George H. Martin
Claremont Press, 336 pages | Published November 1, 2022
Christian preachers must choose which Apostle Paul to offer congregants. Is Paul radically inclusive, in harmony with advocates of diversity, equity and inclusion? That Paul can be found in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Or is Paul a “misogynistic patriarchal male who distrusted women?” George Martin, author of this splendid new book, dismisses that description, but that Paul lives in Ephesians 5:22-23, for example: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church …”
So, which Paul is it?
Martin begins his search for the authentic Paul by limiting his sources to seven of the 13 New Testament books to which Paul’s name is attached — the seven for which there’s scholarly consensus that Paul wrote (or dictated): Romans, I and II Corinthians, I Thessalonians, Philemon, Galatians and Philippians.
As Martin notes, many of the “most troubling statements attributed to Paul” come from the three so-called “pastoral epistles,” I and II Timothy and Titus. And, he asserts, the Paul portrayed in the book of Acts can differ rather dramatically from the Paul found in his own letters.
Martin’s goal – a worthy one – is to help preachers understand the real Paul so they and their congregations can learn from him, rather than be distracted by words that don’t fairly represent Paul’s beliefs.
The reality is that Paul has been misused in various ways for 2,000 years. One of the most damaging misunderstandings is the suggestion that he abandoned Judaism and converted to Christianity. But in Paul’s time there was not yet a Christian religion to which to convert. Misunderstanding Paul in this way has been a major source of the anti-Judaism that Christianity has promoted for much of its existence.
Never a “Christian,” Paul became part of a small Jewish sect that believed the Messiah had come as Jesus and that this Jesus had called him to tell the gospel story everywhere he could. Paul didn’t leave a Jewish life, Martin writes, but, rather, spent his apostleship inviting others “to live Jewishly.”
That Paul emerged with the innovative Pauline scholarship that began in 1963 with publication of an article in the Harvard Theological Review by Krister Stendahl, bishop of Stockholm in the Church of Sweden, and has since been added to by many others.
Martin properly acknowledges the impossibility of producing an accurate biography of Paul using New Testament books. But by focusing on the seven books he actually wrote, it’s possible to gain a clearer understanding of this often-misconstrued man.
Anyone who preaches can learn from this book. But it also should be a good resource for adult Christian education classes that want to take the Bible seriously, which means, among other things, not taking it all literally.
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