Unit 1: Reading Backwards, Reading Double, Reading Paul – Sample

Unit Progress:

Thoughtful Lives | Module 3 | Unit 1 (Sample)

Unit Description:

This unit introduces Module Three which offers an introduction to the Jewish backgrounds of Paul’s thinking: Shalom, Righteousness, Law, and Repentance & Forgiveness. The Module also shows how these terms connect to form a socio-theological core that provided Paul’s initial theological foundation and provides an experience of “reading backward” and “reading double” in Paul’s letters. This first unit prepares the learner to study the succeeding five units.

Achievement-Based Objective: By the end of this unit you will have …

  • Explored your own embedded theological terminology
  • Read Paul’s Letter to the Romans attentively, identifying Paul’s key theological terminology throughout the text
  • Read Wiles, pp. 11-21, on “Paul the Jew”
  • Imagined different eschatological responses to defined situations.
  • Watched a brief video on three eschatologies located within the Hebrew Scriptures
  • Explained three eschatologies in the Hebrew Scriptures to someone

Est. Time to Complete: 3:20

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Materials Available for This Unit

Note: You may download the video and/or audio files by right-clicking on the relevant items and saving to your computer.

Learning Tasks for M3U1

Outline of Learning Tasks for Unit

Learning Task #1: Your Embedded Theological Terminology (30 min)

Learning Task #2: Video: “Reading Backwards, Reading Double, Reading Paul” (30 min)

Learning Task #3: Reading Romans (1:30)

Learning Task #4: Reading Wiles (30 min)

Learning Task #5: A Little Bit of Eschatology (20 min)


Respond to the following questions in your Course Journal.

M3U1-Learning Task 1: Your Embedded Theological Terminology (30 min)

We begin studying Paul by looking at his formation, his background, his embedded theology.

Before we can understand Paul’s letters or his thinking, we’ve got to understand “where he was coming from.” And that was, of course, Judaism … specifically from what we call Second Temple Judaism. (Note: I will put technical terms in bold. If you don’t know what that term refers to, look it up! Google is a good place to start. 😀) We can get even a little more specific about his background, for we know from him that he studied with a Pharisee in Jerusalem.

So, we’ll start by “situating” Paul within his own theological context, and that means: the Hebrew Bible. You’ll read Paul’s letter to the Romans in this unit. But most of the rest of the units in this module will refer, not to Paul’s own writings, but to the terminology of the Hebrew Scriptures. This is where Paul started. So that’s where we will start.

One of the key features of embedded theology is that it is, well, embedded. And that’s usually a deep and often unacknowledged process and reality in our lives. The terms we’ll look at in this module include: Shalom, Righteousness, Law or Torah, and Repentance & Forgiveness. These are foundational understandings–indeed, experiences–in Jewish life, in Israelite life, in ancient Hebrew life. They “encode” the deepest experiences of the community and of those who lived within and contributed to that community … or should I say, “communities”–for these words spread across centuries, across wide geography (Palestine, Egypt, Babylon). Indeed, we should acknowledge that Judaism (both of old and of today) is sufficient for us to understand and, again, experience the reality of,  ALL of those terms. In short, the New Testament is not necessary to understand (and experience) that the God of Israel was and has always been a righteous shalom-seeking God who forgives those who repent … without fail.

The God of Israel is wondrous, glorious OLD news! And we are grateful for this ancient God and this ancient people of God. It’s good old news!  Paul, to be sure, brings some wonderful NEW news, some “good news”–a gospel– and we’ll get to that news after a bit. But for now, if we are to understand this  1st c. Paul, we’d better understand where he came from, what old good news “grew him up,” and why that old news is, indeed, good news. Knowing the strength, the character, and the energy of Paul’s “old good news”–of his embedded theology from the Hebrew Scriptures–will help us hear his new “good news” for the people and the cities of the 1st c. Roman Empire … and beyond, even unto us.

    • We’ll look at four central theological terms in Paul’s “embedded theology” during this module. Stop here and list in your Course Journal other key theological terms (or names) that you think might be embedded in the mind of a 1st century Jew.

But Paul is not the only creature with an embedded theology.

You, too, have an embedded theology, with special theological words or terms. Turn about is fair play. So — in your Course Journal …

    • Make a list of ten key theological terms that you “grew up with.” Do this quickly. Don’t think too hard. Ten terms/words/names that are “church” words and important church words at that.
      • Select the top 4 terms.
      • For each of those four terms, respond the following questions or prompts:
        • Freewrite for 2-3 minutes on what you feel, when you think about that term and its meaning? What experience can you link to that term? Can you “time and place” it in a specific experience?
        • What are the chances that you could re-define that term? From 1-5, with 5=absolutely not!
        • What one element of the meaning of the term for you could you never “give up.” Why? (And remember, “meaning” can indicate experience as well as cognitive meaning.)

When we study Paul, we’ll be redefining some of his terms from his heritage, from the Hebrew Scriptures. He’ll add some new terms, and draw energy from other terms–from both the Hebrew Scriptures and from the Greco-Roman world and these new “Pauline thoughts” will to carry us all the way through to the stopping point of this study.

M3U1-Learning Task 2: Video: “Reading Backwards, Reading Double, Reading Paul” (30 min)

After watching the video, reflect on the following questions in your Course Journal:

    • What do you think Dr. Wiles means by “reading backwards”? Are there other things (or people) that we need to read backwards (besides Paul)? What might it mean for someone to read YOU “backwards” in this way?
    • What are some other examples — besides reading Paul in this course — of “reading double”? Is a “double entendre” an example of “reading double”? What are some other possible examples of “reading double”? Do you ever have a “double-track” mind? (Oh, you creative soul!)

M3U1-Learning Task 3: Reading Romans (1:30)

Prepare yourself to hear Paul’s words by reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

As you read, make a note of — or highlight — every time Paul uses (or your English or other translation uses 😀) one of the following words:

    • Peace
    • Righteousness or Righteous
    • Justify or Justification
    • Law
    • Forgiveness or Repentance

Here’s a PDF of Romans that you can print out and markup as you wish. It’s in the Revised Standard Version:  Paul’s Letter to the Romans

(Hint: We’ll be looking at Romans several times during this process. So you may want to print out the pdf and mark it up for future reference.)

You do not need to do anything for this particular Learning Task other than read Romans attentively and  mark these words. Just observe at this point–albeit with a pen or pencil. No comment needed. 😀

M3U1-Learning Task 4: Read Wiles, pp. 11-21: (30 min)

Read pp. 11-21 in Wiles, on “Paul’s Jewish Heritage: A Righteous God.” [Note: The linked file includes all of the Wiles reading for this current module. For this unit you need only to read pages 11-21 of the linked file.]

    • Respond to questions in Sidebar 1:4–Thinking Eschatologically located in the Wiles reading (p. 19).
    • What are four things the Apostle Paul would not recognize in today’s Church? (I’d give a hint, but that’d make it too easy for you. lol)

M3U1-Learning Task 5: A Little Bit of Eschatology (20 min)

Watch the brief video below (“Eschatology in the Hebrew Scriptures”) and then complete the action below the video.
[Note: My daughters have always charged me with breathing too loudly. This video, alas, could be Exhibit A. But I don’t have time to re-record. I gotta move on! My apologies for the heavy breathing. 🙁]

    • Draw the diagrams of the three eschatologies described in the video and book. Do this without looking at the video or book! See if you can do it from memory.
    • Now, find someone patient enough to hear you out, and go draw the diagrams for that person and explain all three types of eschatology. (You may have to make additional friends if this “go find someone” thing gets out of hand!)

It’s been a long unit … I hope it’s set things up so the module goes well, goes deep, goes … oh, surprising places for us all.


If you have completed all the Learning Tasks with good intent

you may “Mark Complete” and move forward!


Thoughtful Lives by Virginia Wiles is licensed under a Creative Commons 4.0 International LicenseBased on a work at https://goodwaylearning.com