Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection
Traditional Christian art depicts Paul the letter writer, pensive and pen in hand, attentive to the Spirit. We might think we know better and imagine him pacing in agitation as he rapidly dictates to a secretary his letter to the Galatians. But in reality neither of these pictures is accurate.
In Paul’s day, producing a letter was a time-consuming and costly business. And we have ample resources from the ancient world to piece together what it must have been like. A secretary was usually part of the picture. But so were notes, drafts, corrections and careful rewrites—not to speak of scratchy pens, sooty ink and coarse papyrus. Interestingly, there is evidence that Paul involved his missionary team in the writing of letters. And then came the delivery over land and sea, the reading and circulation, as well as the epistolary afterlife of copying, collecting and storing.
E. Randolph Richards has extensively studied ancient letter writing and secretaries. Informed by the historical evidence and with a sharp eye for tell tale clues in Paul’s letters, he takes us into this world and places us on the scene with Paul the letter writer. What first appears to be just a study of secretaries and stationery turns out to be an intriguing glimpse of Paul the letter writer that overthrows our preconceptions and offers a new perspective on how this important portion of Christian Scripture came to be.
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- Gives rare access to ancient practices of communication
- Dispels modern misconceptions
- Offers a new model for understanding the letters often understood as deutero-Pauline
Praise for the Print Edition
Amplifying his astute monograph, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul, Dr. Richards offers here an insightful, well-organized and very readable study of an important issue in New Testament research. He is at his best in the discussion of secretaries and their tools in the ancient world. While not all will agree with every viewpoint expressed, all can profit from this important contribution to our discipline.
—E. Earle Ellis, former research professor of theology emeritus Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
A comprehensive, impressive, insightful, informative, and engaging account of letter writing in the ancient world with primary emphasis on the composition and collection of Paul’s letters. Richards builds upon—but expands—his earlier work The Secretary in the Letters of Paul by including additional information about the mechanics of writing letters (all the ‘nuts and bolts’), the role of coauthors and colleagues (such as Timothy, Sosthenes, Tertius, Silas), and the significance of preformed material and interpolations for understanding issues of Pauline authorship. The book is the fruit of sound historical research and cautious scholarship. It is a major contribution to the field, bound to be read with profit and treasured by teachers, pastors and students of the New Testament.
—Arthur G. Patzia, professor of New Testament, Fuller Northern California
For those who want an over-the-shoulder look into Paul’s world, this is the book. Richards guides the reader with a sure hand, sifting through a wide array of ancient texts and artifacts to reconstruct an engaging picture of Paul’s letter writing. But there are bonus features: one also learns about life in the city and marketplace; travel by land and sea; customs at home, school, and in the company of friends; and a host of other topics. Rarely does a book this size offer so many insights, sometimes challenging common opinion but always illuminating. This treasure trove, written in readable style with eye-catching pages, will attract students of Paul and Greco-Roman history again and again.
—Bruce Corley, president and professor of New Testament and Greek, B. H. Carroll Theological Institute
A welcome and accessible contribution to Pauline and epistolary studies. It contains a wealth of material . . . that effectively sets Paul and his letters against the backdrop of first-century letter writing conventions.
—Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Richards has rendered a service to all by writing an extremely accessible book that avoids scholarly jargon to allow anyone who is interested in this topic to see how this relates to Paul the letter writer. Bible collectors and others seriously interested in the Bible will not look at Paul’s letters in the same way again after reading this most readable book.
—Bible Editions & Versions
- Title: Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection
- Author: E. Randolph Richards
- Publisher: IVP Press
- Publication Date: 2004
- Pages: 252
About the Author
E. Randolph Richards (MDiv and PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is dean of the School of Ministry and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. He has frequently served as an interim or “supply” pastor, and from 1988 to 1996 he was a missionary with the International Mission Board, SBC, stationed in East Indonesia.