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What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? [Paperback]

N. T. Wright , Tom Wright
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Sep 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802844456
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802844453
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 15.1 x 1.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 763,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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According to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul warned his converts in Asia that the path to the kingdom of God lay through many persecutions. Read the first page
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh, challenging and enlightening! 23 Sep 2003
By Paul Munro VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
NT Wright has a habit of delivering a deep subject at every level of Christian knowledge. In this book, he has done it again. I think that the chapters covering Paul's teaching on the gospel and justification could have been longer, but then that would miss the point of the entire book (which is to introduce what Paul really said about a range of connected subjects). I said it is challenging- and it is. If you come from a Reformed background you will have to contend with Wright's view of justification, and this may cause you some sleepless nights trying to figure out where it all leads. But it's worth it. Even if you don't agree with Wright's conclusions I doubt that you can be taken seriously in theological circles if you haven't at least read some of this man's thoughts on NT history and theology. Great stuff- and highly recommended to all!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging 10 Jun 2008
This is a challenging and exciting book and a good introduction to N T Wright;s new perspective. Paul is seen as a violent Pharisee not unlike the Islamists of today in his zeal. but he was a man transformed by his Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He sees Christ is Lord, God himself, the fulfilment of Israel;s hope. Jesus is LORD. In his resurrection the new age has dawned. Faith in Christ is the badge of membership of he covenant community, no works of the law. Justification by faith is not he gospel. it is the lordship of Christ. The zeal Saul displayed to get errant Jews back to what he saw as the truth is now transformed into the zeal of Paul, apostle to the gentiles, denouncer of their paganism. Wright's teaching contains an antidote to the individualism of Protestantism if justification is seen not as a mere individual matter but as entry into the covenant community of those God will pronounce as righteous on the last day.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Echoes through the centuries 4 Jan 2006
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Taking a note from the Barth/Brunner debate a century ago, N.T. Wright has challenged A.N. Wilson's assertion in another book to formulate this book (although the Wright/Wilson controversy will unlikely produce the same long-lasting theological impact that Barth/Brunner did). Still it is an interesting dialogue spanning different books and articles now. Wilson made the historical assertion that Paul was the real founder of Christianity. There are many historians and biblical scholars who would agree with Wilson, in whole or in part. Certainly the Christianity that we have today is influenced by the writings of Paul. However, is our current interpretation of Paul's writing in accord with what he would have wanted?
With regard to that idea, Wright states that 'His [Paul's] fate in this century has been not unlike his fate in his own day. Nobody who wants to think about Christianity can ignore him; but they can, and do, abuse him, misunderstand him, impose their own categories on him, come to him with the wrong questions and wonder why he doesn't give a clear answer, and shamelessly borrow material from him to fit into other schemes of which he would not have approved.' Wright highlights the riot in Ephesus of showing that, with regard to Paul, there is often a lot of sound and fury, but we're not always sure what it signifies. Wright traces the different ways in which major thinkers of the twentieth century have portrayed Paul - Schweitzer, Bultmann, Davies, Kasemann, and Sanders primarily. He also develops the framework of the key questions to be asked - these deal with history, theology, exegesis and practical application.
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99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seting the record straight 13 Jan 2003
By Da Hampster - Published on
I think a couple of words are in order in response to the criticism of some of the reviewers of this book.
First off, Wright is most assuredly not teaching any sort of a works based salvation. He simply points out that when Paul speaks against the Judaizers of his day, we can not, as Luther did, project onto them a meaning consistent with that of the Medieval Catholic Church. That is, Luther read Paul struggling with the Judaizer's speaking of the "works of the law" then saw his own struggle with the Church that seemed to place an endless string of hoops to jump through to achieve salvation. He assumed Paul was speaking to him in his situation directly. "The Just shall live by faith" became for Luther a liberating statement. Faith, not works, is how one is justified before God.
However, Wright explores more precisely what it was Paul was up against. What it was, was those who insisted that the things which made the Jews separate from the nations, such as circumcision, food laws, etc. desired to impose these on new Christians as a badge of their membership in the New Covenant. No, Paul says. It is faith, not these works of the law, which mark you out as a true covenant member. If you live in faith, which is of course outwardly exhibited in obedience, then you will be known as a true covenant member. This is most definitely not telling us that through our works we are or even can be justified before God.
Instead, God's justification is really closely tied to his righteousness. Not just righteousness in terms "God is better than us" (though he certainly is) but righteousness in terms of His faithfulness to His covenant. God will justify His people. In fact, in time and history, He has done so in the cross. The cross is very central to Paul's writings.
But, who are God's people? Those who believe the Gospel. What is the Gospel? According to Wright, the gospel Paul preached was not a set of instructions on how one goes about "getting saved," but the gospel was the proclamation of the good news that God had redeemed his people in the cross, that Jesus had rose from the dead, and (this is very central) that Jesus is now the reigning King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the King over all of the universe, so this is a universal message, not confined only or even primarily to the Jewish nation. Those who profess a belief in this are part of the visible covenant people, but the true members will be known by their fruits.
All this is not to say Luther was totally wrong or without merit, and certainly it was not to say the Roman Catholic Church was right. Yes, Wright is a Protestant, the reader from Canada's criticism notwithstanding. The first century Jews just simply did not hold to a works based salvation as many since Luther have supposed. With this in mind, we can not take Luther's interpretation as completely accurate.
Another somewhat soft criticism is that the book is mis-titled, since only the last chapter actually concerns the issue of whether St. Paul was the true founder of Christianity. Admittedly, I had the same initial reaction because this is not something overtly talked about for the majority of the book. However, the entirety of the book outlines the fact that Paul was simply taking the teachings of Jesus as they were to be interpreted for those in Paul's time - and all subsequent ages. He is building the case throughout that Paul is not creating something new, but is a Jew of Jews who is interpreting Jesus the only way one can - through the scriptures of the Jews. Therefore, though he only speaks directly to the point in the final chapter, the point is actually built upon throughout the whole book.
Wright does, I believe, a masterful job of taking what is obviously deep, scholarly work and putting it into terms an average Christian can understand. I think this is a much-needed gift, as deep theological works are above the ability of all but a few, yet most popular books are nothing but fluff and baptized pop-psychology.
I highly recommend this readable, and enlightened interpretation of Paul. I have a whole new outlook on Paul and look forward to reading through his letters again 'with new eyes"!
90 of 102 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brief introduction to the New Perspective 26 Oct 2003
By Seth Aaron Lowry - Published on
Although many within the traditional Protestant camp dish out some harsh criticism toward Wright, I think no one will contest that Wright is a first rate scholar and that his views must be taken seriously and engaged by other evangelical Protestants. That being said, I think Wright's new work on Paul's gospel message is a great work that sheds new light on a topic that most think they have fully grasped. The reason why I like Wright's work is because he attempts to understand Paul from a 1st century Jewish mindset, and not from a later perspective. I think most Protestants would do well to reconsider if the 16th century interpretation of Paul is really the best one, and understand that that interpretation is a product of 16th century scholastic Augustinianism, and does not try to understand Paul as a first century Jewish scholar. This is why the New Perspective is so helpful at giving us a new dimension within which we can understand Paul's teachings.
Briefly, Wright begins the book by arguing that the heart of the gospel is not how one can get into a right relationship with God, but that it is an imperial proclomation that Jesus and not Caesar is Lord. I thought this idea was well argued for and has some merit, but I am not fully convinced. Then Wright argues that membership in the covenant community is much like that of traditional Judaism; One becomes a member of this corporate community via the covenant, and then one remains in that covenant community. In addition, Wright takes a different view of what exactly the righteousness of God means in a book like Romans. Wright believes the genitive construction is best understood as a subjective genitive and not an objective genitive; That means the righteousness of God is God's covenant faithfulness to his creation, and not some gift of righteousness that God bestows to mankind. For those in the Protestant camp who might disagree, even John Piper holds a similar view so this idea is hardly novel or not well accepted within traditional Reformed circles.
Wright believes that God's covenant faithfulness was manifested when he sent His Son, Jesus Christ into the world to redeem creation. This act was a demonstration of God's faithfulness and ushered in the time of renewal and the new age that Paul had so eagerly awaited as a zealous Pharisee. Not much disagreement here, but where I do have qualms with Wright is over his denial of imputed righteousness. Wright believes that there are few Scriptures that speak of an imputed righteousness of Christ and the ones that do are misunderstood. Right believes that faith is not what makes one right with God, but what identifes one as a valid member of the covenant community. Thus, justification is not soteriological but ecclesiogical. If one is going to accept this view I believe Wright will have to develop this idea more fully and should devote a future book solely to this topic. Although there are a few areas of disagreement, I believe this book should be read by all Protestants so that they can approach the Pauline corpus from a more Jewish mindset.
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous Exposition of Paul! 16 July 2004
By D.P. - Published on
N.T. Wright is a tremendous author, whether you agree with him or not. He does a wonderful job of showing that Paul was the faithful interpretor of Jesus, and not the founder of Christianity. Wright argues that if Paul would have said the same things Jesus did, then he would have been claiming Messiahship as well.

A previous revewier has stated that this book is the end of Protestantism. His reason is that "the central theme of the gospel to Protestantism is justification by faith". That may be the case within some strands of Protestantism, but is not so all throughout the board (i.e. the Redemptive-Historical school of Reformed Theology with Vos, Ridderbos and Gaffin).

Now to the controversial "Fresh Perspective on Paul" as Wright calls it. I am a confessional Protestant who adheres to the Westminster standards, and do not have a problem highly endorsing the eschatological focus of this book. He says that the crucifixion is the chief eschatological act. This ligns right up with what Richard Gaffin says in 'Resurrection and Redemption' from a Reformed perspective.

I really liek his interpretation of 'dikaiosune theou', or righteousness of God. That has been a perplexing topic in the history of interpretation and is usually identified as a genitive of origin to uphold the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness. However, Wright classifies it as a subjective genitive, where the righteousness is God's own righteousness in His covenental faithfulness by redeeming Israel. This clears up a lot of muddled water where that the genitive of origen will not work in all contexts.

His notion of justification is the other controversial aspect of his theology. He puts it in the first century Jewish context, rather than a polemical context of church history. The three themes of 1st century Jewish theology that he explains are law court, covenant and eschatology. This has some interesting twists that many will not like, but I find to be quite helpful. I have little problems with an already/not yet aspect to justification (to be more biblical theological), which would correlate with his emphasis on the eschatological nature of justification (see Romans 2:13).

This is a tremendous work that is highly recommended!
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tentatively, I find this book superlative 12 Mar 2004
By J. Krueger - Published on
I have skimmed or read in detail most of Wright's book, but since I will be working with it for the rest of this semester I may find need to reappraise it. So far, so good, as I am concerned.
This book is only "dangerous" and "unorthodox" if you interpret the entire Pauline corpus based on Romans 5 and Galatians 3. Wright's claim is that a larger horizon needs to be accorded to Paul's thought than justification by faith (which is NEVER "alone")--however, what some other reviewers here neglect to mention is that Wright says that this is *central*, but not THE center, of Paul's theology.
I approached the book very guardedly, because I thought his prologue was rather pompous. But I actually found the writing to be very good and the scholarship to be judicious, even if he doesn't on the surface appear to immerse himself in "hardcore" exegesis. He takes what is good from Sanders and other modern biblical scholars and tries to separate it from liberal crap.
His exposition on the Pauline Trinity--God, Lord, and Spirit--was breathtakingly good. His defense of Jesus' primacy in the founding of Christianity is admirable. Finally, his treatment of Paul's Jewishness was very helpful and gives further motivation to my desire to immerse myself in the OT/Jewish world, to help my understanding of the roots of Christianity.
As an aspiring scholar, with conservative-leaning tendencies, I found this book to be quite inspiring. I think Wright provides a good example of scholarship that is largely CORRECT, illuminating, and at the same time beneficial spiritually.
May the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord be with you.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Real Eye Opener! 3 Mar 2006
By T. B. Vick - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this work, Wright sheds light on certain epistles of Paul which have been, for lack of better term, misinterpreted (perhaps misapplied) in recent commentary history to fit a "reformed mold," if you will. Having read Wright's work, for the second time now (once before seminary once after), and also having heard certain popular reformed evangelical thinkers respond to it, I think Wright has been wrongly assessed by these thinkers. In this work, Wright is not denying nor rejecting the "reformed doctrine of justification," rather he is simply declaring that Paul is not communicating this doctrine in his epistles which many contemporary reformed thinkers have concluded that he is. I believe Wright has shed some very important light on these texts that perhaps has long been overlooked; perhaps this is so due to a search for passages (proof-texting) in order to 'prove' a particular doctrine (i.e. the reformed doctrine of justification).

Wright provides three categories that he thinks Paul's view of justification entails; Covenant, Law Court, and Eschatology. Here is how Wright describes each:

"Covenant. Justification is the covenant declaration, which will be issued on the last day, in which the true people of God will be vindicated and those who insist on worshipping false gods will be shown to be in the wrong."

"Law Court. Justification functions like the verdict in the law court: by acquitting someone, it confers on that person the status `righteous'. This is the forensic dimension of the future covenantal vindication.

"Eschatology. This declaration, this verdict, is ultimately to be made at the end of history. Through Jesus, however, God has done in the middle of history what he had been expected to do-and, indeed, will still do-at the end; so that the declaration, the verdict, can be issued already in the present, in anticipation."

Back in 1997 or 1998 when I first read "What Saint Paul Really Said", as a good friend of mine from Marquette University often liked to say-I was scandalized. Back then I was so entrenched in my reformed thinking that this book offended me. Almost ten years later, tons of research in Paul's epistles, deeper research into the Catholicity of the Reformation, a deeper and formal study of hermeneutics (inside and outside the classroom), and my studies in Luther's theology, I'm not as scandalized with this second reading.

For the last ten years I have struggled with certain aspects of reformed theology, especially as it has been presented by contemporary thinkers (i.e. the confusion between the gospel proclamation and the doctrine of imputation, the casting away completely of Church Tradition as if it had no importance at all, etc.). Moreover, when I always came to the texts of Paul (and the book of James), there were various things that just did not "click" within my reformed framework, certain texts that did not make sense in light of certain thinkers/reformed commentaries. After reading Wright for the second time certain things about Paul's Epistles just jumped out at me and they made more sense.

All that being said, the question remains, am I totally convinced by Wright's small work? Not completely, but it has at least opened my eyes to a newer way of looking at Paul. Furthermore, many of the Pauline texts that "baked" my mind when I read them many years ago and confused my "reformed" senses suddenly made much more sense. So, with this history of entrenchment in reformed doctrine I can fully understand that when someone who is in that same position reads Wright they seemed "scandalized." However, that should not keep you, if you are reformed in your thinking, from reading this work. It is definitely worth reading and considering.
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