Nearly two thousand years after Paul’s death, books about the apostle continue to proliferate at an astonishing rate. Where does one begin exploring the life of the most important person (aside from Jesus) in the history of the church?

Reference Points

Aside from the New Testament itself, the place to begin is F.F. Bruce’s now classic Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Eerdmans, 1977)—the most readable and engaging biography of Paul. A classic from a previous era that still gives insights is William Ramsay’s St. Paul, the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (18th ed., 1935).

Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid have edited the definitive reference on Paul’s writings in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (InterVarsity, 1993). Though mostly about Paul’s thought, it contains enough history to justify a recommendation!

In addition, any one of the many Bible dictionaries on the market are a gold mine of information on Paul and his times.

Exploring the Era

We live in the best of times in terms of books about Paul’s times. Specialized studies on nearly every aspect of first-century life are now available. A few I like are these:

Everett Ferguson’s Backgrounds of Early Christianity, second edition (Eerdmans, 1993) is perhaps the most accessible and thorough overview of the era, covering history, religion, and culture.

Joachim Jeremias’s detailed Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus: An Investigation into Economic and Social Conditions during the New Testament Period (Fortress, 1969) rewards the patient reader with numerous insights into the city and culture in which Paul was raised.

Westminster Press has recently (1986) published an 8-volume Library of Early Christianity (Wayne Meeks, general editor) that explores various aspects of ...

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