Michael Gorman on the narrative character of Paul’s letters

Referring to a letter as ‘narrative’ in character may at first seem odd. But a close inspection of Paul’s letters reveals that he is always telling stories, no matter how brief they may be – stories about God in Christ, about himself, about his relationship with the recipients and their reception of the gospel, about the life within the community, and so on. In his letters there is a three-way intersection of God’s story, Paul’s story, and the recipients’ story. Indeed, the intent of a Pauline letter seems to be both to rehearse the past and to guide the future of this ‘triangular relationship,’ this three-way intersection of personal narratives.

This confluence of narratives is, to be sure, really one narrative – the story of God’s saving power experienced in one particular community with the assistance of one particular apostle and his coworkers. A letter from Paul says, ‘This story is not over.’ As we examine the various Pauline letters, therefore, we need always to be attentive to both the past and the (hoped-for) future of this triangular narrative relationship. There is always a story behind the letter, as well as one taking shape within it. 

 Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul and His Letters (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004): 75-6

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