Getting Caught Up On Paul

There’s a lot going on with Pauline studies in the theological world (as if that’s anything new). It can really be difficult to keep up with in terms of reading. N.T. Wright’s latest work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, has over 1700 pages!  If you’re interested in a brief synopsis where things are concerning Pauline studies from Wright’s perspective, the attached video of Wright being interviewed by Michael J. Gorman is a good start. (Thanks to Kurt Willems for posting it).

From my own perspective, I think the best way to begin understanding Paul is to actually read Paul’s works (which may sound simple, but I sometime wonder if those who read books about Paul actually read Paul).  If you want to understand what all the Pauline hub-bub is about these days, a key thing to know is that since World War 2 there has been an increasing (and correct, in my opinion) recognition that Paul has to be understood in a first century Jewish context.  Within this understanding there is a range of views on Paul, that spans from Paul as a self-recognized convert from Judaism to Christianity to a view that sees Paul not as someone who saw himself as a convert to a new religion but someone who was called within and to a new understanding of his pre-existing faith.

Along with these discussions (which really frame the basis), there are other important issues at play, most importantly issues regarding Paul’s views of the resurrection of Jesus, the concept of salvation,  and his views of atonement.  These are, at times, very heated current debates among theologians on these topics, particularly regarding atonement.  Sometimes the issue is termed the “The New Perspective on Paul”, which has both adherents and opponents.   The most well-known proponents (in theological circles) for the “New Perspective” are James D. G. Dunn and N.T. Wright.  Dunn actually coined the phrase in one of his works.  Both of these authors have relied on one another and the ground-breaking work of E.P. Sanders in Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion.

Again, I think the best place to start is by reading Paul himself (and preferably his works in chronological order), but the following images link to works by modern authors and are pretty key to my own understandings of Paul (but be warned, they are heavy in content, even when they are brief in pages). Unfortunately, I don’t have time to summarize each of them.  The first contains Krister Stendahl’s “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West”, which (in my opinion) is likely one of the most pivotal short pieces to affect the framework of Pauline studies after it.  If you can find it online, I highly suggest reading it.  The second, as mentioned earlier, is E.P. Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion, which is extensive in its reconstruction of a Jewish framework for Paul (and perhaps the first work to extensively do this).  If you can make yourself through it (did I say that it was extensive), it is worth it.  The others pick up on various themes essentially derived in some manner from these first two (or in response to one another).  You will find that most these sources (but not all) lean heavily towards the New Perspective (which should reveal my own leanings).

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About the author

I’m a husband, father, and one of those friends who has a terrible habit of not returning phone calls.  I’m really just trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, and I enjoy meeting great people along the way and maybe having a chance to spend time talking about things deep and trivial.

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