Color me nerdy, but I read this book for leisure reading. I happened to be in the office of a pastor friend, and the subject of Paul came up. He pulled this book off the shelf, and asked if I would like to read it. I’m glad he offered, and more than glad that I said yes!
John B Polhill, when this book was published, was a professor of New Testament at a well-known theological seminary. It’s obvious that he knows his stuff. Paul and His Letters (B&H Academic, 1999) is not the definitive “everything you always wanted to know about Paul” book. Nor was it intended to be. In his introduction, the author writes, “The purpose of this book is to provide a survey of all the information we have on the life and thought of the apostle Paul—from Acts, from his epistles and from seemingly reliable traditions that have been preserved in the non-canonical sources”.
Despite the introductory disclaimer that this book is “Not a ‘Life of Paul’”, Polhill does include some biographical material about the writer of much of the New Testament. As we remember Paul as the one who, more than others, helps us to understand Christian Theology, it’s important to remember that as a Pharisee he was also familiar with Jewish theology of the time. Polhill helps the reader understand where Paul started, and how, over time, his understanding of the teachings of Jesus developed to the point where he recorded them in the form of these letters to the various churches that he had helped establish, or, in the case of the church at Rome, where he had some knowledge and a connection of some type.
One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about this book is the way that Polhill examines each of the Pauline epistles in the context of Paul’s missionary journeys. Again, we have to remind ourselves that entire volumes, exploring every nuance of every word, have been written about each of the epistles. In this survey, there is a mere chapter covering each letter. Highlights of each letter are addressed, along with some of the criticisms and arguments—for and against—some of the interpretations of certain passages. There is also a teaching outline included for each of the letters.
In my opinion, one of the many purposes for a survey of this type is to expose the readers to ideas, questions, areas, of consensus, as well as controversies, and to encourage further study. Polhill does his readers a great service by including at the end of each chapter, a list of ‘suggested further reading’ or ‘selected commentaries’.
Beyond the use of this as a text book in Bible Colleges or Theological Seminaries, I think this book would be a handy reference tool for pastors who are preaching from any of Paul’s letters, and Sunday School teachers and Small Group leaders should be advised to review Polhill’s “Study Outline” and highlights of each epistle as they prepare to lead the discussions.
A solid A+