Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 16:2 (Spring 1999)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

Biblical Studies

The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus, by Ben Witherington III. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Pp. 347.

Combine a world-class New Testament scholar with a major evangelical publisher, add a dash of literary flair sprinkled with a good dose of scholarly acumen, and what do you get? The Paul Quest—the long awaited sequel to the same author’s highly acclaimed book, The Jesus Quest. This provocative study by Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, presents a comprehensive portrait of Paul. It is a substantial work with a clear and logical methodology that makes an important contribution to a new and better understanding of Paul’s letters in their true literary and historical contexts.

The introductory chapter surveys the cultural setting in which Paul lived, while the second chapter deals with Paul the Jew, the Roman citizen, and the Christian. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss Paul’s roles as prophet, apostle, rhetor, and writer of letters, while chapters 5 through 7 explore aspects of how Paul functioned in his various roles within the Christian community. Chapter 8 focuses on Paul the theologian and ethicist. The concluding chapter attempts to construct a credible portrait of Paul, while an appendix examines the thorny issue of Pauline chronology.

Having myself attempted a finite portrait of one aspect of Paul’s intriguing life, using his weakness language as a launching pad (see my Paul, Apostle of Weakness [New York: Lang, 1984]), I found the present book refreshingly informative, bringing (as it does) to Pauline studies a charming blend of scholarship and piety. Paul comes off as both controverted and controversial. He paradoxically delights in his weaknesses and even transforms them into a badge of honor (much to the chagrin of his opponents). In a nutshell, Paul is a man who knows how to turn societal values on their head. He himself was not very impressive. His very name “Paul,” if adopted when he became a missionary to the Gentiles and not given to him at birth, might be a signal about his height (Paulus is Latin for “little”). And if Gal. 4:12–20 refers to a repulsive eye condition, his Galatian audience may have been preconditioned to see him as unreliable. Even the tradition that Paul had a bald head makes sense in the light of what is said about him shaving his head to fulfill a religious vow (Acts 18:18; 21:24).

Paul’s primary social markers, however, were his identity as a ...

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