What Tom Wright Really Said

…about What St Paul Really Said (hereafter WSPRS).

I finished reading Tom Wright’s popular-level WSPRS last night. One of the points I found most delightful and helpful was how Paul’s exploration of God as Trinity (or at least some kind of plurality) didn’t take place over against Jewish monotheism or as playing into the hands of multi-deistic paganism, but instead grew directly from Jewish statements of thought about God’s oneness (eg. from the ‘shema’ of Deuteronomy 6) and functioned as an argument against the pagan idol worship of Paul’s day. 1 Corinthians 8 is one beautiful example of this, but Wright brought out a few.

It demonstrated how early this kind of thought about God’s triune nature was beginning to be explored and how fundamental it is to understand it in its own context. Understanding it in this way also undoes several strands of scholarship that have typically tried to draw Paul as a radically Hellenised thinker who was pulling away from any Jewish roots he may have had. Wright does a very good job of demonstrating how Paul’s thought was not Judaism-rejected so much as Judaism-rethought. One other point that comes across very nicely on these lines is how Paul’s conversion led him not away from his roots but actually to a more proper understanding of his rooting in the Scriptures and in the story of Israel.

WSPRS purports to be a helpful contribution to modern Christians from a well-read scholar. I don’t wonder if it still pushes a little too far in the direction of the academic; I think of those I know who have often said that they struggle to read Paul and wondered whether this book would really help. Also, with an audacious title such as it has, the reader obviously needs to take a pinch of Salt from the Pot of Academic Reason; however fair Tom Wright has tried to be, this is obviously really What Tom Wright Really Said About What St Paul Really Said, and while I agree substantially with his Jewish covenantal reading of Paul, there will be those who would wish to dissent, especially on his views of justification. The disputes that have been had with the likes of John Piper are already well documented. But for the most part I would not have a problem recommending this book and saying that the title isn’t too audacious; his reading of Paul brings us right back into his first-century context in order to really help us understand Paul’s message for the twenty-first century.

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