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St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate


3.80  ·  Rating details ·  849 ratings  ·  134 reviews
St. Paul is known throughout the world as the first Christian writer, authoring fourteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament. But as Karen Armstrong demonstrates in St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate, he also exerted a more significant influence on the spread of Christianity throughout the world than any other figure in history. It was Paul who established th ...more
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published September 22nd 2015 by New Harvest
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Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Since the Apostle St. Paul is known for pronouncements like, “Wives, be subject to your husband as though to the Lord,” and “Women should keep silent at the meeting...if there is something they want to know they should ask their husbands at home,” it’s no wonder many people consider him misogynistic. Except it turns out he probably didn’t write those words and wouldn’t have had those sentiments, according to evidence cited by Karen Armstrong in this fascinating little book that attempts to set t ...more
(2.5) A number of Armstrong’s recent books have been disappointing reads for me – just dense, tedious collections of facts without the animating spark that made A History of God so fascinating. This could be a moderately interesting introduction for readers unfamiliar with the life story of the apostle Paul, but it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. However, Armstrong does do a good job of showing how Paul was a transitional figure between Jewish and Christian customs, and there’s a ...more
Scriptor Ignotus
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: christianity
What's with the bizarre ratings and reviews? There is a 1-star review that doesn't even appear to be about this book. Another gives it 1-star because the reviewer found the book "dull". This is Karen freaking Armstrong, people; probably the best-known living religious scholar in the world. Check yourselves.

On to my review:

This is a much-needed defense of the Apostle Paul. For a number of reasons, it has become fashionable in many quarters for people to treat Paul as a villain who corrupted the
Oct 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: netgalley
Added 3/10/18.

After re-thinking this book, I took all but one star off. It made me so angry with the Bible that I didn't read it for two years. Anything that takes you from the Word of God is not good, from my POV. I don't recommend this at all.

Original review after this point.

Good, solid book that definitely made me think about the Bible and if I follow the belief that every word is God inspired or if it's made up by men who are fallible and sometimes had an agenda of their own.

I admit, I wasn
James Hartley
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to read this twice as it's fairly dense and, for me at least, was tough to concentrate on at night, which is when I read. These last few weeks, thanks to Covid-19 and Christmas (2020), I've had a lot of time to just sit and read during the day and it's given me a completely new take on what I thought this book was. In a nutshell, Armstrong's style is taut and clean and this little tome is an enlightening, clear-sighted, judicious take on the first extant Christian writer.
These days, seen f
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Armstrong is one of Biblical most honored and respected Historians, and her research on Saul of Tarsus doesn't disappoint. Armstrong firmly sets him in the proper historical content, illuminating his choices and why his opinions were so in conflict with most of the early Christian leaders. You won't necessarily like the man any more after spending time with Armstrong's commentary, but you will understand him better. Outstanding scholarship clearly presented.
Steve Greenleaf
Karen Armstrong is among my favorite writers on the topic of religion, and this book only adds to my admiration. Armstrong is not a Biblical scholar nor an academic student of religion, but she’s someone who’s dived deeply into religious traditions and who brings her findings and observations back to the rest of us through thoughtful, carefully researched, and considered books. This book only adds to my admiration for her work.

Armstrong is no stranger to challenging topics: the monotheistic trad
Dec 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently enjoyed The Lost Art of Scripture from this author, I was interested to discover what she had to say about Paul couched within a thorough investigation of the time and culture he lived in. I have been reading it in small bites over time and again find this author to make ancient culture come to life with solid research and a gift for cutting through stacks of information to deliver clarity.
I will probably revisit as this book is rich with reference detail.

Kindle Unlimited
Rob Tonkinson
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
I had difficulty discerning the point of this book. The author seems to question the authenticity of plenty of Biblical teaching, which is ok, but there is quite a bit that she just seems to accept without real question and she gives quite a bit of credence to scholars thousands of years from the events. She fills in details with her own thoughts of what motivation might have been in a variety of interactions and sifts things through her worldview. The book is full of history and conjecture and ...more
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Armstrong is a preeminent Christian scholar and a believer herself. She tackles the life and legacy of St. Paul in this short work, taking the rhetorical sheen off of his life and giving him a much more human and historically based ethos. Here are a few points that struck me:

(1) Paul often clashed with the leaders of the Christian movement in Jerusalem. They thought he was a wild card and somewhat dangerous. Not only that, but they didn't initially authorize him to preach; he felt like his revel
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
I feel shockingly uneducated on the history of Christianity, and I've been trying to fix that. I've read a few of Karen Armstrong's books, and I really enjoy them. She has a way of explaining things in an easy to understand, not overly academic way.

For starters, I always assumed that Paul was one of the original 12 apostles. Turns out he wasn't. Paul became part of the "Jesus Cult" (the author's term) after Jesus revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus.

I've been working my way slowly
May 02, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I should start off by saying this was a mostly OK read, though not exactly a page-turner. It is not because the subject-matter was not interesting. On the contrary, I find it very interesting -especially given the historical background-, but I couldn’t help thinking that the lack of a clear-cut plan led to a lot of repetitions and detours and I found it tedious and hard to read at times. Sometimes the whole book felt like a haphazard listing of sources on Paul but still I learnt a lot. I tried t ...more
A sympathetic but not hagiographic reassessment of Paul and his theology based solely upon a reading of those letters regarded as actually written by the man - Romans, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, Phillipians, I Thessalonians, Philemon - that argues he was far more radical and egalitarian, and not the misogynist he's often caricatured as, than the religious establishment has ever been comfortable with (either in the 1st century AD or now). ...more
B. Rule
This concise summary of the Pauline corpus largely uses a “Historical Paul” approach. Armstrong absolves Paul of various sins, including misogyny, gender roles, rigid hierarchies, and deference to imperial law, instead blaming such elements in the letters on subsequent interpolations. Too short to get into much theological detail.
Howard Cincotta
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
The subtitle may be “The Apostle We Love to Hate,” but author Karen Armstrong is actually arguing that Paul may be the most misunderstood of the early Christian fathers in this extended and quite persuasive examination of Paul in the context of his times.

Who was St. Paul? The historical record identifies him as Saul of Tarsus, a zealously devout Jew who became who believed in strict obedience to Jewish law. In other words, a Pharisee. He was critical of the Jesus movement, if not an outright opp
Frans Vermeiren
Over the centuries Paul of Tarsus has been a controversial figure in early Christianity, and that will remain the same after this book.
Armstrong vividly paints the communities Paul visited, all of them with their own cultural characteristics. This is the strongest point of this book, together with the differences she convincingly shows between Ephesians and Colossians on one hand and the authentic Pauline letters on the other.
But in general she gives a superficial overview of Pauline scholarshi
Krista Joy
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Was interesting to learn more about the culture of the Roman Empire that Paul was traveling in and I enjoyed thinking more about Paul and understanding the context of his faith.

My main problem is that the author doesn't think the Bible is accurate and disputes the reliability many times. While that is her prerogative to believe I wish there had been more evidence shown to back up these claims and a balanced view rather than an opinion presented as obvious fact like below where you are like wait
Apr 08, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: christianity
Well, where do I start... I listened to this in my car so I was unable to take notes but I disagreed with so much of what she says. I looked at the end of the book and do not see scholarly notes although there are some footnotes. So, here you find strong opinions but I don't see them backed up with any scholarship. Today I was listening to her take on Paul's missionary journey and his time in Corinth and reads Paul as a depressed mess who felt himself a failure. A lot of conjecture that isn't ba ...more
Jan 10, 2016 rated it liked it
An interesting read for those who are into biblical history. Not for those who are not.
Andrew Scholes
Aug 05, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Her view of scripture is suspect. She had a number areas that made me question where she got that interpretation from. "That God had announced to the world when He (capitalization mine) had vindicated Jesus and named Him (my cap again) as the messiah. Ummmmm What? Named Him? He IS the messiah. "They not have understood that Paul . . ." I'd like to buy a verb please. "But from a very early date, Jesus's followers were convinced that Jesus had been buried in a respectable tomb and, later, the auth ...more
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Published in 2015 by Brilliance Audio.
Read by the author, Karen Armstrong.
Duration: 5 hours, 21 minutes.

Karen Armstrong is a multiple award-winning author of more than 25 books, the great majority of them exploring religion. She is particularly interested in Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

This book is aimed at the informed layman - not at other historians or religious experts. I read A LOT of history and have gone to church my entire life, but I can get lost in the weeds pretty quic
Matt Little
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
I read this because I've always struggled with Paul's teaching, which I find unintelligible, longwinded and contradictory. Turns out, the author says he didn't write most of the most controversial books. She gives tons of context, but her style is almost too authoritative as she rarely explains the sources of her claims (maybe those are in the footnotes of the written book, which didn't translate to the audiobook?) After the first chapter, which was incredibly compelling, the text became increas ...more
As a feminist, I’ve always found certain passages in the Bible that are attributed to St. Paul to be rather offensive. As someone who reads a lot of history books, I try not to be too judgmental about historical figures, knowing that there are far too many cases where the evidence against the person is circumstantial, ambiguous, and/or blatant falsification. (I was a member of the Richard III Society for a while, if that’s a clue.) The author of this book claims that many of the passages that I ...more
Michael Dunn
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I feel I know Paul as a person after reading this book. That was enjoyable. So much I had never put together about his life and his place in the Jesus movement and the challenges he faced. I was struck with how contemporary they are.
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
In another of her fine short biographies of important religious figures written for the non-specialist, Armstrong excellently covers all the basics of what little is known of Paul's life. As it should be, the emphasis is on his teachings (the Letters) and how that contributed to the development and growth of Christianity in the early years of the various communities that began to embrace the post-Torah view of Judaism. Paul's mission covered great physical distances and was mostly concerned with ...more
Mar 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Unless we believe that Paul lived and wrote for more than 200 years, we have to accept one fact from the beginning: probably less than half of the New Testament letters attributed to him were actually written by him.

It was common practice in the ancient world for students and unknown authors to write "in the name of" a great teacher. Much of the negativity we feel today toward Paul stems from sections of later letters - what religious scholars such as Armstrong call Deutero-Pauline, i.e. most l
While I'm generally a fan of Armstrong's work, there were a few niggling issues I had with this book, which lost her a couple of stars in my rating.

There were a couple of bold, controversial statements thrown in there, which to my mind seemed to be lacking supporting evidence; one example being when Armstrong states baldly that Paul believed that Jesus only became God's son after the resurrection, citing (in the end notes) Romans 1:4, which in fact says that Christ was 'declared to be Son of God
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it
This quick read gave me a more full description of the personality and depth of Paul, than was ever achieved by merely reading and even studying some of the many books attributed to him in the Bible. Not having studied Paul in-depth, though I have participated in numerous bible studies of his books, I especially appreciated the "proof points" that Paul isn't so nearly misogynistic as some claim him to be. Were those passages in particular conveniently inserted after the fact? Perhaps - the evide ...more
Sam Eccleston
Feb 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is surely one of Armstrong's best works; thoroughly readable, with a jarring, insightful perspective on Paul that allows even those deeply familiar with his life and work to see him from a new perspective. Full of fascinating contextual information, and always able to draw meaning from details which at face value might seem trivial, this book is both a fantastic and comprehensive overview of the life of the great saint for those discovering him for the first time and a companion for those w ...more
Chris Walker
Jul 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A game-changer for me when it comes to Paul.
The author's foundational premise - that Paul is only the author of seven of the New Testament Epistles - was not news to me, but this is the first book I've read to unpack the implications of that to attempt to get to the 'real Paul'. And it's not the most encouraging portrait, as Paul emerges as a radical egalitarian and unifier (great!) who was constantly having to fight against competing versions of the gospel and personal slanders from other Chri
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Karen Armstrong, a comparative religion specialist is the author of numerous books on religion, including The Case for God, A History of God, The Battle for God, Holy War, Islam, Buddha, and Fields of Blood, as well as a memoir, The Spiral Staircase.

Her work has been translated into 45 languages. In 2008 she was awarded the TED Prize and began working with TED on the Charter for Compassion,

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Ciannon Smart has been holed up in her England home since the pandemic began a year ago, but by no means has she been idle. She’s been on...
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“Paul had been doing his best to hasten the coming of the Messiah; that was the “good” that he was trying to do. But in an overwhelming moment of truth, he realized that Jesus’s followers were absolutely right and that his persecution of their community had actually impeded the arrival of the Messianic Age. As if this were not enough, his violence had broken the fundamental principles of the Torah: love of God and love of neighbor. In his excessive ardor for the law’s integrity, he had forgotten God’s stern command: “Thou shalt not kill.” 2 likes
“According to Luke, far from denouncing the cult, like Stephen, they worshipped together every day in the temple.22 Indeed, the revered Pharisee Gamaliel, whose views were more liberal than Paul’s, is said to have advised the Sanhedrin to leave the Jesus movement alone: If it was of human origin, it would break up of its own accord like other recent protest groups.23 But for Paul, the Hellenistic followers of Jesus were insulting everything he believed to be most sacred, and he greatly feared that their devotion to a man executed so recently by the Roman authorities would put the entire community at risk. Paul himself had never had any dealings with Jesus before his death, but he would have been horrified to learn that Jesus had desecrated the temple and argued that some of God’s laws were more important than others. For a Pharisee with extreme views, like Paul, a Jew who did not observe every single one of the commandments was endangering the Jewish people, since God could punish such infidelity as severely as he had punished the ancient Israelites in the time of Moses. But above all, Paul was scandalized by the outrageous idea of a crucified Messiah.24 How could a convicted criminal possibly restore the dignity and liberty of Israel? This was an utter travesty, a scandalon or “stumbling block.” The Torah was adamant that such a man was hopelessly polluted: “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and you hang him on a gibbet, his body must not remain on the tree overnight; you must bury him the same day, for the one who has been hanged is accursed of God, and you must not defile the land that Yahweh your God has given you.”25 True, his followers insisted that Jesus had been buried on the day of his death, but Paul was well aware that most Roman soldiers had little respect for Jewish sensibilities and might well have left Jesus’s body hanging on his cross to be consumed by birds of prey. Even though this was no fault of his own, such a man was an abomination and had defiled the Land of Israel.26 To imagine that these desecrated remains had been raised to the right hand of God was abhorrent, unthinkable, and blasphemous. It impugned the honor of God and his people and would delay the longed-for coming of the Messiah, so it was, Paul believed, his duty to eradicate this sect.” 0 likes
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