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Solving Methods

Page Topics

Literary Analysis Structures Unique Appearance
List of Techniques Greetings Omission
Circumstances of Author Bodies Writer-Helpers
Purpose of Document Endings Proximity
Target Audience Specific Phrases Logic and Hard Work
Cultural Norms Tone More Information
Sub-Cultural Norms Exceptional Details
Characteristics of Literature Follow The People

Literary Analysis

The methods used to solve the Paul Puzzle were techniques of literary analysis, logic, and hard work.

The author of the book Solving the Paul Puzzle is not a professional literary critic, but there was a background that included a bachelors degree in English, a minor in Classical Greek, some time in Bible college, and much personal effort studying literature as well as producing literature. (The author also studied the Japanese language, providing a different perspective on language, literature and culture.)

Because the author is not a professional critic, some of the terms and concepts explained below may not be exactly the same techniques or terminology used in professional circles.

The concepts explained below are valuable for any study of literature, but this does not mean that all of the following concepts are regularly used by academic experts on the subject of literary analysis. In similar fashion, there may be concepts of literary analysis regularly used by knowledgable practitioners that are not included in the explanations below.

Regardless of the fact that the author is not a professional literary critic, the following techniques were used and did result in clear definitions of the New Testament chronology problems (The Puzzle) and in an answers for all the major concerns.

List of Literary Analysis Techniques

The following is a list of techniques used in literary analysis. These will be covered separately, but the list allows quick scanning. These are also given in the Page Topics at the top of this page.

Circumstances of Author

A primary duty of the reader is to understand the circumstances surrounding the author at the time the author wrote a particular document.

This may not be absolutely necessary for every book, such as fiction and many other books, but it is necessary when trying to study the books of the New Testament.

When did the author write the document? Was he or she under duress? Did he or she have help? Is it likely that he was hurried? What was the impetus for creating the document?

In some ways we have known some of these answers for a long time. We know that is some cases the apostles were in severe circumstances, such as incarceration, at the time of authorship. In other cases, apostles may have been worried about persecution from surrounding populations.

But there are other concerns that are as important but not always considered. How difficult was it for a fisherman to write an epistle? Surely much time had passed since days on the boat, but was there some reluctance to get into print? Difficult or not, they had to do it, because they gradually found out it was part of the job.

Purpose of Document

We occasionally seem to forget that the books of the New Testament were written to people other than ourselves at a time other than our own. It is true that God helped the authors write these things so that the principles would be available for Christians throughout the ages, but the apostles did not realize that at the time. They did not hear a voice from heaven telling them, “Sit down and pick up a pen, because I have something to say.”

The point to remember here is that we cannot bypass fundamental factors about written communication just because the document happens to be the Word of God. The apostles wrote for specific reasons, and we have to become familiar with those original reasons if we are to most accurately comprehend the intentions of the documents.

We have to ask two questions of every passage of Scripture: “What were the factors especially relevant to the situation in which this document was written?” And, “What principles can be properly drawn from those words as instruction for Christians in any era?”

It is this second question that we already love to ask in the form “What does this say to me?” But without an understanding of the apostle’s original intentions, we may misconstrue the lasting message as well.

Target Audience

As alluded to in the above section, it is important to remember the original target audience. The letter to the Ephesians was an actual communication to the Ephesians before it became a set of principles for Christians through the ages.

In every case when studying the Bible for literary clues, we have to ask what the author meant to say to the original audience.

Cultural Norms

One characteristic of literature is the reflection of cultural norms. This is the representation of the overall culture of the period and place.

Here is an example. The fact that the apostles wrote letters and sent them by messengers indicates that it was a common practice of the time.

A difference, however, was that the letters could not be given to a stranger for delivery — the messenger had to be a personal acquaintance willing to take the letter to its destination.

This gives us a special tool, because tracking the messengers will at times provide additional supporting evidence for the sequence of the letters.

There are many other cultural factors. The Romans were in political control of all the nations surrounding the church. People frequently walked hundreds of miles as a common form of travel. Movement of cargo was primarily by ship. Some of these factors will help our analysis.

Sub-Cultural Norms

Within the larger culture of the Mediterranean world in the first century, a new sub-culture blossomed. This was the Christian church.

The writings of the apostles are full of references to things that people outside that sub-culture would have not have comprehended at all.

The apostles wrote of interaction with the Holy Spirit as though every reader would understand immediately what was meant. But neither an everyday citizen of Judea nor a typical Roman soldier would have understood this.

The apostles knew their audience was part of the sub-culture called the Christian church. We need to keep that in mind. This culture was not understood by everyone in the region.

Characteristics of Literature

There are certain characteristics of literature that we can define in order to organize our efforts.

While describing these characteristics, we need to keep watch for differences between literature of our own culture and literature of their culture.

What they considered a proper presentation of history we may criticize as too subjective had it been written in our time.

An example of literary difference is the inclusion of a doxology. These are short expressions of praise to God, and several of the letters include them as a standard item.

It was standard in their day to include a doxology, and they appear throughout the epistles, but do we use these in our letter writing today? No.

Nevertheless, the doxologies used in the epistles provide tremendous clues to the sequence of the letters.


We first define the structure of a document as the overall design of the thematic units.

For example, midway through 1 Corinthians, Paul may talk about spiritual gifts for ten verses, then liken the church to a human body for twenty verses, then speak about love for fifteen verses. This is part of the structure of his letter.

By comparing the structures of different epistles, we can look for indications that they are related or not related.


Since nearly all of the New Testament documents have a greeting at the beginning, it will be important to examine how they are like or unlike each other.


These are the central portions of each document. In the epistles, sometimes the apostle describes specific instructions for particular people and at other times presents themes and principles that apply to everyone.


As with the nearly universal inclusion of greetings, all of the New Testament writings end in some fashion, and examining the way the author ended the document will give key clues about its origin.

Specific Phrases

Looking for common phrases and vocabulary is a technique that has been used for a very long time.

Concordances generally make it easy do such things as count the number of times Peter used the word “holy” and compare it to the frequency with which Paul used the word.

Where many Bible students fall short is to stop at this point. Comparing words is a great tool, but concordances are not as helpful in locating and comparing longer phrases. Sometimes similar themes will be treated in separate letters, but we will not realize it unless we understand complex similarities.

When speaking of the mortal body, in one place Paul says “a natural body,” in another place he writes “jars of clay,” and Peter in his second letter says, “the tent of this body.”

If we relied only on a concordance and did not think about the words used in every distinct verse, we might miss connections.


A very critical one aspect of literature is tone. This is the mood of the letter. Look at the two fabricated examples below.

Don’t worry! Everything will be okay! I am sure that we will meet again very soon.

All these things happen in order to strengthen us, by increasing our endurance in suffering and teaching us to patiently wait for a resolution to our difficulties. Let us trust that the present circumstances will soon pass and I will see you again.

The tone in example A is extremely upbeat even though there are problems, while the tone in example B is much darker and more somber.

Every single document in the New Testament has a distinct tone. Even the letters from Paul have different variations in tone, while sometimes being on nearly identical topics!

Detecting tone can provide important clues to the circumstances that surrounded the apostle at the time he wrote, and thereby help with analyzing the document.

Exceptional Details

Some details will appear in the New Testament letters and in no other places.

For example, people that lived then are gone now. They are mentioned in the documents, and they are unique because they appear in no other literature.

The same goes for the actions described, and maybe even objects.

We must take advantage of these unique characteristics when searching the documents for similarities and differences between the documents, as well as special information that may shed light on a question.

Follow The People

As an example of the search for exceptional details, it is absolutely critical to carefully follow all of the people in every epistle! Every name! Every indirect reference! They must all add up in the end.

It is improper to think that one has carefully studied the Bible when in actual fact they skipped over almost every name they saw on the page.

In an example related to the journeys of Paul, and particularly to the journeys of his disciples, it is not reasonable to look at all the people mentioned in Paul's letters, people who live in Asia Minor, and say that they would have made journeys to both Palestine and Italy to see Paul. This is claiming these people would make two long trips to go see Paul, not considering the cost in time and money.

When all the focus of movement in one direction is clearly shown, attention must be given to how that trend in activity fits a logical range of motion for each individual involved.

This principle of "Follow the People" is used exhaustively in Solving the Paul Puzzle, and it yields many results.

Unique Appearance

Another example of an important literary characteristic found in 1 and 2 Thessalonians is the concept of unique appearance.

In this case, Silas is mentioned as a companion and assistant. The support Silas gave Paul during this period of time is well recorded in Acts.

But what is unusual is something that is harder to notice unless we look for it: It is the last time Silas is mentioned in Paul’s company!

Obviously Silas did not vanish into thin air after 2 Thessalonians was written. Having faithfully accompanied Paul through so much difficulty, it is ridiculous to think he would abandon Paul at that point.

So what probably happened? He went home. Although Luke does not specifically describe how Silas went back to Jerusalem, it is most reasonable to think that he went back in the most sensible way — with Paul.


The example in the section above also relates to the principle of omission. Not every writer is going to include every detail about every subject.

While this may seem bothersome, it actually gives us the opportunity to see where one author included a detail while another author omitted it.

This phenomenon is noticed frequently when comparing the Book of Acts to the Epistles of Paul, and it can be very helpful in analyzing the books.

But we have to notice where the omissions occur and think about why they were left out. That leads to valuable evidence.


The term writer-helper is used in this book of an assistant who helps an apostle to write a document.

Paul always benefited from a writer-helper. Some of the other apostles benefited from writer-helpers as well.

This provides a great tool for literary analysis. Not only can we look for which person was the writer-helper for a particular letter, and then check that information against the other documents, but we can also look for the stylistic influence of the writer-helper on the content of each letter.

An example is in Romans. Tertius helped Paul to write the letter, and at the end of the epistle there are greetings to 23 Roman residents! Paul had not yet been to Rome, so maybe Tertius was injecting a few greetings to people he knew back home.

Other influences by the writer-helpers may be very subtle. At any rate, just knowing the identity of the writer-helper is a great advantage.


Of all the literary techniques listed above, proximity may be the most valuable.

Proximity means "nearness," and in Solving the Paul Puzzle this refers to nearness in time.

In the same way that events occurring within a short amount of time are deemed proximate, passages written in two different documents of the New Testament are considered to have been written within a short period of time if they show much proximity.

The evidence for proximity is in how closely the passages match each other. If the same person uses a particular phrase in one letter and then repeats the phrase in another letter, then the letters are more likely to have been written within in a relatively short period of time. Otherwise, the author would have forgotten what he said previously and the similar but later penned phrase would show more differentiation.

The following is an obvious example of proximity, but there are many other cases where the proximity is not so obvious but is every bit as important.

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you.

Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

These passages show that the letters have proximity — meaning that they were written within a short period of time. As mentioned above, this is an obvious example, but the epistles of Paul bristle with indicators of proximity, and we need to carefully observe them.

Logic and Hard Work

Not appearing in the list of literary analysis techniques given above is one very important trait: logic.

A person cannot analyze the documents of the New Testament for signs of chronology without the persistent use of logic and a large amount of hard work.

It is not difficult to apply logic; it only requires that the person make a genuine effort and question what is reasonable and what is not.

More Information

For a more detailed explanation of the techniques of literary analysis used in this effort, read the book Solving the Paul Puzzle.

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