In my primary school days I have vague memories of being involved in a program of having pen friends. While I can’t remember who it was I wrote to, I do remember sending and receiving some letters to and from a stranger overseas. In my early 20’s I swapped a few letters with a Kiwi girl, who I met one night in Sydney…but due to long forgotten circumstances, it soon stopped. With the advent of modern technology – i.e.the internet, email, text messages, the art of letter writing is becoming a lost form.
Within a relational framework, its rarely that we write a email or text message with the format of Dear Sir, or Dear Craig, or To whom it concerns. Instead our messages have a more informal format, a format that varies between relationship to relationship. For instance many text messages contain the abbreviations c u soon or r u @ home or thx m8. My emails rarely have a formal element to them, the greetings depending on my relational status at the time.
It’s important for us to understand that many of the New Testament books are also actual letters that were written to the church or certain individuals. They were written in the Greek language and the authors followed the expected formal rules of letter writing of the day. But there is one significant difference where the authors break the formal rules of letter writing in their greetings. It was customary in Greek / Roman culture to begin a letter with a greeting that has a form of prayer to the gods. Paul likewise also follows this formalised approach in his letters, with one significant difference.
His prayers are always to one God. Grace and Peace to you from the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a format that Paul often follows. For his initial readers and those who heard his letters being read, this statement would have stood out like proverbial dog balls. I bet that sentence made you sit up and take note
In many ways and to many people, Paul’s greeting would seem to be course language. While many in that culture did perhaps tend to pay homage to one of the many gods, none of the gods covered everything. So the blessings and prayers in the letters took the shape of may the god’s bless you: This would be done to avoid offending someone, offending a god who was missed out, and to cover all the bases for blessing the recipient of the letter.
Yet Paul is in your face here. Imagine what it would be like if we began our letters with the same kind of greeting… Grace and peace to you from God our father and our lord Jesus Christ?