Echoes of Audience in the Letters of Paul: Reading Paul in Historical Context
Thirteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books are traditionally attributed to Paul. All agree that Paul composed at least seven of these himself. He writes with fervent frankness on topics about which he evidently deemed profoundly important, frequently appealing to his own experience. Yet despite this abundance of material, scholars still struggle to agree on the broad shape of Paul's theology and its essential tenets.
When he wrote each letter, Paul was addressing a particular situation. Scholars are well aware that how we conceive each of these situations can considerably affect our understanding of Paul's utterances, which in turn can affect our understanding of his theology overall. But it remains a matter of debate how to realise the potential of this insight.
In this course, we will seek to place key letters into their earliest context and discuss the real but fascinating methodological difficulties involved. To this end we will give special attention to Paul’s audiences, their attitudes, their social world and their relation to Paul. If “what Paul meant” matters to us, it will be important to reflect on the people he was addressing, the distinct groups they comprised, the particular situations in which they found themselves and how modern interpreters might hope to establish any of these with any confidence.
Resources for this course