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Introduction to Paul's Life and Letters

Course Level: Intermediate

Course Summary

This course is an intermediate introduction to Paul's life and letters. The course begins with an in-depth look at Paul's autobiography according to his letters and then moves on to discuss the seven authentic letters of Paul as both history and theology.  Topics such as Paul and Politics, Paul and Women, Paul and the Second Coming, Paul and Slavery, Paul and Judaism, and Paul on Salvation and Suffering will be discussed throughout the five weeks of this course. Students will read a variety of materials including some of the most important articles written about Paul in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. At the completion of this course students will be able to situate Paul in his first-century environment and talk intelligently about how Paul's theology is relevant for today's church.

Successful completion of this course earns 2.5 CEU's. Click here for more information about CEU's.

General Course Objectives

  • Learn about Paul’s autobiography from his authentic letters
  • Learn about the differences between Paul’s letters and Acts
  • Discover the “New Perspective on Paul” and its importance for interpreting Paul today
  • Become familiar with some of the first-century political language in Paul’s letters
  • Gain a general overview of scholarly views on Paul throughout the 20th and 21st centuries
  • Discover current theories on Paul and Women, Paul and Slavery, and Paul’s perspective on the afterlife

Course Materials

  • Required Book: Daniel J. Harrington, SJ Meeting St. Paul Today Loyola Press, 2008 ISBN: 0829427341; ISBN-13: 978-0829427349
  • Optional Book: Harold W. Attridge, ed. The HarperCollins Study Bible HarperOne and the Society of Biblical Literature, 2006 ISBN: 006078685X ; ISBN-13: 978-0060786854
  • Course Materials available at the VLCFF Amazon Store.

Course Structure and Highlights

  • Week 1: Introduction to Paul's Life and Letters
    • Explain what the “New Perspective” on Paul is versus the so-called “Old/Traditional Perspective”
    • Discuss whether or not Paul had a “conversion” or a “call”
    • Gain a general overview of Pauline studies from Luther through the 21st C
    • Gain an appreciation for the authentic letters of Paul versus the Deutero-Pauline letters and the Pastoral Epistles
  • Week 2: 1 Thessalonians and Galatians
    • Understand the concept of the Second Coming (parousia)
    • Learn the differences between “Faith in” versus “Faith of” Christ and how this impacts the Pauline concept of “salvation”
    • Gain a general overview of Paul’s opponents in Galatians
    • Gain an appreciation for the differences between Paul’s theology and the theology of the Jerusalem church
  • Week 3: 1 Corinthians and Philippians
    • Learn about the importance of unity in the early Pauline communities
    • Become familiar with early Christian beliefs about Jesus
    • Discover and interact with various scholarly interpretations about Paul’s views on women, marriage, and sexuality
    • Learn about Paul’s most complete discussion of the resurrection and afterlife (1 Corinthians 15)
    • Interact with some of Paul’s political teachings, especially in his letter to the Philippians
    • Discover the first-century context of the titles that Paul uses for Jesus
  • Week 4: Philemon and 2 Corinthians
    • Learn about Paul’s attitude toward slaves and slavery in general
    • Discover the connection between the Old and the New Covenants
    • Learn more about Paul’s perspective on the human body and on death
    • Become familiar with what Paul means by reconciliation in regard to Christ and the world
    • Discover what Paul thought about suffering and its connection to salvation
  • Week 5: Romans
    • Learn what Paul means by “gospel” (euangelion)
    • Become familiar with the term “God’s Righteousness” or the “Righteousness of God”
    • Learn about the importance of Abraham as the father of our faith
    • Understand the Pauline concept of atonement
    • Learn more about Paul’s understanding of the Jewish Law
    • Discover the place of Israel in Pauline soteriology
    • Wrestle with what Paul meant in Romans 13:1-7
    • Discover the workings of the early church in Romans 16