Seminar in Biblical Studies:

Problems in the Study of Paul

Dr. Mark Given

Course Description, Goals, and Method

Welcome to REL 731: Seminar in Biblical Studies!  Here is the course description:

This seminar examines a specific topic within the history and literature of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and/or New Testament. Students can expect to do focused reading, discussion, and research on a particular historical, literary, and/or methodological issue pertaining to the topic.

This semester the topic is "Problems in the Study of Paul."  This could and does mean many things.  In the first place, all good research proceeds on the basis of "research problems," Here we are not talking about kind of problems we mean when we say, "I'm having problems coming up with a good research topic for this class."  :-)  Of course, there is a long list of standard historical-critical problems in the study of Paul.  The Taylor textbook will introduce most of them.  But the problems can be more "hermeneutical" and ideological.  Some of what I mean by problems can be illustrated by some of the previous titles of my past Paul seminars.  For example, in 2016 the topic was "The Ends of Paul and His Interpreters."  This topic references the classic problems in determining what Paul really thought and the problem of understanding how this thought is expressed.  I'm talking here about his theological and rhetorical "ends."  What was really Paul "up to"?  But the course was also concerned with the theology and rhetoric of Paul's interpreters from ancient times to the present.  In 2012 the topic was "Constructing Paul."  This phrase brings to mind philosophical subjects like "constructionism vs. essentialism" and "deconstruction."  While we will occasionally touch on such subjects explicitly this semester, mostly the constructing Paul theme will be used to remind students again and again that "Paul" is always what "we" make of him, and this is an unavoidable problem, good or bad.  As Richard Pervo says in his book, The Making of Paul: Constructions of the Apostle in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010), "the only real Paul is the dead Paul," and that Paul is unavailable to us.  Even though we almost certainly have some of Paul's very own words, much of what we think we know is available only through the "constructive" efforts of his disciples and others who wanted to present him in specific ways for specific purposes.  That process has never stopped and we cannot begin to cover all the significant ways Paul has been constructed and "used" down through the centuries to the present.

Here are some specific course goals:

1) To learn about various problems with the constructions and applications of Paul in the early church.

2) To learn about problems with important constructions and applications of Paul from the Reformation to the present

3) To learn about some of the important modern and postmodern theories and methods in the study of Paul and other early Christian literature

4) To learn about interesting interdisciplinary constructions of Paul

5) To learn something about "other" readings of Paul (e.g., Jewish, Muslim, and Atheist)

6) To learn about the current explosion of postcolonial readings and related re-imaginings of Paul

A glance at the course calendar will show how to some extent the order of the goals follows the construction of the course.  For example, the Taylor and Pervo books best fulfill goal one, Zetterholm goal two, etc.  However, many of the readings relate to more than one goal.

Goal three requires further comment.  The "how-to" readings associated with this goal are Gorman, Marchal, and Given.  This goal includes learning the basics of the "classic" method of historical-critical exegesis in its state of the art form.  The Gorman book will guide you through writing an exegesis paper due about midterm.  The Marchal and Given edited volumes will introduce you to a range of approaches that go beyond strictly historical and exegetical approaches to Paul.

We will accomplish these goals in the context of a seminar.  What is a seminar?  The following definitions, gleaned from the web, will give you a good idea:

Most commonly offered as upper-level and graduate courses, these are small classes of approximately 15 students each, designed to facilitate intensive study of specific subject areas.

[A seminar] has the function of bringing together small groups for recurring meetings, focusing each time on some particular subject, in which everyone present is requested to actively participate.

As will be clear from these definitions, this class will be unlike most you took as an undergraduate.  It is impossible to sit passively in class and depend on the professor or the other students to carry the load.  You must be diligent in doing the reading assignments and preparing to take part in or occasionally lead the discussions.

Office Hours

My office is Strong Hall 266. Office hours are posted on Blackboard and appointments are also possible. My email address is on Blackboard and the campus web. I encourage you to email me with questions, comments, etc., if you cannot come by during office hours.  

Additional Course Policies

Dropping the Class

It is your responsibility to understand the University’s procedure for dropping a class. If you stop attending this class but do not follow proper procedure for dropping the class, you will receive a failing grade and will also be financially obligated to pay for the class. For information about dropping a class or withdrawing from the university, contact the Office of the Registrar at 836-5520.

Academic Dishonesty

Missouri State University is a community of scholars committed to developing educated persons who accept the responsibility to practice personal and academic integrity.  You are responsible for knowing and following the university’s student honor code, Student Academic Integrity Policies and Procedures and also available at the Reserves Desk in Meyer Library.  Any student participating in any form of academic dishonesty will be subject to sanctions as described in this policy.  In this course, cheating on any assignment besides the final exam will result in an F for that assignment and usually cannot be made up. Cheating on the final exam will result in an XF.


Missouri State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution, and maintains a grievance procedure available to any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against. At all times, it is your right to address inquiries or concerns about possible discrimination to the Office for Institutional Equity and Compliance, Park Central Office Building, 117 Park Central Square, Suite 111, 417-836-4252. Other types of concerns (i.e., concerns of an academic nature) should be discussed directly with your instructor and can also be brought to the attention of your instructor’s Department Head.   Please visit the OED website at

Disability Accommodation

If you are a student with a disability and anticipate barriers related to this course, it is important to request accommodations and establish an accommodation plan with the University. Please contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) (, Meyer Library, Suite 111, 417-836-4192, to initiate the process to establish your accommodation plan. The DRC will work with you to establish your accommodation plan, or it may refer you to other appropriate resources based on the nature of your disability. In order to prepare an accommodation plan, the University usually requires that students provide documentation relating to their disability.  Please be prepared to provide such documentation if requested. Once a University accommodation plan is established, you may notify the class instructor of approved accommodations.  If you wish to utilize your accommodation plan, it is suggested that you do so in a timely manner, preferably within the first two weeks of class. Early notification to the instructor allows for full benefit of the accommodations identified in the plan. Instructors will not receive the accommodation plan until you provide that plan, and are not required to apply accommodations retroactively.

Cell phone policy

As a member of the learning community, each student has a responsibility to other students who are members of the community.  When cell phones or pagers ring and students respond in class or leave class to respond, it disrupts the class. Therefore, the Office of the Provost prohibits the use by students of cell phones, pagers, PDAs, or similar communication devices during scheduled classes. All such devices must be turned off or put in a silent (vibrate) mode and ordinarily should not be taken out during class. Given the fact that these same communication devices are an integral part of the University’s emergency notification system, an exception to this policy would occur when numerous devices activate simultaneously. When this occurs, students may consult their devices to determine if a university emergency exists. If that is not the case, the devices should be immediately returned to silent mode and put away. Other exceptions to this policy may be granted at the discretion of the instructor.

Emergency Storm Shelter and Evacuation Information

In the event of an emergency or incident in the classroom, the faculty member is often the first university representative or authority figure recognized to be in charge until emergency first responders arrive. At the first class meeting, students should become familiar with a basic emergency response plan through a dialogue with the instructor that includes a review and awareness of exits specific to the classroom and the emergency relocation areas for the building. For your convenience, this information has been provided by the Office of the Provost and Safety and Transportation and appears below. Students with disabilities impacting mobility should discuss with their instructor the approved accommodations for emergency situations and additional options. Faculty must include information related to emergency response in their syllabi (see For more information contact Safety and Transportation (417-836-5509) or consult the Emergency Quick Reference Guide and Campus Emergency Response Plan.

Tornado Shelter Area Information (in case of severe weather):


Tornado Shelter Area

Glass Hall

1st Floor: Shelter in interior lecture Halls
2nd Floor: Shelter in interior lecture Halls
3rd Floor: Shelter in interior lecture Halls and interior office suites.
4th Floor: Evacuate to 3rd Floor Lecture Halls and Interior Office Suites using northeast, northwest southeast and southwest stairs.

Strong Hall

Evacuate the fourth floor using north and south stairs.
Faculty office wing occupants may shelter in interior halls of their area.
All other occupants move to basement level using north and south stairwells.

Emergency Assembly Point Instructions (in case the building needs to be evacuated for events such as fire, gas leak, etc.)


Emergency Assembly Point

Glass Hall

Southwest to Strong Hall Rooms 1, 2, 3 and 4

Strong Hall

Northeast to Glass Hall Room 101; Overflow to rooms 102 and 108

Areas of Rescue (in case you are unable to evacuate to the ground floor, these are areas of temporary safety until rescuers arrive)


Area of Rescue

Glass Hall

Northeast stairwell
Southeast stairwell

Strong Hall

None in this facility