October 15th, 2008
Walker, Peter. In the Steps of Paul: An Illustrated Guide to the Apostle’s Life and Journeys. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008. 214pp. Hardback, $19.99.
Peter Walker studied early church history at Cambridge University and has done extensive post-doctoral research on Christian attitudes toward Jerusalem. He has written a sort of “prequel” to this book titled, In the Steps of Jesus upon which he says he assumes knowledge of that information and he therefore “deliberately passes over” that information in this volume (11).
Summary of In the Steps of Paul
The author takes us on a chronological journey of the life of Paul beginning with his “Damascus Road experience” and ending in Rome. However, before he begins with the life of Paul, he presents a very helpful overview of Paul’s ministry including a map of his travels and a table including the date and location of the letters Paul wrote. While it is easy to skim this introductory section, it would be to your advantage to become familiar with it as you will be referencing it as you read the book.
Beginning with Damascus, the author then proceeds to give some much needed background info on what made Paul who he was. Chapter two takes us to Tarsus where Paul was raised and then to Antioch where Paul was commissioned to be a missionary to the Gentiles. After these first three chapters, we then proceed chronologically to the various stopping points that are known from the book of Acts and the letters of Paul with the ultimate stopping point being Rome.
Highlights of In the Steps of Paul
Unlike other books I have reviewed, this one deserves a special section given the style of the book. This could easily be used as a text book in a high school or even a Bible college in a course on the life of Paul. Because of that, I would like to highlight some of what I am calling the special features.
First, each chapter begins with the Biblical context of why the particular city is essential to the study. After the verses there is some explanation as to what these mean regarding the story and context of Paul in general. Walker offers insight into what formed the man and what gave him his zeal for spreading the message he came to believe in with his whole being.
After that brief introduction and explanation, Walker spends quite a bit of time dealing with apparent questions that we are left with by the text and offers speculations as to what there answers could be. He then shows how each “stop” in Paul’s travels helped him to grow in his ministry. Finally, there is a section on what each city looks like today.
Just about every single page has a color picture or a table of some sort that really helps with the visualization of where Paul was and what he did. Also included on many pages are quotes from various classical pieces of literature dealing with the particular city in that chapter. All of these combine to give the reader an excellent feel for what Paul experienced as he travelled the known world spreading the gospel.
Critique of In the Steps of Paul
It is obvious that Peter Walker is well versed in the classics and the way the world operated in the 1st century. His passion for understanding this rich time in the history of the world is evident in his writing. He writes with a knowledge of the Bible lands in antiquity that is not matched by very many. To be on tour, as it were, while reading this book was quite a joy and should be taken advantage of.
However, I felt there was one glaring issue with the concept of this book; i.e., the academic view that is held by the author regarding the text of the Scriptures. It felt as though Walker was simply using the text of the Bible as a map (which he certainly needed to do for this book) rather than approaching the Bible as the Word of God. It was more like he fell in love with the Middle East and decided to use the Bible as a means to further his love of the region.
Because of this, one does not get the feel that the author holds as high a view of Scripture as say an inerrantist. He does say, “The view adopted here is that all this first-century evidence is to be highly valued and respected” (17). He states this immediately after the sentence, “There continues, of course, to be scholarly debate about the authenticity of some of the Paul’s letters and also about the reliability of Luke’s account in Acts” (emphasis mine, 17). This is very problematic for me as a seminary student, as a minister, and as a Christian in general.
This book would be a wonderful help to someone wanting to study more in depth the life of Paul. I cannot help but think how this book would be a great companion to something like F.F. Bruce’s book, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free.
While I would recommend this book, I would do so with caution. If it were not for the above criticism, I would recommend it to all. However, because I do hold to such an inerrantist view of Scripture, and the author seemingly does not do so, I feel I must be careful. If the person wanting to read this book were a discerning reader, then this book would be an excellent resource for his or her library.