Westminster Seminary California
Book Review: Paul Missionary of Jesus by Paul Barnett
Book Review: Paul Missionary of Jesus by Paul Barnett

Paul Barnett, Paul: Missionary of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). 240pp. $18.00. Paper.

Some might find Paul difficult, but it seems even harder to sift through the many books about him.  A student wanting to begin study on the Apostle is overwhelmed by the mountain of scholarship.  Who dares to start with the 2 volume 1200+ pages by Farrar in 1879?  There are numerous introductory and biographical volumes, with more being written all the time.  One that stands out among the various works which seeks to put together a host of issues and topics into an approachable book is Paul: Missionary of Jesus, by Paul Barnett.  This is an excellent book that introduces numerous topics and important debates without overwhelming and bogging down the reader.

As the title suggests, Dr. Barnett’s main objective is to address the question of whether or not Paul should be considered a true missionary of Jesus.  As a preliminary statement, Barnett hails the work of historians who showed that “there is no wall between Jesus and Paul” (22).  Thus, the book draws upon one element of unity, the continuity between the mission of Jesus and the mission of Paul. 

He begins with the first four chapters giving the reader an introduction to Paul the man and his early life and education; and while not being a biography, he continues to work diachronically through Paul’s life with the methodology of a historian.  Each chapter works through a period of Paul’s life and mission, and as a great benefit to students Barnett seamlessly addresses issues of scholarly debate along the way.  For example, while exploring the Damascus Event in Chapter 5, Barnett addresses two main inquiries, first where did Paul get his theology, and second was Paul ‘called’ or ‘converted,’ as originally asked by Krister Stendhal.  Throughout the book Barnett works smoothly through the issues while giving plenty of evidence for readers to easily follow along.  He concludes this chapter by saying that “the core elements of Paul’s doctrines” (75) were derived from the Damascus event and not from himself or from other people, and that “the Damascus event represented a complete relational and moral turnabout.” 

There is really only one disappointing aspect to this book worth mentioning.  While it is acknowledged that Barnett sought to stick to hard evidence and engage a wide audience, it seems problematic to find the Holy Spirit absent.  While the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Paul’s writings close to 150 times, Barnett does not discuss the Spirit except for a couple of times.  And in Appendix C he describes the Spirit’s work on Paul with, “there was a paranormal (nonrational) aspect to Paul’s life” and “he was subject to paranormal experiences and prophetic guidance” (213, 214).  One would like to see the role of the Holy Spirit taken more seriously and granted greater length.

Despite this critique this book is highly recommended both as an introductory work on Paul and the scholarly debates and as a strong voice in the market of opinions on Paul.

Reviewed by

Chris Stevens

MDiv Student