Book review: The First Paul

by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan


This book is my favorite among the works produced by the alliance of Borg and Crossan. What happens when you separate the original works of Paul from the later pseudonymous works? What kind of Paul emerges as the “real” Paul, the one who really walked the earth, the one who witnessed the post-resurrection Jesus as a light from heaven and whose visionary experience instilled a radical, superhuman drive to spread the message of Christ?

Of the thirteen Pauline letters in the New Testament, only seven are universally accepted as genuine. The pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus are generally accepted as not written by Paul. Scholarship waffles on the third group: Ephesians, Colossions, and 2 Thessalonians. Borg and Crossan are among those who see these three letters as post-Pauline. They break the Pauline letters into three categories: The radical Paul behind the authentic letters; the conservative Paul behind the questionable letters; and the reactionary Paul behind the pastoral letters.

Slavery: What does the radical Paul have to say? The pseudo (conservative) Paul? The anti (reactionary) Paul? Patriarchy: What do the three Pauls have to say? How about suppression of women? The meaning of the cross? The return of Jesus? Lordship and Christology?

We watch, within the New Testament’s pages, the historical Paul evolve into pseudo-Paul, and finally into the anti-Paul–in many cases, a 180-degree turnaround from what Paul actually taught. The subtitle of this book is Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon, and anyone interested in first-century Christianity will be delighted by this portrayal. This is an eye-opening, controversial book you don’t want to miss.

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