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The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon Paperback – March 2, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A refreshing and heartening exculpation of a still routinely maligned figure of the first importance to culture and civilization.” (Booklist (starred 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)

“In this scholarly and engaging account . . . Borg and Crossan successfully argue that we must separate the genuine writings of the apostle from the writings attributed to him . . . This well-researched and highly readable account is recommended for all students of Paul [and] interested lay readers.”” (Library Journal)

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 the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061430730
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061430732
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marcus J. Borg is professor emeritus in the philosophy department at Oregon State University, where he held the Hundere Chair in Religion and Culture, and author of the New York Times bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The Heart of Christianity, The Last Week, and Jesus. He was an active member of the Jesus Seminar when it focused on the historical Jesus and he has been chair of the historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For anyone wanting to read a nice introduction to the radical Paul of the New Testament, this is the book to go to.

Crossan and Borg do a fine job showing Paul's clear teachings about equality and his counter-empire ideas, and show explicitly where Paul and Acts are at odds. The commentary on the book of Philemon is well done and in-depth. However, it would have been nice to see a much more comprehensive look at the rest of Paul's writings. But that didn't seem to be the purpose of this book; Crossan and Borg are simply painting a picture of Paul's theology, not providing insight into every detail.

I have to say, though, that the chapters on the cross and "salvation by grace through faith" were, unfortunately, pretty weak. Frankly, it's going to take a lot more than two chapters containing a select few passages from Romans and 1 Corinthians to "dismantle" the idea of substitutionary atonement and salvation as simply a post-mortem "salvation" from divine punishment. There are better, more comprehensive, books out there, though, on Paul's theology of "Christ crucified" (see J. Denny Weaver, Stephen Finlan, etc.). The two chapters dedicated to the cross and salvation just didn't make a well-reasoned argument (in my opinion), partly because of the lack of time Crossan/Borg spent looking at Paul's words (though, I should say, I agree with most of their conclusions).

I'd definitely recommend this book to any Christian, or to anyone interested in the apostle Paul. But, don't expect an in-depth, exceptionally convincing look at Paul's theology; rather, expect a sometimes persuasive, sometimes lackluster, brief and easy-to-read portrait of the man who claimed to see Jesus on the road to Damascus.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whenever Borg and Crossan get together, it is worth paying attention. These two scholars are best known for their work on Jesus, but this new venture into Pauline scholarship is very good. The build on the premise that, in the New Testament, we have the Radical Paul (of the Corinthian letters, Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians and Philemon). Then there is the Reactionary Paul (letters written by others--basically the Pastorals) and the Conservative Paul (Ephesians, Colossians). This distinction helps a great deal in understanding the movement in how Paul is read in the New Testament.
They present Paul as a Jewish Christ mystic who lived with a profound sense of oneness with God. They go through the writings of Paul and show how his message changes on various specific themes (from radical to reactionary and Conservative)like slavery, crucifixion, justification.
Jesus is Lord (ch. 4) is especially helpful, where they develop Roman Imperial theology of "Religion-War-Victory-Peace" and show how Paul responds to this in his own theology of Jesus.
But my favorite in this book is ch 5 "Christ Crucified". This treatment of Paul's theology is some of the best available for the lay person who cares about how we talk about salvation. They deal carefully with several popular explanations of the death of Jesus, demonstrating difficulties in how these themes deal with the theology, then offering a more positive, comprehensive understanding (that makes good sense).
In my judgment, these two chapters are worth the price of the book. These two men develop and excellent theology of Paul in language that can be understood, with an affirmation of faith that is very helpful.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading Garry Wills' book What Paul Meant along with a couple of works by Bart Ehrman, I was really anxious to read The First Paul. I am very glad that I purchased the book for it has given me a detailed look at an apostle that I really did not understand.

As stated in the book, half of the New Testament concerns Paul or was written by Paul. Paul matters. As a believer who engages in critical thinking, I appreciated the authors doing all of the heavy lifting for me. As a "thinker" I could never reconcile the views that Paul held regarding slavery, women, etc. The authors explained this in a very straight-forward way and the `scales' have now fallen off my eyes.

Explained from the perceptive of historical context, it was very easy for me to see that, yes, there were three Pauls. One real - two pretenders.

The radical (and real) Paul wrote:
* Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians and Philemon (which the authors break down verse by verse)

A person or persons calling themselves Paul wrote the pastoral letters:
* 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.

A majority of scholars "dispute" the authorship of:
* Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians

The detailed analysis of who, where, why and what certainly provides a non-contradictory view of the apostle Paul compared to the chaotic mess I have struggled with in the past. I also greatly appreciated the mind picture of the set of concentric contextual circles. It was very helpful in providing context for the writing of Paul.

While I have mentioned only a few of the highlights in this book, rest assured that it contains a plethora of entertaining and enlightening facts.

I hope you find this review helpful.

Michael L. Gooch, Wingtips with Spurs: Cowboy Wisdom for Today's Business Leaders
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