13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Valuable but not completely convincing,
This review is from: What St Paul Really Said (Paperback)
Written some years before his book `Paul: Fresh Perspectives', this is one of the first of Tom Wright's books to try and work out the implications for ordinary readers of recent developments in thinking about Paul's theology. Penned in Wright's characteristically forthright style, it serves both as a useful introduction to the broad tendencies of the last century of scholarship on Paul, and as a careful re-evaluation of him in his - now understood to be profoundly Jewish - context. Wright's overall message is clear: in getting to grips with Jesus, Paul has revised his Jewish beliefs about the coming of God's Kingdom at the end of time and instead now sees that event - which opposes the rule of Rome with claims of the lordship of Christ - as having already happened, in `the midst of history'. This is the Gospel of Christ, and obedience to him is what it means to be saved.
These are the broad outlines of Wright's helpful book. But a number of aspects of the work detract, in my view, from its overall value. Firstly, his insistence that the Greek word 'dikaiosune' means (only) the righteousness of God, with its implication that this guarantees God's impartiality in judging, risks obscuring the element of justice and partiality to the poor implicit in this word and its Hebrew equivalent. But the implications of this for `Jesus versus empire' are barely explained, despite Wright's professed (and surely correct) belief that Jesus' coming is about his lordship over against that of Rome. Again, while I think Wright is correct to translate the Greek word 'pistis' and its cognates as referring to Jesus' faithfulness to the God of the Israelites and to the Covenant (and not as referring to faith in God as a mental act or effort of belief), he doesn't use a similar term to talk of the believers. So we are left with the impression that faith is primarily about mental assent, rather than about faithfulness to a person, as is surely fundamental to any proper relationship with Jesus.
In his writing on Romans, there is more than a hint of supersessionism - the idea that Christianity has somehow replaced Judaism (for a different interpretation see Keith Elliott's chapter on Romans in the collection `A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament Writings', edited by Fernando Segovia and R.S. Sugirtharajah). Finally, Wright is unconvincing about Paul as a Trinitarian believer, for example in his construal of the syntax of Romans 9:5, and in his interpretation of Philippians 2: 5 - 11, where he doesn't take account of how Roman ears would have heard the words. Again, for a different interpretation, see Erik Heen's chapter on this in Richard Horsley's book `Paul and the Roman Imperial Order').
So, for me Wright is not completely convincing. But this is nonetheless a valuable introductory overview of important strands in contemporary thinking about the apostle's approach - and it will certainly be a lively discussion starter for study groups, for example.