Saturday, September 13, 2008

Epistles to the Apostle-- What Did they Look Like?

Sometime ago, my fellow Methodist Colin Morris from the U.K. wrote a wonderful little humorous book entitled Epistles to the Apostle, now long out of print, imagining what the letters written to Paul would have looked like, The following is a sample that could have prompted 1 Thessalonians.

My dear Paul,

The followers of Jesus in this city are in receipt of your letter, which was read out in church a month ago and which appears to confirm a widely held view here that our Lord will be returning in glory at any moment to take believers such as my humble self back with him to heaven. Being a hard-headed businessman I took your words with utmost seriousness. To prepare myself and my family for the Day of the Lord, I sold my business at a knock-down price and gave the proceeds to the poor—and that, let me add, was a tidy sum, but I assume I won’t need cash in heaven! So here I am with my bags packed, my property disposed of and myself, my wife, and my children taking it in shifts to scan the skies for something unusual to appear. In fact, every time I hear a trumpet, I nearly jump out of my skin! And what has happened? Nothing.

I can’t help feeling that I’ve been made to look an utter fool in the eyes of my friends and business acquaintances. They all think I’ve gone stark, raving mad. Meanwhile, the man who bought my business, far from suffering the catastrophe reserved for the wicked, is making a handsome profit and living in my house, which is one of the finest in the city . . . .

Would you kindly tell me what I do next? The tax people are pestering me for last year’s assessment, and I haven’t a lead shekel to pay them with. Being a man of God you are probably unaware that disposing of one’s assets in the interests of a religion which is not recognized by the state does not qualify one for retrospective tax exemption. So, I’m in a pretty pickle, let me tell you! I feel most strongly that the financial implications of the Second Coming should have been given more serious consideration by the apostles . . .

I am in a most embarrassing situation, what with a nagging wife and three children who have gotten completely out of hand because they prefer earthly pranks to what they imagine will be heavenly boredom . . . it is one thing to suffer for the faith; quite another to be made to look ridiculous. However I do not intend to move from this spot until Jesus comes to collect me. Meanwhile it would be quite dishonest of me not to express grave concern at the most unbusinesslike way in which this whole matter is being dealt with. I await an eager reply, other wise I shall be forced to turn the whole matter over to my lawyers.


[There followed a letter from Paphlos’ lawyer telling Paul he had exactly thirty days to make good on his promise of heaven or face litigation in Thessalonike!]


LGM#3 said...


LOL! Seems like we have a business-minded man with little-to-no exegetical skills, sounds like many pastors of churches I've attended. Paul was, as you've aptly and pervasively argued, not of the "it's necessary that Jesus will come before I die" school but of the "It's now possible for Jesus to come tomorrow, so watch yo' self!"

Luke Timothy Johnson asked the following question the other day in the class: "Why write all of these writings (i.e., the New Testament) when you think that the end of the world will come within your lifetime?" While I've read some of his work, I don't know what his pubished views are on the issue, but he seemed to assume the ol' view that the earliest Christians all believed the end was necessarily imminent. The question is indeed profound if this were the case, but, from what I've read in the NT and the secondary literature, this wasn't the case--at least for the leaders of the movement in their writings!


Lawrence M.

Unknown said...

Would love for you to check it out....thanks!

Don said...

Given that letters are somewhat like one half of a phone transcript, it would certainly help in OUR understanding if we had the other half!

We can try to discern the other letters, etc. as best we can, but we do not have them. If one is ever found (which I do not really think is likely but is possible), it might really help us understand Scripture better.

Robert Jimenez said...

This was funny in some ways, yet it does make you wonder, what if.

Currently reading through your book "Jesus, Paul and the End of the World" and found this post amusing. Glad I found your book, as it is hard to find good books on this topic, so many of them are driven by hype, and fear.


José Solano said...

Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To Paphlos in Thessalonika. You are a complete schlemiel. You’re an ass. Did you ever see any of us giving away all of his things. We are all gainfully employed and trying to improve the life of people on earth. What’s the sense of giving anybody anything if it’s all coming to an end tomorrow or next month? Do you know which way you’re going if the Lord catches you just waiting around for the end? Thank God He hasn’t returned yet.

Were you asleep in church when our first letter was read. We told you: “We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” We also told you to “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, . . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” And look at you now. You’ve become the laughing stock of the whole town and an embarrassment to the church.

But thanks to God’s abundant mercy there is still hope, even for someone like you.