Review: Paul the Ancient Letter Writer

61RDHTMFyTLJeffrey A. D. Weima is a household name in the arena of Pauline Studies. Weima is Professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and author of several academic publications, including a massive commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series and the groundbreaking work Neglected Endings: The Significance of the Pauline Letter Closings (Sheffield Academic Press, 1994). Most recently, building off of his expertise as a Pauline scholar, Weima has produced a masterful book on Pauline letter writing, Paul the Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis. 

Paul the Ancient Letter Writer is a magnificent book that (almost) instantly allows readers to see the value and importance of reading a biblical letter as a letter, more specifically an ancient letter of the Greco-Roman period. This is a basic hermeneutical rule that often gets overlooked by the average reader and vitally import for every pastor and teacher seeking to communicate the Bible accurately and effectively. Paul the Ancient Letter Writer contains a brief introduction, a helpful test case on Philemon, and four major chapters covering the four major parts of an epistle: (1) the opening, (2) the thanksgiving, (3) the body, and (4) the closing. Each of the four major chapters offers a detailed analysis of various (and diverse) epistolary conventions found within each major part of an epistle.

Where most attention is usually going to be directed towards the body of a letter, Weima does an excellent job showing the importance of each of the major parts of a letter. For example, Weima demonstrates the great interpretive significance discovered in the opening of a letter. He explains an example of such insight, writing, “the sender formula brings the letter opening to a definitive close in a comparable way that the corresponding peace benediction and grace benediction mark out the letter closing and so bring Paul’s correspondence to a definitive close” (p. 44). For Paul, the opening formula actually shapes the boundaries of the correspondence. This is seen in another example found in the closing section, where Weima articulates the peculiar importance of the various conventions observed in the closing of Paul’s letters—namely the peace benediction, the hortatory section, the greetings, the autograph, and the grace benediction.

For those who find joy in the discovery of interpretive treasures of Scripture, Paul the Ancient Letter Writer: An Introduction to Epistolary Analysis by Jeffrey A. D. Weima is both a clear and captivating example that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to go about reading Paul’s letters and the insights from this volume pay dividends immediately. This would be an excellent companion textbook in a New Testament course, especially where the genre of epistle encompasses a majority of the coursework. It would also do well in an intermediate or advanced hermeneutics course. While the book is rather detail oriented at times, I still found it to be easily accessible and refreshingly saturated with helpful charts and images of Weima’s analysis of Paul’s letters.

This is a book that I am afraid many will overlook. That said, if you’re reading this review, don’t let yourself be one of those sad individuals. Get a copy today. Trust me! It comes highly recommended.

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