The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon (Copy #2)

by Marcus J. Borg

Paperback, 2010



Call number




HarperOne (2010), Edition: 1, 240 pages


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member DubiousDisciple
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
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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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LibraryThing member kaulsu
Unlike many liberal Christians, I am not such a fan of Marcus Borg. However, having said that, I will say that this book was really worth reading. Borg and Crossan move us slowly enough through the various epistles and continually move us from what was happening contemporaneously with the letter
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and how we can read that letter today. Borg and Crossan also rescue Paul from those passages attributed to Paul which endorse slavery, silence women, and are condemnatory against homosexuality. Not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, they look at the Pauline letters and categorize them into three types.

1. The seven letters definitely written by Paul
2. Three Pastoral letters not written by Paul, but developing his message--even countering it at some points
3. Three disputed letters--ones many scholars contend were not written by Paul--Ephesians, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians.

I recommend this book especially to those people who blame Paul for everything they do not like in the Christian Church today. Whether it will change your mind or not, I think it will offer food for thought.
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LibraryThing member Al-G
This book offers insight into the real, historical Paul. I think that too often Paul gets a bad rap - too often he is given credit for scriptures from letters that are likely not him. The real Paul is much more radical than most of us realize. Borg and Crossan point out that Paul has been tamed to
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fit into the very cultural conditions that he, like Jesus, calls us out of to enter into the Kingdom of God - the sacred community that is the body of Christ. I have always felt like both Borg and Crossan write well and this book is well written and flows very well. The historical work as well as the exegesis and the theological explorations are all very well done. Both of these men are impeccable scholars as well as men of faith who seek to help us explore a deeper resonance and relationship with the Lord. They offer both pros and cons to the ways we understand Paul and to the differing theories around his time in Rome and his ultimate demise. The book is well balanced, but does offer their personal theologies as they explore the person and character of Paul. It is a great read and though deals with theological, anthropological and historical concerns it doesn't read like a text book and should be easily digested by the lay reader with enough meat to sustain the interest of the theologian, minister or historian. I recommend it for any person of faith who is seeking to both learn and grow in their understanding of God, the Bible and the historical, radical Paul.
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LibraryThing member nmele
This short book has one message: that Paul's faith centered on a nonviolent God and required distributive justice.
LibraryThing member LloydLeeWilson
Excellent exploration of the radical Christian vision of the author of the "Solid Seven."
LibraryThing member Jotto
Although this book, “The First Paul” was published some twelve years ago, its thesis strikes me as very relevant to the theological controversies of today. Having differentiated the New Testament letters that most scholars agree were actually composed by the Apostle from those that, though not
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composed by him, are basically compatible with Paul’s perspective and then those composed much later that in some ways contradict the position of Paul, Episcopalian Marcus Borg and Catholic Dominic Crossan lay out what they consider to be the core concepts of Paul’s theology.

For me the most helpful chapters of this volume are those that those that describe the difference between the substitutionary atonement doctrine still attributed to Paul by most conservative Christians and what the authors nominate as the “participatory” understanding of atonement found in Paul’s authentic letters. This difference can be summarized by their description of the substitutionary perspective as one that sees the atonement as a vertical transaction between Jesus and his Heavenly Father. The “participatory” understanding that that the authors champion sees the atonement as a movement initiated by Jesus to be carried on by his followers that unites human beings by overcoming the various divisive forces that work in our world. Borg and Crossan also helpfully write about justification, the doctrine that was once but no longer is seen as the major cause of division between Protestants and Catholics.

I recommend this book as a good introduction for any individual or group that wishes to understand the theology that underlies the Pauline Letters of the New Testament.
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Physical description

240 p.; 8 inches


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