Monday, 10 September 2007

Introduction to the Study of Apostle Paul - Part 1

How does a budding biblical scholar teach the introduction to the study of the Apostle Paul?

A couple of weeks ago, I was struggling with how I should introduce the critical study of the Apostle Paul to my Introduction to the New Testament students. I could do a systematic presentation of the various critical issues on Paul, but I guess this will probably end up with information feeding that only fills the head. I suspect that many of them may not find this to be relevant to their confessional background. Not to mention that they would probably find this approach boring and less inspiring.

One of the ideas given by Richard Walsh in introducing the study of Paul is to show some clips from movies that portray the Apostle Paul, after which discussions could be generated based on the clips. His idea can be found in the edited volume by Mark Roncace and Patrick Gray, Teaching the Bible: Practical Strategies for Classroom Instruction, Resources for Biblical Study 49 (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature 2005). For further discussion on the book, see my earlier post on Classroom Ideas for Teaching the Bible.

I decided to check out the library and I was not disappointed. I found a documentary on The Story of Paul the Apostle: The Man Who Turned the World Upside Down produced by the History Channel. This DVD is about 68 minutes in length and is about the right length for a 3-hour lecture period. It covers the life of Apostle Paul from his education in Jerusalem under the Rabbi Gamaliel to his exhortations on behalf of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean basin. The documentary is narrated by Martin Sheen and includes interview with a number of theologians and biblical scholars who reflect on the importance of his upbringing to his success in spreading the Word, and an in-depth analysis of his writings — some of the earliest Christian documents extant — which shed light not just on the origins of Christianity, but on the man who helped ensure its survival.

This movie offers opportunities for comparison to Acts and the Pauline epistles. From the interviews with various scholars, it exposes the students to some of the debates on the current critical studies of Paul. It also offers excellent opportunities for discussions about the wider issues surrounding introductory issues in the study of Paul, ranging from Paul's call/conversion; the impact of the Damascus Road experience on his life and theology; the New Perspective on Paul; Paul's missionary methods; Paul's letters and Christian doctrines; the socio-political world of the early Pauline communities; to the impact of Pauline mission in the Gentile world.

After the movie, I handed out a list of 12 questions (I will post the questions in a subsequent post) based on the movie and broke the class into 3 groups for discussion, with each group taking 4 out of the 12 question. This ended the 3-hour lecture.

The following week, we discussed the questions as a class and I gave my input on the wider issues. Personally, I find this to be a more helpful way of teaching introductory issues on Paul as the students were given opportunities to present their views and opinion, and were engaged in the discussions and debates. Of course, the downside was that this turned out to be a less systematic way of discussing the various issues on Paul. In addition, not all issues I would like to expose the students to were covered in the movie, and those issues were then supplemented with additional lectures.

Is this a more effective way in both teaching and learning about the introduction to the study of the Apostle Paul? Only the students can give the verdict. Further contribution from readers of this blog is most welcome.

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