The Apostle Paul: Saint of the public square

According to tradition, Saul of Tarsus — later the Christian convert and great evangelizer known as the Apostle Paul — was born about 2,000 years ago. He remains one of the most influential, and controversial, early Christian leaders after Jesus.

The Roman Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, marked a Pauline Year, which was officially inaugurated at a June 28, 2008, vespers service at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Because Paul is considered a symbol of the ecumenical movement, the service was also attended by Anglican and Orthodox Christian leaders, notably the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.

Accompanying the religious aspects of the anniversary has been a wave of scholarship on Paul that is re-examining and often revising long-held assumptions about his views and his formative role in the rise of early Christianity — as well as his continuing impact on the development of Christianity today and its role in shaping society. Historical interest has also been heightened by the apparent discovery of the tomb of the apostle under the altar of the Roman basilica that bears his name.

This source guide provides an overview of the Pauline Year and resources for journalists writing about the man who took the Christian message beyond the first-century Jewish community and into the public square.

Background

Given his prominence in the early Christian movement, Paul, like Jesus himself, has been the focus of renewed scholarly exploration in the past century that has sought to reread his role in light of historical criticism and new discoveries about the Holy Land of the first century. But the so-called New Perspective on Paul, or NPP, a school that seeks a radical reinterpretation of Paul’s letters and theology, was given a boost by the publication of E.P. Sanders’ 1977 book, Paul and Palestinian Judaism. Since then a spate of books has elaborated on this “New Perspectivism” with arguments that often run contrary to accepted views of Paul as the archetypal Protestant who eschewed “works righteousness” and focused on salvation by grace alone. Even Paul’s reputed misogyny and purportedly anti-Jewish writings have come in for critical re-examination. The NPP school is broad, and its participants often disagree. But it continues to produce a great amount of popular and scholarly work on Paul.

Why it matters

Because Paul was an educated and observant Jew and a Roman citizen, as well as an evangelical dynamo who engaged the wider world of the Roman Empire, he is seen as the template for Christian witness in secular society — a model that American Christians continue to emulate. Paul’s outreach to Gentiles also set the pattern for Christianity’s missionary impulse, which is perhaps the most prominent marker and source of tension between religions today, as well as within the wider Christian community. Paul’s often critical take on the normative Judaism of his day also informed a legacy of Christian-Jewish conflicts. Moreover, Paul’s writings — which pre-date the Gospels and comprise about a third of the New Testament — addressed issues like sexual morality and the role of women that continue to roil and divide Christian communities today.

A selection of recent books

• The Life of St. Paul (2008), by Lawrence Boadt
• What Paul Meant (2006), by Garry Wills
• The Theology of Paul the Apostle (2006), by James D.G. Dunn
• Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (2006), essays on Reformed theology edited by Bruce L. McCormack and inspired by developments of the NPP
• Rereading Paul Together: Protestant and Catholic Perspectives on Justification (2006), essays edited by David E. Aune based on the 1999 declaration on justification signed by Lutheran and Catholic leaders
• Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2006) and What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (1997), by N.T. Wright
• The Gospel According to Paul: The Creative Genius Who Brought Jesus to the World (2005), by Robin Griffith-Jones
• Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography (2005), by Bruce Chilton
• In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire With God’s Kingdom (2005), by John Dominic Crossan, a biblical scholar, and Jonathan L. Reed, an archaeologist
• Paul the Apostle: At the Edge by Faith (2004), by Stuart H. Merriam

New articles

Other resources

National sources

  • Efrain Agosto

    Efrain Agosto is a professor of New Testament and directs the Hispanic ministries program at Hartford Seminary. His expertise includes Bible scholarship and Hispanic theology across the U.S. Christian denominations.

    His research interests include the Pauline epistles, and he is the author of Servant Leadership: Jesus & Paul.

  • Darrell L. Bock

    Darrell L. Bock is a well known author of over 30 books exploring biblical topics and earned international recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), for his work in Luke-Acts, historical Jesus study, biblical theology, as well as with messianic Jewish ministries.

    He is a widely cited expert on early Christian figures such as Paul.

  • Bruce Chilton

    The Rev. Bruce Chilton is an Episcopal priest and executive director of the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Chilton is the author of Rabbi Jesus: An Intimate Biography, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography and other books aimed at popularizing the latest historical research on the Bible. Chilton is also rector of the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in Barrytown, N.Y. He is an expert on altruism and Christianity.

  • John Dominic Crossan

    John Dominic Crossan is emeritus professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago. He is a prominent expert on historical Christianity and co-author of In Search of Paul: How Jesus’s Apostle Opposed Rome’s Empire With God’s Kingdom.

  • Bruce L. McCormack

    Bruce L. McCormack is a professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. McCormack edited Justification in Perspective: Historical Developments and Contemporary Challenges (2006), essays inspired by developments of the NPP.

  • Pheme Perkins

    Pheme Perkins is a theology professor at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. She is a highly regarded New Testament expert.

  • Catholic Assyrian Church of the East

    Catholic Assyrian Church of the East offers resources on current international and national news and a number of other topics concerning Catholicism

  • Beverly Roberts Gaventa

    Beverly Roberts Gaventa is Helen H.P. Manson Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary. She wrote Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1999) and co-edited Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).

    She is also author of the 2007 book Our Mother St. Paul.

  • Garry Willis

    Garry Wills is an adjunct professor in the history department at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. He is one of the foremost popular scholars writing on Christianity and church history and is author of the 2006 book What Paul Meant.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Paula Fredriksen

    Paula Fredriksen is William Goodwin Aurelio Chair Emerita of the Appreciation of Scripture at Boston University. She specializes in the social and intellectual history of ancient Christianity, from the Late Second Temple period to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. She has written and commented widely on modern biblical controversies.

  • Jennifer Wright Knust

    Jennifer Wright Knust is an associate professor of New Testament and Christian origins at the school of theology at Boston University. She is the author of Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity.

    She is also the author of “Paul and the Politics of Virtue and Vice,” an essay in the collection Paul and the Roman Imperial Order.

In the South

  • David B. Capes

    David B. Capes is a professor in the department of Christianity and philosophy at Houston Baptist University. He is a co-author of Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology (2007).

  • Timothy George

    The Rev. Timothy George is the founding dean and professor of divinity history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He is a senior theological adviser for Christianity Today.

    George is a New Testament expert who believes that Paul was the author of most if not all the epistles, rather than about half of them, as many scholars argue.

  • Bart D. Ehrman

    Bart D. Ehrman wrote Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code : A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine and teaches religious studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Ehrman can place Mary of Nazareth in her historical and modern-day context.

  • Richard B. Hays

    The Rev. Richard B. Hays is a professor of New Testament and biblical studies at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is the author of The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture.

  • Amy-Jill Levine

    Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School is a professor of New Testament studies and of Jewish studies and director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality. She can comment on Christian-Jewish dynamics and representations of Jews by Christians throughout the centuries. She was co-editor of A Feminist Companion to Mariology. She is an expert on sexuality and the bible, religion and gender, Jewish-Christian relations and the historical Jesus.

    She is a widely cited expert on early Christianity and Paul’s relationship with the rest of the Jewish community of the time.

  • Rodney Stark

    Rodney Stark is the author of The Rise of Mormonism, a collection of essays. He is Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Stark has frequently delved into the historical aspects of Christian origins, in books such as The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History and Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome.

  • Richard Walsh

    Richard Walsh, professor of religion at Methodist University in Fayetteville, N.C., writes about portrayals of Jesus in film. He says there have always been implicitly Christian movies because the Christian narrative and vision of life is so deeply ingrained. Walsh is author of Reading the Gospels in the Dark: Portrayals of Jesus in Film (Trinity Press International, 2003), which compares Jesus films to the canonical Gospels, and Finding St. Paul in Film (2006).

  • Ben Witherington III

    Ben Witherington III is a professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. A prolific author and an ordained minister, Witherington can talk about the historical tensions between Christians and Jews and current cultural manifestations of those tensions. He is the author of Jesus and Money: A Guide for Times of Financial Crisis, an examination, in the wake of the recession, of “what Jesus has to say (and doesn’t say) concerning wealth and poverty, money and spending, debt and sacrificial giving.”

In the Midwest

  • James W. Aageson

    James W. Aageson is a professor of religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. He is the author of Paul, the Pastoral Epistles and the Early Church (2008).

  • Sheila E. McGinn

    Sheila E. McGinn is a professor of biblical studies and early Christianity in the religious studies department at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. She has written on Paul’s writings and the theology of creation.

  • Calvin J. Roetzel

    Calvin J. Roetzel is a professor of New Testament and Christian studies in the department of classical and Near Eastern studies at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He is the author of numerous books on Paul and wrote the entry on Paul for the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.

  • Thomas H. Tobin

    The Rev. Thomas H. Tobin is a theology professor at Loyola University in Chicago.  He wrote Paul’s Rhetoric in Its Contexts: The Argument of Romans.

In the West

  • Pamela M. Eisenbaum

    Pamela M. Eisenbaum is an associate professor of Biblical studies and Christian origins at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. She has written widely about anti-Semitism in its historical contexts.

    She has written on Paul with a focus on his relationship to Judaism.

  • Seyoon Kim

    Seyoon Kim is a professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and has written widely on Paul and “the New Perspective.”

  • Douglas M. Underwood

    Douglas M. Underwood is an associate professor of communications at the University of Washington in Seattle. He wrote an article, “The Problem With Paul: Seeds of the Culture Wars and the Dilemma for Journalists” in the Journal of Media and Religion (2006).

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