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Hallo again to all.

We've been ruminating on the Pauline letters lately. Predating the Gospels, Paul's letters are the earliest Christian writings in the Bible and the earliest to be gathered together. In almost every sermon we've ever listened to about Paul, we're told that in his letters he's responding to situations, questions, and problems (often problems) in a specific young church. How did a letter sent by personal messenger from the Apostle to a clearly identified group of early Christians end up being known by more than just that one community?

It went something like this: As the small Christian communities associated with Paul grew, they made contact with fellow believers in other outposts. Copies of Paul's 'here's-how-to-be-Christian' (or how not to be) missives were shared amongst them. But in the Roman Empire of the first century, these were akin to missives of mass subversion, since Paul often proclaims in his letters Jesus as Lord and thus, to the Roman mind, ousting Caesar from his imperial role. The young churches kept a low profile to avoid persecution by the authorities, both Jewish and Roman, so sending and receiving those letters was a daring act requiring as little outside notice as possible.

Folio from P46 Sharing Paul's letters using scrolls would have been problematic for the early Christians. On the 'pro' side, scrolls were comparatively durable and designed for repeat reading. Cons? They were big, bulky, expensive — and obvious. On the principle that smaller is better, the codex appeared as an answer to the 'big-and-bulky' problem. Formed of papyrus sheets, both sides could be used for writing. And a codex was folded and bound on one edge, making it a sort of proto-book. The homely codex was used for everyday accounts and business transactions, for rough drafts and note-taking. In the first century, it wasn't readily associated with literature or religious texts in the Greco-Roman world. But it solved a problem. And it worked, on the time-honoured basis of smaller, cheaper, better.

Soon collations of Paul's letters, copied and re-copied in codex form, travelled further and further. In fact, Paul's letters 'went viral'. We caught ourselves wondering which Things Anglican could be said to have gone viral. Certainly, the hymn Amazing Grace comes to mind. But what else? What would we want to go viral? The messages of an Archbishop of Canterbury? Father Matthew's* short takes on the holy sacraments? Webcasts of some special service or invocation?

Those congregations in the first century had the gift of time, and they used it to repeatedly study, ponder, listen and share their treasured letters from Paul. With the ready availability of the Internet, with all its vast resources for good or ill, do we take the time to read deeply and listen with our souls? Somehow, the quick 'click-n-go' mentality of today may not be the progress we think it to be.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 25 January 2009

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