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The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon Paperback – 21 May 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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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: 13.7 x 1.7 x 20.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 128,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"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

From the Back Cover

Bestselling authors of The Last Week and The First Christmas, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan join once again to present a new understanding of early Christianity--this time to reveal a radical Paul who has been suppressed by the church.

Paul is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the birth of Christianity, and yet he continues to be controversial, even among Christians. How could the letters of Paul be used both to inspire radical grace and to endorse systems of oppression--condoning slavery, subordinating women, condemning homosexual behavior? Borg and Crossan use the best of biblical and historical scholarship to explain the reasons for Paul's mixed reputation and reveal to us what scholars have known for decades: that the later letters of Paul were created by the early church to dilute Paul's egalitarian message and transform him into something more "acceptable." They argue there are actually "Three Pauls" in the New Testament: "The Radical Paul" (of the seven genuine letters), "The Conservative Paul" (of the three disputed epistles), and "The Reactionary Paul" (of the three inauthentic letters). By closely examining this progression of Paul's letters--from the authentic to the inauthentic--the authors show how the apostle was slowly but steadily "deradicalized" to fit Roman social norms in regards to slavery, patriarchy, and patronage. In truth, Paul was an appealing apostle of Jesus whose vision of life "in Christ"--one of his favored phrases--is remarkably faithful to the message of Jesus himself.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
First in proper deference to the authors for obviously an intense amount of research and labor, I acknowledge the scope of their writings to be a commendable task. I must say, I had looked forward to reading this book for perhaps a fresh view of the great apostle Paul, and was somewhat disappointed. The book appears to pit the apostle against the Roman-Greco empire as if that was what the gospel was all about, to replace the rule of Caesar and his kingdom with the rule of Christ and his kingdom. I think we must recall that Jesus said, "my kingdom is not of this world".

To me, it was not a battle between Roman theology and Christian theology, it was a matter of the introduction of the good news to all the world whether Rome was the ruling power or not. The kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of came with power on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God entered those early believers, for Jesus had said regarding the kingdom that "it is within you". That fact continued to be confirmed in all believers from that time forward. I might add the fruits of the kingdom should reflect itself to the outside world and I think it has in a multitude of ways in a multitude of countries.

I was a bit disappointed in the "twists and turns" over how many Pauls there were, referring to the epistles bearing his name. I don't think this will set well with most believers, they might prefer to interpret his statements about specific things elaborated on in different epistles in different ways to be based on both the circumstances of the times and the emphasis necessary for the moment.
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