A Theological Introduction to


Exploring a Threefold Theology of Paul


Yung Suk Kim (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011)

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Study guide / Discussion Questions
Sample syllabus

Book review at the RBL (by Jason Weaver)


  • A new wave of Pauline theology characterized by the threefold participation of God, Christ, and the believer
  • An extensive, insightful, original research on key themes of Paul’s texts and contexts
  • Engaging Paul for today: Convergence of theology and ethics


Author information
Yung Suk Kim (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is associate professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology of Virginia Union University, in Richmond, Virginia. He is founding editor of the Journal of Bible and Human Transformation and also new editor of the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. He is the author of several books, including Christ’s Body in Corinth: The Politics of a Metaphor (Fortress, 2008) and Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the "I Am" Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel (Cascade, 2014). His edited volumes include Reading Minjung Theology in the Twenty-first Century: Selected Writings by Ahn Byung-Mu and Modern Critical Responses (Pickwick, 2013) and 1 and 2 Corinthians (Fortress, 2013).


Synopsis of the book
In this study Kim explores a new way of reading Paul's letters and understanding his theology with a focus on three aspects of Paul's gospel: "the righteousness of God," "faith of Christ," and "the body of Christ." Kim argues that Paul’s thought can be best understood by reading these genitives as the subjective or attributive genitives, rather than as the objective genitives. The subjective or attributive genitive reading places an emphasis on the subject’s participation: God’s participatory righteousness, Christ’s faithful obedience to God, and the believer’s living of Christ’s body. Kim investigates the root of Paul’s theology in a wide array of texts and contexts: in the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, Greco-Roman world, and Paul’s canonical letters. In doing so, Kim synthesizes Paul's theology and ethics seamlessly, balancing the roles of God, Christ, and the believers in Paul's gospel.


“Yung Suk Kim possesses one of the most original, refreshing, and urgent voices among the rising generation of New Testament theologians. Kim has a rare ability to synthesize various critical approaches in constructing Paul’s theology: historical criticism, sociological analysis, and post-colonial interpretation interact productively. Kim’s Theological Introduction to Paul’s Letters invites readers to rethink crucial aspects of Paul’s theology – “righteousness,” “faith,” “embodiment” – as avenues of subjective participation in the politics of love.”

– Laurence L. Welborn, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, Fordham University

For whom?
This book will be used as a textbook for seminary students taking introductory courses on Paul and his letters. This book also will be helpful to pastors and laity who are serious about Paul’s theology in the critical ministry contexts. In addition, this book will be a renewed stimulus to biblical scholars, who may be challenged by this kind of integrative, contextual biblical theology that deals with holistic aspects of life in Paul's time. Today, the convergence of theology and ethics is very important, and this book provides a venue for critical dialogue about Pauline theology in new way.

1 Overview of Pauline Interpretation
2 Toward a Threefold Theology of Paul
3 Threefold Theology of Paul: God’s Righteousness, Christ’s Faith, and the Believer’s “Body of Christ”
4 God’s Righteousness (Dikaiosyne Theou)
5 Christ’s Faith (Pistis Christou)
6 The Believer’s Body of Christ (Soma Christou)
7 “Imitators” (Mimetai) in 1 Cor 4:16 and 11:1: A New Reading of Threefold Embodiment
8 Reading Paul Today: Convergence of Theology and Ethics

Study/Discussion Questions


1. What is the author’s motivation to write this book and what is the primary goal that he tries to achieve?

2. Do you think this particular way of reading Paul’s letters and understanding his theology makes sense? Explain why or why not.

3. Compare the threefold theology of Paul with the other traditional readings of Paul. What are some benefits of this threefold approach? Or, what are some weaknesses?

4. Why is it important to distinguish between the subjective genitive readings and the objective genitive readings? Example: “the righteousness of God,” “the faith of Christ,” and “the body of Christ.”

Chapter 1: Overview of Pauline Interpretation

1. Five readings of Pauline scholarship are explained in this book: forensic salvation, social-scientific or sociological approach, New Perspective on Paul, apocalyptic theology, and ideological, political reading. Explain differences among these readings. What are some pros and cons of each reading?

2. What is the common weakness of these five readings?

3. Can the threefold theology of Paul solve the common weaknesses? If yes, in what way? If not, why not.

Chapter II: Toward a Threefold Theology of Paul

1. Who is Paul to you? Put him in historical, cultural, religious contexts: Jewish tradition, Hellenism, Diaspora community, and first-century Jesus movement. Discuss his major contexts that he had to deal with.

2. What made him change his former way of life (persecuting Christian gatherings) so that he could become a follower of Jesus (an apostle, slave of Christ to Gentiles)? What kind of revelation did he seem to receive? What happened to him? What is wrong with him if he had to change his mind regarding his past? How has Paul’s view of God, Judaism, the messiah, or the law changed after his call?

3. Briefly explain about the law of God and the law of sin. How can sin be dead? Can Christ’s death defeat sin’s power? Or, can it be undone by human participation in Christ’s death?

Chapter III: A Threefold Theology of Paul: God’s Righteousness, Christ’s Faith, and the Believer’s Body of Christ

1. Paul’s primary theological position is theocentric (God-centered). Do you agree to this? Read Rom 1:1-2. What is the gospel of God which concerns his Son?

2. Do Galatians, 1-2 Corinthians, and Romans contain the threefold theology of Paul? Explain how each letter addresses the threefold theological concerns raised in each community. Briefly explain each letter’s situation and the need of the threefold theology to address the problems in each community.

3. Without human participation, there will be no solution to the problems in Paul’s communities. Evaluate this position from the perspective of a threefold theology of Paul.

Chapter IV: God’s Righteousness (Dikaiosyne Theou)

1. Explain both the subjective and objective genitive cases of “the righteousness of God.” Which one do you think Paul meant to convey in Rom 3:21-26? Relate to Paul's ministry contexts in Rome and elsewhere.

2. What is God’s righteousness (a subjective genitive) for Paul as he communicates with his audiences? Include Paul’s various contexts (Judaism and Greco-Roman world) and inter-texts (Jewish scripture and tradition).

3. Is God’s righteousness interchangeable with God’s gospel (Rom 1:2)? Explain.

4. Evaluate this following position: “For Paul, the believers have to put faith in God (not in Christ)” (for example, 1 Thess 1:8).

5. Likewise, the church is God’s, not the Christ’s (“the church of God” in 1 Cor 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:13). Why is this distinction important to Paul or to a threefold theology?

Chapter V: Christ’s Faith (Pistis Christou)

1. Explain both the subjective and objective genitive cases of “the faith of Christ.” Which one do you think Paul meant to convey in Rom 3:21-26 and Gal 2:16-17?

2. Paul uses the Greek genitive case “the faith of Christ” in his seven letters. In fact, he could have used the Greek preposition “en” (in) before “Christ” if he had meant to convey the believer’s faith in Christ. Do you agree to this idea?

3. How is Christ’s faith different from Abraham’s or the believers’? What are the contents of Christ’s faithfulness shown in the world?

4. Is Christ’s faithfulness embodying God’s righteousness? In what way?

5. Why does Paul emphasize that he would proclaim only Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:2)?

6. Interpret Rom 3:22. There are three parties mentioned in one verse. Is this the good case for a threefold theology of Paul? (That is, can we understand like this: “God’s righteousness through Christ’s faith for all who have Christ’s faith”?). Similarly, can we interpret Gal 2:16 like this: “we can live righteously by Christ’s faith” because Christ showed what God wants (love and justice)?

Chapter VI: The Believer’s Body of Christ (Soma Christou)

1. According to Paul, why did humans fail to live up to God’s law? (For example, read Rom 1-3).

2. Does the language of “cutting of a covenant,” cutting of the foreskin (circumcision), or animal sacrifices have to do with human commitment to God? Eventually, does that language have to do with submitting their hearts to God’s law?

3. What is the meaning of “the body of Christ” in 1 Cor 12:27 and Rom 7:4? Can we say that this is a subjective or an attributive genitive? Discuss and explain.

4. Where can we see Paul’s emphasis of the believer’s participation in Christ or Christ’s death?
List all of them from Paul’s texts. For example: dying with Christ; baptism into his death, “believing into Christ” in Gal 2:17 [Greek preposition "eis" (into) used here, not "en" (in)].

5. Similarly, can we interpret “you are the body of Christ” as one's association with Christ crucified? Read also 1 Cor 6:12-20. Can we find here Paul’s emphasis of Christian holism and dynamism in the sense that the holistic participation with Christ is the key to interpreting this text? See also Rom 7:4 “dying to the law through the body of Christ.” What does this mean and what Christians have to do in relation to the body of Christ?

Chapter VII: “Imitators” (Mimetai) in 1 Cor 4:16 and 11:1: A New Reading of Threefold Embodiment

1. What different models of imitation can we identify in ancient contexts and literature?

2. What do you think Paul’s view of imitation is?

3. Why does Paul emphasize to imitate Christ (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1)? How is imitation of Christ related with God’s righteousness?

Chapter VIII: Reading Paul Today: Convergence of Theology and Ethics

1. Summarize your learnings so far: in terms of new information about Paul, new form of critical thinking, and new ministry insights for today.

2. What relation is there between Paul's theology and ethics?

3. What is the essence of Paul's theology? What can we do if we truly understand Paul's gospel?

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Last update: 6/13/2011