THE PAULINE EPISTLES.

A THE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER. (Being supplemental to app 180

B THE CANONICAL ORDER OF THE “CHURCH” EPISTLES.........

 

A. The Chronological Order.

                                 

 

 

 

1st Group  The Seven Earlier Letters

1Thessalonians    

11 Thessalonians

Hebrews

1 Corinthians                 See App 180 and introductory Notes to each Epistle

11 Corinthians

Galatians

Romans

 

 

 

2nd Group The Prison Letters

Philippians  

Philemon

Colossians        See App 180 and introductory Notes to each Epistle  

Ephesians

 

 

[The Hiatus between the second and third groups. Paul’s movements during some four years after his release from imprisonment

(A.D. 63) are shrouded in obscurity. There is no Divine record. Various hints may, however, be gathered from…

 

Philippians 2:24 &c But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly.

 

…as to a journey, or journeys in Asia and Europe, including most probably visits to Collose and Ephesus, and possibly Dalmatia (Illyricum) and Spain. Whether the desire to visit Spain was ever fulfilled is purely conjectural, notwithstanding a statement of Clement of Rome. (Clement of Phil 4:3?), A.D.91-100, in an “Epistle to Corinthians”, that Paul “went to the end of the west”.

 

Romans 15:24-28

24. Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.

25. But now I go into Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.

26. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.

27. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.

Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, “Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.

Spiritual things 1:11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established.

Carnal things 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual but I am carnal, sold under sin.

28. When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.

 

Some take this to refer to Spain (and Gaul), but there is no proof; and that an inscription found in Spain recording that some “new superstition” was “got rid of” refers to Paul and his labours there, is not at5 all convincing. On the other hand, the significant absence of any mention or hint of such a visit in the three closing Epistles. – 1 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Timothy --  can neither be overlooked nor explained away.

The notion that Clement’s words “end of the west” cover a visit to the British Isles may be dismissed in Bishop Lightfoot’s words as “possessing neither evidence nor probability].

 

 

3rd Group. Pastoral Letters.

01 Timothy 

Titus                       See App 180 and introductory Notes to each Epistle  

11 Timothy

 

1. From the foregoing it will be seen that the number seven (Ap 10) is apparent in the grouping of the Pauline Epistles as a whole. It is equally noticeable in the canonical order of the Church Epistles. (See B below) They divide into three groups, numbering together fourteen (two sevens) separate letters. The first group consists of the seven earlier epistles. The second and third form another seven (4+3 see B1).

2. It may be noted (among other things) that the seventh in

 

this  order (Romans) and the fourteenth (2Timothy) give the two unique and terrible lists of the condition and state of  “the habitable world” preceding, and at the time of, the Lord’s Coming at first, and preceding His Return,

(see notes on Romans 1, & 2 Timothy3) By careful study of the above table of Chronological Order, together with App 180, the student will be able to elucidate for himself  interesting, and important problems connected with the period concerned.

 

B. The Canonical Order of The “Church” Epistles.

 

A. ROMANS (Doctrine and Instruction).

B. 1&11 CORINTHIANS (Reproof).

C. GALATIANS. (Correction)

A. EPHESIANS (Doctrine and Instruction)

B. PHILIPPIANS (Reproof)

C. COLOSSIANS (Correction)

A. 1&2 THESSALONIANS (Doctrine and instruction).

 

Order according to Bishop Lightfoot.

Including Hebrews. The restoration of this Epistle to its proper chronological position affords a strong argument in favour of its Pauline authorship See introductory notes).as without it a number of letters written by Paul would be thirteen, and this particular number (see App10) is inconceivable in such a connection.

 

1. Seven churches are addressed as such by the Holy Spirit. Seven is the number of spiritual perfection, the same number as the Lord Himself later to the assemblies (Revelation 2&3) from the glory.

In these Epistles, we have the perfect embodiment of the Spirit’s teaching for the churches. They contain “all the truth” into which the Spirit of the Truth was to guide the Lord’s people.

 

John 16:13 Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come.

 

All truth: = all the truth: i.e. all the truth necessary for His people from Ascension to Decension; the truth concerning the Pentecostal Church, the blessed hope of His return, and the mystery or secret of the Body Christ, yet to be revealed to Paul.

They contain the things, which the Lord could not speak on earth, for the time to reveal it was not then. They contain the “things of Mine which He shall take and shall show unto you”. The number of these Epistles seven is perfect. Their order also is perfect.

 

2. THAT THIS ORDER IS NOT CHRONOLOGICAL BUT TOPICAL and didactic (designed or intended to teach) is made clear and beyond all question by the fact that the Holy Spirit has placed the Epistles written first of all (Thess.) seventh and last in the list.

The question whether the order in which the Holy Spirit has presented these Epistles is the order in which we find them in our Bibles must, therefore, be answered by the teaching of the Spirit Himself as unfolded to us in His own Divinely perfect arrangement of the Epistles, instead of according to man’s idea, which strives to evolve a doctrinal system according to the chronological sequence  usually accepted. Although the chronological sequence of the Epistles has its own wonderful lesson to impart (see A .2 above.), as we trace in order the gradual unfolding’s of the teachings of the Spirit in connection with “the progress of doctrine”. from Pentecost to Paul’s imprisonments, yet these other teachings are fully presented to us by our own Divine Guide in the experimental order in which the Epistles to the seven Churches  are sent out.

In all the hundreds of Greek manuscripts of the N.T. the order of these Epistles never varies. The general order of the books of the N.T. takes the form of groups, viz.

1.      The four Gospels.

2.      Acts.

3.      The so-called “general” Epistles.

4.      The Pauline Epistles.

5.      The Apocalypse (App 95).

But while the order of these five groups varies in some of the manuscripts, and the Pauline Epistles vary in their position with respect to the other four groups, and while the Pauline Epistles themselves vary in their order (e.g. Hebrews in some cases following Thessalonians, the order of these seven Church Epistles is invariably the same.

 

3. It is ignorance of this Divinely given standard that results in the deplorable attempts to “square” the teachings of our Lord in the Gospels, which concern the kingdom of heaven and the Jewish polity, (a particular form or system of government): with the teaching of Paul the apostle and bond servant of Jesus Christ in the Church Epistles. And so, when it is found that they cannot be “squared”, we have the unseemly utterances and those who throw over the “Pauline doctrine”, as they term it, in favour of “the teaching of Jesus”, with contemptuous references to “the Hellenistic tendencies of Paul’s mind “, &c; and such statements as “The master’s words must be preferred to a disciple’s”; “we must get back to Jesus”, and so on. All of which and similar utterances make abundantly clear the fact that the Divine teaching of the Holy Spirit, in fulfilment of the promise of the Lord in John 16: 13 is not only overlooked or not understood by some, but is deliberately ignored and rejected by others who reject them.

Any Christian who does not give earnest heed to what has been written specially for his instruction is liable thus to be led away. Every word of Scripture is for him and for his learning, but not every word is about him. But these Epistles are all about him and about the special position, he finds himself placed with reference to the Jew and the Gentile; the old creation and the new; the “flesh” and the “spirit”; and all the various phenomena, which he finds in his experience.

 

John 16:13 Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come.

 

All truth: = all the truth: i.e. all the truth necessary for His people from Ascension to Decension; the truth concerning the Pentecostal Church, the blessed hope of His return, and the mystery or secret of the Body Christ, yet to be revealed to Paul.

They contain the things, which the Lord could not speak on earth, for the time to reveal it was not then. They contain the “things of Mine which He shall take and shall show unto you”. The number of these Epistles seven is perfect. Their order also is perfect.

This verse of John 16:13 is of absolute importance, into fully understanding the role of the indwelling Holy Spirit to any Christian who is “rightly dividing the word of TRUTH”.

 

4. In connection with the order in which these “Church Epistles come to us, we notice first of all that they are grouped in two divisions of three and four (see above B). Three stand out distinct from all the others as being treatises rather than epistles, and as containing so much  more doctrinal matter compared with that epistolary. This will be seen from the detail structure, which gives the contents of each. These three are Romans, Ephesians, and Thessalonians. And the four are placed between these three in two pairs, each pair containing respectively reproof and correction, in contrast to the other three, which contain doctrine and instruction accord to;

 

2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture by inspiration of God,

and is profitable for doctrine,

for reproof,

for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

 

It will be noticed that that in the earlier part of the verse the word “is” appears in Italics, showing that there is no word for it in the Greek and it has therefore to be supplied. The Revised Version omits “is” in the first case and reads, “Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable”. thus suggesting that some Scriptures are not inspired. (see notes on verse 16 for more).

  

ROMANS comes first as containing the primaries of Christian education 9see introductory notes). It starts by showing man (Gentile and Jew alike) as utterly ruined and helpless, lost and ungodly sinners; how the saved sinner has died together with Christ, and together with Him has risen to “newness of life”; made a son and heir of God in Him.

EPHESIANS takes up from this point, beginning not with man, but with God. It reveals to us the knowledge of God and of His purposes in Christ. The heading up of all things IN Christ in “a dispensation of the fulness of times”.

 

Eph 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him.

Dispensation: = I have been entrusted with a stewardship (Ap 150.I, 1. iv).

Stewardship = I am therefore in duty bound to fulfil it. Stewardship, or administration, the work of an oikonomos Greek = stewards.

Cor 4.1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.

 

And a formation of a joint-body of Jews and Gentiles as a “church” (App 186) as a “church”, by which God’s manifold (“variegated”) wisdom may be made known “unto principalities and powers in the heavenlies”.

 

Ephesians 3:10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.

Principalities –Rulers Ap 176.2

 

THESSALONIANS, written first of all the Epistles, are placed in this connection last of all by the Holy Spirit. Herein is given the special revelation concerning the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. They stand last and alone, being followed by no other Church Epistle. If we have “ears to hear , this fact proclaims that,--

 

5. It is useless to teach Christians the truths connected with the Lord’s Coming until they have learned the truths in the other Epistles. Until they know and understand from Romans what they are by nature, and what God has made them to be in Christ Jesus, -- sons and heirs, joint heirs with Christ.

 

Romans 8:17And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.

Romans 4:13 For the promise, that we should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

Heirs of God = Heirs indeed with God

Joint-heirs = With Christ

Ephesians 3:6 That the Gentiles (Christian, as distinguished from Jewish) should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, (As Jews) and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel:

Not joined on to an existing Jewish body, but a new body of “the twain”.

“The suffering together with” (Him) here is that of

Romans 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptised into Jesus Christ were baptised into His death?

Romans 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.

Romans 8:11 But if the Spirit of Him That raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit That dwelleth in you.

and not the sufferings of this present time. Literally the NOW time or season.

Also together = glorified together.

Until they (YOU) know and understand that even now God has “blessed them with all spiritual blessing in the heavenlies IN Christ”,

 

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

 

they have no place for, and no understanding of, the truths concerning His return from heaven.

To sum up: -- The saved sinner is shown in ROMANS, as dead and risen with Christ:

In EPHESIANS, as seated in the heavenlies IN Christ:

In THESSALONIANS, in glory forever in Christ.

This will be followed by THE “MYSTERY”

 


1. Lightfoot (Biblical Essays), says of Romans and Ephesians: “Both alike partake of the character rather of a formal treatise than of a familiar letter.”

2. The introductory Notes and Structure in each case show the scope of the Epistle and its teaching.