Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Paul's Secretary

My mom was a marathon letter and journal writer.  I can still see her seated at our kitchen table each morning writing, writing, writing.  Even after Dear Sister gave her a computer, Mother continued to scribble away in her spiral notebooks she always seemed to have on hand.  I have to agree with her.  There is something about moving a pen across a clean page of paper and making it all your own.

Mother created the most interesting letters regarding what was going on in our lives, pondering current events of the day, or relating some little anecdote from her past. 

When I meet up with one of her dear friends they all tell me the same thing - I miss her letters so much.  I know how they feel.  I LONG for one myself. 

Mother didn't just love to write letters.  She loved to read them as well.  Paul was her favorite letter writer with his letter to the Romans as a particular favorite.

While Mother did all of her letter writing at a kitchen table Paul would have followed the custom of the day and would have sat with his writing perched in his lap or on his knees.   Yes, I know there are very famous paintings of Paul sitting at a desk with an oil light, but it just isn't an accurate picture regarding most of the letters.

What many also don't realize is that during ancient times teamwork and cooperation was just as important as they are today.  Paul had a team working along with him.   We know he had traveling companions such as Barnabas and then Silas (Acts 15:36-41), but he also had assistants who wrote his letters.

Yes, an assistant - a secretary.  Scholars are familiar with this since etiquette of the day called for the use of a secretary.  It was customary and expected.  Romans 16:22 identifies one such secretary....."I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter greet you in the Lord."   If Paul wrote the letter himself he would say so as he does at 1Corinthians 16:21.

In Paul's day literacy did not have the same meaning as it does today.  People who were literate could read, but that did not mean they wrote.  Researchers believe Paul was literate regarding reading, but his writing skills were probabably very basic.  Paul tells us at Galatians 6:11....."See what large letters I use as I write to you in my own hand." 

There were people who specialized in writing during Paul's day.   They knew how to cut and paste as well as cut and sharpen the pens.   They learned how to mix the inks, prick and line the sheets of papryus and most importantly they knew the conventions of writing for the time period - correct forms and phrases for each specific situation.

The first letter to the Corinthians begins, "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and our brother Sosthenes."   Many believe a mention at the beginning of  a letter was meant to honor the person, but if people were meant to be honored they were mentioned at the end of a letter.  Sosthenes was mentioned at the beginning because he was writing the letter for Paul.  Though a scribe would have written most of the letter etiquette also dictated that Paul finish the letter, and many scholars have noted this.

Mother's letters followed a very folksey type of journal entry.  She just let the words flow from her much like she would converse with you in person.  Paul planned his letters very carefully, but unlike many contemporary preachers who lock themselves in their study until they have their message put together Paul talk about the subject of the letter with those around him.   What we study today as the letters of Paul are very well thought out messages that were discussed among others sitting by the sea, over a midday meal, or while riding out a storm at sea.  After discussing the topic Paul would have dictated his letter.  Some scholars have suggested 1 Corinthians took over ten hours to dictate. 

Of course, Christians believe each of Paul's letters were inspired by God.  The Lord works through human processes as well as human writers through each step of the writing process.

Yes, writing a letter during Paul's time was a complex task.  It was also expensive.  Scholars suggest in today's dollars it would cost Paul approximately $2,000 to write each letter.  That price include the costs of the papyrus and ink, the cost of paying someone to deliver the letter and the secretary or scribe had to be as well. 

Colossians 4: 16 begins, "After this letter has been read to you...." indicates Paul's letters were meant to be read publically.   This means they could not have been written messily - appearance would have been important - there would have been a first and possibly a second draft.

Paul's letters, of course, are timeless. Though they were written to groups of people in ancient times the letters still speak to us today.   We are able to learn about the beliefs and controversies of early Christianity, and we often discover that the passage of time is the major difference between the early church and the church of today.


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