|Publication Date: 17 Oct 2013|
|Publisher: SPCK Publishing|
|Page Count: 640|
|Author: N. T. Wright|Tom Wright|
|ISBN-13: 9780281063666, 9780281070329|
This record of a lifetime's study of St Paul is interwoven with autobiographical notes, situating the author at each stage of his career - at Oxford, Cambridge and Montreal (as student and then established teacher during the 1970, 80s and early 90s), Lichfield (as Dean of the Cathedral), Westminster (as canon theologian at the Abbey), Durham (as Bishop from 2003 to 2010), and, finally, St Andrews, where Tom Wright now holds a research chair.
It is a human story as well as a record of scholarly achievement. Each essay, article or lecture in Pauline Perspectives is introduced by a substantial paragraph explaining its genesis and purpose. Some of the chapters are, of course, more "load-bearing", as the author puts it, than others; he himself singles out particularly the first and the last. To readers of theology at any level, Wright will already be a familiar figure. He has also written scores of other books, ranging from the popular New Testament commentaries to huge scholarly blockbusters including Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003) and, most recently, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (reviewed in the TLS, April 18, 2014). A pleasing feature of Pauline Perspectives is the variety of register, ranging from the light touch of a talk for theological college students to the vast learning reflected in the final article. Some of the clearest and most forceful essays are harvested from Wright's time as a bishop, when - as he cheerfully admits - pastoral pressures prevented full scholarly annotation. Often such pieces, clearly written with purposeful speed, and unadorned with footnotes, constitute helpful summaries of a complicated position.
Weighty as many of these essays are, they are constantly lightened by illustrations and touches of humour. Using the wrong categories in theology is compared to playing squash with a golf club. To an Irish audience, Wright suggests that Paul's assertion in Athens that idols are a waste of time is rather like declaring in Dublin that God doesn't like Guinness. Many of the illustrations are musical: in a recent lecture, Wright suggested that even the finest translations are like trying to play a Beethoven symphony on a mouth organ.
Through all the careful and complex arguments of the essays, two themes recur constantly: the first is so-called New Perspective in Pauline studies; the second the clash between the early Christian championship of Christ as Lord and the claims to divine status of the Roman emperor. The New Perspective has essentially entailed a refusal to read Paul (and especially the Epistle to the Romans) anachronistically in the context of Luther's dilemma about Faith and works. Since the Reformation, the position that Paul opposes has often been treated as a prequel to the Catholic abuse of indulgences. On this model, Jews represent Catholics, while Paul is a proto-Protestant. In the mid-twentieth century, studies of Judaism made it clear that this was not a fair way of picturing Paul's thinking in Romans. In the Judaism of his day, obedience to he Law was considered not a legalistic means of earning salvation, but an expression of gratitude for God's choice of Israel and as a badge of fidelity to Judaism. Paul's core contention was that God's promises to Abraham were intended not solely for Jews, but for the whole human race. This leaves the major problem for Paul to be understanding the position of Israel in such a universalist dispensation. The heart of the Epistle to the Romans is therefore chapters 9-11, to which earlier chapters are only preliminary.
A second focus of Wright's discussion is Paul and the Roman Empire, which brings to the fore the struggle between rival claimants to Lordship of the world and to divinity: Christ or the emperor. This is treated explicitly by three essays, from 2000, 2002 and 2010, but plays its part in several others, leading to reflections on politics and leadership in the modern world.
Throughout the volume, Tom Wright's concentration on the Pauline studies of the English-speaking world, to the virtual exclusion of scholarship in other languages, is clear. Despite this limitation, Pauline Perspectives is a noble testimony to forty years of fruitful work.