Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
STR 5:1 (Summer 2014) p. 119
Patrick Gray. Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
There is no shortage of books on Paul and his letters, and introductions to interpreting his letters are just as plentiful. Far less common, however, are accessible books for beginning students that faithfully capture the complexities of issues in plain language that doesn’t leave students in the dust. Patrick Gray’s offering is one of these rare finds. Here, he introduces an interpretation of Paul that focuses on the literary genre of Paul’s letters, comparing them to typical letters from ancient Greece and Rome. He writes as a seasoned scholar who is also an expert teacher, and this text will prove highly useful for undergraduates and seminary students, along with informal courses on biblical interpretation in churches.
In an introduction, Gray discusses the importance of genre. Modern readers must understand that they’re reading someone else’s mail. Each letter is an occasional document addressing a church situation rather than a systematic theological treatise in which Paul addresses abstract theological issues.
Gray’s first full chapter discusses Paul’s historical contexts, the Jewish and Roman worlds he inhabited. His chapter unfolds more fully the varieties of letter genre in the ancient world. His discussion is clear and complete with the provision of many examples. He then identifies each of Paul’s letters according to the types of letter he has discussed.
In chapter 3, Gray explores how Paul writes his letters. He goes through the various parts of a letter, comparing them constantly with contemporary Greco-Roman letters. The conventions of first-century letter writing are important to keep in mind rather than reading the letters in terms of the chapter and verse divisions added over a millennium later (pp. 67-68). This chapter includes an insightful and helpful discussion of the usefulness of ancient rhetoric in interpreting Paul (pp. 84-89). Gray notes that there are indeed elements in Paul’s letters that resonate strongly with the sorts of rhetoric spoken of in ancient handbooks. Rhetoric, however, was applied to speeches and not necessarily to letters. Further, scholars often vary widely as to labeling this or that passage according to the conventions of ancient rhetoric. Gray notes that students ought to
STR 5:1 (Summer 2014) p. 120
exercise caution when it appears that an interpreter has spent far more time than Paul in the precise organization of an individual letter (p. 89).
Gray discusses the audienc...
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