THE WORLD OF ST PAUL
by Joseph M. Callewaert
trans Michael J. Miller
(Ignatius Press, 2011, 201pp, $33.90, ISBN: 978-1-58617-412-5. Available from Freedom Publishing)
The Apostle Paul has had a profound impact on Christianity.
Not only did he compose a number of letters that form a significant portion of the New Testament, but his writings are also often at the heart of many doctrinal disputes between Christians.
Joseph Callewaert, who was born in Belgium, educated in France but now resides in the USA, provides a fascinating overview of St Paul's life and ministry.
Callewaert's study is essentially a biography of St Paul.
He begins with a survey of Jewish communities outside of Judaea early in the first century AD - St Paul himself was born into such a community at Tarsus.
He reconstructs St Paul's early life, which involved studying under the greatest teachers of the Law in Jerusalem, while the bulk of the book follows the account of St Paul's life and ministry as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Of course, Callewaert examines St Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.
The rest of the narrative explores the three missionary journeys, his arrest in Jerusalem and journey to Rome.
The last section of the biography utilises some non-Biblical sources in reconstructing a final journey and St Paul's martyrdom.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his study is the way in which the author situates St Paul's life and the places he visited in his journeys in their socio-historical context.
Callewaert displays an excellent knowledge of ancient history and society, and provides detailed and fascinating insights into Greco-Roman history and culture.
In his analysis, Callewaert adopts a conservative approach to biblical interpretation, reflected in his acceptance of the account of St Paul's ministry as recorded in the Book of Acts.
Similarly, while acknowledging that some scholars argue that certain of the Pauline epistles were written by St Paul's disciples, Callewaert argues for St Paul's authorship on the basis of it being the constant tradition of the Church.
Although the work makes some reference to St Paul's theology, a detailed analysis of it is not attempted.
The World of St Paul is an easy to read introduction to the life and ministry of St Paul, one of the most influential figures in the history of the Church.
And Callewaert brings to this biography a meticulous understanding of the socio-historical background of the first century Roman Empire and its cities.