Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity

James Tabor (2012), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Historians know almost nothing about the Jesus community of the two decades following the crucifixion, when Jesus’ followers regrouped and began to spread the story. During this time the apostle Paul joined the movement.  James Tabor reconstructs the origins of Christianity, pointing out the disagreements between James, Peter and Paul, over issues such as the meaning of Jesus’ message and whether converts needed to become Jews first.  Tabor’s book shows how Paul separated himself from Peter and James to introduce his own version of Christianity.  James, brother of Jesus, was made head of the new community of faith in Jerusalem.  The epistle attributed to James has well developed parallels to the message of Jesus:  ethical teachings, anointing the sick with oil, forgiveness with G-d through repentance and prayer: the most direct possible link to the Jewish teaching of Jesus himself. 

In a very helpful section Tabor summarizes Greek and Hebrew perspectives on death resurrection.  Also helpful is his pointing to the Jesus images given in the gospels.  Eg Matthew and Mark, Jewish faithfulness; Mark, no history of Jesus; John, the pre-existent ‘logos’; Paul, Greek categories and philosophical perspectives (cosmic deliverer). (See Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus).  Tabor’s book provides a careful look at early church history and the struggle in leadership reflected especially in Acts and in the Pauline writings.

A book that invites the reader to provide both framework and content of faith.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.