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The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon [Paperback]

Marcus J. Borg , John Dominic Crossan
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 May 2009
In this exciting follow-up to The Last Week and The First Christmas, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan once again use the best of biblical and historical scholarship to present a new understanding of early Christianity - this time rescuing the apostle Paul from the church. For many, Paul has become a conservative icon whose letters have been used to justify systems of oppression - for example, endorsing slavery and subordinating women. But what if some of these views were imposed on Paul by the early church in an attempt to transform his drastically egalitarian views into something more 'acceptable'? True to form, these highly respected authors turn the common perception of Paul on its head, and reveal him as a radical follower of Jesus whose core message is still relevant today.

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The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon + The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem + The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach Us About Jesus's Birth
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Product details

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: SPCK Publishing (21 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0281061580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0281061587
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.6 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 394,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Paul is one of the most controversial figures in Christian history--and one of the most misunderstood. . . . Many will be thrilled with this fresh, erudite portrait of the man."--Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Professor Marcus J. Borg is the author of many books, including Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Heart of Christianity. Professor Emeritus John Dominic Crossan is the author of several best-selling books, including God and Empire and The Historical Jesus.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting a taste for Marmite ? 31 Oct 2009
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
The apostle Paul: Marmite man. It seems you either love him or loathe him, find him appealing or appalling. Defender of slavery, and a man with dodgy views on women; or the great exponent of faith in Christ and its outworking through grace. In this lively and accessible book, John Dominic Crossan (a Catholic) and Marcus Borg (a Lutheran), show us a different Paul. A Paul who, if you read the New Testament letter to Philemon carefully, had revolutionary views on slavery; who, in a good way, stressed a thoroughly Jewish, and rather mystical, `being in Christ' as the key motivation for Christian communities to live lives of loyalty to the Lord, rather than to the Roman Empire; and who preached a Christ whose death was first and foremost about God's self-offering in love, rather than about punishment or sacrifice for sin.

Lots to reflect on here, then, about what Paul might have meant `back then' - and certainly enough to make a `Paul sceptic' thoughtful about how the apostle could still be deeply relevant today. Not a perfect book, though - the authors need to explain a bit more clearly why they think Paul didn't write some of the New Testament letters that bear his name; and say more about how their account of Christ's death and resurrection bring about `new life in Christ'. Read it with care, then - but enjoy nevertheless the cohesive, persuasive, and even rather winsome portrait that emerges. Definitely worth dipping into this particular Marmite pot afresh...
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This brings Paul to life 29 Aug 2009
By Tina
As a relative newcomer to theology reading, I was very pleased with this book. It is laid out in a logical order and points are explained clearly. It starts by covering which of Paul's letters are generally considered to have been actually written by Paul, which are thought not to have been written by him, and which are questioned. The authors then go on to analyse parts of Paul's letters in detail, taking into consideration the times at which the letters were written and the places where Paul would likely have been when he wrote them. As a reader, you need to keep referring to the Bible as you progress through the book. The authors offer different ways for interpreting Paul's words, and they discuss the matters which Paul might have considered to be most important. Finally, they consider what might have happened to Paul at the end of his life.

Borg & Crossan are described in many places as liberal theologians, and their views might not fit with everybody's understanding of the Bible. However, they do not insist that any one interpretation of Paul is correct. This could have been a dry and boring read, but for me it wasn't; it brought Paul to life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Radically New Perspective on Paul 19 Dec 2010
Forget about the New Perspective on Paul (NPP). Here comes the Radically New Perspective on Paul. From the people who gave us the sound bite "Jesus was something of a party animal", no less. In other words: enter the Jesus Seminar!

Unfortunately, "The First Paul" is something of a disappointment. I expected it to be a historical-critical study of Paul. The first part of the book is. The second part, however, reads more like a theological treatise, expounding the particular religious viewpoints of the two authors, who turn out to deny substitutionary atonement, physical resurrection and justification by faith alone. No surprise there.

In the first part, the authors point out (correctly) that the historical figure Paul of Tarsus wasn't conservative, patriarchal, pro-slavery or pro-Roman. The message of the genuine Pauline epistles is surprisingly radical: Paul demands that Philemon sets his slave Onesimus free, he supports equality between men and women in both family, church and apostolate, and the whole notion of Jesus being "Lord" or "the Son of God" was subversive in an empire where the emperors were hailed as Lords, Sons of God, etc. Augustus was even called "Very God of Very God", "Redeemer", and so on! Later, this radicalism was muted in the deutero-Pauline epistles, and turned into its reactionary opposite in the Pastorals. In plain English: the church slowly but steadfastly adapted itself to the hierarchies of the empire which Paul had criticized. However, as they were doing it, phoney epistles were penned in Paul's name to justify the changes! The radical visionary was turned into a harmless, conservative icon.

The second part of the book, as already noted, contain Borg's and Crossan's private theological musings.
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5.0 out of 5 stars for mum 12 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
i bought this for my mum as i have a copy and love it. she was reading it and was so impressed with the historical and old testament background it gave to explain the new testament stories. if you want an anti imperial Paul who approves of women read this
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Marcus Borg peels back the centuries of accumulated assumptions about what Paul was saying. We so often read Paul through the eyes of Augustine, Anselm and Luthor, Calvin, and Barth, and fail to see how a construction has been structured more on the shape of the overlays than the foundations.
In this book we are drawn back into the world of Paul, to explore the meanings of his words within his contexts rather than the contexts of 4th, 11th and 16th century paradigms, and Paul suddenly comes to life, not as an obscure convoluted theologian but a direct and radical challenge to the powers of injustice, oppression and might that dominated his century.
Although intrinsically soteriological, Paul is portrayed as an ardent advocate of ecclesia rather than preoccupied with individualistic salvation.
It is an entertaining bit of theological interpretation, very readable.
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