I’m not sure of the amount of time and effort that N.T. Wright has spent researching Paul, but I know that a considerable amount of his writings has focused on Paul. For those who are familiar with him, N.T. Wright has also written a considerable amount on the controversial topic of justification, his view on it, and Paul’s supposed view on it, a view which diverges from the traditional and reformed views of the subject.
With all of this effort on writing about Paul’s writings and his viewpoints on certain topics, it’s no surprise that the latest offering from N.T. Wright is a biography on the apostle. In “Paul – A Biography,” N.T. Wright writes a comprehensive account of Paul and firmly places his writings in their original context to help the reader have a deeper understanding of Paul’s Jewishness. He argues not that Paul was converted and that he was trying to establish a new religion, but that in his experience on the Damascus Road, he was actually enlightened in such a way as to realize that Jesus of Nazareth had come and was the full and complete fulfillment of the Jewish religion.
Wright starts with what would most likely have been Paul’s upbringing, a Jewish upbringing. He gives background enough for the reader to have a better idea just how Paul was raised and what kinds of things would have informed his worldview, a worldview that saw “religion” woven into all of life as opposed to the Western viewpoint which sees a compartmentalized life. He writes, “Today, “religion” for most Westerners designates a detached area of life, a kind of private hobby for those who like that sort of thing, separated by definition (and in some countries by law) from politics and public life, from science and technology. In Paul’s day, “religion” meant almost exactly the opposite.”
Following Paul’s missionary journeys, Wright walks the reader through his writings to the various churches that he has started. The reader gets a better understanding of the context of these writings and can better understand just what might have been going through Paul’s head as he wrote these letters which have become so familiar to the church.
Throughout this in depth look at the life of Paul, N.T. Wright doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. He shares his view that the Western church’s emphasis on heaven and hell. As he writes, “It never dawned on us that the “heaven and hell” framework we took for granted was a construct of the High Middle Ages, to which the sixteenth-century Reformers were providing important new twists but which was at best a distortion of the first-century perspective.” Paul’s viewpoint was much more focused on the Kingdom of God, God’s Kingdom coming down to earth rather than some earthly departure of all God’s saints to some ethereal destination.
Wright’s viewpoint on justification also comes through here. While he doesn’t expound on it to the depth that he does in some of his other writings, he gives his readers a window into how his view (and in his opinion, Paul’s view) of justification differs from the reformed view.
This is a great companion book to all of Paul’s writings. I could easily see myself going back to it as I read any of Paul’s letters to remind myself of just where Paul was, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as he wrote. It will act as a resource and guide for anyone, clergy or laity. While it’s a lengthy book, it’s hard to imagine Wright cutting out much of what he has written here. In order to give this material the attention it deserves, he needed as much space as he takes up here.
(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)