(Reformation 21) Simon Gathercole reviews Tom Wright's book "Paul and the Faithfulness of God"

Let me begin by stating the fact that most obviously strikes the recipient of a copy of Paul and the Faithfulness of God (henceforth, PFG): it is 1658 pages long. At one point, probably about a third of the way or half-way through, I had a feeling which – unprompted – interpreted itself in words similar to those of John Newton’s Amazing Grace: ‘When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun | We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, as when we first begun’. I felt at this stage at the book that, having read hundreds and hundreds of pages, I still had as many to go as I did when I first begun. One of the chapters is over 250 pages. But I did make it all the way through to what I assume was the George Herbert allusion at the end.

No-one could read this book and not learn an enormous amount. In addition to Wright’s well-known interest in the ‘big picture’ there is also close reading of a great number of passages in Paul, some of which are revisited again and again. There is the characteristic confidence of tone, and – in contrast to how Pauline scholars feel sometimes – there are very few places in the epistles which are opaque to Wright. There is some excellent cut-and-thrust dueling with other scholars as well, especially in the closing chapters where there are extended lively debates with John Barclay (on empire), Troels Engberg-Pedersen (on Paul and Stoicism) and Francis Watson (on Jewish exegesis).

Wright’s work is the product of an individual voice within Pauline scholarship. My use of ‘individual’ here is not a Sir-Humphrey-like way of saying ‘eccentric’, but rather that PFG cannot be said to belong to a particular ‘school’ of Pauline interpretation. There is some affinity to other Pauline scholarship, perhaps especially the work of the dedicand, Richard Hays. But one cannot summarise this book as a New Perspective, anti-Empire, narrative treatment of Paul, because, for example, Wright’s disagreements with other new-perspectivists and other Paul-and-empire advocates are very marked indeed. In some ways, Wright’s approach is anti-traditional – some of his favourite targets are Lutheran readings of Paul, pietistic understandings of the life after death (e.g. p.188), and understanding Paul ‘in terms of an abstract theological system’ (p.1176). On the other hand he is rare in current New Testament scholarship for seeing Paul as, in some sense, the author (I think) of all thirteen Pauline epistles New Testament, though the position on 1 Timothy and Titus is a little unclear (p.61).

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, Theology, Theology: Scripture

One comment on “(Reformation 21) Simon Gathercole reviews Tom Wright's book "Paul and the Faithfulness of God"

  1. BrianInDioSpfd says:

    Looks like a book I need to get. It’s been a while since I plowed through [i] The Resurrection of the Son of God.[/i]