Book Review: Lars Kierspel, Charts on the Life, Letters and Theology of Paul

Kierspel, Lars. Charts on the Life, Letters and Theology of Paul. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2012. 284 pages, pb. $26.99. Link to Kregel.

Kregel has recently revived the idea of a “chart book with their “Charts of the Bible and Theology” Series. I reviewed Herb Bateman’s Charts for the Study of Hebrews earlier this year.  Lar Kierspel (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) contributes a collection of charts for Pauline studies. As with most books of this type, some charts are more useful than others, but my overall impression is that this is a useful book for teaching the Pauline letters.

KierspelThe first 8 charts (13 pages) are concerned with background material, including the history and structure of the Roman empire. Chart 6 (Paul’s Greco-Roman Background) lists a number of words / concepts in the Pauline letters that resonate with Greco-Roman philosophy, ethics, and culture. The material presented here is good, but sometimes not tied as closely to the Pauline letters as they could be. For example, there is a nice chart summarizing Greco-Roman philosophy, but this might be improved by indicating the Pauline ideas that are like / unlike these broad categories. Perhaps a chart tied to a book could have presented this material differently, such as Magic in Ephesus.

The second set of 24 charts (38 pages) cover Paul’s life. This section deal with chronology and attempts to blend Acts and the Pauline letters. Some of these are long lists (all the men in Paul’s letters, for example). A six-page chart collects all the verses in Paul’s letters describing his opponents (with descriptive phrases in bold text). Chart 32 collects opinions on why Luke finished Acts without reporting Paul’s death, chart 33 collects traditions concerning Paul’s trip into Spain, and chart 34 collects 6 texts reporting Paul’s martyrdom (1 Clement 55 through Lactantius).

The largest section of the collection concerns the Letters of Paul. There are 42 charts covering all of the Pauline letters, including a “snapshot” for each book. In most cases this “snapshot” is a single page offering information on audience, occasion, opponents, structure, purpose, and any special features unique to the book. While these single pages connect the letters to the book of Acts, there is no specific date given for the book. Remarkably there is no chart offering various schemes for dates of the letters. Chart 77 collects a number of problem texts in the Pauline letters and offers extremely brief summaries of suggested solutions. I thought any one of these would make a decent chart. For example, the problem of “all Israel will be saved” in Romans 11:26 has five views suggested. By adding a list of scholars supporting each view, this would make a nice single-page chart.

I personally found the charts on quotations and allusions in the Pauline letters very useful (charts 45-52). All of this data is drawn from Nestle-Aland 27 so there is nothing new here, but students who do not own the NA27 will find the chart helpful.  I am not completely convinced that all of the allusions to intertestamental literal are valid. At best these are all potential allusions, but this is a problem with the NA27 list, not Kierspel.

The fourth section covers Pauline theology. In general these follow the usual loci for theology, often simply listing words with texts. For example, chart 90 has three pages of “eschatological concepts,” a list of terms like destruction, resurrection or reward, with the Greek words and a few texts. There are several pages of virtues and vices which are laid out in the same fashion. There are a few special charts on the gifts of the Spirit (chart 93) and Elders (chart 94) that are more detailed.  There is a single chart on the New Perspective on Paul, this ought to be read along with the page of explanation in the back of the book.

There are a few charts that are interesting, but I doubt their usefulness. For example, chart 42 contains two useful charts listing the number of words in each Pauline letter alone with the number of hapax legomena (“spoken once,” words used only once in the New Testament). The first chart gives the percentage of total words in each book that are hapax, and the second the percentage of total vocabulary that are hapax. This is interesting and useful. But the next three pages list all 601 words which are hapax in the Pauline letters. While I did stare and these pages for a few minutes, I am not sure of the usefulness of this information.

As with other books in this series, Kierspel has a paragraph on text explaining each chart in the final section. This 44-page section is important to read since it is here that he gives bibliography for the data he includes. In some cases these are mini-introductions to controversial topics (like Pauline chronology, for example).  The book has an extensive 31 page bibliography.

Conclusion. Like other books in this series, there a staggering amount of information presented in these charts. While I question the usefulness of some of the charts for classroom use, the book is a worth while investment for those who teach the Pauline letters in church or classroom.

Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.