Synopsis of the Pauline Letters in Greek and English

Written by James P. Ware Reviewed By Dane Ortlund

James Ware has provided us with a useful resource for understanding the mind and theology of the apostle Paul, arranging Pauline passages topically to enable the reader to see on a page or two what Paul says about any given topic of importance to him. Readers familiar with the related volume edited by Kurt Aland, Synopsis of the Four Gospels, will have a sense already of what Ware has done for the Pauline material. Ware teaches New Testament at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana.

Flipping open the book, one finds Greek text on every left-hand (even-numbered) page and the corresponding English text on every right-hand (odd-numbered) page. The Greek text is that of the Nestle-Aland 27th edition, and the English is the New Revised Standard Version. The book treats 177 different topics, which are further divided into six subcategories: Epistolary Structure, Epistolary Forms, Literary Forms, Themes, Key Events, and Co-Workers. By far the largest of these is Themes, which handles topics 23 to 161. Examples in this subcategory include “The Second Adam,” “The Atoning Death of Christ,” “The New Exodus,” “Children of God,” “The Function of the Law,” and “The Body of Christ.” Passages relating to the 177 topics are drawn from all thirteen of the traditionally ascribed Pauline letters as well as Paul-related material from the book of Acts.

Other features round out the book. The Greek-text pages include a whittled down critical apparatus for readers who wish to be alerted to the more significant textual variants. Also helpful is the brief list, at the end of each topic, of further texts that might be included under any given topic. There is also included in the front of the book a Scripture index of all passages reproduced throughout the synopsis, what Ware calls a “Table of Parallels” (functionally a Scripture index) and which he says “is the indispensable key to the effective use of this scholarly tool” (p. xiii). In addition, the back of the volume appends a one-page glossary of semi-technical terms used in the topic labels (“commendation,” “household code,” “salutation”), and a subject index.

In a work such as this, in which an editor simply compiles passages from Paul and arranges them topically, one would think the theological convictions of the editor to be quite minimally transparent. Yet it is striking to note that Ware not only explicitly says (p. xii n. 2) that he has been influenced by certain NT scholars (Abraham Malherbe, James Dunn, Wayne Meeks, Richard Hays, N. T. Wright, and others) but that this actually comes through in his choice and labeling of topics. One does not, for example, find the topic “The Gospel” or “Justification,” predictable topics in the eyes of much traditional scholarship. We do find, however, “The Atoning Death of Christ” (where several “gospel” texts are handled) and “The Revelation of God’s Righteousness” (in which the “justification” texts are treated). This is not a strength or a weakness, simply an observation, and a reminder that even a project as objective as this one will be guided by the theological inclinations of the compiler.

This book will be especially helpful for those who preach and teach the Bible. When working on a given Pauline text, preachers and teachers can locate their passage in the Table of Parallels, flip open to the topics that include that passage, and see what parallel Pauline texts may shed light on the passage at hand.

One oddity of the book is the way it breaks up continuous passages. For example, under topic #40, “Christ the Wisdom and Power of God,” the first three passages presented are 1 Cor 1:18–25, 1:26–31, and 2:1–5. Why is this not presented as one continuous passage (1 Cor 1:18–2:5)? One also wonders at times why a given text is included—what, for example, does Col 1:27 teach us about “The Spirit the Guarantee of the Resurrection”? Another element that would strengthen the volume is the identification of OT passages that are quoted or alluded to, as this would help readers see which Pauline passages draw on the same OT texts.

These are very minor matters, however. I intend to use Ware’s helpful resource in years ahead, and I commend it with gratitude to students, pastors, and teachers of the Word of God. 

Dane Ortlund

Dane Ortlund
Wheaton, Illinois, USA

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