The apostle Paul is alternately portrayed as the true founder of Christianity and the control-freak who destroyed the beautiful thing Jesus began and hated women. Anthony Thiselton, in this succinct portrait, gives us a much more nuanced picture of Paul.
One of the first things Thiselton does is deal with two of the “deal-breakers” that would keep many from paying any further attention to Paul. The first is that he shows the continuity between Paul and Jesus in the grace he proclaimed that is also evident in both the parables and the gracious works of Jesus. This is also the key place where he deals with Paul’s treatment of women, pointing to his close associations with women throughout his ministry and the active ministry roles they shared with him. Secondly he deals with the stark divide many perceive between old and new creation in Paul, setting alongside this Paul’s theology of progress and growth toward maturity in Christ.
His next two chapters give us a narrative of Paul’s life covering his conversion, the “hidden years” and his missionary journeys. He suggests probable dates for different events and the provenance of different letters, while acknowledging scholarly difference on these issues.
In subsequent chapters, Thiselton gives concise overviews of Paul’s contribution to our theology of the Trinity, of the nature of fallen and redeemed humanity, the work of Christ and the crucial Pauline insight of our union with Christ, his development of a theology of the church, the sacraments, Christian ethics, and the last things. He considers the present question of justification and the views of Luther, Dunn, and Wright, coming down with a synthesis of Luther and Wright.
The final chapter was probably of greatest interest as Thiselton considers the major figures of post-modernism in relation to Paul. A key insight not often discussed are the parallels between our time and Paul’s in confronting pluralism, power, and meta-narratives.
Throughout, Thiselton is a model of concision, which may be frustrating for those looking for a more exhaustive treatment but just right for those struggling with their view of Paul and willing to consider a more nuanced view.