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Paul had clearly visited the Thessalonians and Corinthians prior to writing. It would seem he had not personally spent time with the Colossians prior to writing. I am thinking Romans was written to strangers as well...?

My question: Which of Paul's letters were written to congregations he had spent time with, and which were written to strangers?1

1) Please assume all 13 Pauline letters were authored by Paul.

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Based on Romans 16, they were evidently not all strangers, but that's a separate issue from whether he had been there. – Susan Jul 20 '14 at 21:03
Can you show the verses from Thessalonians and Corinthians where Paul has visited them? Likewise with Colossians as to why you conclude he had not? Looking for patterns/similar verses in Scripture would be on-topic, but without those, this might be read as a question looking for a text. – Frank Luke Jul 21 '14 at 13:49
This question does seem to be about hermeneutics... – curiousdannii Jul 21 '14 at 22:10

Based on the prologues and epilogues Paul wrote in his letters, he had clearly previously visited the churches in Thessalonica (e.g. I Thes. 1:5), Corinth (e.g. II Cor. 13:1), Galatia (e.g. Gal 1:8), and Philippi (e.g. Phil 4:15).

According to Romans 1:13, Paul definitely had not previously visited the church in Rome. Paul also appears not to have previously visited Colossae according to 1:7 and 1:9, although the church was founded by a disciple of Paul's.

Ephesians is a much more difficult case. Even granting your assumption that it was written by Paul (which is a minority opinion among critical scholars), it's not clear that it was written to the church in Ephesus due to the text critical issues with Eph 1:1. At any rate, Ephesians has far less personal detail than Paul's other letters which makes it very difficult to determine whether the author had personally visited the recipients.

On balance, I think Paul had probably met Philemon, but it's not completely conclusive. The key verses in favor are 1, 19, and 22. Note that Philemon probably lived in the area Colossae based on the overlaps with Colossians, so if Paul didn't visit Colossae it's somewhat strange if he's met Philemon. It may be that he only knows Philemon second hand, or it may be that Philemon only lived near Colossae.

Paul certainly knew Timothy (who cosigns several of Paul's letters) and Titus (2 Cor. 7:6, Gal 2:1). (Indeed some scholars think Titus and Timothy are the same person.) So if you assume that 1-2 Timothy and Titus are authentic letters (contrary to the almost unanimous opinion of critical scholars), then certainly he knew the recipients.

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Thanks, this is good. (+1). I would like you to comment on the remaining four as well if you could. Did he personally know Philemon and Titus? I know he knew Timothy well, but are there any clues in 1-2 Tim that shed light on his familiarity with Ephesus? – Jas 3.1 Jul 21 '14 at 4:03
...and now that I think about it, Philemon also addressed a congregation (by extension) didn't it? Did Titus as well? – Jas 3.1 Jul 21 '14 at 4:22
@Jas3.1: I've added a paragraph on the 4 personal letters. – Noah Jul 21 '14 at 4:38
@Jas3.1 Assuming Ephesians was to Ephesus, there is no doubt Paul knew them, as he spent two years there (Act 19:1, 8-10). Also v.10 ("all the residents of Asia" ESV) favors knowing some from Colossae (in Asia). Not that v.10 means Paul personally taught everyone in Asia, but his teaching was being discussed. Important thinkers in Colossae likely went to hear Paul personally, thus some were probably known. Philemon's salvation seems due to Paul (Phlm 19), and if Archippus (Phlm 2) is the same as in Collosae (Col 4:17), more connection. – ScottS Jul 21 '14 at 13:19
@ScottS: Assuming it was written to Ephasus and that Acts is historically accurate about Paul's visit there, yes you're right. I tried to stay on the much safer historical grounds of what Paul wrote about the churches. – Noah Jul 21 '14 at 14:10

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