"It has long been a matter of controversy among New Testament scholars how best we should
interpret the theology of Paul." If this remark of W. D. Davies was true when he first made it
in 1948, the last several decades have seen no resolving of the matter and very few points of consensus.
Yet areas of agreement are to be found, and they are significant. They range from
Paul’s Jewish-rabbinic background and the setting of his missionary life and work in a Greco-Roman
environment to, and above all, the decisive turning point in his thought and vocation when he became
a Christian apostle. To be sure, each of these fields of inquiry has provoked animated discussion,
even if there is general agreement among students of Paul that it is within these three sectors of
investigation that the ultimate meaning of Paul’s life and ministry and its legacy to the subsequent
history of the church is to be located.
The present time is surely opportune to harvest the gains of such inquiries, proposals
and investigations. We are sufficiently distant from E. P. Sanders’s epoch-making volume Paul and
Palestinian Judaism (1977), rightly praised, if then pertinently criticized, by J. D. G. Dunn (in
his essay "The New Perspective on Paul", 1983) as breaking the mold of current Pauline research
and posing a new set of agenda questions, to attempt a reevaluation and assessment. The team of essayists
who have contributed to the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters mainly stand in the shadow of this
major new appraisal of Paul’s attitude to the Law, the covenant and the people of Israel, and reflect
their reaction, whether positive or cautious, to the "new look" on Paul’s gospel of righteousness
by faith and the elements of continuity with the ancestral faith.
This perhaps is the chief reason why the ensuing volume should prove serviceable to a new
generation of seminary and college students wishing to interact with the "new look" on Paul
and his place in Christian and world history. Parish ministers too will value an up-to-date survey of
Paul’s leading ideas as well as find helpful background data in seeking to place the apostle in his time
frame. Key articles, however, show the relevance of the Pauline message to the Christian pulpit today,
and would-be preachers will not be slow to glean useful insights based on the best modern scholarship,
both critical and conservative. The editors venture to believe that their fellows in the professional
guild of teachers and researchers will find here a working tool and a conspectus of bibliographical aids
and summarized discussions to assist them in their classroom courses and to provoke further discussion.
Yet a wider audience should equally benefit from a handbook like DPL.
Editorial policy has striven to keep in view the needs of a vast company of lay people who are interested
in these letters of the New Testament. We have tried to make each contribution readable to and understandable
by the educated person-in-the-pew who, we believe, will welcome this comprehensive study of Paul’s life
and labors, his teaching and influence-and the enduring witness he still stands for, centered on the new
life in Christ and the church. If this volume serves to introduce Paul to any who are curious about his
role in early Christian history and takes Paul out of the study and the sanctuary into the marketplace
and the hectic world where moral values are threatened and the ethical decisions made, it will have
achieved part of its purpose.
It remains to pay tribute to all who have made possible a venture like this. When two of
the editors sat down at a noon meal during the Society of Biblical Literature meetings in 1987 to talk
over the possibilities of a dictionary like the present one, we had little idea of the complexity and
scope of the task. Subsequent editorial meetings, at SBL conferences and Wheaton College, were soon to
impress us with the vast nature of our undertaking. Yet such occasions were memorable as we wrestled with
editorial (and theological) decisions in the interest of making a serviceable volume.
Whether we succeeded, the readers will tell. One thing is clear. We would never have come
close to our aim without the willing collaboration of the IVP staff and the army of cooperative contributors
whose work we were privileged to edit.
Two names need to be mentioned in this regard. The piece by F. F. Bruce ("Paul in
Acts and Letters") was composed within weeks of his lamented death and may represent one of his
final contributions to a well-nigh prodigious literary output, chiefly in the field of Pauline studies.
The assignment of the major article on "God" was accepted by Donald Guthrie. Alas, he too was
to be taken from us before this could even be sketched; yet it was thought fitting if his last written
contribution, to crown his life’s work, could be assembled from what he had previously written in his New
Testament Theology. With family and collegial consent, this has been attempted by one of the editors
who has striven to retain as much of Dr. Guthrie’s wording as seemed feasible, with a modicum of updating
The entire project issued in the expectation that it will be of service to readers across
the world and will represent a not too unworthy contribution to Pauline scholarship, composed by a wide
circle of writers who with the editors have sought to discharge their tasks, in the ancient phrase,
Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, Daniel G. Reid