Reviewed by Jarvis Williams
Charles L. Quarles serves as professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. In his new book on the life of Paul, Quarles introduces readers to the Jewish Paul, who grew up in Tarsus, studied in Jerusalem, advanced in Judaism, converted to Christianity, and advanced the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth until his martyrdom. My review will summarize the contents of the book, highlight a few of the book’s many strengths, and briefly mention two minor criticisms.
In his new book, Illustrated Life of Paul, Quarles provides a concise, accessible, and user friendly introductory text on the life of Paul. His work is different from many of the previous books about Paul in that he focuses primarily on his cultural context without overwhelming the reader with specialist language. In addition, the book provides professional pictures of ancient sites, primary source material, and lucid comments of the topics and cities under discussion.
The book has 9 chapters. In chapter 1, Quarles provides a short introduction to the book (pgs. 1-2). In chapter 2 (The Background of Saul of Tarsus), Quarles discusses Paul’s Greco-Roman and Jewish background (pgs. 3-16). Chapter 3 (Damascus Road) discusses Paul’s Damascus Road conversion (pgs. 17-41). Chapter 4 (The First Missionary Journey) focuses on Paul’s first missionary journey (pgs. 42-67). Here Quarles discusses some of the content of Paul’s preaching in various Gentile cities, and he offers a discussion of historical facts related to these cities that illuminate Paul’s first missionary journey. Chapter 5 (The Jerusalem Conference) considers the historical significance of the Jerusalem conference (pgs. 68-77). Chapter 6 (The Second Missionary Journey) takes up a discussion of Paul’s second missionary journey (pgs. 79-136). Chapter 7 (The Third Missionary Journey) focuses on the third missionary journey (pgs. 137-92). Chapter 8 (From Jerusalem to Rome) focuses on Paul’s final trip to Jerusalem, his arrest there, and his appeal to journey to Rome (pgs. 193-248). Chapter 9 (Paul’s Last Years) highlights Paul’s final days, including a discussion of his prison letters, continued ministry in his final days, and martyrdom (pgs. 249-70). Each chapter paints a picture of the historical Paul by taking seriously Acts as the most important primary historical source and secondly by appealing to relevant extra-biblical sources.
Brief Critical Interaction
Quarles has provided a concise, accessible, and up to date book on the life of Paul for students. The book is easy to read and well written by a clear master teacher, New Testament scholar, and minister of the gospel. In addition, Quarles takes seriously the historical reliability of the New Testament for reconstructing the life of Paul. Readers will clearly see throughout this book that the most important historical sources for reconstructing the life of Paul are the New Testament sources themselves. There are so many more positives about this book.
My two criticisms of the book are minor and brief. First, I wonder if the book would have benefited from a chapter on historical method since the work is an historical project, written for the student and not for the specialist, and since the extra-biblical sources, to which Quarles appeals to help his historical reconstruction of Paul, present their own host of text-critical and historical problems. Second, unless I have overlooked something, the book has few references from Second Temple Jewish texts apart from Josephus and Philo. A discussion about the law in 1 Baruch, 1 Maccabees, and in other Jewish texts could illuminate why Paul’s gospel proclamation of Gentile inclusion and of justification by faith in Christ (the crucified and resurrected Lord) apart from works of law was so radical to (and was so radically opposed by) 1st century Jews and Gentiles.
Quarles’ new book, written by an Evangelical scholar who loves the gospel and who loves the church, gives students a good introductory text to the life of Paul. His book will be an excellent primary text for an undergraduate course on the life of Paul. This text will also be a good and very useful supplemental text for a seminary introductory course on the New Testament, especially alongside of a textbook that does not emphasize backgrounds. Biblical and theological students, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and even those who simply want to become better bible readers for the sake of their own bible study will greatly benefit from reading this text. Quarles’ lucid writing style, his precision, and his scholarly acumen make this book a gem for any bible teacher’s study. In addition, the numerous maps, pictures, side-bars, and archeological artifacts within the book will shine a bright ray of light onto the ministry of the apostle Paul for many bible teachers who have transformed the 1st century Jewish-Christian missionary into a 21st century Western philosopher. Readers of Quarles’ book will become intimately familiar with the 1st century Jewish-Christian missionary, who loved his Lord and who worked fiercely to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the complex Greco-Roman and Jewish world of the 1st century. As a minister of the gospel, I am thankful to Quarles for writing a book that I can now use both in the classroom and in the church – highly recommended!
Jarvis J. Williams, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of NT Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Review Editor for New Testament here at Books At a Glance.
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The Illustrated Life Of Paul