How Did the Pauline Epistles Become Scripture?

The Pauline Epistles were not just seen as human words, devised by Paul. Instead, Paul’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, just as the rest of Scripture was written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Contributing Writer
Updated Oct 21, 2021
How Did the Pauline Epistles Become Scripture?

Including 13 letters, Paul’s writings comprise a large part of the New Testament and contribute greatly to the area of Christology. However, there are people who claim that the writings of Paul are not Scripture or only a few of his epistles are inspired. While secular scholars are quick to doubt the inspiration of the Bible generally, some Christians have bought into the lie that Paul’s letters are not part of the Word of God.

The canon of Scripture, which consists of the 66 books of the Bible, has been well-established in history and largely accepted by followers of Christ throughout the ages. Most evangelical Christians affirm the inspiration of the Bible, but there are those who reject certain books in Scripture.

Those who desire to cast some or all of Paul’s writings out of the Bible want to do so mainly because of the statements against homosexuality in his letters (Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Should people be allowed to remove parts of the canon of Scripture because they do not like what it teaches?

Obviously, an opinion or emotion is not proper grounds for removing sections of the Bible that have strong evidence for their scriptural status, such as the writings of Paul. However, before examining the inspiration of the Pauline Epistles, one must understand the importance of the Canon of Scripture and how the books of the Bible were discerned as the Word of God.

Discerning the Canon of Scripture

In the early church, they worked hard to discern what books should be considered in the Canon of Scripture. Despite popular portrayals by skeptics, the early church did not arbitrarily choose the books they desired to be authoritative and inspired.

Instead, they put the books through vigorous tests to discern which books were the Word of God. One must remember, though, that the books of the Bible were always the Word of God even before the early church examined them (2 Timothy 3:16). As Dr. Ryrie noted, “No Bible book became canonical by action of some church council” (Basic Theology).

Multiple tests were applied to the books, including one of authority, the book’s unique character, which marked it as inspired, and the early use and acceptance of the book by the church. For the New Testament, the test of authority referred to the book’s association with an apostle.

Also, the books would clearly be inspired, providing authentication as the Word of God. Finally, the books of Scripture would also have been widely used from an early time and acknowledged as the Word of God by the early church. As will be shown, Paul’s epistles in the Bible perfectly pass these tests of canonicity.

Paul, an Apostle of Christ

Many of the epistles written by Paul include his introductory identification as an “Apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1, NIV). This is significant since apostleship was an important office in the early church.

All the original apostles in the early church, such as the 11 disciples and Paul, were seen as authoritative because of their God-given position as Apostles of Christ. Also, when the church discerned which books of the Bible were Scripture, one of the tests for canonicity was if the book was associated in some way with an apostle.

Paul was not originally a follower of Christ, but a persecutor of Christians (Acts 8:1). He was a Pharisee and highly instructed in Jewish Law. While on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, Paul saw Jesus in a blinding light (Acts 9:1-9).

As a result of this experience, Paul trusted in Christ for salvation and became the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13). He preached the gospel, which he received “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12, NIV).

Clearly, Paul was not a random Christian who was trying to make the gospel more appeasing to the Greeks but rather was commissioned by the Lord Jesus to spread the good news to the Gentile nations and the Jews (Acts 9:15). Therefore, as is seen from this evidence, Paul was an apostle, and his 13 epistles pass the test of authority regarding canonicity.

What Does the Bible Say?

Not only was Paul an apostle, but the Bible has much to say about his writings. The messages Paul conveyed to the various churches he addressed in his letters were viewed as authoritative by his readers and seen as the Word of God.

As Paul mentions in his first letter to the Thessalonian church, “Therefore, we never stop thanking God that when you received his message from us, you didn’t think of our words as mere human ideas. You accepted what we said as the very word of God — which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NLT, emphasis mine).

Clearly, those who received the epistles mentioned in the Bible viewed Paul’s message as the Word of God. They were not just seen as human words, devised by Paul (1 Corinthians 2:4). Instead, Paul’s words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, just as the rest of Scripture was written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

The Bible affirms the scriptural status of Paul’s epistles, as shown by this unique attribute of Paul’s letters as the Word of God. Clearly, his writings in the Bible passed the second test of canonicity.

In addition to having internal authentication as Scripture, there is evidence from the rest of the New Testament that Paul’s epistles are inspired and were accepted by the early church. Towards the end of the Apostle Peter’s second letter, he specifically mentions the letters of Paul.

As he says in referring to the Apostle Paul, “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16, NIV).

Acknowledging that some of the contents of Paul’s letters are hard to understand and can be misused, Peter nonetheless referred to Paul’s writings as Scripture.

Commentators believe that many of Paul’s epistles, such as Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, as well as 1 and 2 Thessalonians, were probably already being circulated and read by the churches during the time Peter wrote his second letter.

This is significant, given the early use of Paul’s epistles in the church and the specific identification of these writings as inspired Scripture. As the Pulpit Commentary states in reference to 2 Peter 3:16, “Some of St. Paul’s Epistles had by this time taken their place in the estimate of Christians by the side of the sacred books of the Old Testament, and were regarded as Holy Scripture.”

Hence, the letters of Paul were widely accepted as Scripture from the early time of the first century, when Peter and Paul were still alive. The Pauline Epistles pass the third test of canonicity regarding wide and early acceptance by the church.

The Word of God

Based on the evidence of Paul’s writings, they should be regarded as Scripture. Not only does his writings in the Bible bear the mark of authenticity and inspiration, but they pass the historic tests of canonicity.

There is no legitimate reason based on the writings themselves to reject the thirteen epistles of Paul. Skeptics and Christians who cast out the Pauline Epistles from the Bible have no solid basis for doing so besides their own opinion and feelings.

However, opinions and feelings are not reliable grounds for rejecting anything, especially the Bible, which is historic, well-attested, and inspired.

The 13 Pauline Epistles are an important part of the Bible and without them, the New Testament would lack a great deal of information about Christ’s atoning work and justification by grace through faith (Romans 3:21-26; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Modern Christians who doubt the inspiration of the Pauline Epistles should seriously consider the first-century followers of Christ, who accepted the letters of Paul in the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

For further reading:

Did Paul Know That His Letters Would be Scripture?  

What Are the Pauline Epistles? 

How Is Paul’s Life a Story of Redemption? 

What Is an Epistle? What Are the Epistles in the Bible?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Ben White

Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening. 

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