In order to get a better understanding of the progressive revelation of The Mystery given to the Apostle Paul by the Risen Christ, it is SUPER IMPORTANT to lay out the correct timeline of Paul's Ministry.
So, let's begin. The Apostle Paul was saved in Acts 9 when Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Paul would go on to write 13 books in the New Testament (from the Letter to the Romans to the Letter to Philemon). When we remember that the Apostle Paul is the subject of at least half of the Book of Acts, we realize that half of the 27 books in the New Testament are either about him (The Book of Acts) or were written by him (13 Books).
The Apostle Paul's letters are arranged in The Bible two ways: The letters to the churches are put first, nine letters from Romans to 2 Thessalonians, then the four letters written to individuals, from 1 Timothy to Philemon. The letters are also arranged by length, Romans is longest and is first, then the Corinthian letters, then Galatians, etc. Longer letters are first, shorter ones later.
However, in order to get a better understanding of the progressive revelation of The Mystery given to the Apostle Paul by the Risen Christ, we need to read the Apostle Paul's letters in the order that he wrote them. When we arrange the letters in the order that they were written, all becomes clear!
The first 6 of Paul's letters can be fit into the Book of Acts. Therefore, we can read the Book of Acts and then read the Apostle Paul's letters and we can see where Paul was when he wrote these letters.
The Letter to the Galatians is first
In Acts 13-14 Paul and Barnabas went on their first apostolic journey which took them into Galatia, with cities like Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, etc. Soon after Paul returned from this journey he wrote the letter to the Galatians (see Galatians 1:6 where Paul writes to the Galatians and says, you are "so quickly turned."). Galatians was written soon after Paul returned from that first journey, therefore, soon after Acts 14:27. That makes Galatians the earliest of Paul's letters.
Then 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians
The next letters the Apostle Paul wrote are the two letters to the Thessalonians. In Acts 17, Paul, on his second apostolic journey, came to Thessalonica and preached there. Many were saved, but Paul was driven out of town. Paul continued on to Corinth where he wrote the two letters to the Thessalonians. Timothy's return from Macedonia mentioned in Acts 18:5 is also reported in 1 Thessalonians 3:6. And in 2 Thessalonians 2:5 Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his teaching, as if it had not been very long since he had been with them. So the writing of 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians can be placed into Acts 18 during the Apostle Paul's ministry in Corinth, and that makes them the second and third letters that Paul wrote.
Next are 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians
The next two letters that the Apostle Paul wrote are the two letters to the Corinthians. In Acts 18 Paul spent a year and a half ministering in Corinth (Acts 18:11). Also, while here with the Corinthians, I believe the Apostle Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to pen the Book to the Hebrews, but that is another message. Back on point, Paul later returned to his home base at Antioch (Acts 18:22), and later in his third apostolic journey he arrived in Ephesus (his ministry in Ephesus extends all the way through Acts 19, a period of more than two years, see verse 10). It is here in Ephesus, during Acts 19, that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:19). Shortly after that the Apostle Paul traveled to Macedonia (Acts 20:1, and 2 Cor. 2:13) and that is where he wrote 2 Corinthians.
Then comes Romans
In Acts 20:2-3 Paul arrived in "Greece," actually Corinth again, and spent three months there enjoying the hospitality of a believer named Gaius, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14. In Gaius's home, in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:23). This is the last letter written during the Book of Acts. In Acts 21:33, the Apostle Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, and would spend the next 5 years in prison, right through the end of the Book of Acts.
Summary of Above
So, so far, from Acts 9-Acts 28 we read of the earlier ministry of the Apostle Paul and find that during these years he wrote 6 of his 13 letters. Once again, for those not really paying attention, the order of these first six books is: 1) Galatians (end of Acts 14), 2) 1 Thessalonians (Acts 18), 3) 2 Thessalonians (Acts 18), 4) 1 Corinthians (Acts 19), 5) 2 Corinthians (Acts 20),6. Romans (Acts 20). In Acts 21 Paul was arrested and remained a prisoner through to Acts 28, and beyond.
Now, the Prison Epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians
Shortly after the end of the Book of Acts, while he was still a prisoner, now in Rome, Paul wrote four letters, the "prison epistles": Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians. In each of these letters he writes of his "chains" (Ephesians 6:20, Colossians 4:18, Philemon 13, and Philippians 1:13).
Then, the Pastoral Epistles: The letters to Titus, First Timothy and Second Timothy
The Apostle Paul was released from this imprisonment and continued his ministry for a few years, maybe 3 years. During this time he wrote the three letters known as the "Pastoral Epistles," because these letters were written to the Apostle Paul's co-workers: Pastor Timothy and Pastor Titus.
At the end of his life he is again in prison. This time he anticipates being beheaded for the Lord and writes the last letter, Second Timothy.
Now let's proceed to our Bibles and READ the epistles in the order the Holy Spirit wrote them by the hand of the Apostle Paul.
In Ephesians 1:13 the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul declares that men are saved and sealed by hearing and BELIEVING the Word of Truth, the Gospel of your Salvation. Therefore, here, now, is declared unto you the Word of Truth, the Gospel of your Salvation: "that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. BELIEVE today. The time is short.
So There You Have it!
Spread this message to everyone you know, far and wide.
Grace be to you and peace, from God: our Father, and The LORD Jesus Christ.
In The LORD Jesus Christ,
The Lion and Lamb Ministry
Pastor David Picos, D.D.
Minister and Ambassador for Christ in the Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20)