Paul and the Origins of Christian Theology

Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God

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Like every other scholar in the world whose research focuses on the Apostle Paul, I have been winding my way through N. T. Wright’s gargantuan scholarly masterpiece, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013).  Actually, since this 1700 page 2-volume monster-work is so large that it has its own planetary system, it is probable that even non-earthling scholars of St. Paul have been reading it.  (Indeed, I am tempted to quip that when I hold these volumes in my arms, they are like two rather squarish oranges on toothpicks).

Wright makes a claim that will undoubtedly prove to be provocative in New Testament studies.  He asserts that the titanic shifts in Paul’s disrupted worldview caused the category of “theology” (the study of God) to move to the foreground in a way previously unprecedented in Jewish or pagan antiquity:

It is precisely because of the major restructuring of Paul’s symbolic world that ‘theology’ comes to have a different, much larger and more important place in his worldview, and thereafter in the Christian church, than ever it had in either Judaism or paganism….  Jewish writers have often commented that ‘theology’, as that word is now understood, is largely a Christian construct, and they are right, for just this reason: that a fresh, reflective understanding of God, the world, the human race, and so on grew and developed to fill the vacuum left by the departing symbols of Judaism” (Vol. 1, p. 403).

I’m still processing Wright’s proposal, indeed, I am only now nearing completion of the first volume so I still need to weigh all his evidence.

Wright has long been one of my favorite authors–in fact, his brief The Challenge of Jesus (Downers Grove, Intervarsity, 1999) was one of the books that first got me interested in a career in biblical studies.  If you are interested in finding a place to start with N. T. Wright’s scholarship on the Apostle Paul, a good entry point is his somewhat pompously titled (but still excellent) little book, What St. Paul Really Said (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).