Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Illustrated Life of Paul by Charles Quarles is, as the title demonstrates, an account of the life of Paul with illustrations (mainly photographs) of the places he is associated with, maps to give one a picture of where he went, and photographs of archaeological finds from Paul's era.  For the most part, Quarles does a good job of sticking to the Biblical account, and I do not remember him questioning, or even hinting at doubting or questioning the Bible's accuracy in the least.

But I have a few issues with this book.  First, Quarles takes some liberties in imagining Paul's thoughts and feelings.  Here is an example of his imaginative pictures:  "Paul was happy to be back in Jerusalem.  He had lived in Jerusalem longer than any other place.  It still felt more like home to him than anywhere else.  His sister's family lived there (Acts 23:15).  He was thrilled to see her, her husband, and her children.  His nephew was practically a grown man now.  Where did the years go?  Paul wondered.  Paul had no regrets over the years he had invested in sharing the gospel around the world, but he did sometimes miss the joys of hearth and home, of watching his nieces and nephews grow, and of reminiscing with his sister about their childhood….when Paul looked into his sister's face, he still saw his father's eyes, and her smile was just like his mother's.  Looking into her face always brought back a flood of memories." He doesn't give these imaginative scenes a lot, normally he just gives a straightforward account along with historical details, he includes a bit of speculation, but doesn't paint imaginative scenes like the one above, but that just makes his ventures into imaginative 'pictures' of Paul even more out of place and embarrassing.

Second, and related to the above, the author makes statements in various places throughout the book that bothered me, speculating on why the Apostle's may have gone to such and such a city, or why they did such and such.  When he was speaking of Paul in Athens he was commenting on the strategic advantage of getting people in that city to see the credibility of the Gospel,  "If the gospel won acceptance in this intellectual center, it could no longer be dismissed as the fantasy of madmen.  Instead, Christianity would be recognized as a reasonable faith accepted by some of the world's most brilliant thinkers."  I really don't think that Paul's goal was to have the Gospel recognized as 'intellectually credible' by the brilliant thinkers of the day, rather I would assume, based on his writings that he would have expected the opposite,  "For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the discernment of the discerning will I bring to nought. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God's good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe. Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men."  (1Co 1:19-25)

And third, among the illustrations of the book is at least one nude statue of a man (the 'god' Hermes).  I don't need to know what the 'gods' of the day looked like, nor do I think that such illustrations are appropriate in a Christian book.  

Overall, I simply didn't 'love' the book, and I'm not exactly sure why.  Perhaps because one could simply pick up the Bible and read Acts and Paul's epistles to learn about his life?  I mean, technically speaking, it was Luke's biographical account of Paul that made it into the Bible, so who could really write a  better biographical account? I have absolutely no problem with people writing biographical accounts of Biblical characters as long as they make sure to have the Bible as the primary and most authoritative source of their information, and Quarles does a pretty good job.  it was okay and others may like it better. It does give interesting historical background information of the time.

 I really liked how Quarles ended the book, by encouraging a proper perspective of Paul as God's slave/servant, and that people should not admire the Apostle too much:, "Although those who study the life of the apostle cannot help but be moved by his faithfulness, inspired by his passion, and awed by his commitment they must not forget that Paul would blush, not with embarrassment but anger at such accolades.  To those who would deify him, he would retort, 'Men! Why are you doing these things?  We are men also, with the same nature as you' (Acts 14:15).  To those who would sing his praises, he would quickly reply, 'Was it Paul who was crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in Paul's name?" (1 Cor 1:13)….Although this book has attempted to help readers better know the mind and heart of the apostle Paul, Paul himself would insist that this was not the point….'For I didn't think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor 2:1-2)  Know him, Paul would say.  Know him….If knowing Paul stirs a yearning ot know the One for whom he suffered, the One whose name he proclaimed, the One for whom he died, then Paul lived and died well. (then he quotes Phil 1:20)."


Many thanks to B&H/Lifeway blog review program for sending me a complimentary review copy of this book (My review did not have to be favorable)!

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