As you may recall, I've read a pile of books on Paul in the past year, and I'm reading 2 more right now. Why? It seems, according to theologians and historians, he may be the single most successful religious teacher in history! He crafted the birthing Jesus Movement, The Way, into Christianity that veered sharply from James and Peter - and his vision and version was THE one that won.
His was the only focus on the non-Jewish, non-God-fearer Gentiles.
In the beginning, The Way, was within the synagogue and spoken and later written in the order of the Jewish liturgical calendar. James stayed in Jerusalem and, as the brother of Jesus and because of his reputation for being righteous, he was the leader, the one that had to be spoken to in order to get his approval for most anything. He insisted that all men who wanted to be baptized had to have circumcision, keep kosher and formally become part of Israel. Peter went out to the diaspora, speaking to the Godfearers as well as the Jews. The Godfearers were Gentiles who preferred the ethics and teachings of Judaism over the Roman gods.
But Paul also spoke to those people who were pagan Gentiles, baptizing them and incorporating them into his various communities with no other requirements than they professed to follow Christ. He created huge problems because of this. He was beaten at least 3 times, stoned almost to death, imprisoned, and rushed out of more than one town.
There is such a mixed reaction to Paul. As I have mentioned, part of that is because only 7 of his letters incorporated into the New Testament/Second Covenant were his. At least 3 of the others are opposite of his teachings. (authentic = 1 Thessalonians written about 51, the earliest writing in the New Testament, Romans the last of his letters, I & II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon).
I feel compassion for this tormented man filled with such passion and dedication. I appreciate his original ideas such as: equality - neither Greek nor Jew, neither free nor slave, neither male nor female in Christ - all part of the body of Christ; the sharing so that if one had food, all had food; the coming of each to know God internally by following Jesus' kenosis/emptying; the recognition of The Kingdom here and now as all helped to usher it to the fore by their participation; etc.
His influence was primary for Augustine, Luther, Wesley and others. I urge us to look at Paul again with fresh eyes as we focus on his 7 authentic letters.