Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection, By E. Randolph Richards

Paul and First-Century Letter Writing

Secretaries, Composition and Collection

by E. Randolph Richards

Paul and First-Century Letter Writing
  • Length: 252 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: October 22, 2004
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 2788
  • ISBN: 9780830827886

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Traditional Christian art depicts Paul the letter writer, 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 telltale 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.

"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."

Dr. Bruce Corley, President and Professor of New Testament and Greek, B. H. Carroll Theological Institute

"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, 1991) 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

"Amplifying his astute monograph, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul (1991), 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, Research Professor of Theology Emeritus, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

"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, January-March 2010

"A wecome 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, December 2005


1. A Modern, Western Paul
2. Paul as a First-Century Letter Writer
3. The Tools of a Letter Writer
4. Secretaries in the First-Century World
5. Paul's Use of a Secretary
6. Identifying Inserted Material
7. Weaving Together a Letter
8. Classifying Paul's Letters
9. Analyzing Paul's Writing Style
10. Preparing a Letter for Dispatch
11. Dispatching the Letter
12. Paul's Letter Carriers
13. Paul's Use of His Letter Carriers
14. Collecting Paul's Letters
15. Inspiration and First-Century Letter Writing
Modern Authors Index
Subject Index
Scripture Index


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E. Randolph Richards

E. Randolph Richards (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is provost and professor of biblical studies in the School of Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University. His many books include Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Rediscovering Jesus, Rediscovering Paul, The Story of Israel, and Paul and First-Century Letter Writing.