Recently I decided to wade out a bit into the deep and sometimes murky waters of scholastic literature. So far I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what I’ve found, believe it or not. Having begun a couple months back with N.T. Wright’s little book about the gnostic gospel of Judas, more recently I finished F.F. Bruce’s colossal work, Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free.
F.F. Bruce was the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester in England prior to his passing in 1990. I’d heard nothing but good things about his writings from various sources in the past, so I figured I’d give him a shot. Seeing that I have a particular interest in the historical context of first-century Christianity I was immediately drawn to Bruce’s work on Paul, which, according to the preface, was developed from lectures given over the course of eighteen years as part of the syllabus for the Honors School of Biblical Studies entitled, “The Missionary Career of Paul in its Historical Setting.” In Bruce’s own words:
I have not attempted to expound Paul’s teaching systematically but rather to treat its main themes in their historical context, as Paul himself had occasion to develop them in his letters.
Perhaps my expectations were set too high going into the opening chapters, because at first I wasn’t impressed. The writing was good, the information solid, and the presentation fluid enough, but it took some time for me to really get into it. In fact, I shelved the book for a number of weeks before returning to finish it out of a sense of obligation to complete what I’d begun. Fortunately I did come back, because about mid-way through the book really began to pick up steam. It was probably about the time of Paul’s first visit to Corinth where I began to stumble upon one gold mine after another of valuable information, and from there on out every chapter was littered with the insightful gems of Bruce’s scholarly research.
Should you decide to read this book for yourself, though, let me forewarn you: Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free is very long. 474 pages long, to be exact. Yet it was well worth the investment of time and attention in my case, and I trust it will be for you as well.