WASHINGTON — The New Testament in the Bible contains 14 letters attributed to St. Paul or his followers.
The following summaries of those letters were condensed from the introductions and texts in the New American Bible, the translation produced by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America under the patronage of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Chapter and verse references are noted in parentheses. The Scripture readings at U.S. Catholic liturgies are taken from this edition of the Bible.
Though 13 of these 14 letters identify Paul as their author, most scholars believe some were written by his disciples. In the 14th, the Letter to the Hebrews, no author is mentioned, but a reference to Timothy suggests a connection to Paul. The Pauline letters are arranged roughly by length, from Romans, the longest, to Philemon, the shortest. In general, Paul’s letters greet and pray for a community, provide teaching and sometimes correction about Christian beliefs, state his travel plans and conclude with more advice and a farewell.
Letter to the Romans: 16 chapters; Paul wrote this letter, his most influential and longest, to a community he had not yet visited; it contains a systematic unfolding of his thought; seven sections: his greeting and prayer of thanks for the Christians in Rome (1:1-15), humanity lost without the Gospel, including a section on circumcision (1:16-3:20), justification through faith in Christ (3:21-5:21), justification and the Christian life, including teachings on freedom (6:1-8:39), Jews and gentiles in God’s plan (9:1-11:36), the duties of Christians (12:1-15:13), and the conclusion, in which Paul calls himself the “apostle to the gentiles,” commends Phoebe to the Roman church and counsels against factions (15:14-16:27).
First Letter to the Corinthians: 16 chapters; Paul wrote this letter to the Christian community he founded in Corinth, Greece; in it he responded to questions he’d been asked and to situations he’d been told about, such as factionalism and sexual ethics, involving the fledgling Christian community; six sections: his greeting and prayer of thanks for the Corinthian Christians (1:1-9), disorders in the Corinthian community, including divisions and moral disorders (1:10-6:20), answers to the Corinthians’ questions about marriage, virginity and offerings to idols, including advice to seek the good of others (7:1-11:1), problems in liturgical assemblies regarding head coverings and abuses, including Paul’s much-quoted teaching on the spiritual gifts (11:2-14:40), the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the dead (15:1-58), and the conclusion, which mentions a collection for the church in Jerusalem, his travel plans and farewell greetings (16:1-24).
Second Letter to the Corinthians: 13 chapters; this letter, written in an emotional tone, is Paul’s most personal and reveals much about his character; in addressing what he describes as a crisis that followed the receipt of his first letter, Paul defends his mission and discipleship; five sections: his greeting and prayer of thanks (1:1-11), the crisis between Paul and the Corinthians, including past relationships and reflections about ministry (1:12-7:16), the collection for Jerusalem (8:1-9:15), Paul’s defense of his own ministry, including boasts about his labors and weaknesses (10:1-13:10), and his final advice and farewell (13:11-13).
Letter to the Galatians: six chapters; Paul wrote this letter to a community he founded in what is now Turkey, exhorting its members to remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ and not be drawn back to observance of the Jewish law by other missionaries; six sections: his greeting (1:1-5), loyalty to the Gospel (1:6-10), Paul’s defense of his Gospel and his authority, including a description of the Council of Jerusalem (1:11-2:21), faith and liberty, including his thoughts on Christian freedom (3:1-4:31), an exhortation to Christian living (5:1-6:10), and his final appeal and farewell (6:11-18).
Letter to the Ephesians: six chapters; this letter about the church deals not so much with the Christian community at Ephesus, in Asia Minor, where Paul labored for 2 years, but with the universal church; it was traditionally considered one of the “captivity letters” penned from prison; though Paul is designated as the author, scholars now think it may have been written by a later disciple; five sections: Paul’s greeting and prayer of praise (1:1-14), the unity of the church in Christ (1:15-2:22), the world mission of the church, including a mention of Paul as a “prisoner for the Lord” (3:1-4:24), daily conduct as an expression of unity, including advice for wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters (4:25-6:20), and a final message and farewell (6:21-24).
Letter to the Philippians: four chapters; another of the “captivity letters,” this missive was sent to the Christians at Philippi, in northern Greece, a community founded by Paul; some scholars think this letter is a composite of three letters Paul sent the Philippians; the extant letter is full of rejoicing and his love and concern for the Gospel and for his converts; eight sections: Paul’s greeting and prayer of thanks for the Philippians (1:1-11), the progress of the Gospel (1:12-26), instructions for the community regarding unity, humility and obedience (1:27-2:18), the travel plans of Paul and his assistants, Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-3:1), a polemic about righteousness and the goal in Christ (3:2-21), instructions for the community (4:1-9), Paul’s gratitude for the Philippians’ generosity (4:10-20), and a brief farewell (4:21-23).
Letter to the Colossians: four chapters; Paul wrote this letter from prison to the Christians at Colossae, in Asia Minor, a community he had not visited but one that was experiencing problems as a result of false teaching about Christ’s relationship to the universe; five sections: Paul’s greeting and prayers (1:1-14), the pre-eminence of Christ (1:15-2:3), Paul’s warnings against false teachers (2:4-23), the ideal Christian life in the world, with advice for families, slaves and masters (3:1-4:6), and the conclusion, in which Paul mentions details about a number of his co-workers (4:7-18).
First Letter to the Thessalonians: five chapters; this is the earliest of Paul’s letters and the earliest work in the New Testament, dating from about A.D. 50; Paul wrote it to the community he founded at Thessalonica, in Greece, urging his converts to be faithful to the end; four sections: Paul’s greeting and prayer of thanks (1:1-10), a description of his previous ministry among the Thessalonians and his recent travel plans (2:1-3:13), exhortations regarding sexual conduct, charity, hope for the dead and order in the church (4:1-5:25), and his final greeting (5:26-28).
Second Letter to the Thessalonians: three chapters; this letter, which may have been written in the name of Paul and his companions by later disciples near the end of the first century, attempts to correct errors arising from an expectation of Christ’s imminent return; four sections: a greeting and prayers (1:1-12), a warning against deception concerning the Parousia, or second coming (2:1-17), concluding exhortations regarding prayer and work (3:1-16), and a final greeting (3:17-18).
First Letter to Timothy: six chapters; the two letters to Timothy and one to Titus are called the “pastoral letters” because they deal with the work of a pastor in caring for a community; many scholars today believe that Paul did not write these letters, though they bear his name, but attribute them to a secretary or later disciples; Timothy was a disciple and companion of Paul during his second and third missionary journeys; six sections: a greeting (1:1-2), sound teaching (1:3-20), the problems of discipline, including the qualifications of various ministers (2:1-4:16), duties toward others (5:1-6:2), false teaching and true wealth (6:3-19), and a final recommendation and warning (6:20-21).
Second Letter to Timothy: four chapters; this letter adopts a more personal tone than 1 Timothy, but again includes concerns about sound Christian teaching; four sections: a greeting and prayer (1:1-5), exhortations to Timothy about his gifts and conduct (1:6-2:13), instructions concerning false teaching (2:14-4:8) and personal requests having to do with Paul’s loneliness and a final greeting (4:9-22).
Letter to Titus: three chapters; Titus was another of Paul’s disciples and companions who at the time of the letter was ministering on the Mediterranean island of Crete, which Paul had not visited; three sections: a greeting (1:1-4), a pastoral charge regarding Crete (1:5-16), and teaching the Christian life, which includes a final greeting and blessing (2:1-3:15).
Letter to Philemon: 25 verses; in Paul’s shortest letter, written from prison, possibly in Rome, the apostle seeks a favor for the slave Onesimus, someone converted by Paul, who has run away from his master; Paul sends the slave back to Philemon with this letter, containing a touching appeal that he be welcomed back not just as a slave but as a brother.
Letter to the Hebrews: 13 chapters; more a treatise than a letter, this book contains no claim of authorship but is attributed to followers of Paul; it is a “message of encouragement,” in the author’s words, and is addressed to Christians in danger of abandoning their faith, not because of persecution but because of weariness over the demands of Christian life; its main theme is the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus; six sections: a brief introduction (1:1-4), the Son is higher than the angels, including an exhortation to faithfulness (1:5-2:18), Jesus, the faithful and compassionate high priest (3:1-5:10), Jesus’ eternal priesthood and eternal sacrifice, in the context of Jewish history and Scripture (5:11-10:39), examples, discipline and disobedience, again in a Jewish context (11:1-12:29), and a final exhortation, blessing and greetings (13:1-25).