The Theology of Paul the Apostle | James D. G. Dunn

James Dunn has spent over four decades with Paul on his mind. He’s produced commentaries on his letters and been one of the pioneers of the New Perspective on Paul. When you read The Theology of Paul the Apostle, his experience and knowledge of the topic comes through on every lucid page.

Theologies of Paul are difficult precisely because all of Paul’s letters were occasional. Even so, Romans was written at a time in his life where he was finishing up a major section of his missionary work and preparing to embark on another journey. This letter is the most systematic of his letters, so Dunn used it as a template to explore his thought. Galatians and Corinthians also make frequent appearances as his major concepts are fleshed out.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I have spent a lot of time digesting this book. I’ve benefited immensely by summarizing each of the 25 chapters. Here are some of the key areas I’ve benefited from while interacting with this book:

New Perspective. I always had a bit of a fuzzy understanding of what the whole New Perspective on Paul actually meant. Now that I’ve read one of the leaders in the New Perspective discuss Paul’s relationship with Judaism in detail, it’s starting to become clearer.

Salvation. I love how Dunn divides the topic of salvation up into two: the beginning and the process of salvation. Naming it “the process of salvation” instead of sanctification clarifies Paul’s understanding of “being saved.” It also makes more sense of the eschatological tension (more on that later). The other element that struck me was the sheer number of metaphors Paul used to describe salvation. Having been trained up with forensics on the brain, this chapter really expanded my thinking.

Anthropology. Hearing Paul’s use of sōma, sarx, nous, kardia, psyche, and pneuma described so precisely does a lot to combat the Trichotomist sandwich that has been a staple of the Western church.

Paul and Jesus. I had never really considered why Paul quoted Jesus’ life and teaching so rarely until I read Dun’s explanation. Dunn not only presented the problem clearly, he provided logical explanations. Dunn’s exploration of all the areas where Paul’s teaching echoes Jesus was also helpful.

Eschatological Tension. Aside from the New Perspective, the emphasis on the eschatological tension is the biggest important concept in this Theology. The fact that we’re living in the already/not yet has implications in every area of theology—implications that Dunn spells out in detail. This eschatological tension if a very useful framework for understanding many of Paul’s more confusing concepts.

I could go on. These were the five most important areas for my theological growth, but I’m sure it will speak to you in different ways. I couldn’t recommend a serious theology book more enthusiastically to any student, pastor, or thoughtful Christian.


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