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A personal criticism of jesus and his mission according to the thoughts of nt wright

Original pagination is retained in bold italicized numbers. Reproduced by permission of the author. The first was a review of my book The Challenge of Jesus. He was a son of God, not the son of God and He wanted His followers to have the same intimate relationship with the Father. He could not even have understood, much less taught or believed in, the Hellenistic mystery religion that had become recognizable as Christianity by the early second century.

And it fits, of course, with the new rapprochement of Christianity and Judaism that recently saw a Polish Pope visit Yad Vashem and leave a prayer of contrition at the Western Wall. Again, my only comment at this stage is to note that there are multiple misunderstandings in both the book and the review, and that unless we address them there is a vacuum at the heart of all our christological deliberations.

The third incident came hot on the heels of the second, and indeed belongs with it in terms of contemporary mis understandings.

Doubts about Doubt: Honest to God Forty Years On

The book claims so they told me that everything in the Gospels reflects, because it was in fact borrowed from, much older pagan myths; that Jesus never existed; that the early church knew it was propagating a new version of an old myth; and that the developed church covered this up in the interests of its own power and control. The producer was friendly, and took my point when I said that this was like asking a professional astronomer to debate with the authors of a book claiming the moon was made of green cheese.

  • But I find this highly implausible;
  • What can we say about such a self-understanding?
  • What might this [59] do to our normal categories of christological discussion?

Just as I refused to debate Robert Funk when he came to England recently—why should I give the now moribund Jesus [49] Seminar more publicity than it has generated for itself?

It is for this reason that, when I received the initial invitation to give this paper, I proposed a topic which had not been on the long original list. The list included, it seemed, everything in sight: All wonderful topics, but unless we can say something about Jesus himself we are missing the point.

We are pumping up the tyres of a car that has no engine. That is perhaps a shade too strong, but it draws attention to the point. Systematicians, and indeed Pauline and Johannine scholars, have looked across the fence to see what the Historical Jesus scholars have been up to, and have decided against venturing into a jungle where so many poisonous snakes and wild beasts roam unchecked. They select, for their own farm, one or two animals that seems to be reasonably tame—and that seem to offer what they themselves want—and impart to them.

It is a double assumption producing a double blind: In any case, the idea of the historian as the neutral [50] objective observer simply discovering fads is of course hopelessly outdated. The historian is every bit as much influenced by shifting philosophical and cultural opinion as the philosopher orsystematician.

  1. Yet often it is the very details of the passage that would challenge Wright's stories.
  2. In chapter 5 "Rethinking God" , Wright explains how Jesus and the Spirit are two "poles around which [Paul] redefine[s] the traditional Jewish doctrine of the one God" 101. In particular, it strikes me as woefully incomplete, and lopsided not so much in that it fails to balance immanence with transcendence — I shall come back to [185] this point—but in that, though Robinson acknowledges the problem he finds himself in, of a naturalism which appears simply reductionist, he does not seem to me to have found any answer, any way out.
  3. Turning to Jesus as Lord instead of to Caesar as lord is the proper worship of the one true God.
  4. God has yet more light to break out of his holy word.

Indeed, when the systematician goes in search of a historian who can be used within his project, one fears that what he is really looking for is the reflection of his own face in a mirror at the other end of the library stacks.

Hence Vermes, who is after all only saying what two generations of history-of-religions scholarship had presupposed not usually argued. Hence, too, on the one hand, the airport-bookstall blockbusters which say that Jesus was a back-projection of mystery-religion mythology; and, on the other, J.

The well-known textual variants in the verse, and the difficulty of translating exegesato at the end, should not divert our attention from what is being claimed.

Jesus’ Self-Understanding

Human beings are not granted immediate, that is, unmediated, knowledge of God, but in Jesus we see, truly and undistortedly, who God is. Paul agrees again we should not be distracted by questions of authorship: This is well known, though not in my view sufficiently pondered either by New Testament exegetes or by systematic theologians. I regard most of the debate about, for instance, Pauline Christology, as unduly defensive in the face of Dunn and other similar writers. As I have argued at length elsewhere, it is not only in one or two debatable verses, but throughout his writings, that Paul presupposes and regularly states that the human being Jesus of Nazareth is to be identified as the kyrios of the Septuagint, and that this identification was not something to which Jesus attained at the end of a successful, human-only career but something which made sense in terms of the identity of this human being.

The proper translation of ouch harpagmon hegesato in Philippians 2: When Paul speaks of the death of Jesus as the full revelation of the love of God Rom, 5: When Paul draws on various Jewish traditions to say more or less exactly that in Romans 8; 3-4, 31-9, we should allow him to mean what he says, and not try to evacuate his statements because they do not [52] cohere with a particular post-enlightenment view of what he could and could not have thought.

John and the Synoptics have traditionally been held apart in Jesus-scholarship. My own Jesus-work so far has deliberately been on the Synoptics rather than on John: It seems to me clear, though, that the Synoptics have, in their own way, just as high a Christology as John; see below.

Paul: In Fresh Perspective

If I am right about Jesus himself, and about the Synoptics, this will do something towards bridging the notorious gap between the Gospels. It is very misleading to use the words as shorthands for the divine name or being of Jesus.

It is comparatively easy to argue that Jesus like several other first-century Jews believed he was the Messiah see JVG, ch. However, its subsequent use simply for the latter meaning, coupled with its too-ready identification with the virginal conception story, [11] make it in my view difficult to use without constant qualification in contemporary in systematic discussions. The question of what precisely we mean by self-understanding must be left open for the moment.

Here of all places we need a label that can then function heuristically, being eventually defined more precisely by its content. That is to say, I am engaging in a process neither of psychoanalysis, nor of romantic fiction, but of history.

History seeks, among other things, to answer the question: And among the characteristic answers such questions receive is: But to pursue this further we must come to the substantial topic. Can you have a serious Christology without having Jesus aware of it?

Any such discussions should be grounded in Jesus himself. But when we try to talk about Jesus himself we may find that, in the first instance at least, our enquiry leads in quite a different direction. That is not the sort of thing that early Christology is.

There are, however, two major topics and one major theme which, though conspicuous by their absence from most relevant discussions, ought to be moved at once into the centre of the stage. Take the latter first. That is, of course, the primary subject of JVG, chapter 13, which participants in the Incarnation Summit have read.

I have come to regard it as central in the thinking, the vocational self-understanding, of Jesus himself. If we want to get into the minds of first-century [55] Jews, we should not look so much for idealized figures as for characters in a narrative.

  • During the event, we shared a boat ride that lasted one hour each way;
  • In effect, he argues that the early post-Easter Christians got all their facts wrong but were still right in some deeper sense;
  • Partial proof of this drastic proposal lies in observing what happens if we ignore the history;
  • It had come to stand for that failure to find its true vocation for which Jesus, with sorrow, rebuked his contemporaries;
  • Reproduced by permission of the author.

To all their affliction he was afflicted; it was no angel, but his own presence, that saved them. And the burden of my song in JVG, chapter 13, was that Jesus understood his own vocation in these terms; that he would embody in his own actions, his own journey to Jerusalem and what he would do there, and supremely in his own death, this long-promised and long-awaited action of YHWH. What can we say about such a self-understanding?

Worrying, then and now? Believable in the mindset of a first-century Jew? The proposal, which I have spelt out in that chapter is no doubt itself controversial, and needs discussion remarkably, reviewers have managed so far to avoid it. If I am anything like on target this creates a context not only for understanding Jesus within his historical framework, not only for discerning the real roots of New Testament Christology the reason, for instance, why Paul so quickly took to using the LXX [56] kyrios-passages for Jesusbut also for rethinking traditional systematic debates.

What would it do, for instance, to questions about hypostatic union? How might it affect the use of words like nature, person, substance, and so forth?

I think it might open up a flood of new possibilities; it might even slice through the denser thickets of theological definitions and enable us to talk more crisply, dare I say more Jewishly, and for that matter more intelligibly, about Jesus and about God. Of course—and Paul already saw this—what was at stake here is not just a way of talking about Jesus, but a way of talking, and thinking, about God.

Back to first principles: I think it is a particular view of God that has stopped more apparently conservative Christians from embracing this kind of Christology. The roots of the incarnation lie, not in speculation about angels, not in subtle pre-Christian use of certain titles for certain figures, but in long-held Jewish beliefs about what God would one day do in person.

The Temple has for too long been the forgotten factor in New Testament Theology. Make it central, and the whole picture will come into focus. Not so much in the sense that he was always going there or always speaking about it; even if we give a high historical value to John, that is not necessarily the case.

No; in the sense that it represented, on the one hand, all that had gone wrong in Judaism, all that he opposed in the name of the in-breaking Kingdom of God.

It had come to stand for that failure to find its true vocation for which Jesus, with sorrow, rebuked his contemporaries. But it represented, on the other hand, in promise and hope, all that Jesus was then himself offering in his own work and actions.

Forgiveness of sins, restoration into fellowship with God; Jesus was offering them to all and sundry who would believe and follow him. He was acting as a one-man Temple-substitute.

If the ministry of John the Baptist was implicitly at least a counter-Temple movement, as many scholars now agree, how much more was that of Jesus. I regard it as absolutely certain that he had in fact spoken this way: This, in fact, is what one might call the deep Synoptic root, of full-orbed Johannine Christology.

Word, Wisdom, Spirit and ultimately Temple and Torah—these are the themes which, in Judaism, speak of the one, true and living God active within the world in general and Israel in particular, promising future decisive personal action to save Israel and the world. These are the themes of the Prologue, and of the whole Gospel; and I suggest that they are also major themes in the Synoptics.

And I insist that they are common to these traditions because they go back to Jesus himself. I do not know. But I do know that if we were even to try we might find all kinds of new avenues opening up before us. There would, of course, be various political repercussions; only last month I saw, on a Tel Aviv airport bookstall next to a copy of Borg and Wright! We may smile at the naivety, and frown at the worrying consequences.

What we have not so normally done is to see how Torah already a personal criticism of jesus and his mission according to the thoughts of nt wright an incarnational symbol within Judaism, and to explore how Jesus himself understood his vocation in relation to it. I have already said what I want to say about this, and here merely point up some consequences.

If we are to take this theme seriously we will again he confronted with quite new christological possibilities. What might this [59] do to our normal categories of christological discussion? The same is true for the Figure of Wisdom. I do not think this figure is so prominent in the Gospels as has sometimes been suggested. One wishes they had devoted similar energy to Temple and Torah. And the same is true also for those other often neglected themes, Spirit and Word.

I think he held this belief both with passionate and firm conviction and with the knowledge that he could be making a terrible, lunatic mistake. I do not think this in any way downplays the signals of transcendence within the Gospel narratives.

It is, I believe, consonant both with a full and high Christology and with the recognition that Jesus was a human figure who can be studied historically in the same way that any other human figure can be. Partial proof of this drastic proposal lies in observing what happens if we ignore the history: