N.T. Wright’s books tend to produce spinoffs. As he slowly and carefully completes his expansive and exhaustive multi-volume Christian Origins and the Question of God, Wright continues to publish more accessible works at an amazing rate.
His most recent publication is one of them. Paul: A Biography is a fascinating look at the life and thought of the Apostle who wrote a good chunk of the New Testament. The gift of good biographies is that they bring the world of the subject to life for the reader, and Wright has a remarkable ability to phrase things in a way that cuts through our cultural and theological trappings and helps us see the New Testament world in a new, fresh and exciting ways.
Wright firmly roots Paul’s imagination in the Hebrew Scriptures, making the story of the zeal of Phineas from the book of Numbers a guiding interpretive narrative throughout the story. Throughout, Paul’s story is peppered with Psalms, Mosaic law, Proverbs, prophetic poems and stories from the history of Israel and the patriarchs. As he goes from Pharisee to disciple to missionary to prisoner, Paul continually interprets his world through stories of God and his people.
Some might interpret Wright’s biography as a vain attempt to “harmonize” various Pauline sources, but Wright’s attempts to reco2ncile the radical inclusive spirit of Galatians with the careful ecclesiology of Ephesians is thoughtful, meticulous, and sensible. Wright is also not opposed to questioning Pauline authorship of some letters, even in writings geared toward a popular audience, and briefly outlines chronological difficulties posed by the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus toward the end of the story.
Paul is a beautiful tapestry, interwoven with scripture, theology, history, storytelling and tradition, all treated both reverently and critically. The greatest strength of Wright’s most recent publication, however, is the way he brings to life Paul’s own passion and zeal for the gospel – a gift which will bless pastors, Bible teachers, and any interested readers who pick up this biography of the apostle to the Gentiles.