New Fall Series: Thinking through Paul

Since this is an odd-numbered Fall, I am teaching Pauline Literature. For a textbook I will be I will be using Longenecker and Still, Thinking through Paul (Zondervan, 2014). This will be my second time using this this book for the class. Although some of my undergraduates found it challenging the first time I used it, the general consensus from student evaluations was that the book was very user-friendly and helpful a supplement for the class lectures.

Both Bruce Longenecker and Todd Still are top-notch Pauline scholars and the book is designed as college textbook with plenty of photographs, charts and sidebars. As far as I know there is no name for this textbook series, but I have used the New Testament volumes several times each (Mark Strauss, Four Portraits and Karen Jobes, Letters to the Church). All three are very good undergraduate or graduate level textbooks and have been popular with the students. If I was teaching at the graduate level, I would supplement the textbooks with additional monographs on specific issues.

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. It 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.

For the next few months on this blog I plan on “thinking through Paul” with Longenecker and Still. Although I will not always be interacting with them, I want to work my way through Paul’s letters, both in terms of content and theology. I recently finished Barclay’s Paul and the Gift as well as the second edition of his Pauline Churches and Diaspora Jews. Both were very stimulating as I prepared lectures this summer. I also read Michael Bird’s collection of essays Paul: An Anomalous Jew in preparation for this class and will integrate some of this articles as I work through the Pauline Letters.

One of the more fascinating books I read this summer was Bruce Winter’s Divine Honours for the Caesars. I have always been interested in so-called “anti-imperial” readings of Paul, and this book provides a great deal of fodder for how Gentile Christians dealt with the Roman Imperial cult. Material from this book will certainly turn up when we get to Corinthians, Romans 13, and likely as not Ephesians. I also have just about finished the collection of essays edited by Boccaccini and Segovia, Paul the Jew. There is much in this book which I need to integrate into my Pauline Literature class and will turn up with some regularity in future blogs.

I plan on full reviews of each of these books in the near future.

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.

6 thoughts on “New Fall Series: Thinking through Paul

  1. I like the emphasis on Paul’s thinking… was wondering what your thoughts are about Pauline rhetorical structure. Seems like sermons, Sunday School, and Bible Studies often concentrate on several verse snippets rather than treating arguments (usually, in my experience, under the guise of “expository” methodolog). Does this book address rhetorical structure? Is there another good resource that does?

    • This is a great idea, although one that I have not really worked hard to integrate into my teaching. Paul certainly used rhetorical forms common in the ancient Greek world of letter writing, although there is a fairly nasty debate: does Paul use letter-writing rhetoric, or oration rhetoric? So, for example, is Romans or Galatians more like a sermon (oral presentation) or a letter? The rhetorical styles are different, and there are scholars on either side of the issue.

      Thinking Through Paul uses the Greco-Roman categories, and there is a brief intro to ancient letter writing (two pages, 54-55). They conclude Paul mixes rhetorical categories, more or less because the letters are written to meet a need on a specific occasion. Each book-section begins with the overall structure, which forms the outline of the chapter. There are a few notes on structure of the letter, but once into the body of the book they avoid using the technical rhetorical vocabulary

      As for how to get that into the pulpit…I think macro structures are critical, how a verse functions in a larger paragraph or unit cannot be overlooked. I teach my students to use the whole context, but then I hear their sermons and they are prooftexting using individual verses to make their already assumed point, rather than letting the sermon flow from the text.

      • Interesting, I wasnt even aware of the rhetorical style debate (interested layperson). I’ve often felt macro-structure to be lacking in typical Christian discourse, perhaps it is getting worse? (see for an excellent argument against splitting the Bible apart) Just as Job benefits from reading per-argument rather than per-verse, I’ve always wanted to do the same for Paul. I understand this is not an objective segmentation, but even finding resources that discuss it would be nice.

        (Related to Pauline study, in my mind, is the work of Troy Martin related to ancient physiology… Dr. Heiser brought it to my attention via, but Martin’s stuff on pneumatological understanding and the Holy Spirit is also insteresting. Culture is complex and many-faceted!)

      • So something like: “Paul’s Rhetoric in Its Contexts: The Argument of Romans,” by Thomas H. Tobin. Does this seem like a good resource for such analysis?

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