Monday, February 18, 2008

Introducing the Apostle Paul

My "New Testament" class meets tonight. Students will start off by taking the first exam (over the Gospels and Acts). Then we'll start the next major unit: Paul and His Letters. What that means is, I'll have about two hours to introduce Paul (yes, with a good break in the middle).

Because I teach a full semester course on "The Life of Paul," I have plenty of lecture notes and hand-outs, etc. So I have more than enough material for this introduction.

But I want to ask you: If you were in my shoes tonight, what would you be sure to cover, or at least mention? This is a freshman-level college course. And the Bible knowledge that my students bring to class represents a wide range.

So, what should be included in any decent "Introduction to Paul"? What are teachers most likely to overlook? Would you emphasize basic biography? Thought and theology? The worlds that Paul lived in (i.e., Jewish, Greek, and Roman)?

Whaddaya think?


Anonymous said...

If you have time, try to delve into Paul's character. Make the students feels as if they know him as a person, not just a writer in the Bible or someone that lived so long ago. If they can connect with him, his writings will be so much more valuable to them and they'll undoubtedly learn more.

Arlene Kasselman said...

Several college professor friends of mine have mentioned lately that with undergrads (more especially bible majors) they are noticing less appreciation for Paul. This makes complete sense to me in light of a post-modern shift. These students really want to know about Jesus. Instead of always turning to the epistles for teaching, they are camping in Matthew pouring over the Sermon on the Mount.
It doesn't take much to read this in Shane Claiborne's writing either and that is what a lot of these kids (including me at 41) are reading.

So, I say that to say.....I think it has become imperative with teaching Paul to always focus on the fact that he wanted nothing more than to point to Christ. Even with Paul it is always about Jesus.

Odgie said...


I second the comment from anonymous. Also, I would be prepared to respond to controversies surrounding Pauline authorship of his epistles, as well as some of the revisionist controveries about Paul "reinventing" Christianity from Jesus. You may have already prepared to address these issues.

I would also recommend an emphasis on the Prison Letters. Most classes on Paul that I have sat in spend virtually the entire time on Romans and the Corinthian letters.

Best wishes on your class. I am envious of you having the opportunity to teach college students.

Matt said...


Paul had an incredible amount to say about theology (study/thoughts on God) as Christology (study/thoughts on Christ). Read Eph 1:3-14 and see how God-centered that passage is (Thanks to Richard Oster for pointing that one out).

We often relate better with Christ than God and often God gets left in the dust. Paul didn't leave God out of the picture.

Arlene Kasselman said...

Matt, I agree completely.

Leland V said...

I really like the small book on Paul by N.T.Wright. Don't remember the title at the moment.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi Leland. I think that title was "What St. Paul Really Said."

More recently (2005?) Wright has published a longer, heavier book called "Paul: In Fresh Perspective." Of course, it's very good. I especially like the way he begins by talking about the three worlds of Paul: Judaism, Hellenism, and Roman Empire.

preacherman said...

I love to read the Pauline letters. You see a man struggling with his faith. You see a man struggling with his health. Struggling with what he has done to the Church.
Yet, he wants to KNOW Christ. Really KNOW. Personally. You see the commitment. The passion. Desire to KNOW Christ despite what goes on in his life.
That is what inspires me about Paul.
I am stressing to my congregation now the importance of really KNOWING Jesus through the Pauline letters.

john alan turner said...

I would try to couch Paul's epistles in their narrative context -- try working through Acts and stopping to show where Paul's letters were written in the context of story and the early church developing their theological anchor points.

Also, it's vitally important to show that Paul wasn't just writing theory. He was addressing situations in those local churches.

Which gets us back to story.

One reason, Arlene, for the lack of appreciation for Paul may be the current emphasis (read: fixation) with narrative. Paul is rarely presented in his narrative context.

That's what I'd try. Let us know what you end up doing, Frank.

Frank Bellizzi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arlene Kasselman said...

John Alan,
I think that really nails it. Theology, Ethics, Missionality it all has a fresh hearing to post-modern listeners framed in story.
Makes one think that Jesus really knew how to reach us.

-bill said...

Hello, Frank. Hopefully you won't mind if I choose not offer the specific suggestions for your class that you solicit. It's not that I don't have thoughts on Paul that I'd encourage you to share. It's just that your post made me think of something else entirely.

You see, many years ago--like back in the late '70's--I was a student at Amarillo College. I was, at best, a nominal believer, who was yearning for someone to help me learn more about Jesus.

Perhaps I didn't search hard enough, this is certainly a possibility. I was also distracted by many things. Still, I do think I would have been open to an invitation to attend a Bible study. But, to the best of my recollection, I never even encountered anyone on campus who openly spoke of his or her faith in Christ.

While I am well-aware of your limitations in the context in which you are teaching, I do believe that one of the truly distinguishing characteristics of the Apostle Paul is his passion for telling the story of Jesus.

So, perhaps, we would do well to ponder not how we should see him, but how he would see us and our place in the world. Given what we know about Paul, what do you think he would tell you to tell your students about him? Given his passion for preaching Christ, what would he tell your students their priorities in life should be?

Sorry to ramble on. Your post really set me to thinking. For this I am very appreciative. I'm also very grateful that you are where you are doing what you are doing. May God bless you in your work.