The Paul Quest: The Renewed Search for the Jew of Tarsus, By Ben Witherington III
The Paul Quest
  • Length: 347 pages
  • Dimensions: 6 × 9 in
  • Published: October 22, 2001
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 2660
  • ISBN: 9780830826605

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  • A Christianity Today 1999 Book of the Year

Who was the real Paul?

Some of Paul's contemporaries seem to have asked the same question. For some he was Paul the tentmaker. For others he was Paul the heretic, Paul the peripatetic philosopher, Paul the would-be apostle, Paul the prophet, or Paul the founder of Christian communities and missionary hero.

For more than a decade there has been a renewed quest for the real Paul behind the Acts of the Apostles and the collection of Pauline letters. Although this quest has not gained the visibility of the renewed quest of the historical Jesus, it is a thriving enterprise joined by Protestant, Catholic and Jewish scholars as well as those interested in Paul as a figure of the first-century Greco-Roman world.

One of the great gains of this quest for the historical Paul has been a fresh encounter with Paul the Jew. The flood of new insight into Judaism of the first century has illuminated features of Paul that were previously obscured. A scholarly reacquaintance with the classical Roman world has filled in even more details.

In this book, Ben Witherington III examines and evaluates the various profiles of Paul that have been newly discovered or recently refurbished. We encounter Paul as an ancient Mediterranean personality and watch him operate in a social environment where honor, shame, patronage and corporate identity are daily considerations. We discover new dimensions of Paul's epistles as we observe him dictating letters and gauging his rhetoric. We enter into the field of controversy where Paul the apostle and prophet meets his opponents. We reconsider the nature of the human body and Christian community as we meet Paul the anthropologist and champion of woman and slave. Paul, the man of the big idea, shows himself to be in truth a storyteller and interpreter of Israel's holy history.

In and through all of these complexities, we discover Paul to be a consistent and coherent theologian and ethicist whose thinking reaches out across nearly two thousand years to engage men and women today. With The Paul Quest Witherington leads an exploratory tour and reappraisal of the historical Paul, a sweeping survey of the contemporary rediscovery of the Jew from Tarsus.

"Ben Witherington offers us an academically robust, illuminating, comprehensive yet admirably lucid portrait of Paul in the social, cultural and religious setting(s) of the eastern Mediterranean. A 'must' for all students of Paul."

Max Turner, London Bible College

"This discussion of Paul, his environment and Pauline scholarship bears the hallmarks of a flourishing textbook for undergraduate teaching in the years to come. It is comprehensive in scope, readable, full of historical insights and fair in its treatment of differing views."

Dr Thorsten Moritz, Cheltenham University College

"The past three decades witnessed a major series of incisive developments in Pauline studies—the man, his mission, his motivation and his message. Students and scholars alike can easily get lost in the plethora of contributions to this field: commentaries, monographs, essays and other studies. With remarkable breadth of learning and a vigorously lucid style, Ben Witherington III explores this complex terrain, maps out the landscape of an enormous field, and provides insight and direction to anyone interested in coming to a better understanding of Paul and the topography of his world and letters. Witherington deserves both congratulations and thanks for this fresh survey and fascinating guidebook."

Marion L. Soards, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

"This book is a welcome addition to Pauline literature that attempts to accurately discover the apostle's identity, and contributes to the scholarly understanding Paul's world. Ben Witherington convincingly presented the apostle Paul as an ancient Mediterranean person whose identiy needs to be reconstructed very differently from ours. The different aspects of Paul's identity were carefully argues and help modern readers get a sense of what type of person Paul was."

The Mourning Dove Caws (, July 21, 2009


1. On Constructing an Ancient Personality
2. The Trinity of Paul's Identity
3. Paul the Writer and Rhetor
4. Paul the Prophet an Apostle
5. Paul the Realist and Radical
6. Paul the Anthropologist and Advocate
7. Paul the Storyteller and Exegete
8. Paul the Ethicist and Theologian
Conclusion: A Portrait of Paul
Appendix: Timely Remarks on the Life of Paul
Index of Authors
Index of Subjects


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Ben Witherington III

Ben Witherington III (PhD, University of Durham) is a prominent evangelical scholar and Jean R. Amos Professor of New Testament for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington has written over forty books, including The Jesus Quest and The Paul Quest, both of which were selected as top biblical studies works by Christianity Today. His other works include The Indelible Image, Women and the Genesis of Christianity, The Gospel Code, A Week in the Life of Corinth, and commentaries on the entire New Testament. He also writes for many church and scholarly publications and is a frequent contributor to Patheos and Beliefnet.

Witherington is an elected member of the prestigious Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, a society dedicated to New Testament studies. He is a John Wesley Fellow for Life, a research fellow at Cambridge University, and a member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of Biblical Literature, Society for the Study of the New Testament, and the Institute for Biblical Research. He previously taught at institutions like Ashland Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

An ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and a popular lecturer, Witherington has presented seminars for churches, colleges, and biblical meetings around the world. He has led numerous study tours through the lands of the Bible and is known for bringing the text to life through incisive historical and cultural analysis. Along with many interviews on radio and television networks across the country, Witherington has been seen in programs such as 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline, and the Peter Jennings ABC special Jesus and Paul—The Word and the Witness.

Read Witherington's Patheos blog The Bible and Culture.