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

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  692 Ratings  ·  103 Reviews
“Borg and Crossan reveal a figure who, besides being neither anti-Semitic, anti-sex, nor misogynist, stresses social and political equality among Christians and between them and others. A refreshing and heartening exculpation of a still routinely maligned figure of the first importance to culture and civilization.” — Booklist (starred review)

John Dominic Crossan and Marcus
ebook, 240 pages
Published October 6th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published March 3rd 2009)
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Mar 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Thurman Faison
Jun 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Todd Lattig
Mar 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
This book is a theological treatise, not necessarily a work of unbiased (as if such a thing exists) historical scholarship. It does use historical data to make theological points, but overall it offers Borg's and Crossan's radical interpretation of Paul's works.
I enjoyed it and recommend it to left leaning Christians.
Tyler Hill
Nov 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I truly enjoyed this book. It was an engrossing look into the early Christian community and a contextually-based analysis of what one of the early fathers of Christianity, Paul, really thought about his Lord's teachings. If you are a Christian (and even if you are not one!) and you want to learn more about the early church you should totally give it a shot.
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed the contrast between Luke's account and the account of the radical Paul (authentic letters). Touches on lots of theological issues, but concept for me was how Paul uses language that contrasts Jesus the Christ to Augustus the Cesar and writes in a way that contrasts the path of (to) peace offered by Jesus to that of the Roman imperial theology (peace comes through successful conquest).
Clif Hostetler
Jul 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
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

Derek Shiels
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Todd Stockslager
It is unlikely to get agreement over Paul from a Protestant (Episcopalian in this case) and Catholic theologian, given the Reformation holy war between the two denominations over Luther's theses, so strongly influenced by Luther's new (reformed even) reading of Paul. "The First Paul" is an attempt for such a conciliation, if not final reconciliation, and as such it can leave one of either religious persuasion in the battle (and many of other persuasions looking on from the sideline) only partial ...more
Paul Gibson
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Trey Nowell
May 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Emily Jane
May 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Charles Rouse
Dec 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Borg and Crossan put forward the theory that the original Paul wrote perhaps seven of the New Testament letters that bear his name and that subsequent Epistles and sermons were written by other writers in the division of the early church that was founded by Paul. I found the arguments persuasive, though I am the first to firmly state that I’m not a Greek scholar and I’m a student of biblical studies rather than any sort of expert. The authors put forward the further idea that later letters, pre ...more
Lee Harmon
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Joe Henry
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
Mike Lund
Good But Not a Casual Read
Recommended for anyone wanting an advanced discussion of Christian Theology, but requires a little more than a passing knowledge of Christianity. T. I found the first few chapters interesting understandable and informative. Thirteen of the 27 books of the new testament are letters attributed to Paul. Seven of these are considered undisputed, or actually written by Paul before his Death around 64 AD. Six books are considered disputed. Three probably written by Pauls disc
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting argument on the real views of the "radical" Paul. I read this as a companion piece to Crossan's biographical work on the historical Jesus, so his conclusions didn't necessarily surprise. I would have liked to see a few more direct connections between the two works; while Borg and Crossan made clear connections to Jesus' call for radical equality, they didn't take on the other interesting idea from the historical Jesus, that of equality through "commensality" as Crossan puts it ...more
Al Gritten
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
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
Merritt Watson
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful book.

It enables the reader to understand both Paul and Jesus in their 1st century coontext. When thoughtfully read it will lead to a deeper faith.
Geoff Glenister
Feb 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Borg and Crossan are truly a dynamic duo. In this work, they present a thorough argument for the position - which a consensus of scholars hold - that of the Pauline books of the Bible, there are three groups: those almost definitely written by Paul, those possibly written by him but not probably, and those almost definitely not written by Paul. Their terminology for these three groups is memorable and illustrates the reasoning behind these opinions as well - they call these groups the radical Pa ...more
Andrew Glos
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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the pdf version of this book 1 8 Apr 26, 2012 01:29AM  
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  • The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholar's Version
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  • If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus
  • The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity
  • Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus
  • Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith
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.” 17 likes
“To see Paul positively does not mean endorsing everything he ever wrote.” 3 likes
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