A Book Review: N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003). 817 pp.
A little over two weeks ago I found myself in Barnes & Nobles with Rachael looking for some book on dragons (Eragon or Eldest?). Somehow I ended up in the religion section of the store and N. T Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God caught my eye. I had wanted this book for the last couple of years but never got around to ordering it from Amazon, but now it was in front of me. So I picked it up and began to read through a few pages and could not put it down. So after shelling out 39 dollars (as I recall) I came for dragons and left with Wright. Being home alone in the evening has left me with a lot of quiet time for reading into the wee hours of the night. I finished all 738 pages of text Thursday night.
My first encounter with “Tom Wright” was as a student at IBC when one of our teachers, Stephen Broyles, assigned reading from a book called The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986. Wright had recently updated the classic originally written by Stephen Neill. But I did not know who he was and honestly he had not attained the stature he has today. In the early 1990s I ran into him again in his excellent book The Climax of Covenant in Paul in which he really began to make a name for himself.
Today, without a doubt, “Tom Wright” is the most influential New Testament scholar on the planet. He has taught at
N. T. Wright is more than an incredible scholar. He is a lover and disciple of Jesus the Christ. I had the privilege of hearing Wright speak in person while in
Wright’s love for the church finds expression in his not so new (now) role as Bishop of Durham. I have listened to and read many of his sermons and he does better than many who are far less informed in their “scholarship.” Recently Wright wrote a book called “Simply Christian” that has been hailed as the new “Mere Christianity.” Fellow blogger Bob Bliss has posted a review of that work on his blog in the last couple of days,
The Resurrection of the Son of God
This book won the Association of Theological Booksellers “Book of the Year” award in 2003 and it deserves that honor. I wish I had read this book before I started my series on “Heaven.” The book is divided into three parts with a total of 19 chapters.
Part I is called “Setting the Scene” and in two hundred pages that surveys the Jewish and Greco-Roman context of Jesus and the early church is explored in depth. Wright’s mastery of the primary sources of the ancient world is phenomenal. This man’s knowledge is incredibly broad but it is also deep. Do not let the word “depth” scare you away. Wright is hardly a difficult person to read. Martin Heidegger is hard to read. Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans is difficult to read. Wright is deceptively simple (kind of like a Gospel writer). One of the most stimulating parts was he exposition of the Wisdom of Solomon that I just ate up. He devotes a full two hundred pages in setting the scene, students this is an exercise in historical context. He concludes this section with this observation,
“We begin by reaffirming the preliminary definition with which we began. ‘Resurrection’, with the various words that were used to for it and the various stories that were told about it, was never simply a way of speaking about ‘life after death . . . Resurrection was, more specifically, not the redefinition or redescription of death, a way of giving a positive interpretation … but the reversal or undoing or defeat of death, restoring to some kind of bodily life those who had already passed through that first stage. It belonged with a strong doctrine of
This is an important point for Wright. He believes it is imperative to nail down as best we can what the first century folks meant by the word. I happen to agree with that methodology and anyone who has ever had a discussion about the meaning of baptizo does so as well … even if we are not consistent in applying that method.
In the next section Wright explores Paul (he devotes a full 50 pages to the exposition of 1 Corinthians 15 alone), the early Gospel traditions (not the resurrection narratives per se at this stage of the book), then he makes the interesting move to look at what the early Church believed about the resurrection. Here he spends another hundred or so pages looking at the Ignatius, Polycarp, Athenagoras, New Testament apocryphal writings, he even looks in the earliest Christian writings in Syriac. Then he explores key Gnostic texts and demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that there is a radical difference in what NT writers affirmed and the “orthodox” writers affirmed and what the Gnostics did.
Finally Wright gets to the Resurrection Narratives. Wright’s method here is simply good critical scholarship. He is after two of the most fundamental questions that can be asked at this point in the ball game: 1) What exactly is it that the early Christians believed about the “resurrection;” and 2) WHY did they believe it? Why did the early Christians hold onto a belief that, as he shows clearly and convincingly, was so at odds with the culture … when the Gnostics showed that it was theoretically possible to affirm some kind of faith in Jesus without affirming a monstrous doctrine like the resurrection of the body. Further Wright asks how the affirmations of “Messiah” and “Lord” could have survived in early Christianity. The answer to these questions is that God did for Jesus of Nazareth what the Jews had believed about the word “resurrection!” The Creator God of Israel (a theme vital to the early post-Apostolic Christian writers) entered into history and reversed the verdict that Jesus was a fraud.
In my view The Resurrection of the Son of God is not simply a book that will exercise your brain, it is not simply a book that will open up the heart of the New Testament in ways that many of us never imagined possible but this is a book that when you are done reading it you will find that your faith has grown muscular and confident.
I am waiting (patiently?) for volume four of Wright’s series to come out. Wright has changed the way I read the Bible. I commend this book to your as one of the truly monumental books in print. In a sea of fluff passed off as insight this book shows that loving the Lord with your mind does not imply a failure to love him with your heart.