Book Plunge: Paul The Ancient Letter Writer

What do I think of Jeffrey Weima’s book published by Baker Academic? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Writing letters nowadays is a lost art. Very few people do anything like that with email being available now. In the digital age, it’s hard to think about what it was like in prior ages, especially in an oral age. When you wrote a letter, you had to use few words and say much with those words. It was timely and expensive.

Paul in writing would have to be a master and demonstrate masterful rhetoric to get his point across. Unfortunately, in our society we see that as a negative where rhetoric has in fact become a word to refer to talk without substance. In Paul’s day, it would mean making a great substance for a talk using keywords.

Also, we have to understand the mood of the day. Was Paul engaging in emotional blackmail to Philemon? Were Paul’s greetings or closings just throwaway material? Can there really be anything in a simple benediction or introduction? What difference does it make to list the names of people you were with as you start or introduce a letter?

Fortunately, we have Jeffrey Weima’s book to help with this. Weima goes through each section of a letter wrestling with the implications of what is meant. Of course, no thorough analysis of long letters like Romans or 1 Corinthians are available and we can only touch some of the letters like Galatians or 2 Thessalonians. Still, what there is dealt with should be grabbed onto.

There is also looking as I said at the introduction and closings. For instance, Galatians 1 starts with saying “And all the brothers and sisters with me.” Is Paul just being friendly here? Nope. Paul is pulling weight. He is saying he is not just a lone wolf apostle. He is saying that he is backed by all of the brothers and sisters there. Not just some. All of them. Immediately the Galatian hearers would know that if they challenged Paul back, it would be a challenge against not just him, but several others.

When Paul lists who he is with, is there something to this? Yes. In his closings, Paul often makes some final appeals and usually has his autograph statement to show that it is his letter. Compare the names in Colossians with those in Philemon. Is Paul again pulling weight?

We often look at the body and can miss some of the main points Paul makes because we don’t think the way Paul did. We miss ideas like chiasms for instance, such as Paul speaking about sending Timothy in 1 Thessalonians. We also miss that if he sends Timothy, it’s a big deal, since Timothy is practically his right-hand man. We can miss that in the correspondence in 2 Thessalonians, Paul seven times refers to his audience as “brothers and sisters.” Let’s not get so caught up in the argument that we miss underlying points.

Weima wraps this up in the end by looking at Philemon as a case study. It’s a good and short letter and everything he mentioned is in it. When you finish it, you’ll get more out of Philemon than you ever did before.

This work will give you plenty to think about. I would have liked seeing some more interaction with the idea of secretaries. If we say Paul wrote the letter, just how much did he write. Was this the master craftsmanship of a secretary or of Paul? After all, we know some of his letters, and quite likely all, were written with the help of secretaries. Just how much did Paul influence?

This is a good book still that you will want to add to your library. It’s a wonderful look at the Greco-Roman rhetorical style for writing. Your reading of Paul’s letters will never be the same.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 8/29/2015: Rodney Reeves and Randy Richards

What’s coming up on the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Paul. Our world would be different without him, and yet there are a variety of opinions about him. Some people see him as the one who got the Gospel right and was the world’s greatest missionary. Some people see him as the one who took the wonderful Jesus movement and turned it into something it wasn’t. Some see him as a man with a guilt-stricken conscience who wrestled against the pain of what he had done to the church. Some see him as a lunatic who was caught up with having visionary experiences on the level of a mad man. So who exactly was this man that has produced such varying degrees of either admiration or hatred for him?

Awhile back, I reviewed the book Rediscovering Paul. I conclude it is one of the most thorough books that I have read on Paul and his impact in the world. I am also pleased to state that two of its authors will be on the show this Saturday. One is a returning guest, Dr. Randolph Richards. The other is making his first appearance and that is Dr. Rodney Reeves. So who are they? Let’s start with Dr. Reeves first as it will be his first time on the show.

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In his own words:

I’ve been married over thirty-six years to Sheri (Richardson) Reeves, who is a Speech and Language Pathologist for Citizens Memorial Hospital, Bolivar, MO.

We have three children: Andrew (28) lives in Kansas City, MO; Emma (24) lives in Chicago, IL; and Grace (19) who is a first-year student at Belhaven University, Jackson, MS. Sheri and I are members of the First Baptist Church, Bolivar, MO.

I’m in my sixteenth year at Southwest Baptist University, Bolivar, MO, as the Redford Professor of Biblical Studies, also serving as Dean of The Courts Redford College of Theology and Ministry. I teach courses in New Testament and Greek.

I’m an SBU alumnus (1979), and I graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX (MDiv, 1982; PhD, 1986). I did part of my doctoral study at Oxford University, UK (1985-86).

Prior to coming to SBU, I served as Senior Pastor, Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, AR (1995-2000), and associate professor of New Testament at Williams Baptist College, Walnut Ridge, AR (1987-1995).

I have written several articles for scholarly journals, textbooks, dictionaries, handbooks, and magazines. I’ve written four books: A Genuine Faith: How to Follow Jesus Today (Baker Books, 2005); Rediscovering Paul: An Introduction to His World, Letters and Theology, co-authored by David B. Capes and E. Randolph Richards (InterVarsity Press, 2007); Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 2011). My newest book, Rediscovering Jesus: An Introduction to Biblical, Religious and Cultural Perspectives on Christ (once again co-authored by Capes and Richards, InterVarsity Press, 2015) was released this summer. And I’m currently working on a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Story of God Bible Commentary, ed. Scot McKnight (Zondervan Publishing, 2016?).

My hobbies are fishing, camping, golfing, and reading.

I made a vow to God many years ago to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to minister to the Body of Christ. I have tried to keep that promise as a member of a Baptist Church, as a minister, and as a college professor. I study Scripture because I want to be a committed disciple of Jesus. I teach biblical studies in an effort to serve the needs of the Church. I’m a part of the academic community here at SBU in hopes of advancing the Kingdom of God, trying to encourage each other to fulfill Jesus’ commandment: to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, I see my work here as part of the whole kingdom enterprise of teaching students to be servants of Christ for a world that needs him.

And moving on to Dr. Richards:

Richards arms crossed smallest size

Dr. Randy Richards loves training students for ministry, both domestically and internationally. He has been teaching since 1986, originally at a state university and then abroad at an Indonesian seminary. Upon returning to the States, Dr. Richards has served at two Christian universities before joining Palm Beach Atlantic University as the Dean of the School of Ministry in 2006.

His wife Stacia has joyfully accompanied him from jungles of Indonesia to rice fields in Arkansas to beautiful South Florida. They have two fine sons. Josh (Ph.D. 2012, University of St Andrews, Scotland) is a university professor in English. Jacob (Ph.D. 2014, College of Medicine, University of Florida) is a medical researcher.

Dr. Richards has authored or co-authored seven books and dozens of articles. Recently, he has published Rediscovering Jesus (InterVarsity, 2015; Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, with Brandon O’Brien (InterVarsity, 2012), “Reading, Writing, and the Production and Transmission of Manuscripts” in The Background of the New Testament: An Examination of the Context of Early Christianity (Baker, 2013), “Will the Real Author Please Stand Up? The Author in Greco-Roman Letter Writing” in Come Let Us Reason: New Essays in Christian Apologetics (B&H, 2012), “Pauline Prescripts and Greco-Roman Epistolary Convention” in Christian Origins and Classical Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament (Brill, 2012), and a dozen articles in The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Baker, 2013).

He has just finished another popular book, Paul Behaving Badly, and is finishing A Little Book for New Bible Scholars, both with InterVarsity Press and due out in 2016. He is also completing chapters in two other books and several dictionary articles.

Dr. Richards is a popular lecturer, speaker and preacher, recently in places as diverse as Wycliffe Hall (Oxford), Kathmandu, and Kenya. He was a Senior Scholar at the IRLBR Summer Summit at Tyndale House (Cambride) in 2013. He regularly conducts missionary training workshops, and currently serves as a Teaching Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in West Palm Beach.

We’ll be talking about this fascinating book and the life of Paul. What kind of world did he live in? What was it like writing his letters? What can we learn from them? What about his relationship with Judaism? What difference does he make today?

Please be listening to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast and go to the ITunes store and leave a review.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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