Sunday, December 14, 2014

December Classic, F.F. Bruce's 'Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free'

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there the heart is set free” 2 Corinthians 3:17

When your friend asks you to read 500 pages on Paul and write about it, you could be forgiven for feeling a little daunted. I have to admit that I usually find it easier to devour a novel than a serious (and seriously long) Christian book. But I was very pleasantly surprised. I am enjoying reading Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, and I can’t wait until I have time to pick it up again and see what insights Bruce has for me.

In the introduction Bruce explains that he is writing to “share with others something of the rich reward” that he himself has reaped from his study of Paul.  Among the characteristics of Paul that he lists to demonstrate why it is indeed so rewarding is “the attractive warmth of his personality”. I was a little taken aback at first. That’s not exactly how I think of Paul. I don’t think I usually see him as a warm person. But then I don’t think that I have ever really taken the time to think enough about Paul as a person, what he achieved, what he really sacrificed and how remarkable he was. The rich reward that I have reaped in my reading of Bruce so far is a better understanding of the historical context that Paul was born into. For me that is tremendously beneficial in thinking about who Paul was and so then listening to what he had to say with a more receptive heart.

Chapters 1 and 2 outline the rise of the Roman Empire and how the Jews came to be under Roman rule at the time of the New Testament. Bruce clearly and succinctly explains how it came to pass that Jesus and also Paul were born and lived under the authority of Rome. He explains why despite being allowed by Rome to administer their own religious establishment, many Jews took issue with Roman rule, particularly with double taxation and the lack of empathy of the wealthy Sanhedrin. I am enjoying this book so much because the clear explanation of the historical context of the events that are recorded in the Bible deepens my understanding of the people Jesus and Paul were talking to. I can more clearly see why there was a longing for a political messiah who would get rid of the Romans, and understand Jesus’ criticisms of the religious leaders. And I had long wondered about the History of Jewish dispersion. This is not dry or boring history because it fleshes out the details and makes the Bible come alive.

In the next three chapters Bruce goes on to outline Paul’s personal background. He deals with the city of Tarsus, Roman citizenship and answers the question “What kind of Pharisee was Paul?” And he really won me over when he quoted from one of my favourite Shakespeare plays Antony and Cleopatra. Antony and Cleopatra’s celebrated meeting was in Tarsus.

This is an engaging and well-written book that is deepening my understanding of the world that Jesus and Paul lived in, and therefore deepening my longing to listen to them and to live with a heart that has been set free.

About our contributor:

Rachael Collins is a Jane Austen fan who often finds it amusing that she is married to Mr Collins who is indeed  a minister. She is an English/ History teacher who has taken a break from teaching in order to devote more time to reading children's literature. Her three children are the happy beneficiaries of this decision. Rachael enjoys gardening, drinking tea, baking without sugar and sorting her wardrobe according to colour.  She loves reading novels and biographies, but when asked by a very old friend to tackle a 500 page Christian classic, she was wildly enthusiastic and only mildly daunted.    

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