The Origin of Paul’s Religion: A Classic Defense of Supernatural Christianity, by J. Gresham Machen ★★★★★
JG Machen was a seminal individual in conservative Presbyterian circles defending against the progressive liberalization of the church. This text is one of his arguments against attempts to turn the apostle Paul into a fabricated character of the liberal scholar. Liberal scholarship in the late 19th century and 20th century, mostly from Germany, have attempted to remove the miraculous from the life of Paul, and turn him into a product of various political and religious influences. This book originated as a series of talks given by Machen.
Machen first introduces the problem. Attempts have been made to explain away the phenomenon of Paul, his conversion, and his ministry. A lengthy introduction describes the problem at hand. Machen then discusses the early life of Paul. Notably, Paul was born and grew up in the dispersion (Tarsus), but claims that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, suggesting that even though he probably learned Greek early in life, his life and language were Hebrew. Being a strict Pharisaical Jew, he clearly would have been adverse to the pagan and liberal influences strongly present at the time of his childhood. In the chapter titled “The Triumph of Gentile Freedom”, Machen explores Paul’s interactions with the church leadership in Jerusalem. Machen notes that while liberal theologians would love to paint a scene of severe disagreements between Paul and the 11 apostles as well as with James and other Jerusalem church leadership, close examination shows that such was not the case, and that there tended to be mutual appreciation for the theologies of Paul and the Jerusalem church. The chapter that follows, “Paul and Jesus” looks further into the congruence between Paul’s theology and that as found in the words of Jesus. The point is that Paul, though he probably never met Jesus face-to-face, was able to obtain detailed information about Christ’s life, even beyond what is found in the four gospels.
Machen then takes on challenges from the liberals who attempted to reduce Paul to a product of either Jewish sources or pagan sources. In the course of three chapters, Machen is able to demonstrate adequately that such suggestions are completely out of touch with what we know about Judaism and paganism in the 1st century of the church. Finally, Machen addresses the issue of Jesus being called “Lord”, which in ancient times was synonymous with calling Jesus God.
This book was a delightful tome to read. I enjoy Machen’s thought processes and how he is able to cut down the liberal arguments with simply logic and presentation of the facts. It is a pity that more theologians today are not defending the historic faith as Machen did; they seem to desire more the ability to maintain “status” among the academic liberals rather than to fearlessly fight for the truth. The Origin of Paul’s Religion is not a book meant for anybody to read. Those who enjoy a first-class theological discussion of the defense of historic Christianity will be amply served with this book.