Book Review: The Life and Theology of Paul (Waters)

Two new books on the Apostle Paul have been released. While N.T. Wright’s larger work Paul: A Biography (480 pages) has received more attention, Guy Waters’ The Life and Theology of Paul should not be ignored. This is particularly the case because Waters’ book is more accessible to the majority of Christians.

The Life and Theology of Paul is a short book at only 124 pages. It is not technical and includes a “Lessons for Today” section at the end of each chapter, making the book ideal for church groups and individual study (rather than the seminary classroom). However, the book contains helpful interpretive insights throughout. Pastors and teachers of the Bible should still consult Dr. Water’s work.


The book is simple. The first chapter provides general information about Paul, the second chapter covers Paul’s conversion and call, and the rest of the book surveys Paul’s theology amidst his New Testament epistles (chs. 3–12).

The Life and Theology of Paul is informative and corrective. In the first chapter, “Introduction to Paul,” Waters explains that Saul’s name was not changed to Paul at his conversion (a common misconception). Rather, Saul was his Jewish name and Paul his Roman name (p. 6). The second chapter, “The Conversion and Call of Paul,” shows that Paul was both called and converted on the road to Damascus—contra Krister Stendahl, who argued that Paul was only called (pp. 12-13).

Chapter three covers “Paul’s Gospel and the Two Ages,” which includes a helpful discussion of the already and not yet. This is followed by two chapters on sin, two on justification, and three on sanctification. These seven chapters—which make up the bulk of the book—give particular focus to the Book of Romans. Waters expounds on Paul’s teaching about man’s universal bondage to sin, the federal headship of Adam and Christ, justification by faith, and the Spirit’s sanctifying work in God’s people. This includes a strong case for the view that Paul in Romans 7 is speaking as a Christian who struggles with sin (pp. 82-88). The concluding chapters are on “Paul and the Church” and “Paul and the Future.”

Minor Criticism

The Life and Theology of Paul abounds with helpful insights, many of which are found in the footnotes. For example, Waters addresses how Jesus can say that He would raise Himself from the dead (John 10:17-18) when Paul says God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Waters explains: “John references Jesus’ resurrection in light of Jesus’ deity . . . Paul speaks of the resurrection in light of Jesus’ humanity” (p. 93, footnote).

However, there are occasions where I thought the book went too far in seeking to avoid technical language. I do not understand why discussions of the “New Perspectives on Paul” and the imputation of Christ’s “active obedience”[1] fail to use these phrases to describe the concepts. This is unhelpful to the reader who wants to do further research on these topics. The book has a good short paragraph regarding the New Perspectives on Paul (p. 38, footnote) and discusses the imputation of Christ’s active obedience in two places (pp. 53-57, 66-67), so it is curious why the labels are left out.

The work also avoids some controversial doctrines that would benefit Christians. While the concept of the rapture is briefly addressed and rejected (p. 116, footnote), there is no discussion of Paul’s views on gender roles—a substantial part of his writings and an area that is disregarded by much of the church today. Further, the book covers Spiritual gifts without much attention to the nature of tongues and prophecy for today (ch. 11). The closest thing is the following footnote: “This is not to say that all of these gifts continue in the church today. As we will see below, Paul gives us reason to think that the offices of Apostle and prophet have ceased with the passing of the Apostles and prophets of the first century” (p. 105, footnote). One must conclude that the author and/or editor wanted to avoid these subjects, probably to appeal to a wider audience.


Overall, Dr. Waters has written a great introduction to the Apostle Paul. The book must be taken for what it is—a short introductory work for lay Christians and beginning students of theology. This makes The Life and Theology of Paul an ideal resource for church groups wanting something a little deeper than the typical church book study. It will surely spark an interest in the rich theology of the Apostle Paul.  

[1] There is actually a substantial treatment of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience (pp. 53-57, 66-67). However, it is lumped under “imputation” with no distinction by the phrase “active obedience.” Waters says, “God does not simply remove from our record what is objectionable (the guilt of our sin); He proceeds to put something in its place” (p. 53). He then cites 2 Corinthians 5:21 as showing that Christ’s “righteousness is transferred to us for justification” (p. 57), and he argues that Jesus’ “obedience” in Romans 5:19 includes “more than the cross . . . the whole life of obedience that Jesus undertook and accomplished on behalf of His people” (p. 66). In support of the latter, Waters argues that “Paul stresses the superabundance of what Christ has done in comparison with Adam’s work” (p. 66). Unfortunately, these arguments are inconclusive. They assume a merit paradigm, and they assume that “righteousness/justification” must mean more than the forgiveness of sins. Thus this section is unlikely to satisfy critics of the imputation of Christ’s active obedience.