Many works on Paul and his theology present a specific theological emphasis in Paul’s thought. But Horrell’s book is different. As the title states, it is an introduction to the study of Paul. Horrell does not attempt to develop his own view of Paul’s teaching (although he often makes his position clear on specific issues). Rather he surveys recent views and provides a helpful summary of various approaches and positions in the field of Pauline studies.
Horrell discusses a number of fundamental issues in Pauline scholarship. His chapters include discussions of pre-Pauline Christianity, Paul’s life before and after his conversion, and a brief discussion of Paul’s letters. The letters considered are mainly the undisputed Pauline Epistles (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon). Ephesians and Colossians are mentioned in the context of the Prison Epistles, but Horrell notes that they are highly disputed and he does not describe them in detail (although he returns to them briefly near the end of the book). First Thessalonians is the first letter Horrell discusses after he notes that it is “widely agreed” that it is Paul’s first letter. Many readers may take issue with this position, assuming instead that Galatians is first. More space devoted to the dating of Galatians would have been helpful. Horrell also includes discussions about ancient letters and rhetorical criticism.
In the chapter entitled “Paul the Theologian: The Central Elements of Paul’s Gospel” Horrell discusses different interpretations of the role of justification in Paul’s thought. Horrell briefly describes three approaches: (a) the traditional position associated with Luther (and held by most evangelicals) that justification is the declaring of a sinner not guilty, (b) the view that the sinner is made righteous, and (c) the more recent view that justification is mainly about defining who is actually in the people of God. Considering the third view, Horrell discusses the somewhat differing approaches of N. T. Wright and Ed Sanders. Horrell suggests that the majority of interpreters would agree that the third view correctly reflects Paul’s emphasis. This, however, is not the view of most evangelical scholars. Yet this section is a clear and concise discussion of the views. The next chapter “Paul, Israel and the Jewish Law” is a continuation of the theological emphasis of the previous chapter. This chapter serves as a helpful introduction to an important Pauline issue (commonly labeled “the new perspective”).
Chapter seven is devoted to two relatively new approaches to Paul: social-scientific and feminist. Horrell’s discussion of the feminist approach to Paul’s writings focuses primarily on the work of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. He also discusses passages such as 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and 14:34–35, which factor prominently in the feminist discussion.
The final two chapters attempt to describe the lasting value of the apostle’s work and to answer the question Why study Paul? Horrell briefly discusses those letters that many scholars do not consider Pauline. He does not defend a position on these letters; he merely discusses the arguments against Pauline authorship. Though Horrell says these letters are post-Pauline, he discusses them in the context of their lasting value. This chapter ends with brief comments about a few in church history who have been influenced by Paul (including Augustine, Luther, Wesley, and Barth).
Some readers may have wished Horrell had dealt in more detail with the letters outside the seven undisputed epistles. Many will not agree with all Horrell’s positions. Certainly most evangelicals feel that focusing on only seven letters inevitably limits Paul’s message. However, this book is a summary of present scholarship and is useful for understanding the present state of the field of study. This is an invaluable service to anyone interested in further studies on Paul.
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