Book Review

Paul: A Biography

N.T. Wright (HarperOne)
Paul: A Biography
"While no easy feat, Wright has done a marvellous job in bringing the Paul to life."

As I eagerly awaited the arrival of the latest work from the prolific pen of N.T. Wright, I found myself wondering, how does one attempt to write a full-fledged biography of a figure who lived nearly two millennia ago? And, after embarking on such a project, how would one structure such a book?

Building on his own extensive knowledge of the New Testament documents, Wright has produced a geographical, and biographical tour of Paul’s life and ministry. What emerges is a work that is two parts history, and two parts theology—each in equal measure. Those who have been following Wright’s career will notice several common themes: the emphasis on worldview, his characteristic insistence on the priority of the Jewish background material, Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness, and the implicit political overtones of early Christian teaching. A historian at heart, Wright’s work is saturated with social, political, cultural, and religious background material, all serving to bring the zealot from Tarsus to life. Maps and chronological material are peppered throughout the work, helping the reader to track with Paul and Wright—the two powerhouses that they are.

One can certainly appreciate the extensive efforts that Wright has made at bridging the gap between a popular audience, and his rather daunting scholarly works (such as the 1500+ page, two-volume Paul and the Faithfulness of God—a scroll of which few can open!) However, at 464 pages, Paul: A Biography comes across somewhat overwhelming to the average reader. One wishes that Wright would have kept to 200 pages, like his earlier Simply Jesus, inviting a wider audience to enjoy his work. The reader need not be intimidated however, as the larger font and flowing prose does make for quick, enjoyable reading. There is no scholarly-footnoting to be found here, only references to Scripture (Wright’s own translation) and other ancient sources.

While no easy feat, Wright has done a marvellous job in bringing the Paul to life. One need not agree with every detail in Wright’s work (I found his Damascus road offering somewhat disappointing), even the seasoned interpreter will find much to learn from here, as Wright offers a lifetime of deep reflection on Paul. The ambitious reader will also want to take note of Wright’s sparring partner, Douglas Campbell, who produced his own biography of Paul in January of this year (which is approximately half the page length of Wright’s work). Paul: A Biography is a book which will serve to introduce, or perhaps, re-introduce the complex man from Tarsus to a wide audience.

Preview and purchase Paul: A Biography