Paul’s Literary Biography

Essay: Moving chronologically from what you determine is the earliest letter to the latest, explain which letters were written by Paul (and which were written by someone else). Your decisions about the order and authorships of the letters must be grounded in arguments and the primary texts rather than appeals to scholarly consensus.

Recommended Readings: 

The primary texts (all the letters attributed to Paul in the NT) are always most important. 

  • Campbell, Douglas. 2014. Framing Paul: An Epistolary Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 
  • Gamble, Harry Y. 2014. ‘The Formation of the Pauline Corpus’ in The Oxford Handbook of Pauline Studies, Matthew V. Novenson and R. Barry Matlock, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Horrell, David. 2015. An Introduction to the Study of Paul, 3rd ed. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Jewett, Robert. 2012. Dating Paul’s Life. London: SCM.
  • Johnson-DeBaufre, Melanie. 2012. ‘Historical Approaches: Which Past? Whose Past?’ in Studying Paul’s Letters: Contemporary Perspectives and Methods, Joseph A Marchal, ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, p13-32.
  • Tatum, Gregory. 2006. New chapters in the life of Paul: The Relative Chronology of his Career. Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association. 
  • Wright, N.T. 2018. Paul: A Biography. San Francisco: HarperOne.

To begin assessing the arguments for each letter, study bibles and NT introductions will also be helpful. See, for example: 

  • Longenecker, Bruce W. and Still, Todd D. 2014. Thinking through Paul: A Survey of his Life, Letters, and Theology. Zondervan. [An introductory resource] 
  • HarperCollins Study Bible 
  • See Anchor Bible Dictionary entries on “Paul” and the respective letters. 

For in-depth arguments pertaining to a particular letter, see any critical commentary. 

Questions to consider and some Notes of Guidance: 

For this first essay, (1) begin with the NT letters attributed to Paul. Here you might also consider Hebrews, which through the centuries has had very mixed views regarding its connection (or not!) to Paul; (2) Other texts you might consider that are attributed to Paul that are not in the NT canon are 3 Corinthians, and perhaps the Epistle to Barnabas; (3) Consider whether narrative texts connected to Paul, such as the Acts of Paul or the Acts of the Apostles might have anything to contribute. To what extent can we lean on information found in Acts? 

  • Do you find the standard arguments for or against the authenticity of the letters convincing? 
  • Obviously, a tutorial essay could be written on the date and authorship of any one letter, so this essay requires careful economy of words. 
  • The opinions defended in this essay will no doubt be revised, but the purpose of the essay is to give you a provisional outline of Paul’s literary history.