During the last century many attempts were made to locate the sources of Paul's ethical teaching. Scholar's, recognizing that although Paul's ethics were counter-cultural, they also came to realize that neither was his instruction unique. These events spurred the quest for a source with some scholars concluding that no organizing principle for Paul's ethic existed and that Paul was, to be anachronistic, a situational ethicist who provided guidance and even commands but that his thinking was based on no coherent system of morality. Still others have put forth the thesis that Paul simply sampled his ethical principles from Greek philosophers, especially those interested in virtue.
In Moral Formation According to Paul: the Context and Coherence of Pauline Ethics NT scholar James Thompson argues against both the relativist claims and the pagan context of Paul's ethics and seek to root Paul's moral stipulations within the context of Hellenistic Judaism and to understand them as derived from the Hebrew Scriptures. Furthermore, ho does so while also reorienting Paul's overall theology for us from the traditional protestant readings locating the center of Paul's theology in matters of soteriology and placing it, rather, firmly in his ethics.
Moral formation is obviously of great concern for the 21st Century church. Here, Thompson helps us navigate Paul's thinking in order to extrapolate firmly rooted principals from the Paulione corpus that will also help guide us in achieving our own moral formation, or as Paul says, "growing up into Christ". Moral Formation According to Paul is an excellent work for students of the New Testament, and a valuable tool for encouraging reflection on our own moral formation.
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 the story of Christ but also on the norms of the law. Paul did not live with a sharp dichotomy of law and gospel and 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.
James W. Thompson (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is the Robert and Kay Onstead Distinguished Professor of Biblical Studies and associate dean of the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. His books include Pastoral Ministry according to Paul and Hebrews in Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament.
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
In his bracing book, Thompson argues that a coherence to Paul's ethical instruction is found in Paul's stress on the corporate nature of Christian morality. He holds that the church, a countercultural community, is demarcated by its adherence to commandments of the Law viewed through the lens of the Love Commandment. Thompson thinks that the topics of Paul's moral instruction, from the earliest catechesis of converts onward, are those of Jewish moral teaching based on the Torah. He is thoroughly conversant with scholarship on Pauline ethics, but his focus is on a close reading of Pauline texts. The book will be useful to pastors and students and provocative to fellow scholars.
-Abraham J. Malherbe,
Buckingham Professor Emeritus of New Testament Criticism and Interpretation, Yale University
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,
Editor of Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics; professor of New Testament interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary