Paul: In Fresh Perspective

N. T. Wright, SPCK, 2005, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Wright takes a fresh look at Paul, based on his Jewish roots, his Hellenistic environment, his attitude to the Roman empire and his reinterpretation of Jewish symbols and theology. The two major topics of this interpretation are Paul and the empire, and Paul’s eschatology.

        The traditional approach to apocalypticism held to G-d’s action in the demolition of this world and the establishment of something totally different. Eg the created order is divided into two, earth and heaven, in which the present wicked world is left to stew in its own juice while the saints are snatched to heaven to watch Armageddon from a ringside seat (p 141).

        In opposition to ‘rapture theology’, Wright carefully explicates 1 Thessalonians 4. The parousia is a court term. ‘It is what happens when a king is making a state visit to a city and he is thus ‘present’. As he approaches, the citizens come out to meet him, not to hold a meeting there but to escort him into the city (p 55). And the citizens welcome the king into their city—‘rapture theology’ has the people leaving the city, Wright’s exegesis sees a continuum of heaven and earth, not a dualism.

        Wright also points out the claim of Jesus, not Caesar, as Lord. ‘The symbol which had spoken of Caesar’s naked might now spoke of G-d’s naked love’ (p 73). And in all this, Wright keeps reminding the reader of the Hebrew theology speaking to these same issues.

        A wonderful look at major Pauline themes.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.