The Apostle: A Life of Paul, John Pollock

The Pauline Epistles, I have to say, are my most favorite in the New Testament. The ubiquitous Apostle Paul, formerly Saul the persecutor, is a classic story in the book of Acts about a pharisee turned Christian that has a timeless element to it. His writings have been pondered by millions of Christians, theologians, philosophers, and lay people to where his influence stretches 2,000+ years. It was the sixth chapter of Romans that sparked the interest of the great Augustine of Hippo to turn from his evil past and accept by faith the risen Savior Jesus Christ; Luther’s study of Romans sparked the dawn of the Reformers against the Catholic Church; John Wesley, in turn, read Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans and was converted. The legacy of Paul the Apostle resonates throughout history and the ripples of his influence are still being felt today.

A biography of Paul has it’s own unique challenges. Largely Paul’s first biographer, Luke, is one of the only reliable sources we have to ascertain the life of Paul. What John Pollock does so well is he puts into context the historical events surrounding Paul as well as the pervading culture. From this, we see a different side of the Apostle.

What is also interesting is that Dr. Pollock meshes the accounts in Acts with the corresponding Epistles that Paul penned, showing the connection between what Luke wrote about Paul and how that connects with what Paul wrote himself. This enhances the perspective of the Pauline Epistles, particularly when you look at a letter like the one he wrote to the Philippians. You see the joy ooze out of every word in that letter, and you see why in the corresponding narrative in Acts. In turn, you see the time spent with the Galatians and the heartbreak Paul experienced in his letter to the Galatians when they turned away from what he preached there.

Many read the Pauline Epistles and find a jaded man with a temper that lashes out with passion. But the character of Paul taken in it’s entirety shows the love and empathy he has not only for the Gospel, but also for those whom he stayed with and in a way, all of humanity. Imagine living amongst these converted Christians for years at a time and the friendships that developed for the sake of the Gospel. Particularly moving to me was the largely forgotten Epistle to Philemon, which, lacking the theological depth of some of Paul’s other Epistles, shows a side of Paul’s deep love, compassion, and even humor.

But a book about the Apostle Paul cannot be written without some controversy. For example, we do not possess any solid evidence of the life of Paul after the last chapter in Acts. Some believe he went onto Spain. Others, Britain. Dr. Pollock, and I in turn, believe he died in Rome. There was just one area where I disagreed with Dr. Pollock. He elaborated on Paul’s thorn in the flesh, making the connection that it must have been some kind of physical ailment. I do not believe this: in fact, I believe in the text (2 Corinthians 12:7) he says that it is a “messenger from Satan.” This would led us to believe it was not something physical, but rather a person that was spreading a false Gospel. This is certainly open for debate.

The other warning I would give to those interested in this book is that Dr. Pollock at times extemporizes the narrative to make it interesting. He utilizes his imagination to paint a picture of what the scene might have actually looked like but things that the text does not explicitly say. He might talk about how the wind moved through the temple as a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day in Ephesus, or picking up the writing utensil to write in his own writing in the Epistle to the Galatians. This is a matter of semantics, but nonetheless important.

Overall, a fine look at the life of the Apostle Paul.

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