Irving L. Brittle, Jr., Saint Paul: The Right Man at the Right Time (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2014), 190 Pps., $13.95.
Irving L. Brittle Jr. is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and has an MBA from Averett College. While making an effort to read and understand the Bible, Brittle encountered Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and found a new research project. This title was written to get a comprehensive biographical sketch of Saint Paul, one that includes his early life, his life as a Pharisee, his direct contact with Jesus Christ on the Damascus road, his conversion from the Torah-based Judaism of Rabbinic career, and his God-given mission as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
He describes Paul’s life as a serendipitous journey from his “Road to Damascus” encounter with the Holy Spirit to his final years in Rome. He claims that next to Jesus Christ, St. Paul can arguably be the most important personage in the Bible. He is responsible for “putting Christianity on the map.” Chapter 1 of this text discusses Brittle’s experience of attempting to study the Bible daily. This is where he had his “Road to Damascus” moment. He started reading the Bible, and was doing just fine until he got to the Book of Acts authored by St. Luke, and ran head first into Paul. He thereafter found himself purchasing books on the life and theology of Paul; simple, easy to read books at first, and later books, essays, and historical articles that really stretched his understanding, theology, and imagination.
From this experience, Brittle learned that Paul is a prime example of someone who influenced history through actions, character, and writings. He was the most significant missionary in the history of the Christian Church. He brought to the missionary task an intense, driving personality with a commitment to, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His writings provide a portrait of a warm-hearted pastor, insightful theologian, and passionate evangelist. His relationships with his churches alternated between supportive love and strong but compassionate rebuke. Paul’s love for his converts shines in each of his letters. His will could be unyielding under pressure, and he was not easily discouraged. Paul also had unusual physical stamina, as he was stoned in Lystra and dragged from the city, left for dead (Acts14: 19-20). His ability to withstand a variety of rigorous experiences testifies to his resilience and durability.
Chapter 2 discusses the Roman Empire in the time of Paul. It notes that while the Jewish people in Palestine resented Roman occupation, Paul and the early Christians benefited from the Empire because of its initial Roman tolerance for Christianity trumped the Jewish leaders’ persecution, because Roman infrastructure aided early Christians that allowed them to travel the Roman world quickly and without hindrance, and because the Roman peace (Pax Romana) was maintained between 27 B.C. and A.D. 180. The third chapter explores the decadence of pagan religion and uneasiness about salvation experienced by them. This chapter is very brief, and frankly should have been expanded.
Chapter 4 explicates the history and locale of the city of Tarsus, noting that Tarsus is on the river Tarsus, and is today a city of sixty thousand inhabitants on the southeast coast of southern Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. Brittle herein recounts its eventful past. For example, he notes that over the course of the second millennium B.C. it was the capital of the Hittite state of Kizzuwantna; in 698 B.C. it was captured by the king of Assyria, Sennacherib; Alexander the Great stayed there in 333 B.C.; and Cicero, as governor of Roman Cilicia, resided in Tarsus in 50 B.C. The fifth chapter discusses the most famous person from Tarsus: the Jew whom we know by the name of Paul, the Apostle to the gentiles. He was born during the reign of Caesar Augustus between A.D. 6 and 10 A.D., and received the name of Sh’aul, a name that means “desired” in Hebrew. Being a Roman citizen, he was registered in the archives of one of the Roman “tribes”, a division of the state, in the capital far away on the banks of the Tiber River. Saul therefore was known by two given names: Sh’aul among the Jews and Paulos among the Gentiles. Chapter 6 explores the road and destiny at Damascus (ca. A.D. 32). It notes that from his writings, we know that Paul, before his transformation was a zealous persecutor of Christian Jews. It recounts how the apparition of the risen Savior completely changed the life of Paul of Tarsus. Saul the Pharisee became Paul the Nazarene.
The seventh chapter discusses the role of Paul in the spread of Christianity as presented within Acts, from chapter 13 through chapter 28. He notes that the second half of Acts focuses on two features which are in contrast with the opening twelve chapters: Luke presents the missionary ministry of Paul during his three separate missionary trips, and Luke gives special attention to the rippling effects of the gospel in the large cities of the gentile world and finally in Rome itself. Chapter 8 pointedly covers the ministry of Paul in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, as well as his return to Antioch, which all constitute part of his first missionary journey. Chapter 9 discusses Paul’s first canonical letter – Galatians. The tenth chapter delineates more fully Paul’s second missionary journey. Chapter 11 discusses Paul’s third missionary journey. Chapter 12 explains how at the end of his third missionary journey, Paul was preoccupied with a collection for the Jerusalem Christians. It notes that he dealt with the collection in every epistle written during this period – Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, and Romans, with the most extensive treatment of the subject being that of 2 Corinthians.
Chapter 13 covers Paul’s epistle to the Romans more fully. He notes therein that the purpose of Paul’s letter to the Romans believers can be summarized as follows: 1). To enlist the cooperation and support of the Church of Rome for the inauguration of his missionary campaign in the West; 2). To enlist the prayer support of the Roman Christians for his forthcoming venture at Jerusalem; 3). To add validity to the existence by instructing them in the faith through his epistle; and 4). To deposit a compendium of theological truth, and the capital city of the empire was the natural place for him to do so. After Paul’s extended ministry in Ephesus (Acts 20:31), chapter 14 explains, Paul began his journey back to Jerusalem. Chapter 15 recounts Paul’s voyage to Rome (Acts 27:1—28:16), and the sixteenth chapter describes Paul’s witness in Rome.
The seventeenth chapter discusses Paul’s captivity epistles, which Brittle lists as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. During the time of the writing of these four letters, Paul refers to himself as a prisoner. While some people refer to these writings as the “prison epistles,” Paul was not in an actual prison as much as he was in detention at a local home. Chapter 18 more fully delineates the Pastoral epistles. Chapter 19 covers the apostle’s death: it notes that most modern scholars think he died as a martyr during the reign of Nero in A.D. 68. Moreover, according to Catholic tradition, Peter and Paul were imprisoned at the traditional site of the Mamertine Prison at the Roman forum and both died in martyrdom at the hands of the Romans.
In sum, Brittle uses direct quotes (which are footnoted) from some of the books referenced and frankly “cherry picked” information that he thought gave the best explanation and interpretation to the story and biography of St. Paul. Overall, this book is what one would expect from a self-published, little-researched title. I am disappointed with it.
Bradford McCall, Holy Apostles College and Seminary
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