Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 16, 2000
An unorthodox look at Paul's influence
Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, by A.N. Wilson. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997. 258 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
Paul has always been a major figure in Christianity and has strongly influenced our understanding of Jesus and the resurrection experience.
Unlike the four gospels, which provide a snapshot of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul's letters are more of an attempt to take Jesus and explain the meaning of his life and resurrection. The effort to understand and interpret the works of Paul has led to many schisms within Christianity.
This said, Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, is an attempt by A.N. Wilson to examine the Apostle and the role he had in the formation of the religion we now call Christianity.
Wilson, a journalist who has written controversial biographies of many historical figures including Jesus and Tolstoy, attempts to place Paul in the central role, more so than Jesus, in the development and ideology of Christianity.
This is not a biography in the traditional sense but more of an extended background article on an historical figure who has influenced the world to a great degree.
Wilson makes it clear that he believes that "Jesus was a devoted Jew who did not seek to found a new religion, but to call his followers to a stricter observance of Judaism."
Paul took many of Jesus' ideas, and those of the early Christian communities, combined them with his own upbringing in a Roman city and his experiences of the local religions, and developed the theology that we now find expressed today in the mainline Christian churches.
According to Wilson, it is far removed from the original thought and works of Jesus of Nazareth.
Wilson claims that it was Paul who first claimed Jesus' divinity and called Jesus the messiah. His arguments, though unorthodox, are powerful.
He states that Paul is "widely regarded as someone who distorted the original message of Christianity, by adding 'theology' to the supposedly simple message of love Jesus preached."
I found the book to be an enigma. On one hand, Wilson comes through clearly as a non-believer and yet argues passionately the beliefs of his subject. While not a theologian, Wilson does provide a good synthesis of various theological debates regarding scripture dating, Scripture interpretation, historical events and artifacts, Christology, life in New Testament times, and a host of other fields.
I found myself disagreeing with Wilson in some of his assumptions regarding Paul and the early Church. He uses Scripture and historical writings very selectively in many cases. His opinions on Scripture dating seem to be a little different than what I have learned through my Pauline studies at Newman College.
Overall, I found Paul: The Mind of the Apostle to be a very worthwhile read. It is written in a style that is engaging and interesting.
It would help the reader to have some background in the field of biblical studies but it is not necessary. It will be an eye opener for those who have not read biblical studies before! A very unique and fascinating view of one of Christianity's most important theologians.
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