The apostle Paul is popular, yet is his message not easy to catch in a single phrase, theme or agenda. Countless theologians, historians, preachers and laypeople have read the epistles in the New Testament and tried to understand and apply his appeal to follow Christ, organize congregations and propagate personal and collective spiritual growth. The reason I chose to read N.T. Wright‘s ‘ Paul and His Recent Interpreters, was that this British Bible scholar is read and promoted heavily in Dutch Christian magazines. “The four tasks facing all serious readers of Paul are history, theology, exegesis and application. These four intertwine and impinge on one another, however hard we might try to stop them.”
As a couple of warnings upfront: this book is not for beginners, neither it’s a book-by-book commentary on Paul’s writings. Wright sketches the various streams of thinkers and their agendas for interpreting Paul, jumping back and forth to Early Church Fathers, Reformation forerunners like Luther and Calvin, and contemporary theologians. You may argue whether Paul was a true Jew, and which branch of first century religion he really based his own theology on. Paul’s social and cultural context, or discarding context at all can be ways to interpret. You may emphasize on Christ as depicted by Paul, the apocalyptic messages, soteriology, eschatology, Paul’s own interpretation of the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old or First Testament). “Agendas are what get people, even historians, out of bed in the mornings, though one might hope that, once at the desk, they allow the data to challenge the hypotheses they have dreamed up overnight” And that’s exactly what crept into my mind after hours of reading along. Which church or congregation will benefit these personal convictions and beliefs? Where’s the actual text? What should all these people better read instead reacting to the interpretations of fellow scholars?
A pleasant reading of Wright’s Paul and His Recent Interpreters requires a familiarity with the theologians and books discussed. I praise Wright’s competence to have a helicopter view, but in all honesty, this wasn’t my cup of tea.
About the author
N. T. (Tom) Wright is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England (2003-2010) and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. He is now serving as the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. He has been featured on ABC News, Dateline NBC, The Colbert Report, and Fresh Air, and he has taught New Testament studies at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford universities. Wright is the award-winning author of Surprised by Hope, Simply Christian, The Last Word, The Challenge of Jesus, The Meaning of Jesus (coauthored with Marcus Borg), as well as the much heralded series Christian Origins and the Question of God.