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Paul: A Biography

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In this definitive biography, renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, illuminating the humanity and remarkable achievements of this intellectual who invented Christian theology—transforming a faith and changing the world. For centuries, Paul, the apostle who "saw the light on the Road to Damascu In this definitive biography, renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, illuminating the humanity and remarkable achievements of this intellectual who invented Christian theology—transforming a faith and changing the world. For centuries, Paul, the apostle who "saw the light on the Road to Damascus" and made a miraculous conversion from zealous Pharisee persecutor to devoted follower of Christ, has been one of the church’s most widely cited saints. While his influence on Christianity has been profound, N. T. Wright argues that Bible scholars and pastors have focused so much attention on Paul’s letters and theology that they have too often overlooked the essence of the man’s life and the extreme unlikelihood of what he achieved. To Wright, "The problem is that Paul is central to any understanding of earliest Christianity, yet Paul was a Jew; for many generations Christians of all kinds have struggled to put this together." Wright contends that our knowledge of Paul and appreciation for his legacy cannot be complete without an understanding of his Jewish heritage. Giving us a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of the human and intellectual drama that shaped Paul, Wright provides greater clarity of the apostle’s writings, thoughts, and ideas and helps us see them in a fresh, innovative way. Paul is a compelling modern biography that reveals the apostle’s greater role in Christian history—as an inventor of new paradigms for how we understand Jesus and what he accomplished—and celebrates his stature as one of the most effective and influential intellectuals in human history.


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In this definitive biography, renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, illuminating the humanity and remarkable achievements of this intellectual who invented Christian theology—transforming a faith and changing the world. For centuries, Paul, the apostle who "saw the light on the Road to Damascu In this definitive biography, renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop, and bestselling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, illuminating the humanity and remarkable achievements of this intellectual who invented Christian theology—transforming a faith and changing the world. For centuries, Paul, the apostle who "saw the light on the Road to Damascus" and made a miraculous conversion from zealous Pharisee persecutor to devoted follower of Christ, has been one of the church’s most widely cited saints. While his influence on Christianity has been profound, N. T. Wright argues that Bible scholars and pastors have focused so much attention on Paul’s letters and theology that they have too often overlooked the essence of the man’s life and the extreme unlikelihood of what he achieved. To Wright, "The problem is that Paul is central to any understanding of earliest Christianity, yet Paul was a Jew; for many generations Christians of all kinds have struggled to put this together." Wright contends that our knowledge of Paul and appreciation for his legacy cannot be complete without an understanding of his Jewish heritage. Giving us a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of the human and intellectual drama that shaped Paul, Wright provides greater clarity of the apostle’s writings, thoughts, and ideas and helps us see them in a fresh, innovative way. Paul is a compelling modern biography that reveals the apostle’s greater role in Christian history—as an inventor of new paradigms for how we understand Jesus and what he accomplished—and celebrates his stature as one of the most effective and influential intellectuals in human history.

30 review for Paul: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    What a great book! Wright takes all the Bible's writings on Paul, puts the whole story in order, and then reveals it all in the larger context of what was happening in the Jewish/Roman world at the time. The result is enlightening (I've been studying Paul my whole life and I just now after reading this book feel that I have a grip on his story) and fascinating. Sometimes as Christians we make the mistake of assuming Paul was like a replacement Jesus, a perfect man whose example we can follow to l What a great book! Wright takes all the Bible's writings on Paul, puts the whole story in order, and then reveals it all in the larger context of what was happening in the Jewish/Roman world at the time. The result is enlightening (I've been studying Paul my whole life and I just now after reading this book feel that I have a grip on his story) and fascinating. Sometimes as Christians we make the mistake of assuming Paul was like a replacement Jesus, a perfect man whose example we can follow to live the best Christian life (he was, after all, writing the Bible as he went!). But not only was Paul not perfect, he was bossy, cantankerous, short-tempered, depressed, and error-prone. This, of course, is exactly what we as Christians need from Paul. Not someone to mimic, but someone like us to learn from as he follows Christ. Wright illuminates this perfectly.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    Perhaps that is what “holy scripture” really is - not a calm, serene list of truths to be learned or commands to be obeyed, but a jagged book that forces you to grow up in your thinking as you grapple with it. Professor Tom Wright is one of our leading New Testament theologians, a former Bishop of Durham (but certainly not this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_J...) and now Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. His books a Perhaps that is what “holy scripture” really is - not a calm, serene list of truths to be learned or commands to be obeyed, but a jagged book that forces you to grow up in your thinking as you grapple with it. Professor Tom Wright is one of our leading New Testament theologians, a former Bishop of Durham (but certainly not this one https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_J...) and now Chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. His books are actually published under two different names, or perhaps brands is a better label - causing some confusion on Goodreads classification system - NT Wright for his heavier theological tomes and Tom Wright for his more entry-level books, such as the New Testament for Everyone collection. [In the US, to add to the confusion, NT Wright is used for both sets of books]. This wonderful new biography of Paul, the towering figure of the early Christian church is pitched somewhere between the two different strands of his writing, although the fact that it has come out under the Tom Wright name speaks to its wonderful accessibility. If at times - see below - it didn't answer all my questions, it certainly sent me in fruitful search of NT Wright's more detailed arguments. Wright's focus here is to attempt a historic reconstruction of Paul's life, work and his theological developments drawing on the available sources - of course, primarily, the New Testament - but also setting this in the context of what we know of the Roman and Greek world and philosophy (Jewish and secular) within which Paul lived and worked. He takes us on a plausible account of Paul's life, consistent with Acts (allowing for Luke's requirement to condense many years of travels into a short story) and how, why and when each letter was written, struggling only, on both logistical and textual grounds, to find an obvious place for 1 Timothy and Titus. And Wright is excellent at plunging us into the sights, smells, sounds and day-to-day reality of 1st century life, particularly emphasising that for all his brilliance - and one of Wright's key themes is that Paul taught the Church not so much what to think as how to think - that Paul was no ivory tower thinker, but a passionate, often too passionate, human being and a fiercely focused worker. When people in churches today discuss Paul and his letters, they often think only of the man of ideas who dealt with lofty and difficult concepts, implying a world of libraries, seminar rooms, or at least the minister’s study for quiet sermon preparation. We easily forget that the author of these letters spent most of his waking hours with his sleeves rolled up, doing hard physical work in a hot climate, and that perhaps two-thirds of the conversations he had with people about Jesus and the gospel were conducted not in a place of worship or study, not even in a private home, but in a small, cramped workshop. Saul had his feet on the ground, and his hands were hardened with labor. But his head still buzzed with scripture and the news about Jesus. [One minor bugbear in passing - while Wright's writing is generally excellent he is annoyingly overfond of analogies involving classic music, which clearly has some sort of quasi-religious significance to him] He is keen to emphasise that this is not psychoanalysis. It is history but also, more crucially in my mind, that this is a work (my words) of deduction but not of creative imagination. So for example, he makes no attempt to guess what Paul's 'thorn' might be, but can deduce that Isaiah 49 must have been a key foundation text for Paul's view of his own role and, somewhat more speculatively, that Paul may well have been meditating on Ezekiel 1 on the road to Damascus, but that when he raised his eyes to the figure on the throne, he saw not God but instead the Lord Jesus. Wright has had his particular, and somewhat controversial (although I think I generally agree with him), theological points to make, notably about his view of what Paul meant by justification and his view on what Paul would have meant by heaven. These are expounded in much more detail in 'NT Wright' works notably: Paul and the Faithfulness of God which is the more theological companion to this biography and Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church where Wright argues Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. and Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision - see e.g. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/bl... A quote from another of his works (see below) What Saint Paul Really Said, links both: Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian. And the total context of this doctrine, here in Philippians 3, is that of the expectation - not of a final salvation in which the individual is abstracted from the present world, but of the final new heavens and new earth, as the Lord comes from the heavenly realm to transform the earthly. Wright's main argument in both cases is that we often interpret Paul's teaching through the lens of the 16th Century reformers (for justification) and 19th century apocalyptic thinkers (for the end of the world view of the resurrection), rather than what Paul would have meant, and this book, while not getting into the theological detail, is excellent at setting Paul's developing theology in his 1st Century context as a faithful Jew. The other 'charges' which Paul often faces are that he, rather than Jesus, essentially invented Christianity, that, post the road to Damascus, that he despised his own Jewish religious origins (and implicitly may therefore be responsible for the later anti-semitism that sometimes stains the Church throughout history) and also that his teaching on matters like the role of women and homosexuality has echoes in modern day misogyny and homophobia. On the first - a view most associated with A N Wilson's Paul: The Mind of the Apostle - Wright provided a comprehensive and convincing demolition of Wilson's arguments in What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?. Here he doesn't address the issue directly, but Wright clearly sees Paul's teaching as rooted in the life and teaching of the historic Jesus, and Paul's role, in his own mind, as well as a prophet in the line of Isaiah and Ezekiel: yes, to make the first attempt in turning what Jesus had done into a coherent way of life in response, for Jew and Gentile, but not to distort the teaching of Jesus but rather directly inspired by his encounter with the resurrected Christ. The second - of being ashamed of his Jewish origins - he addresses in much more detail here, indeed he argues precisely the opposite, that Paul's missions always started in the synagogue and that he had no concept of Christianity being a seperate or new 'religion', rather the fulfilment of the Torah and the prophets. And that Paul's key message was He was determined to establish and maintain Jew-plus-Gentile communities, worshipping the One God in and through Jesus his son and in the power of the spirit, ahead of the catastrophe. This is why Paul insisted, in letter after letter, on the unity of the church across traditional boundaries. This book is, though, a little disappointing on the last aspects, which receive little coverage. From what is said, on the role of women Wright believes Paul has been misunderstood, although in a key note speech on the topic (http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/wo...) he started by apologising that today’s topic has not been an area of primary research for me. He concluded that speech: I believe we have seriously misread the relevant passages in the New Testament, no doubt not least through a long process of assumption, tradition, and all kinds of post-biblical and sub-biblical attitudes that have crept in to Christianity. Just as I think we need radically to change our traditional pictures of the afterlife, away from the mediaeval models and back to the biblical ones, so we need radically to change our traditional pictures both of what men and women are and how they relate to one another within the church and indeed of what the Bible says on this subject. I do wonder, sometimes, if those who present radical challenges to Christianity have been all the more eager to make out that the Bible says certain things about women, as an excuse for claiming that Christianity in general is a wicked thing and we ought to abandon it. Of course, there have been plenty of Christians who have given outsiders plenty of chances to make that sort of comment. But perhaps in our generation we have an opportunity to take a large step back in the right direction. By contrast, Wright emphasis many times that sexual morality was a key cornerstone of Paul's teaching, and something that marked-out the early Christian churches inspired by his example. Here he claims to be even less of an expert but it is clear from conversation elsewhere that Wright doesn't believe Paul has a case to answer on his view of homosexuality, as he believes even life-long monogamous same-sex relations are not compatible with God's plan (http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/co... or https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/fir...). I can not help but feel he is on the wrong side of history here on gay marriage - but Wright has his rebuttal prepared for me: All the press is on-side, most of Parliament’s on-side, and people are saying—get this—that unless you support this, you’re on the wrong side of history. Excuse me. Did you see University Challenge last night? There was a nice question: Somebody said, who was it who said in 1956, “History is on our side and we will bury you”? One of the contestants got the answer right: It was Nikita Khrushchev. When people claim, “We’re going with the flow of history,” that’s just a rhetorical smokescreen. So, that’s where I am. But I don't want to end on a negative note, so I will end instead with a refrain that runs through Wright's account - 1 Corinthians 8:6 which, in Wright's account, becomes Paul's version of the Shema (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shema_Y...), "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Paul's version - which Wright has him repeating as he is lead to his likely execution (as Wright admits, frustratingly we actually know very little of Paul's ultimate fate) becomes, preserving the integrity of the one God, but allowing for Jesus as Lord: For us there is one God, the father, From whom are all things, and we live to him and for him; And one Lord, Jesus the Messiah, Through whom are all things, and we live through him.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Scott Wozniak

    I thoroughly enjoyed this biography of the Christian apostle Paul. The author does a great job of sharing the cultural context, practical implications, and life choices of Paul. I've studied the scriptures for years and I still learned some cool things about his life that I hadn't heard before. It was written with humility (acknowledging where there is uncertainty or debate) and with honesty (not pretending that every choice Paul made was correct. Great read. I thoroughly enjoyed this biography of the Christian apostle Paul. The author does a great job of sharing the cultural context, practical implications, and life choices of Paul. I've studied the scriptures for years and I still learned some cool things about his life that I hadn't heard before. It was written with humility (acknowledging where there is uncertainty or debate) and with honesty (not pretending that every choice Paul made was correct. Great read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Matt Pitts

    Marvelously, marvelously good from start to finish, but the last third was the best. There are of course the usual caveats of occassional and occasionally significant disagreements with Wright. But those who have mainly heard about Wright from critics who point out where he goes wrong will be thrilled, if they will give him a chance, to see how much he gets right and how beautifully, winsomely, and confidently he goes about it. I listened to the audiobook and loved it so much I bought a physical c Marvelously, marvelously good from start to finish, but the last third was the best. There are of course the usual caveats of occassional and occasionally significant disagreements with Wright. But those who have mainly heard about Wright from critics who point out where he goes wrong will be thrilled, if they will give him a chance, to see how much he gets right and how beautifully, winsomely, and confidently he goes about it. I listened to the audiobook and loved it so much I bought a physical copy too. The narrator, James Langston, was a perfect fit for Wright's prose. I'm already ready for more from this partnership.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: Wright translates his scholarship that gives a "new account" of Paul's life into a popular biography, tracing the life and thought of the apostle through the letters he wrote and narrative of his journeys. Over the last thirty years, perhaps no one has written more on the life and thought of the Apostle Paul than N. T. Wright, most notably his two volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Wright is associated with what is called "the New Perspective" on Paul. What he has done in this volu Summary: Wright translates his scholarship that gives a "new account" of Paul's life into a popular biography, tracing the life and thought of the apostle through the letters he wrote and narrative of his journeys. Over the last thirty years, perhaps no one has written more on the life and thought of the Apostle Paul than N. T. Wright, most notably his two volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Wright is associated with what is called "the New Perspective" on Paul. What he has done in this volume is distill his scholarship into a highly readable account of the life and thought of this apostle. Reading this, you will see some of the ways Wright casts the life of Paul in new perspective. We see this in his portrayal of Paul's Damascus road experience. He imagines Paul possibly reflecting on the vision of Ezekiel, perhaps praying the Shema, when suddenly he gazes upward...into the face of Jesus, whose followers he has been persecuting. Wright challenges us to see that this was not a conversion to a new religion, but the shattering and transforming realization that Jesus was the fulfillment of the scriptures Paul had studied so long--that he "had been absolutely right in his devotion to Israel and the Torah, but absolutely wrong in his view of Israel's vocation and identity and even in the meaning of the Torah." He then traces the travels of Paul from the formative years in the wilderness and Tarsus where he rethought everything in the light of Christ, and then his successive journeys taking the message of Christ into Asia Minor, then later into Europe in Philippi, Athens, and Corinth. In the Galatian controversy with Peter and his subsequent letter, we catch the first glimpse of Paul's transformed vision, where he sees both Jew and Gentile incorporated and included into a new people enjoying the blessing of Abraham's faith. It is this that explains his methodology of teaching in synagogues, and then to Gentiles who will hear him and seeking to form new communities made up of those who give allegiance to Christ, and share table fellowship. The biography offers some of Wright's distinctive judgments on matters scholars have debated, southern versus northern theories of Galatians (he opts for south), and the origin of the prison letters, neither from Caesarea or Rome, but during an imprisonment in the latter part of his time in Ephesus. Wright explores this as a nadir of Paul's ministry, both in the experience of prison, but also in the receipt of disturbing news from Corinth from those questioning his reputation. He proposes that this accounts for the somewhat disjointed style of 2 Corinthians, written after his release. He also believes that after writing this, he penned his magnum opus to the Romans, spelling out to a church where tensions existed separating Jew and Gentile, the purpose of God to include Gentiles with Jews as heirs of the promise of the covenant to make one new people. Throughout, Wright explores the character of this apostle, who he describes as "bossy" on the voyage to Rome, and often troublesome in jumping into the fray. Paul did not let sleeping dogs lie. But Wright also argues, that like many "angular" entrepreneurs, it was these very qualities that, on a human level accounted for the success of this apostle in establishing these new communities across the Roman empire. The work was a delight to read on many levels, as a reflection on the career of Paul and as an exploration of the relationship of Jesus and the hope of Israel revealed in Torah and the prophets. I savored his insights into each of Paul's letters, and the vision of the church Paul articulated, that would sustain a movement long after his martyrdom, even as it continues to do so to this day. Paul has often been maligned as a misogynist, as a heretic from his Jewish origins, and more. For others, we read him through Reformation glasses. Wright may or may not convince you otherwise, but this marvelous distillation of his scholarship will make you both think about, and hopefully rejoice in, what this apostle accomplished. And perhaps it will help you read his letters with new eyes.

  6. 4 out of 5

    B.J. Richardson

    NT Wright is currently my favorite author. This summer I read The Day the Revolution began and I felt this book covered a lot of the same ground. Where that book was more specifically on the theology of atonement, this one was a biographical approach in putting Paul's letters into their historical context. In both books Wright does an excellent job at taking the larger biblical narrative, tying it into the historical context, and then showing us its practical relevance for us today. One thing I NT Wright is currently my favorite author. This summer I read The Day the Revolution began and I felt this book covered a lot of the same ground. Where that book was more specifically on the theology of atonement, this one was a biographical approach in putting Paul's letters into their historical context. In both books Wright does an excellent job at taking the larger biblical narrative, tying it into the historical context, and then showing us its practical relevance for us today. One thing I did pause on was his speculation on Paul's experience in Ephesus. Wright places the prison epistles here rather than the later more commonly accepted placement in Rome. I was mostly listening to this on my commute to and from school and do wish I had a hard copy instead so that I could have slowed down here so that I could more critically analyze this theory. It is definitely something I would like to look more deeply into.

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Anthony

    I’ve never been the saint’s biggest fan, having grown up thinking of him as the very first ‘protestant’. Always wearing a hair shirt, particularly if there’s a whiff of sex in the air, and inclined towards misogynism. Tom Wright showed me how wrong I was. This is a masterpiece: I saw Paul as I had never seen him before – flesh and blood like the rest of us, human, humane but no slacker or push-over. Driven by the sound and vision of his King, Jesus, on the road to Damascus which fired his cylinde I’ve never been the saint’s biggest fan, having grown up thinking of him as the very first ‘protestant’. Always wearing a hair shirt, particularly if there’s a whiff of sex in the air, and inclined towards misogynism. Tom Wright showed me how wrong I was. This is a masterpiece: I saw Paul as I had never seen him before – flesh and blood like the rest of us, human, humane but no slacker or push-over. Driven by the sound and vision of his King, Jesus, on the road to Damascus which fired his cylinders for the rest of his days. This is one of the most important books I have read, this year certainly. Enlightening and faith affirming - thanks to the Saint and Bishop Tom. I will probably say more when I have had longer to reflect.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Really found this such a useful book in terms of providing context for the Apostle Paul's letters. Each chapter describes his life and shows his journeys in chronological order with a map showing where he went. Also describes Paul the person including all his fallibilities as well as his strengths. Like Tom Wright's "For Everyone" series (one on each book of the New Testament) this describes everything in very straightforward terms and relates it to its time while still being relevant to the prese Really found this such a useful book in terms of providing context for the Apostle Paul's letters. Each chapter describes his life and shows his journeys in chronological order with a map showing where he went. Also describes Paul the person including all his fallibilities as well as his strengths. Like Tom Wright's "For Everyone" series (one on each book of the New Testament) this describes everything in very straightforward terms and relates it to its time while still being relevant to the present day so that you don't need to be a theological student to follow it. An essential reference book and highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Delightful! Wright helps readers sort out all the pieces from Acts and Paul's letters to see a picture of the man, his motivations, his travels, and his life. Delightful! Wright helps readers sort out all the pieces from Acts and Paul's letters to see a picture of the man, his motivations, his travels, and his life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A really fun (and at times very imaginative) read about Paul’s life. I realize this was written for a popular level audience, but I really do wish Wright cited references to his claims (especially since he has many fascinating insights). Interviews here: http://paulcastpod.libsyn.com/nt-wrig... https://omny.fm/shows/the-eric-metaxa... http://ntwrightpage.com/2018/03/11/th.... Some commendations (with much to appreciate) and critiques (with cautions) here: Andrew Wilson: https://www.thegospelcoal A really fun (and at times very imaginative) read about Paul’s life. I realize this was written for a popular level audience, but I really do wish Wright cited references to his claims (especially since he has many fascinating insights). Interviews here: http://paulcastpod.libsyn.com/nt-wrig... https://omny.fm/shows/the-eric-metaxa... http://ntwrightpage.com/2018/03/11/th.... Some commendations (with much to appreciate) and critiques (with cautions) here: Andrew Wilson: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/re... David E. Briones: https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/2... Ben Witherington (Part 1): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleand..., (Part 2): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleand..., and (Part 3): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleand... Wyatt Graham: http://wyattgraham.com/review-of-paul... Susan Grove Eastman: https://www.christiancentury.org/revi....

  11. 5 out of 5

    James Scott

    An excellent read. At times, it reminds me of a biography in the style of Ron Chernow. Wright goes to great lengths to tie together all we know of Paul from contemporary texts and the cultural, religious, and political contexts Paul worked in, while also avoiding some of the speculation that's often popular, and efforts to reconsider Paul first through medieval or contemporary understanding An excellent read. At times, it reminds me of a biography in the style of Ron Chernow. Wright goes to great lengths to tie together all we know of Paul from contemporary texts and the cultural, religious, and political contexts Paul worked in, while also avoiding some of the speculation that's often popular, and efforts to reconsider Paul first through medieval or contemporary understanding

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    One of my favorite persons is a protestant chaplain at Loyola University Chicago. Raised in a conservative Christian milieu in the South, he has become socially quite liberal since moving to Chicago and serving a diverse community. He remains, however, a traditional Christian in that he claims to believe in the soteriological efficacy of the crucifixion and the eventual reconstitution of the dead. I, of course, find such beliefs, especially the latter, to be crazy. And so we argue, genially. Bibl One of my favorite persons is a protestant chaplain at Loyola University Chicago. Raised in a conservative Christian milieu in the South, he has become socially quite liberal since moving to Chicago and serving a diverse community. He remains, however, a traditional Christian in that he claims to believe in the soteriological efficacy of the crucifixion and the eventual reconstitution of the dead. I, of course, find such beliefs, especially the latter, to be crazy. And so we argue, genially. Biblical interpretation is a bit like a trial. On the defense you find those tending toward literalism, attempting to reconcile contradictory stories into some coherent and attractive whole. On the prosecution you stick to the facts and only the facts, pointing to gaps, contradictions, inconsistencies and ambiguities. My sense of academic biblical scholarship was shaped, with only a few exceptions, from the perspective of the prosecution. Here, if one liked, narratives could be constructed, but only very, very tentatively, and usually beside hosts of counter- or alternative narratives. This was, to my mind, real biblical criticism. My friend, however, suggested that I ought try N.T. Wright, a Christian scholar he thought I'd appreciate for his knowlege and critical acumen, particularly as represented by the second volume of his book on Jesus. Well, that book, a big one, sat on the shelf for months, alongside a less scholarly and substantially shorter one by the same author, his 'Paul: A Biography'. I decided to appease my pal by reading it, giving the tome on Jesus to Heirloom Books. Bad choice! Wright's biography of Paul is apparently the quintessence of decades of study, Wright's personal, positive appropriation of the self-appointed apostle. As a witness for the defense, if not lead counsel, Wright takes the scriptural text on face value, accepting that Luke was the physician friend of Paul and the author of the gospel lately attributed to him as well as of Acts. Then, using Acts as a basic guide, Wright ties together the letters (questioning the authorship of only a very few and entirely avoiding redaction criticism) attributed to Paul in order to construct an approbative chronicle of the man's personal and intellectual life. It reads like a boringly repetitive novel and probably would have worked better as such. As regards the matter of constructing plausible narratives, Wright emphasizes Paul's orthodox Judaism on the one hand and his outreach to the gentiles on the other, seeing the essence of his message as being the recognition of scriptural prophesies as entailing the opening of the saving faith to all nations as revealed in the person of Christ crucified and resurrected. The disputes with the conservative Jewish Christians embodied by Jesus' brother, James, and by Peter and John are absolutely minimized, Paul coming out as the winner of the dispute despite the evidence of the Clementines and the Patristics for the perdurance of an Ebionite opposition in Palestine. So, too, the connections of Paul's thought to what moderns call 'gnosticism' (mentioned only once in the text) and what might be regarded as a kind of syncretic mysticism are disregarded. While Wright helpfully (in the sense of making sense of his thought) recognizes the metaphorical uses of the concepts of heaven and hell, seeing them as akin to states of mind or of social order (the 'kingdom' arising among us), he appears to stick literally to the incredible notions of a real, bodily resurrection of the deceased Jesus as a token of the universal resurrection to come while a more hermeneutically constructive interpretation might be obtainable by deeper consideration of the mystical body of Christ as being the salvific center of the Christian's being. As it is, Wright's book is a tendentious, believer's take on Paul which has very little to say to non-Christians.

  13. 4 out of 5

    stormin

    I really enjoyed this biography of Paul, as I've enjoyed pretty much everything that I've read from N. T. Wright. The most important things I learned were about the social context of Paul's teaching. Specifically, I learned a lot about the tradition of zeal among the Pharisees and--following along on that--a lot more about the incentives that led to so much conflict between the Jewish and Gentile factions of the early Christian church. A lot of the early Christians were Pharisees. It says that ri I really enjoyed this biography of Paul, as I've enjoyed pretty much everything that I've read from N. T. Wright. The most important things I learned were about the social context of Paul's teaching. Specifically, I learned a lot about the tradition of zeal among the Pharisees and--following along on that--a lot more about the incentives that led to so much conflict between the Jewish and Gentile factions of the early Christian church. A lot of the early Christians were Pharisees. It says that right there in Acts, but I don't read the New Testament as much or as closely as I should and so that hadn't really sunk in. The main concern of the Pharisees was in keeping the people religiously pure so that they'd be worthy of God's blessing. Obviously have a bunch of Pharisees shoulder-to-shoulder with uncircumcised gentiles with no comprehension of the intricate Mosaic law (or any interest in learning of following it) was going to lead to tension. This is especially compounded when you consider that even if the Jewish converts were happy to set aside the Law of Moses to seek unity with their new Gentile brethren, a lot of them were (1) still considered Jewish (by themselves and by others) and (2) still living in Jerusalem. So even if you had a Jewish-Christian-Pharisee who was willing to set aside the taboo on eating non-kosher food with gentile-Christians, the Jewish-non Christian-Pharisees were going to have a huge problem with that! I'm sure this is all old-hat to folks who have done a much better job of studying the New Testament throughout their lives than I have, but I learned a lot, and I really appreciated N. T. Wright's faithful, challenging perspective, as always.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    This is really very good. Wright gives great insight into the life and thinking of Paul. He persuasively shows that Paul did not “invent a new religion” as some critics claim, but instead preached a “radical messianic eschatology:” that Jesus is the “ultimate fulfillment of Israel’s hope—Messiah and resurrection,” and through the forgiveness of sins he brings salvation to both Jews and gentiles. “If we come with the question, “How do we get to heaven,” or, in Martin Luther’s terms, “How can I fi This is really very good. Wright gives great insight into the life and thinking of Paul. He persuasively shows that Paul did not “invent a new religion” as some critics claim, but instead preached a “radical messianic eschatology:” that Jesus is the “ultimate fulfillment of Israel’s hope—Messiah and resurrection,” and through the forgiveness of sins he brings salvation to both Jews and gentiles. “If we come with the question, “How do we get to heaven,” or, in Martin Luther’s terms, “How can I find a gracious God?” and if we try to squeeze an answer to those questions out of what Paul says about justification, we will probably find one. It may not be totally misleading. But we will miss what Paul’s “justification” is really all about. It isn’t about a moralistic framework in which the only question that matters is whether we humans have behaved ourselves and so amassed a store of merit (“righteousness“) and, if not, where we can find such a store, amassed by someone else on our behalf. It is about the vocational framework in which humans are called to reflect God’s image in the world and about the rescue operation whereby God has, through Jesus, set humans free to do exactly that.” I’ve read enough NTW that the so-called “New Perspective” on Paul is familiar enough to me, but I don’t think I’ve completely internalized it, as distinguished from the traditional reformed view. I think what I need to do is read this book again, but more slowly, along with NTW’s translation of Paul’s letters. Here’s a couple of good reviews: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    I feel I needed to know and understand more about two crucial major religious figures who effected a major transformation in religion, St Paul and Luther , and I saw this book as a chance to have an introduction to Paul. It was readable and quite interesting in parts. There was an excellent warning at the outset about projecting modern interpretations onto past times, but I sensed that there were times when the author did not really heed his own warning. I think that is always going to be so dif I feel I needed to know and understand more about two crucial major religious figures who effected a major transformation in religion, St Paul and Luther , and I saw this book as a chance to have an introduction to Paul. It was readable and quite interesting in parts. There was an excellent warning at the outset about projecting modern interpretations onto past times, but I sensed that there were times when the author did not really heed his own warning. I think that is always going to be so difficult. I was also quite taken by a different understanding of heaven, which made a lot more sense than the one I grew up with. It was well written, but sadly I wanted less life and story and more ideas and discussion and the way they fitted into the world at that time. Yeah I know, what should I have expected from a biography? I think the real problem was not the book but the fact I chose that as the first venture into a world I knew so little about. For this reason, I will refrain from lowering its excellent ratings.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jerome

    A refreshing stream in contrast to the stagnant pool of typical evangelical readings of Paul.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    The Apostle Paul is one of the most important figures in all of Christian history. His letters to various churches across the Mediterranean the first decades of the early church, which make up much of the New Testament, are constantly being pulled apart and debated by pastors, priests, scholars, and laymen alike. But, aside from what was written in the book of Acts, how much do we really know about his life? N.T. Wright, the preeminent Pauline scholar, attempts to construct the life and mind of The Apostle Paul is one of the most important figures in all of Christian history. His letters to various churches across the Mediterranean the first decades of the early church, which make up much of the New Testament, are constantly being pulled apart and debated by pastors, priests, scholars, and laymen alike. But, aside from what was written in the book of Acts, how much do we really know about his life? N.T. Wright, the preeminent Pauline scholar, attempts to construct the life and mind of Paul for the average reader and, largely, succeeds. Rev. Wright argues that even if we did not have the book of Acts, based upon his letters to the churches, we would still know quite a bit about Paul’s life and character. Going chronologically through Paul’s life, Rev. Wright does a great job of showing the many influences in his early life and beyond that would have contributed to his writings. Rev. Wright has steeped himself in the ancient world of Paul’s time and has done some incredible work both here and elsewhere to try to get at the man. However, for those who were wishing for a straightforward biography, might find themselves shocked by how dense this book is. Unlike a typical biography, where a person’s life and activities are tracked from birth to death, Rev. Wright really tracks Paul’s *thoughts* from birth to death. Indeed, this is more of an intellectual biography of Paul and Rev. Wright condenses a lot of his other work on Paul into this small volume. Thus, this book can feel rather slow and dense at times. Even I, who has read some of Rev. Wright’s longer academic works, found myself getting a little bogged down by this book. Also, Rev. Wright doesn’t really seem to address Paul’s character, who he was as a person, until the last chapters. In short, while overall I enjoyed this book and the passion N.T. Wright has for Paul and his epistles, it can be a bit of a slow slog. For those of you who have liked N.T. Wright’s other popular works and are interested in his academic works, this is a good intermediate stepping stone. A good read for anyone who is interested in N.T. Wright’s work on Paul or a synthesis on Paul’s life and work.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Edoardo Albert

    He doesn't need a surnmame. Two thousand years after his death, the subject of this biography is still known by what would come to be called, in some large part because of his efforts, his Christian name. Paul. Paul. It is still enough to identify him. Paul, once of Tarsus, latterly Saul, but most of all Apostle - even though Paul was never one of the original 12. In this book, Tom Wright, the leading New Testament historian alive today, attempts to tell Paul's life through the refracting lenses He doesn't need a surnmame. Two thousand years after his death, the subject of this biography is still known by what would come to be called, in some large part because of his efforts, his Christian name. Paul. Paul. It is still enough to identify him. Paul, once of Tarsus, latterly Saul, but most of all Apostle - even though Paul was never one of the original 12. In this book, Tom Wright, the leading New Testament historian alive today, attempts to tell Paul's life through the refracting lenses of the Acts of the Apostles and Paul's own letters. Of course, the problem with both of these as source material for a life of Paul is that they were all written with entirely different purposes in mind: to tell the Good News that Paul spent his life in spreading. So a life of Paul is, in large part, an exercise in inference: a slightly hypothetical biography to be read alongside the Pauline epistles. And, indeed, this is largely what Wright does in this book, taking the epistles, and the circumstances and reasons for their writing, as the bones of his life of Paul. This is as well: Paul's bones were made over into the Good News that he told. So the book is best read as a companion to a rereading of Paul's epistles, Wright's efforts to situate each letter within the wider context of Paul's life and the Roman world and the nascent Church, when the two will very usefully illuminate each other. Read on its own, as I did, I found it a little disappointing, although I find it hard to tell the reason for that disappointment. I have loved Wright's previous books, in particular Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God, so this came as a surprise. I suspect that the problem lay more with me: although I read the book fast, I seemed to have read it with little attention - having been caught up with other matters while reading it - and it has left surprisingly little mark in memory. As I say, I think the fault is mine. When time allows, I intend to reread Paul's epistles but to do so in tandem with the relevant chapter's in Wright's book. Then, I think, it will truly come into its own.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Miller

    Really enjoyed this. N.T. Wright writes this as part of the so-called “new perspective of Paul”, which as a Catholic I find to just be the original perspective. Although no doubt there are lots of nuances to this I am ignorant of. The audiobook version was also good.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jim Teggelaar

    This is a masterwork about the life of the Great Apostle. I have read Paul's letters and the book of Acts many, many times. But even so, Professor Wright's insights, knowledge and wisdom have clarified them for me and tied them together as only a great teacher can. Warmly written, this is a must read for lovers of Biblical Studies, biography, history. This is a masterwork about the life of the Great Apostle. I have read Paul's letters and the book of Acts many, many times. But even so, Professor Wright's insights, knowledge and wisdom have clarified them for me and tied them together as only a great teacher can. Warmly written, this is a must read for lovers of Biblical Studies, biography, history.

  21. 4 out of 5

    iva°

    abandoned #78

  22. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Supimpa

    4.5/5 A very interesting and mature work presenting the life and thought of the most important Christian thinker in ancient history: the Apostle Paul. As a result of a whole research life on the figure, Tom Wright deals with confidence and—most of the time—with clarity about Paul in his historical context. Although aware of both Jewish and Roman backgrounds, Wright emphasizes—way more, one should say—the former as the matrix through which Paul is trying to read and explain the Christian faith. Th 4.5/5 A very interesting and mature work presenting the life and thought of the most important Christian thinker in ancient history: the Apostle Paul. As a result of a whole research life on the figure, Tom Wright deals with confidence and—most of the time—with clarity about Paul in his historical context. Although aware of both Jewish and Roman backgrounds, Wright emphasizes—way more, one should say—the former as the matrix through which Paul is trying to read and explain the Christian faith. The second chapter, on the significance of "zeal" for the young Saul was very helpful for me. The question of change of style in some of Paul's letters (esp. from 1 to 2 Corinthians) as a result of experiences of deep suffering in Ephesus is also quite thought-provoking. However, I still bring some important questions concerning the whole work. The main ones are: 1) It seems like Wright speculates too much about Paul's prayer life. For instance, according to Wright, the significance of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus is directly related to the Jewish practice of prayerful meditation in key passages, especially Ezekiel 1. Although a fascinating suggestion, it has very little biblical-historical basis. No direct scriptural echo is pointed. But for Wright, relating Ezekiel 1 to the Damascus experience explains why Paul suddenly understood why the One God Creator was present in Jesus Christ. Interesting, but too thin. 2) Wright is not clear concerning the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral letters. He spends several pages for Galatians and Romans, but Titus and 1-2 Timothy are briefly overviewed in 3 paragraphs, with a question mark on the chronology. Not that this position is exclusive to Wright—several Pauline scholars affirm that these letters were not penned by Paul—but he gives little clue to the questions. Maybe this is not the book for that, but a straightforward position, either pro or against Pauline authorship, could have been taken. 3) Wright does not get to more complicated issues concerning Paul in his historical context. A good example is the longe-debated affirmations of Paul about women in church. Wright explores the democratic statement of Galatians 3:28, and how this was attractive for women in the Roman World (check the chapter "The Challenge of Paul"), but how can we set passages such as 1 Corinthians 14 or 2 Timothy 2 in Paul's life and historical backdrop? Again, we're dealing with a biography, not a theological introduction to Paul, but it would be at least interesting to consider these passages as part of Paul's influence, in order to answer one of the book's big question "Why was Paul's ministry successful" in spite of such limitations to the female gender? All in all, this is a consistent book, and some paragraphs can make you rediscover the power of Paul's legacy (See the closing of the book on pp. 430-2). Even the way Wright explores Paul's insistence on the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Romans and in the last chapter is highly elegant, way far from dead academic halls we can find elsewhere. Here's an author in love with Paul, and who might make you have a "road to Damascus experience" with the apostle's life.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Drake

    This was excellent. Wright does a fantastic job describing Paul's first-century world and the challenges he would have had to overcome to preach the gospel in both Palestine and the wider Greco-Roman world. The way he weaves together the various passages in Acts and Paul's letters into one narrative of Paul's life is not only helpful in understanding the "big picture" of Paul's career but also very enjoyable to read; this, along with the best biographies, is a genuine page-turner (it also helps This was excellent. Wright does a fantastic job describing Paul's first-century world and the challenges he would have had to overcome to preach the gospel in both Palestine and the wider Greco-Roman world. The way he weaves together the various passages in Acts and Paul's letters into one narrative of Paul's life is not only helpful in understanding the "big picture" of Paul's career but also very enjoyable to read; this, along with the best biographies, is a genuine page-turner (it also helps that the apostle himself lived a very dangerous and exciting life!). Even when he engages in historical speculation (as every biographer of Paul has to do at some points), his theories come off as well-thought-out and provide some interesting food for thought at least (even if they're not always convincing). I didn't agree with every one of his interpretations of Paul's theology (most notably, his view of "justification by faith" and his incomplete view of the atonement), and the way he would sometimes pit Paul against the Jerusalem church/leaders was more annoying than helpful. But those gripes are overshadowed by the quality of the book as a whole, which does a wonderful job painting the apostle Paul as both a real human being (with his own struggles, fears, joys, and quirks) and as a servant of Jesus Christ whose love for his Master drove him all over the map, preaching the message of Christ's victorious death and resurrection and forming communities made up of the new humanity that Christ has brought into existence by His Spirit. This is an inspiring read, one that I'd easily recommend.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Frank Peters

    This is an excellent book. Prior to starting it, I wondered how NT Wright would write a biography, since he seemed unlike his normal style. Well he has proved me both wrong and right. This biography is completely unlike a normal biography. The author certainly tells a story but uses the story to provide theological lessons to the reader based on the chronology of Paul and the letters he wrote. I found myself moved at times while reading the book; a testament to how Wrights text was seeping into This is an excellent book. Prior to starting it, I wondered how NT Wright would write a biography, since he seemed unlike his normal style. Well he has proved me both wrong and right. This biography is completely unlike a normal biography. The author certainly tells a story but uses the story to provide theological lessons to the reader based on the chronology of Paul and the letters he wrote. I found myself moved at times while reading the book; a testament to how Wrights text was seeping into my soul. The book was also highly educational. Since Christian history is a hobby, and since I had already read most of FF Bruce, I wondered if I would learn anything. The short answer was, yes: I learned more than I expected. This even includes learning things that were not written. How? The very methodology in the book encouraged me to use my brain in evaluating interesting questions I had not thought about before – typically finding answers that I found rather exciting. Now, as a biographer, Wright is filling in gaps and extrapolating beyond any existing histories (including theological extrapolations). All these extrapolations are his best guesses and are intriguing. I don’t think he expects his readers to believe everything that was written in this vein, and I appreciated the honesty and style that can admit the extrapolation rather than pretending that he knows everything. Ultimately, while biographical in style the book is a book on theology, with a healthy component of applied theology. Very much recommended for anyone who has appreciated the writings of NT Wright.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Willis

    Very readable. N.T. Wright did an excellent job introducing readers to Roman and Jewish culture, as well as telling Paul's life story chronologically. It all gives some insightful context to Paul's writings. Very readable. N.T. Wright did an excellent job introducing readers to Roman and Jewish culture, as well as telling Paul's life story chronologically. It all gives some insightful context to Paul's writings.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Maximilian Nightingale

    Excellent biography of Paul! If you haven't read Acts or the Letters of Paul, then I would start there, since the author makes constant reference to those sources. But even after having read those writings many times, Wright adds plenty of context to shed light on what Paul said and did, and arranges his presentation so that one understands where the letters fit in with the overall story of Paul's life. His synthesis of Paul's theological thought is also tied closely to the primary sources and c Excellent biography of Paul! If you haven't read Acts or the Letters of Paul, then I would start there, since the author makes constant reference to those sources. But even after having read those writings many times, Wright adds plenty of context to shed light on what Paul said and did, and arranges his presentation so that one understands where the letters fit in with the overall story of Paul's life. His synthesis of Paul's theological thought is also tied closely to the primary sources and context, so that anyone (Catholic or Protestant) could benefit from it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joe Morovich

    Wow! Just. Wow! Probably NT WRIGHT'S best book; and as those that read NTW's works that is saying a lot! Having read his big books on Paul, this is more accessible and a lot more interesting and personal. The climax is the last chapter. That section of writing alone is worth the price of admission. I think I almost highlighted the whole thing. You could almost start there and THEN read the book. Wow! Just. Wow! Probably NT WRIGHT'S best book; and as those that read NTW's works that is saying a lot! Having read his big books on Paul, this is more accessible and a lot more interesting and personal. The climax is the last chapter. That section of writing alone is worth the price of admission. I think I almost highlighted the whole thing. You could almost start there and THEN read the book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jared Hanishewski

    The personhood of Paul in my mind has always been a proverbial figure. A Saint. A semi-Devine character. If anything this book show you the very human “man”. A man with a sense of humour. A man who struggled with depression, with fear, with his fellow Christians. A man who saw the truth of the significance of his time and sought to tell all he met. N.T.Wright with beautiful form shows the reader this man and how his teaching have deeply impacted our world perhaps more then anyone else in histor The personhood of Paul in my mind has always been a proverbial figure. A Saint. A semi-Devine character. If anything this book show you the very human “man”. A man with a sense of humour. A man who struggled with depression, with fear, with his fellow Christians. A man who saw the truth of the significance of his time and sought to tell all he met. N.T.Wright with beautiful form shows the reader this man and how his teaching have deeply impacted our world perhaps more then anyone else in history.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    Terrific book! I've never studied Paul seriously and didn't think I'd be interested in a biography about him, but wow, Wright is amazing. He made Paul come to life as a person in a way that will fundamentally change the way I read his (Paul's) writing. One of Wright's main points is that Paul, a devout Jew, wasn't rejecting Judaism in favor of Christianity, but rather saw Christ's coming as a fulfillment of Jewish teaching. That may not be a new insight for Bible scholars, but I found it really Terrific book! I've never studied Paul seriously and didn't think I'd be interested in a biography about him, but wow, Wright is amazing. He made Paul come to life as a person in a way that will fundamentally change the way I read his (Paul's) writing. One of Wright's main points is that Paul, a devout Jew, wasn't rejecting Judaism in favor of Christianity, but rather saw Christ's coming as a fulfillment of Jewish teaching. That may not be a new insight for Bible scholars, but I found it really interesting. Lots of fascinating insights into the New Testament.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    It's a book that doesn't know what it wants to be: history, biography, or philosophy text? Sometimes it tries to be all three simultaneously...resulting in a great deal of rambling, little structure, and a reader who wants to tear out his hair. However, when it does manage to focus, it's easy to read, informative, even a little witty. It's less than the sum of its parts, but all those parts on their own are worth the frustration. It's a book that doesn't know what it wants to be: history, biography, or philosophy text? Sometimes it tries to be all three simultaneously...resulting in a great deal of rambling, little structure, and a reader who wants to tear out his hair. However, when it does manage to focus, it's easy to read, informative, even a little witty. It's less than the sum of its parts, but all those parts on their own are worth the frustration.

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