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VINE VOICEon 18 October 2010
Did St Paul get Jesus Right? - The Gospel According to Paul
David Wenham

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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 2 December 2011
It has to be noted that the book is very short, at just over 150 pages. The basic question is that of the title of the book. The author begins by making more of a populist case than a scholarly one, by citing Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Myths) as representing the viewpoint which Wenham sets out to oppose. He does mention a couple of more serious writers in passing, though they are not mentioned again beyond the opening chapter.

Wenham starts his answer by looking at whether or not the documents we have are the most reliable sources for our information. In this, he stays close to the orthodox views of F.F. Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?. This orthodox theme runs through the book; so although Wenham claims he's trying to taking an impartial view, I couldn't escape the idea that his conclusions had already been reached and that the substance of the chapters was his filling out the pages.

He goes on to look at various issues, which are all pertinent. These include Paul's view on Jesus himself, ideas of apostleship, sex and the afterlife. One of the more interesting points is how little Paul directly refers to the teachings of Jesus. Though Wenham correctly points out that there may well have been a difference between Paul's letters and his preaching, I don't think the explanation that recalling Jesus' teaching was restricted to Paul's preaching which we don't have preserved, though reasonable, is not entirely convincing.

What I felt was lacking was a rigorous engagement with the views that Wenham sets out to oppose. I wouldn't quite say he was setting up a straw man; it was more a case of occasionally talking about a straw man that you couldn't examine in detail. What Wenham does present is very good and deserves serious consideration; if a writer were to put forward a case proposing that Paul was primarily responsible for the foundation of christianity, they would have to engage with Wenham's arguments and do a lot of work to cast doubt upon or refute them. Well worth a read, but it's left me wanting to read some other follow-ups.
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