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192.  THE PAULINE EPISTLES.

A.  THE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.  (BEING SUPPLEMENTAL TO AP. 180.)
B.  THE CANONICAL ORDER OF THE "CHURCH" EPISTLES.



A.  THE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER.
 
I THESSALONIANS
 
 
II THESSALONIANS
 
1st Group 
HEBREWS 
See Ap. 180 and Introductory
The seven earlier Letters. 
I CORINTHIANS
 Notes to each Epistle.
 
II CORINTHIANS
 
 
GALATIANS
 
 
ROMANS
 

 
 
PHILIPPIANS (1)
 
2nd Group 
PHILEMON
See Ap. 180 and Introductory
The Prison Letters.
COLOSSIANS (2)
Notes to each Epistle.
 
EPHESIANS (3)
 

[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 Phil. 2:24.  Philemon 22.  1Tim. 4:13.  2Tim. 1:15, 18; 4:10, 13, 20. Titus 1:5; 3:12 as to a journey or journeys in Asia and Europe, including most probably visits to Colosse and Ephesus, and possibly Dalmatia (Illyricum) and Spain.

Whether the desire to visit Spain (Rom. 15:24, 28) 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".

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 labors there, is not at all convincing. On the other hand, the significant absence of any mention or hint of such a visit in the three closing epistles -- 1Timothy, Titus and 2Timothy --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
I TIMOTHY
See Ap. 180 and Introductory
Pastoral Letters.
TITUS 
Notes to each Epistle.
 
  II 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. (4)  The second and third form another seven (4 + 3. See B. 1).

2. It may be noted (among other things) that the seventh in this order (Romans) and the fourteenth (II Timothy) 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; Rom. 1 and 2Tim. 3).  By careful study of the above table of Chronological Order, together with Ap. 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   I and II CORINTHIANS (Reproof).
                                                    C   GALATIANS (Correction).
                                            A   EPHESIANS (Doctrine and Instruction).
                                                B   PHILIPPIANS (Reproof).
                                                    C   COLOSSIANS (Correction).
                                            A   I and II THESSALONIANS (Doctrine and Instruction).

                            (Note. For the details of this Interrelation see P. 1660.)



(1) , (2) , (3) Order according to Bishop Lightfoot.

(4) Including Hebrews. The restoration of this Epistle to its proper chronological position affords a strong argument in favor of its Pauline authorship (see Introductory Notes), as without it the number of letters written by Paul would be thirteen, and this particular number (see Ap. 10) 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 addresses later to the assemblies (Rev. 2 and 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" (John 16:13) into which the Spirit of the Truth was to guide the Lord's people.  They contain the things which the Lord could not speak on earth, for the time for 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 is made clear 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 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 of the teachings of the Spirit in connection with "the progress of doctrine", from Pentecost to Paul's imprisonment, yet these other teachings are fully presented to us by our 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, and (5) the Apocalypse (Ap. 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, see p. 1823, 5 (e), 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 (Ap. 114) and the Jewish Polity, with the teaching of Paul the apostle and bondservant of Jesus Christ in the Church Epistles.  And so, when it is found that they cannot be "squared", we have the unseemly utterances and procedure of those who throw over the "Pauline doctrine", as they term it, in favor 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 fulfillment 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 employ 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 his learning, but not every word is about him.  But these Epistles are all about him and about the special position in which 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.

4. In connection with the order in which these "church" Epistles came 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 (*1) as compared with that which is epistolary.  This will be seen from the detail Structure (p. 1600) 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 (according to 2Tim. 3:16).

ROMANS comes first as containing the primaries of Christian education (see Introductory Notes, p. 1661). 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 His is 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" (1:10), and the formation of a joint-body of Jews and Gentiles as a "church" (Ap. 186), by which God's manifold ("variegated") wisdom may be made known "unto principalities and powers in the heavenlies" (3:10).

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 (Rom. 8:17); until they know and understand that even now God has "blessed them with all spiritual blessing in the heaven - lies IN Christ" (Eph. 1:3), they have no place for, and no understanding of, the truths concerning His return from heaven. (*2)

        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 for ever with Christ.



(*1) Lightfoot (Biblical Essays, p. 388) 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.