New Fall Series: Pauline Literature and Theology

This Fall I am once again privileged to teach Pauline Literature this fall. I will be using a new textbook this year, Longenecker and Still, Thinking through Paul (Zondervan, 2014). Both authors are top-notch Pauline scholars and the book is well designed college textbook with plenty of photographs, charts and sidebars. What I have appreciated about this book in preparing for class this summer is the balance between the theology of Paul’s letters and the kind of introductory material these kind of textbooks usually are required to cover.

Thinking through PaulIt is easy to get bogged down in the details of authorship, destination and chronology and give less emphasis to Paul’s thoughts. Thinking through Paul emphasizes Paul’s theology over the more controversial (and tedious) aspects of Paul’s letters. That is not to say I will not dwell on the tedious from time to time as we move through the semester, but the textbook at least avoids the dismal swamp of typical New Testament introductions.

I have also read (or am reading) several new books on Paul while I prepare for this semester. First, Michael Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul Participation and Mission (Eerdmans, 2015). When I taught Acts last semester I spent a great deal of time talking about whether there was a discernible “Pauline missionary method” in the book of Acts. Gorman comes at the question from the perspective of the Letters of Paul, which is probably a better way of understanding what Paul expected from his churches with respect to mission.

Second, I have been reading in Chris Tilling’s Paul’s Divine Christology (Eerdmans, 2015; Mohr Siebeck, 2012). This book engages several recent books on Christology (Gordon Fee, Larry Hurtado, and Richard Bauckham) and examines Paul’s Christology in 1 Corinthians 8:1-10:22 in detail. This is a challenging book to read, but so far it has been rewarding and several times over the next few months I will engage with Tilling’s argument.

Third, I have been slowly plowing through Douglas Campbell’s Reframing Paul (Eerdmans, 2014). Campbell offers a challenge to some prevailing opinions on Pauline chronology by proposing to create an “epistolary biography” of Paul beginning with Romans and Corinthians. He supplements this picture with Philippians and Galatians, then places the other epistles into what he calls an “epistolary backbone.”

I will post formal reviews for each soon, but they will come up from time to time over the course of the next three months. I plan to spend a few weeks on “backgrounds” to the Pauline letters before moving through the letters in chronological order, or at least the order they appear in Thinking through Paul. Pauline scholars tend to have very strong opinions about the order and authenticity of the thirteen Pauline letters, so we will return to these issues frequently throughout the Fall.

I will state upfront that I have strong opinions on the value of the Pauline letters for doing church today, and I hope some of these views will challenge readers to think more deeply about the application of the Pauline letters.

I am curious what regular readers of Reading Acts would like to see covered within this overall framework? Are there any elements of Paul’s theology are overlooked or under-emphasized? What about application of Pauline theology to mission? While I know a few regular commentators well enough that I can guess their response, I am curious to hear what others have to say as well.


26 thoughts on “New Fall Series: Pauline Literature and Theology

  1. Thank you. I look forward to reading this series as I am also studying through Acts, currently in chapter 9. If you don’t mind, could you answer a question for me? Do you subscribe to the view that Paul’s time in the wilderness of Arabia (Gal. 1:16-18) can be squeezed between verses 19 and 20 of Acts 9? What’s your view? Thank.s

  2. “Are there any elements of Paul’s theology are overlooked or under-emphasized?”

    I am a regular reader of ReadingActs, and since you asked,


    What were some specific points where Paul was clearly WRONG?
    Not “might have been wrong”, not “questionable but we don’t know all the details,”, not “probably wrong, but it’s OK because his heart was in the right place and he did it for evangelism, so he has automatic diplomatic immunity as an “apostle”….”
    Where was Paul clearly wrong?

    We could start with
    Which one is the most important commandment?
    What is the meaning of the Lord’s supper?
    If you mouth the words “Jesus is Lord” does that really prove that you are truly saved and born again through the Holy Spirit?
    What is an “Apostle”?

    • Regular reader and uber-commenter! I am probably not going to have a very long list of things on which Paul was clearly wrong (as in, zero). I suppose he has immunity for the same reason James and Peter do, I am a conservative Bible college professor and am committed to the inspiration of the canonical books of the NT. So not list of what Paul got wrong from me, sorry.

      I do like Lord’s supper in Paul, and I think you are getting at the nature of salvation in Paul (lordship salvation vs. easy believism/cheap grace).

      The question about what Paul means by apostle is important and I thin a major source of friction between the two of us over the last year or so.

      • Phillip,
        Which would be more important-
        what Jesus (and the Apostles Jesus personally appointed) means by apostle,
        and 6 comments following

        “what Paul means by apostle “?

        Jesus and the Original Apostles are all in agreement with each other – and they all disagree with Paul. Are you saying the words of Paul override Jesus and everyone else, and Paul can stand alone in his claims about himself – (very much like Muhammad for the Muslims)?

  3. Please teach about Romans 9-11 in depth. Don’t skip over it lightly or omit it completely like some do.

    • Thanks for this exhortation! I have a class on Romans scheduled for next year, so it is a good idea to work over this text in more detail than I usually have time for in a survey class.

  4. I’d be interested in some discussion of revelation and Paul. Both how he seemed to understand and experience it and how later proto-orthodox and orthodox (to our day) leaders saw his work in relation to “revelation” (i.e., of authoritative Scripture, particularly).

    It’s long been fascinating to me to observe that, apparently until well after his death, he really did not have “apostolic” credentials, except as self-proclaimed. Luke interjects them, well after the fact. But in ways heavily fraught, as you mention, with problems that cast the Acts story into serious doubt. As even Acts lets on, Paul was allowed to evangelize largely independently (tho spied upon, often opposed by other Jesus-followers, at least some of whom were connected with the Jerusalem leaders). It was unclear (per Acts 24, if I recall) just WHAT he was teaching. And even Luke leaves it unsettled just what final actions or declarations James et al had to Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem, cut short by the riot and his rescue by Roman soldiers.

    From what IS there (end of Acts) and what is telling by omission, it is almost certain James and his co-leaders did NOT support Paul when he sorely needed it after his arrest (and before?). Particularly so when he was still in the relative vicinity a year or so if I recall, before shipping out. If they considered him a Holy-Spirit-led co-apostle with vital theological teachings, surely a strange way to show it. (This kind of analysis, with scholarly documentation, is in various works… one of them covering not just the vital climax in Jerusalem, but a review of the long, contentious relationship for years prior. It is a great contribution to the scholarship: “Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe” by Robert Orlando.)

    So, along with collateral issues involved, I’d like to see Paul’s revelation, and authority about it and his teaching, discussed in depth. (This is not just historical inquiry but relevant to all spiritual and community experience, by all of us.)

    • “It’s long been fascinating to me to observe that, apparently until well after his death, he [Paul] really did not have “apostolic” credentials, except as self-proclaimed.

      In the pages of the Bible, other than Paul’s claims about himself, who said Paul was appointed an “apostle”?
      NO ONE.
      Not even Paul’s Gentile travelling companion Luke said that.
      (Despite Luke’s choice of words in his passing editorial comments in Acts 14 about 2 of the “prophets and teachers” who were commissioned and sent out together as a team in Acts 13 under the authority of the church in Antioch for a temporary short-term mission trip, which finished at the end of Acts 14.)

    • Thanks Howard, people from the Judaizers in Galatians to Matt Perri have questioned Paul’s credentials. I *think* this speaks to two separate issues, first the proper (or Pauline?) definition of an apostle As opposed to an Apostle, one of the Twelve). But second, if Paul is “authorized by God” – how did that happen? With respect to this fall’s series, I want to bracket out Acts when possible on this question and think through what Paul is claiming about himself. That is hard, and I know you are interested in Luke’s story, but I am trying to hear Paul’s voice most clearly.

      I need to buy a copy of Orlando’s book, although to be honest I have a formidable pile of Pauline studies to plow through already!

      • So I’m on the list of pernicious “bad guys” who through the centuries have dared to commit the unpardonable sin and “questioned Paul’s credentials”?

        Can you name one source in Scripture (other than Paul himself) that affirmed Paul’s claim to be appointed an “apostle”?

        I am trying to hear Jesus’ voice most clearly- and use Jesus’ voice as the standard to evaluate all other voices, including the voice of Paul the Pharisee.

      • Matt – I never used the word pernicious, you are not that dangerous. You know you are on the fringe and seem to enjoy it. You simply do not share my belief that the NT is authoritative and prefer ignore and/or vilify the parts you personally do not like. You have non-orthodox beliefs and you know it. Deal with it, embrace it, but go do it someplace else. There are plenty of places on the internet you will be appreciated.

        I regularly put up with your nutty ramblings, but if you are going to get a martyrdom syndrome, I would once again invite you to re-start your own blog and post all you want there. If you like, I can officially ban you and then you can wallow in self-pity someplace else.

      • I think the pub’r, Wipf and Stock, will send a review copy (without a promise to review)… Or you could get one from Robert directly (Nexus Media). I don’t read widely in Pauline scholarship as it “emerges” but I do think the book has some unique perspective–mainly that of the relational/cultural/political issues between Paul and “Jerusalem”. This, in general, is covered by many, of course. But Orlando’s look mainly at the dynamic of the collection for the “saints” and its function for Paul is deeper and more focused than anything else I’ve seen or heard about. And it IS of more significance than it is generally given… seems clear to me. There is also more depth on dynamics of Paul’s final Jeru. visit, revolving largely around the collection, than in most commentaries, analyses. (Maybe you can move the book “up” in the virtual/actual pile, to a place near the top?)

        As to “bracket out [Acts]”… focus on “what Paul is claiming”, I see validity and value in that! Particularly bec. most Christians, even with serious teaching or “Bible study” behind them, tend to conflate what Luke says with Paul’s own testimony and theology. Only by looking at each carefully on their own can one then be in a position to NOT be easily confused by a Lukan interpretation and application of Paul. We both know that Acts represented and/or spawned a critical “renewal” of Paul. This at the same time as it painted a formative picture of the dynamics of earliest Christianity that was to be HIGHLY influential to this day. So yes, getting Paul “straight from the horse’s mouth” is critical.

      • Based on your recommendation I ordered a review copy of Orlando’s Apostle Paul: A Polite Bribe. It came in the morning mail, and looks pretty good. So far I just browsed it over lunch, but I will get through it soon and post some thoughts.

      • Phillip: no reply option at the approp. spot, so here I’ll say “cool” about getting “A Polite Bribe”… If I didn’t mention, that site (.com) has (last I knew) a video posted from last fall’s AAR/SBL in which Larry Hurtado and Ben Witherington discuss some aspects of Orlando’s thesis with him… pretty interesting in that they both are pretty orthodox/relatively convervative.

      • WordPress doesn’t handle these deep threads well, but your comment gets put in the right place anyway. I will look for that video after I read the book.

      • Bracketing Acts out of the discussion is more or less what Douglas Campbell wants to do in Reframing Paul, attempting to write an “epistolary biography” of Paul. On the popular level, there is usually some level of harmonization, making Paul “fit” Acts, yet on the scholarly level most will recognize serious differences between Luke and Paul on a number of historical issues. In my view, the differences are not all that great (the letters track with the general outline of Acts fairly well), but I also recognize Luke is telling his story the way he wants, and Paul does not ever attempt to lay out his life story for his readers. Galatians gets the closest, but Paul’s motive for the biographical sketch is theological. In Philippians 3 he gives some details, although the motivation is pastoral in that case.

        As you know I am less inclined to think Luke or Paul were just making things up, but I do recognize they wrote in an ancient Mediterranean context that is not always the same as a modern Western or American context with respect to reporting the details.

        Good idea on getting a review copy from W&S….

      • an ” “epistolary biography” of Paul.” ????

        It’s Paul’s autobiography vs. Luke’s biography of Paul.

        Like Muslims who listen to the voice of Muhammad alone, and let it override Jesus and every other voice, why do Paul worshippers listen to the voice of Paul alone, with no witness to back him up, and blindly assume “Paul was right and everyone else is wrong”?

  5. In addition to the books that you mention I was wondering if you would consider interacting with C. Kavin Rowe’s “World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco–Roman Age.” It seems to advance the conversation about the reading of Acts and Paul in particular.
    Thank you from an OT person!

    • I used Rowe in an advanced Acts class last semester and quite enjoyed the book. I will use some of the book when I deal with Thessalonians at the vest least. Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. I’ve just re-read the post and realized a new question it would be nice to hear your reflections on, perhaps as you intro the various books you mention. The q. is how one should approach the relationship between Paul’s theology (including church order directions) and authorship issues. More specifically, one thing would be this: If one believes that textual or extra-biblical data do not alone determine general time of authorship of the Pastorals (as well after Paul’s lifetime, vs. earlier), do you include contents of the Pastorals (and/or Eph/Col.) in analyzing Paul’s theology?… (which in turn would make the Pastorals more feasible as genuinely Pauline).

    I personally see the issue as pretty clear (Pastorals as well after Paul, based on multiple lines of evidence) but can imagine many traditional-perspective people feeling we don’t know enough about the development of early church polity and historical conditions reflected in the Pastorals to rule OUT Paul saying the kinds of things that sure, to many of us, don’t seem to fit the rest of his corpus.

  7. I was told here QUOTE:
    “You simply do not share my belief that the NT is authoritative and prefer ignore and/or vilify the parts you personally do not like. You have non-orthodox beliefs and you know it. ”

    Here is another quote:
    “In the Orthodox Church, it is not the entire Bible, but only the book of the four gospels which is perpetually enthroned upon the altar table in the church building. This is a testimony to the fact that the life of the Church is centered in Christ, the living fulfillment of the law and the prophets, who abides perpetually in the midst of His People, the Church, through the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

    I agree with this Orthodox view – (rather than theoretically making Paul’s words equal to the words of Jesus, and practically speaking ignoring Jesus and elevating Paul above Jesus.)
    So, who really has the “non-orthodox beliefs” ?
    ….. May the LORD bless you and keep you….

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