Most books are meant to be read from start to finish. Others are works of reference. Kregel Publications has delivered to us one of those rare books that is both. The classic work of William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen edited by Mark Wilson was re-released by Kregel in 2001. This modern edition complements the original text with color, charts, indexes, and maps.
There are few authors that match the intellectual genius of the late Oxford professor of Archeology, Sir William Ramsay (1851-1939). In his book St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen, Ramsay unpacks the life of Paul in meticulous detail. Ramsay begins his great work with the following introduction,
The aim of our work is to treat its subject as a department of history and literature. Christianity was not merely a religion but also a system of life and action; and its introduction by Paul amid the society of the Roman Empire produced changes of momentous consequence, which the historian must study.
When you open up this book to read – make sure your Bible is close by. As I read it I began to understand how rich the biblical text really is, especially the writings of Luke. The details that he gives, or in some cases leaves out, tells us much about the life of Paul and the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. The book is laid out to follow the chronological life of Paul through the text of the book of Acts and his own letters.
One of my favorite sections of the book gives a clear and plausible understanding of Luke’s usage of the names Saul and Paul to describe the man who met Jesus on the road to Damascus. I won’t spoil the excitement of discovery – you will have to read it for yourself.
The chapter titled The Apostolic Council was most informative. Ramsay describes in great detail with razor sharp distinctions the events leading up to the Jerusalem Council and how the account in Acts 15 is enlightened by Paul’s writing in Galatians 2. Ramsay’s meticulous interaction with the biblical text produces a grand story of how the events unfolded.
The magnificent work of Ramsay has answered many critics of Doctor Luke and the accuracy of his writings. Once a skeptic himself, Ramsay writes this,
Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy…this author should be placed along with the very greatest historians.
If you are looking for a book that reads like a fast paced novel, this is not it. I was only able to read a few pages at each sitting for two reasons. One, I’m a slow reader. Two, the detail and depth Ramsay packs into each sentence is quite astonishing. If you use this book as only a reference you will certainly be rewarded. But if you also take the time to plow through it, it will change the way you look and understand the text of Scripture. A seminary professor of mine would often refer to books of high importance that any serious student of the Bible and Christianity should read. My friend and nicknamed those books, the uninformed-until-you-read-list. St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen is one of those books.