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📙 The Cambridge Companion to St Paul (Cambridge Companions to Religion) by James D. G. Dunn — epub download

The Cambridge Companion To St. Paul is considered to be an authoritative text on the life of the apostle Paul. With detailed analyses on Paul's theology, it is a `must-read' for all wishing to understand the man who, apart from Jesus himself, has influenced and continues to be the foremost influence in Christianity today. Paul was a controversial figure questioned not only by the Jews with whom he originally oppressed the early followers of Christ but also by Christ followers themselves with whom he later worked. While many a writer has portrayed Paul as a `liberator' who allowed the early followers of Christ to `shake the shackles' of Judaic legalism others such as John Dunn, editor and contributor to the book, have focused more on Paul's work as an `integrator' who sought to include gentiles as well as Jews in his doctrine of `justification through faith'. Biblical scripture shows us that Paul was a Benjamite Jew born in the city of Tarsus and brought up in Jerusalem under the tutelage of a rabbi by the name of Gamaliel. Paul was therefore well-educated and had as one of the strongest convictions before his conversion, to persecute and destroy anyone who professed a faith in Christ. His encounter with Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus was the watershed event that lead to his transformation. After a subsequent visit to Jerusalem, during which he was despised by the Jewish authorities, Paul returned to Tarsus where, it is speculated, he continued with his education. It was not until sometime later that Barnabas brought Paul to the city of Antioch where, for the first time, he served as a church leader. Paul's own writings tell of his identity early on in his adult life not only as a Jew but as a pharisee who persecuted Christ followers and placed great importance on his religious zeal. This makes his subsequent conversion to Christianity ever more remarkable. As Stephen Barton points out in one of the early chapters, Paul's vision of Jesus lead him to his calling as an apostle of Christ to the gentiles. Paul thus counteracted the pharisitic tradition of the time by proclaiming that those who were not tied into Jewish law- the gentiles- could be justified through faith because of the, "redemptive death of Christ" (p.167). He recognized that in Jesus his own hope for the Messiah had been fulfilled and that the blessings of that hope should be available to all. In his own summary of Paul's life, Timothy Johnson outlines how he saw himself not only as an ambassador of God, suffering through pain and hardship as Jesus had, but also as an apostle laying down the foundations for the church. He was flogged and beaten by those who despised him. Indeed, much of his teaching would not have been done out in public but more likely in private houses where he could talk in safety, away from his enemies. Paul kept up the hope of his converts not only through his own visits but also through letters, gifts and prayers. Bruce Longenecker's treatment of Paul's letter to the Galatian church brings to light the encouragement that he frequently offered to his followers through his writing. Perhaps the most outspoken of all his letters, that to the Galatians focused on counteracting the Jewish Christians whose insistence that gentiles maintain Jewish law he found unacceptable. The purpose of the gospel was of course to bring the good news of Christ into the lives of all regardless of their background. Paul's message was clear- reconciliation and justification with God did not come as a result of following the law but through a Christ-centered faith. The establishment of the church in Corinth would have secured the power that the gospel needed to gain momentum. Corinth had after all become an important trading port between the southern Peloponese and the Greek mainland. Because of the materialistic focus of the Corinthian way of life, Paul's building of the church there could only have been seen as a great victory. But his letters to the Corinthians tell of formidable divisions between its members caused amongst other things by misunderstandings on the importance of sex within marriage, a lack of appreciation of the need to keep away from pagan ritual and a blurring of the differences between men and women. Brian Rosner has emphasized how critical was the need for the church to act corporately in all such matters so as to counter those who sought to adversely influence their teachings. Paul clearly had a vision that broke the boundaries of his initial Jewish upbringing. Indeed, as Robert Jewett notes in his chapter on Romans, one of his primary purposes for writing to the Romans was to seek help for his plans to open a church in Spain- a plan that was never realized because of his trial and execution. Part of Paul's appeal involved breaking down barriers between the different sections of Roman society declaring that Christ had died that all may live. While the Roman culture tended to focus on social status, with many a Jew placing emphasis on their higher level of spiritual righteousness, Paul once again taught how mere obedience of the law was insufficient. Morna Hooker's own discussion in the book on Paul's letter to the Philippians likewise shows his steadfast focus on Christ even as close as he was to his death. We are still not certain about the date of Paul's death although, as Paul Haacker indicates in his chronology of Paul's life, it is believed that he died in Rome in approximately 64 AD after being sent there by Festus to face trial in Caesar's court. In his chapter on the early church, Calvin Rotzeil concludes that while the teachings of Paul appear to have had little impact on several of the early church fathers after his death (neither Polycarp nor Ignatius referred to him extensively), others such as Tertullian and Iraeneus rescued his name from obscurity while fighting their war of words against the Gnostic adherent Marcion. Both Marcion and the later Gnostics such as Valentinus misinterpreted and misused Paul's writings, citing statements made by Paul to the flesh and blood as indicative of an earth totally set apart from their `alien god of the heavens'- a claim that was vehemently dismissed by Tertullian and Iraeneus. The Cambridge Companion To St. Paul is an invaluable resource for those wishing to delve further into these and other aspects of Paul's letters. While a full understanding of the theological principles outlined in several of the chapters may not be possible for those without a formal grounding in Christian theology, the book nevertheless stands out both in its detail and its currency. It is therefore highly recommended for those wishing to read expert opinions on the man who fought for the universal accessibility of Christianity and gave millions across the world the opportunity to experience the power of a Christ-centered faith.

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