Book Review: Paul: Apostle Of The Heart Set Free

Paul: Apostle Of The Heart Set Free, by F.F. Bruce

It is difficult to give a balanced and reasonable review of this book, in large part because the structure and content contained therein is greatly uneven even if it is not entirely unexpected given the author’s clear dispensationalist background. When the author says, almost approvingly, that Marcion understood Paul pretty well (if not perfectly), he makes it clear that he belongs very much to the lengthy list of commentators on Paul who misinterpret Paul’s steadfast denial of the efficacy of the law in providing a way for us to be saved by our own merit as a license for antinomianism [1]. Occasionally the book is helped by the presence of excellent sources [2], and in reality this book is really contained of two books that are spliced together, with very different levels of achievement.

The better part of this book is a biography of Paul that has a generally traditional but eminently reasonable interpretation of Paul’s life based on the available evidence. Included in that is a reasonable interpretation of Paul’s silences as well as the accounts of Luke in Acts. When this book is discussing matters like Roman regulations of troublemakers in the provinces or penal law, it is an excellent read. About half of the book is contained of this sort of material, and this part of the book is what really drives the narrative of Paul’s life, including some reasonable guesses and interpretations of the chronology of his letters as well as his travels after acquittal, carefully cited and with a fair discussion of other views. Had this been the entire book it would have been a short book but an undisputed classic that I would have had nothing to speak negatively about, given the author’s wit and humor along with his impressive scholarly footnotes.

Sadly, that is not all there is to this book, and the author combines what is a sound and most excellent history with a largely unsound interpretive analysis of Paul’s writing from his own bogus and gnostic-influenced religious worldview. Paul is such a complicated and nuanced writer, so passionate and yet so wide-ranging in his logic and levels of meaning that it is possible to read out of Paul what one wants to rather than what is there. This author joins a long list of people who misinterpret Paul’s statements to point to a hostility towards the law or an indifference to it, rather than a change in his beliefs as to the place of law in the life of a believer. While the book does make at least some attempt to point out the different ways of interpreting scripture, it takes for granted an anti-Sabbatarian belief in Paul that is largely a figment of the hermeneutical schemes of likeminded antinominan theologians rather than a genuinely biblical worldview.

F.F. Bruce is an author who rapturously writes about the freedom that Christians find in Christ, but this freedom as he conceives it is largely a function of an emotional sort of religion that he seeks to bolster intellectually that comes from Hellenistic Christianity rather than its true biblical origin. There is a great deal of worth to be gained from this particular book, as no book so well-researched and written so skillfully could be without some value. Nevertheless, the approach of the author from a theological perspective does diminish from the worth of this book as a commentary on the letters of Paul and the theology of the early church. That theological bent is definitely a missed opportunity that turns a great 200 biography into a decidedly mixed 450 page tome.

[1] He is not alone in this: (It should be noted that this book talks about those who view Paul from an antinomian perspective, while the rest of the books are written from those of an antinomian perspective.)

[2] Most notably:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Paul: Apostle Of The Heart Set Free

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