on and on, actually filling a whole paragraph with a single thought. His grammar becomes less structured and his sentences also become very involved.
When Paul composed his own letter’s, he was pouring out his heart to his friends. He was not as careful about the academic styles that are necessary or writing a document to be published (or copied as in that time). As a Grammarian and a Professor of Writing, it is important for me to keep these things in mind as I read Paul’s letters as daily devotions and words of inspiration. Paul’s letters are living, passionate words cascading from his heart to those in need.
David and I are currently revisiting the book of Philippians as our world has just turned upside down during the Covid-19 pandemic. This letter is known as The Epistle of Excellent Things” and “The Epistle of Joy”. In addition to heading Paul’s encouragement not to “worry about anything”, he reminds us to “Rejoice in the Lord” always!
Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
Excellent post. You captured very well the heart and voice of Paul. I am amazed at how God inspired the Scriptures by His Spirit while keeping the voice and personality of the writer. Thank you for shedding light on this wonderful mystery of our faith.