Seeking Textbook Recommendations For A Course On Paul’s Letters

Next semester I will be teaching my course on “Paul and the Early Church” again. The last time I taught it, I got students to share the work, researching select passages from a given letter and then making their summaries available. This time, I’d like to try something different. I’ve looked at a number of overviews of Paul’s life and several shorter academic commentaries, but I still don’t feel as though I’ve identified ones that are clearly appropriate for an undergraduate course that covers several letters (I intend to at least cover Galatians, Romans, and 1 Corinthians) and does not expect students to know Greek. Indeed, for most of the students in the class this will probably be their first real exegetically-oriented class (since in the introductory Bible class, we survey so much that we do not spend all that much time on any given passage, and cover a wide range of excerpts). I nevertheless want to get into some of the details of the letters, and am not looking for something that is superficial or gives only one interpretative option. The Cliff Notes for Paul’s letters are available online, but that isn’t the sort of thing I’m looking for! 🙂

Does anyone have any particular recommendations? Any suggestions regarding either books or online resources would be most welcome!

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  • You may want to consider Morna Hooker’s Paul: A Short Introduction, which I think would work well at the undergraduate level. It’s relatively short (only 150 pages), but covers a lot of the basic issues such as sources, letter-writing, and Pauline theology. Of course, it might need to be supplemented by one or two other books–but it’s a suggestion.

  • If you aren’t familiar with it, Sampley’s Paul in the Greco-Roman World is a handbook that looks at Paul and different social and cultural factors and issues. Naturally, the handbook looks at various Pauline texts while at the same time giving the reader the flavor of Paul without having Greek as a prerequisite. Although this text was not the only text we used in a class called “The Life and Letters of Paul II” (it was a two-semester class at Simpson University), it was used for a reading-log assignment where Dr. Barth Campbell had us read 30 hours worth from the book and write a short synopsis of what we read. It was a useful exercise and the book was helpful.Another book that we used was Cousar’s The Letters of Paul, which was an easy read but still insightful.

  • The Norton Critical edition is my favorite teaching edition. It covers an enormous range of perspectives. Both the first edition (RSV based) and second edition (TNIV based) are in print. I think the 2nd edition is much better (although I prefer the RSV translation to the TNIV.)They are relatively cheap, include useful annotations and introductory essays (not just to the Epistles, but to the variety of commentary which form the bulk of the book). They contain a fair amount of gcommentary (ranging from very early to very recent) and supplementary material. Just look at the table of contents. Perspectives from the widest possible range of commentators is included (including Luke (Acts), apocryphal works, Irenaeus, Jerome, Tertullian, Clement, Chrysostom, Abrosiaster, Marcion, von Harnack, a variety of Church Fathers, Barth, Luther, Augustine, Nietszche, Shaw, Jewish commentators [including Visotzky, Boyarin, Segal], Bultman, Lampe, Meeks, Paul’s Jewish-Christian opponents, conservatives, liberals, women, Catholics, Evangelicals, atheists, etc.) I think the Norton gives the most diverse perspective on Paul in a one-volume edition. I’d call up your rep and ask for your desk copy immediately. Even if you don’t use them, I suspect you will learn a great deal from these books that you will find useful in preparing your lecture.I know of no comparable work (although, it is demanding of the students ability to read critically.)

  • A rather different sort of book is David Horrell’s Introduction to the Study of Paul which looks at the major issues under discussion in modern scholarship about Paul in a remarkably accessible way.