As one who was instrumental in transforming a Jewish sect in Judea and Galilee into a worldwide multiethnic movement, Paul has been a controversial figure from the beginning. He came into conflict with Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (the “unbelievers in Judea,” Rom 15:30–31; cf. 2 Cor 11:23–25), with Jews who accepted Jesus as Israel’s Messiah (cf. Gal 2:1–14), and ultimately with the Roman authorities who executed him. His letters record his numerous conflicts with opponents over the meaning of the gospel, and the interpretation of his letters has been the center of debate from antiquity (cf. 2 Pet 3:15–16) to the present. The letters were the battleground between Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century and between Luther and the established church in the sixteenth century. John Wesley’s reading of Romans in the eighteenth century and Karl Barth’s reading in the twentieth century had revolutionary effects in Protestantism. Controversy continues over the interpretation of Paul. Was Paul the “second founder of Christianity” who distorted the original teachings of Jesus, as William Wrede (1907) suggested? Did he have no interest in the human Jesus, as Rudolf Bultmann argued? Was he inconsistent in his view of the law, as Heikki Räisänen (1983), maintained? Traditional Protestant scholarship maintained that Paul’s theology of justification by faith was shaped by his rejection of Judaism, while representatives of the “new perspective on Paul” (Sanders, 1977, 1985; Dunn, 1998, 2011; Wright, 2005; Hays, 1989) maintain that Judaism was the matrix of Paul’s theological reflection and the source of his ethics. Others (Engberg-Pederson, 2000; Malherbe, 1989) interpret Paul against the background of Hellenistic philosophy. Today his comments on Israel, homosexuality, spiritual gifts, the role of women, and political power continue to be the center of debate.

Sources for the Life of Paul.

Despite Paul’s revolutionary influence, he is never mentioned in ancient sources. Knowledge of the apostle comes from the book of Acts, in which he and Peter stand as the primary actors in the new movement, and the 13 letters attributed to him. Scholars regard Pauline authorship of 7 of the 13 letters (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon) as undisputed, while some or all of the other 6 (Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and the Pastoral Epistles) are commonly attributed to those who wished to apply the Pauline legacy to new situations. A few works from the early church also bear the name of Paul, including the Letters of Paul and Seneca and 3 Corinthians. However, only Paul’s letters and the canonical Acts provide reliable historical information from the first century C.E.

While the Book of Acts also contains information about Paul based on reliable sources, the letters are the primary source for knowledge of his life and his teaching. Acts is a secondary source that must be examined critically in view of the author’s rhetorical purposes. The historicity of events in Acts that are not mentioned in the letters must be examined on a case-by-case basis. Reports of Paul’s speeches in Acts, for example, are not transcripts of the speeches, but bear the fingerprints of the author.

Paul’s Life and Education.

Acts and the letters agree on several aspects of Paul’s childhood and education. According to Philippians 3:5, Paul was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews” (cf. Rom 11:1; 2 Cor 11:22). The name Saul, by which he is known only in Acts (cf. Acts 7:58; 8:1, 3; 9:1, 8, 11, 17, 22, 24; 11:25, 30; 13:9), is consistent with his roots in the tribe of Benjamin. The phrase “Saul who is also called Paul” (Acts 13:9) marks the transition in Acts from the exclusive use of the Hebrew name to the exclusive use of the name by which Paul always identifies himself in the letters. Paul probably chose the common Latin name when he worked among Gentiles because of its similarity to the Hebrew name Saul. His identification of himself as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (cf. 2 Cor 11:22) probably indicates that, although he wrote only in Greek, he had maintained the ancestral language and connections to Palestine (cf. Acts 22:2; 26:14).

Both the letters and Acts agree that Paul was a Pharisee (Phil 3:5; Acts 23:6). In Acts, Paul describes his education, indicating that he is “a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,” but brought up in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel” and educated according to the ancestral law (22:3). While the letters offer no independent confirmation that Paul was a student of Gamaliel, the depiction of Paul as a Diaspora Jew with a Pharisaic education and Palestinian connections corresponds to the information that is reflected in the letters. Inasmuch as Pharisees were found almost exclusively in Judea, this identification also indicates Paul’s association with this location. Like other Pharisees, Paul was “blameless” in keeping the law (Phil 3:6) and even advanced beyond the people of his age in keeping the traditions of the fathers (Gal 1:14). The reference to Paul’s “zeal” (Phil 3:6; cf. Gal 1:14; Acts 21:20; 22:3) indicates that he was not only a Pharisee, but a member of the aggressive wing of the Pharisees, who were willing to engage in forceful acts as a result of their zeal for the law. This group was inspired to engage in violence against renegades, looking to Phinehas (cf. Num 25:6–18; Ps 106:30–31; Sir 45:23) and Elijah (1 Kgs 18:36–4) as examples. Philo indicates that this group was popular even in the Diaspora, referring to “thousands who have their eyes upon him full of zeal for the laws, strictest guardians of the ancestral institutions, merciless to those who do anything to subvert them” (Spec. 2.253). This ideal led Paul to persecute the church (1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6; Acts 22:3–4). He does not go into detail about the extent of the persecutions, but only indicates that he was involved “to an extreme degree” (kath’ hyperbolēn, Gal 1:13). The extended descriptions in Acts reflect the narrator’s own rhetorical purposes rather than historical reality, for Paul did not have the legal authority to go to Damascus and bring back prisoners (cf. Acts 9:2), nor is it likely that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, who could cast a vote for the death penalty (cf. Acts 26:10). This description of Paul as a persecutor of the church does not correspond to the portrayal of Gamaliel as the voice of restraint (cf. Acts 5:33–39). Paul probably engaged in the forms of persecution that he later received from the Jews—the 40 lashes minus 1, floggings, and stoning (cf. 2 Cor 11:24–25; cf. 1 Thess 2:14–15).

Although Paul’s claim in Acts that he was brought up in Jerusalem (22:3) does not correspond to his statement in Galatians that he “was unknown by sight to the churches of Judea” (Gal 1:22), the evidence of the letters suggests that Paul had the kind of rabbinic education that was available in Jerusalem. Of Hillel’s well-known rules for interpretation, he employs two. In several instances, he employs the rabbinic rule from the lesser to the greater (qal wachomer, cf. Rom 5:9–10, 18–21; 2 Cor 3:7–11). He also argues on the basis of the rabbinic rule gezera shewa, combining two passages of scripture on the basis of a word that they have in common (cf. Rom 4:3–8).

The claim in Acts that Paul is from Tarsus is consistent with the facility with Greek that he demonstrates in the letters. Although he does not write in the polished Greek of the literary works, his first language is Greek, and at times his Greek rises to artistic heights (cf. Rom 8:31–39; 1 Cor 13). As a Jew from the Diaspora, he reads the Bible in Greek, and he has committed large portions to memory, especially from Isaiah and the Psalms.

Competence in the language makes inevitable the openness to the culture in which it is embedded. The extent of Paul’s immersion in Greek education is a matter of debate. Only once in the undisputed letters does he cite Greek literature (1 Cor 15:33; cf. Menander, Thais, frg. 218), when he refers to the popular proverb, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” However, his language consistently suggests his acquaintance with Greek culture. He compares his life as an apostle to the athlete in competition in the arena (1 Cor 9:24–27). In 1 Thessalonians 2:1–12 he describes his interactions with the new community with imagery drawn from the popular philosophers. He employs the diatribe (cf. Rom 3:1–9; 6:1), answering objections from an imaginary interlocutor, a common literary device among Cynics and Stoics. The catalogs of personal sufferings, which are predominant in 2 Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor 4:11–12; 2 Cor 4:7–12; 6:4–10; 11:22–33), have parallels to ancient descriptions of difficulties that were overcome by the sage. On numerous occasions, he employs the technical vocabulary of the Stoics, speaking of life according to nature (cf. Rom 1:20–21, 26–27; 2:14–16; 1 Cor 11:13) or conduct that is “fitting” (Rom 1:28; 1 Cor 11:14). He also employs Stoic vocabulary to describe those who “approve the better things” (Rom 2:18; Phil 1:10; cf. Rom 12:2) and his own contentment under all circumstances (Phil 4:11). He apparently derives the image of the church as the body of Christ from a well-known topos of popular philosophy.

His letters also reflect his literary education. His opponents’ comment that “his letters are weighty and strong” (2 Cor 10:10) may reflect ancient awareness of the power of his communication. Scholars observed in the early twentieth century that Paul adapted the traditional Hellenistic letter form, which is most evident at the beginning and end of his correspondence. Others have observed analogies between Paul’s letters and the types of letters mentioned by ancient epistolary theorists. In the past generation scholars have argued that Paul’s letters are analogous to speeches. Indeed, the arrangement of the letters conforms in many cases to that of ancient speeches. Moreover, he often uses technical rhetorical terminology (cf. sympheron, 2 Cor 8:10; allēgoroumena, Gal 4:24; metaschēmatizein, 1 Cor 4:6). While Paul’s letters have analogies to both rhetoric and ancient letters, they cannot be classified fully with either. As letters dictated for oral delivery to a gathered community, Paul’s letters are unique. The synagogue homily probably also provided a model for his communication with the churches.

The education of a teacher required not only knowledge of scripture, but also a trade. According to Acts (18:3), Paul was a tentmaker. He does not mention the nature of his craft, but mentions his work with his hands, which allowed him to preach without being a burden to his churches (1 Cor 4:11–12; 9:1–11; 1 Thess 2:5–9). This refusal to receive financial support became an issue among the Corinthians, who interpreted Paul’s practice as the refusal of friendship (2 Cor 11:7–11; 12:13).

Acts contains other information that is plausible but is not confirmed in the letters. Paul’s status as a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37–38; 22:25–29; 23:27) is a major motif in the narrative. Although Paul does not refer to his citizenship in the letters, his orientation to Roman provincial (Rom 15:26; 1 Thess 1:7–8) and political categories (cf. Phil 3:20–21), self-identification with the Roman name Paul, and his final arrest and transferal to Rome suggest the plausibility of his Roman citizenship. He probably inherited that status from a prior generation of his family, which had received it as freed Jewish slaves (cf. Acts 22:28).

Paul’s Conversion and Call.

Both Acts and the letters agree that a divine revelation marked the turning point in Paul’s career, transforming him from a persecutor of the Jesus movement to an apostle of the risen Christ. Acts records the vision of the “light from heaven” (9:3; 22:6; 26:13) on the Damascus Road three times (9:1–19; 22:6–11; 26:12–18). In the letters Paul explains the abrupt change in his life, recalling the time when God was pleased to “reveal his Son” to him (Gal 1:15; cf. 2 Cor 4:6). This revelation was the call to apostleship that gave him equal status to the original eyewitnesses of the resurrection. When he lists the witnesses to the resurrection, he includes himself alongside the apostles as one to whom Jesus appeared “last of all, as to one untimely born” (1 Cor 15:8). This event is a call to apostleship, giving Paul the same status as those who had been eyewitnesses of the ministry of Jesus (1 Cor 15:3–9; Gal 1:15—2:10). Like the others, Paul has “seen the Lord” (1 Cor 9:1).

As Paul describes the event, it was also a prophetic call for a specific mission, as the echoes of the call stories of Old Testament prophets indicate (cf. Gal 1:15B; Jer. 1:5; Isa 49:1, 5; Gal 1:16B, Isa 49:6). Thus he identified himself in terms that recall the self-understanding of the prophets. Like Jeremiah, he was appointed from his mother’s womb to speak to the nations (Jer 1:5; cf. Isa 49:1), to build (2 Cor 10:8; cf. Jer 1:10; 24:6), and to plant (1 Cor 3:6; Jer 24:6). Like Amos and Jeremiah (cf. Amos 3:8; Jer 20:9), he was compelled to speak (1 Cor 9:16). As the minister of the new covenant announced by Jeremiah (31:31–34), he compares himself favorably to Moses, who delivered the first covenant (2 Cor 3:7–19). Consequently, he maintains that his gospel is from God and that he has authority over his churches.

Although scholars have referred to this event as a call rather than a conversion, both terms describe this event, for it was a conversion insofar as it resulted in the new conviction that the crucified Jesus was now Israel’s Messiah and the risen Lord (cf. 2 Cor 5:16). The death and resurrection was the good news (euangelion) of Jewish expectation (cf. Rom 1:1–5; 1 Cor 15:3). Paul’s usage is derived from the reading of deutero-Isaiah, who wrote to the despairing exiles, “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings (euangelizomenos)” (40:9 NRSV). The prophet announces the captives’ return from exile, exclaiming, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces (euangelizomenou) peace, who brings good news (euaggelizomenos)” (52:7). Multitudes will come and announce (euaggeliontai) the salvation of the Lord. The prophet explains this good news with the forensic metaphor of the judge who exercises judgment in righteousness (dikaiosynē, Isa 42:6; 51:5, 7) and justifies (dikaioō, Isa 42:21; 43:26; 50:8) Israel, redeeming the people from their sins. Paul understands his proclamation of the good news to be nothing less than what the prophet announced centuries before him. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God has rescued humankind from its transgressions (Rom 4:25; 2 Cor 5:19). The forensic metaphor employed by the prophet for God’s saving deeds becomes a favorite image for Paul’s interpretation of the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul declares that in the gospel “the righteousness of God is being revealed” (Rom 1:17; cf. 3:21–26; 5:1).

Both Acts and the letters indicate that Paul’s vision was also a call to announce the good news to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; 13:46–47; 26:17; Gal 1:16; 2:2). This goal is shaped by Paul’s reading of deutero-Isaiah, which declares that Israel’s destiny is to be “a light to the nations” (Isa 42:6; 49:6; 51:4) so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isa 49:6). Nations that do not know Israel will ultimately turn to it (55:5). The “ends of the earth” will see God’s salvation when God brings the outcasts of Israel into his community (56:8), and the foreigners will come into God’s house of prayer (56:6–7), which shall be the “house of prayer for all nations” (56:7). Paul is himself God’s chosen instrument for the fulfillment of these prophetic hopes, an apostle set apart to bring “obedience of faith among all the Gentiles” (Rom 1:5). Using a term that normally refers to priestly service, he describes himself as the minister (leitourgos) to the nations who will offer them as a sacrifice to God (Rom 15:16). The frequent echoes of Isaiah 40—66 suggest that he is the prophet who announces “light to the nations” (Isa 49:6) and the messenger “who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says, ‘Your God reigns’” (Rom 10:15; cf. Isa 52:7). His concern that he not “run in vain” (cf. Gal 4:11) or “labor in vain” (cf. 1 Cor 15:1, 14, 58; 2 Cor 6:1; Phil 2:16; 1 Thess 3:5) echoes the words of the prophet, “I have labored in vain” (Isa 49:4). In his call for reconciliation with the Corinthians, he recalls the words of the prophet, “In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you” (2 Cor 6:2; cf. Isa 49:8). Indeed, his anticipation of the time when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:11) echoes the words of the prophet, who concludes the oracle on the universality of God with the announcement, “To me every knee shall bow and every tongue shall swear” (Isa 49:23). In preaching where Christ has not been named, he ensures that “those who have never been told shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand” (Rom 15:21; cf. Isa 52:15).

As the herald of good news to the nations, Paul takes on the unprecedented task of missionary activity throughout the Mediterranean world, making it his ambition to “preach where Christ has not been named” (Rom 15:20). Both Acts and the letters portray Paul’s missionary preaching in the major cities. Both indicate the planting of churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and Philippi and the intention of visiting Rome. In Romans, Paul mentions his desire to go on to Spain, completing the circle of the upper half of the Mediterranean and fulfilling the prophetic hope for the gathering of the nations from distant lands, including Tarshish (Isa 66:20), which in Jewish literature was the “end of the earth” (cf. Ps Sol. 8:15–17; Ps 72:8–11).

The Chronology of Paul’s Life and Ministry.

The letters do not indicate their date of composition, and Acts gives no direct information about the date of Paul’s activities. Consequently, the exact dates of Paul’s birth and death remain unknown. Nevertheless, indirect evidence in the letters and Acts allows for the establishment of an approximate chronology of Paul’s life and ministry based on both relative and absolute information. References in Acts to datable historical information provide the latter, while the information from the letters furnishes a relative chronology. Where the letters and Acts conflict, interpreters give the priority to the letters.

Paul’s autobiographical sketch in Galatians 1 provides his most thorough statement of relative chronology from the time of his conversion until the Apostolic Council. He recalls that he went to Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion (1:18) and returned to the city again for the Apostolic Council 14 years later. Inasmuch as partial years were counted as full years in the ancient world, the Apostolic Council was at least 16 years after Paul’s conversion. Two events connected with Paul’s stay in Corinth provide the basis for absolute chronology. When Paul arrived in Corinth, he met Aquila and Priscilla, who had recently been expelled from Rome by the edict of Claudius (Acts 18:2). This event was dated by the later Christian historian Orosius (fifth century C.E.) to the ninth year of Claudius’s reign (49 C.E.). While Paul was in Corinth, a conflict with the Jews resulted in a hearing before Gallio the proconsul (Acts 18:12–17). The time when Gallio was proconsul in Corinth may be determined with a degree of certainty from an inscription found at Delphi in 1905. The evidence suggests that Gallio was proconsul from the summer of 51 to the early summer of 52.

While not all scholars accept the historicity of the information from Acts, most work backward and forward from these fixed points to establish the chronology of Paul’s life. The Apostolic Council (Gal 2:1–10) probably occurred in 48, followed by the conflict at Antioch (Gal 2:11–14) and missionary work in Philippi (Acts 16:11–40), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–9), and Athens (Acts 17:16–34; 1 Thess 3:1) before Paul arrived in Corinth in 50, where he remained for 18 months (Acts 18:11). During this period he wrote 1 Thessalonians (cf. Acts 18:5; 1 Thess 3:6).

Since apparently no letters from Paul prior to the Apostolic Council are extant, little information exists for the years between Paul’s conversion and that event. According to Galatians 1, Paul went to Arabia and Damascus before coming to Jerusalem to visit Cephas (1:18) three years later. He then traveled to Syria and Cilicia before the second visit to Jerusalem (2:1). He mentions an escape from the ethnarch Aretas in 2 Corinthians 11:32–33, an event that probably took place around 37/38. According to Acts, Paul returned to Jerusalem after his conversion (9:26) and then went to Tarsus (9:30), where he stayed until he went to Antioch (11:26), serving there until he joined Barnabas in a missionary journey into Cyprus, Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13–14). Based on the absolute chronology supplied by Acts and the relative chronology provided by Galatians, interpreters place the date of Paul’s conversion about 32 C.E.

Acts reports that, after Paul left Corinth in 52 C.E., he traveled to Syria with Aquila and Priscilla (18:18) and then arrived in Ephesus, where he left the couple, and then traveled to Caesarea, Antioch (18:22), Galatia, and Phrygia (18:23) before returning to Ephesus, where he spent between two and three years (Acts 19:10; 20:31). From Ephesus he wrote 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 16:8), other letters that are no longer extant (cf. 1 Cor 5:9; 2 Cor 2:1–4), and probably Galatians. Paul’s stay in Ephesus was probably from 53 to 55. From there he traveled to Macedonia (Acts 20:1), where he wrote some or all of 2 Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor 7:5). He spent the winter in Corinth (Acts 20:2), writing Romans during this time (Rom 16:1–2; cf. Acts 20:1–4). Then he traveled to Jerusalem, where he was arrested. He was in prison two years before coming to Rome about 60 C.E., where, according to Acts, he remained two years (Acts 28:30). No firm evidence is available about the date of Paul’s death. The most likely time is during the persecution of Christians under Nero in the year 64.

Paul’s Theology in Its Jewish Context.

Despite the radical change in Paul’s convictions, he continued to identify himself as an Israelite and a descendant of Abraham (Rom 11:1; cf. 2 Cor 11:22), shaped by Israel’s scriptures. Consequently, the basic Jewish story of the creator God provided the substructure of his theology. Implicit in all of Paul’s letters is the story of Israel, which Paul now reads in light of the Christ event. The narrative includes the Creator’s desire to bless the world and the human failings that prevent that blessing from becoming a reality. Sin enters into the world through Adam and Eve (Gen 1–11; Rom 5:12–21; 1 Cor 15:21–23), but God calls Abraham to answer the problem created by the first couple and their descendants (Gen 12; cf. Rom 4:1–25; Gal 3:6–29). God chooses Abraham’s descendants as a means to bless the world (cf. Rom 9:6–24), but they become slaves in Egypt until God rescues them, gives the law to sustain life, and gives the chosen people the land as a place of safety. Because Israel sins, the people go into exile, but God promises a new covenant, a new heaven and earth, and salvation from sin. Jewish writers distinguished between the present age, in which both humans and nature are in bondage, and the age to come that would bring peace and reconciliation. As the Second Temple literature indicates, Israel’s story was still without an ending.

Prophetic and apocalyptic writers promised an end to Israel’s struggle and final vindication, expecting God to repeat the saving events of the past. Thus they looked forward to a new exodus, a new covenant, and a new creation, a time when God would pour out the Spirit and Israel would keep the commandments. Paul is convinced that Jesus Christ is the culmination of that story. Abraham’s descendants are all who have faith (Gal 3:6–29; Rom 4:3–25), and they live in the new covenant (2 Cor 3:1–6) and new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Nevertheless, the church continues to wait for the final act in the drama.

Living within Israel’s story, Paul holds to Jewish basic beliefs, which for him were transformed in Christ. He shares the monotheism of the synagogue, insisting that God is one (Rom 3:30; 1 Cor 8:4; Gal 3:20), and he challenges pagans to “turn to God from idols to serve the true and living God” (1 Thess 1:9). However, Paul redefines monotheism, applying divine status to Jesus Christ. He recites the shema, “For us there is one God, from whom all things exist,” but adds, “and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6). Thus he applies the title kyrios, used in the Septuagint exclusively for God, to the exalted Christ. Those who “confess that Jesus is Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Citing the passage from Israel’s scriptures, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13; cf. Joel 3:5), he looks forward to the time when “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” (Phil 2:11). Nevertheless, although Jesus is Lord, Paul continues to distinguish God from Jesus as kyrios, greeting his churches “from God the father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Indeed, Christ rules now but will ultimately turn the kingdom back to the father (1 Cor 15:24–28).

Paul maintains the Jewish concept of election, but transforms it, maintaining that all who believe in Jesus as Messiah, including Gentiles, are the seed of Abraham whom God has chosen (Rom 9:6–29; 1 Thess 1:4). He enculturates Gentile converts into Israel’s story, speaking to a predominantly Gentile church and referring to the Israelites in the wilderness as “our fathers” (1 Cor 10:1), while urging his readers not to behave like “Gentiles” (1 Thess 4:5). The community composed of Jews and Gentiles is thus the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

Paul as Missionary Pastor.

Paul is not only a missionary with the ambition to preach where Christ has not been named (Rom 15:20), but also a pastor who lives with “anxiety for the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). Thus a consistent feature in his letters is the affirmation that his pastoral goal is to present the churches to Christ at the parousia (cf. Rom 15:16; 2 Cor 1:14; 11:1–4; Phil 2:16). Otherwise, he will have run in vain (Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16). Consequently, he engages in pastoral instruction to new converts while he is present with them (1 Thess 2:12) and writes letters when he is away. In 1 Thessalonians, his first extant letter (ca. 51), he reaffirms his original pastoral instruction, resocializing Gentile converts into the new life and establishing family cohesion among the disparate members.

Paul’s continuing pastoral work is especially evident in the Corinthian letters, which record his pastoral activity over at least a five-year period in Corinth. Even after spending 18 months with them, he writes a letter to restate his admonition to maintain boundaries from immoral people (cf. 1 Cor 5:9). After receiving oral reports (1 Cor 1:11; 11:18) and a letter from the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:1), he writes 1 Corinthians to clarify earlier teaching (7:1–7) and to address the divisions in the church. When this letter is not well received, he makes a painful visit to the Corinthians (2 Cor 1:23; 2:1–4) and then writes a letter with many tears (2:1–4), sending Titus to them with the letter (cf. 7:5–16). He writes 2 Corinthians after receiving good news from Titus (cf. 7:5–16). Because 2 Corinthians appears to reflect changing circumstances within the letter—reconciliation in 7:5–16 and bitter polemic in chapters 10–13—many scholars assume that 2 Corinthians is a composite that includes fragments of the letters that Paul mentions. Despite the apparent unevenness of 2 Corinthians, the entire letter focuses on a central issue: the legitimacy of Paul’s ministry. In both Corinthian letters, Paul faces the challenges of defining Christian belief among those who have superimposed the Christian message over the Hellenistic values of wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 1–4), competition (1 Cor 1:10–17), rhetorical artistry, and courage (cf. 2 Cor 10:1–11).

After years of converting Gentiles without requiring circumcision, Paul finally makes a thorough defense of this practice in Galatians, insisting that all who believe are the children of Abraham (Gal 3:26–28). Writing near the end of his career, he develops the arguments of Galatians in the letter to the Romans, justifying his work as “minister of Christ to the Gentiles” (Rom 15:16). His argument for the righteousness of God to all who have faith is the basis for his appeal for a united church composed of Jews and Gentiles (cf. Rom 14:1—15:13).

The disputed letters of Paul reflect the continuing challenges among the churches associated with him. Most scholars regard some or all of these letters as attempts to preserve the Pauline legacy by a pseudonymous author. Both Ephesians and Colossians contain major themes from the earlier letters, which they apply to the issues of a later period. The focus shifts in these letters to the cosmic Christ and universal church. In the Pastoral Epistles, the Pauline legacy continues in the work of his emissaries, Timothy and Titus, and the local church leaders, who join in protecting the Pauline gospel from those who subvert it.




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James W. Thompson