Many, many books have been written on the life, theology, and impact of Paul and his writings found in the New Testament. Given he wrote the majority of the books of the New Testament, such attention is of course founded and necessary. There are those authors who take a quick overview of Paul and his ministry and there are those who dig much deeper, analyzing the plethora of issues found in Pauline theology from a more academic mindset. Out of all those approaches, one can find quite a few solid works, some that are just so-so and unfortunately many that take a liberal bent towards Paul. In the group of works that are solid can most certainly be included Charles Quarles’ Illustrated Life of Paul.
While I certainly love those “nerdy” scholarly books with page after page of digging deep into a particular subject (with no pictures I might add), I must admit I have been increasingly drawn towards works that back up just a bit from the minutia and take that needed overarching look at a subject. Included in these type of books are what I think are valuable illustrations and pictures that help the reader get a sense of what life was like during the time period they are studying. Sometimes being able to look at what the city of Thessalonica for example looked like provides a needed mental picture as one reads through Paul’s letter to the believers at Thessalonica.
Quarles notes the purpose of this book is “to introduce readers to this amazing man (Paul) and his incredible story.” I submit that Quarles does an excellent job of meeting his stated goal. He begins with a look at the background of Saul of Tarsus, providing the reader with a look into who Saul was before God turned his life upside down for the cause of Christ and renamed him Paul. Arguably, many forget Paul was trained by the famed Rabbi Gamaliel and thus was learned in all matters of the law. Quarles rightly notes the description Paul gave himself as Hebrew born of Hebrews “portrays Paul as a committed Jew whose family resisted the subtle influence of their Gentile environment and sought in all matters to remain faithful to the traditions of their fathers.”
The majority of Quarles’ book is spent on walking the reader through the life of Paul as reflected in the book of Acts and in Paul’s New Testament writings. He does an excellent job engaging the various events in Paul’s life, specifically what took place during his missionary journeys, along the way inserting helpful illustrations that as noted earlier in this review, provide the reader with a bit of insight into the first century world in which Paul lived and ministered.
An example of the helpful insight Quarles provides can be found in his comments on the city of Ephesus and Paul’s time spent there. Quarles aptly comments “Because Ephesus was the provincial capital and the economic hub of the province, people from all over the region were constantly traveling in and out of the city. This made Ephesus an ideal location for the propagation of the gospel.” Of course Ephesus was also the center of the worship of the goddess Diana and Paul’s interaction and declaration of the gospel in this town got him into a bit of hot water.
If you are looking for a very accessible and comprehensive look at the life and ministry of Paul, then I highly recommend this book. Quarles does an excellent job of looking at Paul in a way that will help the reader better appreciate how God used this man to spread the message of the gospel. Quarles does not engage that much on deep matters of theology in this book like one would find in a book devoted to Pauline theology, although he does at times interact with Paul’s theology at various points on the book. If you are desiring a theological treatise on Paul’s works, you would need to seek out other books that focus on that subject matter. Quarles book is a solid introduction and interaction with the life of Paul and the books he wrote and to that end it is highly successful and worth obtaining as a valuable resource.
This book is available for purchase from B&H Academic by clicking here.
I received this book for free from B&H Academic 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.”