Review of Paul: A Short Introduction

book review

This article was originally part of The Paul Page, a site dedicated to academic study of the apostle, with special focus on the work of N.T. Wright.

Morna D. Hooker (Oxford: One World Publications), 2003, 176 pp.

If you’re looking for an introductory textbook on Paul, you probably won’t find a better one than Morna D. Hooker’s Paul: A Short Introduction. Concise yet thorough, Hooker’s small book covers every significant aspect of current Pauline studies. Though writing in a non-technical way for the reader with little theological background, she nevertheless articulately describes the current state of Pauline studies.

Hooker begins by carefully explaining the most basic issues — the legacy of Paul, the problems of reading Paul’s biography from Acts, the problem of determining Pauline authorship, and so on. Students who are new to Pauline studies will find these opening chapters invaluable.

This book is firmly grounded in the new perspective on Paul (cf. pp. 120,145,146) — Hooker argues lucidly that Paul was “thoroughly Jewish in his thinking and his approach” (p. 146). He was neither the creator of Christianity nor the distorter of Jesus’ original message (p. 148). Hooker closely associates Paul’s “calling” (as apostle to the Gentiles) with his “conversion” (pp. 22,60,107), identifies Paul’s Galatian opponents as Jewish Christians (p. 60), and works coherently through texts like Galatians 3:10-14 (p. 43).

In her treatment of justification, however, Hooker emphasizes simple trust in what God has done in order to achieve righteousness (p. 73), apparently implying the traditional idea of Gentiles being justified like Abraham rather than because of Abraham (cf. pp. 44,65). On the other hand, her treatment of “righteousness” on pp. 73ff is informative.

Hooker’s treatment of key christological texts is closer perhaps to Dunn than to Wright (cf. p. 50, although cp. p. 58 n. 18). Also like Dunn, Hooker interprets Paul’s teaching on the atonement in terms of representation rather than substitution (pp. 92-95). Like Sanders, she emphasizes participation in Christ’s death and new life. On the translation of pistis Christou, she is closer to Hays than to Dunn, preferring “faith of Christ” over “faith in Christ” (pp. 105,106) — reflecting the broad consensus of Pauline scholars.

More importantly, however, the book succeeds where it most counts. She argues lucidly against misogynist interpretations of Paul (cf. pp. 128,129,144) and treats with sensitivity the problem of the misappropriation of Pauline texts. For instance, in addressing the problem of slavery she writes that “It was surely a gross misinterpretation of Paul’s teaching to suppose that what he said about abouthow one should behave within a particular social system gave approval to that social system for all time” (p. 144). Although some of her arguments may not be fully compelling to those with a more liberationist approach (cf. pp. 118,119), nevertheless she is acutely aware of and sensitive to the issues.

Most significantly, Hooker ably demonstrates that Paul was not anti-Jewish (cf. pp. 145,146), aptly illustrating the point by considering Luther’s approach to Paul. When the language of an intra-Jewish debate was re-read after the break of Christianity with Judaism, it appeared much more sinister.

Accessible yet academic, Hooker’s book is a valuable resource. Not every book needs to break new ground and explore novel theses. Sometimes a good summary of an already established consensus is more useful.

Written by
Mark M. Mattison

Mark M. Mattison is an independent scholar of early Christianity and Christian origins, with particular interests in the historical Jesus, Paul, extracanonical Gospels, feminist-liberationist theology, Christian mysticism, and Kabbalah.

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Written by Mark M. Mattison