The first and a very influential theologian in Christendom was St. Paul whose conversion is celebrated on the 25th January. This we can read from Paul's pen in Galatians (1.13-17), written c. 54.
When we first meet Paul he is behaving as a strict Pharisee would harassing Christians who are not fulfilling the Law. Hence he consented to Stephen's stoning. However this zeal was soon to be re-directed. The Lord of all creation intervenes. "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" "Who are you, Lord?" he asks. "I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up...and you will be told what you have to do."
That vision on the road to Damascus had an incredible impetus on the spread of Christianity outside of Jerusalem. As a Roman citizen of Tarsus, Paul's world was more comprehensive than, for example, the world of Peter. Tarsus was a rich commercial centre that was also home to the important Greek schools in Stoic and Epicurean philosophies; here too Paul would have learnt the art of Greek rhetoric. All of this Paul would use as he travelled the Roman world to preach, "Christ crucified".
Paul rightly saw that the Christian religion, though born within Judaism, had to be a faith for all peoples. His teaching on sin, grace, justification and righteousness influenced immensely some of the greatest theologians after him such as Augustine and Luther.
It was the authentic Paul's letters that circulated firstly amongst the early Christians, perhaps there were a few more than have survived as suggested in 1Corinthians 5-9, and became part of the first attempts for a Canon of the New Testament.
However not all the letters in the New Testament bearing his name were written by Paul. There are only seven that scholars agree are authentic: I Thessalonians, Galatians, I & II Corinthians, Romans, Philippians and Philemon. Some of these such as Philippians and II Corinthians are a collection of more than one letter. On the letter to the Colossians scholars are divided. The remainder are definitely written by the school of Paul.
In those authentic letters Paul unveiled that salvation was available to all, Jew and Greek, male and female, slave and free. Salvation is a gift given at baptism from Christ who freely offered Himself on the cross for the sin of all peoples. Thus our righteousness is in the righteousness of Christ. Accordingly we are justified by faith and not by good works, stated Paul, which became Luther's cry against the concept of gaining merit for heaven.
Paul also indicated that Christians were free of the Jewish Law and its customs such as circumcision. His very first letter, written to the Christians in Thessalonica c. 51A.D. also indicated that Christ's return was imminent, and so Christians were exhorted to live in readiness for that day.
In the disputed letter, Colossians, Christ is depicted as "the first born of all creation", who has created all things "in heaven" and "in earth". This cosmos theology is so different from other Pauline theology that it has led to many scholars believing that it not authentic.
Ephesians contains many themes from Colossians as well as ones from the other letters, and is thus a summary of Paul's teaching. It would seem that this letter was written as a cover letter when the first collection of Paul's letter was made. The oldest manuscripts of this letter are addressed "to the saints who are also faithful", not to Ephesians at all.
II Thessalonians on first glance seems almost identical to the first letter to Thessalonica. It is that similarity, with subtle differences on the parousia which enabled scholars to realise that it is not written by Paul but by one of his disciples adopting his style in a letter to a community of Christians, not necessarily at Thessalonica.
The letters of I and II Timothy and Titus are referred to as "the Pastoral Letters". This title becomes obvious when one reads these letters. They have been written for a church that is older and more structured than Paul ever knew. In these letters we see a church that we recognise easily. Church ministry is hierarchical: bishops, deacons and presbyters, (1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-23; Titus 1:5-9), as also seen in 1 Clement and the letters of Ignatius, written not long afterwards. The qualifications for these offices are defined; the works of charity are enumerated (1 Timothy 5:3-16); heresy is contested by defining creeds (1 Timothy 2:5-6; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Titus 3:4-7; compare 2:1); and living morally is the rule throughout the three letters.
The main Pauline message is that we live "in Christ" and do everything "in Christ". Next time you meditate on these letters be vigilant for the number of times "in Christ" is used.
Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where. O Death, is your victory?
Where, O Death, is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be To God, who gives us the victory through