Did St Paul get Jesus Right? - The Gospel According to Paul
The last few years have seen the increasing `power' and appreciation of Philip Pullman's writing including his recent title, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Pullman argues that while Jesus was a great moral teacher, St Paul corrupted his message by 'imagining' his divinity. This is not a new argument, by any means. Many have called St Paul 'the founder of Christianity'. David Wenham's new book reasons against such a notion.
In an age of increasing biblical illiteracy, Pullman's claims are likely to be met with less resistance than they might have previously. In his own words, he describes the book as part novel, part history, and part fairy tale, so this new resource by a respected New Testament authority will help people untangle what scholars know about Jesus and Paul from the 'imaginations' of Mr Pullman himself. This theory has found its way into academia, churches, newspapers, and, most recently, novels. Comparing the life and message of Jesus with the writings of St. Paul, Wenham offers a pacey, thoughtful and insightful exploration of their relationship, concluding that far from imagining Christianity, Paul was the messenger of an inherited faith.
Wenham's particular pleasure in making the Bible intelligible and exciting is palpable. This debunking of the popular myth of St. Paul as the founder of Christianity produced by a respected biblical authority is attractively produced and delivered excellently by Lion Hudson. A wonderful and stretching read. Top class!
on 28 April 2011
David Wenham has written three books on this theme: 'Paul: founder of Christianity or follower of Jesus' (1995); 'Paul and Jesus: the true story' (2002); and this one. Although there is, inevitably, some overlap in the argument, they are all well worth reading, and this one, as the latest, summarises his case excellently. The excellent first review of Johnny Douglas gets it spot on. Wenham despatches the conspiracy theorists through an extensive examination of the evidence, showing very clearly the extent to which St. Paul's preaching derived from his knowledge of what Christ had done and said. He, rightly, reminds us that the letters are directed to certain congregations for certain ends, which means that they deal with certain themes; that does not mean they contain the whole of Paul's teaching, or that what is not included in them but is in the Gospels was unknown to Paul. Those who wish to continue to argue that St. Paul somehow perverted the Gospel message had better avoid Wenham.
The book, like his others, in beautifully-written and very accessible.
on 10 August 2015
Having never got beyond Scripture Lessons at school this book is a goldmine of theological learning for me. It is written with the clarity of say ... Richard Dawkins of The Selfish Gene. Dawkins also wrote The God Delusion which Wenham demonstrates is deluded, as is Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
Two things I particularly like about Did St Paul Get Jesus Right?
1. If Revd. Dr. David Wenham, Senior Tutor in New Testament at Trinity College, Bristol, is a left-wing liberal he doesn't show it. He leaves politics out of his sermon, unlike the tiresome left-wing bigot who is rector of my local CofE. No champagne socialist makes sneering asides at "big business", "consumerism" and "multinationals" in this book.
2. The author is intellectually honest. He presents a compelling case that St Paul did in fact get Jesus right. But Wenham gives the other side of the argument a fair run. I was not familiar with the reasons some critics think St Paul invented fundamental parts of Christianity but I soon learnt about it as the author deals with each claim one by one.
on 4 August 2011
David Wenham makes a convincing case about how well Paul understood Jesus and he does point out indications in Paul's letters that show Paul was aware of Jesus' teaching even if he rarely explicitly refers to them. His main aim is to discredit conspiracy theories (made popular by the likes of Dan Brown) that Paul invented the idea of a divine Jesus and he does this admirably. Where he is less convincing is when looking at the two men's outlook on Gentiles. Wenham just does not go into much detail about Jesus' own view (mostly dismissing it as saying Jesus said little on the subject bar not seeming to follow the Law slavishly), ignoring controversial areas like Jesus' reluctance to aid the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.
Furthermore, although he does provide good evidence that the New Testament is largely accurate regarding historical and geographical details, he doesn't make any mention that the gospels disagree with one another on certain issues, and are not in any way objective making the New Testament a flawed source. There are also some suspect assertions made, for instance he states that the Pharisees were a small sect in Judaism and similar to the religious extremists of today. That is just not true. The Pharisaic tradition was on the rise during the First Century and the Pharisees were much more moderate in their interpretation of the Law than the Sadducees or Essenes. The author also is very dismissive in his language when he refers to what he dubs the "new atheist" scholars and to a lesser extent Muslim scholars.
The book is an easy, entertaining read and does make a very strong case. Just do not make it the only book you read on the subject as the author is far from unbiased.