Beyond the Book with Dr. Echevarría: “40 Questions About the Apostle Paul”

In God’s providence, the Apostle Paul’s writings and missionary journeys not only fueled missions and church planting in the early church but also continues to ground and guide the Church’s confession and theological formation. As an introduction to Pauline studies, “40 Questions About the Apostle Paul” is an accessible summary of answers to significant questions about Paul’s life, ministry, and New Testament letters.

Written by Miguel Echevarría, associate professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Seminary, and Benjamin Laird, associate professor of biblical studies at Liberty University, “40 Questions About the Apostle Paul” offers students and ministry leaders a quick-reference resource to deepen their understanding of Paul’s teachings.

In the following Q&A, Echevarría takes the time to answer a few questions about their new book:

What is the scope of this book about Paul?

The book covers 40 essential questions about the apostle Paul and his letters, such as where he was born and raised and whether he regarded his own letters as authoritative Scripture. It addresses other important matters such as Paul’s Christology and the center of his theology. It even evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the New Perspective and how Paul addresses slavery and racial division.

Who is the target audience?

Our target audience is college students, seminarians, and pastors. We also hope the book will benefit interested laypersons who desire to know more about Paul and his writings.

What are some recent trends or emerging areas of research in Pauline studies?

I’ll list three.

  1. While not necessarily recent or emerging, we must consider the New Perspective’s contributions to reading the apostle Paul. We do not have to agree entirely with scholars like N. T. Wright and the late James Dunn to appreciate their contributions to reading Paul in light of Second Temple Jewish expectations.
  2. We should be aware of apocalyptic readings of Paul. I am thinking of J. Louis Martyn’s Galatians commentary, Douglas Campbell’s Pauline Dogmatics, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa’s anticipated commentary on Romans, which is due out this summer.
  3. John Barclay’s work on Paul is also significant, particularly Paul and the Gift and his more recent Paul and the Power of Grace.

What do modern readers of the Bible often not know about the life, ministry, or teachings of Paul?

I think we often separate Paul from his Jewish background, as if he makes a clean break with his past. More accurately, Paul was a Jew who believed that Jesus is the Messiah who incorporates believing Jews and gentiles into the same spiritual family. Letters like Galatians and Romans are meant to emphasize this very point.

What are some of the major themes in Paul’s letters, and how do Paul’s letters uniquely contribute to the canon?

There are several I’d like to list, but three themes will have to do. The rest are in the book.

  1. Christology. For Paul, the person of Christ is the one who accomplishes redemption from the powers of sin and death, makes his people heirs of the salvific promises, makes possible all believers’ resurrection into a new creation, and so much more.
  2. Eschatology. Paul’s thinking is distinctly eschatological. He conceives of believers being ushered into a new age that will be consummated at the return of Christ, when the curse will be removed, and humanity will dwell in a new Eden — the redeemed creation, the very place that prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah anticipated.
  3. Pneumatology. While the book does not explicitly mention this theme, it does discuss the Spirit’s role in distributing “spiritual gifts” for the edification of the body.

What are some key ancient extrabiblical sources that provide further insight into Paul’s life, heritage, or ministry?

I would consider important sources such as 4 Ezra, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and the Psalms of Solomon. It is interesting to see how much light they shed on difficult Pauline passages. Readers interested in such texts should consult Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.) and the New English Translation of the Septuagint. For relevant Qumran literature, see Florentino Garcia Martínez’s The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated.

What are one or two Pauline texts that have been particularly formative for you, and in what way have they impacted you?

Galatians 1:4: This text reminds me that the death of Jesus has redeemed humanity from the present sinful age. No matter how difficult life seems, we are no longer bound to the evil forces that once enslaved us. We can live as those who have been delivered from sin’s bondage, awaiting the day when Jesus returns to consummate his reign.

Romans 4:13: This verse has solidified my hope of dwelling in a renewed world. What a joy it will be to dwell with all believers in the place God is preparing for his people.

How does this book equip readers to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission?

The apostle Paul made it his aim to take the gospel to the ends of the earth so that all peoples will dwell under the rule of Jesus Christ in a new creation. That should be our goal as well.

How has researching and writing the book shaped you spiritually?

Research and writing this book has given me a greater longing for the resurrection. The more I read about Paul, the more I aspire to “experience the resurrection of the dead” (Phil 3:11) into a world devoid of the curse of sin and death (Rom 8:18-24). I think that’s a hope we find throughout the Scriptures and crystallized in Paul’s letters.

40 Questions About the Apostle Paul

What can we know about the apostle Paul, and what difference does it make?

Paul of Tarsus was an undeniably forceful presence in the early Christian church, instructing fledgling congregations of believers throughout the Mediterranean in person and by letter and authoring about half of the New Testament in the process. But who was this powerful personality? And how can students most benefit from the extensive studies on Paul available today?

New Testament scholars Miguel Echevarría and Benjamin Laird provide an invaluable foundation for students beginning their investigations into the apostle Paul, Paul’s theology, and Pauline studies, addressing orienting questions such as these:

  • What do we know about Paul’s family?
  • How did Paul’s companions assist in the composition and distribution of his letters?
  • Did Paul think his letters were authoritative Scripture?
  • Is there a center to Paul’s theology?
  • What is Paul’s Christology?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the New Perspective on Paul?
  • Does Paul address slavery and racial division?

October 10, 2023

Paperback, 374 pages

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