Book Review: Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Second Edition

McKnight, Scot, Lynn H. Cohick, Nijay K. Gupta, Eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Second Edition. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2023. 1264 pp. Hb; $70. Link to IVP Academic

In 1993, IVP Academic published the first edition of The Dictionary of Paul and his Letters (DPL). I was taking a seminary exegesis course on Paul’s letters, and the DPL was a required textbook. This was my first introduction to controversial topics like the New Perspective on Paul and Social-scientific approaches to Paul. When I began teaching Pauline Lit classes at the university, the DPL was a constant companion. I often send students to the Dictionary as a source for research papers. IVP Academic handed out samplers of this second edition and IBR, making it one of the most anticipated books of 2023.

Dictionary of Paul and His Letters

Remarkably, it has been thirty years since that first edition, and things have changed considerably in Pauline studies. The New Perspective is not new anymore. The Apocalyptic Paul and Paul within Judaism are hot topics barely covered in the original DPL. Today, people ask questions about sexuality and gender, which scholars rarely addressed in 1993.

As the editors explain in the preface, “The DPL2, as we editors call it, is not a mere touch-up of the original DPL but truly a completely new dictionary.” Although fifteen articles from the first edition were revised, the rest were written for the second edition. The IVP Academic promotional material states, “Over 95% of the articles have been written specifically for this edition.” The second edition is about 200 pages larger.

Scanning through the table of contents confirms this. This second edition has many new topics which need to be addressed; these caught my attention:

  • Louise A, Gosbell, Disability and Paul
  • Jamie P Davies, Apocalyptic Paul
  • J. Johnson Leese, Ecological Paul
  • Michael F. Bird, Supersessionism
  • Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity
  • Joshua Jipp, Hospitality
  • Trevor J. Burke, Kinship Language in Paul
  • Lynn H. Cohick, Paul and Judaism
  • Craig A. Evans, Qumran and Paul
  • Dean Flemming, Mission

Paul Trebilco updates his article on Travel and Itinerary Plans (“Itineraries, Travel Plans, Journeys, Apostolic Parousia” in the first edition) which now includes a detailed chart comparing Paul’s letters to the book of Acts.

Paul’s views on women and sexuality have become increasingly controversial in Pauline studies over the last thirty years. Michelle Lee-Barnewall contributes a detailed article on Man and Woman in Paul (dealing with several of the most controversial verses). This replaces Craig Keener’s excellent article in the first edition. Second, she also has an updated discussion of marriage and divorce (including adultery and incest), replacing Gerald Hawthorne’s brief article in the first edition. Lucy Peppiatt contributes a full article on Woman (in the first edition, there was only a pointer back to Hawthorne’s article). Judith. A. Oder has an article on Women named by Paul (Junia was a woman Paul counted as prominent among the apostles) and an article on maternal imagery in Paul. Justin K. Gill writes on Sexuality, Sexual Ethics. Unlike the first edition, this article has detailed information about both Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds to Paul’s sexual ethics. Preston Sprinkle contributed a much more detailed article on Homosexuality. The bibliographies for each of the articles bring the discussions up to date. Barry. N. Danylak add an article on Singleness and Celibacy.

One major section of the second edition is a collection of articles under the heading “Interpretation of Paul” spanning fifty pages. As Nijay Gupta explains in his introduction to the section, “A reader’s living world shapes their reading and interpretation, and all readers can learn from insights and perspectives from other communities” (483).

  • African American
  • Asian and Asian American
  • Augustine
  • Calvin
  • Jewish
  • Luther
  • Medieval
  • Modern European
  • New Perspective
  • Patristic
  • Postcolonial
  • Reading Paul Latinamente (Latin American)

This section is useful, but a section on feminist interpretations of Paul would improve the list (although there is a reference to feminist interpretations in the entry on postcolonial interpretation). Shane. J. Wood covers anti-imperial readings of Paul in his article on “Politics and Power.” Armin Baum contributes an article on pseudepigraphy, formerly covered only in first-edition articles on Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles. Baum includes “coping strategies for canonical pseudepigraphy” in Catholic and Protestant traditions. The articles on Ephesians (Lynn Cohick) and the Pastoral Epistles (Lyn M Kidson) discuss pseudepigraphy. Both articles are open to traditional authorship but do not strongly advocate for the view.

The second edition also allows a new generation of scholars to contribute to the ongoing conversation. Sadly, some original contributors have passed on (I. Howard Marshall, Leon Morris, James Dunn, Larry Hurtado, Grant Osborne, Gordon Fee), and others have retired. Quite a few scholars who were only starting their careers when the first edition was published are now major contributors to DPL2. For example, both associate editors, Lynn Cohick and Nijay Gupta, are now established Pauline Literature scholars. Not only are the contributors younger, but they are more diverse. Judging only by names, I count twenty-eight women in the second edition, compared to only eight in the first. There are more international contributors.

One of the most important features of the Dictionary of Paul and his Letters is the bibliography at the conclusion of the article. There are often extensive and will point students and scholars to the relevant literature to further explore the topic. If you use the version in Logos Bible Software, many entries are tagged for easy reference.  Something new in the second edition: the author’s name is printed in bold in the bibliography, making the list easier to read.

Conclusion. The second edition of Dictionary of Paul and his Letters is worth the investment. You should immediately buy this book and keep the first edition handy since there is so little overlap between the two.



NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. I did also purchase the Logos edition. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.


Christoph Heilig, The Apostle and the Empire

Heilig, Christoph. The Apostle and the Empire: Paul’s Implicit and Explicit Criticism of Rome. Foreword by John M. G. Barclay. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2022. xxii+170 pp. Hb; $29.99   Link to Eerdmans

Discussion of Paul’s anti-imperial view of Rome continues to generate articles and monographs, beginning with J. C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (Yale, 1990) and Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (IVP Academic, 2004), and the essays in Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not (McKnight and Modica, eds.; IVP Academic, 2013, reviewed here). More recently, N. T. Wright argued Paul used coded language to challenge imperial propaganda. Wright represents the standard view that Paul was anti-imperial, but his criticism of the empire is below the surface. Paul used coded language or hidden transcript to keep a low profile and avoid provoking the empire. John Barclay objected: does Paul seem like the type to avoid confrontation? Chapter 12 of Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God deals with Barclay’s criticisms.

anti-imperialThe Apostle and the Empire builds on two of Heilig’s earlier books, Paul’s Triumph: Reassessing 2 Corinthians 2:14 in Its Literary and Historical Context (Peeters, 2017) and Hidden Criticism? The Methodology and Plausibility of the Search for a Counter-Imperial Subtext in Paul (Fortress, 2017). But it is not a brief, popularized version of the argument from these longer works. Heilig interacts with Laura Robinson’s recent article on hidden transcripts (“Hidden Transcripts? The Supposedly Self-Censoring Paul and Rome as Surveillance State in Modern Pauline Scholarship,” NTS [2021]).

To conclude her article, Robinson uses an old joke: why don’t you see the elephants hiding in trees? Because they are really good at hiding. So why do we not see Paul criticizing the Roman empire in his letters? Is the answer really that Paul is really good at hiding his criticism, or that there is nothing there to find? For Robinson, Paul did not use a “hidden transcript” or coded language, which is implicitly critical of the empire. Heilig agrees with much of Robinson’s argument, but thinks the criticism is hidden in plain sight.

Following Robinson, Heilig agrees Rome was not a police state. The Roman government was not secretly reading Paul’s letters to track down trouble-making Christians. But, as Heilig points out, Paul was in fact a controversial figure and a “highly visible troublemaker.” He uses the Pliny-Trajan dialogue to show that Christianity had always been dangerous. No law was necessary to execute Christians. Even if Rome was not a visible police state, it does not mean that Christianity “enjoyed unfettered religious liberty” (31). Even if Paul thought the Empire might scrutinize his letters and he was putting people at risk, Paul would think it was worth it (32). The gist of his argument is that we should move away from the idea that Paul hid his Roman-critical opinions in his letters. Maybe we should move away from the word “criticism” to “unease.” He suggests the German word “Unmut” (53). If we do this, “perhaps we will see the elephant hiding in the trees.”

As an example of anti-imperial language hiding in plain sight, Heilig turns to 2 Corinthians 2:14: “Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” In this verse, Heilig sees God as the triumphator leading a procession in which Paul and his co-workers are presented to the watching crowd. He argues this is an allusion to a Roman triumph, specifically Claudius’s triumph in 44 CE, celebrating his victory in Britannia. Paul met Priscilla and Aquilla in Corinth early in 50 CE (Acts 18:1-3). Although we cannot know for sure, it is likely they were in Rome to witness the triumph. Heilig says “it is hard to imagine Claudius did not feature in [their] discussions” (66). Claudius’s victory in Britannia left archaeological traces in Corinth. There is a Latin inscription celebrating Claudius’s victory. He suggests this suggests the victory was being celebrated in a very public—and cultic!—way in Corinth during the exact time Paul was active there (70).

Can this evidence be used to reconstruct Paul’s unease with Rome? Yes, Heilig suggests, by reading 2 Corinthians 2:14 in the context of the public Roman transcript, “we have a small and cloudy window in into Paul’s ‘hidden transcript’” (93). Paul wrote 2 Corinthians in autumn 55, about a year after Claudius’s death. Nero was now emperor, and it was safer to speak ill of the previous emperor.

What is Paul saying in 2 Corinthians 2:14? “The fact that God takes the role of Triumphator is absolutely remarkable” (93) and “Paul’s metaphorical replacement of the emperor with the Jewish God Yahweh is provocative” (96). All of this is “dazzlingly subversive” because the Romans will bring Yahweh’s cultic instruments to Rome just a few years later (97). “It cannot get much more controversial than portraying these actions as part of a military victory procession by the Jewish God, not only mimicking the Roman triumphus but also surpassing it in several ways, in doing so, simply pushing the emperor out of his quadriga” (97). Allthis can faily be described as Claudius anti-imperial.

Claudius anti-imperial

Divine Claudius, with a quadriga decorated with Victory on the reverse

Heilig draws several implications from this study. First, the triumph metaphor offers comfort for the Corinthian readers and guidance regarding their new alienated status. But rather than an Claudius anti-imperial criticism of the Empire, Paul is challenging basic Roman ideology. And that is at least potentially subversive (99). Second, this “hidden transcript” allows us to construct Paul’s critical attitude toward the Roman Empire, but more of a sense of unease than political subversive language. Finally, the critical subtext Heilig identifies is not hidden. When it is viewed through a historical lens, “it seems quite obvious” (101) even if it has been overlooked in the past. He concludes: “stop looking for elephants hiding in trees and start appreciating their beautiful botanical counterparts” (101).

His final chapter offers several suggestions for future study. First, he suggests it is simply misleading to talk about codes, hidden or otherwise. Second, he suggests that a lack of post-colonial sensitivity skews a reading of Romans 13:1-7. Is this passage really the Achilles heel for all anti-imperial readings of Paul? It is often assumed the passage is Paul’s only explicit comment on Rome, but based on Heilig’s study of Corinthians 2:14, there are other comments which contribute to Paul’s view of the Roman Empire. Does Romans 13 really express Paul’s demand for complete submission to governing authorities? Should the Roman Christians seek recognition within Roman society? Is Paul talking about divine legitimization of state authority, including brutal force? Heilig points to the book of Acts: Paul and his colleagues do not emerge as precisely the model citizens expected in the Roman Empire (107). Peter’s statement in Acts 5:29, Paul’s flight from Damascus (Acts 9:23-24) and Peter’s escape from prison (Acts 12:16-19) all point to a less than submissive early church.

Combining his third and fourth suggestions, Heilig points out that much of New Testament research is still rooted in outdated methodology (117). Despite James Barr, scholars tend to do lexical work in the same old way, in this case missing the meaning of Paul’s triumph metaphor. He suggests recent innovations in the digital humanities allow access to inscriptions, papyri, and other lexical data far beyond a local library (or printed lexicon). However, access to the data does not automatically generate new insights in the commentaries. He offers several examples of recent research on 2 Corinthians that miss the point of Paul’s Roman triumph metaphor. Even newer lexicons are slow in incorporating inscriptions and papyri or other insights available through digital resources. He concludes, the history of research on 2 Corinthians 2:14 is “not only a textbook example of ‘exegetical amnesia’ [a nod to Dale Allison] but it also demonstrates painfully that growing access to primary sources is not at all satisfactorily correlated with the original interpretation of this data into the interpretation of biblical texts” (131).

This is a fair criticism. Publishers assign scholars commentaries years before they are published, and often their work necessarily stands on the shoulders of older research. How many years before Heilig’s own work on 2 Corinthians 2:14 impacts people writing commentaries on 2 Corinthians? It is possible this is an example of a young scholar calling out older scholars for not knowing how to use an online database. But the “outdated methodology” Heilig decries is still taught in academia.

Conclusion. Heilig’s The Apostle and the Empire is an excellent and up-to-date introduction into a narrow, yet controversial, sub-field of Pauline anti-imperial studies. He demonstrates with clarity Paul’s triumph metaphor does in fact have a subversive element, even if it is not a developed critique of the empire. Heilig’s call to revisit how we understand Paul’s relationship with Rome as “unease” rather than “criticism” is welcome.


NB: I wrote this on 2 Corinthians 2:14 in 2019, before reading Heilig’s book. I do notice the allusion to a Roman triumph but focused more on the pleasing aroma: “From a Greco-Roman perspective it would be shocking to describe a crucifixion as a sacrifice and even more shocking as a sacrifice which pleases God. This is counter-cultural and another example of God choosing a foolish thing from the perspective of the world to reveal his plan of salvation.” Not really an anti-imperial reading.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Eating the Bread and Drinking the Cup Unworthily? 1 Corinthians 11:23-34

Because the Corinthian church is treating the Lord’s supper like a Greco-Roman banquet, Paul says some in the church are eating the bread and drinking the cup unworthily. What does it mean to eat and drink unworthily?

Eating Unworthily

Paul reminds the Corinthians the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was handed down from Jesus himself (12:23-26). Presumably Peter and the disciples communicated the institution of the Lord’s Supper, since they witnessed the Last Supper. This is the earliest version of the Last Supper, since the gospels were not written for at least 10 years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.

There are several important elements of this tradition. First, the bread and the cup are taken from the regular elements of the Passover meal, but Jesus uses them as a prediction of his death on the cross. Second, Paul calls the cup the “new covenant in my blood.” This is an allusion to Jeremiah 31:31-33, where God says he will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and Judah when he establishes his kingdom “in that day.” The death of Jesus in some ways initiates that covenant. A covenant is usually confirmed with a sacrifice and a meal (sharing bread and wine). Jesus is therefore claiming his death on the cross is in some ways the beginning of the New Covenant predicted by Jeremiah.

Paul says sharing the bread and the cup are symbols of deeper spiritual realities, initiated by the Lord Jesus himself and practiced by all the Church. It is dangerous to abuse the practice to pursue worldly goals!

As often as the church gathers and shares this meal, they are proclaiming his death until he returns (v. 26). There is nothing in the tradition to indicate how often the meal is to be shared (weekly or once a year), only that it is a practice that is to continue until the Lord returns.

But when the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, they condemn themselves because they are “eating unworthily” (12:27-34). What does it mean to “eat unworthily”? As I explained in a previous post, the shared meal is reinforcing divisions between the rich and poor. If the church was treating the Lord’s Supper like a Greco-Roman banquet, then gluttony and drunkenness are also possible.

In a modern context, most churches practice a ritual for the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or Eucharist. It is nearly impossible to be a glutton or a drunkard while taking communion is a typical evangelical church (using pre-fab bread chunks the size of a chicklet and sugar-free grape juice!) Even if we cannot dishonor the celebration in quite the same way, by treating the celebration flippantly or as a means of grace to cover or sin, we may be “eating unworthily.”

To avoid discipline, believers ought to examine themselves before they participate in the memorial meal. Paul says, “Judge yourself so you do not fall under judgment by God!” How does the believer examine themselves?

  • Confession of sin. Communion ought to be a solemn time of introspection. While it is not the case that God will strike a person dead who takes communion if they have an unconfessed sin, it is a time to spend a few moments reviewing and confessing our shortcomings.
  • Meditation on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Communion services really need to focus on the crucifixion burial and resurrection of Jesus. The scripture and the songs intentionally point our minds and our hearts toward Jesus’ self-sacrifice.
  • Commitment to being a pleasing child of God. An important corollary to confession is really committing oneself to living a life that is pleasing and honoring to God, a life that makes God smile at his dearly love child. Even if we have failed our commitment pleases him.
  • Unity of the church, the body of Christ. Everyone is sharing the same cup, and the same loaf, declaring together the same thing about Jesus’s death.

The celebration of the Communion ought to highlight unity of a church around Jesus and his death and resurrection. What is happening in Corinth is the exact opposite of this; they are (once again) emphasizing social divisions and creating discord and disunity. How we behave during worship and how we think about worship in the church must be based on Scripture, and a sincere desire to please God as our heavenly father. By importing ideas from our culture, we corrupt our worship and run the risk of facing God’s judgment.

Divisions at the Lord’s Supper – 1 Corinthians 11:17-34

After dealing with veiling of men and women in worship, Paul moves on to reports about divisions a the Lord’s Supper. Because of these divisions, some members of the church eat before others, and some even go hungry. What is the meaning of “go before”?

Triclinium Pompeii

The House of the Triclinium (Pompeii,
Excavated 1883)

Compare a few Bible translation:

  • “every one taketh before other his own supper” (KJV)
  • “each one goes ahead with his own meal.” (ESV)
  • “each of you goes ahead with your own supper” (NRSV)
  • “some of you go ahead with your own private suppers.” (NIV 2011

For some interpreters, the situation is Corinth is that wealthier members of the community bring their own food and eat before the poorer members arrive. They literally eat before everyone arrives, perhaps so they do not have to share with the poor members. But Bruce Winter suggested “go before” (προλαμβάνω) refers to eating all the food at the meal so that the poor to not have anything (After Paul Left Corinth, 143-48). In this case, the wealthy are behaving like gluttons and drunkards. D. Clint Burnett examines the evidence from several inscriptions and conclude that “go before” is the right meaning (Studying the New Testament through Inscriptions (Hendrickson, 2020; reviewed here).

So why is food a the Lord’s Supper creating divisions in the Corinthian church? Christian gatherings in the earliest days of the church were held in homes and it appears meals were an essential part of worship.  The meal resembled a Greco-Roman meal, and this may have been the problem for the church. In a contemporary context, we celebrate the ritual of the Lord’s Supper with very small, controlled portions and there is no opportunity for gluttony or drunkenness. Even if we drew the analogy to a church pot-luck supper, it is very unlikely there would be the sort of problems Paul is describing here.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor suggested the wealthy host would invite the more important guest to dine with him in his triclinium, a formal dining room while the poorer members ate in another room like servants. (St. Paul’s Corinth, 159). The real problem is the church is treating the shared meal as they would a regular meal and using the meal to reinforce social distinctions just as they would in a meal at a Temple (as described in chapter 8). Burnett argues the design of the Roman dining room contributed to social divisions since a dining room had three tables, a triclinium, and only held nine (elite) people, and (maybe) no women ate and the best tables.

Paul says he heard there are divisions even at these special meals (1 Corinthians 11:18-19). The church host provided food, but people may also have brought their own food and drink to share among people in their own social class, while the poorer members of the congregation shared their own food, or perhaps waited for the leftovers from the wealthy members. Although it is not specifically mentioned, it is possible Jewish members brought their own food to not eat unclean foods, but the problem Paul is discussing is not foods, but treatment of people!

The poor in Roman Corinth did not have kitchens in their homes to prepare food, and if they were slaves, they were dependent on the masters for food, they would not be able to contribute to a common meal, unless they were able to purchase something at the market. In addition, the poor and slaves had to work, meeting began on early on Sunday, our Saturday evening. There was now weekend or day off for the poor, so they would have no way to purchase food in the event they could afford it.

Imagine a church potluck dinner with different tables based on your annual tithing level. The top-tier givers eat from a catered table from a five-star restaurant with an abundance of filet mignon and fresh vegetables, while the lower-level givers get crockpots of meatballs and green bean casseroles; the lowest level get a hot dog and a bag of chips. Most people would be highly offended by this arrangement: if we are all equal in the Body of Christ, why do some people get preferential treatment?

From a modern perspective, it is unimaginable wealthy Christians would overlook the needs of the poor, but the wealthy in Roman Corinth would take no notice of the poor at all! One of the main problems in the church is this social attitude was present when the church gathered for worship.

This behavior is not at all commendable because it is creating the same sort of social divisions in the church Paul says are erased in the Body of Christ. There are no Jews and Gentiles, but also no slave and free. This means the slave has the same family position in the Body of Christ.

All Things to All People – 1 Corinthians 9:19-27

Paul’s desire is to preach the gospel with strings attached (9:18). To do this, he must set aside his rights as an apostle, someone who is an eyewitness of the resurrection, and as someone who was give a specific commission by the resurrected Jesus. But in the second half of this chapter, Paul goes further. He not only does not insist on his rights, but he makes himself a slave to all!  he claims he makes himself “All Things to All People.”

All things to all people

This should be shocking: the Apostle to the Gentiles, personally commissioned by the resurrected Lord Jesus and a Roman Citizen sets all that aside to be a servant. Imagine the highest-ranking Christian Corinthian Christians are likely to meet, and he works in the agora repairing tents as if he is a slave.

This is not just a servant to people who are higher than he is in Roman society. Paul says he is a servant to “all people.”  If Paul had a patron, then naturally he would render appropriate service to that patron when necessary. But the patron-client relationship was not like a master-slave relationship. It was not undignified owe a larger debt to a patron, and it was honorable to serve that patron. However, to be a slave to all people was unthinkable in Greco-Roman Corinth! Would Gallio, the highest ranking Roman in the region, set aside the toga and help the slaves dig out a new cesspit?

Paul makes himself “all things to all people” (9:20-23). To what an extent is this Paul’s model for Christian ministry? “‘All things to all men is better remembered than understood” (Paul Gooch, Partial Knowledge, 124).

In order to reach Jews to the Gospel, Paul makes himself a Jew. In Acts, Paul continued to go to synagogues to preach the Gospel to the Jewish people. Even in Acts 28 he is still reaching out to Jewish people and arguing from Scripture (the Old Testament) that Jesus is the Messiah and that his death, resurrection, and ascension fulfilled Jewish messianic expectations. Romans 9-11 expresses Paul’s concern for the Jewish people. But Paul adds a parenthesis: I am not under the Law, but I will live that way to reach people who are under the Law. Maybe, I do not insist on my right to eat whatever I want, food sacrificed to idols for example, if insisting on that right offends the Jews and I am unable to reach them.

In order to reach the Gentiles with the Gospel, Paul says he becomes like “those not under the Law.” Does this mean Paul was willing to violate the Jewish food laws and eat meat sacrificed to idols? Violate the Sabbath to reach Gentiles? He adds a parenthetical clarification to living like a gentile. Even though he is free from the Law, “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law.” Christ’s Law may be the two greatest commandments, love of God and love of neighbor. It is remarkable Paul should say this, since James also refers to the “royal law.”

Did Paul intend “all thing to all people” as a model for doing ministry? How does this work out in a contemporary ministry context?

This means Paul accommodated the message of the gospel two different cultural contexts. For example, when speaking to gentiles he uses forms of rhetoric which would be familiar in a Greco Roman context. When speaking to Jews in a synagogue, he quotes the Hebrew Bible and makes arguments which would be familiar two a Jewish audience. The sermons in Acts demonstrate this. In Lystra (Acts 14) and Mars Hill (Acts 17) Paul does not quote scripture, nor does he make a scriptural argument to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. Quoting the Jewish scripture would not be effective in that Greek environment.

The very fact that Paul speaks in a local language using rhetoric with which they would be familiar is a kind of accommodation. In a modern context, missionaries don’t go to a new region and teach the locals how to speak English, and then preach the gospel to them in English. At the very least, they learn the language and the culture of the people they’re trying to reach. It would be foolish to do otherwise!

Did Paul make theological accommodations? For example, he could present Jesus as the fulfillment of messianic prophecy in a synagogue, but Jesus as a kind of philosopher when speaking to Gentiles in the agora. He quotes the Hebrew Bible for Jews, and Greek philosophy to the Gentiles.

Whether preaching to Jews or Gentiles, the core of the gospel message the same, Christ crucified and raised to life. In fact, at Mars Hill his commitment to resurrection may have limited his effectiveness. But the message about Jesus has been contextualized for a different cultural situation.

Would Paul ignore some aspect of Christian teaching and practice when preaching to the Gentiles?  Some scholars suggest Paul downplayed the practice of circumcision gentiles, eventually canceling the practice since it was so offensive to Gentiles. If he was going to have success among the Gentiles, Paul needed to strip out the more Jewish elements.  If Paul is willing to set aside his rights as an apostle in order to reach people with the gospel, is there some small element of doctrine or practice that he could set aside in order to make the gospel more palatable to his gentile audience?

But passages like Galatians 1:6-8 indicate Paul is quick to defend core doctrine and practice. Even in 1 Corinthians Paul staunchly defends doctrine of the resurrection or speaks clearly against some practices such as lawsuits and visiting prostitutes.

So how does a modern church be “all things to all people”? Does this look different in America, as opposed to an African church, or an Asian church?