Jerry L. Sumney

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online February 2012 | | DOI:


Paul is one of the most important figures in the earliest church. Although he was not a follower during the ministry of Jesus, he came to be recognized as an apostle. Seemingly the most successful missionary of the church during its first few decades, his converts were mostly non-Jews. He was not the first to admit Gentiles into the church, but his work among them and his understanding of how they participate as full members permanently shape the history of the church. Paul is also the author of the earliest extant writings from the church. He begins writing his letters to churches approximately twenty years before the earliest of the canonical Gospels was composed. He is, then, a valuable source of information about the situation and beliefs of the earliest churches. Pauline studies have experienced several important shifts since the middle of the 20th century, even as the work of F. C. Baur continues to exert extraordinary influence. The groundbreaking work of E. P. Sanders on 1st-century Judaism has affected nearly every aspect of Pauline studies. Sanders’s view of Judaism supported new discussions about Paul’s theology, particularly some growing doubts about identifying justification by faith as its center. J. C. Beker’s emphasis on the contextual nature of Paul’s theologizing and the importance of eschatology for Paul began a move to examine the theology of each letter individually before producing a theology of the whole corpus. Sanders’s work also made room for a reexamination of the relationship between Paul’s churches and the synagogue, with most scholars seeing a closer relationship than had been hypothesized previously. Other developments in Pauline studies include the recognition of a closer relationship between Paul’s theology and his ethical instructions. Studies of ancient letters discovered since the 1920s opened ways to analyze the structure and categorize Paul’s writings by comparing them with contemporaneous materials. New methodologies were also introduced, particularly in understanding the social and cultural context of the letters. Methods from anthropology and postcolonial studies have shifted understandings of Paul’s stance with respect to Greco-Roman culture and the Roman Empire, such that he is often seen to possess a more countercultural stance. The rise of narrative theology contributed to a new interest in investigating the way Paul uses Israel’s Scriptures in his argumentation. Finally, there has been a renewed interest in a rhetorical analysis of Paul’s letters, with some scholars using ancient rhetorical categories; others, the “new rhetoric”; and still others devising distinctive methodologies.

Article.  19293 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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