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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Apostle and His Gospel

Much of the Christian vocabulary we have become so familiar with and associate with the ministry of Jesus actually originated with Paul. For example, Paul was, as far as we know, the first to coin a Christian meaning for the words apostle, gospel, charism, ministry, and many doctrinal phrases such as “justification by faith.” As the first Christian writer, Paul began to develop specifically Christian terminology, even though many of the terms he uses will have roots in Judaism, or other meanings in secular Greek.

Paul's writings predate any of our written Gospels. Paul is the first to speak about preaching the gospel, although he does not conceive this as a story about the life and ministry of Jesus. The idea of the gospel, which appears even in the Old Testament (see, for example, Is 61, 1–2 , “glad tidings”) means the “good news.” For Paul this is the message of salvation now accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans, Paul describes the gospel as the “power of God” to save all who believe (Rom 1, 16 ). Thus, Paul does not think of the gospel as a story of the events in Jesus' life, nor even as a set of beliefs about Jesus. Rather, the gospel is the “good news” that all who believe in Jesus are already saved.

Paul rarely speaks of any actions or words of Jesus during his lifetime. Rather, he focuses on God's power, working through the death and resurrection of Jesus, to save Jews and Greeks (that is, all people) alike. While reading Paul it is well to remember that, for him, the term gospel means the proclamation of faith in God's forgiveness or the realization in human life of the “good news” that Jesus Christ has come to bring salvation to all people.

In his writings, Paul usually identifies himself as an apostle (Rom 1, 1; 11, 13; 1 Cor 1, 1; 4, 9; 9, 1f.5; 15, 9; 2 Cor 1, 1; 11, 5.13; 12, 11.12 ; and so on). The term apostle literally means “one sent,” who represents the sender and is entrusted with the sender's authority and message. God is the source of Paul's apostleship.

The Letters in Circulation

The apostle's authority was in his words and example. It became real when the community as a whole discerned Paul's meaning and decided on the actions, which they as believers should derive from Paul's words. In his letters, Paul teaches, exhorts, encourages, and corrects. The communities reverenced his instructions, reading and preserving them. They circulated these letters, sharing them with other communities. In this way the letters eventually gained the authority of Christian Scriptures as the communities were increasingly strengthened, formed, and informed by a common tradition. Most people in Pauline communities probably could not read, so a reader would read Paul's letter aloud to the assembly of believers. There they reflected together on its contents. From Paul's writings we can get a picture of how the early church operated, how it worshipped and governed itself, and how it grew.

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