The Paul of History and the Apostle of Faith

(Originally published in Tyndale Bulletin 29, 1978, pp. 61–88. Reproduced by permission of the author.)
By N. T. Wright

‘Controversy’ writes Ernst Käsemann is the breath of life ‘to a German theologian’: and he should know. What he imagines the rest of us breathe he does not say: but since the essay which begins with these words engages in debate with Krister Stendahl, a Swede now living in America, I see no reason why a mere Englishman may not join in as well. I want in this lecture to contribute to the debate in question, and then to exploit the ambiguities of my title and discuss the distinction which needs to be made today between the real Paul and the Apostle of the church’s imagination. The debate between Stendahl and Käsemann concerns the relation, in Paul’s thought, between justification and salvation-history — between the Apostle who preached the Lutheran Gospel of justification by faith and the Paul who was called, in God’s historical purposes, to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. It would not be an overstatement to say that all the major issues in Pauline interpretation are contained (at least by implication) in this debate, and in one lecture there are therefore bound to be oversimplifications and downright lacunae. I want to try nevertheless to present what I take to be a new view of Paul, in the hope of at least stimulating fresh thought, and also to prepare the way for further, and fuller, exegetical studies. If I seem at times to be deliberately controversial, I hope you will take that as a sign that I am trying to impart the breath of life to the subject…

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