This fresh treatment of Paul’s ethics addresses this question: How, according to Paul, can Christian communities know how God wants them to live? Leading biblical scholar James Thompson explains that Paul offers a coherent moral vision based not only on Christ’s story but also on the norms of the law. Paul did not live with a sharp dichotomy of law and gospel, and he recognized the continuing importance of the law. Thompson makes a distinctive contribution by locating the roots of Paul’s concrete ethical thought in Hellenistic Judaism rather than Hellenistic moral philosophy. Students of New Testament ethics and Pauline theology will value this work.
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Books on the moral life according to Paul are relatively scarce. We can be grateful to Thompson for his lucid and readable survey of moral transformation in Paul. Comparing and contrasting Paul’s moral vision with both Greco-Roman and Hellenistic writers provides an illuminating social context in which to interpret Paul.
—Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
This important study locates moral formation squarely at the heart of Paul’s letters—not by replacing ‘theology’ with ‘ethics’ but by demonstrating that Paul’s agenda was in fact the moral transformation of his communities. Thompson traces the roots of Paul’s moral teaching in the Old Testament and the story of Christ and exposes his indebtedness more to Hellenistic Judaism than to Greco-Roman moral philosophy. Crucially, he positions Paul’s writings in another ‘context,’ in communities of people who have begun new life in Christ, who await the final day, and for whom the present is about metamorphosis into a moral counterculture. Thompson does not try to answer all of our present-day questions; instead, he marks well the path for anyone wanting to explore the contours and coherence of Paul’s moral vision.
—Joel B. Green, professor of New Testament interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary
This is an exceptionally well-thought-through and useful study of Pauline ethics.
—The Bible Today
Thompson’s work has many commendable features. He successfully makes the case that Paul’s ethic is a fundamentally coherent one. He further demonstrates continuity in Paul with the Old Testament’s summons to Israel to live in light of a distinctive identity grounded in their redemption by God. He also provides much exegetical support for what theologians have termed ‘the third use of the law’ in Paul’s ethical reflections. . . . Thompson has produced a helpful and engaging discussion of Pauline ethics. In its concern to set those ethics in their context, to demonstrate leading themes and commonalities within Paul’s ethical instructions, and to stress the fundamental coherence of Paul’s ethical reflection, Moral Formation according to Paul is a valuable resource for scholar and student alike.
Thompson has written a vitally important book, which shows beyond any doubt that Paul’s ethics are not some epilogue or uninteresting backwater in his epistles, but are a central and integral part of his total theological outlook. The book is clearly and concisely written, and one can follow the logic of the argument with great clarity. Moreover, Thompson demonstrates an able command of Pauline texts that takes his readers into a deeper understanding of many issues relating to Pauline moral instruction. . . . This book must be read by all New Testament scholars working in Pauline studies.
James W. Thompson is the Robert and Kay Onstead Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies and the associate dean of the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University. He is the editor of Restoration Quarterly and the author of several books, including Pastoral Ministry according to Paul, Preaching like Paul, The Beginnings of Christian Philosophy, and Hebrews in Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament.