Last September in my review of Adam W. Miller’s 1946 edition of An Introduction to the New Testament I mentioned over the years I’d acquired several old books from book sales hosted by a small local religious college. One of those old books gathering dust in my personal library is Boyce W. Blackwelder’s Toward Understanding Paul. While not as old as Miller’s above mentioned book, nevertheless it was published in 1961, and to me that makes it an old book. With Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible sitting by my bed begging me to finally read it I figured now was as good a time as any to read an old book or two about the Bible. So one night I pulled Blackwelder’s book off the shelf and began reading it. After reading about half of it I grew bored set it aside. But a few weeks later I picked it back up and finished it in only a few sittings.
Toward Understanding Paul is short book, weighing in at just over 130 pages. I’m guessing it was written as college text, probably for introductory courses on the New Testament. Toward Understanding Paul at its heart is theologically conservative, probably evangelical. Therefore, Blackwelder stands firm on his belief Paul wrote all the epistles attributed to him, and was inspired by God as he wrote them. But it’s also important to note, according to Blackwelder Paul never considered his letters scripture. In the first century AD what Jews and early Christians called scripture was the Hebrew Bible. Only years later, would Paul’s letters, plus the Gospels, Acts and Revelation be treated as scripture by the early Church.
To those who are skeptical of Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus, preferring to believe that Paul experienced some sort of natural phenomenon like an epileptic seizure or fit of sunstroke, Blackwelder, firm in his faith points out it’s rare for such non supernatural experiences to bring out change that’s so permanent and profound.
He also believes Paul was eventually released from prison (more like house arrest) and embarked on yet another missionary journey, probably to Spain. Later, he was arrested and executed during the reign of Nero. Even though these events aren’t specifically mentioned in the New Testament.
With a number of these kind of old books in my personal library, you’ll probably see more books like Toward Understanding Paul featured on my blog. Plus, some of you might remember last year I posted a link to Tara Isabela Burton’s outstanding and thought-provoking Atlantic article “Study Theology Even If You Don’t Believe in God.” Inspired by her article I hope to read more books on religion and related subjects. And when I do, you’ll read about it here.