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Paul: A Biography Paperback – February 18, 2020
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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 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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“NT Wright takes the most controversial and influential author of scripture and does something remarkable: he humanizes Paul. I was hooked from the first page.” -- Mike McHargue, author of Finding God in the Waves as co-host of The Liturgists Podcast
“A compelling, erudite, and readable biography of the most seminal Christian theologian by one of today’s most celebrated Paul interpreters.” -- Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale University and author of Flourishing
“The most winsome feature is the way Wright paints Paul as a . . . three-dimensional, many-sided, complicated human being. Paul: A Biography is a bright, provocative, imaginative, and often brilliant book.” -- The Gospel Coalition
“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.” -- Englewood Review of Books
“In eloquent and inviting prose, one of the world’s leading New Testament scholars retells the story behind the story, the story of the Apostle Paul. A master teacher here communicates Paul in language every reader can understand.” -- Craig S. Keener, F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary
“The life of one of Christianity’s founders is told by renowned biblical scholar N.T. Wright, who believes that in focusing on Paul’s letters and theology, scholars and pastors have not considered Paul as a person and in the context of his times.” -- Publishers Weekly
“Written with the usual Wright combination of erudition, intuition, mature wit, and wisdom, Paul should serve us well as we seek to unlock the keys to the first great Christian theologian.” -- Dr. Ben Witherington, III, Amos Professor of NT for Doctoral Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary
“Wright’s excellent book not only brings Paul to life but places that life in the complex and overlapping array of Jewish and non-Jewish communities, all set within the Roman empire.” -- John Richardson, Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Edinburgh
“Brings alive not only Paul but also the communities where he formed churches and the religious ideas swirling around them. . . . This highly readable volume gives those interested in biblical history something to argue about and plenty to ponder.” -- Booklist (starred review)
“Nobody who preaches on Paul or ever interested in Paul’s life and message will want to miss this treatment of him by N.T. Wright. It sheds fresh light on Paul’s ministry, theology and personhood, and it does so in a gripping and readable way.” -- John Ortberg, Senior Pastor of Menlo Church
“Wright draws from a lifetime of study to construct this useful biography. Accessible and engrossing . . . Wright looks to the realities of what Paul dealt with . . . anxieties, broken relationships, beatings, imprisonments [revealing] a very human Paul. . . . An excellent introduction.” -- Kirkus (starred review)
“C. S. Lewis spoke of three artistically construed figures who jump off the page—Plato’s Socrates, Boswell’s Johnson, and the evangelists’ Jesus. I am tempted to add a fourth candidate, having encountered Tom Wright’s careful, tender, and bracing enfleshment of the apostle Paul!” -- Edith M. Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
“As lucid as it is salient, this book is a must-read for all readers of the New Testament and all interpreters of early Christianity.” -- Paul N. Anderson, author of From Crisis to Christ
“Walking a fine line between presenting a fresh perspective in Pauline theology and reworking the Pauline corpus according to his own biblical theology, Wright’s work, although intended for the informed layperson, will spark much debate among scholars and students.” -- Library Journal
“One of Wright’s best books . . . Eloquent and moving.” -- Bible and Culture
“A very deep dive into Paul. Professor Wright has such a gift in taking truth and presenting it [so] it just comes alive. I can’t say enough about it. I love the book” -- Relevant Radio
“The great N.T. Wright [offers] this grand biography of Paul. An exciting book.” -- The Eric Metaxas Show
“In his monumental, meticulously detailed and elegant study, Wright presents a fascinating portrait of a man who went from persecuting Christians to being their biggest advocate.” -- BookPage
“A fresh look at the Jewish heritage and the essential place in Christian history of the man converted on the road to Damascus.” -- Tampa Bay Times
“Substantive yet accessible, Paul provides a 432-page exploration of the Apostle’s beginnings, his missionary journeys, his struggles and passion, and much more.” -- The Christian Post
“Compelling . . . a magnificent biography worthy of a wide readership.” -- Church Times
From the Back Cover
For centuries, Paul, the apostle who “saw the light on the Road to Damascus” and changed dramatically from zealous Pharisee persecutor to devoted follower of Jesus, has been one of the church’s most widely cited early teachers. Yet for leading New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N. T. Wright, most Bible scholars and pastors have not fully grasped what Paul was actually doing and why.
In focusing on Paul’s letters and theology, Wright argues, they have, in short, overlooked the essence of the man’s life and the extreme unlikelihood of what he achieved. In response, Wright offers a new way of understanding one of the most famous Christian figures. Wright draws attention to Paul the man—the man who survived assassination attempts, imprisonments, and shipwrecks all while inventing new language and concepts for faithfully translating Jesus’s story for the Gentile world.
In this pioneering new account, Wright celebrates Paul’s humanity, arguing that this is the best context for understanding him and ultimately for appreciating how he invented new paradigms for how we understand Jesus. “The problem,” Wright explains, “is that while Paul is central to any understanding of early Christianity, we cannot understand him without taking full account of the pre-Christian Jewish beliefs and hopes that he believed had been fulfilled in Jesus.” Only when we consider Paul in this manner can we move on to understanding how he led the way for Christianity to conquer the Roman world.
- Publisher : HarperOne; Reprint edition (February 18, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0061730599
- ISBN-13 : 978-0061730597
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 1.08 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #714,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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One of his passions was the absolute unity of Jew and Gentile in the one body of Christ with no distinctions between them. He abhorred the idea of two churches, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. The is perfectly aware of the sensibilities of each group but insisted that they respect each other and have full fellowship - down to table fellowship - with each other.
He also maintains that, following the example of Jesus, Paul gave high value to women. He cites the number of women Paul greeted in his salutations to the house churches in Rome, for example, including one whom he recognizes as an "apostle." He argues that Paul is not a misogynist, but that he elevated the place of women in society.
His final summation of the success of Paul's work is priceless. To me, the highlight of the book was in the final chapter. There he contends that Paul;'s emphasis on love and an outward look in the churches he established and nurtured was responsible for Christians establishing hospitals in the 2nd & 3rd centuries, as well as the development of education for a population that was virtually illiterate prior to the work of Paul. Even the technological advance from books on scrolls to codex format he attributes to Paul's extensive use of the Old Testament Scriptures and the consequent need to be able to thumb through instead of scroll through.
But this is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in a long time. The book turns on when Wright ties the themes of individual Pauline epistles to a reconstructed Pauline life behind them. The pathos of 2 Corinthians will never be the same—the account of 2 Corinthians is just where I fell in love with the book. Getting three or four pages on an epistle rather than two hundred seems to clarify and prioritise Wright’s style immensely. I understood much better how it all fits together, and I’ve read a lot of Wright (for instance, if you’re like me and waded through 1500+ pages of Paul and the Faithfulness of God but forgot on p. 1284 what was said on p. 1011, some repetition is a helpful aid to memory).
We need a biography of Paul, and this biography, not to reduce the Pauline epistles to autobiographical source material, but to reconstruct how the man lived out his own Christ-shaped theology and ethics, and to sense from that how we might. When Paul was alive, it wasn’t obvious who Christ was (or would be to believers in a mainstream or orthodox Christianity), or what it would be like to follow Him. The drama of Paul’s life is to see that meaning of a Christlike life contested in one of the first and most important Christlike lives. Christians have been living off the victories and clarities won in and through Paul ever since.
I especially appreciated the way the Wright used Paul's letters to give more insight into Paul the Apostle, and Paul the Man.
This book definitely gives me a new insight into reading and understanding the Pauline letters.
Top reviews from other countries
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.