Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God

Thanks to a big sale at Logos Bible Software, I got four books from N.T. Wright for practically nothing. Although Resurrection and the Son of God wasn’t on sale, I got the first two books of the series for less than $10. They retail for around $40.

Last night I started reading The New Testament and the People of God. Wright’s philosophy is familiar to me. I have listened to several of his lectures and watched a number of videos of his teaching, but I wanted to get into his books because there is often far more content in someone’s writings than they can share in lectures. Underlying premises are often unspoken or easily brushed aside in a lecture, but when they are on the page they can be examined more thoroughly.

The first thing that caught my attention in The New Testament and the People of God is that Wright provides a framework for his approach to Scripture – something that all too many popular commentators fail to do. (Bart Ehrmann, I’m talking to you!) Wright provides us with his own internal framework, but then he offers some thoughts on the tensions of reading Scripture. Although I have said the same things myself in different ways, I found his words valuable enough that I wanted to share them:

The present work, then, is an attempt to integrate three tasks often thought to be disparate. There will be times when we shall lean more heavily on questions of one sort rather than another. In a sense, the study of Jesus is first and foremost a matter of history, needing careful ancillary use of literary study of the texts and theological study of implications. I shall describe Jesus from the point of view of historical events which precipitated a theological and literary revolution. In a sense, the study of Paul is a matter of theology, needing careful ancillary historical and literary work. I shall discuss Paul from the point of view of a revolutionary theology which precipitated a historical achievement. In a sense, studying the gospels in their own right is first and foremost a literary task, but it cannot be done without careful attention to the historical and theological setting, context and implications. I shall analyse the gospels from the point of view of a literary achievement which embodied a revolutionary worldview (or several revolutionary worldviews?). And, as I shall argue in Part II of the book, none of these kinds of study can be done with a detached, positivistic ‘objectivity’. All involve, as all knowledge involves, the knower or researcher, the student or reader. Unless we are clear about this from the start we shall be labouring under an over-simplistic conception. Things might look pleasantly straightforward to begin with, but trouble would be stored up for later on.

Here, Wright outlines that any study of the Scriptures hold three different considerations in tension:

  • Literary style and criticism
  • Historical context
  • Theological setting

For the original audiences of these texts, these things would have been a given; but removed two thousand years from the texts, it is necessary that we examine them in detail. This is why the study of Scripture is such a demanding task. One might extract some truth from the Scriptures by a brief, broad reading; but the true depth of the Scriptures requires skills that many interpreters sadly lack.


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