Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


12. Paul

Video Introduction


This chapter provides an overview of the life of Paul, a discussion of chronology for Paul and his letters, and a summary of Paul’s key theological tenets.

Paul’s biography may be reconstructed from comments made in his own letters, supplemented by information found in the book of Acts. Paul was raised in Judaism as a devout Pharisee, and he would always understand himself in those terms. His life was transformed, however, by what he refers to as an appearance of the risen Christ to him; he changed from a persecutor of the church to become its most successful missionary. After an interim of some years, he took the gospel of Christ to Gentile believers throughout the Roman empire, founding the churches to which he would later write letters. He suffered numerous hardships and persecutions and was eventually arrested and killed by order of the Roman emperor.

Scholars have worked out various chronologies for Paul’s life but generally agree on a sequence of events that can be dated within a span of a few years time. A similar chronology may also be developed for Paul’s letters, but questions arise concerning the best placement for Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon, as well as for all of the letters suspected of being pseudepigraphical.

In terms of theology, Paul understands the “gospel of Jesus Christ” to be a dynamic force that brings salvation to people. At the heart of this gospel is Paul’s understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection, through which people have been justified or made right with God. Paul believes that Jesus is not only the messiah of Israel, but also the Lord of all people; in fact, Jesus Christ may be regarded as “the true image of God.” Paul’s theology is also imbued with a strong sense of piety (e.g., emotional or religious devotion) and with an eminently practical concern for how faith affects the way that individuals and communities live.

Study Questions

  1. List four sources for studying Paul’s life and thought. Which of these would function as the primary source and what cautions would attend use of the other three sources?

  2. Discuss the question of whether Paul’s transformation from persecutor to missionary ought to be called a “conversion.” In what sense might that term be legitimate and in what sense might it be misleading?

  3. Cite three instances in which the book of Acts contains biographical information about Paul for which there is little or no confirmation in Paul’s own letters. Indicate, for each instance, the degree to which scholars would view that information as complimentary to the portrait of Paul obtained from his own letters.

  4. Describe four aspects of Paul’s mission strategy that can be obtained from comments in his letters.

  5. What problems do scholars encounter in trying to construct a chronology for Paul’s life and letters? What one piece of information have they found to be especially helpful?

  6. Why does Paul pay more attention to the last week of Jesus’s life than to the previous years of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth? How do the events of that last week impact his theological understanding of the gospel?

  7. How does Paul determine what sort of behavior is appropriate for Christians? Indicate at least three principles, beliefs, or expectations that inform Paul’s understanding of ethics.

Interactive: Paul’s World Now and Then

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Click to compare Paul’s world with the region today.