Getting Right with Wright: A brief synopsis of the first three volumes of Christian Origins and the Question of God

I recently finished Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG), volume 2 in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series by N.T. Wright. Prior to that, I first read volume 3, The Resurrection of the Son of God (RSG), and later volume 1, The New Testament and the People of God (NTPG). Much like this blog post’s title, these books are rather lengthy. Not including the appendices, bibliographies, and other indices, they are 476, 662, and 738 pages for volumes 1-3, respectively. It took me several years to slog through these books, not because they are boring—on the contrary, Wright’s writing style is exceptionally engaging—but because I am a slow interactive reader. Now that I finished these 3 volumes, I need to save up to get the fourth, which is something like 1700 pages at the cost of about $80.

Before I dive into the next volume, Paul and the Forgiveness of God, I believe I should sum up the first 3 volumes for my own benefit to ensure that I am rightly following Wright. Below is my brief synopsis of the first three volumes of this series.

The New Testament and the People of God

The New Testament provides stories that show elements of praxis and symbols pertinent to the Second Temple First Century Judaism of which Jesus was included and out of which Christians emerged. As such, it is not a privatized spiritual guide but a public proclamation of a subversive narrative about a creator and the world. Indeed, “. . . history, literature and theology belong together” (NTPG 471). The story—history, literature, and theology—are “rooted in Israel’s past, and designed to continue into the world’s future” (476). In addition, the New Testament “repeated the Jewish claim: this story concerns not just a god but God. It revised the Jewish evidence: the claim is made good, not in national liberation, but in the events concerning Jesus” (476).

Jesus and the Victory of God

Jesus was a eschatological kingdom prophet/Messiah by vocation who

believed himself to be the focal point of the people of YHWH, the returned-from-exile people, the people of the renewed covenant, the people whose sins were now to be forgiven. He embodied what he had announced. He was the true interpreter of Torah; the true builder of the Temple; the true spokesperson for Wisdom. (JVG 538)

The result of his life, death, and resurrection was to bring about the return of the King—YHWH.

Now, in the conclusion to the volume, Wright states practically out of nowhere that the resurrection, however it is to be understood, was the validation for Jesus as Messiah and to give any relevance to his words and actions long after his death (659). He went on to state,

But if he was an eschatological prophet/Messiah, announcing the kingdom and dying in order to bring it about, the resurrection would declare that he had in principle succeeded in his task, and that his earlier redefinitions of the coming kingdom had pointed to a further task awaiting his followers, that of implementing what he had achieved. Jesus, after all, as a good first-century Jew, believed that Israel functioned to the rest of the world as the hinge to the door; what he had done for Israel, he had done in principle for the whole world. It makes sense, within his aims as we have studied them, to suppose that he envisaged his followers becoming in their turn Isaianic heralds, lights to the world. (660)

I believe volume 4 will be focused on Paul’s missionary work to be the light unto the world and to bring about Jesus’ vision for his followers to implement what he had achieved, but RSG is all about the resurrection, which he did not cover in JVG.

The Resurrection of the Son of God

History does not work in logical or mathematical proof theorems; it works in the probability of unrepeatable events. The resurrection is one such event, and Jesus’ resurrection as an event sufficiently and necessarily explains the later Christian belief about Jesus as the Son of God and not the other way around. No other explanation will suffice. The resurrection of the Son of God itself has three meanings. First, “Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. In him, the creator’s covenant plan, to deal with the sin and death that has so radically infected his world, has reached its long-awaited and decisive fulfillment” (RSG 728). Second, “The resurrection constitutes Jesus as the world’s true sovereign, the ‘son of god’ who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. He is the start of the creator’s new world: its pilot project, indeed its pilot” (731). And, third, “The resurrection . . . declares that Jesus really is God’s Son . . .” (735). He is what would later be described as the second person of the Trinity. The resurrection shows God’s involvement in his creation, that he exists and acts in space and time (735-6).