Read 2 Peter 3:15, 16. What do these verses tell us about how the early church viewed Paul’s writing? What does this teach us about how inspiration works?
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he was not trying to produce a literary masterpiece. Instead, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul was addressing specific situations that involved him and the believers in Galatia.
Letters like Galatians played an essential role in Paul’s apostolic ministry. As the missionary to the Gentile world, Paul founded a number of churches scattered around the Mediterranean. Although he visited these churches whenever he could, he couldn’t stay in one place too long. To compensate for his absence, Paul wrote letters to the churches in order to give them guidance. Over time, copies of Paul’s letters were shared with other churches (Col. 4:16). Although some of Paul’s letters have been lost, at least thirteen books in the New Testament bear his name. As the above words from Peter show, too, at some point Paul’s writings were viewed as Scripture. This shows just how much authority his ministry eventually gained early on in the history of the church.
At one time some Christians believed that the format of Paul’s letters was unique—a special format created by the Spirit in order to contain God’s inspired Word. This view changed when two young scholars from Oxford, Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt, discovered in Egypt about five hundred thousand fragments of ancient papyri (documents written on papyrus, a popular writing material used several hundred years before and after Christ). In addition to finding some of the oldest copies of the New Testament, they found invoices, tax returns, receipts, and personal letters.
Much to everyone’s surprise, the basic format of Paul’s letters turned out to be common to all letter writers in his day. The format included (1) an opening salutation that mentioned the sender and the recipient, and then included a greeting; (2) a word of thanksgiving; (3) the main body of the letter; and, finally, (4) a closing remark.
In short, Paul was following the basic format of his time, speaking to his contemporaries through a medium and style that they would be familiar with.
If the Bible were to be written today, what kind of medium, format, and style do you think the Lord would use to reach us now?