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Bible Interpretation - Acts-Revelation

13. Six Letters Attributed to Paul

Early church

Ephesians and Colossians.  These letters have similar vocabulary and similar structure. While most scholars believe they were written after Paul's death by a disciple, the both have much in common with Philippians and Philemon, letters that also reflect the zeal, power, love and wisdom, for both letters convey the essential spiritual principle of oneness and unity, both in the church and in consciousness.

Ephesians appears to be a compilation of Paul's thought, filled with short, beautiful passages commenting on the oneness and unity of the church: “for by grace you have been saved (2:8),” “For he is our peace (2:14),” “creating a new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace (2:15),” “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:2).” It may be that, after the destruction of the Temple and the final split between Judaism and Christianity, the writer is attempting to unify Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians.

Both Ephesians and Colossians describe a oneness and unity in consciousness with repeated reference to the term mystery, such as

“the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:26-27). 

The mystic is “one who has intimate, firsthand acquaintance with God … Jesus was the greatest mystic of all ages” (Revealing Word, mystic). Many scholars believe that these references were subtle arguments against the encroachment of Gnosticism in the church, which taught a form of duality.

2 Thessalonians. According to the commentary in the New Interpreter's Study Bible (:2123), most scholars believe 2 Thessalonians is “written in the style of 1 Thess by a disciple of Paul who wanted to update Paul's teaching on the parousia, the future coming of Christ. The first generation of Christians expected the parousia to occur during their lifetimes … When it did not occur, it was necessary for them to rethink their nature of the parousia. 2 Thess represents an attempt to do just that.”

But the writer makes a fundamental, metaphysical mistake in updating Paul. The writer, confronted with a church that metaphysically represents “the burning or heated zeal of the soul in its desire for Truth, but at this phase of unfoldment it is without a sufficient thinking balance to give tolerance and wisdom,” reframes the imminent return of Jesus by speaking of the “day of the Lord,” which is a term from Hebrew scripture that describes a future judgment. Metaphysically, we see here the use of strength (faculty of endurance) and wisdom (or judgment) to counter balance an immature faculty of zeal. The metaphysical mistake is that sublimating zeal with strength and wisdom is not sustainable.  We've got to let go and let God.

What is the “second coming” and when is it going to occur? We get a glimpse in 2:2, where someone is claiming that “the day of the Lord is already here.” The Revealing Word defines the second coming as “the result of building the principles of Being into the soul of man, where they begin to express through him … the second coming is right upon us. The Spirit of the Lord Jesus is here right now.” The second coming, metaphysically, is the realization, in consciousness, of the Christ spirit within. While it may be useful for the zealous spiritual seeker to rely on strength and wisdom until that realization in consciousness is “expressed,” we need to affirm that the presence of Christ is, as 2:2 says, “already here.”

I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus.  These three letters are known as the Pastoral Letters because they all encourage the reader to resist adopting false teachings and to maintain strong ethical standards. We see in these letters some of the most disturbing teachings regarding the role of women in the church (1 Tim 2:11-15) and a concern for institutional structure. Given that the social status of Jews and Christians had fallen after the revolt in 66 CE, the writer is concerned with advocating, as the NRSV commentary states, “respectable behavior in the church and beyond to enhance its mission and image in the larger world” (:2129).