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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A concise intrepretation of Paul's motives and message.
A very readable summary of Paul, based on Paul's letters in the New Testament. Not as hostile to Paul as other biographies, which place more of an emphasis on a claimed perversion and ignorance of Jesus's message by Paul. Still, it does devote some space to the conflict of ideas between the Jerusalum Apostles (mainly Peter) and Paul. It is more of an exposition of...
Published on September 19, 1998

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A realistic portrait of Paul.
Sanders' clearly written book shows us that Paul, to pave his new way, is in a world of competition, energy, doubt, and violence. Paul has too many targets and too many different backgrounds to cope with. He has to speak a different language to each group of listeners and invent answers to solve awkward questions previously unaddressed. Paul also evolves, contradicts...
Published on July 25, 2011 by Chris Albert Wells


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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A concise intrepretation of Paul's motives and message., September 19, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Paul (Past Masters) (Paperback)
A very readable summary of Paul, based on Paul's letters in the New Testament. Not as hostile to Paul as other biographies, which place more of an emphasis on a claimed perversion and ignorance of Jesus's message by Paul. Still, it does devote some space to the conflict of ideas between the Jerusalum Apostles (mainly Peter) and Paul. It is more of an exposition of Paul's theology, and more briefly, of Jewish theology, and a very good one. Among other topics, deals with justification by faith, and how Paul reconciles (or tries to) why the law is not a vehicle for justification / salvation when God was the originator of the law (Torah). If you are familiar with the New Testament, it may lead you to some fresh insights, and if not, it is an excellent introduction to it.
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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good short introduction, September 24, 2001
This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
This little volume is a reissue of Ed Sanders's book on Paul in Oxford's "Past Masters" series. It's held up well.
Sanders, the author of several highly acclaimed works on Palestinian Judaism and of two absolutely magisterial works on the historical Jesus, here presents a highly condensed and accessible summary of Paul's thought. The reader should be aware that Sanders (a) locates Paul within the Judaism of his time and (b) has what most Christians (I'm not Christian myself) would call an extremely "liberal" approach to New Testament interpretation.
The book is already so short that summarizing it will require preternatural brevity. But here goes: for Sanders, Paul has an answer (Jesus's death and resurrection) to which he doesn't know the question, and his writings are an attempt not only to pass along the answer but to figure out just what that question is.
This little book is a nice introduction both to Sanders's thought on Paul and, for that matter, to Sanders himself. He's a master of expository prose style, reasonable almost to a fault, and a genuinely towering figure in modern New Testament scholarship; if you find that you like him, you'll want to check out his other books. I especially recommend _Jesus and Judaism_, _The Historical Figure of Jesus_, and _Studying the Synoptic Gospels_ (which he co-wrote with his wife, Margaret Davies -- who, incidentally, is the daughter of famed New Testament scholar W.D. Davies).
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Scholar, Easy Read, November 3, 2005
This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Great Scholar, Easy Read do not always go hand in hand. It is difficult to recommend some books to people, because you are not sure if they will be able to stay with it due to the heavy technical language, but E P Sanders has written a great book that will familiarize someone with the gist of Paul's thought, and he has done so in a very readable style.

I cannot say that you will agree with every conclusion that he comes to, especially if you are hyper conservative when it comes to Scripture, but you will leave the book with the right questions that one should be asking about some of the difficult issues in Paul's writing.

Sanders deals with Paul's working out living in the Spirit and being in Christ against keeping the Law. The strength of Sanders is that he has such a thorough knowledge of the Judaism of Paul's day. He brings out many of the challenges that Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles had to deal in light of his thorough Jewishness.

What I found most interesting in this book was Sanders view on Romans 7, and Paul's views on sexuality. Sanders allows that Paul wrote Galatians earlier than Romans and by so he sees Romans as being more fully developed than Galatians. Sanders allows that Paul's theology developed and was modified over time as Paul had to deal with various issues about what it meant to be in Christ and be a Gentile and how the Law of the Jews relate to this new position.

This book deals with being "righteoused by faith" in Romans and Galatians. It deals with the resurrection of the dead which is very interesting chapter that many folks would benefit from reading.

The section on behavior deals with the Greco-Roman worlds view of sexuality versus the Jewish view of sexuality. Sanders shows Paul as always struggling with his Jewishness over against his mission to the Gentiles. Paul was determined not to make them Jews, but in issues of sexuality there is not much bend. Sanders give informative historical data in a fun and easy to read format on Greco-Roman sexuality.

I highly recommend this book.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly scholarly for size and format. Buy It!, November 16, 2006
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This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
`Paul, A Very Short Introduction' by the leading American Pauline scholar, E. P. Sanders is a revelation to me it will also probably be a surprise to anyone not familiar with this Oxford University Press series. My first surprise is that an author of such great academic distinction should be doing this kind of treatment which looks, on the surface, to be a popular gloss, evoking images of `Cliff Notes' and `Paul for Dummies'.

My reading of Pauline theology and exegesis is still a bit shallow; but I know enough already to see that while Sanders may just be covering the peaks, he is giving us a good enough look deep into some of the valleys to appreciate his stating that Paul is a difficult writer for modern readers. Not only was Paul not as polished a writer as his contemporary Philo in Alexandria, he used some Greek terms which simply do not easily translate into English. And, many important modern such as the RSV (Revised Standard Version) Bible translations don't help much when they mangle some of Paul's more important statements.

Since practically nothing is known about Paul's life with any certainty, Sanders takes little space for biography and no space on speculation on what Paul may have done, for example, during his early years in the Nabatean desert. Oddly, he does add to the question of where Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans. Some writers say he wrote in Miletus and others say he wrote it in Corinth. Sanders opts for Corinth.

Sanders is probably one of the very best writers from which to get the `non-Lutheran' interpretation of Paul, as he concentrates much more on seeing Paul concentrate on the membership of Christians in the body of Christ instead of Righteousness by faith. At the very least, he gives the two points of view equal importance.

While the book is organized primarily by theological topics, Sanders seems to get most of his quotes and references from Romans and Galatians (which happen to be the two letters most interesting to Luther in his early career).

There are two new aspects of Paul I get from this book. First, Paul is NOT an anguished soul, as we have come to view Luther or Kierkegaard or modern existentialists. The second is that for Paul, evil was a real, palpable force in the world. The evil of sin was not an outgrowth of simple guilt, depression, or other psychological phenomenon. Evil was REAL. This gives me a whole new perspective on interpreting the Gnostics, who made a big thing of the doctrine that the physical world was created by an evil demiurge.

I also get a reassurance on Paul's doctrine on free will. Unlike Luther in `Bondage of the Will', Paul firmly believed that humans have free will and can choose right or wrong and disbelief or faith.

As excellent as this book is, it may be a bit too technical for a younger teen that is new to problems of reading and interpreting ancient translated texts. If the student is, however, a student of Biblical Greek, then this is a book they should know!
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent For Anyone Wanting to Learn More, March 10, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
The author is incrediable. Specifically, concerning the author's style of writing, he is writing for those who know very little about Paul, yet in such a concendensed book as this, you will finish feeling you know Paul like he's your neighbor. He begins with an explanation of Paul's life, his goals, and then moves on to bigger questions about Paul. What was Paul's view on rightousness? His view on the law?
I still can't believe that after reading this small book I've learned so much about one of the most influencial apostles of our time. If you don't know much about Paul, or want to brush up a little, this really is an excellent book.
Of course, if you want to deeply study Paul, you may want to go with a book that's more than 100 and some odd pages, but for my purpose, which was simply finding out "Who the heck is Paul?", I don't think I could have found a better book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paul is not a systematic theologian - and he is great, August 7, 2011
This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
In 150 pages Sanders comprehensively discussed various (if not all) aspects of Pauline Christianity:

- Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15 is dissected in full)
- How one is "justified" (i.e. "made righteous") through faith (Galatian 2 is used to illuminate)
- What Paul thought of Jesus (two different views: an "adoptionist" kind in Romans 1 and "high Christology" in Philippians 2)
- The nature of "The Law". This part is interesting (and difficult), and Sanders (p. 110) frankly points out "Paul had a problem", if God "has now decided to send his Son to save all alike, whether Jew of Gentile, provided that they have faith in him, what in the world was he up to when he gave the law?" Here (Ch.9) Paul's reasoning appears strained - the full solution has to wait till the last chapter
- Moral perfectionism (again 1 Corinthians is examined)

Finally, the last chapter, the crown of this small book, shows Paul's triumphant vision of universal salvation (Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; and of course the highly crucial Romans 11). This seems to (and probably does) conflict with Paul's own prediction of destruction of those who rejected his message - but that does not matter, says Sanders, because Paul was NOT a systematic/philosophical theologian; he was instead "an apostle, an ad hoc theologian, a proclaimer, a charismatic who saw visions and spoke in tongues - and a religious genius." (p. 148)

Highly informative. Five stars.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A realistic portrait of Paul., July 25, 2011
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This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
Sanders' clearly written book shows us that Paul, to pave his new way, is in a world of competition, energy, doubt, and violence. Paul has too many targets and too many different backgrounds to cope with. He has to speak a different language to each group of listeners and invent answers to solve awkward questions previously unaddressed. Paul also evolves, contradicts himself, which is common currency among religious reformers facing theological and practical difficulties. Finding answers nearly always rely on his Pharisee background and his knowledge of the OT. Sanders' Paul is a practical man. Jesus seems forgotten, except as the recipient of God's power to revive a person.

Paul wants the Pharisee Jews (they support a different Messiah: Elijah) to join, but most scorn the new wave, just as Paul had previously rejected it and is now persecuted for his incessant proselytism.

He is even more in trouble with the Messianic Jews in the line of James. The Faith versus Law issue, interestingly discussed, is however not the only bone of contention.

Paul mainly wants the Greco-Romans to submit to the God of Israel and receive everlasting life in the footsteps of Messiah Jesus. Paul presents a tempting program to pagans: join us, accept a few moral constraints (as a member of the body of Christ and being in the Spirit) and be saved. To the upper class he has to attenuate the idea of bodily resurrection not in favor within Hellenistic circles and introduces fuzzy concepts such as the more "politically correct" revival of a spiritual body. E. P. Sanders considers (erroneously I believe) that the idea was almost certainly derived entirely from his experience of encountering the risen Lord.

Sanders' short and lively book leaves us with a human Paul who does not seem to be very aware or concerned about a human Jesus. As a contemporary of Jesus, Paul disturbs many precisely because he does not show much interest in the man Jesus and his words. Why such a dichotomy? Sanders has no convincing explanation to offer.

Some readers at this point may question if the human Jesus really existed and if there is something else behind the story that we have not been told? This is the golden egg of the mythicists such as E. Doherty who erroneously can only see a Hellenistic background to Paul's teaching.

But to readers who, contrary to Sanders can reject an historical Jesus, Paul with his indelible Judean background becomes the loudspeaker not of a man but of a dissident Judean messianic school of thought registered under the Jesus trademark. The name (Yahweh saves) personifies an opinionated faction within a messianic institution.

Paul, mainly addressing people who did not have a Judean culture, is above all promoting a political party that boasts a priority claim on salvation. The resurrection story is that priority claim. It is a political slogan showing the group's intention to be the exclusive ones administering the very promising eternity creed.

Paul endorses here the role of a self-conscious Jewish propagandist capable of sensing opportunities and fighting for them, just as any energetic and convinced politician would do with a persuasive promise in his hands. He is not competing against or snubbing Jesus but spreading an ambitious party program (a Judean messiah-mediated revival cult) and has lots of enemies.

This is the side of the story that Sanders will not be able to communicate. Nevertheless, Sanders book is well worthwhile because he stays close to Paul the man and investigates step by step with his readers how Paul solved his dogmatic and ethical problems: he shows us a human enterprise more than a divine one.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paul in context, February 8, 2005
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This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
A good intro to the apostle Paul, emphasizing and explaining the Jewish context, and how important that is in interpreting Paul's letters.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting yet frustratingly narrow anaylsis, September 7, 2013
By 
Grant Marshall (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
I read this book because N.T. Wright mentions Sanders a lot in his work and many see him as the figurehead of the New Perspective movement. I can see just how influential Sanders was on Wright, but also how differently these two theologians approach Paul. Those who wish to tar both with the same New Perspective brush have not read or understood either. This book is a summation of Sanders bigger works on Paul: Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People.

I found the book to be interesting but frustratingly narrow in it's analysis of Paul. Sanders argued that Paul was an angry fundamentalist proof-texter (Galatians and Rom 4 with regards to Abraham), who was not systematic, or consistent in his theology, because he was an apostle who saw visions, and spoke in tongues first, and an ad-hoc theologian second. He didn't have a guilty conscience like Luther (Really? I am the chief of sinners...by God's grace I am what I am) and sat fast and loose with the ethical demands of the Torah. Circumcision was fine as long it wasn't forced on anyone, and was not made necessary for salvation. His ethical imperatives flow from his Jewish heritage, and more often than not they are just Jewish swipes at things they don't like Gentiles doing. In fact he required ethical perfection from his converts because He was a blameless Jew before Christ (even though he did horrible things to Christians?). He was even supposedly fine with continuing to offer sacrifices in the temple. Luke (author of Acts) are in fundamental disagreement about Paul's mission. Luke has him going to the synagogues first then to the Gentiles, but Paul says he was an Apostle to the Gentiles (However shall we resolve that?!). He also expected the imminent return of Jesus within his lifetime.

The discussion on justification was interesting, if somewhat convoluted. Sanders contends that the main issue is the confusion of Anglo-Saxon terms with French ones in the English language when trying to translate dikaiosyne. To counter this Sanders uses the phrase "Righteoused" as opposed to justification. I don't think it will catch on in theological circles. Righteousness as a noun implies status but Paul (according to Sanders) uses the verb more often which more often refers to the change from one realm of being human (the flesh) to another (the Spirit). This was a good point because legal acquittal is not enough. People have not just done bad things, but are enslaved to sin and need to be set free. However I felt the term could hold both meanings easily. Sanders also argued against imputation, but this was a narrow judgement in my eyes. Especially when one considers union with Christ which Sanders. Christ takes on all that we are, identifies with us right down to dying our death on the cross, so that we might become all that he is.

The chapter on the Law was also interesting. The Law was a guardian given until the appointed time of Christ, God gave the law to increase the trespass, the Torah desired to give life, but all it brought was death, and increased awareness of sin. Sanders however continually posited that Paul had collapsed into either Cosmic dualism (Sin and God in constant tension fighting over who has control of the law) as well as anthropological dualism (God made a bad job of humans, and they are good but flawed). I felt he missed big picture moments of the Law - God gave it to Israel after he rescued (i.e. Salvation) them from Egypt. It was meant to show Israel how to live as the people of God who had already been redeemed. Yet at Sinai Israel recapitulated the sin of Adam.

I felt in some ways Sanders was asking the right questions, and taking Pauline Scholarship in the right direction, even if his analysis was thoroughly deficient. Sanders doesn't recognize the Pauline authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, 1&2 Timothy and Titus. If he had included these his analysis would have been much more rounded, especially reading Romans through the lens of Ephesians with cosmic problem of sin, high ecclesiology, and the coming together of Heaven and Earth around Jesus, Jew and Gentile around Jesus and Male and Female around Jesus. It also lacked was a connection to the overall story of Scripture. All Jews of the 2nd temple period believed themselves to be living in a continuous narrative which stretched back to creation, the call of Abraham, the exodus and formation of Israel as a nation. Paul as one zealous for the traditions of his ancestors would be very familiar with this story. When we don't understand Paul it's probably because we have missed a vital connection to the story that would have been very obvious for Paul.

Did I profit from this book? Yes, it's good to read books where you disagree with the author, but I would not recommend this as your first book on Paul, only for those well versed in current debates. This book will not help you enter into the worldview of Paul and other 2nd temple Jews, in order to think Paul's thoughts after him.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent discussion of Paul's thought and mission!, April 24, 2011
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This review is from: Paul: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian, merely an interested layman. I found this book to be incredibly insightful - both way beyond my rudimentary knowledge of the subject yet simultaneously easy enough to read and assimilate. I feel after reading this book that I at least have a real appreciation of Paul's significance to the church - especially the early church - and what the main issues of his preaching were, and, to an extent, how and why his epistles to different peoples (Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, etc) dealt with different topics in different ways. Much, much more than a "life of St Paul", this book will help illuminate for you how the church developed the way it did, and how Paul contributed to that development.
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Paul: A Very Short Introduction
Paul: A Very Short Introduction by E. P. Sanders (Paperback - June 7, 2001)
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