Pauline Theology Vs. A Theology of Paul

December 12, 2012 — Leave a comment


Last week, Eerdmans was kind enough to send along Frank J. Matera’s God’s Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology. Usually when I get a book in the mail, I try to sit down and work through the introduction right off the bat. If it just immediately catches my attention (more so than it already did to lead me to request it) then I’ll go ahead and bump it up the queue line.

So, as is my custom, I cracked open Matera’s book to see what he was up to in his Pauline theology. Maybe I just missed this in my other reading, but Matera makes an excellent distinction between “Pauline theology” and “A Theology of Paul.”

“A theology of Paul seeks to clarify and synthesize the theology of the historical figure Paul” (2). If one is attempting this, the scope of study is by definition larger than the letters of the NT since they don’t express the totality of Paul’s theology. Likewise, it is critical to decide whether or not all 13 NT letters were written by Paul. If they weren’t, then they should not be considered as expressions of the man Paul’s theology. Matera notes that “most contemporary authors provide their readers with a theology of Paul” (4).

This explains to some extent why I didn’t really resonate with The Apostle Paul: Four Views. Since it was mainly concerned to give four views on Paul, it was focused on the historical man Paul. Two of the contributors restricted their focus to letters they felt were authentic, and in one case, chose to almost completely focus on historical reconstruction behind the biblical text. Personally, I only think someone educated beyond their intelligence would question Pauline authorship, but that’s just my (strong) opinion (which is to say, I’m familiar with the critical arguments why you would question Paul’s authorship, I just think they are epistemologically silly).

On the other hand, a Pauline theology “seeks to clarify and synthesize the theology embedded in the thirteen canonical Pauline letters” (3). This is more what I’m interested in, since it is focused on synthesizing and understanding the Bible better. There is some level of historical study, but not as much as there is in constructing a theology of Paul. Instead, “a Pauline theology focuses on the theological vision of the thirteen letters that the New Testament attributes to Paul” (4). Since this is what Matera is up to in his book, and I can already tell it’s going to be a good read. Even though Matera personally questions the Pauline authorship of 4 of the 13 epistles (Ephesians and The Pastorals), they are still included in his study because he is seeking to flesh out the coherence of the canonical Pauline letters and though not presenting an ahistorical study (Acts figures prominently), he focused on the text we have rather than the man behind the text.

Keep an eye out for a review later next month, and in the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying Matera’s book!


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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