In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Paul

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Collection for Jerusalem
  • The Teaching of Jesus
  • Ethics
  • Topical Studies
  • Development of Thought in Paul’s Letters
  • Rhetorical Analysis of Paul’s Letters
  • Paul’s Uses of the Scriptures of Israel
  • Epistolary Studies
  • Subunits of Letters
  • The Pauline Tradition

Biblical Studies Paul
Jerry L. Sumney
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0046


Paul is one of the most important figures in the earliest church. Although he was not a follower during the ministry of Jesus, he came to be recognized as an apostle. Seemingly the most successful missionary of the church during its first few decades, his converts were mostly non-Jews. He was not the first to admit gentiles into the church, but his work among them and his understanding of how they participate as full members permanently shape the history of the church. Paul is also the author of the earliest extant writings from the church. He begins writing his letters to churches approximately twenty years before the earliest of the canonical Gospels was composed. He is, then, a valuable source of information about the situation and beliefs of the earliest churches. Pauline studies have experienced several important shifts since the middle of the 20th century, even as the work of F. C. Baur continues to exert extraordinary influence. The groundbreaking work of E. P. Sanders on 1st-century Judaism has affected nearly every aspect of Pauline studies. Sanders’s view of Judaism supported new discussions about Paul’s theology, particularly some growing doubts about identifying justification by faith as its center. J. C. Beker’s emphasis on the contextual nature of Paul’s theologizing and the importance of eschatology for Paul began a move to examine the theology of each letter individually before producing a theology of the whole corpus. Sanders’s work also made room for a reexamination of the relationship between Paul’s churches and the synagogue, with most scholars seeing a closer relationship than had been hypothesized previously. Other developments in Pauline studies include the recognition of a closer relationship between Paul’s theology and his ethical instructions. Studies of ancient letters discovered since the 1920s opened ways to analyze the structure and categorize Paul’s writings by comparing them with contemporaneous materials. New methodologies were also introduced, particularly in understanding the social and cultural context of the letters. Methods from anthropology and postcolonial studies have shifted understandings of Paul’s stance with respect to Greco-Roman culture and the Roman Empire, such that he is often seen to possess a more countercultural stance. The rise of narrative theology contributed to a new interest in investigating the way Paul uses Israel’s Scriptures in his argumentation. Finally, there has been a renewed interest in a rhetorical analysis of Paul’s letters, with some scholars using ancient rhetorical categories; others, the “new rhetoric”; and still others devising distinctive methodologies.

General Overviews

Monographs that propose an overall understanding of Paul and his theology have been a part of Pauline studies from the inception of the discipline. The range of reconstructions is at least as broad as proposals about the historical Jesus, and they have been just as influenced by the cultural and theological presuppositions of the interpreters. In varying ways, reconstructions of Paul’s life and thought in the 19th and 20th centuries have been responses to Baur 2003 (originally published in 1873–1875). F. C. Baur’s powerful work set Paul and “Jewish Christianity” in opposition. British scholarship generally rejected the more radical elements of this view, arguing for more unity in the church. Bruce 2000 (originally published in 1977) belongs to this tradition of interpretation. Deissmann 1972 (originally published in 1911) takes a different approach, looking outside the church for the best means to understand Paul, setting him in the context of Hellenistic culture and religions. In the late 20th century, more interpreters (including in Segal 1990 and Boyarin 1994) have set Paul more in the context of his place within, or in relation to, Judaism. Meeks and Fitzgerald 2007 and Dunn 2003 each address a wide range of individual issues, helping readers see the state of scholarship in the field.

  • Baur, F. C. Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Works, His Epistles and Teachings. 2 vols. Translated by Allan Menzies. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003.

    Originally published in 1873–1875, this modern critical study of Paul takes its start from Baur’s work. Others had questioned the authorship of various Pauline letters, but Baur brings such doubts into a coherent system for understanding Paul’s life and teaching. Basing his reconstruction on Hegelian presuppositions, Baur argues that Pauline (gentile) Christianity and Petrine (Jewish) Christianity were opposites that later merged into early Catholic Christianity.

  • Boyarin, Daniel. A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity. Contraversions 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    Boyarin sees Paul as trying to define a new identity for Christians, an identity that draws on the Greek search for universals; thus, Paul opts for sameness over difference when determining the proper identity for Christians. This is the central difference between Paul and rabbinic Judaism. Paul’s insistence on sameness demands the eradication of difference, in Boyarin’s reading.

  • Bruce, F. F. Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.

    Originally published in 1977. Bruce constructs a traditional image of Paul and his message. This view of Paul was more common before the debates that followed (see Sanders 1977, cited under Judaism).

  • Deissmann, Adolf. Paul, a Study in Social and Religious History. 2d ed. Translated by William E. Wilson. Gloucester, MA: Smith, 1972.

    Originally published in 1911, this biography of Paul and study of his theology tries to set him firmly into his 1st-century Greco-Roman context. Deissmann begins his study with Paul’s letters (which he distinguishes from literary epistles) but also draws information from Acts. The author rejects the view that identifies Paul as the founder of Christianity.

  • Dunn, James D. G., ed. The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul. Cambridge Companions to Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521781558

    This volume provides a selective review of issues in Pauline studies, written by a wide range of Pauline scholars. It has a section on Paul’s life, one that introduces each Pauline letter, and another that looks at reception of Paul in the ancient and modern eras. It also contains a general bibliography on Paul and short bibliographies for each letter.

  • Meeks, Wayne A., and John T. Fitzgerald, eds. The Writings of St. Paul: Annotated Texts, Reception and Criticism. 2d ed. Norton Critical Editions. New York: Norton, 2007.

    This volume contains the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) translation of the Pauline corpus, followed by some texts outside the canon that claim Paul as author. The text then provides excerpts about Paul and various issues in his thought from ancient writers, as well as samples of more-recent scholarship on those matters. It also includes a bibliography for those beginning serious study.

  • Segal, Alan F. Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

    Segal sets Paul’s life and theology in his Jewish context, seeing Paul as a primary source for understanding 1st-century Judaism; Paul did not believe he had left Judaism but did change his primary religious community to a different sect within Judaism. Segal rejects the idea that Paul sees one covenant for Jews and another for gentiles.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.