New College, University of Edinburgh

Paul the Letter-Writer: Recent Studies

One resource that all students of Christian Origins should know about is the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, the wonderful online review journal that covers scholarly works across a very wide spectrum of the ancient world:  A review of a very recent book illustrates two of the advantages of this review service:  Steve Reece, Paul’s Large Letters: Paul’s Autographic Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions. Library of New Testament studies, 561 (London; New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2017).  The review can be accessed here:

First, reviews appear much earlier than in most paper-print journals (in this case, within weeks of the publication of the book).  Second, reviewers have the space to provide more extended discussions than allowed in most print journals.  As in this case, reviews can include further reflections by the reviewer, and endnotes to other publications.

Obviously, the book under review in this instance happens to be directly related to the field of New Testament and Christian Origins.  The very broad scope of BMCR, however, means that the books reviewed will serve more typically to enhance our knowledge of the historical context of early Christianity.  But in these times of scholarly specialization and the consequent difficulty of acquiring and maintaining much breadth of knowledge, BMCR is a God-send.

To turn to the book reviewed, I should emphasize that it is an important contribution to studies of Paul and his letters, especially Paul’s writing of letters.  There have been earlier studies as well, not mentioned by the reviewer.  E. Randolph Richards, The Secretary in the Letters of Paul WUNT, 2/42 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1991) focuses on how ancient authors in general, and Paul in particular, used “secretaries” in writing literary texts.  More recently, Richards produced a work aimed at a wider readership:  Paul and First-Century Letter Writing:  Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), which (as the sub-title indicates) addresses the several component-activities that eventuated in Paul’s letters being composed, sent, and preserved.


These books by Richards and the very recent study by Reece help us to grasp a bit better what was actually involved in the physical tasks of composing a work and preparing a fair copy to be sent to readers.  The rich comparative data in these works help us to see Paul’s letters more clearly in the context of the culture in which he wrote them.


Written by Larry Hurtado


  • CSCO Team,
  • 27th April 2017


  • E. Randolph Richards, 29th April 2017 at 2:53 pm | Reply

    Larry, thank you for the kind remarks. I’m planning to visit in the fall and hope to enjoy lunch or dinner with you.

  • Jeffrey A D Weima, 5th June 2017 at 10:18 pm | Reply

    Permit me to draw attention to my recent book, “Paul the Ancient Letter Writer. An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis” (Baker 2016)

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