The Sacred Scrolls of the Scriptures
PAUL precedes every epistle of his with the name given to him when he began the separate ministry assigned to him by the spirit (Acts 13:2). The following gives the opening words of each epistle:
To fully appreciate the significance of the name Paul at the portal of every epistle, we ought to study all of the passages in which he describes his ministry. It is evident that it is not a mere personal appellation. It was given to him after his separation from the rest (Acts 13:2,9). Saul is just as good as Paul for the purpose of identification. It is evident that Saul was his personal name which he kept so long as he was associated with the Circumcision, but when the holy spirit separated him for a special work his name was changed to Paul.
We have found that, in the case of other apostles, the name given to them was an index of their spiritual service. Simon was called a Rock (Peter) to denote his place in the foundation of that ecclesia. What is the significance of “Paul”? It is usually dismissed as being a Latin name, without any particular meaning. That it was a common name among the Romans seems evident, but it does not satisfy our sense of the fitness of things. Why should Saul be given a Latin name? He seldom spoke or wrote in Latin. Why should his name be changed at all to one without significance? “Saul” means “asked for,” and suggests the request of the people to have a king like the other nations. It stood for conformity with the world and for physical stature and spiritual decay. It coupled him with the son of Kish, and the wayward nation before they acknowledged David, the man after God’s heart.
It seems possible if not probable that “Paul” is the masculine form of the Greek word paula, which would be paulos, meaning cessation or an interval. This is derived from pauõ, “to stop, cease,” from which we have our English word “pause.” The aptness of this significance becomes more striking the more we learn of the apostle’s ministry. The whole of his service is occupied with a pause in God’s dealings with Israel. It fills up the interval between their rejection of the kingdom and the return of the king in power.
Paul’s ministry is an episode in God’s revelation, connected with, yet distinct from, the rest. This, we submit, is the thought which greets us at the portal of every epistle. Paul, whose name opens them all, is not merely the person who wrote them, but the appellation given to him at his separation and a distinct token of their unique and parenthetic character.
Paul is alone in writing the great doctrinal epistles to the Romans and Ephesians, as well as the personal letters to Timothy and Titus. In all his other writings he associates others with him. In each case the added names are significant, however little we may be able to gather from them. The aptness lies not alone in the meaning of the names but in the very fact of joint authorship. The definite doctrine which he stands for is developed in Romans and Ephesians, where he writes alone. In the other epistles, which are largely concerned with the correction of departure from these, the divine principle of a double witness demands at least two names in the introduction.
In Galatians, where it is important that the apostle bring the greatest possible amount of influence to bear, he associates all the brethren with him in his defense of the evangel.
In Second Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, and Philemon he unites Timothy with himself as a joint author. Timothy means “God-honoring,” a most appropriate name with which to begin epistles concerned, in large measure, with correction or entreaty. Sosthenes is associated with Paul in First Corinthians. His name is suggestive of salvation–the “place of salvation.” Sylvanus, called Silas by the author of Acts, joins with Paul and Timothy in the writing of the two Thessalonian letters. His name, like our “sylvan,” seems to suggest a forest, but its point is not apparent. Paul himself does not always appear in the same character. In Galatians, he insists most strongly on his divine apostolic commission. In the three preceding epistles, he is a “called apostle.” Romans and Titus prefix his apostleship by characterizing him as a slave. In Philippians, corresponding with the character of the epistle, his slavery alone is mentioned. To Philemon, he writes as a prisoner. To the Thessalonians, he omits any description of himself. These are small points, but, like a key, which may be very small yet unlock a large door, they open up to us the proper perspective with which to view each epistle. To say, for instance, that Philippians was not written by the apostle Paul might be misunderstood, yet the statement conveys an instructive truth. It is not as an apostle, but as a slave, that he penned that epistle. Galatians, on the other hand, demand a recognition of his apostleship.
Another point of prime importance is the title of our Lord which is almost always used. It is evident, from the many variations in the manuscripts, that the early scribes, like the vast majority of His saints today, had no conception of the vast difference which the simple transposition of His name and title produces. They saw no harm in writing “Jesus Christ” when the text read “Christ Jesus.” The tendency seems to have been to put His name first, as it is done today. Paul alone uses “Christ Jesus,” placing the emphasis on His title in recognition of His present exaltation in the heavens (1 Peter 5:10,14 should read “Christ” for “Christ Jesus”). And this is almost characteristic of the introduction to his epistles. Even Titus reads “Christ Jesus” in Codex Alexandrinus.
Like the name “Paul,” this title involves one of the essential truths of the present economy of God’s grace to the nations. In Hebrews, James, John, and Jude the Lord is viewed from the standpoint of His rejection. His exaltation waits until the day of His manifestation. He is never called “Christ Jesus” as though He were already exercising the office of the Messiah. Paul is not concerned with His rejection on earth, but with His exaltation in heaven, where He is seated at God’s right hand far above the highest archangel. His present place of power and sovereignty in the celestial realms is acknowledged by Paul when he uses the title “Christ Jesus.”
Thus the forefront of almost every one of Paul’s epistles reminds us that their proper application is the interval of Christ’s rejection on earth and His investiture with heavenly honors which we are destined to share with Him.
TO WHOM PAUL'S EPISTLES WERE WRITTEN
As the accompanying list shows, all of Paul’s epistles are addressed to the Uncircumcision, and none are written to the Circumcision. Timothy is only an apparent exception to this, since his father was a Greek. The destination of all was outside the land of Israel and none are sent to the dispersion among the nations, as is the case with Peter’s epistles.
Roughly speaking Paul wrote nine epistles to seven ecclesias and four letters to three private persons. The objection that these epistles apply only to the ones to whom they are written is sustained to a limited extent by the local allusions, which we cannot appropriate. Can we trace a definite title to any of these unfoldings? What right have we to take any of them to ourselves?
The answer lies in the introduction to the Ephesian epistle. It was a circular letter for all saints who believe in Christ Jesus. In those days this excluded all of the Circumcision whose hope rested solely on Messiah’s future glory. It included all who base their expectations on His present exaltation in the heavens.
Thus the Ephesian epistle, which transcends and ranks all the rest, is distinctly and directly addressed to us. In it, we have specific directions as to our relation to Paul’s prior ministries, which are unfolded in his previous epistles. Not only are we unable to directly apply their local allusions, but even their doctrine is to be modified to accord with the latest and crowning revelation as given in this epistle. The evangel which Paul had preached, which is categorically set forth in the Roman group of epistles, is definitely included in the present grace, only that the privileged and prior place of the Jew no longer obtains (Eph.3:6). Justification and conciliation, the great themes of these epistles, are ours just as really as they belonged to the Romans and Corinthians and Galatians. The promise of His presence is ours just as it was the expectation of the Thessalonians. Yet each of these doctrines is modified and glorified by the ranking revelation of the Ephesian epistle.
From these considerations, it is evident that the addresses on these epistles, with the exception of Ephesians, are intended to limit the contents to the place or ecclesia to which it was sent. We are not dependent on mere tradition when we apply portions of them directly to ourselves. They reveal Paul’s evangel, which is for us. And the indirect profit is great, for all is done in the atmosphere of grace into which we have come.
Strictly speaking Romans was not written to an ecclesia, but to the individual saints. This accords with the character of the letter which deals with our personal relationship to God rather than our corporate testimony. The same is true of the Ephesian group. Paul addresses the saints rather than the ecclesia as a whole in Philippi and Colosse.
In the personal epistles Paul assumes the character of a father in writing to Timothy and Titus. He calls them his children, genuine and beloved.
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