Paul: A Critical Life

Paul: A Critical Life

Paul: A Critical Life

Paul: A Critical Life

Synopsis

Traditionally the Acts of the Apostles has provided the framework for biographies of the Apostle Paul. In recent years, however, the historical value of the Acts has come into question. Many scholars argue that, despite the accuracy of many details, the text as a whole reflects the interests of Luke rather than objective reality. This book presents a completely new, and much more vivid and dramatic, account of the life of Paul than any before. While continuing to give consideration to the Acts, Murphy-O'Connor reconstructs the apostle's life--from his childhood in Taursus and his years as a student in Jerusalem, to the successes and failures of his ministry--from his own writings. Reinforcing his critical analysis of Paul's letters with close attention to archaeology and contemporary texts, Murphy-O'Connor not only charts Paul's movements, but extracts a new understanding of his motives and the social and cultural aspects of his ministry. Most important of all, this biography transforms a fountain of theological ideas into a human being.

Excerpt

Not the least of problems faced by the author of a biography of the Apostle, Paul of Tarsus, is to find a title that will distinguish it from its many eminent predecessors. My choice of Paul: A Critical Life was dictated by the polyvalence of the adjective, whose range of meanings may serve both to explain my purpose and to highlight the specific contributions of this volume.

One sense of 'critical' is 'involving suspense as to the issue', but it can also mean 'decisive, crucial'. Both are applicable to Paul, and to my own life in relation to his. The church of Antioch was responsible for the missionary outreach, which demanded of pagan converts only faith in Jesus. It was in this spirit of freedom that Paul laboured in Asia Minor and Greece. When Antioch later changed its stance and aligned itself with Jerusalem, which insisted on observance of the Law, the status of its churches to the north and west came under attack. The very nature of Gentile Christianity was put at risk. Paul was its main defender. For five or six years in the middle of the first century AD he invested every ounce of his energy, and every scintilla of his intelligence, in devising a response which was ultimately to prevail. Even if his writings were not part of the canon, the incalculable debt we owe him is adequate justification for yet another attempt to understand how and why he achieved what he did.

On a more personal level, I wrote my doctoral dissertation at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, on Paul's understanding of the function of preaching, and it was to prove crucial to my future career. Not only did it lead to my nomination to the École Biblique in 1965, which has been my academic home ever since, but it stimulated a life-time interest in the Pauline writings. At first my concern was with the exact interpretation of points of detail, with a view to a better understanding of his theology, but almost insensibly my focus gradually shifted to the historical dimension of his life and work. The more conscious 11 became of the way theological thought actually develops -- by historically conditioned insights rather than by logical deduction from a deposit of faith -- the more I wanted to encounter the personality behind the letters, and to determine the factors which led him to think in a particular way. This book contains the fruits of that quest, which are displayed with a certitude that all historians will recognize as spurious. Only definiteness, however, can provoke the reactions that in dialogue lead to progress. I make my own what J. A. T. Robinson said in the conclusion to a much more challenging work, 'all the statements of this book should be taken as questions' (1976: 357).

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