N.T. Wright Discusses New Biography on the Apostle Paul

New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop N.T. “Tom” Wright, 69, has a new book, Paul: A Biography, which aims to help readers wrestling with the words of the Apostle by highlighting his distinctly Jewish roots.

When Christians engage the life and writing of the Apostle Paul, their assumptions and conclusions are all too often misplaced.

But that is because the man best known for his lofty epistles to churches in Rome, Greece, and Asia Minor has been divorced from his Jewish heritage and way of thinking over the centuries of Gentile Christianity.

Paul never abandoned his Jewishness even as his ministry mostly occurred among Gentile believers, Wright argues; choosing to ignore or erase the Jewish significance to Paul’s words is to disregard something profoundly important, rendering portions of the Scripture only partially understandable.

Wright’s previous scholarship on Paul’s theology and writing includes Paul and the Faithfulness of God (2013), Paul: In Fresh Perspective (2009), and The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (1991/1992).

But biographers ask different sorts of questions, Wright notes in the preface, inquiries that search for “the man behind the texts.” Substantive yet accessible, Paul provides a 432-page exploration of the Apostle’s beginnings, his missionary journeys, his struggles and passion, and much more.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of The Christian Post’s interview with the esteemed theologian and Pauline scholar.

CP: In all your years of biblical scholarship, ministry, and in the research and writing of this biography, what have you found to be the most common misconception among Christians and non-Christians about this man, Paul, whom the Holy Spirit inspired to deliver so much counsel to His Church?

TW: The most common misconception is that Paul was arrogant, muddled, misogynistic and so on. Whenever people find something he says either difficult to understand (see below!) or too demanding on belief or behavior, the usual response is ‘Oh, he just had a bad day when he wrote that bit’ … whereas in my long experience a little more thought and work on the passage usually reveals unsuspected depths and powerful meaning.

CP: The Apostle Peter famously wrote that Paul’s letters contain things that are hard to understand and are distorted by ignorant and unstable people (2 Peter 3:16). Yet many sincere Christians also have a difficult time comprehending the words of Paul and would identify with Peter, as Paul’s writings are often the subject of intense, vigorous debate about what exactly he is saying. Why has he been and still is so misunderstood?

TW: Paul’s writings are dense. He was writing often in difficult circumstances (in prison, on journeys, etc.) and often didn’t have a chance to correct let alone expand what he was saying. In particular, he was trying to tease his readers/hearers into thinking for themselves, not simply accepting pre-packaged formulae without reflection.

But this means that, like many poets and other artists, he has to risk leaving questions open (though he’s pretty clear on a lot of things!). In particular, because he knows his Bible inside out he can assume that his hearers can follow him when he’s stringing together ideas which for their full meaning demand a ready grasp of the larger contexts of the passages in question. And he was writing within the complexities of the larger Greco-Roman world in which the swirling philosophies of the time meant that the same sentence could easily be interpreted in different ways, particularly by people who didn’t know Paul personally …

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Source: Christian Post