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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid introduction to St Paul's thinking
In this short book E. P. Sanders provides a lucid account of St Paul’s theology. Paul’s life was a dramatic one: having been a Pharisee who had persecuted Christians he underwent a dramatic conversion in which he felt himself called to be Christ’s apostle to the Gentiles. This brought him into conflict with those Jewish Christians who believed that...
Published on 14 Jan 2004 by Julian Gardiner

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Paul VSI
It's very short, but not without weight. That's for that - I have needed to have a pile of short books to get me into the subject
Published 17 months ago by Ms Valerie E Stewart


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50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid introduction to St Paul's thinking, 14 Jan 2004
By 
Julian Gardiner (Cambridge, England) - See all my reviews
In this short book E. P. Sanders provides a lucid account of St Paul’s theology. Paul’s life was a dramatic one: having been a Pharisee who had persecuted Christians he underwent a dramatic conversion in which he felt himself called to be Christ’s apostle to the Gentiles. This brought him into conflict with those Jewish Christians who believed that Jesus’s message was for the Jews only. Sanders explores Paul’s thought as it is developed in the letters he wrote (the New Testament books of Romans, Corinthians, Galatians etc). Paul emerges as a passionate and inspired theologian, above all a practical theologian. He was not concerned with theology as a dry academic discipline but with solving the problems of the young churches which he had helped to set up. (Should Christians be circumcised? Did salvation from Christ exempt Christians from the law? Is speaking in tongues more important than charity?) The tensions, and occasional contradictions, that Sanders highlights in Paul’s thinking reveal a depth and creativity that later Christian thinkers who have strived harder for consistency often lack. This is an excellent introduction to one of the most remarkable and influential figures in the history of Christianity.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Quick Read, 26 Aug 2012
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This is a great book if you are new to Christology, especially Justification through Faith and the Augustinian or Lutheran Post Reformation View of St. Paul and the pre-conversion Paul. The book is easy to read and understand and well laid out. Highly recommend this book if you wish to acquire a little knowledge but do not want anything too in-depth.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise & fascinating, 20 Sep 2012
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S. Meadows (UK) - See all my reviews
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Sanders begins by looking at the person and character of Paul, contrasting the different sides of him as seen through Acts and through Paul's own writings. From this platform, he begins to look at Paul's theology, with a look at belief in resurrection and Jesus' return. This is a fairly brief overview, possibly too brief.

From here, he moves onto the theological background in which Paul was writing. The two main themes here are monotheism and providence. He touches on the issue of predestination and free will, noting that Paul and his contemporaries did not think of them as mutually exclusive, thus circumventing the debates that have ranged since the issue was emphasised during the Reformation.

Sanders then goes into some detail on the book of Galatians. Here, he tries to wrest back the idea of `righteousness by faith' from Luther, who Sanders thinks didn't grasp the issue properly. This section is intensely fascinating, though quite dense.

From here, his focus switches predominantly to the book of Romans, contrasting the different audiences that Paul was writing to and his imperative for doing so. Here, he does get quite technical and nuanced but it is well worth reading through it with due care.

Although the book may be called "A Very Short Introduction" one should not be fooled into thinking this means "a very simple introduction." There is some meaty theology in here, along with discussions on Greek grammar and some fairly detailed reasoning. But don't let that put you off. His writing style is very accessible and he makes a good job of explaining the difficulties involved, especially on the difficulties of translating Greek to English.

Sanders then moves on to how Paul viewed behaviour. Here, Sanders' own views come to the fore, somewhat. I found him to be surprisingly conservative, advocating a puritanical and ascetic interpretation of Paul. Of course, such a view is not wholly unwarranted but it is also not necessarily the whole picture. Sanders does try to wriggle in a little liberalism into his argument by stating that Paul's traditionalist Jewish approach to personal morality was moderated in instances where he was confronted with pastoral issues and forced to think about the matter.

The book ends with Sanders looking at Romans 9-11 and the salvation of Israel. Here, he highlights how Paul's emphasis changes and swings from one position to another within the space of a few chapters. Paul's view on who would and who wouldn't be saved are touched on, though much of the discussion on this has already taken place. The book ends quite abruptly without any kind of overarching conclusion. Instead, Sanders leaves us with a few questions about whether it is right to try to "systemise" Paul since his thinking was that of "an apostle, an ad hoc theologian, a proclaimer, a charismatic who saw visions and spoke in tongues - and a religious genius."

There is much food for thought in this little book. Nonetheless, it is a good introduction, particularly for someone wanting an overview on the New Perspective movement.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Accessible overview of a complex, contradictory figure, 22 July 2013
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Jeremy Bevan (West Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
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Ed Sanders has been a leading advocate of the so-called `new perspective' on the apostle Paul for decades, so was a great choice to pen this accessible little volume in the `Very Short Introduction' series. He covers a lot of ground in 150 pages, and Paul emerges from his survey as a complex, even contradictory figure. One cannot, the author concludes, derive from the apostle's letters a consistent doctrine of the nature of Christ, nor a straightforward view of what the Jewish law was for.

As you'd expect from a scholar who has long argued that Paul's Jewish context is fundamental to understanding him, Sanders is particularly good at drawing out the Jewish basis of many of Paul's ethical exhortations to the churches. But he also makes much of the way that the idea of `becoming one with' or `incorporation into' Christ was also fundamental, particularly in Romans and Galatians, and led Paul to adapt some of his cherished Jewish ideals. The Pauline notion of participation in Christ also supplants, for Sanders, judicial models of understanding how Christ saves - models which have, he argues, exerted an influence out of all proportion to the use the apostle makes of them.

Fine as Sanders's book is, it's not without some limitations. The bibliography is now quite old, and the book doesn't even allude to a couple of debates that have been reshaping ideas about Paul for a while. One of these is about what `faith' means in Paul's letters (belief on the part of the believer, or faithfulness on the part of God or Jesus - both are possible translations of the Greek `pistis'); the other about how Paul's rhetorical strategies modify our understanding of his aims in Romans and Galatians. These two letters are increasingly understood as dealing not so much with universal categories for a universal audience (sin -v- law, Jews -v- Christians) as with specific issues for a non-Jewish audience. Important as these debates are, though, I don't think Sanders's fine little book is likely to be redundant any time soon as a clear and straightforward introduction to the apostle.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very good., 8 Mar 2010
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Davidmcneive - See all my reviews
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This is a very good book. perhaps not good for someone with absolutely no knowledge of the topic.so may be its not great as an introduction. but a very enjoyable read.his other book in search of the historical jesus is also very good.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sound, 21 May 2014
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My second Sanders book on Paul. Not as polemic as the other and soundly based. General reading and recommendable for beginners.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Paul's thinking placed in its intellectual and historical context, 14 Mar 2014
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This is a clear critical survey of the evidence, placing Paul in his historical setting and giving convincing emphasis to his Jewish heritage. The early chapters are an easy read but from chapter 4 onwards rewards close reading. Like a number of other "A Very Short Introduction" books, it can't be skimmed but requires study.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and thought-provoking, 24 Oct 2013
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I came to this book with a reasonable knowledge of the New Testament but wanting to know more of the man who wrote so much of it: to understand the grand themes and doctrines that saturate his writing. E.P. Sanders succeeds magnificently. Short this book may be, but it isn't superficial. He has a way of explaining the truths Paul preached and yet providing challenging insights into them. I learnt to see passages and concepts in new ways; and through it all Paul's over-arching mission to be the apostle to the gentiles, who were going to be brought into God's promise ('righteoused' as Sanders puts it) by faith. The author shows us the evident and surprising tensions between Paul and Peter, based in the Jerusalem church. Sanders looks in depth at the books of Romans and Galatians, exploring in detail Paul's developing teaching about righteousness and faith. The author also examines Paul's theology, his relationship to the law and his teaching about Christ's return and the resurrection.
This Very Short Introduction may have only 150 pages but I learned a lot, especially how to look at familiar pages with fresh eyes. If you want a concise guide to Paul and the writings which have done so much to shape the church through the centuries, you could do no better than this.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading on Paul, 23 Jun 2013
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J. Mann - See all my reviews
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The thought of Paul is one of those areas where you can get lost in a sea of commentary. The "New Perspective on Paul" promoted by Tom Wright and James Dunn was hugely influenced by EP Sanders, the author of this book.

I was surprised to not see any references to Wright or Dunn in this book - but then realised it was written in 1991 and only made into a "Very Short Introduction" in 2001, however having tried reading Wright and Dunn I feel this book is much clearer. For some reason although both Dunn and Wright can be very readable, and cover a lot of interesting topics, I never find them able to get to the point and make clear what it is they are trying to say, something this book does very well.

Sanders makes Paul very clear - and Paul is a very difficult thinker to make sense of.

One of the very clever things Sanders does is to explain that Paul doesn't always express himself particularly clearly. Paul is writing letters - and just as we might if we were writing a letter he develops his thought as he goes along. Sometimes that means he gets to a point that he didn't realise he was going to - and has to back track and re-direct his argument. This means he can contradict himself, and we just have to accept that. However through Sanders we can also see where Paul wanted to get to, and why in some ways it doesn't matter too much if he takes more than one way to get there.

There are three important points to take away from this book.

First - Paul isn't concerned with "good works" meriting our salvation. This has often been how he is read, particularly by Luther - and ignores the many passages in which Paul clearly links "good works" with salvation. When Paul is writing about "the law" he is addressing whether Gentiles have to be Jewish, not whether believers have to perform good works.

Second - Paul engages with Gentiles without really looking at his own cultural-Jewish assumptions. This is a fascinating topic. Paul's central claim is that Gentiles don't have to be Jewish to be saved - so they don't have to keep the Jewish law. In some areas Paul and his Gentile believers are agreed on what they don't have to do: no circumcision, Sabbath keeping or food-laws. In some areas Paul and his Gentile believers are agreed in what you do have to do: no stealing, lying or murder, care for others, be loving.

But there were areas that a Jew thought was totally wrong - idolatry and certain sexual behaviours - where they couldn't agree - for the Gentiles they couldn't see anything wrong, and for Paul such behaviour was just obviously wrong, but he couldn't condemn it on the ground of it being prohibited by the Jewish law as he had agreed the Gentiles weren't under the law. Did the Gentiles understand the implications of Paul's theology better than he understood it himself?

Sanders shows that in these borderline cases Paul sometimes appeared able to engage in some discussion - for example eating meat sacrificed to idols - and it is possible that if the discussion had gone on Paul may have changed his views still further. There certainly appears to be a gap between Paul's theology and his teachings in this area.

Finally there is the gap between Paul's view of God in control of everything, and how humans are responsible for their own behaviour. This leads again to some apparently contradictory statements - both that all will be saved and that those who don't accept Jesus will be destroyed. For Sanders, Paul isn't enough of a theologian to be able to make all these statements easily agree with each other, however there is a strong sense that while Paul is able to repeat his Jewish expectation of God's judgement on unbelievers, he is also more convinced that what God had done in Jesus would triumph over all opposition, leading ultimately to the salvation of all.

It is amazing how much Sanders is able to pack into this little book - for anyone who wants to make sense of the New Testament, I would say this is essential reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A readable introduction to a complex character., 18 April 2013
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This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Kindle Edition)
A concise read giving useable insights to a very important and intriguing character, a good starting point for further exploration of this most important disciple of Christianity.
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