Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16-18
As we finish our look at Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians it seems like a good time to take a look at Paul. One thing I notice in today’s verses is Paul’s statement that he wrote this letter in his own hand. Why would this be important? During Paul’s time people would typically dictate letters to a scribe who would write them down and if necessary make copies. The author could either sign the letter or affix their seal for authenticity. Paul however wrote a number of his letters to the churches personally. Whenever he writes them himself he will acknowledge that in the closing.
It is because of how Paul opens his letters and closes them that have all but the extreme liberal critics accepting Paul as authentic, early and accurate. Dr. Gary Habermas when he debates atheists on the resurrection and Christianity uses only the Pauline letters in his defense of the faith. I was fortunate to take a class on the resurrection from him and he gave these reasons for using only Paul when he debated. First Paul identifies himself where many of the rest of the New Testament is essentially anonymous, that is the writer does not specifically identify himself. Therefore there is room for controversy as to the authorship of other books in the New Testament.
Second, Paul is almost universally held to be early, within ten to twenty years after the crucifixion and resurrection. The early dating of Paul is held by both liberal and conservative biblical critics. The liberals tens to date from late 50’s with conservative dating from the early 50’s to late 40’s. This early dating puts Paul’s letters well before the time legend creeps into writings. Compare the so called Gnostic Gospels written in the third and forth centuries to the New Testament and you will find talking crosses and a juvenile Jesus healing birds none of which we find in the New Testament.
Third we find the major Christian doctrines in Paul’s letters. From the crucifixion to the resurrection to the deity of Jesus all are in Paul. In fact if all we had were Paul’s writings we would have enough to be able to be saved. Paul constantly wrote to the early churches what was essential beliefs to being Christian.
Please do not read into this that either I or Dr. Habermas have issues with the rest of the New Testament. One needs to look at what the goal is. Do we want to have unbelievers accept the New Testament of Jesus. When we concentrate on the Gospels we can get bogged down in arguing who wrote them and when they were written rather than if Christianity is true. That is why when I have taught classes on Apologetics we do not even open a Bible until almost half way through the sessions. You cannot use the Bible to convince someone Christianity is true until you first get them to accept that God exists.
One final note on acceptance of the Gospels, of all of them the one critics are most likely to accept as authentic and early is Luke and Acts. It is recognized that both are from the same author who is almost certainly Luke, Paul’s traveling companion who is mentioned frequently in Paul’s letters. Also, the historicity of Luke’s writing adds to the liberal critic’s acceptance of Luke. As to dating Luke/Acts we see that Acts ends with Paul a prisoner in Rome but still alive and before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD. This would put Luke’s writings before 70AD less than forty years after the events on Jesus’ life.
Once you have someone showing interest in Christianity and accepting that God does exist then you can introduce them to the Bible and let God work in their heart. Many have been brought to Christ sole through reading the New Testament. What we need to do is plant the seed.
Have a blessed day,