Monday, June 24, 2024

God's Warrior

Frank Slaughter was a best-selling novelist and successful surgeon. His specialty was both medical thrillers, like Air Surgeon and Surgeon's Choice, but also Biblical historical novels based on the Old and New Testament's most iconic people. I recently read his 1962 Biblical novel David: Warrior and King and decided I would try another based on my love of the writings of Paul in the New Testament. He is one of the most cherished apostles in the Bible and he experienced a life of turmoil and abuse while teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Slaughter's novel God's Warrior is a fictional novel based upon historical records, Biblical scripture, and some guesswork on the part of the author to fill in some of the gaps left from the records. The book was published as a hardcover by Doubleday in 1967 and as a Pocket Book paperback a year later.

The author lays the book out beginning with Paul's young adult life in Book I, “Tarsus”, and his death in Book VII, “Rome”. In Tarsus, Saul (the early name for Paul) is working for his father as a tent and sail maker. He meets Joseph of Cyprus and the two strike up a friendship. Joseph invites Saul to a university to listen to a Greek stoic philosopher. This is an early indication that Saul is willing to go against the grain when it comes to his Jewish upbringing. He has an open mind and is willing to educate himself on the culture, philosophy, and religions of the area. Because of his determination, Saul convinces his father to allow him to go to Jerusalem to become educated. 

In Jerusalem, Saul is attempting to donate money to God at the local temple. In that time, there were different denominations of money. The money-handlers were there to switch the currency to the common medium exchange in the temple. As was often the case, the money-handlers stole money this way and Saul immediately sees the con and is quick to respond. It is this early indication that Saul's life will be an extremely difficult one. Constant turmoil and chaos was the life of Paul, the crusading apostle. 

In early conversations and letters from his friend Joseph (and later Luke), Saul learns of a man named Jesus that traveled through Israel spreading the message of salvation. Jesus stated he was the Messiah that was written about in the Hebrew scriptures (what we know today as the Old Testament) and that his coming meant that the Jewish customs and way of life had ended. Moses's Law was no more. Saul learns Jesus was crucified by the Romans (and Jews) at a place called Golgotha.  

When Saul's father becomes ill, he travels back to Tarsus and meets a young doctor named Luke. This strikes up an early friendship between the two that will dominate most of Saul's life. When Paul travels back to his teachings, he begins his own church teaching Jewish customs that are deeply rooted in the law of Moses (requiring sacrifices, strict code). When he learns in Damascus of a Christian movement, he begins losing members of his congregation to this new assembly of followers of Jesus Christ. Saul is summoned by the High Priest and assigned the role of Scribe of Sanhedrin and the re-enforcement that he should continue his Jewish teachings at the Synagogue of the Libertines. Saul's church stands in defiance of a new church of Christians led by Simon Peter, a man who knew and followed Jesus until his crucifixion on the cross. A man who was designated by Jesus to be the rock that the new church is built upon. 

Later, Saul begins working with the local government and High Priest in locating and discovering Christians and is paramount in their eventual execution. There is a chapter that shows the earliest Martyr, a Christian named Stephen, that is stoned to death for his beliefs. Saul is there and is an instrument in Stephen's martyrdom. On a road to Damascus, Saul encounters the Lord and is brought to his knees in disbelief. Jesus asks Saul why he is persecuting Christians. Saul is struck blind during the meeting and told by Jesus to arise and go into the city and he will be told what to do. In the city, he meet a weaver named Ananias who tells Saul she was instructed by the Lord to heal him. Saul immediately “sees the light” and is transformed into a follower of Christ when he becomes healed.

The second half of the book is Saul's transformation into Paul the Apostle and his crusades through the Middle-East, the Mediterranean, and parts of Asia. Often Paul clashes with Simon Peter, who is still hanging on to part of the Law of Moses despite being told by both Jesus and Paul that the old way is no more (my personal opinion on Simon developing Catholicism and their hybrid of Old and New Testament rituals). The two debate at what is known as the Incident at Antioch. 

Of course a bulk of the second half narrative is church-building, the planting of Christian churches through missionary work that was often condemned by the local authorities. Paul is often beaten, jailed, thrown out of town, and considered a criminal. His life in Corinth, the relationships with Priscilla and Aquila, and his travels around the region of Galatia and Phrgia are well documented here. The book's finale is the journey back to Jerusalem and Paul's long imprisonment there while consorting with Timothy and Luke to write down his testimony. His death came during Nero's reign and there is some mentions of Simon Peter being crucified upside down. 

If you love an epic adventure novel, then hands down God's Warrior is an absolute treasure. However, if you are Christian like myself that have read and studied Paul's scripture in the New Testament, then you will find Frank Slaughter's account meticulously align with the Bible. There is freedom here to expand upon the scriptures and to fill in the blanks to connect major pieces of history. In doing so, the author presents a grand epic of Paul's chaotic, but important role in developing the Christian church and ushering in Jesus Christ's message - God's grace saves, works don't. Unlike other religions that teach “what you can do for God”, Christianity's message is crystal clear - “what God did for you”. That message dominates God's Warrior as well as the New Testament teachings. But again, if you aren't a Biblical scholar or even a Christian, this is a fantastic adventure novel. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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