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The Book of Books Book Club weekly blog
 

EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, COLOSSIANS, I & II THESSALONIANS

We've taken on Paul's most important letters in some detail over the past few weeks; now it's time for a bit of a sprint. Each of these letters rewards at least a cursory reading, some deserve much more than that – but all touch on familiar themes even if in somewhat different ways and with different tones. Ephesians was probably not written by Paul, though some continue to debate that judgment; Colossians and II Thessalonians were almost certainly written by someone else. All three claim his authorship, though, indicating that whoever wrote them believed he or she was furthering Paul's agenda and teachings. Philippians and I Thessalonians, on the other hand, are most certainly from Paul's hand and are among his earliest letters, written to the first congregations he had established in Greece.


All five are marked by some lyrical and famous passages; you should hear familiar words from our worship services echoing in your head as you read (Eph 4:5, for example, provides the opening acclamation from the baptism liturgy: "...one Lord, one faith, one baptism..."), along with some of the lines most closely associated with Paul (i.e., Phil 2:12, "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling"; I Thess 5:17, "Pray without ceasing."). Ephesians – whoever wrote it – is a work of sustained beauty and power both celebrating God's grace and love and calling its readers to "lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called," (4:1) in the unity of Christ. Philippians is marked by unremitting affection for its recipients and joy in the message of hope he has to offer them and in which he believes himself and them to live ("Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you." [4:9]). Colossians is an odd letter that echoes much of Ephesians and references contemporary cultural influences to be resisted that are nearly impossible to decipher ("worship of angels," etc., in 2:16-18), yet also has some lovely passages of encouragement ("Clothe yourselves with love," 3:14). The First Letter to the Thessalonians reprises the tone of affectionate friendship seen in Philippians; unlike Ephesians or Colossians, here we see Paul's emphasis on maintaining faith in the hope of an imminent return of Christ to bring the world to its consummation. II Thessalonians, on the other hand, seems to simply repeat much of the first letter without the same personal tone, and to suggest that the second coming is not quite as much at hand as I Thessalonians thinks, which are the primary reasons scholars believe someone else wrote it.


We are about to bid Paul farewell; only Philemon remains as an authentic letter of his (the three before that, I & II Timothy, and Titus, are certainly not by Paul). Do not miss this chance to mine these works for more nuggets of eloquent faith.