Review: The Climax of the Covenant

The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology by N.T. Wright71ibzgv4n-L

The Frame for Wright’s Canvas

The Climax of the Covenant is a collection of papers regarding Paul’s theology from early in Wright’s career, slightly edited and organized into their present form. They consist of detailed exegesis of some key Pauline texts regarding his Christology, his view of the Law, and his theology of the Covenant.

The first section of the book, on Paul’s Christology, deepened my understanding of who Jesus Christ is, and caused me to worship deeply. He goes deep into 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 5, Philemon 6, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, and 1 Corinthians 8. Along the way, he explains the various interpretations (and history of interpretations), and interacts with them, before positing his own. There is quite a bit of Greek, in the typeset, as well as the discussions of grammar and vocabulary. Anyone who questions Wright’s view of “the deity of Christ” hasn’t read this book yet. His Christology is of the highest strain.

The middle section deals with the Law in Galatians 3, 2 Corinthians 3, and Romans 7-8. All throughout, he cross-references every section of the Old Testament, constructing a framework in which the whole picture fits together. Over and over and over again I had my Bible out, looking up references in Deuteronomy, or Isaiah, or the Psalms, and seeing how Paul used those references in his own theology.

The climax of the book is his chapter on Romans 9-11, which he takes section by section, while building on his previous chapters on Romans 7-8, and referencing even earlier chapters (1-6). I have underlines and notes on almost every single page of this chapter. I had my English and Greek Bibles on the table, tracking along, and loving every minute of it.

This is a book that may restructure your entire hermeneutic, your understanding of the big story of the Bible. I found it to be the perfect companion to The New Testament and the People of God. Where NTPG is the huge canvas of history and theology and story and worldview, CC is the deep exegetical analysis of the words and phrases of the Bible. It is the exegetical frame on which that big canvas is stretched. I found myself rereading sections in NTPG after CC and getting things in light of the exegesis that I didn’t grasp the first time around. If you’ve ever listened to Wright lecture and heard him say “fine, let’s do the exegesis”, it’s more than rhetoric — it’s an invitation onto Wright’s home court.

Wright’s big picture of the Story of the Bible is incredibly refreshing, stimulating, and compelling, both in its sweeping portrayal of the forest, and in its detailed analysis of the twigs. I recommend it highly.

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