Biblical Archaeology Review 10:4, July/August 1984

Books in Brief

The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul

Wayne A. Meeks (Yale University Press: New Haven, Connecticut, 1983) 299 pp., $19.95

What was it like to be or become an ordinary Christian in the first century? This is the question Wayne Meeks asks within his stimulating and provocative study. His goal is to identify “The Social World of the Apostle Paul,” as the subtitle indicates. What emerges is an impressive social history of Pauline Christianity with a fresh approach.

The term “social world” derives, of course, from the social sciences. Meeks presents himself as an eclectic, however; in this book, he combines sociological theory and methods with more traditional historical methods. An historian by training, he has become quite sophisticated in his understanding of sociology. Indeed, he has emerged as the leading proponent in New Testament studies for the use of social science methods. His leadership in this area of research began with his seminal essay on theology and social identity in the Gospel of John (“The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 [1972], pp. 44–72) and continued with his serving as co-chairman of the Society of Biblical Literature seminar on “The Social World of Early Christianity.” The present work therefore represents the culmination of several years of research in this area. The result is a balanced, exacting analysis that is true both to the data and to the various methodological perspectives that the author brings to his work.

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