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Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul, reviewed

August 9, 2013

Charts on Paul

I’ve written a good deal about Paul since starting this blog last summer. I have been particularly fascinated by his use of the Old Testament, an interest that really grew through a great class I took last fall: Use of the Old Testament in the New, taught by Dr. Roy E. Ciampa.

Lars Kierspel has contributed a volume on Paul to the Kregel Charts of the Bible series. (I reviewed Hebrews in that series here.) “Given the nature of the apostle’s life and letters,” Kierspel writes, “This book is not for the lazy reader.” The charts, even though they are perhaps easier to grasp visually than prose text, “demand every ounce of intellectual and creative energy to avoid consuming them as biographical and theological fragments.”

As with the Hebrews volume, the charts in Paul are of varying lengths. Some are a single page (#42, “Formal Structural Components of Paul’s Letters”) while others are several pages long (#54, “Key Words in Romans” and #71, “Similarities between the Pastoral Epistles”). All contain additional information in the “Chart Comments” section at the back of the book, which is more than 40 pages. (It’s this section that helps the charts pack a much more powerful punch than one might expect.)

The book has four parts:

A. Paul’s Background and Context
B. Paul’s Life and Ministry
C. Paul’s Letters
D. Paul’s Theological Concepts

The book begins well with a chart on “Roman Emperors Before and During Paul’s Life and Ministry.” The comments section notes, “While Paul might not have seen any of the Roman emperors in person, the chart shows that their decisions and ideas impacted the apostle’s ministry both positively and negatively.” His chart #7 on “First-Century Judaisms: Different Groups” rightly suggests that during Paul’s time, there was not one monolithic Judaism, but rather multiple Judaisms, though they did share “common characteristics” (chart #8) like monotheism, circumcision, etc.

Kierspel gives at least a “Snapshot” chart for every one of Paul’s letters. This makes it a great reference for preachers going through a book of Paul’s, as I recently did with Galatians. Chart #77 has a list of “Key Texts and Their Interpretations” (which is really not a chart so much as it is prose text) that surveys all of Paul’s letters in three pages. When preaching on the fruit of the Spirit recently, I found Kierspel’s “Vices” and “Virtues” charts (which used both English and Greek) to be particularly helpful.

The author is balanced in addressing disputed issues in Paul, such as authorship of various letters, or Paul’s view on women in ministry. So his chart #19 (“Paul’s Coworkers”) and #104 (“Women: Equal and Subordinate to Men”) and #105 (“Women in Ministry”) highlight various viewpoints and where the reader can go to research more. The 32-page bibliography at the back of the book is impressive, though there are (probably inevitably) some omissions (Stendahl, for example).

Here’s a sample chart:

chart 173

And here is a comments section, from the back of the book:

Comments Chart 4

As with the Hebrews charts book, there is no accompanying CD-ROM or digital content. This felt like a missing piece. For a teacher to make use of a chart in class, she or he would have to copy from the book or scan it in to project on a screen. It ought not to be too difficult for future printings/editions to come so equipped. A professor could circumvent this issue and just require the whole book for each student in a given course, which would make sense for an introductory course on Paul.

There were a few formatting errors sprinkled throughout the book. Also, for a “charts” book, it’s pretty text-heavy. But I didn’t find that made it any less valuable a reference for me.

One would benefit by reading the charts book straight through, as it serves as a good introductory overview to Paul’s ministry, writings, and theology. But it also serves well (and perhaps better) as a reference tool that students, pastors, and professors all will appreciate having. Kierspel makes information and insight on Paul easy to access and digest. This one is now on my short list of initial references for study of Paul.

Kregel sent me a copy of the book for review. Its product page is here, and it’s on Amazon here. The Table of Contents (which lists all the included charts) is here (pdf); read an excerpt here (pdf).

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