Library News – August

I am reading yet another book about St. Paul, and rather to my surprise, I can scarcely put it down. It’s not an introduction (one is assumed to know his epistles pretty well) and it’s not telling me why I was all wrong about St Paul up till now, as many do (how do they know?) but instead it’s written as a narrative. It’s Tom Wright’s “Paul, a Biography”.
Saint Paul has not been one of my favourite characters. One must admire him, of course, but he seems a difficult man, all passion and contradictions, and all that stuff about having to wear a hat in church and not ask questions puts one’s back up from the start. But reading this book, I realise that I’ve never looked at the man as a whole, only at splinters of him, like scattered jigsaw bits.
We know St. Paul from two sources. One is the adventure story told by Luke in Acts, all action: disasters, triumphs, crises, friendships, betrayals, with Our Hero bravely shining through. The other is Paul’s letters, admonishments, memories, intricately argued theology, practical guidelines, administrative detail, all mixed together with passages of the deepest poetic inspiration. On the whole we look either at the one, or at the other, drawing lessons from the vivid scenes in Acts, or picking carefully at his close packed prose and his arguments from the law and the prophets.
What this book does is to bring the two together. It is a wonderfully creative approach. Tom Wright’s knowledge of the ancient world and its clashing cultures, and his deep understanding of the Old Testament, the Jewish scripture of the time, means he can show us why Paul faced the opposition that he did, and explain to us what the crises were that blew up in the newly founded Christian communities. As we follow Paul on his journey, Wright shows us how each of the letters Paul wrote came out of the time and the place he was in and the problems that had blown up around him there. And at the end he asks “What was Paul trying to do? Why was he so successful?” and makes a good stab at an answer.
I don’t think I’ve read a book before that made me rush to my Bible and read Galatians straight through. I’ve put a copy in the Library. Do read it.
Rosemary Smith

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