My friend and colleague Clint Humfrey has posted a very thoughtful entry on his blog entitled “The Apostle Paul: Paleo-Blogger?” Clint makes a good point in noting that Paul’s use of the letter as a medium of communication between himself and his churches bespeaks his pastoral heart and he rightly evidences 2 Cor 10:9-11 as proof. He also argues that there is a distinct similarity between the Apostle’s letters and the nature of blogging. In his words, “The use of blogging as a means of occasional correspondence to a wide range of readers—some of whom we may never meet—seems to offer parallels to Paul’s ministry.” He thus suggests that it is significant that the Apostle did not “draw up a circular Manual of Discipline, or a 95 Theses, or construct a Didactic Constitution for Christianity.”
Putting aside the question of whether each of these genres of litearture would have been available to the Apostle in his cultural environment, I think it is important to stress that Paul’s letters cannot be fully understood as being primarily, as Clint puts it, “ ‘occasioned’ by a situation needing to be addressed.” This is certainly not true of the circular letter we know as Ephesians and is hardly true of the heart of Romans (1:16-11:36). Some would argue that 1 Timothy has a “church manual” feel to it, though I personally would differ with this view of the purpose of the letter.
Granted there are distinct historical situations that give rise to the other letters—the issue of the Judaizers in Galatia, Paul’s impending death in 2 Timothy, etc.—yet Paul is well aware that he is writing Scripture (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 7:10, 25; 14:37-38; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, 8; Colossians 4:16), and, as such, he is aware that his letters have a message that transcends that which occasioned them (see Romans 15:4; cp. 2 Timothy 1:13-14 and 2:2). And he was not alone in thinking this way (see 2 Peter 3:15-16).
Thanks, Clint, for stimulating these thoughts—iron sharpening iron!