Author and teacher Michael R. Cosby provides a masterful guide to Paul’s Letters, helping students relate them to their own cultural setting and figure out for themselves what they mean. Irreverent, entertaining, engaging, and fun, yet grounded in sound theology, Cosby’s textbook, full of pictures, questions, and insights, is certain to be a most popular educational tool.
From the Introduction:
One of the most important things to realize about Paul’s epistles is that he did not write them to us. When we read Paul’s letters, we are reading someone else’s mail. He wrote, or more correctly “dictated,” them for people who lived in ancient Mediterranean locations—people who understood his words in ways that we are incapable of doing today. For us, interpreting Paul’s letters can be almost as frustrating as it is intriguing.
Most of Paul’s intended readers were in ongoing dialogue with him, and when he wrote to them he addressed familiar circumstances. Because Paul’s audiences shared experiences with him, they had the necessary context for interpreting his messages. And because they shared with Paul views of everyday life that often seem strange to us, his original readers understood his words as cultural insiders, whereas we are outsiders. We simply miss part of his meaning because we live in a different time, speak a different language, and have different cultural norms. We need ways to bridge the historical and cultural divide if we are to understand what he wrote.
However, most people do not have the time to study ancient Mediterranean cultures. The number of documents written by ancient authors is intimidating enough. When we add to this sizeable collection the other resources helpful for understanding Paul’s world—archaeological discoveries such as inscriptions, papyrus scraps, tombstones, and the remains of ancient houses and temples and other public buildings—the task can seem overwhelming. Yet Paul’s epistles have such importance for Christian faith that those who are serious about understanding his words must make the attempt to cross the chasm of culture and time. This book provides the resources to begin to build a bridge from our time to his.