Pauline Epistles

The Pauline epistles, also called Epistles of Paul or Letters of Paul, are the thirteen books of the New Testament attributed to Paul the Apostle, although the authorship of some is in dispute. Among these epistles are some of the earliest extant Christian documents. They provide an insight into the beliefs and controversies of early Christianity. As part of the canon of the New Testament, they are foundational texts for both Christian theology and ethics.

The Epistle to the Hebrews, although it does not bear his name, was traditionally considered Pauline (although Origen, Tertullian and Hippolytus amongst others, questioned its authorship), but from the 16th century onwards opinion steadily moved against Pauline authorship and few scholars now ascribe it to Paul, mostly because it does not read like any of his other epistles in style and content. Most scholars agree that Paul actually wrote seven of the Pauline epistles, but that four of the epistles in Paul’s name are pseudepigraphic (Ephesians, First Timothy, Second Timothy, and Titus) and that two other epistles are of questionable authorship (Second Thessalonians and Colossians). According to some scholars, Paul wrote these letters with the help of a secretary, or amanuensis, who would have influenced their style, if not their theological content.

The Pauline epistles are usually placed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Catholic epistles in modern editions. Most Greek manuscripts, however, place the General epistles first, and a few minuscules (175, 325, 336, and 1424) place the Pauline epistles at the end of the New Testament.

Saint Paul by Rembrandt

Saint Paul by Rembrandt


In the order they appear in the New Testament, the Pauline epistles are:

Name Addressees Greek Latin Abbreviations
Full Min.
Romans Church at Rome Πρὸς Ῥωμαίους Epistola ad Romanos Rom Ro
First Corinthians Church at Corinth Πρὸς Κορινθίους Αʹ Epistola I ad Corinthios 1 Cor 1C
Second Corinthians Church at Corinth Πρὸς Κορινθίους Βʹ Epistola II ad Corinthios 2 Cor 2C
Galatians Church at Galatia Πρὸς Γαλάτας Epistola ad Galatas Gal G
Ephesians Church at Ephesus Πρὸς Ἐφεσίους Epistola ad Ephesios Eph E
Philippians Church at Philippi Πρὸς Φιλιππησίους Epistola ad Philippenses Phil Phi
Colossians Church at Colossae Πρὸς Κολοσσαεῖς Epistola ad Colossenses Col C
First Thessalonians Church at Thessalonica Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς Αʹ Epistola I ad Thessalonicenses 1 Thess 1Th
Second Thessalonians Church at Thessalonica Πρὸς Θεσσαλονικεῖς Βʹ Epistola II ad Thessalonicenses 2 Thess 2Th
First Timothy Saint Timothy Πρὸς Τιμόθεον Αʹ Epistola I ad Timotheum 1 Tim 1T
Second Timothy Saint Timothy Πρὸς Τιμόθεον Βʹ Epistola II ad Timotheum 2 Tim 2T
Titus Saint Titus Πρὸς Τίτον Epistola ad Titum Tit T
Philemon Saint Philemon Πρὸς Φιλήμονα Epistola ad Philemonem Philem P
Hebrews* Hebrew Christians Πρὸς Έβραίους Epistola ad Hebraeus Heb H

This ordering is remarkably consistent in the manuscript tradition, with very few deviations. The evident principle of organization is descending length of the Greek text, but keeping the four Pastoral epistles addressed to individuals in a separate final section. The only anomaly is that Galatians precedes the slightly longer Ephesians.

In modern editions, the formally anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews is placed at the end of Paul’s letters and before the General epistles. This practice was popularized through the 4th century Vulgate by Jerome, who was aware of ancient doubts about its authorship, and is also followed in most medieval Byzantine manuscripts with hardly any exceptions.

The placement of Hebrews among the Pauline epistles is less consistent in the manuscripts:

  • between Romans and 1 Corinthians (i.e., in order by length without splitting the Epistles to the Corinthians): Papyrus 46 and minuscules 103, 455, 1961, 1964, 1977, 1994.
  • between 2 Corinthians and Galatians: minuscules 1930, 1978, and 2248
  • between Galatians and Ephesians: implied by the numbering in B. However, in B, Galatians ends and Ephesians begins on the same side of the same folio (page 1493); similarly 2 Thessalonians ends and Hebrews begins on the same side of the same folio (page 1512).
  • between 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy (i.e., before the Pastorals): א, A, B, C, H, I, P, 0150, 0151, and about 60 minuscules (e.g. 218, 632)
  • after Philemon: D, 048, E, K, L and the majority of minuscules.
  • omitted: F and G


Consensus dates of Pauline epistles
Captivity letters (disputed) in orange
Pastoral letters (pseudoepigraphic) in red
36 (31–36 AD: conversion of Paul)
50 First Epistle to the Thessalonians
51 Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
53 Epistle to the Galatians
54 First Epistle to the Corinthians
55 Epistle to the Philippians
Epistle to Philemon
56 Second Epistle to the Corinthians
57 Epistle to the Romans
62 Epistle to the Colossians
Epistle to the Ephesians
64 First Epistle to Timothy
Second Epistle to Timothy
Epistle to Titus
67 (64–67 AD: death of Paul)

Main articles: Authorship of the Pauline epistles and Pseudepigrapha

In all of these epistles except the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author and writer does claim to be Paul. However, the contested letters may have been written using Paul’s name, as it was common to attribute at that point in history.

Seven letters (with consensus dates) considered genuine by most scholars:

  • First Thessalonians (c. 50 AD)
  • Galatians (c. 53)
  • First Corinthians (c. 53–54)
  • Philippians (c. 55)
  • Philemon (c. 55)
  • Second Corinthians (c. 55–56)
  • Romans (c. 57)

The letters on which scholars are about evenly divided:

  • Colossians (c. 62)
  • Second Thessalonians (c. 49–51)

The letters thought to be pseudepigraphic by many scholars (traditional dating given):

  • Ephesians (c. 62)
  • First Timothy (c. 62–64)
  • Second Timothy (c. 62–64)
  • Titus (c. 62–64)

Finally, Epistle to the Hebrews, though anonymous and not really in the form of a letter, has long been included among Paul’s collected letters. Although some churches ascribe to Hebrews to Paul, neither most of Christianity nor modern scholarship do so.

Lost Pauline epistles

Paul’s own writings are often thought to indicate several of his letters that have not been preserved:

  • A first epistle to Corinth, referenced at 1 Corinthians 5:9
  • A third epistle to Corinth, also called the Severe Letter, referenced at 2 Corinthians 2:4 and 2 Corinthians 7:8–9
  • An earlier epistle to the Ephesians referenced at Ephesians 3:3–4
  • The Epistle to the Laodiceans, referenced at Colossians 4:16

Collected epistles

The first collection of the Pauline epistles is believed to be that of Marcion of Sinope in the early 2nd century, although it is possible that Paul first collected his letters for publication himself. It was normal practice in Paul’s time for letter-writers to keep one copy for themselves and send a second copy to the recipient(s); surviving collections of ancient letters sometimes originated from the senders’ copies, other times from the recipients’ copies. A collection of Paul’s letters circulated separately from other early Christian writings and later became part of the New Testament. When the canon was established, the gospels and Paul’s letters were the core of what would become the New Testament.

Pseudepigraphal epistles

Further information: Pseudepigrapha

Several other epistles were attributed to Paul during the course of history, but are now considered pseudepigraphal:

  • Third Epistle to the Corinthians, a correspondence of two letters allegedly sent by the Corinthians to Paul, and then a reply letter allegedly sent by Paul to the Church of Corinth. It was considered genuine for some time by the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church, but is now widely dated in the second half of the 2nd century CE.
  • Epistle to the Alexandrians, an alleged epistle written by Paul to the Church of Alexandria. It is mentioned in the Muratorian fragment (2nd century CE), which denounces it as a spurious work forged by Marcion of Sinope. Its text has been lost and nothing is known about its content.
  • Non-Pauline Epistle to the Laodiceans versions:
    • The Marcionite Epistle to the Laodiceans. The Muratorian fragment (2nd century CE) denounces a claimed Epistle to the Laodiceans as a spurious work forged by Marcion of Sinope. Its text has been lost and nothing is known about its content.
    • The Latin Epistle to the Laodiceans. It is found in some old Latin Bible manuscripts, but is widely considered a forgery, and is largely a copy of verses from the Epistle to the Philippians. Theories vary, but it was possibly made as a counterforgery to offset the popularity of the Marcionite epistle.
  • Correspondence of Paul and Seneca, a collection of correspondence claiming to be between Paul and Seneca the Younger. They are universally considered a forgery from the 4th century CE.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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