The front cover of this book (published by Authentic, 2013) has a snippet of an endorsement that states, “The best thing on Paul written for non-academics I have ever read.” I agree, although I can’t list a whole lot of other books on Paul written for non-academics, to be honest.
Gempf is engaging and witty, his style draws you in and keeps you hooked. His concern is that Paul has gotten a bad rap and so people judge him without knowing him. I don’t have a negative view of Paul at all, but by the end of this book I liked him and his letters even more than when I started.
This book is like a crash course in hermeneutics, but a genuinely enjoyable course . . . the kind taught by a master teacher who so captures your attention that you don’t realise it is a course in hermeneutics. Each chapter builds on what has gone before and Gempf seems to enjoy a Paul-like rhetorical conversation with his readers.
His method is to select three epistles and work with each one for a few chapters. He starts with Galatians, then moves onto 1 Corinthians. He contrasts the two. Different audiences, different letters. A church in need of 1 Corinthians could be harmed by a slap-dash misapplication of Galatians, and vice versa. I loved the letter to the Galatians from the other side – a helpful feature of a section that gives a clear sense of the danger churches today face in respect to the Law and Christian spirituality.
Throughout the author is convincing the reader of the importance of understanding what it meant back then before pondering what it might mean for us today. A wonderful dose of healthy hermeneutical teaching in a book that reads more like a good novel or biography than a biblical studies text book.
After Galatians and 1 Corinthians, I did put the book down. Busy schedule and a family Christmas. And, to be honest, I thought Philemon might be a weak end to a great book. I was wrong. Philemon was a great place to add another set of dimensions to Paul and his apostolic writing.
This is a great book for new Christians and long-term preachers alike. Maybe you went to Bible school and have preached through Paul’s letters many times. I still think you should read this book. It is refreshing and it will stir your appreciation for the epistles again.
Perhaps your Christmas presents were wonderful, but lacked a gripping book. Why not buy yourself a late gift. In fact, buy two or three because you will be thinking of people to whom you must give a copy. Thanks Conrad, a wonderful book!
To order this book in the UK, click here.