Udo Schnelle’s Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology is both an intellectually stimulating and well organized presentation of Paul’s theology rooted as it where in the concrete situations of his life. Schnelle’s thesis that Paul’s theology should be analyzed and understood along a diachronic model is compelling; after all, doctrines like justification weren’t forged overnight, but rather in the fires of the Galatian crises and years of pro-Torah Christian opposition. To this end, Schnelle cautiously advances a time line of Paul’s life using Acts and the Pauline epistles to coordinate “A plausible historical course of events” in which to examine his theology. Perhaps, one of the advantages of this approach to Paul’s writings is it allows the all-to-human Paul to shine forth, usually stifled by those who without warrant believe Paul figured it all out at Damascus or that Paul was an outright walking contradiction, but rather as a pioneering theologian he was able to think through situations as they arose, modify his previous stances, and come to new and fresh conclusions over time.
Apostle Paul is divided into two main sections, part one: The Course of Paul’s Life and the Development of his Thought and part two: The Basic Structures of Paul’s Life. This division I found extremely helpful because the first section reads like a historical biography which familiarizes one with the man and his life on mission, a necessary groundwork, as with any historical figure, to approaching his thought (as many Pauline theological books organize Paul’s thought while neglecting the life as incidental). The second section organizes the themes in Paul more systematically but without neglecting the fact that Paul, over time, is perfectly capable of modifying his stance on certain issues, especially in regards to empirical Israel. Moreover, when doing this, Schnelle does a masterful job at articulating Paul’s thought with a close eye to Paul’s cultural surroundings, a mixture of Greco-Roman culture, that of Hellenistic Judaism, and his traditional Jewish milieu. Thus, we are able to not only follow the growth of Paul’s thought, we are able to hear him in his own context; no doubt a wonderful tool to ward off anachronisms that so often dominate treatments of Paul.
My only frustrations were that major issues that are permeating Pauline discussion seemed to be absent or mentioned only in passing, usually in regards to Dunn, only to be dismissed with a brief wave of the hand. Perhaps, my most pointed disagreement was with his treatment of the phrase dikaiosynē theou which was kept “multidimensional” (extremely vague and unhelpful) and treated as meaning more or less “in the Christ event God has made himself known as the one who makes (others) righteous and establishes justice”. This way of rendering the phrase as opposed to “God’s covenant faithfulness” muddles the narrative substructure of Romans three and lands us back in the abstract meta-realm again. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Schnelle was explicitly Reformed or otherwise, as at points throughout the book he seemed perfectly capable of recognizing where Paul is dealing with Israel’s ethno-centric boast in their election and not works-righteousness per se.
Overall, the book is extremely helpful in clarifying both Paul’s breath taking theology and its relation to his heroic life as an apostle for the risen Christ. If this work were to be used to guide our modern treatments of the Pauline corpus, which remain first and foremost pastoral letters, no doubt we would be less guilty of misrepresenting the man while at the same time setting him free to tell us all that he still can. This book, though I do not recommended it as an introduction to the man and his work, is an important addition to the Pauline section in the libraries of pastors and scholars alike.