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The MOST Theological Collection: Basic Scripture

"Chapter 23: St. Paul's Epistles"


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We will examine the chief difficulties in each Epistle, taking them up in the probable order of composition.

First Thessalonians: Both Epistles to Thessalonica probably were written from Corinth in 51 AD.

2:14-16: These are terrible lines. St. Paul says that the Jews who are persecuting him so often and so severely are "filling up the measure of their sins." Compare 2 Maccabees 6:13-16 for the theme: Some, God lets have their fill of sin, then comes final ruin; others, He punishes them on the way, to bring them to their senses, so they may not have to be in final ruin.

4:13-17: Some of the Ths were fearful: It would be sad if I died before Christ returns, then others would see Him before I. Paul tells them Christ will come down, the dead will rise first, then the risen dead and those who remained alive (who never will die) will be taken together in the air to meet Christ.

Because Paul twice says "we the living", it is charged he thought he would see the end. It does not follow. Good teachers often say I or we to make things concrete and vivid. In 2 Ths 2 Paul makes clear that he does not expect to be around at the end. So the dissenters deny he wrote 2 Ths - even though the ancient witnesses for both are equally strong.

Some also take this passage to mean a rapture: suddenly Christ will take all the good people out of the world, leaving only the wicked. The good will reign with Him on earth for 1000 years. Dissenters argue that this passage says the living will be taken in the air to meet Christ - in the Gospel account of the Last Judgment, all are on the earth. - They overlook genre. Both passages have strong apocalyptic color. With apocalyptic, one should not press details.

5:23-25: Paul assures them God will keep them without blame until the end - that is, if they do not reject that special grace. But it is clear: God will offer the grace of final perseverance, contrary to old theologians who thought He might not give it even if the person was not guilty of mortal sin.

Second Thessalonians: Here, as we said, Paul makes clear in chapter 2 he does not think he will live to the end. He says first must come the Antichrist, and the great apostasy - on it cf. Luke 18:8, Mt 24:12 and 2 Tim 3.1-7.

Galatians: If Paul wrote to the north Galatians, he wrote from Ephesus in 54. If to the south Galatians, it would be 48 AD.

He wrote first, to answer charges he was not sent out by Christ, was only a second stringer. He insists he did have the mission from Christ, received on the road to Damascus.

The second reason: to combat the Judaizers, who said Christ was not enough, we must keep the Mosaic law too.

Paul would call that a different Gospel, in chapter 1. He says vehemently: even if an angel came down and preached a different Gospel, let the angel be cursed.

Paul reacted against the claim of the Judaizers in language that is potentially quite misleading (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16 on Paul's obscure language) by saying: We are free from the law. If we study carefully other passages, especially 1 Cor 6:9-10, we see we will be lost if we break the law. So Paul really meant this: To keep the law does not earn salvation; but one could earn to lose it by grave sin.

2:15: a) Justification by faith: This is a central theme for Paul, especially in Galatians and Romans. By justification he means getting right with God, but that is no mere extrinsic, forensic thing as Luther thought, so that even after justification one is totally corrupt. No, Paul often speaks of the Christian as "a new creation" (Gal 6:15;2 Cor 5:17). Creation, making out of nothing, is different from the same old corruption. He also says the Holy Spirit dwells in the souls of the just as in a temple (1 Cor 3:16-17;6:19). He will not dwell in total corruption. That would not be a temple.

Further, we must understand faith as Paul means it. It is not, as Luther thought, just confidence that the merits of Christ apply to me, or taking Christ as your personal Savior, so that after that one can sin freely and it will not hurt him. If we read all places where Paul speaks of faith, keep notes, add them up, the result is this: 1)If God speaks a truth, in faith we believe it in our minds; 2)If God makes a promise, in faith we are certain He will keep it; 3)If God tells us to do something, we do it, we obey. Paul thus speaks (Rom 1:5) of the "obedience of faith", the obedience that faith is; 4)all is to be done in love. (A standard Protestant reference work, Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, Supplement,p.333, gives the same picture of faith as we have just done). This is vastly different from Luther's mistake. He thought after getting faith, one can sin freely. He told his lieutenant Melanchthon (Epistle 501): "Even if you sin greatly, believe still more greatly." No, faith includes obedience. So it does not exempt from obedience. In Gal 5:19-21 (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:5) Paul gives a list of the most important great sins, and adds that those who do these will not inherit the kingdom of God. When we inherit from parents, we have not earned it, but we could have earned to lose it, to be disinherited.

b) Paul on the Law: Paul makes two kinds of statements about the law.(1) Focused view: At times he says no one keeps it, even can keep it (Rom 3:19-20). Gal 3:10-11 says that those who depend on works of the law are under a curse. For the law curses (Dt.27:26) those who do not keep it. Yet the law gives no strength, it only gives knowledge of what is right or wrong (Rom 3:20). Gal 3:22 says all are locked up under sin. Romans 7:9-10 says: "I [any person] was alive [spiritually] once without the law [before the law came]. But when the command came, I died." In Romans 8:7-8 we read that the flesh is intent on death: "The flesh is not subject to God, neither can it be. Those in the flesh cannot please God."

(2) To have the law was a great privilege of the People of God: Paul says this in Romans 3:3; 9:4. And in Romans 7:14-16 he says the law is holy and good.

Solution by focused vs factual views: It is clear that Paul has two different ways of looking at the law. In the focused view, as he says in Romans 3:20, "through the law comes knowledge of sin" - but that is all that comes. The law as such gives no strength. Now, evidently, to be under a heavy demand, with no strength, means a fall is inevitable. Then the law curses the one who falls. (We name this perspective "focused" since the view is limited, as if looking through a tube, one sees only what is within the circle formed by the tube).

In the factual view, that limit is removed, one sees the whole horizon, and sees that even before Christ came, divine help, grace, was available (in anticipation of the merits of Christ). If a person uses it, he will not fall, not be dead and cursed. So the law then is a privilege, for it points out the things that are harmful to us. Augustine said well (Confessions 1.12): "Every disordered soul is its own punishment." In focused view Paul says we cannot keep the law, yet in a factual view he says in Phil 3:6 that he, before knowing Christ,kept the law without blame.

If only we keep in mind these two ways Paul uses, we can solve many difficult problems in Paul which commentators in general fail to solve. As we go through his Epistles, we will point out these passages.

2:11-14: Paul corrects Peter for being weak-kneed at Antioch, for going back on the decree he himself had helped make in the Council of Jerusalem. There is no hint Peter broke with Paul over this. Then the first Pope would have reversed his own doctrinal decision. Paul's rebuke bore on weak conduct, which would give scandal, not on doctrine. (This was not the first time Peter was weak).

2:20: "He loved ME and gave Himself for ME." Beautiful: The death of Christ was offered for each individual, so that the Father pledges an inexhaustible treasury of grace and forgiveness in favor of each one (cf. Vatican II, Church in Modern World § 22). One could be lost by resisting grace, and if he becomes blind through repeated sin, he will be incapable of receiving the grace the Father offers.

3:28: Paul says it makes no difference if one is slave or free, male or female. But he is speaking of gaining justification by faith. We cannot say: Therefore it makes no difference in all other things - such as women's ordination. Paul is talking about only the one thing, considering context.

5:16-25: Paul had told them: You are free from the law. They were exultant: They could sin as much as they wanted! Paul of course has to correct it, but he does not want to take back his words, so he shows that if one follows the Spirit, He will not break the law as a matter of fact. He gives two check lists, to see if one is following the Spirit or the flesh.

Philippians: We do not know the date and place of composition of Philippians. Best prospects are: from Rome (61-63), or Ephesus (c.56), or Caesarea (c.58).

1:6: Paul promises that God who has begun a good work in them will bring it to completion, assuming they do not reject His grace. This means God surely offers the grace of final perseverance.

1:21-24: Paul knows he may be killed. He cannot decide if he would rather die and be with Christ, or live to work for Christ -marvelously selfless attitude! It is clear that Paul knows he could be with Christ even in the interval between death and resurrection. Really, Paul says he was a Pharisee, and they definitely did hold for the survival of souls. Some today deny Paul saw this, appealing to an alleged Hebrew unitary concept of man: he is only a body with breath. Then there could be no survival. We saw the answer to this error in Chapters 16 & 17 on the Psalms and Wisdom literature.

2:6-11: This is a beautiful hymn, it may or may not have been composed (or revised) by Paul himself. He urges them to imitate the ways of Christ who did not hold on to the privileges He could have claimed from being divine, instead, He took the form of a slave, became obedient even to death. For this the Father exalted Him above all. "Form of God… form of slave" could mean either divine nature...human nature, or the external glory of each - which would imply the reality of the natures. Jesus in v. 7 made it a policy not to use His divine power for Himself - so His humanity was unprotected against the anxiety of knowing what lay ahead of Him.

2:12-13: This is a text of great importance. Paul tells us to "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling [really: with great respect] for it is God who works [produces] in you both the will and the doing." This translation follows the definition of the Council of Orange (DS 374 - by special approbation of Pope

Boniface II, its canons are equal to those of a General Council). In 2 Cor 3:5 Paul says (again translating according to the definition of DS 377): "We are not sufficient to think anything of ourselves as from ourselves: our sufficiency is from God." These mean the same as 1 Cor 4:7. We cannot get a good thought, make a good decision, or carry it out without God. We might seem to be puppets then, but in 2 Cor 6:1: "We urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain." So in some way we do control the outcome. The Church has not told us how. But in 1607 Pope Paul V followed the advice of St. Francis De Sales, refused to approve either the so-called Thomist, or the Molinist explanations of how these texts fit together (DS 1997). Here is a newer proposal (W. Most, New Answers to Old Questions, St. Paul Publications, London,1971): God sends an actual grace to me. With no help from me it causes my mind to see something as good (2 Cor 3:5), and makes me favorably disposed (almost automatic). At that juncture when I could reject, if I merely make no decision against it, do nothing, grace moves into phase two, and works in me both the will and the doing (Phil 2:13) while I cooperate by power being currently received from grace.

This shows us our utter dependence on God, so that when I do something good, my contribution at the basic level, at the point which decides the outcome, is a zero, the lack of a bad decision. Also: in doing good or evil, I use the ontological power God supplies. So I should work, "with fear and trembling", or, very respectfully (cf. Wm.Most, Our Father's Plan, Manassas, VA, 1988, chapter 18).

3:8: Paul says he has gladly taken the loss of all things, and considers them as dung or rubbish, to gain Christ. - He does not mean, on the absolute scale, that creatures are not good - God made them good, Christ used created things, took on a created nature - but, on the relative scale, comparing things now to those of eternity, present things are of no import. So there is a benefit in giving things up for Christ - contrary to the false notion of the GUN (Give -up-nothing) Spirituality which says there is no benefit in that - leading to loss of vocations, and many failed marriages (cf. again Our Father's Plan, chapter 20).

First Corinthians: Corinth was the most licentious city in Greece. And Paul had more trouble with the Corinthians, to judge by his letters, than with any other place. Population was about a half million in his day. He wrote the first Epistle probably in 57. We gather from 5:9 that there was another letter to Corinth before our First Corinthians. And from 2 Cor 2:3-4 7 9 we gather he wrote still another letter between our First and Second letters.

Chapters 1-4: Messengers form Chloe tell Paul of factionalism in Corinth: they are proud of the group to which they belong. Paul spends four chapters to work against such pride. In contrast, he preaches (1:22), "Christ crucified, a scandal to the Jews, and foolishness to the gentiles." Plato had said (Symposium 203) that no god associates with men. Aristotle had said (Ethics 8:7) that friendship between a god and a man was impossible. What would they say if told that God became man - and that He willed to die a horrid and shameful death for man? This did seem to be foolishness. And it was scandal to the Jews for in Deuteronomy 21:23 they read, "cursed be anyone who hangs on the wood." So Paul said in Gal 3:13 that Christ "became a curse for us." In 1:26-29 he points out they have no church members of worldly repute: why be proud? He seems to imply they got into the Church because they were more in need of help, weaker. In 4:4 he says he has no sin on his conscience that he knows of, but he may have done something wrong without realizing it. That would not be a mortal sin, yet Scripture calls for reparation for such things: cf. Leviticus, chapter 4; Gen 12:17; Lk 12:47-48, and many more passages.

6:9-11: Paul lists the chief mortal sins, and says those who do such things "will not inherit the kingdom of God." Please recall comments on Gal 2:15: as to salvation, you cannot earn it, you inherit it, but you could earn to forfeit it, to be disinherited. 6:11 says only some of the Corinthians - even in a licentious city - were guilty of such great sins. This makes a question about Romans, chapter 1, where it seems all are guilty of all sins. Our approach by seeing two ways Paul looks at the law - focused and factual, which we saw at Galatians 2:15 - will solve the problem when we get to Romans.

6:15: Points out that to become one flesh with a harlot is to make a member of Christ a member of a harlot.

Chapter 7: Paul here says that in virginity/celibacy objectively there is a help to spiritual growth which is not found in marriage. We add: subjectively, that is, considering the individuals, God does not intend all to be virginal or celibate. So for those for whom He does not plan it, it would not be a help, but a danger. Hence they are not lacking in generosity to God if they follow the path He has designed for them. Paul VI (To 13th National Congress of Italian Feminine Center, Feb.12, 1966) said: "Marriage is a long path toward sanctification." This is true, if one uses it according to our Father's plan. Love is not a feeling, but a will for the well-being of another for the other's sake. Feelings tend to lead into this, if one stays within God's plan - otherwise, true love hardly can develop, for premarital sex is not being concerned about the well-being of another, it is using another, putting the other into a state of danger of eternal suffering instead of well-being. In such a context, love can hardly develop - but it will feel like it, the feelings will be the same. But if one works according to our Father's plan, unselfish, generous love will develop, which will pass on to the children, leading to very generous sacrifices for their well-being. And the need to get along with a partner whose psychology is so very different - male and female psychology are very different - calls for development of unselfishness. If done with the intention of following the Father's plan, this is highly sanctifying.

The reason why virginity/celibacy offers an advantage for those for whom God plans it, is that it helps one become free of a most powerful pull of creatures: cf. Mt 6:21: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." One can put his treasure in anything and can be held in varying degrees by the object. The less such pulls, the more free is the heart to rise to the divine level. Of course, for the real effect, it is not enough to get detached only from sex: general detachment is needed.

8:1 - 11:1: Paul says that an idol is nothing, so food offered to idols is not changed. However, he argues eloquently and at length against scandal, leading another, who cannot understand the meat is not changed, into sin by forcing him (social pressure) into doing what he cannot help thinking is wrong. As part of this plea, in 9:24-27, he points out that he - even with his heroic work for Christ - feels the need of mortification to tame the flesh: otherwise, he might become a reject, even after such work for Christ. It is evident: Paul does not believe that just once "taking Christ as one's personal Savior" makes him infallibly saved, no matter what sins he would commit. Paul here ,in context, is talking about losing heaven itself, not just about losing some additional thing. In the next chapter, chapter 10, he gives many examples from OT to show that the original People of God did not have assurance of salvation from being God's people.

14:34: He says women must be silent in church. Is this basically social custom, or a doctrinal statement? Most likely it is doctrinal. At any rate, Paul VI and John Paul II gave many statements against women's ordination. Most significant is the letter of Paul VI to Archbishop Coggan, Nov 30,1975: "She [the Catholic Church] holds it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church... and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."

Chapter 15: Many Greeks, especially Platonists, did not like the idea of a bodily resurrection for all. They hoped, rather, to escape reincarnation in time. Paul insists that if we deny the resurrection of members of Christ, it implies denial of His resurrection, for Head and members must both rise. He says the risen body will be "spiritual". This does not mean it will not be flesh - the Greeks would not mind if it were only spiritual - but that it is controlled by the spirit, the soul, and so operates according to the principles of spirits. Jesus after resurrection, 1) proved He had flesh, He let them touch Him, ate with them; 2) came through closed doors without bothering to open them.

Second Corinthians: It is hard to reconstruct the picture. It seems Paul's first letter was not well received, and relations got worse. He probably made a hasty visit to Corinth (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1-2; 2:1) which also accomplished little if anything. When he got back to Ephesus, he wrote a third letter, which we do not have. Finally, he sent Titus to try to smooth things out. While Titus was absent, there was the riot of the silversmiths at Ephesus told in Acts 19:23 - 20:1. Paul left for safety, for Macedonia. There, perhaps at Philippi, he met Titus, found a reconciliation had been made. From Macedonia he wrote Second Corinthians, probably in the fall of 57.

This is a very human document, Paul does much pleading to the Corinthians. So there are few difficulties that need explanation.

3:5: The correct translation, following the definition of the Second Council of Orange (529 AD. By special approbation of Pope Boniface II, its canons are equivalent to those of a General Council: DS 377) is this: "Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as from ourselves; our sufficiency is from God." (Other versions speak of taking credit instead of thinking. Greek logizomai has both senses. But we follow the council). It means that by our own power we cannot even get a good thought. On this please see the comments above on Phil 2:13.

3:6: "The letter kills, but the spirit gives life." This is often misunderstood. In context, it means that the old law brings only death (please recall the focused way of speaking, explained at Gal 2:15), while the new regime of the Spirit brings life. In the same vein, in 3:7 Paul speaks of the old law as "the ministry of death," and in v.9, "the ministry of condemnation".

5:1-10: Paul speaks in a very human way here: He would like to have the glorified body put on on top of his present body, without dying. He knows that is not possible, so he gets up his confidence or nerve and says he would like to be away from the body and be with Christ:5:6-8. Some commentators here want to say Paul thinks he could have a resurrection body in this life without dying. Paul has no such thought. In 1 Cor 15:51-52 it is clear the change comes after death. And 2 Tim 2:17-18 complains against some who thought the resurrection had already taken place. - Please see again our comments on Phil. chapter 1.

5:21: "The one who did not know sin, He made Him to be sin for our sakes." Similarly in Gal.3:13 Paul said Christ became a curse-- for Deuteronomy said that anyone who hangs on the wood is cursed. He seemed to be cursed, so as to overcome that curse that we might escape eternal death. (Note that Hebrew sometime uses a noun for an adjective- it had few adjectives. So curse means cursed).

Chapters 10 - 11: Paul here begins to speak somewhat clearly about opponents in Corinth. We are not sure precisely what sort they were, except that they called themselves Superhebrews and Superapostles, and said they had great credentials, Paul had none. Paul in 11:13-14 says these men "transform themselves into angels of light. That is, they take on the appearance of good to deceive people. Satan himself does that, in all centuries, including our own, where he distorts the true concept of love for his purpose, at times wiping out direct relation to God: "We can have that only through people."

Paul hates to "boast", to rehearse his own credentials, but when the good of souls demands, he will do it. After several delays he says he is a Hebrew of the Hebrews. But more important, he has suffered so much for Christ: he enumerates his hardships. And remarkably, he says in 11:27 that even with these, even though his travels sometimes made him short on food, he added fastings.

Chapter 12: Continuing his reluctant "boasting", he finally admits that he is the one who was taken to the third heaven. But then, to keep him from pride, he was given "a sting of the flesh, an angel of satan to buffet him." He prayed earnestly to get rid of it. God told him: "Power is made perfect in weakness."

What was the sting? Some think persecutions - but Paul considered them a privilege, not something to pray against. Others say sickness - Paul likely would say: May His will be done. Others think violent sex temptations. Many Saints especially in the Dark Night of the Spirit have experienced these, without falling at all. Yet after a siege, a good person may feel uneasy: "Did I really hold out?" So this is a great help to humility, this experience of weakness, in which power is made perfect.

Romans: It seems Paul had written Second Corinthians from Macedonia, in the fall of 57. He went to Corinth, perhaps directly, perhaps by way of Illyricum. He came to Corinth, his third visit, in the winter of 57, and stayed three months in Achaia. During this period, probably at Corinth, he wrote Romans.

We do not know when Christianity first came to Rome. Some Jews from Rome were at the first Pentecost, and became converts. We do not know if they went back to Rome - some Jews may have stayed to live out their last years in the Holy Land.

All admit Paul wrote Romans, but there is a problem over 16:1-12, which seems to be an unrelated letter of recommendation for Phoebe, who has worked for the church at Cenchrae. Most admit it is by Paul, but it is not clear if it was part of Romans. Also there is a problem about the doxology in 16:25-27. Is it part of the original letter? The Council of Trent declared all these part of inspired Scripture, regardless of the question of authorship and place.

1:1 - 2:17: The great thrust of the first three chapters is to show first that Gentiles are all hopeless if they try for justification by keeping the law, then to show, starting at 2:17, that the Jews are also hopeless. Finally in chapter 3 he sums up: all are hopeless, and so all must turn to faith for justification. It is very important to keep this picture in mind. Many commentators today overlook this. In dealing with chapter 1 where Paul makes so great an accusation against the gentiles, many say that this applied only to some of them, or expressed just tendencies. But to say that ruins Paul's great argument. Then some could achieve justification by law, not by faith.

Before looking at that problem in detail, we see Paul opens by saying atheists are inexcusable. That is true of real atheists. But we know St. Justin Martyr (First Apology 46) said that some in the past, such as Socrates, who were considered atheists, were really Christians, because they followed the divine Logos, the Word. Justin also said (Second Apology 10:8) that the Logos is in everyone. What does He do there? In Romans 2:14-16 we will see that He writes the law on the hearts of every one, i.e., tells them what is morally required. So if Socrates obeys that, as he did, he is accepting the Spirit of Christ, not knowing that is what he is accepting. Now we learn from Romans 8.9 that if one has and follows the Spirit of Christ, he belongs to Christ. So Socrates belonged to Christ. Hence he was Christian, not by formally joining the Church, but substantially. We add this: to belong to Christ means to be a member of Christ, which is also a member of the Church. Vatican II wrote in LG §49: "All who belong to Christ, having His Spirit, coalesce into one Church."

In 1:17-18 we meet the words "the justice, or righteousness of God." Many commentators think this means God's action to save His people. But this view neglects the normal usage of Hebrew sedaqah as revealed by a concordance, and by a study of the same concept in intertestamental literature, in the New Testament, in the Rabbis, in the Fathers. Rather: God in His Holiness loves everything that is good (please recall our comments on sin as a debt in chapters 5 and 11). So He will act accordingly, will reward those who keep His covenant, punish those who do not (this is simply the Deuteronomic theme we saw widely in the Old Testament). So in this light we will be able to understand the words of Romans 2:6-13 where Paul says that "God will repay each one according to his works." If we look at the fundamental sense, no creature by its own power can generate a claim on God - all is mercy. But in the secondary sense, given the fact that God freely made a covenant, then if people obey, He owes it to Himself to reward or repay; but He also pledged to punish disobedience. Actually, in 2:6 Paul is quoting Psalm 62:12 which in the Hebrew says: "You O Lord, observe the covenant bond (hesed) - for you will repay each one according to his works."

But so many did not observe the covenant, they took the opposite path, and went lower and lower, as if on a spiral, became more and more corrupted and blind. At the end of chapter 1 Paul says that they, "having known (exact translation of aorist participle epignontes) that these things deserve death, not only do them, but approve of doing them." It is bad enough to sin - but to call sin good is the lowest degradation.

It is widely admitted that the picture in Chapter 1 is too strong. And Paul himself knew it, as we said before, in 1 Cor 6:11 he said: "Certain ones of you were these", great sinners. The solution is simple: in Romans 1 he uses a focused picture; in 1 Cor 6:11, a factual picture. Paul can move from one perspective to another as his argument requires. In 2:14-16 he turns to a factual picture, then in 2:17 goes back to a focused picture.

Now we must add something even more striking. At the start of chapter 2 (we recall the chapter and verse numbers were not by Paul, were added long after), Paul says that anyone who condemns another, "for this reason... he is guilty of the very same sins."

Commentators do miserably at this point. They do not know what to do with the opening word of chapter 1, dio, "for which reason". They try to say it is a Greek particle with hardly any meaning. - There are such words, but dio is not one of them. It is a preposition dia with the relative pronoun: "For which reason." It ties the thought to what was said in chapter 1 of the vices of the gentiles. And soon it adds that all who condemn another are not just sinners in general - commentators try to get off by saying that - but are guilty of the very same sins. We can solve this if we use our focusing technique strenuously: The law in general makes heavy demands - gives no strength - so one must fall. But we must add: Each large precept in the law is a heavy demand - it gives no strength - so each one is guilty of each thing, that is, of "the very same sins."

2:17-24: Here Paul makes great charges against the Jews. Commentators know they are not realistic. So they try to soften by adding question marks (Paul's manuscripts used no punctuation at all). But if we see that it is a focused picture, there is no problem at all. At the end, in verse 25, we read "circumcision does help". If Paul had quote marks, he would have used them here to quote a Jewish claim against Paul. Paul at once adds: If you break the law, you might as well not be circumcised.

Chapter 3: Paul, after accusing Jew and Gentile, concludes: "The whole world is found guilty before God, for, on the basis of works of the law, all flesh will not be justified before Him. For through the law, [comes only] knowledge of sin." But no strength was given, so, as we said, all go down. This is a focused picture. Vv.24-26 are beautiful if read correctly, so as to understand what we saw at 1:17, that "justice of God" means His love or concern for all that is right, that is, for rectifying or rebalancing the objective moral order put out of line by sin. (We recall the words of Pope Paul VI, and of Simeon ben Eleazar in chapters 5 and 11, on this rebalance of the objective order). Without filling in this concept, then Christ would be merely the new propitiatory, with no more visible reason than to be smeared with blood like the old propitiatory. Then: Why such suffering for a mere ceremony?

6:23: Paul says the wages - what one earns - of sin is death, but the free gift - what one does not earn - of God is eternal life. This is the same as our saying about justification or salvation: You can't earn it, but you can blow it.

7:7-13: Paul keeps saying I. It means not himself alone, but any human. In 7:9-10 he implies two periods: 1) from Adam to Moses, when there was no revealed law, "I was alive at one time" having no revealed law to break; 2) from Moses to Christ, when there is a law. About the first period, as we noted, he says was he was spiritually alive. For there can be no violation of a revealed command when there is no revealed command. He is focusing on that kind of sin, leaving out of the picture the sin which can be committed by violating what the Spirit writes on hearts (2:14-16). In the second period, we have basically our familiar focused picture: the law makes heavy demands, gives no strength, so one must fall.

7:14-25: Paul repeats the ideas of 7-13, but in a psychological presentation. Within a focused picture, he can see what is right, but has no strength. So he is wretched. But Jesus, in chapter 8, will rescue him.

If we did not understand the focusing here, we would seem to see the total corruption Luther imagined: we can see what is good, but cannot do it.

8:1-17: Here, in another focused picture, the regime of the Spirit, as such, can bring nothing but good. However, now Paul breaks his focus a few times, chiefly in verses 9 and 17. Terrible misunderstanding would follow otherwise, that of Luther, who thought if one takes Christ as his personal Savior, he can sin as much as he wants. We answered this earlier, especially by noting that Pauline faith includes obedience (cf. Rom1:5) and so, faith which includes obedience cannot justify disobedience.

8:29-39: Paul speaks here of predestination. But we must watch the context, it is not a predestination to heaven (or hell) but a predestination to (full) membership in the Church - e.g., he speaks of the "call". Predestination is an arrangement made by Divine Providence to see that someone gets either that membership, or gets to heaven. We mentioned full membership, because there is a lesser, but substantial membership possible, as we saw above in comments on 2:14-16.

Scripture never speaks explicitly of a predestination to heaven. Earlier centuries thought it did, hence many terrible fears, and much confusion. Pope Clement VIII in 1597 summoned representatives of the "Thomist" and the Molinist schools to Rome to debate predestination and human interaction with grace. It ran for ten years, until Paul V in 1607 decided to approve neither side - a sign of Divine Providence protecting the Church. Both sides misused Scripture, taking things out of context, not seeing Paul spoke not of predestination to heaven, but of predestination to (full) membership in the Church. Hence, no good result.

Paul here and in chapters 9-11 says God predestines to this full membership without regard to merits.

If we may fill in on what Paul does not say, a new solution to the problem of predestination to heaven is this (cf. Wm. Most, New Answers to Old Questions, London,1971): There are three logical steps in God's decisions: 1) He wills all men to be saved (1 Tim.2:4--the founder of the "Thomist" school, Domingo Bañez, said God did not will all to be saved); 2) God looks to see who rejects His grace gravely and persistently - so that he throws away the one thing that could save him. With regrets God decrees to let those go, to hell; 3) All others not discarded in step 2 are predestined to heaven - but not because of merits, which have not yet come on the scene, nor even because of the lack of resistance, but because in step 1, He wanted to do so, and they are not blocking Him. (The same conclusion can be reached by the Father analogy: 1) Parents want all to turn out well; 2) the children do not have to earn love and care (parallel to predestination without merits); 3) but children could earn to be disinherited, rejected, let go to ruin.

11:25-27: Paul foretells the conversion of the Jews. He says they will be "saved". This means entering the Church. He cannot mean reaching heaven, for he knows that can happen even without formal entry into the Church, as we saw at 2:14-16. Paul does not say when this will be, but we get the impression it will be shortly before the end. Since Scripture also foretells the return of Elijah the prophet (Sirach 48:10; Malachi 3:23-24), we may wonder if he is to be the agent of their conversion. We note too the similarity in wording: in 11:25, a blindness has come in part on Israel "until the fullness of the gentiles enters"; in Luke 21:24: "Jerusalem will be trodden by the gentiles, until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled."

13:4: Writing in the time of Nero, Paul calls for obedience to the civil authority, unless of course it orders what is immoral. He said: "It [the civil authority] is a minister of God for good to you. But if you do evil, be afraid. For not without reason does it bear the sword. For it is the minister of God and avenger for [God's] wrath on the one who does evil." Therefore, to say capital punishment is wrong is to contradict St. Paul. One could, however, ask whether it is expedient or beneficial. (Nero was not at his worst in this period. But Titus 3:1 also calls for obedience, and was written probably in 65, when Nero was a wild tyrant).

14:1-15:3: Paul is urging avoiding scandal to some - we do not know their exact trouble - who are weak in understanding that no foods are wrong by nature. The thought is quite similar to what we saw in his treatment of scandal in 1 Cor 8 - 10 in connection with eating food sacrificed to idols.

16:1: Paul speaks of Phoebe who is a deaconess (diakonon) of the church of Cenchrae. The Council of Nicea, in Canon 19, explained about such women: "We have spoken of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, even though they have not been in any way ordained. They are surely to be counted among the laity."

Philemon: Paul sends Onesimus, a runaway slave whom he converted, back to his master, Philemon, asking him to take him back as a brother. Here we should recall the comments made on slaves at 1 Cor 7:21.

Colossians: Until the commentary of Meyerhoff in 1838, no one doubted Colossians was by Paul. Now it is very fashionable to say he did not write it.

There are two kinds of arguments: 1) External witnesses who says it is by Paul - an impressive list: Tertullian, the Muratorian Canon, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, plus heterodox authors Marcion and Valentinus. Colossians is at least probably mentioned in the works of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, St. Justin Martyr, and the Epistle to Diognetus. No ancient author contradicts or doubts.

The arguments against Paul's authorship are internal: 1) Vocabulary and style are somewhat different from other Epistles - but we reply that here he has a new kind of opponent, which calls for new words. Anyone who know that the pagan historian Tacitus wrote both his four historical works (very pungent and distinctive style), and the Dialogue on Orators, so different in style, will not be impressed. 2) Theological considerations: a) Paul speaks little here of justification by faith, salvation, law. - But he has little occasion here. His purpose is different. b) Christology: he does not speak of Christ as the Son who died, was buried, who is at the right hand of the Father. - Again, Paul has a different purpose. He does say that we have been raised with Christ, and sit in heavenly places with Him: 3:1-4. c) Eschatology: Paul does not here expect the end soon. - Nor does he elsewhere, as we showed in detail in commenting on 1 Thes 4:13 ff. d) Ecclesiology is more advanced. - Any live person should develop over a period of time. Paul now speaks explicitly of Christ as our Head - it was implied before in saying we are His members. Other developments are to meet the new opponents.

Who are the opponents? Two chief possibilities: 1) Gnostics. At least a start of Gnosticism was around then. Gnostics spoke of many intermediate aeons between God and the world, used terms such as pleroma (fullness), principalities and powers. 2) Jewish Apocalyptic speculators. They too used similar language. Hence we are not certain. It is clear Paul often uses the language of his opponents to meet them. And by 2:15 it is clear that the spirit powers these opponents say we must worship along with Christ are really, in Paul's mind, evil spirits. (Paul surely does not speak of nine choirs of angels).

Date and place of composition are uncertain. It could be Ephesus or Caesarea. Rome,61-63, seems somewhat more likely. The advanced doctrine on the Church means it should be relatively later in Paul's life.

1:15-20: may be a hymn. It surely speaks of Christ as the head, the firstborn etc. over all principalities and powers. So we need not worship them: in Christ all fullness (pleroma) of divinity dwells in bodily form.

1:24: Paul is pleased to fill up what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ in himself, for His body, which is the Church. Christ the Head lacked no suffering - but the whole Christ, including His members, may lack. Paul knows that since we all are part of the one Mystical Body, one can make up for another. He does that, heroically. Please recall our comments in chapters 5 and 11 on sin as a debt.

1:26: He begins to speak, not too clearly, of a mystery hidden from the ages. In Ephesians 3:6 it will come out more clearly. It is this: God calls the gentiles to be part of the People of God along with the Jews who accept Christ.

2:15: Christ despoiled the principalities and powers. So they are evil spirits, not angels.

2:16-23: Paul attacks the rules given by opponents who think they must have certain ascetic practices. Paul does not object to mortification in itself (cf. 1 Cor 9:26; 2 Cor 11), only to their reasons for demanding it. It seems they worship angels or spirit powers.

3:18 - 4:1 This is a picture of the ideal household. The husband has authority in matters pertaining to the household. Cf. Pius XI (DS 3709): "This order includes both the primacy of the husband in relation to the wife and children, and the ready and willing obedience that St. Paul commands [Eph 5:22-23]. This obedience does not deny or take away the freedom which fully belongs to the woman, both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble position as wife and mother and companion. Nor does it direct her to obey her husband's every request if it is not in harmony with right reason, or with the dignity due to a wife, nor finally, does it imply the wife should be on a level with those who are legally minors." It is merely that a committee of two can be deadlocked much of the time.

Ephesians: Again, as with Colossians, many think Paul did not write Ephesians. The arguments used against his authorship are much the same as for Colossians, and the answers are the same. Here are a few differences: in 2:11-22 Paul speaks of both Jew and Gentile being made one in Christ. They say this differs from Acts 28:24-28 where Paul speaks dimly of the fact the Jews will not accept Christ. - But the objectors miss something obvious: In Acts, Paul speaks of the Jews who still rejected Christ; in Ephesians he speaks of Jews who have accepted Christ. Further, the objectors say Paul took a dim view of marriage in 1 Cor 7; while here he is more optimistic. But in 1 Cor 7 Paul spoke of marriage and virginity/celibacy as both being graces. He was contrasting the different spiritual possibilities in 1 Cor. Here he is giving an ideal picture of the family, much like that of Colossians.

We said that the ancient witnesses who say Ephesians is by Paul are just as strong as they were for other Epistles of his, chiefly: St. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, the Muratorian Fragment, plus heretical authors: Marcion, Basilides, and Valentinus.

We conclude that the external evidence easily outweighs the very weak internal evidence against Pauline authorship.

The opponents here seem to be the same as in Colossians, because of several mentions of principalities and powers: 1:21; 3:10.

There is a different problem here. The opening line is usually rendered: "Paul, an the holy ones who are at Ephesus...." But several major manuscripts omit the words "at Ephesus. Further, in 1:15 and 3:1 Paul speaks as if he had not been to Ephesus. Yet we know he spent several years there.

The probable explanation is this: Ephesians was really sort of circular letter, and a blank was left, for the reader to fill in the name of the church where it was being read. The fact that circular letters are not known to have existed in that day proves nothing: Paul could still have gotten the idea.

Ephesians was probably written after Colossians. Paul is in prison - he was in several prisons. The traditional view is Rome, 61-63, but Caesarea is also possible.

Chapter 1: Here Paul speaks of predestination, but just as in Romans, it is a predestination to (full) membership in the Church.

2:8-9: Paul says that even faith, the condition for justification, is a gift of God. This does not imply a blind predestination: God offers faith to all; those who do not reject it get it. The process we explained in connection with Romans 2:14-16 is the explanation of how this works.

4:7: Here Paul speaks of grace given "according to the measure of the giving of Christ. " We need to notice from the context, vv.8-13, that Paul speaks here of charismatic graces, not of the graces essential for salvation. These latter He offers most abundantly, without measure, since the price of redemption earned an infinite objective title for each person (cf. Gal 2:20). But charismatic graces are given without regard to merit (cf. Mt 7:21-23) according to what the Spirit wills to give (1 Cor 12:11).

5:21- 6:1: Here we have the Haustafel, the ideal picture of the family, much like that in Colossians, except here Paul adds that the union of husband and wife is like that of Christ and the Church. In v.33 the wife should "fear" her husband. It means respect rather than fear.

The Pastoral Epistles: Denials of the Pauline authorship of these three Epistles are even more insistent than they were for Colossians and Ephesians. But the reasons given for denial are not really stronger.

The ancient witnesses to his authorship are very similar to those for many other NT works. The Muratorian Canon, from the second half of the 2nd century lists them as Scripture, seems to mean they are by Paul. St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Hippolytus, and Origen cite lines from these and explicitly attribute them to Paul. Eusebius, the first Church historian, says the 14 Epistles, including the Pastorals and Hebrews, are clearly by Paul (3.3.5). Still earlier, they seem to have been used by St. Clement (in 2.7, citing an expression used in Titus 3:1; 2 Tim 2:21 & 3:17), and St. Polycarp (4.1 citing from 1 Tim 6:7).

The objections against Paul's authorship are not very strong, all are merely internal evidence:

1) Style and vocabulary. - We have already seen that such evidence is never conclusive, surely not here.

2) The errors described seem to be Gnostic - but at least the beginnings of Gnosticism were around in the first century.

3)The organization of the Church seems more advanced - not surprising, these are later than other Pauline letters. In fact, in Philippians 1:1 we find mention of Bishops and deacons. And in the letters of St. Ignatius (died between 107 & 110), we see a well developed hierarchy.

4)There is stress on keeping the deposit of faith - not strange, for these letters are to two major Pastors, Timothy, in charge of Ephesus, and Titus in charge of Crete. We find Paul stressing tradition elsewhere: 1 Cor 11:2 & 23; 15:1 & 3; Gal 1:8-9; Phil 4:9; Col 2:6-7; 1 Ths 2:13; 4:1; 2 Ths 3:6.

5)Paul's travels after 63 AD hard to fit in. - Really, we have little definite about his movements after release in Rome in 63, since Acts breaks off then. Here is a possible reconstruction: soon after release, Paul did go to Spain, then came back to Rome. In July 64 came the fire, with persecution following. Paul soon left Rome, hiding from imperial police. Early in 65 he was in Ephesus with Timothy (1 Tm 1:3). After some time, he set out for Macedonia, where he wrote First Timothy. From there he may have gone to Corinth, then with Titus to preach in Crete. After a good start, he left Titus on Crete, went elsewhere, we known not where. Decided to spend winter in Nicopolis (prob.of 65-66 - several cities of that name, probably the one in Epirus), wrote to Titus to join him there. Must have worked hard in Nicopolis (Titus 3:12) and nearby. Later sent Titus to Dalmatia (2 Tim 4:10). - Next we find he has been arrested, is prisoner at Rome. Probably left in hurry when arrested, for he left cloak and parchments at Troas (2 Tim 4:13). From there to capital of the province. Had few defenders. Probably in prison in Rome in c 67 and wrote 2 Timothy there. Then a second hearing, and death sentence, flogged, beheaded probably outside the city. Second century tradition says it was at Aquas Salvias, about 3 miles from Rome on road to Ardea. Buried at once nearer Rome, along Ostian way.

There is no doubt at all these Epistles are part of inspired Scripture.

If one denies Paul as author, the dates suggested would be quite late. If Paul did write them, they must be before his death, of course.

First Timothy:

1:18: This seems to refer to Timothy's ordination: cf. 4:14.

2:15: One of the errors Paul opposes here is opposed to marriage. Here he says marriage is good, and the function of the mother is a very means of salvation. In general, to take the role God has intended for each one and to do it for that reason is very sanctifying.

4:1-5: Here are the errors against which Paul writes. In 1 Cor 7, Col 3:18ff and Eph 5:21 ff Paul presented Marriage as good; in Col 2:16 ff he spoke against errors in regard to food, as also in Romans 12. So these ideas in 1 Timothy are not strange, they are Pauline.

5:11ff: Paul does not contradict his advice in 1 Cor 7:40 where he advised it is better not to marry again. That is true unless the widows are misbehaving as those pictured here.


1:12: The prophet quoted here is probably Epimenides,6th century B.C. Polybius, in second century B.C. in 6.46-47 gives a similarly bad portrait of them.

3:1: Paul reminds themselves to obey the government - of course, not in immoral things. This was probably written in 65 AD when Nero was at about his worst.

3:9-11: Paul believes that if a man in error cannot be corrected in a few attempts, it is no use. He is right.

Second Timothy:

1:6: Again, urges him to renew the grace of ordination.

1:13-14: An exhortation to hold to the true doctrine. Paul always would urge that, but now, speaking to a Pastor in charge of the Ephesus region, he has reason to repeat, especially since he knows he himself is about to die. And in Acts 20:29-30, at Miletus, he predicted after his death savage wolves would come among them, and false doctrine.

2:2: Paul makes provision for oral transmission. Jesus never told the Apostles: Write some books, get copies made, pass them out, tell the people to figure them out for themselves. There are over 7000 Protestant sects today, each thinking they can figure it out for themselves. As we saw with the help of Form and Redaction Criticism, in chapter 6 above, the Church has something more basic that Scripture: its own ongoing teaching.

2:11: A most basic Pauline theme: we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are not only members of Christ, but like Him in phase one (hard life suffering and death) so we may be like Him in phase two, glory.

2:18: Some already then were into the error of thinking the resurrection had already taken place. Cf. some modern commentators on 2 Cor 5.

3:1-7: "The last days" can mean all the time from the ascension to the parousia, and also more specially, the time shortly before the end. The picture here is the very opposite of that given by Teilhard de Chardin on that period. Cf. also Lk 18:8; Mt 24:12.

4:3-4: More on the picture of the time before the end: false doctrine will reign. There can be as it were dress rehearsals for this even before the final time.

4:7-8: Paul speaks of having merited a crown. This fits with his theme of not having to earn justification. The acceptance and possession of first grace is a merit of heaven in the sense that it makes us children of God, who as such, have a claim - a merit - to inherit the kingdom. We get that not as individuals, but inasmuch as we are members of Christ and like Him, we come to share in His claim. Cf. DS 1532,1548,1582. From another perspective, within the covenant, good things are given basically without merit, from the unmeritable generosity of God; in a secondary sense, in that He made a covenant, if we fulfill the covenant condition, obedience, we have a claim. Cf. comments on Romans 2:6.

Epistle to the Hebrews: In the first centuries there were doubts and hesitations:1) Was it by St. PauL? 2) Was it inspired? The Church has made the definitive decision that it is inspired.

About the question of Pauline authorship, the churches of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Cappadocia considered it Pauline. But there were doubts in the Latin church. The Muratorian Canon, St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus and Gaius of Rome did not consider it Pauline. Eusebius says it is clearly by Paul. A bit later, Ambrosiaster did not include Hebrews among the Pauline Epistles on which he wrote commentaries, though he did consider it canonical. Sts. Jerome and Augustine seem to have swayed opinion in the west to considering it by Paul. Augustine said he was moved by the prestige of the Eastern Churches. After the 6th Synod of Carthage (419) it became traditional in the west to consider it Pauline.

Many today would favor the opinion of Origen, who notes that the Greek is more idiomatic than Paul's, and the style and composition differ from that of Paul, though the teaching is his. Paul could have given his ideas to someone else, asking the other to write it up. Popes in our time often act that way, then sign a document as their own. Who did write it? The names of Jude, Luke, Silvanus (Silas), Barnabas and Apollo have been proposed. If really originally intended for Hebrew Christians, it must have been written before the fall of Jerusalem, especially because the author speaks of Temple rituals as though still in effect. Since 13:24 says those in Italy greet you, it may have been written in Rome.

There are constant explanations of the superiority of Christ and His Church to the organization of the Hebrew religion, and comparing His priesthood and that of Aaron, and comparing His sacrifice and the Old Testament sacrifices: Now that we have such a high priest as Christ, mediator of a better covenant, it would be foolish to go back to the shadows of the Old Testament.

It is generally admitted that the genre is, except for the introduction, homiletic. As a result one may find some things handled more freely than otherwise.

4:15: Says Jesus was "tried [pepeirasmenos] in all things like us, yet without sin." Even without noting that the genre is homiletic, one should know enough not to press this to extremes: we must not say He experienced disorderly passions - the Second Council of Constantinople, in 553, condemned "wicked Theodore of Mopsuestia" for "insanely" saying this: DS 424. Nor are we allowed to say Jesus was ignorant in His human mind: cf. especially DS 3812, 3905, 3924, and AAS 58 (1966) 659-60.

5:8: "He learned obedience from the things He suffered." This cannot mean He was formerly deficient in obedience, for the same Epistle in 10:7 says that on entering into the world He said: "Behold, I come to do your will." But if we think of someone who has always been devoted to the will of God, but yet had never experienced any notable illness - but now he does fall into severe illness, it will take a bit of adjusting for him to as it were settle down in, and acquiesce on his bodily side in this suffering. To use a term from modern psychology, his somatic resonance needs to grow. Cf. Wm. G. Most, "On Jesus Learning Obedience: Hebrews 5:8" in Faith & Reason, III.2 (1977), pp.6-16.

9:28: "Christ was offered up once." This does not of course rule out what He Himself called for when He said at the Last Supper: "Do this in memory of me." The Cross earned an infinite title to all forgiveness and grace for the whole human race, and for each individual person (Gal 2:20). But God in His love of good order (cf. Summa I.19.5.c) wills to have a title for giving out this treasury: it is the Mass, which repeats the sacrifice of the Cross. In a sacrifice, as we know, there are two elements, the external sign, and the interior dispositions. At the Last Supper, and in each Mass, that outward sign is the seeming separation of His body and blood. On the cross the outward sign was the actual separation. In all, the interior is the obedience of His Heart which is not repeated now, but rather, continued, for death makes permanent the attitude of soul with which one leaves the world.

We were not there when He pledged His obedience to the Father at the Last Supper, or when He carried out that obedience the next day. But St. Paul teaches that we are saved and made holy to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him. We must suffer with Him, die with Him, be buried with Him, rise with Him, ascend with Him, both sacramentally and also in our way of life. Hence He commanded: "Do this in memory of me.". Thus He ordered the sacrifice of the Last Supper to be continued and repeated so we could join our obedience to His, to form the obedience of the whole Christ, Head and Members.

10:26: If we sin after receiving the truth, there is no further sacrifice for us. - The sense is that one who has once come to the truth of faith, and then falls away, is very unlikely to ever repent and return, for such a one is apt to be hardened. Today things might be a bit different, since although in itself there is no valid reason for leaving the Church, so that in the past one would sin mortally either against faith or other virtues leading to blindness. But today with the immense confusion in the Church, there may be cases in which someone slips off the edge without having been hardened.

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