(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The task of writing an account of Paul carries with it a number of challenges. The primary biblical sources, Paul’s own letters and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, do not always agree on important details. Even with Paul’s own letters, scholars debate which are authentic and which were written by subsequent generations. Likewise, there is the question of what information to include from second and third century “apocryphal” works. Then there is always the question of what liberties to take with the gaps in Paul’s life and which details to add from what modern historians, archaeologists, and social scientists have learned about the first century Greco-Roman world.

Walter Wangerin, Jr., addresses some of these issues by writing a fictional account of Paul’s life with multiple storytellers. The main perspectives come from Timothy and Prisca, who give their impressions in thirty-two of the book’s ninety-nine chapters. Others, such as James and Barnabas with nine chapters each and Titus with four chapters, play a less prominent role because they are limited to certain periods in Paul’s life. Rhoda gives voice to only one short chapter as a character borrowed from Peter’s story to depict Paul’s impact on Jerusalem’s younger generation. The character Jude appears in only six early chapters to fill out the scanty details about Paul’s Damascus road experience. Among these imaginary reflections by biblical characters, Wangerin intersperses twelve chapters by Luke, simply recounting, word for word, the story of Acts. Similarly, five chapters convey the very words of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, Galatians, and Corinthians (with the latter divided into shorter fragments according current scholarly views).

Taking a cue from second century apocryphal letters, Wangerin includes eight carefully positioned chapters that describe key movements in the life of the contemporary Stoic philosopher and playwright Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger). While never mentioned in the biblical text, Seneca provides an appropriate comparison and contrast to the character and career of Paul; both were martyred under Roman...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Bornkamm, Günther. Paul. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1995. The previous generation’s best-known fictional biography of Paul, originally written in German.

Dunn, James. Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006. Based primarily on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Dunn reconstructs his theology and thoughts on God, humankind, sin, Christology, salvation, the Church, and the Christian life.

Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. Paul: A Critical Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. An account of Paul’s life based primarily on information gathered from the letters themselves rather than from the Acts of the Apostles. Includes contextual information from numerous first century sources.

Roetzel, Calvin J. The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998. Treats each letter’s possible dating, situation, and literary structure. Includes arguments for dividing later letters from authentic letters of Paul.

Stendahl, Krister. Paul Among Jews and Gentiles. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1977. A series of essays based on careful word study that shows Paul’s primary goal, to incorporate Gentiles into the family of God.

Wright, N. T. Paul in Fresh Perspective. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2006. Part 1 focuses on themes of creation and covenant, Messiah and apocalyptic, Gospel and empire. Part 2 deals with structures such as rethinking God, reworking God’s people, and reimagining God’s future.