Book Write-Up: Paul the Apostle, by Robert E. Picirilli

Robert E. Picirilli.  Paul the Apostle: Missionary, Martyr, Theologian.  Chicago: Moody, 1986, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

In Paul the Apostle: Missionary, Martyr, Theologian, scholar Robert E. Picirilli goes through the life of the apostle Paul.

Picirilli starts with Paul’s background in Tarsus.  Some of Picirilli’s discussion about Paul there was speculative, yet it was informed by historical information.  Picirilli talked about the sort of city that Tarsus was and how that made Paul a suitable vessel for God’s missionary purposes.  Since the Book of Acts says that Paul was a Roman citizen, Picirilli discusses how people became Roman citizens in those days, what being a Roman citizen entailed, and the relationship of Tyre to Rome.  And, of course, Picirilli is informed by the Scriptures.  Although Tyre was a Hellenistic place, Paul was a Pharisee, according to Philippians 3:5.

Next, Picirilli goes into Paul’s conversion.  A salient aspect of this section is the critical questions that Picirilli addresses.  How could the high priests have authority to persecute Christians in Damascus, which was outside their jurisdiction?  How should we understand the apparent contradiction in Acts over whether the people around Saul heard the voice or saw the light when Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9:7; 22:9)?  Can we fit Paul’s trip to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) into the events in Acts?  Picirilli largely assumes the historicity of Acts and uses that as a frame for his narrative about Paul’s life.

Picirilli then discusses Paul’s epistles.  He maintains that Paul wrote all of the New Testament epistles attributed to him and addresses scholarly arguments to the contrary.  Picirilli wrestles with options about when Paul could have written certain epistles.  He discusses what sort of city Corinth was, the question of whether Paul wrote to North Galatia or South Galatia, various traditions about whether Paul reached Spain, and what slavery was like.  Occasionally, Picirilli talks about the theological and religious content of the epistles.  For example, Picirilli speculates that the Book of Colossians rarely mentions the Holy Spirit because it does not want the Spirit to detract from Christ.  The letter, after all, is responding to a heresy that treated Christ as merely one facet of the divine among many.

In the course of the book, Picirilli offers historical asides.  After reading his brief narrative about Felix, one can see why Felix was disturbed by Paul’s sermon about righteousness, temperance, and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25)!

In terms of positives, the book was informative, especially when it came to historical background.  It manifested a humble tone when it engaged other points of view, though Picirilli could be a bit saucy, every now and then.  While Picirilli maintained a rather harmonizing approach towards the biblical text, he sounded like a reasonable person, not as someone trying to stretch things to make his argument fit.  I also appreciated his references to J. Gresham Machen’s work on Paul.

In terms of negatives, the book could have used more religious and theological content, not only regarding Paul’s epistles, but also regarding such questions as the religious motivations that Hellenistic Jews and Saul of Tarsus had when they persecuted the early Christians.  While many may find Picirilli’s discussions on when Paul wrote to be useful, they were dry, in places.

Would this book be a good introduction to students about the apostle Paul?  On such topics as historical context and scholarly ideas about the authorship of the epistles, I would say yes.  On theological and religious questions, however, I think students should look for a supplement.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest!

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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