Paul's Theology in Context

Creation, Incarnation, Covenant, and Kingdom

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James P. Ware
  • Ada, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , January
     264 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


James P. Ware’s Paul’s Theology in Context is a fresh assessment of Paul’s theology founded on four pillars: creation, incarnation, covenant, and kingdom (3). These concepts frame Ware’s approach as he situates Paul’s theology in its Jewish and Greco-Roman context. Ware introduces the reader to an abundance of primary texts as he sets Paul’s gospel in contrast with Stoic, Epicurean, Buddhist, and Hindu philosophies and popular religious beliefs of the ancient Mediterranean. Coupled with this emphasis on ancient literature, Ware seeks to place Paul’s thought and exegesis squarely within the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible and teachings of Jesus (e.g., 1, 183–97).

The four pillars represent fundamental relations within Paul’s thought (35, 48, 131). Paul’s theology of creation establishes a relationship between creator and creation drawn from the Hebrew Bible and is unique in the ancient world in that a transcendent creator has made the world good (15, 23). In contrast to Platonic thought, in Paul’s theology the human body as both male and female affirms the goodness of both genders as a part of God’s creation of humanity in his image. Paul’s doctrine of original sin affirms the cosmos was originally created good, and the presence of sin and death in the world comes through humanity’s rebellion against God as his creation (32–33).

The separation from God due to sin is remedied by the incarnation and union with Christ. The epicenter of Paul’s theology, according to Ware, is the incarnation (90). Paul’s theology of the incarnation and union is distinctly covenantal (121, 131). Ware argues Paul’s theology of the covenant presupposes that righteousness was impossible outside the context of God’s gracious covenant, as Paul’s use of Psalm 143 shows (107–108). Paul’s theology of union with Christ fulfills the purpose of the covenant, namely, communion with the creator (121).

Paul’s theology of the kingdom centers on the resurrection of Jesus. Ware’s work on Paul’s theology of resurrection places Paul’s theology of bodily resurrection in the context of ancient thoughts on death (139–74). Ware counters proposals that suggest that Paul argues for a resurrection of a spiritual body in 1 Corinthians 15 (158–74). The resurrection was the center of the sacramental life of early Christians, as is exhibited by Paul’s theology of baptism and the eucharist (175–82).

There are several strengths of Ware’s book. First, Ware has a balanced both-and approach, which allows for less artificial atomization of Paul’s thought. For example, in Ware’s section on justification in Romans, he argues Paul’s theology of justification and sanctification are closely knitted together (131). Second, Ware introduces readers to a diversity of secondary literature while at the same time not overwhelming his intended audience with footnotes. There are many intriguing works in German for the industrious student to explore further. Third, some, but not all, might see the strength of Ware’s reading of Paul as affirming what would become classical Christian trinitarianism: trinitarian monotheism, high Christology, and trinitarian processions. Finally, Ware provides a stimulating reading of Paul’s place within the apostolic circle, stressing the unity of Paul with the other apostles, while also cataloging why Paul holds a unique place within early Christianity (201–33).

Two aspects of Paul’s Theology in Context could have received fuller treatment. First, there is limited coverage of Paul’s pneumatology. The discussion of Paul’s theology of the Spirit is confined to Ware’s discussion of Christology and trinitarian relations in Paul’s theology (85–88). Second, there is not a discussion on the communal life in Paul’s theology. The impact of Paul’s gospel on sexual ethics in its ancient context is covered, and even the uniqueness of Paul’s love command is noted (183–96). Yet readers are left wondering how the early Christian communities to whom Paul wrote might have perceived and lived out these commands in comparison with other communities in the ancient world. Also, how might the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of these groups compare to what we know of other religious and philosophical communities regarding their views on poverty and wealth? These two omissions would have been welcome additions to Ware’s project. Regardless, Ware’s approach to Paul’s theology represents a unique contribution to the discussion of Pauline theology. The accessible length of the book coupled with its interesting insights would make it a useful addition to an undergraduate or graduate curriculum.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Trey E. Moss is the associate vice president for academic administration at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Date of Review: 
February 24, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

James P. Ware is Professor of Religion at the University of Evansville and the author of Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and Englishand Paul and the Mission of the Church: Philippians in Ancient Jewish Context.


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