Ancient History, Book Reviews, History, Theology

Book Review – The Original Jesus

I have only recently discovered the thoughts of N.T. (Tom) Wright. If you don’t know who he is, Wright is an Anglican bishop who has been very active in the ‘historical Jesus’ debate for some time. After listening to several lectures I found on, I decided that I should check out some of his writings. To that end, I checked out The Original Jesus from my local library and perused it.

First off, it is obvious that The Original Jesus was not intended to be a scholarly treatment of the subject. The book is written more like a coffee table style book – you know, the kind with glossy paper, lots of pictures and is usually on the bargain shelves at Barnes & Noble.

That being said, Wright’s insight into Jesus as a historical figure and the resurrected Son of God is both refreshing and exciting. Here is someone who comes from one of those ‘dead’ traditions that we evangelicals and fundamentalists usually cite as the reason we must ‘evangelize’ nations like Britain who makes far more sensible and powerful arguments for Jesus than anything that has come out of our seminaries and great apologists in recent decades.

Consider just one of the things Wright talks about in The Original Jesus.

When people discover my academic background, one of the questions I’m often asked is: Can you, as a historian, say that Jesus is God?

It’s a good question! But the trouble with it is that it’s the wrong way round.

As historians we know quite a lot about Jesus. We know when he lived and how he died. We know that he taught and the most important things he did. We know something at least of what he believed he had to do, and how he believed he had to do it.

But do we know enough about God to be able to complete the equation? Whn people ask the question, ‘Is Jesus God?’, they tend to assume that we know who God is; the questions means, Can you fit Jesus into your God-picture? Well, the best Christian answer has always been: we don’t know, off the top of our heads, exactly who God is; but we can discover him by looking at Jesus. You could say that at the heart of the Christian faith is the view, not that Jesus is more or less like God, or part of God, but that the being we refer to as ‘God’ was, and is, fully present, and fully discoverable, in and as Jesus of Nazareth. (pp 78-79)

This statement embodies so much of my struggle with the Christianity I grew up in – the desperation to prove Jesus is God always rang empty to me. Much more important would be seeing God in Jesus.

In brief, I found The Original Jesus to be refreshing – both as a student of the Word and as a student of history.

2 thoughts on “Book Review – The Original Jesus”

  1. Anglican/Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong uses the same language when referring to the relationship between god and Jesus. Yet they are theologically polar opposites.

    1. True. I think the difference between them is a crucial one – a belief in the authority of Scripture. Spong embraces a view that the Scriptures are primitive (although I’m not sure he uses that word) and when we look at them through modern eyes, they can be deconstructed. Wright seems to view Scriptures at face value – that they are not only valid as spiritual literature but also as historically reliable. Thus, he embraces Jesus as the Resurrected Son of God where Spong tends to treat Jesus as something like a nice rabbi who people get all wrong.

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