There are 14 letters often attributed to Paul in the New Testament, however, current consensus labels only 7 of them as actually written by Paul. These seven letters are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. In fact, the oldest New Testament document (1 Thessalonians) is written by Paul (yes, older than all of the Gospels). I love Paul's theology, however, one must read each of his writings in context of the audience, culture, and person. The book in which we read now, Romans, is perhaps his most theological and revealing and as N.T Wright has noted, is laid out in a chiastic structure. The very center of the book provides his central theology with balanced arguments on either side. He no doubt finds baptism in Christ a central characteristic. But does all of this make sense for me to follow today?
Remember as you read these Scriptures, that they are letters written from Paul to a particular group of people. He probably did not know that they would end up canonized for our reading 2,000 years later. I encourage you to read the opening introduction to each letter in your study Bible and if you do not have one, let me know and we'll get information to you. As letters, Paul may be writing to address particular concerns for a community that may not be a particular concern to us today. As you approach some problematic texts in his letters, keep this in mind. As you become more familiar with Paul, think about what he might say to our particular community based upon what he said to these.
Paul was the antithesis of a Christian in his early life, not of the chosen Israel, Roman citizen, and persecutor of the church. As one of the strongest proponents with the most canonized Scripture, he is an example of God's love and mercy extended and speaking through people outside of native Israel. Paul received God's grace, God's mercy, and became an example to the point of martyrdom in around 65 CE. God's love is extended beyond a single people. We have evidence in these Scriptures of such movement of God in humanity and God continues to move in and through us. What is God saying to you through these ancient letters? What might Paul of today say to us?