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

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  390 ratings  ·  76 reviews
Bestselling authors of The Last Week and The First Christmas, Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan join once again to present a new understanding of early Christianity—this time to reveal a radical Paul who has been suppressed by the church.

Paul is second only to Jesus as the most important person in the birth of Christianity, and yet he continues to be controversial, e...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published March 3rd 2009 by HarperOne
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Erik Simon
There is nothing I would love more than to believe in the anti-imperial, peace-loving radical Paul that Borg and Crossan present in this book, but I'm just not convinced by the evidence. Paul is a muddle, an absolute stake into the heart of easy Christianity, and coming to terms with him is no small feat. Every beautiful thing he says in his letter to the Corinthians is wholly upended by his taking the opposite view on almost everything in his two ass hole letters to Timothy. Granted, he didn't...more
I always enjoy reading Borg and Crossan This book is every bit the joy to read that their previous works have been. Scholarly but highly readable, clear, concise, and very informative.

The essential point of the book is that Paul has been misread by nearly everyone. Paul is typically read as ordering wives to submit to their husbands, condemning gays, and as offering up the Christian faith as a set of doctrines which are dogmatically asserted to be "beyond dispute." Religious conservatives read P...more
The writing is a tad dry in places, but the authors present a thoroughly researched and argued, scholarly objective and yet still easy to read and understand case that there was more than one Paul responsible for the letters of Paul in the New Testament. And that the real, "first" Paul was actually a radical in terms of the religion, society and (especially) politics of his day, rather than the conservative, status quo supporter he's usually viewed as (One of the two most anti-gay parts of the B...more
Borg and Crossan are both insightful Biblical scholars and pithy writers, so this book about the apostle Paul is as enjoyable as it is thought-provoking. Simply put, the authors have some controversial viewpoints on many of the aspects of Paul's teachings/writings, but, for the most part, they back them up with extensive research and credible, logical reasoning. After reading this book, I can say three things appreciatively: I learned a lot; my spirituality was both broadened and deepened by the...more
JoAnn   W.
From some of the other reviews here, I'm not sure all of those people really read Borg's book. These are not Borg's ideas, but he is interpreting standard Biblical scholarship for us laypeople.

The pop culture and the mass media apparently haven't done their Biblical homework. Paul turns out not to be the anti-feminist he has been painted out to be.

Paul only wrote Romans, Galatians, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, I Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon. HE DID NOT WRITE Ephesians or the two le...more
Cardcaptor Takato
I used to have a very negative view of Paul. I thought Paul was very sexist and promoted immorality like slavery and I thought Paul was the opposite of everything Jesus stood for. But this book by the biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan explains how the issues with Paul's writings are much more complex than this. Like Paul didn't actually write all the letters attributed to him. The Pastorial epistles which contain the verses I found troubling about Paul in regards to women wa...more
Yung-Suk Kim
Marcus Borg and John D. Crossan are excellent scholars in historical Jesus studies. More than that, they are the hearts of newly enlightened Christians -- a kind of the very big difference they have with many traditional scholars. In their understanding and research about Paul, Paul is very much like Jesus; Paul shares Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God, based in peace and justice for all. So to speak, Paul is believed to be very radical in his view of community and the kingdom of God. They arg...more
Todd Lattig
This is a very engaging read. Very enlightening on the historical Paul. I have always felt that Paul hasn't been given a very fair shake in terms of modern scholarship and that is because of a laziness in researching the historical context of his world along with nearly two thousand years of misinterpretation. That and people today have a hard time understanding a world without their 21st century, democratic Western lenses on. Borg and Crossan don't fall into any of those pitfalls and, as a resu...more
Trey Nowell
Another excellent writing by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan that presents a different side of Paul than the mainstream does. The main issues this book addresses is that Paul is misunderstood through the early church and today as well, where people have taken his sayings out of context. Discussion of what letters are in the style of Paul, as well as letters written later in his name that are disputed by scholars today is a major point as well. The fact Paul is often misunderstood in his vie...more
Paul Bard
This book presents three Saint Pauls, not one, and teaches that the real Saint Paul of the three was a radical socialist.

In evidence, it uses interpretations from the Greek of the New Testament.

Having read the New Testament writing of Paul, I am far more impressed by Paul himself than I am by this scurrilous politicization of Christianity.

I think Borg is well-intentioned but misled into demonizing a large part of traditional Christianity to subserve his radical vision of Marxist social justice.
Len Knighton
I consider Borg and Crossan to be among the top Biblical scholars today. I have read a number of their books, written together and separately. THE FIRST PAUL is, for me, like a sardine sandwich; I love the bread but not what's between the slices. The opening chapters and final two chapters are brilliant, a revelation of light to this Gentile. The middle chapters, what might for some be the meat of the book, was difficult for me to comprehend. That might very well be due to my lack of theological...more
I love this book! Borg & Crossan once again have challenged the "traditional" way of reading Paul's letters that I was taught as a child in an orthodox Baptist congregation. The essence of their argument is that you should (and must) split Paul's letters up into three groups: those scholars agree he authored, those letters whose authorship is in dispute, and those letters scholars are nearly certain Paul did not author. When one does this something extrodinary happens- you can see the "true"...more
On some level, I really should have been reading a juicy, compelling action novel to get myself back to better reading habits/discipline—not this book. What prompted me to read it in the first place were the authors, whom I had read/respected/admired before, and the fact that, thanks to Jim Hester, others in my church were reading it. (I didn’t want to be “left behind” in the discussion.) I confess that Paul was not an attractive subject for me; I reckon I had grown to be somewhat dismissive of...more
Lee Harmon
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 seve...more
Thurman Faison
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....more
Al Gritten
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 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 Cros...more
Emily Jane
Another of Borg's insightful works on Christianity, The First Paul does what needs to be done to rescue the Apostle Paul from fundamentalist idolization. Borg bases his work on scholarship regarding the three authors of the Pauline letters - those books of the Bible traditionally ascribed to Paul - to uncover the man Borg terms "the radical Paul", whose stance on radical social equality was toned down and scaled back by reductionists who came after.

The radical Paul, Borg asserts, rejected the no...more
Borg and Crossan, two great New Testament scholars of our day, lay out their objective in the book's subtitle: to help the reader see the writings of the original, or "first" Paul, correctly in the context of the time they were written, before social, political and theological changes - to say nothing of later documents penned in Paul's name - added layers of complexity, obscurity and misunderstanding.

The authors' arguments are cast against a solid background of historical scholarship. Their con...more
Clif Hostetler
This book tries to salvage the apostle Paul from the conservative and reactionary writing that was inserted into the New Testament under his name. The book also reclaims Paul from the burdensome theology that has piled up over 2,000 years of Christian history that supposedly was based on his writing.

This book identifies four different Pauls as listed below:

"First Paul" (The real and radical Paul) wrote:
Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians and Philemon

I have issues with St. Paul. Or perhaps I should say I have issues with one of the Pseudo-Pauline anonymities who used Paul's name so that Christians would read their drivel. Despite my issues, I am still glad that I took the time to read this. Neither Marcus J. Borg nor John Dominic Crossan has a spritely writing style, but they both write perfectly readable prose. They are also both well respected scholars with credentials have weight in the academic world. This book is not a drooling hagiogra...more
Paul Gibson
Appalling Paul?
I come to this book without any belief to defend. My only interest is in the information the book might provide.
This book begins by noting which of the New Testament books are likely authored by Paul, but the real message is what Paul's "authentic" words meant for him and what they might mean for us. In keeping with the tradition of putting words in Paul's mouth, this book continues the legacy. Generally, however, this isn't a problem because all translation is interpretation. If...more
I suggested this book to my Sunday School class, and they all readily agreed to do it. We have used it every Sunday for the past 2 months or so and have been captivated by all the things about Paul we never knew. There were some things in the book which we didn't agree with, but even those generated lively discussions.

The most fascinating thing about the book is the authors' classification of the 13 Pauline letters into three categories, based on the collected opinions of NT scholars:

* Paul de...more
This book is by far one of the best nonfiction books I've read, and just for the pleasure of reading a good book, I recommend it highly. But that leaves aside its very powerful window into Paul's message of a Christianity based on radical equality and justice in God. The book begins by parsing the letters attributed to Paul for authorship, eventually dividing them into three groups: those historians agree were written by Paul, those historians agree were written in Paul's name by later writers,...more
I won't give a detailed summary because others on this site have already done that very well.

One of the things I took away from this book is a new appreciation for how STRONGLY Jesus and the early church leaders (including the genuine Paul) were in in defiance of the Roman imperial government of the time. I knew that Jesus was accused of treason, but I didn't realize that the titles Christians use to describe Jesus - Son of God, Savior of the World, etc. - were also claimed by some of the Roman...more
Andrew Glos
Every time I read a book by Crossan or Borg I always feel the same way- I am torn between how much I love and adore the way that they interpret the New Testament with it's sociological-political implications on the one hand, and their startling historical reductionism (with which I do not agree). In a way this book was really no exception. What ever my opinions regarding their historical reductionism, the book is superbly researched by two of the greatest living New Testament scholars and any di...more
I read Borg and Crossan's The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus's Birth and The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem with a church book group and ended up acquiring copies to own. I don't have the same love for this book, though I think that's partly a function of the stuff that's going on being more complicated and my having read too quickly to really absorb all that. I definitely got some good stuff out of it and will be return...more
Mike  Davis
These are, admittedly, two of my favorite theologians. The authors, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, make a strong case for a less conservative, yet more radical view of Paul by effectively using only the seven epistles believed by most scholars to have been written by Paul himself. Contrasting these seven with the other six of questionable authenticity, they show how the church has systematically changed Paul's theology to fit its desires regarding the subjugation of women, slavery and hom...more
Mike Luoma
May 18, 2009 Mike Luoma rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those Curious about what we really know about Paul and his letters
I suppose it doesn't hurt to lay out what we know about Paul and his letters, but there isn't much new here in the latest from Borg and Crossan. Okay, the suggestion that his infirmity was malaria was new to me. I've also heard shingles and conjunctivitis as possibilities, all conjecture, naturally. Thought that Spong did a more thorough job of revealing and outlining the "real" Paul in his "Rescuing the Bible from Funadmentalism". I also cover a lot of this in my "Holy Shit" comic, so it's heav...more
Steven Williams
It was a very interesting interpretation of Paul's theology. One point was that he didn't believe in Christ's ressurection.
Borg and Crossan together always makes me want to read the book. This was a wonderful look into Paul and his writings.
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Borg was born into a Lutheran family of Swedish and Norwegian descent, the youngest of four children. He grew up in the 1940s in North Dakota and attended Concordia College, Moorhead, a small liberal arts school in Moorhead, Minnesota. While at Moorhead he was a columnist for the school paper and held forth as a conservative. After a close reading of the Book of Amos and its overt message of socia...more
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“When we read Paul, we are reading somebody else’s mail—and unless we know the situation being addressed, his letters can be quite opaque...It is wise to remember that when we are reading letters never intended for us, any problems of understanding are ours and not theirs.” 9 likes
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