Albert Bell sees this book as beginning while he was yet in high school. At some point, he says, he made the connection that the authors he read in his Latin class "lived in the same world as the people who wrote the books I studied on Sunday." Now as an instructor at Hope college in Holland, MI, Bell asks the question of how we can believe something that we simply do not understand. Will we be like the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8.26-40 who asked, " How can I (understand) unless someone guides me?"
As an illustration of what he means, Bell says he once heard a minister tell the story of Paul's imprisonment in Rome. In his story, the minister told of clanking chains and a foul-smelling dungeon. But in ancient Rome, the law was that prisons were for holding people for trial and not for punishment. More accurately, Paul as under house arrest. He was chained during moves but even in Rome he was allowed to by himself in his own hired dwelling with a guard.
There are ten major sections to Bell's book ranging from the Judaic background of the NT to Roman law, religion, and philosophy to Greco-Roman society and morality to a section on time, distance, and travel. In the section on Roman Law, Bell covers Pliny the Younger, the powers of Roman governors, and so on. in the section on Greco-Roman religion Bell notes the story of Vespasian's healing of the blind man; such stories succeeded, says Bell, because "the popular mentality of the time accepted such things happening"
I heartily endorse the study of non-canonical writings in order to study the cultural milieu of a text. Time and again Bell guides the reader through the world in which the writers of the New Testament wrote.