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on 27 June 2016
Oh, what a superb book on the apostle's Paul, and his teachings. This is a breakthrough book for me in the understanding of the New Testament. This is a MUST READ FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN!!! Most highly recommended! One of my top books I have ever read, and I read hundreds of Christian books!
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on 7 June 2015
Every thing that Tom Wright writes is a privilage to read, and an intellecuctualadventure.
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on 15 August 2014
Paul states that the Second Coming will be SOON about 30 times (even: "We who are still alive will fly up to meet him in the clouds"!).
Tom Wright does not mention it once.
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on 25 July 2001
N.T. Wright, whose books I always find enriching, presents a very clear, comprehensive, and enlightening look at the letters of Paul in the context of new scholarship about Paul's time and place. Wright is very orthodox in doctrine, however innovative some of the ideas may be, and shows, once again, that the historical perspective is perfectly compatible with solid Christianity. Highly recommended.
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on 5 May 2015
This book, published in 1997, presents Professor (and later Bishop) N.T. Wright's views on Paul in a shorter version than his recent book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Wright tries to correct some of the misunderstandings about Paul's standpoint and message. After discussing Paul's background as a zealot and his conversion, Wright examines the question of what the gospel is. It's not, he says, the message that Christ takes our sins, and we take his righteousness, or even "justification by faith", but the message that Jesus is the King of the World, that he rose from the dead, and that all should submit to him. At times Wright overstates his case, for instance arguing (p. 54) that Galatians 3 & 4 (Abrahams's faith, the Law, Hagar, etc.) is at heart a theology about the kingship of the Messiah! (NT Wright is usually right, but sometimes he IS NT Wright!)

Another example of dubious interpretation is Wright's insistence (p. 66) that when Paul writes "there is one God – the Father, from whom are all things and we unto him – and one Lord – Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through him", he is "quoting" the Shema, giving clear proof that he believed in Trinitarian doctrine hundreds of years before the great Church Fathers. Two pages later, Wright misquotes Isaiah 45:23 to reinforce his view. He denounces any translation of the obscure word "harpagmon" in Philippians 2:6 other than "something to be exploited".

Wright discusses the term "the righteousness of God" which is used about eight times by Paul. He says it means God's faithfulness to save his chosen people despite their perversity (p. 96). But he also says it means that God judges fairly (p. 97), which to my mind doesn't agree with the former. And despite Wright's efforts to convince us, neither meaning seems to fit Romans 3:5 ("If our unrighteousness serves to establish God's righteousness, is God unjust to punish?"), or Romans 10:3 which says that Paul's fellow Israelites, "being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, did not submit to God's righteousness." He claims that when Paul says "God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel, from faith to faith, as it is written: The righteous shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17), he does NOT mean that "the gospel reveals justification by faith as the true scheme of salvation, as opposed to Jewish self-help moralism". But Wright's explanation of the passage (p. 126) using his understanding of "the righteousness of God" doesn't mention faith or the quote from Habakkuk.

Wright interprets the righteousness of God in Romans 3:21-22 ("But now, apart from the law, God's righteousness has been revealed, witnessed by the law and the prophets. It is the righteousness of God, through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, for all who believe.") as God's faithfulness to the covenant, through the "faithfulness of Jesus", although he translates the same phrase in verse 26 as "faith in Jesus" (p. 106).

Wright rejects the popular "evangelical" understanding of "the righteousness of God" as a righteousness conferred on believers by God (p. 100). He dismisses Philippians 3:9, where Paul says he desires the righteousness that is FROM God, since this is not "the righteousness OF God". Wright does not seem to be totally disagreeing with the general Protestant understanding of Paul, but rather, he thinks his interpretation of "the righteousness of God" makes Paul make more sense. I'm not convinced. He does disagree (p. 123) with the concept of "the imputed righteousness of Christ", which some people support with I Corinthians 1:30.

Concerning the word "righteous" applied to a person (rather than to God), Wright says (p. 98) that the Jewish meaning of righteous (and thus more or less Paul's meaning) is that the person is declared the winner in a court case, whether or not that person is moral, or even deserving of winning the case!

Wright considers it very important to understand that when Paul talks of justification, he does not mean how people enter into a relationship with God, but rather (citing an obscure scroll from Qumran, p. 119) a matter of how one can tell who belongs to the true Israel. Even if Wright is correct, it's hard to see what practical difference it makes whether justification has to do with how one gets into a proper relationship with God or rather what the signs are that someone is in such a relationship. He does say (p. 125) that this resolves the problem of whether believing is itself a surrogate "work" or a substitute form of moral righteousness. "Faith is the badge of covenant membership, not something someone 'performs' as a kind of initiation test." He says someone who believes and confesses that Jesus is Lord is "thereby marked out as being within the true covenant family". But isn't that the same as thereby becoming a member of that family?

What does have practical implications is the fact, which Wright points out, that in Galatians Paul is arguing against getting circumcised, not against "earning salvation by doing good deeds", or against religious ritual. The polemic is against the Torah (the "works of the law" such as sabbath, food laws, and circumcision), not against "self-help moralism or against the more subtle snare of 'legalism', as some have suggested". Likewise in Philippians 3, Paul does not refuse "a moralistic or self-help righteousness, but the status of orthodox Jewish covenant membership." According to Wright, when Paul asks the Galatians why they want to enslave themselves again to weak and poor elements, observing special days and so on (Gal. 4:9-10), he is implying that what they are doing is equivalent to going back to idolatry! (P. 84 & p. 137)

In discussing the first passage in Romans where Paul uses the verb "justify" (Chapter 2), Wright says it has baffled commentators – Paul here apparently approves the concept of justification by works! ("It is not the hearers of the law who will be righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.") Wright's explanation is that on the last day, God will vindicate "those in whose hearts and lives God will have written his law". God performs this in Christ and by the Spirit. Paul then goes on to say, according to Wright, that these people will not be the Jews per se, but anyone who believes in Jesus. "Present justification declares, on the basis of faith, what future justification will affirm publicly (according to 2:14-16 and 8:9-11) on the basis of the entire life." (P. 129)

Wright says that the boasting which is excluded (Rom. 3:27) is not boasting of one's good morality, but boasting of being a Jew.

He says that Abraham's faith was not something he "did" in order to win the right to be within the people of God, but the "badge" showing that he was a member (p. 130). In a later chapter (p. 160) he says, "Faith, even in this active sense, is never and in no way a qualification, provided from the human side, either for getting into God's family or for staying there once in. It is the God-given badge of membership, neither more nor less." To my mind, that is not what "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" means. Nor am I convinced that it's what Paul thought it meant.

Wright then discusses "Paul's vision of renewed humanity". He stresses that Paul did not see holiness "as an optional extra, but as something which necessarily characterizes all those who are renewed in Christ" (p. 143). "One of Paul's key phrases is 'the obedience of faith'. Faith and obedience are not antithetical. They belong exactly together." (P. 160) When Paul talks about himself as being unable to do right in Romans 7, he is really talking about his past life as a Pharisee, and is using the first person ("I") as a device, when he actually means religious Jews. When the condition of Israel's Adamic humanness has been dealt with through Christ's death and resurrection, and an individual identifies with these events in baptism, then the Law of the Spirit of life sets that person free from the Law of Sin and Death (p. 144).

How does all this apply to us today? Wright gives examples of how preaching the gospel, that is, preaching the lordship of Christ, means confronting and denouncing the powers that rule the world today, such as excessive governmental power, Mammon, and sexual "freedom". On the latter, people have rejected the error of thinking sexuality must be ignored or repressed, but they have gone on "to capitulate to Aphrodite altogether". This leads to "a semi- or crypto-paganism in which whatever Aphrodite demands, or even suggests, must at once be obeyed, and indeed must be insisted upon as a matter of basic human rights. Such an argument could only hold any force in a world where 'the gospel' has been shrunk to an invitation to personal religious experience, rather than the summons to follow a crucified and risen Messiah."

As one application of his conception of justification as a sort of membership based on believing the story about Jesus, Wright quotes fellow Anglican Richard Hooker who wrote, "One is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith", but by believing in Jesus. This may be true, but I'm not sure that Paul would agree. He had little indulgence for those believers who were trying to get the Galatians to obey the Mosaic Law. He told the Galatian believers that if they got circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing. "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Gal. 5)

Perhaps a better title for this book would be What Saint Paul Really Should Have Said.

Extra note, on last chapter: At the end of the book, Wright discusses the question of the relation between Jesus, Paul, and the origin of Christianity. He says "It will not do to point out that Jesus talked about repentance and the coming kingdom, while Paul talked about justification by faith. It misses the p;oint even to show (though this can be done quite easily) that these two, when set in context and translated into terms of one another, belong extremely closely together." But he doesn't do so. He merely refers to another book, <i>Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianiy</i> by David Wenham. Instead, he points out that Jesus and Paul had very different roles to play, and maintains that Paul was implementing the next phase of the programme started by Jesus. He does admit that Jesus and Paul had "radically different" perspectives.
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on 15 January 2010
For those who want to know more about the new perspective on Paul, this is a good place to start. The reader is gently introduced to the contributions of key Twentieth Century scholars on Pauline thought and quickly moves on to discus the real Paul and his place in the first century Judaism. The aim is to get beyond what others have placed on to Paul so that he can be understood in his context. For that to happen our understanding of Paul should not be coloured by the debates that Augustine had with Pelagius or of those that the reformers had with Roman Catholacism or with each other.
Wright challenges the reader to see that the gospel is more than a message that brings individuals to salvation and that what has been termed as the social gospel is also part of the same message. This is a good defence of orthodox belief. The last chapter argues the conservative stand against the thought that Paul was the founder of Christianity not Jesus. This is what we might expect from a bishop fulfilling such a role. In particular the views of A.N.Wilson's Paul:The Mind of the Apostle are challenged but it is not done in a hyper critical way. Wright gives Wilson some credit for some valued points but dismantles his main arguments in a spirit of love in order to win over those who would see Paul as the founder of Christianity.
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on 27 September 2012
From the outset, Wright states that this is only a short introduction, something of a `taster' for his forthcoming much larger work on Paul, which, at the time of writing this review, is due out in the summer of 2013.

Wright begins his discussion by asking what world Paul inhabited, as this seems foundational to discussions on the nature of the origins of christianity. Wright stresses Paul's Jewishness. At the heart of many accusations over the falsity of the early church is the notion that Paul abandoned his Jewishness and instead brought to the primitive community a quasi-Hellenistic religion, distorting the message and legacy of Jesus. Of course, if one subscribed to this view, then the grounds of christianity (or at least the whole history of what has become christianity) would be severely undermined. Consequently, it is a view that needs to be looked at carefully, with all due consideration and seriousness.

Wright then goes on to give an account of why he believes Paul never abandoned Judaism, but rather, his understanding of it was radically reformed. As a persecutor of the early church, Saul of Tarsus had great energy and enthusiasm for his work. As an apostle, Paul of Tarsus was no less "zealous" in his aims.

Out of this, Wright comes to the question of "what did Paul mean when he talked of `gospel'?" Here, Wright veers away from the traditional reformed answer which focuses on how one is "saved" and instead states that the gospel is an announcement about Jesus and how God is made known through Jesus.

Though evidence is presented above on how thoroughly Paul stays faithful to Jewish monotheism, one does then face some thorny problems with certain statements he makes about the Jewish law, particularly in Galatians and Romans. Wright tackles these in much the same way as Sanders does, by arguing that statements about the law and about circumcision are not about moralism or legalism, but rather that they were statements about Jewish identity. i.e. if christians find their identity in Christ, then there is no longer a need to adopt the identity markers of Judaism now that in Jesus, Judaism has been fulfilled.

An important figure in Wright's arguments is that of Pelagius. Wright's use of this figure is to demonstrate what many modern christians think Paul meant when he spoke of salvation through the law, but which Paul did not mean at all. There is no historical evidence which supports the idea that Judaism was prevalent with those who sought to save themselves by their own efforts. Rather, they were the chosen people of God and their observance of the Torah was what distinguished them from other people.

The second half of the book is then almost entirely devoted to the question of what Paul meant by `justification by faith'. With the background given earlier, Wright's view was that `faith' is the identifying mark by which christians are identified rather than the means by which they become christians. In other words, he swaps round the traditional viewpoint of which is the cart and which is the horse. There's a very helpful diagram which outlines various different interpretations of the word "righteousness" - though Wright chooses to focus on just a couple of these, rather than going into much depth on each of them.

The apparent conclusion of the book then asks how Paul's teaching, understood in this new light, ought to affect the church. He gives a powerful and thought-provoking challenge which should be of interest to all christians.

However, the book doesn't quite end there. The final chapter seems somewhat tacked onto the end. Here, Wright effectively gives a critique of a book by A.N. Wilson called Paul: The Mind of the Apostle. I might, at some point, pick this up and have a read myself. The main content of the book is said to be greatly opposed to the view put forth by Wright, and the key arguments are countered by reference to Wright's own analysis as laid out in earlier chapters. This final chapter does come across as a little ungracious, and its tone jars slightly from that of the previous chapter.

That aside, it is a very good read and I'd highly recommend it to anyone else wanting to gain an understanding of the new perspective on Paul.
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on 20 June 2008
When I first read this book I thought it was refreshing and true, and written in Tom Wright's usual easily accessible form. Then I was lent a copy of John Piper's excellent, "The Future of Justification; A response to N. T. Wright". It was a case of Proverbs 18:17, "He who states his case first seems right, until another comes and examines him." In a very clear and gentle way, John Piper exposes the rather "flimsy" scriptural and non-scriptural evidence on which Tom Wright's views are based and shows that when you view the whole of the evidence, in context, a very different picture emerges. You need to read both to get a balanced view of what is at the heart of the, "New Perspective"/Traditional Evangelical debate.
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on 6 August 2007
I would describe Wright as a radical conservative. He deeply desires to be submitted to God's word but also challenges the traditional understanding of the Bible. His critique of justification theology is not as radical as some have portrayed it. An important thrust is an ecumenical one: that all who be believe in Christ are in the kingdom irrespective of their position on 'justication by faith alone'. For people who want to think through their Christian faith this is an excelent book.
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on 10 October 2015
Makes the understanding of Paul's mission much easier as the background regarding Jewish thought and ideas at t time is explained . He was a man of his time and knowing this was a bit of a revelation to me as I never really understood his letters.
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