I am continuing with some occasional remarks on various aspects of N.T. Wright’s work.
“What, then, was the agenda of Saul of Tarsus? We may draw it together in three points. First, he was zealous for Israel’s God and for the Torah. This was a matter of personal piety, no doubt, and of fervent prayer and study. His zeal for the Torah was not, however, a Pelagian religion of self-help moralism. It was zeal to see God honoured which necessitated stamping out, by whatever means were necessary, all forms of disloyalty to the Torah among Jews . . .” (What St. Paul Really Said, pp. 34-35).
As I have noted elsewhere, I believe that N.T. Wright has many particular things of great value to offer the Church. But it is here, in his treatment of the unconverted Saul, that I think his entire project (taken as a whole) goes astray.
The converted Saul had a much lower estimate of his pre-Christian activities than do many advocates of the NPP. Note some of the descriptive elements above — zealous for God, personal piety, fervent prayer, and so on. Sounds like a pretty good guy. But after his conversion, Saul described himself as a wicked and insolent man. I have no doubt that Saul was looking forward to the vindication of God for all Torah-keepers like himself. But when God did intervene, it was to reveal that Saul was actually a Torah-breaker. On the Damascus road, Saul discovered more than who Jesus was. He discovered who Saul was — an evil man, and one who in substance and at the fundamental level, despised and hated the Torah.