Second only Jesus Himself, there is no other person about whom more ink has been spilled than the Apostle Paul. The last (but certainly not the least!) of the Apostles and writer of thirteen books of the New Testament, Paul is a central figure within the New Testament and the history of the Christian church. While much of the writing on Paul addresses his theology, there are few books that deal with his person, life and missionary journey’s.
Seeking to add to this body of literature Charles Quarles, professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written Illustrated Life of Paul. Over the course of nine chapters Quarles covers the life and ministry of Paul from his pre-conversion as an oppressor of Christ’s followers to his finals days in a Roman prison where, as a follower of Christ, he was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and hindrance.” (Acts 28:31)
Quarles begins by introducing the reader to Paul himself. Here we look at his family background, citizenship as a Roman, job skills and religious education and career. Chapter three deals at length with Paul’s (as Saul) Damascus road experience with Christ that resulted in his dramatic conversion. This is first introduced by showing Paul’s pre-conversion anti-Christian zeal. Admittedly, Quarles has to fill in some of the details as to what Paul’s life might have been like during this time. He mentions some question as to whether Paul was one of the 70 members of the Sanhedrin that voted to stone Stephen, nothing that if he were he did not mention it later “in Philippians 3 when he recited his Jewish credentials.” (20)
Chapters four, six and seven cover Paul’s three missionary journeys. The order of the chapters follows from one city to the next while giving detail about the occasion of his visit and background about the city itself. When discussing cities in which Paul later wrote letters to a church there Quarles makes the connections between the book and the specific issues Paul addressed like sexual immorality in Corinth (32, 120). Smaller cities where Paul did not spend much time are given a few paragraphs and cities to which he either wrote a letter or we have more information on are given much more space (Corinth, Antioch, Philippi, Athens and Ephesus which receives a considerable amount of space). As is expected, Quarles follows the book of Acts for a timeline and itinerary of Paul’s travels. He also has an excursus dealing with the events between Paul’s first and second missionary journey as it relates to the events described in Acts 15:1-2 and Galatians 2:1-4, concluding that the Galatian event preceded the Acts event (78).
Chapter five covers the Jerusalem conference concerning the issue of circumcision for Gentile believers. Chapter eight tells the story of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem after his third missionary journey and then his trip to Rome where he would be arrested, tried and then freed. The final chapter in the book discusses Paul’s final arrest where he would live out his final days in a Roman prison. Using knowledge of the prison system of the time and some indicators from the New Testament, Quarels sketches out how the final days of Paul’s life most likely were.
Illustrated Life of Paul is a wonderful overview of the life and ministry of Paul. As the title indicates, this is an illustrated look at the life of Paul with many full color pictures of maps, paintings and places that are relevant to the topic at hand. Not only are there many helpful pictures to aid the reader in gaining a better grasp of Paul’s life, but Quarles does a masterful job of painting pictures in readers minds with his words. His wedding of the text of Scripture with historical and cultural information goes a long way to creating a fuller picture of Paul’s life and ministry and gives the book less of a clunky feel as if reading a textbook.
Overall this is a helpful and up-to-date book on the life and ministry of Paul. This would be great for personal study, will aid pastors in preaching and teaching and can be used as a text for college and possibly graduate level classes (though for graduate level classes this needs to be supplemented with other works).
I received this book for free from B&H for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”