Saturday, November 26, 2011

PAUL by Dibelius and Kümmel

Paul is a 1953 book about the life, background, and thought of Paul of Tarsus by German theologian Martin Dibelius. It was completed by his protégé Werner Georg Kümmel after Dibelius’s death and later translated into English by Frank Clarke.

Dibelius ascribes to Paul authorship of nine biblical epistles: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Using these plus Acts as a secondary source, Dibelius traces a biography of Paul, with a particular focus on the historical and cultural factors that shaped Paul’s mission.

This is not an overly long book (it’s about 150 pages), and so Dibelius’s strokes tend to be necessarily broad. He focuses, naturally, on the pair of characteristics that made Paul uniquely qualified to take the Gospel to the Gentiles: his formal training in the Law and his rooting in Hellenistic Judaism. In Paul, Dibelius also discusses the influences on Paul’s thinking, and in doing so covers not only what Paul thought but also what he didn’t think (the sorts of things modern audiences typically think he thought).

The reader may feel, and reasonably so, that Dibelius is a little too liberal theologically, particularly early on in the book, where he seems at times not to leave room for divine inspiration, for the work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s life. Yet this is not the effect the work as a whole has on the reader. And, in fairness, Dibelius does take the time to explain why he thinks Ephesians, Titus, and 1 and 2 Timothy were not written by Paul (whether the reader agrees with his reasoning is, of course, another matter).

The last three chapters of this book were completed by Kümmel. As the writing throughout the book tends to be academic in nature, there’s no substantial difference in style between the two authors, although Kümmel perhaps leaves more room for the work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s life.

While Paul is a largely academic work, it is by no means inaccessible to a layperson equipped with a working knowledge of the subject matter. And, as such, it may serve well as an introductory- to intermediate-level exploration of Saint Paul’s life and mission.