Reinventing Paul

Reinventing Paul

Reinventing Paul

Reinventing Paul

Synopsis

Throughout the Christian era, Paul has stood at the center of controversy, accused of being the father of Christian anti-Semitism. In this highly accessible book, John Gager challenges this entrenched view of Paul, arguing persuasively that Paul's words have been taken out of their original context, distorted, and generally misconstrued. Using Paul's own writings, Gager brilliantly sets forth a controversial interpretation of the apostle's teaching as he takes us in search of the "real" Paul. Through an exhaustive analysis of Paul's letters to the Galatians and the Romans, he provides illuminating answers to the key questions: Did Paul repudiate the Law of Moses? Did he believe that Jews had been rejected by God and replaced as His chosen people by Gentiles? Did he consider circumcision to be necessary for salvation? And did he expect Jews to find salvation through Jesus? Gager tells us that Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles, not the Jews. His most vehement arguments were directed not against Judaism but against competing apostles in the Jesus movement who demanded that Gentiles be circumcised and conform to Jewish law in order to be saved. Moreover, Paul relied on rhetorical devices that were familiar to his intended audience but opaque to later readers of the letters. As a result, his message has been misunderstood by succeeding generations.

Excerpt

Albert Schweitzer once wrote that no task so fully reveals an epoch's understanding of itself as its efforts to write a life of Jesus. But if, as is widely believed, Paul is the second founder of Christianity (Jesus being the first, and the real founder at that) efforts to write about Paul must be even more revealing. I believe that this traditional view of Paul—and Jesus—is wrong. Jesus was not the first founder of Christianity and Paul was not the second. Be that as it may, it still holds true that books on Paul tell us a great deal about the times in which they were written. Now the question arises: Is it possible to break free from this law, from the powerful tendency to read our views into Paul rather than working our way from them? Can we arrive at the “real” Paul? Or, more modestly, at a Paul closer to his time than to ours?

These are not popular questions today. Among many intellectuals, the view is that there is no such thing as the real Paul or any other figure. Only different, shifting, unstable perceptions.

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