Thomas Schreiner's 167 page introduction to the Pauline Epistles is a book that the reviewer has turned to time and time again for its depth of wisdom and clarity of presentation. In a relatively brief book the author manages to summarize each of the necessary components for doing exegesis on the Pauline Epistles.
Schriener begins by explaining the nature of the Pauline Epistles. In doing so, Schriener argues against Deissmann's view that Paul's letters were merely reactions against specific problems in specific situations. Instead, the author argues that although the Pauline epistles were, in fact, occasional, they were far more than "merely private individual letters" (25); these epistles were rather highly structured documents including an opening, a body, and a closing. As each of these sections are dealt with individually the writer presents for the reader comparisons and contrasts between numerous Pauline epistles and the method in which these sections are utilized. Schriener then moves to analyze specific literary forms (including diatribe, parenesis, and hymns) that may or may not be used to some degree throughout the books in question. The first chapter ends with an extensive discussion of the occasional nature of these epistles.
The second chapter briefly highlights the challenges and blessings of textual criticism throughout the Pauline epistles. The author conducts three case studies and offers the student a paradigm for making text critical decisions. Chapter three reinforces the need for a "program of regular reading" (58) in order for the student to gain greater familiarity with the text of the Greek New Testament. The fourth chapter discusses historical and introductory issues that challenge students of the Pauline epistles. Schriener offers primary, secondary, dictionary and introductory sources that will help students from these endeavors.
Chapters five and six form the core of the book. In these chapters, Schriener presents a method to understand and logically structure New Testament epistles. Chapter five reviews basic sentence diagramming for use with Koine Greek. It is likely that this chapter will offer little to the student who has already learned sentence diagramming in either Greek or English; however, chapter six is likely to be quite different in this regard. In the view of the reviewer, chapter six is worth the price of the book in and of itself. One reviewer noted that the method of diagramming instructed in chapter six is somehow related to or inferior to the method demonstrated in chapter five; however, one must understand that these methods serve two entirely different purposes. The first method simply helps the student understand the structure of each clause. This second method, on the other hand, helps the students understand the relationship of one clause (or paragraph) to another. Once the student begins thinking and these terms, not merely in terms of simple sentence structure, he or she will begin to grasp the logical connections and structure of the Pauline epistles.
Chapter seven and eight look at lexical and theological studies. Schriener offers cautions and recommendations for quality lexical studies. In the 16 page section on theological studies, Schriener probes questions regarding contradictions and development in Pauline theology and offers the reader a list of advantages endangers of probing the theological context. Chapter nine discusses the concepts of meaning and significance. Essentially, once one knows what the text means, he or she must then explain how that text works (especially in 21st century culture).
Schriener concludes by reviewing each of the sections and offers a list of helpful commentaries for the student.
One of the drawbacks of this book is its brevity. It is unfortunate that the author did not have more space and time to devote to this important study of the Pauline epistles (a fault that is understandable and hardly makes the superior quality of the volume worth a one-star rank). A second initial concern is Schreiner's unqualified use and recommendation of liberal critical writers, theologians, and commentaries. This concern is somewhat offset by the fact that Schriener himself refutes the views held by many of these scholars in the work at hand. Some readers may find this quality to be a strength, but this reviewer finds it somewhat bothersome at times. Finally, in the view of the reviewer, Schriener may go too far in his views regarding the meaning and significance of the Pauline epistles. These three concerns do little to diminish the quality and helpfulness of the book. Students seeking a deeper knowledge of the Pauline epistles will doubtless return to this book as a powerful resource for interpreting the Pauline epistles.