Pauline Theology: A Review Article -- By: Allan R. Bevere
ATJ 37 (2005) p. 91
Pauline Theology: A Review Article
Allan Bevere (Ph.D., Durham University) is Assistant Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology at ATS.
James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998. 808 pp., cloth, $50.00.
Dunn’s book is a detailed work on the theology of the great apostle and the culmination of forty years of study, lectures, and publications. In the Preface Dunn begins by mentioning his interest in Paul, even as a boy, and how that interest took on a more profound aspect. “In my student days the fascination deepened as I began to appreciate something of Paul the theologian. The combination of profound theological reflection and sensitive grappling with all too real human problems, of outspoken argument and pastoral insight, ‘found me’ at many points” (p. xv). Having been found by Paul, it could be said that this book focuses on what Dunn as “found out” concerning Paul’s theology.
Given the nature of a full-scale work on Paul, Dunn had to make several difficult decisions on approach and method. First, was to use the book of Romans as a template for a more complete explanation of Paul’s theology. The value in this is to use the major theological themes developed in Romans. The problem with this approach is that the other letters in the Pauline corpus are treated in a “more broken” (p. xvi) way, which is less agreeable. But Dunn sees the other possibility of analyzing each letter as problematic in its own right.
“A second important decision was to treat the subjects in sufficient detail for (Paul’s) theological and (my) exegetical rationale to be clear” (p. xvi). Thus at certain places in the book, Dunn provides quotations of key scriptural texts, sometimes at great length (e.g. pages 138 and 302). Dunn is aware that the reader may not always have the texts of scripture at hand. Not only does this provide a convenience to the reader, it also assists in reinforcing certain key points by the writer.
A third critical decision was to decide on the degree of engagement with other scholars on the “substance and detail” (p. xvi) of Paul’s theology. The massive volume of scholarly work available on Paul could easily turn an already large discussion into an endless one. Thus difficult choices had to be on what scholars to include in the discussion based on the themes being developed.
A final difficult decision was what to entitle the book. The Theology of Paul was not self-explanatory outside scholarly and ecclesiastical circles, and The Theology of St. Paul, according to Dunn, would not correctly characterize an apostle who used the term “saint” to refer to all believer...
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