Showing posts with label Christian martyr. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian martyr. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The First Paul – a review


Authors: Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton


Borg, M.J. & Crossan, J.D. (2009). The first Paul: Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church’s conservative icon. HarperCollins e-books.


Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan introduce us to the apostle Paul by providing historical contexts for his life and teachings. Early on they explain why only a small collection of documents were actually written by the apostle who wrote the first “books” in the New Testament.

Scholars affirm seven letters (aka books) were actually written by Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon.

Scholars believe the pastoral epistles were written later by other authors. These are 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Finally, scholars disagree about the authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians; however, according to Borg and Crossan, most believe these were not written by Paul.

The different teachings in the three groups of letters named above challenge readers because they offer different views on such matters as the equality of women and men as well as slavery.

In their brief biography of Paul, the authors remind us that like Jesus, Paul was a lifelong Jew. And we learn about the Roman Imperial religion that offers an important context for Paul’s writing about Jesus as Lord (instead of Caesar) and the special terms used to refer to Caesar and to Jesus. Terms like God, Son of God, and the one who brings peace to the world are applied to Roman Emperors and to Jesus.

The biography also reveals some differences between the Paul presented by the writer of Acts and by Paul in his own letters. Readers of the New Testament know Paul called himself an apostle. Borg and Crossan explore the meaning of apostle by considering who sent Paul and to whom Paul was sent.

Chapter two is particularly useful as it helps readers learn how to read one of Paul’s letters. The focus is on the short letter of Philemon and the topic is Paul’s view of slavery. After reviewing the text, the authors show how Paul’s view in Philemon differs from the views presented by the letters Paul did not write. Next, the authors provide a similar analysis on the subject of the head of the household and equality for women and men.

In chapter three, the authors look at the contents of Acts and Paul’s letters to discover areas of agreement or disagreement. In chapter four, we see how Paul contrasts Roman and early Christian theology. The focus is especially on Rome’s pursuit of peace through violence and Christ’s approach to peace through the nonviolent pursuit of justice.

Why was Christ crucified? That’s the message of chapter five. The authors see the crucifixion, a Roman method of execution, as part of Paul’s anti-imperial stance. Thus, Paul doesn’t just preach Jesus died but emphasizes Christ crucified. The authors also take on the theology of substitutionary atonement and the understanding of Jesus sacrificial death. They suggest understanding Jesus’ sacrifice as being for the sake of those he loved like a parent who might sacrifice their life so their child might live. In this view, “The death of Jesus as God’s Son is a parable of God’s love for us (p, 54).”

Chapter six deals with justification by grace through faith. The authors emphasize Paul’s focus on transformation in this life rather than a focus on the afterlife. And they do not pit faith against works. Instead, they contrast faith-without-works to works-without-faith. And they clarify that faith refers to commitment rather than an affirmation of belief statements as seems common in some branches of Christianity.

The final chapter is about Life Together “In Christ.” The authors note that the phrase “In Christ” appears more than a hundred times and it usually refers to living in community.


I recommend The First Paul to readers interested in a scholarly examination of traditional teachings attributed to the apostle Paul. How Christians interpret Paul’s theology has had a significant impact on the lives of billions.

First, there are practical matters that have made a difference in how the church has historically viewed slavery, women, and people who experience same-sex attraction. Those Christian views largely come from the teachings of Paul or texts attributed to Paul. 

Second, there are theological matters. Many in the church have focused on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a different way than do these authors who challenge the doctrine of atonement.

Borg and Crossan do not hesitate to consider areas of disagreement in the relevant texts. This lack of hesitation is a contrast to the resistance found in evangelical circles where clergy often take a fundamentalist approach to the texts as if the letters were dictated by God rather than produced by first century Jewish men like Paul.

One matter the authors did not address is that even letters written by Paul may have a personal bias and be subject to the limitations of human memory. Given other works by these authors, I do not think they would overlook these cognitive factors but they did not explicitly identify them when dealing with historical events such as those in Acts.

I think some evangelical women have missed out on a sound biblical argument favoring the equality of women and men when they do not distinguish between the letters written by Paul and those he probably did not write. There's a difference in Paul's affirmation of equality in those were he wrote compared to those that sound more like a taming of Paul to fit the male hierarchy in the culture.

The First Paul available on AMAZON

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

God's Bestseller: William Tyndale... Book Review


William Tyndale, Thomas More,
and the Writing of the English Bible—
A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal


Brian Moynahan

Reviewed By

Geoffrey W. Sutton

God’s Bestseller is a plot-driven biography of William Tyndale (1494-1536) and his ruthless antagonist, Thomas More. Character development is lacking due to the limited reliable information about Tyndale’s interactions with others. This is no fault of Moynahan because once Tyndale became known as an evangelical, aka heretic, he fled England to hide in Germany and the Netherlands to achieve his calling—the translation of the Bible into the vulgar tongue of English.

Even for readers who don’t know much about history, the book’s subtitle reveals the outcome—Tyndale was a martyr. What Moynahan treats us to is the life and death struggle between Tyndale and More, staged against political and religious battles for control of the Bible, money, and the lives of men and women.

Early on we get a small glimpse of Tyndale’s early years. We learn he went to both Oxford and Cambridge. He then set upon his life’s goal of completing an English translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into English. Such a translation was forbidden by the ruling Roman Catholic Church whose English warrior was none other than the famous Thomas More (1478-1535). In 1524, Tyndale left England for Germany and completed his English translation of the New Testament in 1525. The book became a bestseller despite its illegal status in England.

As Tyndale was working on the Old Testament, another battle took place between King Henry VIII and the Pope. As you may know, Henry was in lust with Anne Boleyn and eager to divorce his first wife, Catherine, who had given birth to Mary, but no male heir. The pope’s refusal to grant the divorce led to Henry’s 1534 break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England, which granted the divorce. The biblical battle runs from the bedroom to the continent as Queen Anne Boleyn kept a Tyndale New Testament at her bedside and was occasionally able to assist reform minded Englishmen until she fell victim to Henry’s penchant for other women.

As the political-religious battle waged between pope and king, More was rooting out heretics and sending them flaming into eternity. Following More’s flameout, Tyndale was eventually captured when he was betrayed by Henry Phillips. During his 500-day imprisonment, Tyndale responded at length to inquiries about his beliefs. In the end, he was strangled and burned at a stake 6 October, 1536.

Only three years after his death, Tyndale’s work provided a substantial basis for Myles Coverdale’s Great Bible (1539) and later, the King James or Authorised version of 1611. More’s legacy includes canonization by Pope Pius XI in 1935 and fame associated with Utopia.

Moynahan is a master of the art of creative nonfiction as he moves the story with lively conflicts between various religious and political characters. He illustrates the main points of disagreement between the reformers and the traditional church with quotes from Tyndale's original translation on such matters as transsubstantiation, priests vs. elders, and love vs. charity. Doctrines hang on the difference in meaning of a word or two. But more importantly, lives are at stake. For Tyndale, Christians do not eat the body of Christ during the Eucharist, they do not need a priest for confession, and 1 Corinthians 13 is about love--not charity and the association of charity with donations to the church. There's more of course--the famous Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith crops up in more than one battle.

 Moynahan keep us close to the action by pointing to familiar landmarks in the main cities of London and Antwerp but he also keeps us close to the era by judicious quotes from the main characters presented in early modern English.

Moynahan, B. (2002). God’s bestseller: William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal. New York: St. Martins.