Scholarly Quotes on Paul the Apocalypticst

Paul was an Apocalypticist who believed the end was nigh. He believed that the resurrected pneumatically-bodied Jesus was to return to instigate the Apocalypse (or whatever one wants to call it) very soon within his generation. Consider these quotes from his authentic epistles (with emphasis added):

1 Corinthians 7:29
“I mean, brothers, the appointed time has grown short. From now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away

1 Corinthians 10:11
“These things [i.e. Old Testament stories he has been using to warn the Corinthians
against idolatry] happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come

1 Corinthians 15:51
“Listen, I will tell you a secret! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed”

1 Thessalonians 4:13
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words”

Romans 8:18-23
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”

Romans 13:11
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. The night is far gone, the day is near…”

^ If Paul is writing his Epistle to the Romans in the 50sCE, some 20yrs after Jesus’s supposed resurrection, does this quote not imply that Paul expects the return to happen in less than 20 years?

Romans 16:20
The god of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet.

1 Corinthians 4:9
“I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals”

1 Corinthians 15:23
Paul describes Jesus as the “first fruits” of the expected ‘General Resurrection’ – a farming imagery for the first pickings of the seasonal harvest, again the point being that they are living in the season of the coming Apocalypse.

Paul was evidently wrong in his expectations.


Below are a selection of scholarly quotes:

“For Paul […] Christ is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, and his resurrection is as fateful for humanity as the sin of Adam had been. In short, Paul argues that the resurrection of Jesus must be understood in the context of a general resurrection and presupposes a full scenario such as as we find in the historical apocalypses. Since one person has already been raised, the rest cannot be far behind. The end is at hand”
– John J. Collins, “The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd Edition)”, p.264

“[Paul] conceived of the whole sweep of history, or of God’s programme for the world, as climaxing in the acts of the apostles. The apostles constituted the last act on the stage of cosmic history”
– James Dunn, “Jesus, Paul and the Gospels”, p.144

“Paul anticipated the end of the age to come within his lifetime […] Paul’s mission was to convince others so that they too could be transformed into imperishable beings when the end of this age came to a grand climax with the appearance of Jesus from heaven. No wonder he saw his mission as so urgent. The end was upon him, and people needed to be told”
– Bart Ehrman, “Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene”, p.120

“[1 Thessalonians 4:13-18] indicates that Paul believed Jesus’s Second Coming and the end of the age to be imminent”
– Gerd Lüdemann, “1 Thessalonians: The Earliest Christian Text” p.56

“When and how the final step of glorification takes place is fortunately a subject that Paul addresses in some detail in several places in his letters. Paul believes that he is living at the end of the age, very near the time when Christ will return from heaven. He expects to live to see Jesus appear visibly in the clouds, in the lower atmosphere”
– James Tabor, “Jesus & Paul”, p.115

“Throwing all caution to the wind, Paul boldly asserted – as a certainty based on Christ’s promise – that he and his flock would participate in the great encounter, which he sketched with masterly strokes [in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. Such a firm announcement of the imminence of the Second Coming, which continued to be ardently expected until as late as the end of the 1st century CE, turned out to be dangerous as it clearly unsettled some of the faithful”
– Geza Vermes, “Christian Beginnings”, p.104

“[Coming to the belief that] Jesus had come as the Messiah of Israel meant further, for Paul, that the apocalyptic end times had commenced and would be consummated soon when Jesus came back again”, and “It is clear from [the concern of the Thessalonians discernible in 1 Thessalonians], as well as Paul’s own summary statement in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, that in his earlier preaching Paul had stressed apocalyptic themes regarding the Messiah, an imminent eschaton, and divine wrath”
– L. Michael White, “From Jesus to Christianity”, p.158 and p.176

“We learn here [in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18] that Paul and his contemporaries expected Jesus’s Second Coming in the very near future, and, indeed, Paul expected to be alive for the events”
– Vincent Smiles, “New Collegeville Commentary on the New Testament”, p.662

“[For Paul] the Parousia is clearly to be in [his] lifetime. It will ensure upon the crisis of Evil and, though preceded by certain signs, yet will come ‘as a thief in the night’. The event itself is painted in typical apocalyptic colours – Christ with attendant angels descending from heaven, the archangel’s voice, the sound of the trumpet, etc. The Parousia is also the ‘Day of Judgement’. On that Day, Anti-christ will be annihilated, and the wicked doomed to ‘eternal destruction’”
– A. M. Hunter, “Paul and His Predecessors”, p.101

“Paul believed that his singleness enabled him to devote greater time and energy to his ministry and claimed to possess a gift of celibacy. Because Paul placed a premium upon his own singleness and imminently expected the eschaton, he recommended that other single believers also remain single”
– Thomas E. Phillips, “Paul, His Letters and Acts”, p.84

“[Paul’s] answers [in 1 Corinthians 7] are conditioned by his belief that the community is living in the last days of the end-time and that the Lord’s second coming is quickly approaching”
– Maria A. Pascuzzi, “New Collegeville Commentary on the New Testament”, p.486

“A problem derives from the gospel which Paul proclaimed and to which the Thessalonians were converted – ‘For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep’. In other words, the problem arises out of the consideration of a fundamentally human event like death seen in the light of the gospel and its soteriological, eschatological, and apocalyptic aspects. If Jesus trued ‘died and rose again,’ if God has indeed ‘destined us… to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us’, and if ‘we who are alive’ have to wait ‘until the coming of the Lord’, then what happens to the Christians who actually die in the interim, in the time between the resurrection of Jesus and his coming on ‘the day of the Lord’? Paul, evidently, judged the period between the two events to be within the span of a single lifetime. Indeed, he expected ‘the day of the Lord’ within his own lifetime – ‘we who are alive, who are left…’ ” […] “The conviction of the imminence of the parousia remained with Paul to the end. The idea is not abandoned even in Romans – ‘For salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed’ (13:11, see 8:19, 23). If this statement is anything more than a jejune truism, its reference must be to Paul’s expectation of the parousia”
– Stanley B. Marrow, “Paul: His Letters and His Theology”, p.76-77

“[After analysis of the Pauline corpus] We can summarize the main ingredients of Paul’s Announcement. Positively, Paul understands Jesus in apocalyptic terms. Jesus died and rose to save humanity in some way, and this salvation will be completed in very concrete terms with Jesus’s imminent return from heaven to evacuate his followers”
– Steve Mason, “Paul’s Announcement”, in “Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins”, p.295

“Paul would probably have discouraged [his fellow Christians] from taking part [in zealot-like uprisings]. He always told his disciples to “live quietly” until the Messiah returned to establish his kingdom – an event that he firmly believed would happen in his own lifetime (see 1 Thessalonians 4 and Romans 13)”
– Karen Armstrong, “St. Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle”, p.40

“[Paul’s understanding of his mission] was part of a deep conviction that God was finally putting things right. So much of Paul’s theological language was rooted in that conviction – language dealing with justification, judgment, wrath, the new creation, and the outpouring of the spirit. So much of his activity was driven by the belief that he lived in the last generation of this world age and that he along with his addressees would participate in that final eschatological moment: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up!” (1 Thess 4:17). So much of the energy of his mission came from the belief that he was playing a powerful role as herald of the good news that all must hear before the end. Paul’s coupling of emphases on the approaching end and the mission to the Gentiles, though hardly unique, was certainly central to his self-understanding”
– Calvin Roetzel, “Paul: The Man and the Myth”, p.62

“[Paul] believed passionately that the Second Coming was imminent […]. Paul claimed to be a Jew but he was extending Judaism into a new context in which the dominant force was Christ and his imminent coming”
– Charles Freeman, “A New History of Early Christianity, p.50, 52

“The temple’s destruction [in 70CE] broke a crucial bond. Yahweh had missed a perfect opportunity to show his power; Jerusalem would have been the perfect stage for a scenario all expected – the return of Jesus and the ensuing end of the world. But Jesus had not returned. This non-event exacerbated existing psychological unrest at the failure over the previous forty years of his promised reappearance in power. Followers expected his Second Coming within their own lifetimes. Twenty years or more before the temple’s doom, Paul had already had to settle rustlings of uneasiness about Jesus’s non-appearance. He had to make constant assurances that the end was near (see Romans 13:11-12; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 5:2). And yet it had not happened, even as more and more people died who had known Jesus or been personally inspired by his message”
– Robert Knapp, “The Dawn of Christianity: People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles”, p.208-209

“After the death of Jesus, his disciples continued to be confident of the imminent end of the world, to some degree because they were still under the spell of their master’s frequent promises (“the kingdom of God is at hand”; “there willl be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power”; “this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled”), and they went about in search of portents. The same illusion was shared by Paul. His Epistles testify amply to his conviction that the wait would be of the briefest (συνεσταλμένος, sunestalmenos) and that the Great Day was imminent (ἐνεστῶσαν ἀνάγκην, enestōsan anankēn), certain to arrive before he and his contemporaries had died”
– Marcello Craveri, “The Life of Jesus: An Assessment through Modern Historical Evidence”, p.332

“One ingredient of Paul’s apocalyptic outlook is his dualistic doctrine of two ages. He senses that he lives on the boundary of two worlds, one dying and the other being born. He expects the last trumpet to sound soon. “Not all of us will fall asleep” (1 Cor. 15:51). While he cannot fix the precise time and date, he assures the believers at Thessalonica that “the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). They should, therefore, prepare themselves (5:4)”
– Joe E. Barnhart & Linda T. Kraeger, “In Search of First-Century Christianity”, p.65

“The expectation of the end of the present world order – one of Paul’s central convictions – appears too in what may be his last surviving letter, Romans: ‘Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.’ (Rom 13:11-12). Thus Paul, as long as we can follow his thought, continued to expect the arrival of the Lord. He had to alter aspects of this hope for certain situations – the crisis over the dead in Thessalonica and the possibility of his own death – and he also made use of the idea of individual immortality. But to the end his basic conviction remained”
– E.P. Sanders, “Paul (Past Masters Series)”, p.33

“Paul expects the Lord to come soon; his statement [in 1 Cor 15:51] that “we shall not die” suggests this. And he clearly states in 1 Cor 7:29, 31 that “the appointed time has grown short” and that “the present form of this world is passing away.” The inclusive “we” in 15:51 indicates that he himself expects to live to see that day. The transformation of the living, asserted here, also suggests or is congruent with this. That the apostle includes the living in the end-time change is clear from the assertion “We will not all die but we will all be changed.” […] In 1 Cor 15:52 and 1 Thess 4:13-18 Paul hints that he expects to be alive at this completion. In 2 Cor 4:14 as well, he presumes that the Corinthians will also then be alive. As 1 Cor 7:25-31 clearly shows, Paul is convinced that he is living in the last generation on earth. Suddenness is a common motif in NT apocalyptic. It occurs in 1 Thess 5:2 and also in Luke 17:24 and Matt 24:27 (Q). But while the eschatological parables and 1 Thess 5:2-3 mention, by means of suddenness, the unpredictability of the Lord’s coming and hence the need to be ready for it, [some commentators are cautious in attributing to Paul an imminent expectation] […] But to Paul’s thinking, the parousia has not receded into the distant future; he keeps on talking about the near approach of the end. In Phil 4:5 he asserts, “The Lord is near” and in Rom 13:11-12 he states, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” […] That in 1 Cor 15:50-55 Paul implies that his is the last generation is evident also from the early textual emendations … [goes on to describe scribal emendations in later manuscripts]
– Joseph Plevnik, “Paul and the Parousia”, p.158-160

“The Kingdom of God, Paul proclaimed, was at hand. His firm belief that he lived and worked in history’s final hour is absolutely foundational, shaping everything else that Paul says and does”
– Paula Fredriksen, “Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle”, preface

“Province by Roman province, Paul aimed to spread the news of Jesus to the world. And fast. Paul believed time was running out. The world was about to end. Christ’s return in a blaze of glory was hourly expected. So off he went. ‘The night is far spent, the day is at hand!’ [he taught] (Rom 13:12). Except it did not turn out that way. Time did NOT come to and end. Paul did NOT live to see the return of Christ. We have to remember always [this facet of Paul’s teaching]”
– Tom Holland, “The Bible: A History: Episode 6: St. Paul”, 14:36 + 37:30 (paraphrased)

“[Paul believes that] for some faithful, that is, those who will have died by the time of parousia, this change [from a perishable to an imperishable body] will come about by the resurrection: they will be raised imperishable. In their case, the metaphor of the seed (1 Cor. 15:35-38, 42-44) is illuminating. But there are others (and, seemingly, Paul still counts himself among them), that is, those who are alive at the parousia (cf. also 1 Thess. 4:15), who will be changed without having to die first and, therefore, without the resurrection”
– Lionel Swain, “The People of the Resurrection: Volume 1: The Apostolic Letters”, p.135

“Here [in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17], Paul speaks to the faithful in Thessalonica in no uncertain terms – imminent apocalyptic terms. Paul expects to be at the Parousia of Jesus Christ. And just as [seen] in the Synoptic tradition, Paul faced a period of time (approximately five or six years, if we accept the dating of 1 Thessalonians c. 49 CE and Romans c. 55 CE) in which he personally was confronted with the delayed Parousia. […] [Paul] left evidence not only of the prevalence of apocalyptic expectation [in his own thought and of early Christian communities’] but also of some measure of its unsustainability”
David A. Sánchez, ‘The Apocalyptic Legacy of Early Christianity’, in “The Letters and Legacy of Paul: Fortress Commentary on the Bible”, p.166-167

“For Paul possession of the [Holy] Spirit was one of the surest signs of the imminence of the divine kingdom. Of course, Paul always assumes the distinctive mark of the eschatological hope, namely, that the kingdom of heaven is nigh, always ahead. He is never forced to prove it expressly because for him and his time, being a Christian and “waiting for the Lord” are identical. But when, following the impression given us by Paul’s letters, we inquire as to the basis for his conviction that “the ends of the ages have come upon us” (1 Cor. 10:11)” or that “the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31) and a new one approaching, then we can confidently reply that this conviction rests on his pneumatic experiences”
– Hermann Gunkel, “The Influence of the Holy Spirit: The Popular View of the Apostolic Age and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul”, p.84-85

“It scarcely needs saying that here [1 Cor 7:29-31] there is more than avoice of mankind’s universl experience of the swift passage of time. The reason why time is foreshortened and running out is that Christ’s imminent coming again and the end of the world are at the very door – so near that many in Paul’s own generation would live on to experience them (1 Thess. 4:15 ff.; 1 Cor. 15:51 ff.; cf. Phil. 4:5). Even though no one knows the day and the hour, and the “day of the Lord” will come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:1 f.), this makes no difference to Paul’s conviction that it is near.”
Günther Bornkamm, “Paul”, p.206

“Like other apocalyptic authors of the first century, Paul is convinced that the created universe is divided into two orders, heaven and earth. What is happening on earth has been anticipated in the heavens. Only God, the good angels and the apocalypticists, to whom the mysteries have been revealed above, know the heavenly, and therefore what will happen in the earthly sphere. Paul, in particular, thinks that the heavenly plan of God has been revealed to him for the end of time, the new covenant, and a all that He has already executed, and will execute, through the Messiah. Paul is convinced that he is living in the last days of the world, that history came to an end in his generation. His different intellectual environment as a Jew of the diaspora led him to think not of a Kingdom of God only in the land of Israel, but in a universalist, supramundane, heavenly one. The whole creation must be part of the glory of this kingdom, for the universe will finally be free from corruption.”
Antonio Piñero, “A Guide to Understanding Paul of Tarsus: An Interpretation of Pauline Thought”, p.52 (translated)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s