The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon
Marcus Borg & Dom Crossan, HarperOne
This book continues the work of two outstanding biblical scholars, Marcus Borg and J Dom Crossan.
Indeed, it is part of a trilogy, the first two books being The Last Week (2006) and The First Christmas (2007).
As the subtitle suggests, the authors seek to correct the image of Paul, whom they claim “is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the origins of Christianity”.
Of most value is their reminder that not everything printed under the name of Paul, in the book we call the Bible, was indeed written by Paul.
So it is important to realise that (a) Paul was always a Jew, never a Christian, (b) only seven letters are authentic Paul — I Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, Romans, and (c) most of our appreciation of or reaction to Paul comes via The Acts because of its placement in printed Bibles.
So there really are “four Pauls” in the Bible. And they are all different.
The authors wish to reclaim the “radical” Paul: the authentic Paul. And to suggest that Paul was more “appealing” than “appalling”.
Those readers who are familiar with the current Paul studies may well be very familiar with the authors’ thesis. So too those who have participated in such Living the Questions studies on Paul.
But there are some other gems making this book worthwhile — such as the classics “Jesus is Lord”, “Christ crucified” and the chapter on “justification by grace”.
This is a sound theological expose for those seeking to understand just a little better this “radical” apostle and how the church has favoured the more conservative writers who just happened to have used his name.
Rex A. E. Hunt