St. Paul: The Apostle we Love to Hate

Karen Armstrong (2015, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Paul the apostle exerted a more significant influence on the spread of Christianity than any other figure in history, establishing the first Christian church in Europe and Asia in the first century, transforming a minor sect into the largest western-produced religion, articulating the conviction that Christ could serve as a model for personal and corporate transcendence. His dramatic vision of G-d on the road to Damascus is one of the most powerful stories in Christianity.  Armstrong focuses on the geographical dimension of Paul’s work:  Damascus, Antioch, Macedonia (the Galatian exchange).  She draws her material from the seven letters generally regarded as Pauline (1 Thessalonians, Galatians; 1,2 Corinthians; Philippians, Philemon, Romans, p 13).

‘Paul was a lifelong opponent of the structural injustice of the Roman Empire…. And struggled to transcend the barriers of ethnicity, class and gender’ (pp 13,14).  (She does not place as much confidence in Acts—Luke’s emphasis there is an apologetic for Roman society, and Luke writes 20 years after Paul’s letters appear.)  (Cf her reason for the Pauline-Barnabas breakup, p 38, with that given in Acts 15:37)  Armstrong works hard at bringing clarity to two issues treated in the Paulines:  struggle against ‘super spiritualists (p 69), and his attempt to show intra-ekklesial support with the collection for the Jerusalem poor (p 46).  There’s a good treatment of the use of terms common in imperial propaganda that Paul then turned upside down (euangelion, soter, Eirene, p 54). 

A good perspective on Pauline contribution to the life of the church.

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