For eighteen years as Rylands Professor of New Testament Exegesis in the University of Manchester, F. F. Bruce delivered lectures on “The Missionary Career of Paul in its Historical Setting.” This book is the fruit of those lectures. Paul’s missionary activity is portrayed against the background of historical, social and political developments in the Roman Empire of the first century, and Paul’s letters are studied within the context of his life and travels. Within this framework chapters dealing with aspects of Paul’s theology are interspersed at relevant points.
Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit is F. F. Bruce’s classic meditation on the life and theology of Paul. Here, Bruce expounds on Paul’s teaching not systematically but rather by treating its main themes in their historical context, as Paul himself had occasion to develop them in his lectures.
“Marcion probably, and Paul certainly, knew the love of Christ to be the all-compelling power in life. Where love is the compelling power, there is no sense of strain or conflict or bondage in doing what is right: the man or woman who is compelled by Jesus’ love and empowered by his Spirit does the will of God from the heart. For (as Paul could say from experience) ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there the heart is free’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).” (Page 21)
“According to the geographer Strabo, writing probably in the early years of the first century A.D., the people of Tarsus were avid in the pursuit of culture. They applied themselves to the study of philosophy, the liberal arts and ‘the whole round of learning in general’—the whole ‘encyclopaedia’—so much so that Tarsus in this respect at least surpassed even Athens and Alexandria, whose schools were frequented more by visitors than by their own citizens. Tarsus, in short, was what we might call a university city.” (Pages 34–35)
“Paul’s letters are our primary source for his life and work; they are, indeed, a primary source for our knowledge of the beginnings of Christianity, for they are the earliest datable Christian documents, the most important of them having been written between eighteen and thirty years after the death of Jesus. Some writers have no doubt used the letter-form to conceal their true thoughts; Paul’s transparent honesty was incompatible with any such artificiality.” (Page 16)
“These rights and privileges included a fair public trial for a citizen accused of any crime, exemption from certain ignominious forms of punishment, and protection against summary execution. To none of these privileges could a non-citizen subject of Rome lay legal claim.” (Page 39)
The outcome is a very readable and well-ordered volume which combines a biographical sketch of Paul, an introduction to his writings and an outline of his theology in one integrated whole.
Clarity, profundity, good documentation and common sense abound… has flashes of insight or erudition on practically every page.
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