Paul The Apostle: Missionary, Martyr, Theologian, by Robert E. Picirilli
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Moody Publishers. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
Although I read quite a few books relating to Paul’s life and writings , it is something I enjoy doing even when authors frequently demonstrate their poor understanding of Paul’s thinking by using Paul’s statements against legalism or any kinds of salvation by works to justify their own antinomian thinking. This book is by no means as bad as most such books are, with the author not being flagrantly out of line but more muddled in being unable to distinguish between Paul’s obvious observance of the Sabbath and the early Church’s setting up of its own Sabbathkeeping synagogues after dealing with problems with the Jews and the author’s own lack of practice in following God’s laws in the way that the early Church did and seeking to find justification in his own unbiblical practices and beliefs in the example of Paul. Fortunately, most of the time the author is focused on what Paul did and where he was and how Paul’s letters and Luke’s writings in Acts correspond with each other to make this an especially antinomian work, and that is for the best.
The roughly 260 pages of this book consist of a forward and preface and eight chapters that are divided based on aspects of Paul’s life. The book opens with a discussion of Paul’s background in the Jewish diaspora, pointing out that while he and his family were obviously Hellenistic Jews, they were not Hellenizers and sought to resist Greek religious influence despite their citizenship in Tarsus and the Roman Empire and their being Greek-speaking. After this the author discusses Paul’s career as a Jew, looking at his alliance with the Pharisaic school of Hillel and his involvement in Jewish affairs. A brief chapter follows on Paul’s conversion and commission based on what Paul says about it himself in Acts and his letters. From this point the book seeks to follow Paul’s travels and writings and makes some thoughtful and intelligent comments on various theories about both. A chapter on Paul’s life from being a new convert to a missionary travel looks at his time in Arabia, his early visit(s) to Jerusalem, and his work with Barnabas in Antioch and then on their first missionary journey. A chapter on the expansion of the mission to the Gentiles talks about Paul’s second mission and his first letters like 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. A discussion on the third missionary journey allows the author to talk about some of Paul’s associates and his methods in preaching and the second group of Paul’s letters like 1st and 2 Corinthians and Romans. A discussion of Paul the prisoner looks at the fourth missionary journey and Paul’s prison epistles, while a discussion on the last years of Paul gives the author a chance to look at the pastoral epistles and some of the legends about his travels to Spain, after which an excellent list of recommended resources and notes close the book.
While there are many books that talk about Paul’s life and writings, this book is certainly written well as the sort of book that is particularly useful to undergraduate audiences at a seminary or who are taking religious studies courses relating to the life and writings of Paul. To be sure, this is not a perfect book, but it has a lot of worthwhile insights on Paul’s Jewish background and on his practice of spending as much time as possible in the synagogues, demonstrating the author has far less hostility to the biblical Sabbath than most writers on Paul, and that is something to appreciate and celebrate. The author’s outlines of the epistles of Paul and his discussion about the consistency of theology in all of the letters of Paul–in contrast to misguided notions of “progressive” doctrinal understanding–are to be celebrated and appreciated as well. As a staunchly biblically conservative but also scholarly adept work on the life and writings of Paul this book has a lot going for it and is well worth reading, even if one does not agree with all of the author’s approach.
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