Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Update on Textbooks for Teaching Paul to Undergraduates

A couple of years ago I wrote a dialogical post on preparing a Paul course. A major concern at that point was the determination of the best textbooks to use in the course. The choice of textbooks is all the more challenging in my context as I teach within a General Education curriculum which requires students to take Bible classes that have no vocational interest in the subject. These are late teenagers--sometimes early twenty-year olds (but its getting harder to tell the difference anymore) who are taking Paul because they "have to".

Over the course of the last two years, teaching Paul now four times, I have, through trial and error, found what I think are the best two Paul books for my context. I don't claim to think however that these are the most suitable for every context. What's more, while I would like to use Michael's book Introducing Paul--and do recommended it often to students, it overlaps with my own lectures (great minds think alike).

The IVP book by Capes, Reeves and Richards, Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (2007) and Horrell's An Introduction to the Study of Paul (T&T Clark Approaches to Biblical Studies) (T&T Clark, 2006). The former overviews topics like letter writing in the first century (Richard's expertise) and short chapters over all of Paul's letters. The latter is introduces students to the academic study of Paul and shows them the various approaches to his interpretation.

There is really only one other book I still have yet to find that I think would be useful as a third leg of the stool. That is a short book that provides a narrative history of Paul's life. Richard Longenecker's short book The Ministry and Message of Paul would be just the book if it were not now over 30 years old.


Chris Spinks said...

Have you looked at Michael Gorman's Reading Paul? It's short, readable, and meant for lay readers and beginning students. Richard Hays blurbed it saying he plans to use it in the intro classes he teaches.

OK, enough of the plug. If you are interested in a desk copy, shoot me a line (chris@wipfandstock.com).

Michael F. Bird said...

Joel, I have to agree w. Chris that Mike Gorman's books Reading Paul and Apostle of the Crucified Lord should be on the list. Perhaps a distant fifth is a "Bird's Eye-View of Paul" by some hack.

Preston Sprinkle said...

Bird's overlap with your lectures may be a good thing. I found, esp. with undergrads, that they need some classroom guidance on what they're reading, and, perhaps, some outside class help for understanding the lectures. For the most part, students seem to appreciate it when the book overlaps with the lectures, though not too much.

So I'd put my vote in for Bird's book as #1

(I expect a check in the mail very soon for that one, Mike ;)

Anonymous said...

I used Gorman last semester, the Apostle of the Crucified . . . While excellent not the right book for the crowd much too long of discussions for the audience. I bought Gorman's smaller introduction but it leaves out things that Rediscovering has like a discussion of letter writing in the first century.

Anonymous said...

Chris: I wish I would have asked for a examine copy of Gorman's book.

Preston: Thanks for your input. It is good to hear from you. How are you doing?

Preston Sprinkle said...


Doing great, bro. I look forward to catching up at SBL this year.

I was also thinking of Wright's, What St. Paul Really Said. I still think that's his best one yet (on Paul, at least). It's short, accessible, yet characteristically engaging and even devotional in its own way. A great intro to Paul's thought, I would say, especially for those who have a very flat understanding his theology. What do you think?

Anonymous said...


I used What Paul Really Said in the first semester. I personally agree with you assessment of the book. However, I found that in our context it was not as "accessible" for my students. Obviously there were some who used it to good effect, but our students have only one other Bible course before taking Paul and it was the whole Bible in one semester. Students get bogged down in the detail of his discussions on righteousness, etc.

Watcher said...

Your suggestions are helpful tips. Thanks.

It's almost amusing tho' that Longenecker's book is put aside because it's over 30 years old...to study a fellow who lived over 2000 years ago. I know scholarship goes on...but!

hrobins said...

For what it's worth, when I was in your very first Paul class, I found What Saint Paul Really Said much easier to read (pleasant, actually) than Paul in Fresh Perspective. I think the McRay and Paul in Fresh Perspective were the most difficult reads--Wright because it was very dense, and McRay because it was just so stinkin' long. =) I am happy that you're finding your way through the slew of scholarly literature on Paul, however. Another semester, another go!