I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had been rediscovering an old love for early church history. A few short years after I’d become a Christian, I enrolled in extension classes at our church in Houston, and ended up taking courses in Old Testament History, New Testament History, and Bible Study Methods.
It was in the New Testament Survey course that our teacher (one of the church pastors and a full-fledged professor) mentioned some of the 19th century scholars who had had such an influence on our understanding of church history, including the German Adolf von Harnack on the “new” or “higher” criticism side and Sir William Ramsay on the traditional side. I found Ramsey to be of interest for two reasons – he had set out to undertake field research to prove the New Testament wrong, but became a convinced Christian as a result. And several of his books had been reprinted in the early 1970s in paperback, and were accessible through Christian Book Distributors.
Reading Ramsey’s works is to take a journey to New Testament times. History came very much alive with his words and narrative style. His style is not unlike that of John Pollock, author of The Apostle: A Life of Paul.
In addition to this biography of Paul, Pollock has written biographies of Hudson Taylor, William Wilberforce, and John Wesley. He’s also the author of The Master: A Life of Christ and is Billy Graham’s official biographer.
First published in 1969, The Apostle was revised and republished in 2012. While it has the narrative style of a novel, it is not that at all. It reads like a wonderful story, or series of stories based on the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters as well as extensive research into this period of Roman and early Christian history.
What I also like is that where Pollock speculates because the sources are silent, he tells the reader that it’s speculation, even if well founded and well reasoned.
In Pollock’s hands, Paul comes alive, a man of flesh and blood who was completely overwhelmed and changed forever on the road to Damascus, a man who knew what he had been called to do, and who experienced everything from physical and emotional torment to wonderful joy. And the reader gets to join Paul as he is secretly removed from Damascus, walk the streets of Ephesus and Corinth, experienced the storm and shipwreck on Malta, and eventually find himself in Rome.
And the biography has depth, providing details on references to Paul being bowlegged (and why) to how imperial politics and the death of the Emperor Claudius affected Paul’s activities in Ephesus. The reader is also a first-hand observer of Paul writing his letters, who was there, what the immediate context was, and so much more.
Pollock tells a wonderful story, and he tells it well.