The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary behind the Church's Conservative Icon [NOOK Book]


Meet Paul Again . . . for the First Time

Continuing in the tradition of The Last Week and The First Christmas, world-renowned New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan use the best of biblical and historical scholarship to expose the church's conspiracy to silence Jesus's most faithful disciple, the apostle Paul.

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The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary behind the Church's Conservative Icon

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Meet Paul Again . . . for the First Time

Continuing in the tradition of The Last Week and The First Christmas, world-renowned New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan use the best of biblical and historical scholarship to expose the church's conspiracy to silence Jesus's most faithful disciple, the apostle Paul.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Widely perceived as the founder of Christianity and an enduringly controversial figure, Paul is often seen today by the church as a conservative icon. But many others see him as an offensive figure, given his views on women, homosexuality, and slavery. Borg and Crossan paint a different picture of the apostle. In this scholarly and engaging account, Paul is situated firmly in his first-century context and portrayed against the backdrop of history as a revolutionary figure who chose the way of Jesus as a countercultural alternative over the way of the Roman empire. Through the lens of history, Borg and Crossan transform Paul's theology into a mystical experience with the risen Jesus and a reimagined form of Judaism that bears little resemblance to the modern stereotypes that often surround him. Borg and Crossan successfully argue that we must separate the genuine writings of the apostle from the writings attributed to him, which were in essence reactionary attempts to conceal Paul's radicalism to a later generation living comfortably in the midst of Roman imperial culture. VERDICT This well-researched and highly readable account is recommended for all students of Paul as well as interested lay readers.—Brian Greene, Northeastern Univ., Boston
From the Publisher
"A refreshing and heartening exculpation of a still routinely maligned figure of the first importance to culture and civilization." —-Booklist Starred Review
"A refreshing and heartening exculpation of a still routinely maligned figure of the first importance to culture and civilization."
Booklist (starred review)
“A refreshing and heartening exculpation of a still routinely maligned figure of the first importance to culture and civilization.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061972843
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 116,446
  • File size: 513 KB

Meet the Author

Marcus J. Borg is canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, and was Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. Described by the New York Times as "a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars," he has appeared on NBC's The Today Show and Dateline, ABC's World News, and NPR's Fresh Air. He is the author of the bestselling books Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The Heart of Christianity, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, The God We Never Knew, Jesus, Speaking Christian, and The Evolution of the Word. His blog appears on the Progressive Christian Channel of

John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University, is widely regarded as the foremost historical Jesus scholar of our time. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Historical Jesus, God and Empire, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, The Greatest Prayer, and The Power of Parable. He lives in Minneola, Florida.

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Read an Excerpt

The First Paul

Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon

By Marcus Borg
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2009

Marcus Borg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061430725

Chapter One

Paul: Appealing or Appalling?

Paul is second only to jesus as the most important person in the origins of Christianity. Yet he is not universally well regarded, even among Christians. Some find him appealing, and others find him appalling; some aren't sure what to think of him, and others know little about him.

The cover of Newsweek for May 6, 2002, asked, "What Would Jesus Do?" The story inside referred to Paul as well, citing passages attributed to him on slavery, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and heterosexism:

The Biblical defense of slavery is: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart as you obey Christ," writes Saint Paul. Anti-Semitism was long justified by passages like this one from I Thessalonians: the Jews "killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets." And the subjugation of women had a foundation in I Timothy: "As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. . . . If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church." And yet in each case, enlightened people have moved on from the worldview such passages express. . . .

And if science now teaches us that being gay may be a "natural" state, how can a reading of the Bible, including Saint Paul's condemnation of same-sex interaction in Romans, inarguably cast homosexuality in "unnatural" terms?

These are among the passages in letters attributed to Paul that many find more appalling than appealing. So we begin our story of Paul by speaking about his importance, the reasons for his mixed reputation, and the foundations for our way of seeing him.

Paul's importance is obvious from the New Testament itself. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament, though to call them "books" is a bit of a misnomer, for some are only a page or a few pages long. Of these twenty-seven, thirteen are letters attributed to Paul. Not all were actually written by Paul, as we will soon report, but they bear his name. To these add the book of Acts, in which Paul is the main character in sixteen of its twenty-eight chapters. Thus half of the New Testament is about Paul.

Moreover, according to the New Testament, Paul was chiefly responsible for expanding the early Jesus movement to include Gentiles (non-Jews) as well as Jews. The result over time was a new religion, even though Paul (like Jesus) was a Jew who saw himself working within Judaism. Neither intended that a new religion would emerge in his wake.

This does not mean that Christianity is a mistake. But it does mean that the two most important foundational figures of Christianity were Jews whose passion was the God and the people of Israel. When Paul spoke to non-Jews, it was to the God of Israel as disclosed in Jesus to whom he called them. Nevertheless, Paul more than any other figure in the New Testament was responsible for the emergence of Christianity as a new religion that, though it included Jews, became increasingly separated from Judaism.

Paul's importance extends beyond the New Testament into the history of Christianity. Many of its most important theologians and reformers were decisively shaped by Paul's letters. St. Augustine (354-430) was converted to Christianity by a passage from Paul. Before his conversion he was a gifted, brilliant, and troubled young man who fathered a child with a woman to whom he was not married. His spiritual journey led him through philosophy to Manicheanism, a religion that emphasized that the flesh was bad and spirit was good.

Then one day, as Augustine tells the story, he heard a child singing, "Pick it up, read it." He picked up a copy of the New Testament, and his eyes fell upon Romans 13:13-14:

Let us live . . . not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ . . .

In his Confessions, commonly seen as the world's first spiritual autobiography, he reports:

Instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all of the gloom of doubt vanished away.

After this experience mediated by Paul, Augustine became the most influential theologian of the first millennium of Christianity.

In the more than thousand years from Augustine to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, Paul continued to be revered because his writings were part of Christian sacred scripture. But during the Reformation, he became decisively important for Protestants. Martin Luther (1483-1546) had his transforming experience of radical grace while preparing lectures on Paul. Paul became the foundation of his theology, especially the Pauline contrasts between grace and law, and faith and works, language that has been paradigmatically important for Lutherans ever since.

John Calvin (1509-64), the other most important Protestant Reformer, also made Paul central to his theology. Calvin's theological descendants include millions of Protestants: Puritans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists (today's United Church of Christ), and other Reformed denominations.

Two centuries later, Paul played a central role in the birth of the Methodist church. Its founder, John Wesley (1703-91), was converted to his mission to reform the Church of England while listening to a reading of Luther's commentary on Paul's letter to the Romans. His life's work eventually led to a new denomination, now the second largest Protestant denomination in America. Thus hundreds of millions of Protestants around the world, whether they know it or not, have Paul as their primary theological ancestor.

To say the obvious, Paul matters. But how he matters and how much he matters vary greatly among Christians. There are very diverse understandings of Paul's importance, message, and character. To some extent, the same could be said of Jesus, for he is diversely interpreted as well. But all Christians agree that Jesus was admirable, attractive, and appealing. Not so with Paul.


Excerpted from The First Paul by Marcus Borg Copyright © 2009 by Marcus Borg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 8, 2010

    The Redemption of Paul

    Borg and Crossan display their scholarship by contrasting the power and identity of Caesar with the power and identity of Christ. They also redeem Paul by noting that Paul's 7 authentic letters show great respect for women as socially and spiritually equal to men. Much praise to them for their insights.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Enlightening and Compelling Work.

    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

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2010

    Good News-Different Views

    First in proper deference to the authors for obviously an intense amount of research and labor, I acknowledge the scope of their writings to be a commendable task. I must say, I had looked forward to reading this book for perhaps a fresh view of the great apostle Paul, and was somewhat disappointed. The book appears to pit the apostle against the Roman-Greco empire as if that was what the gospel was all about, to replace the rule of Caesar and his kingdom with the rule of Christ and his kingdom. I think we must recall that Jesus said, "my kingdom is not of this world".

    To me, it was not a battle between Roman theology and Christian theology, it was a matter of the introduction of the good news to all the world whether Rome was the ruling power or not. The kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of came with power on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God entered those early believers, for Jesus had said regarding the kingdom that "it is within you". That fact continued to be confirmed in all believers from that time forward. I might add the fruits of the kingdom should reflect itself to the outside world and I think it has in a multitude of ways in a multitude of countries.

    I was a bit disappointed in the "twists and turns" over how many Pauls there were, referring to the epistles bearing his name. I don't think this will set well with most believers, they might prefer to interpret his statements about specific things elaborated on in different epistles in different ways to be based on both the circumstances of the times and the emphasis necessary for the moment. I also was quite saddened by the fact that the authors chose to attempt to dismantle the concepts of "substitution","justification by grace", and the meaning of the "atonement",by suggesting that their theology is a better interpretation than the prime figures of the Reformation. The authors almost wear out the word "misunderstanding" to refer to many of the doctrines so many believers hold dear and which has sustained their faith for centuries. The authors almost insist that they know exactly what Paul meant by what he said and others have been mistaken in their interpretaions.

    The matter of judgement, the authors say, has nothing to do with the gospel. I would venture to say it is precisely because of current and impending judgement that the gospel is addressed to the human race. Death is still the wages of sin and we are told there will be a final judgement. Christ crucified! cancels our debt. I will not go into other specifics of the faith that are challenged by the authors, I would simply say we should attempt to add to the faith, to bolster and strengthen it among believers and not tear it down. With all due respect, I would just say to the authors that they should follow their own admonition on page 159 "when all else fails,read the text". To me it is not theology or church history that holds the greatest relevence. it is "the text" itself. Thurman L Faison author To The Spiritually Inclined (Volume 1)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Paul the Apostle Revisited

    In a thoroughly engaging and eminently enjoyable work, Borg and Crossan reconsider the Apostle Paul from the perspective of his own Epistles, Luke's "Acts of the Apostles" and other Christian and non-Christian writers of the first and second centuries. Their efforts provide remarkable insight into the man, the struggles of his early Church and his struggles with his early Church.

    The authors also suggest that Paul is a far more radical voice within the early Christian community than contemporary, conservative Christians would have us believe. They postulate that the Epistles can be divided into three classes; those clearly written by Paul, those clearly not and those about which the authorship is in doubt. The Epistles clearly written by Paul are the earliest and the more radical; those clearly-not are the latest and more conservative. Those, whose authorship is in doubt, are sandwiched between the extremes and subtly retrench from Paul's earlier radicalism.

    I wished that the authors had expended more effort to prove the validity of their doubts about the authorship of some of Paul's Epistles beyond asserting a "strong consensus" among theologians. I also wished that Borg and Crossan had speculated more on the motives behind the conservative shift in Paul's disputed writings. Perhaps a sequel will address these issues.

    My complaints, however, are minor. The book is an easy read, a fascinating study, and the reader learns a great deal about a man, who is more interesting and complex than the legends spun by Sunday sermons.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2009

    What Paul really meant

    I never really gave Paul much thought. I've spent a good deal of time studying the first five books of the Old Testament and the fisrt four of the New Testament and a little bit on the last book of the NT, but I never really saw the meaning of all those letters from Paul until I read this book. (Nor did I realize that he was so controversial in the Church, as he had not been in my church!) It is a quick read from an author whose books I always enjoy. If you really want a jolt, read Barrie Wilson's "How Jesus Became Christian" immediately after, as I did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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