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Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity

Image of Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity
Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
March 2016
Fred's Rating: 
James D. Tabor
Total Pages: 
Simon & Schuster

James D. Tabor, with a Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Chicago, is chair of the religious studies department of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is an expert on Christian origins who has also conducted field work in archeology at many sites in Israel and Jordon. This was a gift book.

The Amazon website for the hardcover edition of this book is

The home page has a good summary, click on ‘Read more’ to read it. The Editorial Reviews further down the home page are also worth reading, especially Booklist’s “starred review.” Use the ‘Look inside’ option to scroll down to the Contents page. The Map is not included in this Amazon preview, but the Timeline is. The first and last pages (xv and xxi) of the author’s 7-pp Preface are not included in this preview But the included pages contain important information – I found the four Preface pages xvi–xix to be well worth reading, for they reveal much of the author’s intent and motivation in writing this book.

In his Introduction the author provides an overview: “Based on Paul’s authentic letters I have isolated six major elements in Paul’s Christianity that shape the central contours of his thought – and thus my presentation in this book. Before considering each in detail it will be helpful to get an overview.” These six major elements cover ten pages in the Introduction. Here I list them: 1. A New Spiritual Body; 2. A Cosmic Family and a Heavenly Kingdom; 3. A Mystical Union with Christ; 4. Already but Not Yet; 5. Under the Torah of Christ; 6. The Battle of the Apostles.

After he discusses (in ten pages) these six elements, the author comments as follows: “if some of the elements of this brief overview of my analysis of Paul seem strange and unfamiliar to readers, that should be no surprise. Paul proved too radical, too apocalyptic, and too controversial even for the emerging Church in the second through the fourth centuries. He was domesticated, first by the author of Acts, as I have noted, but subsequently by letters written in his name, purporting to be from his hand, that are found in the New Testament. Paul was appropriated as a hero, a courageous preacher, and a martyr, who was responsible for taking the gospel beyond the Jewish world, but the radical content of his message, and his view of his unique calling and mission, were lost to subsequent generations of Christians. What Paul most expected to happen never came about and his grand vision of the imminent transformation of the world, and his pivotal role therein, utterly failed. The Paul who was appropriated over the centuries was a theological Paul, particularly as understood by Augustine and Luther. Paul was removed from his historical context and recast in terms of the great doctrines of Christianity, namely, predestination, justification by grace through faith, reconciliation, redemption, sanctification, and eternal life. The ethical teachings of Paul also had a practical and enduring legacy, from his incomparable celebration of the primacy of love in 1 Corinthians 13, to his views of women, sexuality and marriage, divorce, and other social issues. The thirteen letters attributed to Paul in the New Testament make up nearly one-quarter of the New Testament and they are the primary documents that have shaped the course of Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity.

“Jesus will always be the center of Christianity. but the ‘Jesus’ who most influenced history was the ‘Jesus Christ’ of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus. There is a double irony here. Paul became the most influential defining figure for later Christianity, even beyond the historical Jesus, but he is also a man waiting to be discovered, even after nearly two thousand years. Paul transformed Jesus himself, with his message of a messianic kingdom of justice and peace on earth, to the symbol of a religion of otherworldly salvation in a heavenly world. Recovering the authentic Paul, as he was in his own time, and from his own words, is my task in this book. All of us, whether Christian or not, whether wittingly or unwittingly, are heirs of Paul, since the parameters of Christ and his heavenly kingdom created by Paul were what shaped Christian civilization.”

In chapters One through Nine and the Appendix, the author provides the information he used to make his case. When I was reading this book, I found paragraph-sized summaries at the end of each chapter. At the time, I thought I might use these summaries in reviewing this book, but when I started to review it this morning, I realized that in the Introduction, the author had listed and discussed the six elements in the four pages that are available in Amazon’s preview, so I thought it best to point out his summaries in the Introduction rather than trying to condense his final paragraphs in each of the chapters.

Here are references to four other books that discuss Paul in detail: What Paul Meant by Garry Wills, 2007, 176 pages (book 210, 4 stars); The First Paul by Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, 2010, 224 pages (book 380, 4 stars); Paul Was Not a Christian by Pamela Eisenbaum, 2008, 255 pages (book 459, 3 stars); and The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright, 2003, 738 pages with 196 on Paul (book 65, 4 stars). Paul was, of course, discussed to some extent in other books I’ve read, but not the main focus of these other books. Except for Wright's book, you can simply enter the name Paul as being in the book's title on Fred’s Reviews page - then you'll access the four books on Paul (plus an extra book about Dr. Paul Farmer).

This current book 642 was well written and well done in maintaining high academic standards (with 25-pp of detailed Notes and 25-pp of Index, plus a Map and a Timeline) I rate it at five stars – the highest rating (so far) of the books I’ve read about Paul. And his influence on the first and other early centuries of Christianity.

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