Apostle’s journey

paul a biographyReview by Nick Mattiske

Book | Paul: A Biography | Tom Wright

A new book from Tom Wright is always notable, even at the pace he churns them out. Here he returns to probably his biggest topic, Saint Paul.

This book is conceived as a popular biography, rather than another book on Paul’s theology, except that inevitably, what the author talks about when he talks about Paul is theology, as this was Paul’s life focus.

Wright says that we need to see Paul foremost through his status as a Jew now preaching Christ, as opposed to more modern psychanalytical readings of Paul. This requires someone of Wright’s expertise, who knows the theology backwards, particularly in its Jewish context, which has probably been Wright’s biggest refrain over his career.

By taking Acts and Paul’s letters chronologically, Wright shows how life and theology intermingle, and how differences in style can be explained by pressing issues. Paul is a deep, systematic thinker, but also driven by pastoral concerns. We see theology being made by necessity, a new religion on-the-fly, except that, of course, Paul was not creating a new religion but preaching Jesus as Judaism’s climax.

As such, Paul had to negotiate remaining Jewish while also opening up the promises of Judaism to the whole world which, paradoxically, meant he ended up offending almost everyone.

A highlight of Wright’s biography is how he immerses us in the immediacy of Paul feeling his way through the implications of preaching a homeless, executed man as Israel’s Messiah. This required all of Paul’s restless energy, but also cost him dearly.

Wright’s biography is a reminder to not restrict Paul’s theology to our own narrow interpretations, and to not get caught up in dichotomies of social and personal, spiritual and practical, theological and pastoral, law and gospel. Paul’s message is all-encompassing.

Available from SPCK Publishing.

RRP: $35

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