Even more than Jesus, Paul is the most misunderstood figure in the New Testament and perhaps in all of early Christianity. Why? Primarily because Paul was so controversial. Controversy breeds suspicion and misrepresentation, ardor and hostility.
The controversies over Paul began in his own day, with his own preaching. Some reacted favorably but others negatively, even provoking a few to attempt (at least twice) to assassinate the self-styled “apostle to the Gentiles.” Regardless of whether his teachings were properly understood or misrepresented, Paul made enemies. In the process, he also convinced many non-Jews to put their faith in the God of Israel. Paul left a lasting legacy that has, unfortunately, been co-opted and distorted by later theologians.
For a variety of reasons, the “Christian” Paul has come to be divorced from his cultural context. Rather than appreciating him as a Diaspora Jew of the first century with a remarkable message for Gentiles, many see Paul as a repudiator of his native Judaism and the intentional founder of a new and better religion called Christianity. As we will come to see in this survey class, nothing could be farther from the truth.
This course will take advantage of recent and major developments in the study of the historical Paul. We will come to appreciate Paul as a Jew who never abandoned his Judaism even in the wake of accepting his new commission as apostle. We will learn to read Paul’s letters as communiques with his non-Jewish converts, explaining to them how he believed God had created a means by which they might atone for their sins outside the provisions of Torah. Aided by a better understanding of first-century Judaism and of the social and rhetorical conventions of Greco-Roman letter writing, we will get the clearest picture possible of this misunderstood Jew.