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.
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.
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.
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.