Paul

A Biography

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N. T. Wright
  • New York, NY: 
    HarperOne
    , February
     2018.
     480 pages.
     $29.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780061730580.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Paul: A Biography, written by N. T. Wright, provides an in-depth and inspiring account of the life of Paul the apostle. Wright’s biography masterfully reconstructs Paul’s journeys, experiences, beliefs, motives, personal challenges, and moments of joy. 

Wright’s biography of Paul is organized into three parts. In part 1, the reader learns about the early years of Paul’s life. The first chapter is especially enlightening since it explores Paul’s world and its Jewish ancestral traditions and beliefs. Here Wright also discusses Paul’s Damascus road experience. This experience, as Wright observes, had a significant impact on Paul. Rather than suggesting that Paul had some sort of ailment or disorder accounting for his vision of the resurrected Jesus, Wright suggests that we pay attention to the way the Damascus road experience is contextualized into the apostle’s life and the rich cultural and spiritual Jewish world of the first century. Also in part 1, Wright devotes an entire chapter to Paul’s reference in his letter to the Galatians to a journey to Arabia after his Damascus road experience. Paul traveled there, Wright believes, to help himself come to terms with his meaningful experience on the road to Damascus. In part 2, Wright discusses Paul’s journeys throughout the ancient Mediterranean world. Each of Paul’s visits to various cities and the letters he writes to Christian communities receives special attention. The chapters that discuss Paul’s visit to Athens and Corinth are especially interesting to read. These chapters focus on the way Paul’s message interacted with the historical context of the Greco-Roman world in the first century. And finally, in part 3, Wright explores the last years of Paul’s life. In the chapter about Paul’s final journey to Rome, Wright does an exceptional job of explaining the possible scenarios about what happened after the narrative of Acts ends. Did Paul journey to Spain? Wright explores this question in remarkable detail. The concluding chapter is particularly insightful, since Wright discusses the personality and motives of Paul. In the opinion of this reviewer, Wright’s conclusion beautifully draws attention to Paul’s complexity and legacy. 

Wright’s biography of Paul will appeal to a diverse audience. Anyone from the scholar to the casual reader will find his biography exciting to read. While Wright’s brilliant scholarship is certainly incorporated into this biography about Paul, his scholarly insights will not seem overwhelming to the casual reader. Rather the casual reader will greatly appreciate Wright’s clear writing style and find his introduction to the historical circumstances, thoughts, and ideas that formed the first-century world of Paul insightful. Overall, Wright has done an effective job of discussing the complexity of Paul’s letters in language that is easy to understand for the non-expert. 

This biography could easily be incorporated into a college or seminary course that focuses on the New Testament or specifically on Paul’s letters. Wright’s ability to provide an in-depth analysis of Paul’s life and calling in clear and accessible language is one of the greatest strengths of this biography. A student of the New Testament will greatly benefit from this biography since Wright’s interpretation of Paul is easy to understand, informative, and grounded on some of the most recent scholarship. Wright’s writing is vibrant and eloquent, and encourages readers to reflect on the importance of Paul’s life. In summary, Wright’s biography is an exciting discussion of one of the most controversial and influential authors of the New Testament.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Steven Shisley is Adjunct Professor of Religion at Cal Lutheran University.

Date of Review: 
June 1, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

N. T. Wright, one of the world’s leading Bible scholars, is the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews, an Anglican bishop, and bestselling author. Featured on ABC News, The Colbert Report, Dateline, and Fresh Air, Wright is the award-winning author of Simply Good News, Simply Jesus, Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, How God Became King, Scripture and the Authority of God, Surprised by Scripture, and The Case for the Psalms, as well as the recent translation of the New Testament The Kingdom New Testament and the much heralded series Christian Origins and the Question of God.

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