Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles
And so we say farewell to FF Bruce. For this last post, I have decided to focus on a few chapters across the last half of the book. I have enjoyed reading Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, and I would recommend it to any Christian (not afraid of a bit of mental exertion) who wants to delve deeper into the life and times of the historical Paul. Bruce brings together the Biblical accounts and the context from Ancient Historians, and he considers the scholarly hypotheses in a concise and clear way. You don’t need to read the whole thing right through. If you were preparing for Bible Studies on Galatians, or reading up for a sermon series on Romans, then here’s a useful book to get down off the shelf.
And so to chapters sixteen and seventeen. Bruce continues to follow Paul chronologically and he spends time with him in each of the places he visited. The Jerusalem conference had gone well. Paul’s gospel was recognized as the authentic gospel and his vocation was clearly to preach it to the Gentiles. Bruce tells us that it was, “probably impossible for one who concentrated on Gentile evangelisation to be at the same time an effective missionary to Jews.” Once Paul made contact with the God-fearers who attended the synagogue and they had embraced the gospel, he was inevitably no longer welcome in the synagogue. And so what about his own people? Paul could hope that in time the Jews would be jealous of the Gentiles availing themselves of God’s blessings and would, “assert their right to share in them.”
Paul’s success created a problem for the Jewish Christians. In chapter seventeen Bruce tells us that the demanding ethical standards of the church were seen to be in danger from the influx of morally lax Gentiles. Have you ever wondered why Peter stopped eating with Gentiles or why some Jewish Christians were so adamant about circumcision? Bruce clarifies the context and explains the probable reasons behind these wrong teachings and behaviours that could so undermine the gospel going out to the Gentiles.
I loved Bruce’s description of Paul’s time in Corinth in chapter twenty-three. He gives some fascinating historical context to the city and even goes into detail about the lives of Priscilla and Aquila. Have you ever wanted to know more about the teacher Apollos who had such devoted followers, who set themselves up as a rival personality cult to those who followed Paul? Bruce outlines all the problems Paul wrote to the Corinthians about and shows his steadfast commitment to the gospel and his loving attitude in the face of every challenge.
In chapter thirty-one we see Paul in custody in Caesarea and I appreciated Bruce’s fascinating background on Felix, the governor responsible for investigating the complaints made against Paul. He explains why it was that Felix was removed and replaced by the less sympathetic Festus and so then why Paul was left in a position where he felt that his only option was to appeal to Caesar. The way Bruce takes the Biblical text and brings in the historical context from the Ancient historians is simply wonderful. Did Paul hope to make it to Rome and share the gospel with the Emperor himself? In chapter thirty-seven Bruce tackles the arguments and the traditions and outlines the most likely course of events at the end of Paul’s life.
Thank you, FF Bruce. I am not sure that I will remember everything that I loved reading in your book, but I know that you have challenged me to know Paul better and so therefore to want to know Christ better.