Paul– A New Biography by N.T. Wright (Review Part One)


(Harper 480 pages, to be released end of Febr. 2018)

Having gotten an advance copy of the proofs of Tom’s new book, I am writing a review now, which will help the reader to know whether to purchase the book or not, and I’m saying— this is a good book, one of Tom’s best. Now that that’s out of the way, the review—-

It’s been a long time since we have had a good proper ‘life of Paul’ book. Indeed, in the evangelical or orthodox world, it’s really been since the work of F.F. Bruce with his Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free which first appeared at the end of my seminary time (1977), and was still being reprinted in 2000 (Eerdmans). This biography is different from that one in several respects: 1) it focuses more on Paul as a theologian, and gives more in depth coverage about the content of Paul’s letters; 2) it gives less focus on the historical particulars and chronology of Paul’s life, though there is some, and Wright is not afraid to go against the traditional views on some subjects— for instance when exactly Paul wrote the captivity epistles, and from where (he thinks Ephesus, but he admits it’s just an educated guess. See my JETS article from last Fall on why this guess is very likely wrong); 3) Tom quite rightly gives more attention to the recent gains in rhetorical analysis of Paul’s letters, for instance commenting on the Asiatic style of rhetoric found in Ephesians and Colossians; 4) there is a real attempt to get inside the mind of Paul, and see what makes him tick, including some discussion of how 2 Corinthians shows that at one point Paul fell into a deep depression and wondered if indeed all this hard work and suffering was all for nothing.

The overall impression you get is of the humanity of Paul– his weaknesses and strengths, his energy and enthusiasms, his temper and his temporizing, his boldness, sometimes bordering on being unwise, his tendencies to inspire either strong personal loyalty to him, or animus against him. And of course the fact that one never had to say to Paul— ‘tell us how you really feel’. Paul is sometimes clever, but almost never plays his cards close to vest. What you see, is what you get. Paul’s middle name seems to have been transparency, and there is no doubting his complete devotion to Christ and his ministry and his great love for his converts.

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