Friday, 18 July 2008

How Paul closes his letters

Previously I documented the endings of the New Testament letters. It is interesting to see common themes with Paul's letters. Paul writes 13 letters. 9 to churches, Romans thru 2 Thessalonians; and 4 to individuals, 1 Timothy thru Philemon. Of the letters, 8 contain a greeting from the companions of Paul (exceptions are Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy) and all contain the comment for grace to be with the recipients.

Of the 9 non-Pauline letters, the only ones to include a greeting from the companions are Hebrews, 1 Peter, 3 John. The only ones asking for grace to be upon the recipients are Hebrews and Revelation.

I am not too certain how much can be read into the greetings. It may have been a common farewell in ancient letters. The fellow greetings are absence from the earlier letters of Paul and the recipients may not have known the people Paul was staying with.

But the grace comments are intriguing. Here is the list in biblical order.
  • The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
  • The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.
  • Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
  • Grace be with you.
  • The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
  • The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
  • Grace be with you.
  • Grace be with you.
  • Grace be with you all.
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
This is a consistent feature with Paul. It suggests that grace was central to his concern for fellow Christians. It may also have implications on the authorship of Hebrews.

The letter to the Hebrews is anonymous. It is authored by a man (Heb. 11:32) who was acquainted with Timothy (Heb. 13:23) and the letter was written from (or to) Italy (Heb 13:24). The letter ends with:
Grace be with all of you.
This is similar to the other letters of Paul and unlike all the other letters in the New Testament save Revelation. While there are several arguments as to who authored Hebrews, this is one in the camp of Pauline authorship.

Another interesting issue is that Paul personally wrote on his letters so his handwriting would be seen as a mark of authenticity. Paul's letters were written by an amanuensis (secretary). Paul specifically mentions his own handwriting in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. It would be interesting to see if this comment were useful in dating Paul's letters, the presumption that it would more likely occur in the earlier letters. Philemon being an exception because here Paul is offering financial security.

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