Letters of the Apostles

Published November 5, 2020, 4:24 PM

by Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ


Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ

The second half of the New Testament is made up of the Acts of the Apostles and the book on Revelation and by the letters of the Apostles.  The bulk of these letters are from St. Paul who did not know Jesus in the flesh. He was a persecutor of the early Christians until the Lord appeared to him on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. Almost all of the apostles were killed by their persecutors. St. Paul was the prolific writer especially to non-Jews. He was the apostle to the gentiles.  The letters of St. Paul constitute the bulk of the New Testament and his three trips are recorded in the Acts.

The letters of St. Paul recount the break from the Jewish synagogue. The Christians were np longer welcome to preach on the Sabbaths as Jesus did. The first two trips of Paul were in the present Asia Minor and then to the Greek islands and mainland. St. Paul refused to impose the Jewish regulations, including that of circumcision, on the gentile converts. His third trip was a harrowing voyage before a storm that landed them in shipwreck on the Island of Malta. From there he moved on to Rome, the center of the empire at that time. St. Paul recounts his sufferings. Several times he was beaten and left for dead and shipwrecked. His letters were a compendium of how a Christian should live. He also warned against false teachers with ideas contrary to those of Christ.

Some of these letters were probably not written by Paul himself but one of his disciples and attributed to him as was the custom of the time to give more importance to the letter. The same is true of the letters of the other apostles. They were probably written by some disciple of the apostles but attributed to them.  The practice of the Christian faith was well defined in these letters. It was a faith they were willing to die for. And so they suffered for this faith. The book of Acts tells of miracles performed through the apostles. Peter and John were recounted as curing a beggar of his paralysis instead of receiving alms.

The book of Revelation is written in a special apocalyptic way.  So that it is often misconstrued. It is a mystical way of teaching and prophetic in some places. It is the favorite of those who predict the end of the world. St. Paul himself thought the second coming would occur in his life time. So there was urgency in converting people to the way of Christ. Some of the letters of Paul were very personal as when he was arguing for the freedom of a runaway slave who was helpful to him.

Most of these letters were addressed to particular Christian communities but some were addressed to Christians in general so they were called “catholic epistles.” Some were written before the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70.  Some were written near the end of the first century. The book of James is important because he insisted on action in contrast to justification by faith alone.

(The USA is voting at the time of writing but you may know who won by the time this goes into print.)

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