Paul has been my constant companion throughout my adult life. Like all friends, he still sometimes surprises me, puzzles me and even annoys me. But I feel at home with him. Having written my doctoral dissertation on Romans, whenever I pick up a new commentary on that letter I feel as though someone has come into my living room and set about rearranging the furniture.
As I glance at my shelf of recent books on Paul, the titles reveal how the subject has developed in the last 20 years. Paul and the Law accounts for half a dozen; Paul and Judaism covers several others. Those who try to explain Paul as a Hellenizer are swimming against the tide. The arguments for his essential Jewishness are overwhelming.
But Paul describes himself as the apostle to the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 11:13; 15:16; Galatians 2:7–10). What was his message to the pagans? What was the relation between Paul and paganism? The derivation of ideas is an important topic, but confrontation is equally important. Paul’s message confronted paganism with good news—but it was good news that undermined their worldview and replaced it with an essentially Jewish one, reworked around Jesus.