Is N.T. Wright Wrong on Jesus?

“I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself, ‘Well, I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!’ ( N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus, 154).”

I have found from time to time that the Jesus I knew by faith seemed less and less like the Jesus I was discovering by history (The Meaning of Jesus, 25).

N.T. Wright, formerly Bishop of Durham, is well-known for his association with the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) and for his staunch defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I was first introduced to Wright’s books through a pastor who thought Wright had been unfairly criticized. The pastor encouraged me to read him for myself and not to be swayed by unfavorable reviews. He told me that Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, was the best he’d read on heaven. So I began to read Wright. I started with Surprised by Hope, and I found much that concerned me on a number of topics.

Instead of agreeing with the pastor, I was shocked that any Reformed pastor who had read the book would recommend it, given how far off-base Wright was on many different issues. I continued to read Wright’s books and articles, and I also began researching what others had written in critique of his work. I discovered that the one area I found the most troubling almost no one had written about: Wright’s Christology.

Early on in my reading, I began to wonder if Wright really believes that Jesus is/was God. This article is the result of two years of research into what Wright believes, or at least has written, about Christ. The books and articles I’ve read and will quote here are: Surprised by Hope, The Meaning of Jesus, Simply Jesus, Jesus and the Victory of God (I’ve read portions, but not the whole of this one), “Jesus and the Identity of God“, and “Jesus’ Self Understanding“.

To help explain why I began this research, here is Wright’s answer for “Is Jesus God?”

When people ask “Was Jesus God?,” they usually think they know what the word God means and are asking whether we can fit Jesus into that. I regard this as deeply misleading (The Meaning of Jesus, 144).

And,

I do not think Jesus “knew he was God” in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself, “Well, I never! I’m the second person of the Trinity!” ( The Meaning of Jesus, 154).

This article will look first at what Wright has written concerning Jesus generally and then specifically at how Wright interprets the major events in Jesus’s life.

First, N.T. Wright is very concerned, in all his writings, that modern readers of the Bible pay attention to the historical setting and context of the books. For the New Testament, he writes that  it is important to understand what a first-century Jew would have believed about God, salvation, Israel’s history, and Israel’s future. This, then, is the way he approaches understanding Jesus:

We have to make a real effort to see things from a first-century Jewish point of view, if we are to understand what Jesus was all about (Simply Jesus, 9).

Wright recognizes that his understanding of Jesus and many key doctrines are not traditional, but he says that’s a good thing:

This way of looking at the climax of Jesus’s story is not, to be sure, the standard, traditional, “orthodox,” “conservative” reading, though it highlights from a new angle the “traditional” dogmas of “incarnation” and “atonement.” My contention is that it enables us to understand the original, historical reality for which those dogmas are later, often dehistoricized, abstract summaries (Simply Jesus, 172).

He then briefly outlines common views within Western Christianity that he says need to be rethought:

Here we find the classic Western Christian myth about Jesus, which is still believed by millions around the world. In this myth, a supernatural being called “God” has a supernatural “son” whom he sends, virgin-born, into our world, despite the fact, that it’s not his natural habitat, so that he can rescue people out of this world by dying in their place. As a sign of his otherwise secret divine identity, this “son” does all kinds of extraordinary and otherwise impossible “miracles,” crowning them all by rising from the dead and returning to “heaven,” where he waits to welcome his faithful followers after their deaths. … In the Protestant version, Jesus commissions his followers to write the New Testament, which reveals the absolute truth about Jesus and, once more, how to get to heaven (Simply Jesus, 30).

He goes on to explain the error of this understanding:

[I]t will not do to suppose that Jesus came to teach people “how to get to heaven.” That view has been immensely popular in Western Christianity for many generations, but it simply won’t do. The whole point of Jesus’s public career was not to tell people that God was in heaven, and that, at death, they could leave “earth” behind and go to be with him there. It was to tell them that God was now taking charge, right here on “earth”; that they should pray for this to happen; that they should recognize, in his own work, the signs that it was happening indeed; and that when he completed his work, it would become reality (Simply Jesus, 146).

And,

[M]ost important, we must avoid jumping to the conclusion, from all that has been said above, that Jesus was doing things that “proved his divinity” – or that the main point he was trying to get across was that he was the “son of God” in the sense of the second person of the Trinity (Simply Jesus, 149).

Wright is, of course, aware that many theologians have used the title, “Son of God,” to refer to Jesus’s divinity. He cautions against using it in that way:

[F]or most people the phrase “son of God” carries with it all the connotations of that first myth, in which the supernatural being swoops down to reveal secret truth, do extraordinary “miracles” to prove his “divinity,” die a redemptive death, and get back to heaven at once, enabling others to get there too.

And if I say – as I’m going to – that I don’t think that story is the right way to talk about Jesus, some will say, “So you don’t think he’s the Son of God, then?” and condemn me as a hopeless liberal. Whereas if I say – as I’m going to – that I do think Jesus was and is the “son of God,” albeit within a very different sort of story, others will condemn me as a hopeless conservative (Simply Jesus, 32).

According to Wright, theologians have modified the way that Paul and older Jewish writers used the phrase:

Paul, like other New Testament writers, uses the phrase “son of God” to denote Jesus. Later theologians, forgetting their Jewish roots, would read this as straightforwardly Nicene Christology: Jesus was the second person of the Trinity.

Paul’s usage, though, is much subtler and offers further clues not only as to what the earliest Christians believed, but also why. “Son of God” in Jewish thought was used occasionally for angels, sometimes for Israel, and sometimes for the king (The Meaning of Jesus, 149).

What, then, did “son of God” mean to Paul and the early church? “Son of God” was a way “of saying that what had happened in Jesus was the unique and personal action of the one God of Israel” (The Meaning of Jesus, 150).

So what does Wright mean when he says that “what had happened in Jesus was the unique and personal action of the one God of Israel?” It’s somewhat hard to explain, and it would help to look first at how Wright interprets the major events in the life of Jesus, events that are often used to illustrate how Jesus was both God and man.

First, Wright says this about Jesus’s birth:

Jesus’ birth usually gets far more attention than its role in the New Testament warrants. Christmas looms large in our culture, outshining even Easter in the popular mind. Yet without Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 we would know nothing about it. … One can be justified by faith with no knowledge of it (The Meaning of Jesus, 157).

And,

If the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two of Luke had never existed, I do not suppose that my own Christian faith, or that of the church to which I belong, would have been very different (The Meaning of Jesus, 164).

Wright understands that many theologians consider the uniqueness of Jesus’s birth, “conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin,” very important. He disagrees:

Those who have emphasized Jesus’ divinity have sometimes made the virginal conception central. … The birth narratives have no impact on my reconstruction of Jesus’ public agendas and his mind-set as he went to the cross (The Meaning of Jesus, 158).

Next, Jesus’s public ministry began with his baptism. The account of Jesus being baptized, with the Spirit descending as a dove and the voice of God speaking and proclaiming Jesus as His Son, is regularly used to show the Biblical basis for the Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit all together. Wright gives a different explanation:

Jesus joins the crowds, and, as he is baptized, his vocation is confirmed and sharpened by a voice from the heavens: “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad” (Mark 1:11). … All the signs are that Jesus understood his baptism as the moment when he was “anointed” like Israel’s kings long ago, for this task. Israel’s God was acting through him, in him, as him. The baptism confirmed what Jesus had intuited long before and gave him the moment and the platform from which to launch the kingdom movement through which the saving plan would be accomplished (Simply Jesus, 167).

Wright says that the baptism confirmed, for Jesus, that he’d “intuited” correctly that he was called by God to “launch the kingdom movement.” And in case we misunderstand what Wright means by “anointed,” he explains:

This, again, is where the ancient idea of “anointing” comes into play. An individual is solemnly smeared with holy oil as a sign, and perhaps as a means, of a special “equipping,” or “enabling,” from YHWH himself to perform the necessary tasks. Such persons are no longer acting on their own authority or initiative, but on God’s (Simply Jesus, 59).

According to Wright, Jesus, then, was “equipped” or “enabled” by God to do what he did.

Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness further served to confirm, for Jesus, that he truly had been anointed at his baptism:

His secret wilderness victory, however, played the same role in his career that David’s killing of Goliath played in his. It indicated that the anointing at his baptism, like David’s anointing by Samuel, had been real (Simply Jesus, 168-169).

What about the miracles that Jesus performed? How do those fit into Wright’s understanding of Jesus? According to Wright, Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, commanded nature, not because he was God and had the power to do so, but rather because he was illustrating what the new creation would be like when heaven and earth came together:

We can see the material world itself being transformed by the presence and power of Israel’s God, the creator. We see it already, to be sure, in the healing stories. … Jesus not only heals the sick; he raises the dead. He feeds the hungry crowd with a few loaves and a couple of fish. Something new is happening, and it’s happening to the material world itself. He commands the raging storm to be quiet, and it obeys. …

Perhaps they are not even evidence of a kind of “interventionist,” miracle-working, “supernatural” divinity of some “conservative” speculation. Perhaps they are, instead, the sort of things that might just be characteristic of the new creation, of the fulfilled time, of what happens when heaven and earth come together (Simply Jesus, 142-143).

Wright goes on to remind us that Jesus’s miracles are not “proofs of divinity”:

Jesus’s powerful acts of healing, then, together with the other extraordinary things the gospels credit him with, are not done in order to “prove” his “divinity” (Simply Jesus, 150).

What about forgiving sins? What does it mean that Jesus forgave sins? First, Wright points out that what Jesus meant by forgiving sins was not what the early church understood it out to be:

Israel’s God had dealt with the state of exile-because-of-sin in which Israel, and the whole world, had languished. Although the early church developed ways and means of making this point that went beyond anything that Jesus himself had said … (The Meaning of Jesus, 100).

When Scripture says that Jesus would save His people from their sins that meant, Wright explains, that their physical exile was now over:

Embedded within the earliest strands of Christian tradition we find an already formulaic statement: the messiah died for our sins according to the scriptures. … It was not, first and foremost, a way of saying that the moral failures of individuals had been atoned for in some abstract theological transaction. That would come, and quickly; we find it already in Paul’s mature thought.

But in the beginning it was a claim about what Israel’s God had done, in fulfillment of the scriptural prophecies, to bring Israel’s long night of exile to its conclusion, to deal with the “sins” that had kept Israel enslaved to the pagan powers of the world, and to bring about the real “return from exile,” the dawn of the new day, for which Israel had longed (The Meaning of Jesus, 98).

When Jesus forgave the sins of individual people, Wright explains that this was merely the outworking of Israel’s forgiveness as a nation and return from exile:

Individual forgiveness is the up-close-and-personal version of what it looks like when God does what he promised and restores his exiled people (Simply Jesus, 82).

Wright also downplays the significance of Jesus being without sin:

If we ask the question of how this particular human being is the instrument of salvation and do not say as our first answer, “because in him God’s Israel-shaped plan to save the world came to fulfillment,” then we leave a huge vacuum in our thinking (and in our reading of scripture).  I believe it is because of this vacuum that people have elevated minor themes, such as the sinlessness of Jesus, to a prominence which, though not insignificant, they do not possess in the NT itself (“Jesus and the Identity of God,” emphasis added).

The transfiguration is another event that is often used to illustrate the divinity of Jesus. Wright disagrees with this since Moses and Elijah were transfigured, and many other mystics have experienced transfiguration:

[T]he Transfiguration of Jesus is not, as it stands, a “proof” of his “divinity.” Moses and Elijah were “transfigured” too. So, in this nineteenth-century story, were the Russian mystic and his disciple. What the story of Jesus on the mountain demonstrates, for those with eyes to see or ears to hear, is that, just as Jesus seems to be the place where God’s world and ours meet, where God’s time and ours meet, so he is also the place where, so to speak, God’s matter – God’s new creation – intersects with ours (Simply Jesus, 146).

Instead, the transfiguration was a central moment when heaven and earth met and God’s glory came down on Jesus as it once did on the Temple:

It is within some such set of suppositions that we might make sense of the strangest moment of all, at the heart of the narrative when the glory of God comes down not to the Temple in Jerusalem, not to the top of Mount Sinai, but onto and into Jesus himself, shining in splendor, talking with Moses and Elijah, drawing the Law and the Prophets together into the time of fulfillment. The transfiguration, as we call it, is the central moment (Simply Jesus, 144).

Also, despite the way in which it has come to be used, Jesus’s role as Messiah does not indicate that he is God:

‘Messiah’, or ‘Christ’, does not mean ‘the/a divine one’. It is very misleading to use the words as shorthand for the divine name or being of Jesus (“Jesus’ Self-Understanding”).

Which brings us to what Wright speaks of as Jesus’s “vocation:”

The historian must assume that Jesus of Nazareth was gripped by a strong sense of vocation. All that we know about him suggests that he was powerfully aware, not just of a general numinous quality to the universe, but of the deeply personal presence and purpose, strength, and guidance of the one he called “Abba,” Father. … It also means that Jesus was aware, as many other Jews down the years – most recently his own cousin John – had been, that he had a particular vocation, a role to perform (The Meaning of Jesus, 40).

And what was Jesus’s vocation? According to Wright:

My case has been, and remains, that Jesus believed himself called to do and be things which, in the traditions to which he fell heir, only Israel’s God, YHWH, was to do and be. 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 (‘Jesus’ Self-Understanding,” emphasis added).

And,

Speaking of Jesus’ “vocation” brings us to quite a different place from some traditional statements of gospel christology. “Awareness of vocation” is by no means the same thing as Jesus having the sort of “supernatural” awareness of himself, of Israel’s god, and of the relation between the two of them, such as is often envisaged by those who, concerned to maintain a “high” christology, place it within an eighteenth-century context of implicit Deism where one can maintain Jesus’ “divinity” only by holding some form of docetism. …

Jesus’ prophetic vocation thus included within it the vocation to enact, symbolically, the return of YHWH to Zion. His messianic vocation included within it the vocation to attempt certain tasks which, according to scripture, YHWH had reserved for himself. He would take upon himself the role of messianic shepherd, knowing that YHWH had claimed this role as his own. He would perform the saving task which YHWH had said he alone could achieve. He would do what no messenger, no angel, but only the “arm of YHWH”, the presence of Israel’s god, could accomplish.

As part of his human vocation, grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be. He was Israel’s Messiah; but there would, in the end, be “no king but God.” (Jesus and the Victory of God, 652-653, emphasis added.)

So, according to Wright, Jesus believed himself called to do for Israel what the Scriptures said only God would do, and part of this vocation would be to “enact, symbolically” God’s return to Jerusalem. But, Wright says, Jesus knew he could have been making a terrible mistake.

Wright is well-known for his defense of the bodily resurrection, but I think it’s important to consider how he interprets both the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here is how Wright applies his idea of Jesus’s vocation to his death:

He [Jesus] seems to have construed his vocation in terms familiar in the stories of the martyrs. He would go ahead of the nation to take upon himself the judgment of which he had warned, the wrath of Rome against rebel subjects. That was what his royal vocation demanded. That, I believe, lies at the heart of the New Testament’s insistence that Jesus died the death that awaited others, in order that they might not die it (The Meaning of Jesus, 93).

Wright explains that Jesus believed himself called to inaugurate God’s kingdom through his own death:

Somehow Jesus’s death was seen by Jesus himself, and then by those who told and ultimately wrote his story, as the ultimate means by which God’s kingdom was established (Simply Jesus, 182).

And,

Jesus came to believe that the only way one could defeat death itself, and thereby launch the new creation for which Israel and the world longed, was to take on death itself, like David taking on Goliath in mortal combat, trusting that Israel’s God, the creator of life itself, would enable victory to be won (Simply Jesus, 171).

Wright warns that Jesus’s death is often misunderstood:

[I]t is easy to belittle Jesus’s death theologically. … [N]otoriously, it can be done by imagining a straightforward transaction in which a God who wanted to punish people was content to punish the innocent Jesus instead. This always, of course, leaves unanswered, the question of how such a punishment could itself be just, let alone loving (Simply Jesus, 181).

The same warning goes for the resurrection:

I have heard, too, that the resurrection means that Jesus is now alive, and one can enter into a relationship with him. That is true so far as it goes, but it is not the specific truth of the resurrection, and it is certainly not the meaning that the evangelists and Paul read from the first Easter (The Meaning of Jesus, 117).

Wright explains that the resurrection of Jesus is not meant as a “proof of divinity:”

Despite a long tradition, I do not regard the resurrection as instantly ‘proving Jesus’ divinity’ (“Jesus’ Self Understanding”).

So what does the resurrection mean? According to Wright, there are two main points. First, the resurrection confirms that Jesus did in fact have a vocation to be the Messiah and that God has vindicated him:

Rather, the meaning of the resurrection must begin with the validation of Jesus as messiah, as Paul says in Romans 1:4. It means that Israel’s God, the creator, has affirmed that Jesus really was, all along, his “son” (The Meaning of Jesus, 118).

And,

Jesus was the messiah; and the explanation was that God had vindicated him by raising him from the dead (The Meaning of God, 110).

Second, Wright says that Jesus’s resurrection means that the kingdom of God has come and the new creation has begun. Jesus is, himself, the prototype of the new creation:

Jesus’s risen person – body, mind, heart, and soul – is the prototype of the new creation. We have already seen him as the Temple in person, as the jubilee in person. Now we see him as the new creation in person (Simply Jesus, 189).

Wright also has a different interpretation for the meaning of the ascension. The ascension is also not about Jesus’s divinity, but rather his humanity:

The ascension thus speaks of the Jesus who remains truly human (Surprised by Hope, 103).

And,

Nor would the ‘glorification’ of Jesus, his ascension to God’s right hand have that effect: Jesus had, in New Testament theology, thereby attained the place marked out from the beginning not for an incarnate being but for the truly human one (“Jesus’ Self-Understanding”).

The significance of the ascension, according to Wright, is that Jesus is now lord and that “there is already a human being at the helm of the world.” (Surprised by Hope, 103)

Moving on to Wright’s view of the second coming, Wright says that Jesus never spoke of a “second coming:”

The first thing to get clear is that despite widespread opinion to the contrary, during his earthly ministry Jesus said nothing about his return (Surprised by Hope, 113).

Wright explains that when Jesus told parables of about the master who goes away and returns that he was speaking about how God was returning to Jerusalem through Jesus’s own work:

[T]he stories Jesus tells about a king or master who goes away for a while and leaves his subjects or servants to trade with his money in his absence were not originally meant to refer to Jesus going away and leaving the church with tasks to get on with until his eventual second coming, even though they were read in that way from fairly early on. …

In their original setting, the point of these stories is that Israel’s God, YHWH, is indeed coming at last to Jerusalem, to the Temple – in and as the human person Jesus of Nazareth. The stores are, in that sense, not about the second coming of Jesus but about the first one. …

Jesus was having a hard enough time explaining to his disciples that he had to die … . How could they possibly have understood him saying something about further events in what would have been, for them, a still more unthinkable future? (Surprised by Hope, 114).

The apocalyptic language that Jesus uses in Mark 13 (and similar passages) is not describing the end of the world, according to Wright, but rather, his death and the coming destruction of Jerusalem:

[Mark 13] is to be read as a prediction not of the end of the world, but of the fall of Jerusalem. When the Old Testament prophets speak of the sun, and the moon being darkened, the stars falling from heaven, and so forth, they do not intend that this language be taken literally. …

In the same way, the language in Mark 13: 24-27 about the sun and moon being darkened, and particularly about the Son of Man coming on the clouds, should no be taken in a crassly literalistic sense (The Meaning of Jesus, 46).

And,

Many have traditionally read Jesus’ sayings about judgment either in terms of the postmortem condemnation of unbelievers or of the eventual destruction of the space-time world. The first-century context of the language in question, however, indicates otherwise.

Jesus was warning his contemporaries that if they did not follow his way, the way of peace and forgiveness, the way of the cross, the way of being the light of the world, and if they persisted in their determination to fight a desperate holy war against Rome, then Rome would destroy them, city, temple, and all … (The Meaning of Jesus, 46).

Wright goes on to explain that the modern Western church has completely misunderstood Jesus’s “return:”

Many Christians, particularly in North America, have been taught for the last century and a half that when Jesus returns he will come down from “heaven” and that his faithful people (i.e. Christians) will then fly upward into the sky to meet him and be taken to heaven with him forever. …

But it’s a complete misunderstanding. It’s based on a misreading of what Paul says about the return of Jesus in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, just four verses, with the idea of a “rapture” in only one, as the basis for a complete theory of everything. … The point is that this language is not meant to be taken literally (Simply Jesus, 195-196).

Instead, Wright says that there is a better explanation for what will happen at the end of time. Jesus will not “return” exactly. Instead, he will reappear when heaven and earth come together:

Thinking of the second coming or of Jesus “returning” often raises the same kind of problems that we saw with the ascension. People who still think that “heaven” is a long way away, up in the sky, and that that’s where Jesus has gone, imagine that the second coming will be an event somewhere like the return of a space shuttle from its far-off orbit. Not so.

Heaven is God’s space, God’s dimension of present reality, so that to think of Jesus “returning” is actually, as both Paul and John say in the passages just quoted, to think of him presently invisible, but one day reappearing.

It won’t be the case that Jesus will simply reappear within the world the way it presently is. His return – his reappearing – will be the central feature of the much greater event that the New Testament writers promise, based on Jesus’s resurrection itself: heaven and earth will one day come together and be present and transparent to each other. That’s what they were made for, and that’s what God will accomplish one day.

It has, in fact, already been accomplished in the person of Jesus himself; and what God has done in Jesus, bringing heaven and earth together at immense cost and with immense joy, will be achieved in and for the whole cosmos at last (Simply Jesus, 197).

So far, we’ve seen that Wright denies that “son of God” or “Messiah” are titles that refer to Jesus’s divinity. We’ve also seen that Wright says that Jesus did not know he was God. In addition, Wright has reinterpreted Jesus’s baptism, temptation, miracles, forgiving of sins, transfiguration, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. He downplays the importance of Jesus’ birth and sinless life, and he redefines Jesus’s work in terms of “vocation.”

So what does Wright say about the incarnation? And how does he explain the relationship between Jesus, the Son, and God, the Father?

Here is how Wright summarizes his understanding of who Jesus was:

I suggest, in short, that the return of YHWH to Zion, and the Temple-theology which it brings into focus, are the deepest keys and clues to gospel christology. Forget the “titles” of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror-image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy.

Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus.

I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given to him by the one he knew as “father,” to enact in himself, what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God (Jesus and the Victory of God, 653, emphasis added).

Wright also says that Jesus read the Scriptures and felt a calling to do and to be for Israel what the Scriptures said that God Himself would be and do for Israel. As such, because of his anointing and his special awareness of God, Jesus “embodied” or acted out “symbolically” the return of YHWH to Zion:

Jesus could, and I have argued, did believe that he, in filling these roles, was doing something for Israel that Israel could not do for itself, something that in its scriptures only its God, YHWH, could and would do (The Meaning of Jesus, 208).

And,

He [Jesus] believed, it seems – the stories he told at the time bear this out quite strikingly – that as he came to Jerusalem he was embodying, incarnating, the return of Israel’s God to his people in power and glory (Simply Jesus, 48).

Wright says, then, that Jesus embodied the presence of God in the way that the Temple once did:

Around and within all is the presence, the presence of Israel’s God himself, no longer in the pillar of cloud and fire, no longer in a wilderness tabernacle or an ornate stone-and-timber Temple, but in and as a human being, the Human Being, the Image-bearer, Jesus himself (Simply Jesus, 178).

And,

It [the Temple] was the place where heaven and earth met. … And Jesus, as we have already seen, had been going about saying that this God, Israel’s God, was right now becoming king, was taking charge, was establishing his long-awaited saving and healing rule on earth as in heaven. Heaven and earth were being joined up – but no longer in the Temple in Jerusalem. …

[T]he joining place, the overlapping circle, was taking place where Jesus was and in what he was doing. Jesus was, as it were, a walking Temple. A living, breathing place-where-Israel’s-God-was-living. …

[T]his is the very heart of what later theologians would call the doctrine of the incarnation. But it looks quite different from how many people imagine that doctrine to work. … Jesus was behaving as if he were the Temple, in person. He was talking about Israel’s God taking charge. And he was doing things that put that God-in-chargeness into practice (Simply Jesus, 135).

The last thing I want to look at here is the way in which Wright describes the relationship between Jesus, the Son, and God, the Father. Wright consistently speaks of them as separate entities, but in a way that is different from traditional descriptions of the persons of the Trinity. Here Wright gives his definition of the Trinity:

The Trinity is precisely a way of recognizing and celebrating the fact of the human being Jesus of Nazareth as distinct from while still identified with God the Father, on the one hand … and the Spirit, on the other hand (Surprised by Hope, 103).

Wright also explains that reason Jesus has equality with God the Father is because of what did, not because of who he is:

Paul has Jesus exalted to a position of equality with “the Father” because he has done what, in Jewish tradition, only the one God can do (“Jesus and the Identity of God”).

In addition, Wright writes that Jesus’s reign is temporary:

In fact, Paul in that passage (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) says something we might not otherwise have guessed. The reign of Jesus, in its present mode, is strictly temporary. God the father has installed Jesus in power, to act on his behalf; but when his task is complete, “the son himself will be placed in proper order” under God the father, “so that God may be all in all” (Simply Jesus, 223-224).

In summary, I believe that Wright has redefined what it means to say that Jesus is God. From the general consideration of Jesus’s work to the specifics events of his life, death, and resurrection, Wright has fought against what he sees as errors in the church’s understanding:

My problem with “proofs of divinity” is that all too often, when people have spoken or written like that, it isn’t entirely clear that they have the right “God” in mind. What seems to be “proved” is a semi-Deist type of Christianity – the type of thing a lot of Christians in the eighteenth century, and many since then, have thought they should be defending.

In this sort of Christianity, “God” is in heaven and sends his divine second self, his “Son,” to “demonstrate his divinity,” so that people would worship him, be saved by his cross, and return with him to heaven (Simply Jesus, 149-150).

And he has sought to correct those errors with his own reinterpretation:

Instead, I suggest that we think historically about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy, vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross—and that we somehow allow our meaning for the word “god” to be recentered around that point (‘Jesus and the Identity of God”).

In conclusion, Wright says:

After fifteen years of serious historical Jesus study, I still say the creed ex animo; but I now mean something very different by it, not least by the word “god” itself (“Jesus and the Identity of God”).

45 thoughts on “Is N.T. Wright Wrong on Jesus?

  1. David Andrew says:

    The next step would be to start asking what ethical program(s) Bishop Wright is promoting from his non-Trinitarian Christology.

  2. Grover Jones says:

    Have you read his “How God Became King”? It would be interesting to add that data to this study.

    It seems to be that NT Wright does affirm Jesus as God, but wants to do so “from scratch” rather than using the historic Christian formulations. I don’t necessarily see an issue with this.

    • Rachel Miller says:

      Grover~ thank you for commenting. I haven’t read that one. However, while Wright does say “Jesus is God,” he has redefined what he means by that. His redefinition is far outside the orthodox understanding of Jesus’s divinity.

    • Trent says:

      I’ve read How God became king, if you go to Amazon and read my review called simply awful. What I say I have also read in other reviews of Wright. He believes Jesus is God and gives a ‘couple’ proofs i.e. the verse where Jesus heals someone and Jesus says go and tell them what God for you, and they went and told everybody what Jesus did.”
      I would never recommend Wright to anyone, even in his popular books, he’s very controversial. HGBK, really rubbed me the wrong way. Now I could careless what Wright ever has to say, he’s a lone tree on a hill and thinks no other scholars before him and worked out the issues he has had, such arrogance comes across in the book, especially with his ‘Christian-kingdom-socialism.’

  3. Jesse says:

    “Here we find the classic Western Christian myth about Jesus, which is still believed by millions around the world. In this myth, a supernatural being called “God” has a supernatural “son” whom he sends, virgin-born, into our world, despite the fact, that it’s not his natural habitat, so that he can rescue people out of this world by dying in their place. As a sign of his otherwise secret divine identity, this “son” does all kinds of extraordinary and otherwise impossible “miracles,” crowning them all by rising from the dead and returning to “heaven,” where he waits to welcome his faithful followers after their deaths.”

    “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard His equality with God as a thing to be grasped after, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross; wherefore, God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    Clearly Paul’s Christology was also tainted by classic Western thought.

    ““Son of God” in Jewish thought was used occasionally for angels, sometimes for Israel, and sometimes for the king” (The Meaning of Jesus, 149).

    True, but not exhaustively true. Some of those same Jews, who would have known very well the connotations of the various usages of “Son of God” in the Old Testament, still understood what Jesus meant when he claimed to be the Son of God because they “picked up stones to stone him” because they thought that he was “blaspheming by making Himself equal with God” (Jn 10:30-37).

    Alas, I suppose John must have also been confused by Nicene theology and ignorant as to how a first century Jew would have understood the term Son of God.

    Thank you for this very helpful expose’ of Wright’s heterodox views.

    • thebibleguy says:

      Very true regarding John 10:30-37
      We also read in Mark 14:61 But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?
      Also when Jesus referred to himself as I Am and that he was before Abraham in John 8:58 the Jews took up stones to kill him because they were well aware he was proclaiming both deity and per-existence. This is why people should trust the Holy Bible over other books and judge other doctrines based on the true doctrine which YHWH has given us.

  4. Jim Johnson says:

    Rachel,
    Thank you for all the work you have put into your study of N.T. Wright. I read “Jesus and the Identity of God,” and came away completely convinced that the author is more than likely one of those all-too-common unregenerate theologians. Apart from the resurrection, his views about the person of Christ seem more sympathetic with the views of his acknowledged friend, Marcus Borg. All of the evidences you present are consistent with Wright’s NPP writings. When a man fails to see his own need for a Savior, he must find some way to rationalize the Biblical account by attemting to put new meanings into the Apostolic testimonies, which angers me greatly. Thanks again.

  5. Craig says:

    Rachel,

    Given your above analyses of Wright’s writings I’m not quite so sure what it is that your finding so unorthodox about Wright’s use of “vocation” as a way of making sense of Jesus’ self understanding. Is the “agonizing in prayer and doubt” Wright speaks about somehow at odds with the Synoptic portrayal of Jesus as continually retreating to pray, agonizing at Gethsemane, and crying out the cry of dereliction on the cross? Do you think that the attempts from within the enlightenment/deist worldview to explain Christ’s divinity offer a better way for understanding the Gospel’s Christological presentation of Jesus?

    I perceive in your above analyses an aversion to Wright’s use of “symbolically enacting”. Have you read Wright’s chapters in JVG on the praxis of a prophet and tried to understand how it is he’s using that term? Given that he can use “symbolically enacting”, “embodying”, and at times “incarnating” ( ie. Wright’s 1999 IVP talk on Jesus and God” available at NTWrightpage.com ) to describe Jesus’ agency interchangeably, how is it you understand these ways of speaking about Christ’s mission unorthodox? Wright’s way of speaking about the Synoptics’ presentation of Jesus, in my opinion, coheres quite nicely with the Gospel of John’s presentation of Jesus agency in terms of Logos.

    Secondly, given that you’re addressing Wright’s Christology as it relates to divinity, why no treatment of Wright’s understanding of Son of Man as a divine title? His drawing upon of Dan 9 in combination with Ps 2, and 110 seem to me critical for making sense of Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ divinity. Wright’s on pretty firm historical ground with his analyses of ‘son of god’ as a messianic title in Jewish thought and not a divine title, but Wright breaks with a number of scholarly contemporaries in seeing “son of man” as a divine title. I’ve largely been convinced by his arguments especially as they relate to the exchange with Caiaphas in Mk 14:62 || Lk 22:69 || Matt 26:24. Are you not convinced by his arguments and more inclined to see “son of man” along the lines of Maurice Casey? Do you tend to think there’s much more of a Greco/Roman influence exercised in the Jewish understanding of Son of God in the Gospels that Wright gives credit to?

    As a close reader of Wright’s work for a number of years now I’m not convinced that you’ve really grasped what it is Wright is trying to do. Are you brushed up on the current debates surrounding divine agency? (I’m thinking here of something like Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the God of Israel”). I can’t help but think that getting your head wrapped around the discussions of divine agency might help you get a better grip on what’s Wright trying to do. Getting a better grip on what Wright’s trying to do would I think help you clarify where it is you actually disagree with Wright. As it is right now I’m not certain where you disagree with Wright, and where it is you have misunderstood him and/or misrepresented him.

    -Craig

  6. Mark B. says:

    Craig
    Discussions over Wright seem to quickly get to the place where fans say that one “misunderstood him and/or misrepresented him”, and Wright bears some responsibility for this. If he would use terms in the way that they have been used historically (we have 2000 years of Church history), it would be easier “to understand how it is he’s using that term”. I get the impression of Wright that he sees himself as promoting new and orginal thought on Christianity. I see him as at best confusing the issues, Mrs. Miller raises valid points.

  7. Dan B. says:

    Mark,
    To many people use the argument, We have 2000 years of Church history, imply that their theology aligns with everyone for the past 2000 years. I am quite sure N.T. Wright is trying to present Jesus from the perspective of the people Jesus was living with and talking to. He raises thoughts and perspectives that have been around for those 2000 years, but may not have been viewed through the reformation and Enlightenment. Perhaps?

  8. Mark B. says:

    Dan,
    If you are just pointing out that “There is nothing new under the sun”, I agree with you, we can find traces of almost any conceivable heretical doctrine in Church history, even if original writings were lost, quotations are often preserved in the writings of those who refuted them. Most anyone who has heard of Wright would agree that “Wright is trying to present Jesus from the perspective of the people Jesus was living with and talking to” after all, that is what he is known for (New Perspective on Paul comes to mind). However, I would dissagree that he is successful in doing that. That was part of my point, speaking from a Reformed perspective there has been well developed thought on this, the conclusions reached in the Reformed confessions were not reached in ignorance of these ideas, those who formulated them just(correctly) dissagreed with them. To say it another way, Wright hasn’t come up with any new insight that should cause us to rethink how we define orthodoxy.

    • Dan B. says:

      Mark,
      Your assumption presented is that the Reformed Confessions had it all figured out. That is where I struggle with people who are quick to make claims that another brother in Christ has gotten it wrong when they are using scripture in context. Until I see the lion sleeping with the lamb and people turning there guns into plow points I am not convinced anyone has it figured out. I do believe the writer of this blog has taken N.T. Wright out of context, kind of like you stated above anyone can be taken out of context, or at least not give the full revelation of what he was trying to say. The “well developed thought” you imply has good intentions behind them, but they still had an agenda. Rightfully so, I might add. With the understanding of what the reformers were coming out of I can understand their interpretation of the scriptures, but we need to ask how much of their culture influenced their perspective on scripture. I do not believe we ever stop wrestling with scripture until we experience the renewal of all things. Not implying they had it all wrong, but understanding they do not have it all right either. I am grateful for the Reformation. I am also grateful for the work of N.T. Wright and many others brothers and sisters in Christ who are seeking to fully live out the Kingdom call that has been placed in front of us.

      • Mark B. says:

        Dan
        We clearly will have to agree to disagree on Wright, and I do appreciate the irenic tone of your replies. However, I do wish that you would not assume my assumptions:) I am Reformed in my outlook, and subscribe to the confessions because I believe they are a faithful exposition of Scripture (and no, I don’t think they had/have it all figured out). This is a viewpoint that I have developed over decades, and Wright has been writing at least that long, so I’m hardly “quick to make claims”, and neither is the writer of this blog, I trust a reading of the post in question will show more than enough research into Wright’s writings to make a reliable assessment of them.
        Peace in Christ, Mark

  9. Craig says:

    Mark B,

    I’m not sure I would give your arguments much weight.

    The 2000 years of church history includes the apostolic period in which the New Testament was written. Wright’s work as a historian has been about locating terms in their first century content. The question is whether his exegesis is convincing or not, and whether or not his work as a historian is accurate in sketching the first century Jewish world. An appeal to later church history can’t resolve the questions at hand, especially not from within the Reformed tradition. Semper reformanda and Ad Fontes go hand in hand after all.

    We have a number of resources available to us that Calvin and the other reformers didn’t have that have greatly increased our knowledge of 1st century Judiasm. If that knowledge helps us to understand the Bible better, then I see no reason to not tweak or deepen our understanding of this or that term to better reflect the Biblical text in good reformation fashion. One could readily imagine that the same argument you’re making against Wright (that he’s hard to understand because he’s redefining key terms in important ways) would have been used against Calvin and the other Reformers as they redefined the received understanding of key terms such as metanoia from “do penance” to “repent”. The linguistically, lexical, and historical data was in their favor and the Reformers’ arguments won the day. I think one might rightly charge Wright with confusing the issues were it not for the fact that he has written some 2000+ pages (only counting his Christian Origins and the Question of God series) very specifically spelling out how he is using terms and why he has chosen to go this route given our current understanding of the first century world.

    Perhaps you could be more specific on what you see as Mrs. Millers valid points? In my opinion (and I’ve been reading Wright carefully for well over 10 years) I think she has offered a very misleading and inaccurate portrayal of Wright’s views despite the commendable amount of time she has spent researching Wright.

    -Craig

    • Mark B. says:

      Craig
      We obviously disagree on Wright, (and we can possibly agree that we won’t resolve that in a combox:)), but I’ll try to offer a few counterpoints. To focus on the post in question, a good portion of it is quotations. You are of the opinion they give “a very misleading and inaccurate portrayal of Wright’s views”, however, I think that the use of quotations is extensive enough that readers of this post can judge for themselves.
      As to the rest, we seem to be talking past each other a bit, possibly we are approaching this from different perspectives, so I’ll try to clarify mine a little. When the Reformed used the phrase “always reforming”, (“Semper reformanda” if you prefer) the context of that was “always reforming according to the Word of God”. Scripture is sufficient in and of itself for developing a systematic theology. Yes, knowing the historical context of the narratives given to us in Scripture can expand our understanding, but the essential doctrines of the Reformation formulated by “Calvin and the other reformers” was not dependent upon their “knowledge of 1st century Judaism”, they are derived from the sufficiency of Scripture. When Calvin and the other Magisterial Reformers brought reformation, they did not see themselves as offering new thought or “new perspective” on Scripture, they saw themselves as calling the Church back from erroneous teachings that had come into prominence. For example, we see this in their quotations of the Church Fathers in support of their positions. The medieval Church was not as monolithic as the apologists of Rome today would like to present it, the reformers were pushing views that were known. Rome, in response to this at Trent, solidified itself around opposing views (for example, anathematizing justification by faith alone). So, when the meaning of “metanoia” was discussed, as you say “the linguistic, lexical, and historical data was in their favor”. While I agree that “we have a number of resources available to us that Calvin and the other reformers didn’t have” that affect our understanding of first century Judaism, I do not see anything in them that should change the doctrine we (as Reformed) have derived from Scripture. I see Wright’s understanding of first century Judaism as leading him to contradict views that the reformers promulgated based not on their understanding of first century Judaism, but because they are clearly taught in Scripture. In other words, he doesn’t just “tweak or deepen our understanding of this or that term”, but changes the meaning of it to something different. Does he not admit as much when he says: ” After fifteen years of serious historical Jesus study, I still say the creed ex animo; but I now mean something very different by it, not least by the word “god” itself”? I realize we disagree, but thanks for taking the time to interact on this.
      In Christ, Mark

  10. Barb Hill says:

    Wow…just wow. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead you will be saved.”

    As a conservative Christian, I am appalled by the rush to judgment presented by this article. It seems as though you are attempting to protect the honor and glory of God, which is a noble goal (which, by the way, is precisely why I admire and am extremely grateful for the work and words of N T Wright) – but you are making conclusions that are wholly incorrect and unnecessary.

    Your expose supposes that N T Wright considers Jesus less than divine and less than the Son of God. My reading of his works give me the exact opposite impression. Wright’s theology embodies an extreme reverence for both the person AND work of Jesus. There is nothing in the above quotes that states or even implies that Wright does not believe that Jesus is divine. For example, you state:

    “Wright goes on to remind us that Jesus’s miracles are not “proofs of divinity”:

    ‘Jesus’s powerful acts of healing, then, together with the other extraordinary
    things the gospels credit him with, are not done in order to “prove” his “divinity”’
    (Simply Jesus, 150).

    Does this in any way state that Jesus is not divine? No! It merely states that proving Jesus’ divinity was not the chief aim of the miracles.

    Similarly, the other quotes do not deny that Jesus is God. They just take it a step further. It’s all fine and good to say Jesus is God and go along our merry way. Wright refuses to stop there – in emphasizing the Lordship of Jesus he challenges himself and us to look at the budding kingdom around us.

    It is surprisingly easy to take words out of context to prove a point you are attempting to make – people do it with the Bible all the time. You have done so in this article in a dreadful way, presumably with the best of intentions, and I believe you have done a great disservice to a humble and reverent servant of the living God. I urge you to reconsider your position.

    The theology of N T Wright does nothing to diminish the deity of Christ, but it does disallow us from sitting around talking about how great Jesus is and how we can’t wait to get to heaven, while sitting comfortably in our armchairs and cursing the darkness around us. We have work to do, bringing the light of Jesus into this dark world – today.

    May God bless you as you grow in His grace.

    • theDevolutionist says:

      “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.'” – John 18:36

      Barb, this is the biblical answer to the “Kingdom Now” theology apparently embraced by Wright and many of the popular emergent / emerging theologians today. “Kingdom Now” is a viewpoint, that is, unfortunately shared by many within more orthodox circles, as well. The apostle Peter informs us that this world is not going to be reshaped into something “good” by the efforts of Christians, but rather is going to be destroyed in an intense inferno and then remade afresh.

      The problem with “Kingdom Now” theology is that, not only is it unbiblical, but it also inevitably leads us to take our eyes off of Christ and His finished work and place them on ourselves and what we can “do for God.” The answer, which Paul well understood, is that we can do nothing to add to the finished work of Christ, but only to share the good news of what He has done for us by our words and deeds. Our “works” should not be focused on achieving or maintaining our own salvation or on improving the world in the macro sense, but on obeying Christ out of thankfulness for what He has done for us and in reaching the lost with the Gospel. There is nothing wrong with easing suffering by feeding people and rescuing them from slavery, but we see that Christ and His apostles after Him always used such opportunities as springboards for introducing eternal truth.

      Paul opens his letter to the Galatian church with a stern warning against those who would promote or even receive “another gospel.” He goes on to reaffirm the simple Gospel of grace through faith – with the object of that faith being Christ, freedom from the consequences of the Law, and the joy of obedient living resulting from spiritual transformation, rather than from fleshly efforts to earn or maintain our own salvation. In his letter Paul affirms that the purpose of the books of the Law was to lead us to Christ (the ESV translation of pedagogos as “guardian” is (better, IMO) rendered in the KJV as “schoolmaster” or NASB as “tutor,” which lose a bit of the concept of the personal caregiver, but better preserve the concept of teacher or guide – which is how modern Greek-derived languages still use the root). Jesus Himself said of Moses and the Prophets that “they wrote about me” (Luke 24, John 5).

      In saying that he still acknowledges Christ as “god,” but that he means something different by the word “god” than the traditional understanding, Wright presents us with “another Jesus,” and therefore “another gospel” than that clearly taught by Scripture. How are we to distinguish Wright’s gospel from that of a multitude of religions that willingly acknowledge Christ as “a god,” or one with God “in purpose,” but fall short of acknowledging Him as the Alpha and Omega of Revelation 1; the one who “was dead” and is now “alive forevermore?”

  11. Colin Reeves says:

    Greetings from England, home of NT Wright….

    I came across RM’s blog last year, and found her thoughts on many subjects clearly articulated and carefully argued, but have been so busy lately I hadn’t kept up…

    Thus I came late to this thread, but NTW has been a concern of mine for a few years now, and I was dismayed at the examples of his latest ideas as quoted by RM. When I first read “The Resurrection of the Son of God” I was deeply impressed, described it to friends as “magisterial” and recommended it with enthusiasm. But as I read more of his works, I became uneasy. There is a problem with his methodology (the same methodology is there in “Resurrection”).

    At root he doesn’t believe in the “claritas scripturae” of which the Reformers spoke. The Bible to him is *not* perspicuous; for NTW we cannot just allow Scripture (i.e., as a whole) to interpret scripture (i.e., in particular). It must be interpreted by an elite who understand the culture and customs of Second Temple Judaism, otherwise the poor unenlightened man in the street will inevitably go astray. It’s the same error as the medieval Roman church, where hermeneutical matters needed the mediation of the priestly class – and incidentally the same as modern proponents of theistic evolution (TE), who will not allow us to interpret Scripture without a deep understanding of Darwinism and/or the Enuma Elish. It’s not surprising that NTW is an enthusiastic supporter of TE, and manifests a deep contempt for “creationists”.

    That’s not to say that everything in his books is bad – he has some helpful things to say in places. But I would no longer recommend his books without a large number of caveats.

    All this is very sad; NTW was once a shining light of the UCCF (corresponding to Inter-Varsity in the USA), and co-authored a highly regarded Banner of Truth book “The Grace of God in the Gospel”. I got a clue as to how his thinking developed when he was on a Radio 3 program here in the UK 2 years ago. He spoke of his theological studies, of how awe-struck he was by the likes of Barth and Bultmann: “I couldn’t imagine how I could make a contribution to theology (like theirs)”. I fear that has been his motivation ever since. Well, he has his reward – he has made a contribution.

  12. hiram says:

    Thank yuou for your post. Rachel.

    I think believers need to put their foot down in seminary against materialistic presuppositions that undermine the clarity of Scripture. The irony of Wright trying to see things from a first century perspective is that such a task is clearly derived from contemporary trends in historiography.

    A materialist metaphysic will, of course, help undergird the foolish idea that one only really understands a text when he is seeing that texts through the historical lenses of the writer.

    However, this is neither biblical nor logically coherent. Consider: At one point does a writer draw the line between historical epochs? Do the contemporary historiographer’s criteria perfectly reflect the criteria of his specimen subjects?
    How large of a sample size must one have before claiming to know what all Jewish people of the first century believed? To say that the colllected mass of texts of a given historical epoch treats subjects A, B, and C in a particular fashion, that there are no known deviations from this pattern of treating A,B, and C in a particular fashion, and that this, therefore, means that no one thought otherwise, is to argue fallaciously (i.e. this is the fallacy of composition).

    More than that, however, it is an explicit denial of the Sovereignty of God over all things, including the minds of men. Specifically, it is a denial of the Sovereignty of God over the minds of His elect.

    Wright is a reprobate heretic who needs to be treated as such.

    Thanks again,
    hiram

  13. Lisa says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis. NT Wright is a straight up heretic and false teacher. It is a shame that so many won’t call him what he is. His teaching just brings confusion and doubt, rather than bringing clarity to the Word of God. May God protect His sheep from these wolves.

  14. DarwinsMyth says:

    My wife and I went to a church today (i.e. element Church in East Moline, IL), to watch 2 of our granddaughters sing in a Christmas program. Afterwords, the “pastor” preached a sermon. He used a projector during his sermon, and he used 2 quotes from N.T. Wright. On their website, he quotes N. T. Wright, also. I was wondering if this N. T. Wright wasn’t some founder of this church. The preacher seemed to have something against Heaven. I was beginning to get a headache from the obvious contradictions in his message, or maybe, it was from the bad perfume some lady was wearing. Either way, I had a bad taste in my mouth when we were finally able to leave. After reading a little on N. T. Wright today, I realized, that the preacher’s entire message was built around some exact words that N. T. Wright used. The event felt very cult-like.

    If nobody can expect to see Heaven when we die, then why did Paul make it to the 3rd Heaven after being stoned to death, and then, somehow revived? That question wasn’t to the blogger, but to the ‘N . T. Wright wanna-be’ who preached against Heaven.

  15. Steve Cakouros says:

    N T Wright by stating that justification is in the future has intentionally opened the door to synergism. He is conditioning salvation to performance.
    Athanasius comes to mind who said that the Arians in particular want to hold on to the words of scripture, but not the meaning of scripture. That about explains Wright who by any reckoning is trying to give the impression [1] that he is going to set us all on the right path because we are totally in need of his wisdom, and [2] he is above having to look at Christ thru the lens of Nicaea.
    I see him as a flash in the pan and not much else.

  16. Free T.U.LI.P.S. says:

    N.T. Wright is to be viewed by all bible believing Chrstians as a very dangerous source of knowlege gathering. Sola Scriptura is the safety net we must firmly stand in. We do not need “new light” from any “outside” resources EVER! Let us honor our gracious Lord by looking to Him via His precious Word alone.

  17. dtkleven says:

    I just stumbled upon this, and I think you really need to read The Climax of the Covenant as the foundation to all of his “historical Jesus” work. In CC, he does pretty heavy exegesis on Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, and 1 Corinthians 8 (among other passages). Here’s a smattering of quotes–

    On Philippians:

    “…[I]f Jesus is not one-for-one identical with the Father, and if Paul is still a monotheist, then the assertions of 2.9-11 must mean that Jesus–or, more accurately, the one who became Jesus–must have been from all eternity ‘equal with God’ in the sense of being himself fully divine.” (p. 94)

    On Colossians:

    “We are forced to say that if the language employed here means anything, it means that Christ is both to be identified as the divine Wisdom, i.e. none other than the one creator God active in creation and now in redemption, and to be distinguished from the Father. . .” (p. 117)

    On 1 Corinthians 8:6, a reworking of Deuteronomy 6:4 “The LORD our God, the LORD is one”:

    “Paul has ‘God’ with ‘the Father’ and ‘Lord’ with ‘Jesus Christ’, adding in each case an explanatory phrase: ‘God’ is the Father, ‘from whom are all things and we to him’, and the ‘Lord’ is Jesus the Messiah, ‘through whom are all things and we through him’. There can be no mistake: just as in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1, Paul has placed Jesus within an explicit statement, drawn from the Old Testament’s quarry of emphatically monotheistic texts, of the doctrine that Israel’s God, the creator of the world. . . Paul has redefined [the Shema] christologically, producing what we can only call a sort of christological monotheism.” (p. 129)”

    and:

    “Here, as there [Philippians 2 and Colossians 1], we find a statement of the highest possible christology–that is, of Jesus placed within the very monotheistic confession itself–set within an argument which is itself precisely and profoundly monotheistic.” (p. 132)

    * * * * * * *

    And there’s much more. Reading through CC strengthened my belief in the deity of Christ, and deepened my awe and affection for Him. Any attempt to address Wrights christology or his trinitarianism needs to take into account the work where he actually deals with christology and the trinity. The historical Jesus builds on that foundation: having fundamentally avoided arianism, he can now steer clear of docetism as well.

    • Rachel Miller says:

      Thank you for your comment. I agree that Wright confessed a more orthodox Christology in his earlier works, like CC. I am concerned, though, that his theology has “evolved” over the years. His more recent books show considerable changes.

      • Eric Cummer says:

        Appearing as a guest panelist at Duke University, Wright described his Christology as a ‘Christology from above’…not a ‘Christology from below’ (a side-swipe at his detractors). The background for the remark is his contention that the Gospels have over time undergone a process of ‘de-Judaising’. Of course always central to Wright’s work is the historical Biblical narrative, into which and through which Yaweh, in covenant with his chosen people, images himself. Separated from that covenant history, Wright seems to be saying, we find ourselves left with nothing but abstract, extrapolated fragments…formulations from below. Wright might well suspect that the process of Hellenization has taken the ‘Christ’ out of Christology altogether. If that is the point he is making, many would agree with him.

      • Rachel Miller says:

        “The background for the remark is his contention that the Gospels have over time undergone a process of ‘de-Judaising’”

        Wright’s very low view of Scripture is clear here.

  18. E. McAdams says:

    Hi Rachel,
    I am very glad to have come across this site as I imagined I was the only person who had doubts concerning Wright’s views on the Deity of Christ.

    My own area is the Cults and I have studied with them over several decades.
    I was therefore most surprised to find that when one analyses Bishop Wright’s arguments in key doctrinal areas, once you remove all the attractive verbal “candyfloss” and boil things down to his key logical steps, one often either finds that there are only his assertions or that he indulges in logical fallacies worthy of the Watchtower – “watchtower waffle”.

    As I believe that Wright is highly intelligent and is generally an outstanding communicator, these (key) areas of vagueness, ambiguity or unsound logic cause me great concern.

    My most charitable and hence probably most accurate explanation is that Wright, who prides himself on his “big picture” approach, has an all-encompassing theory that is very good, as everyone acknowledges, but does not quite fit all of the (biblical) data. Good, but not good enough. C’est la vie.
    Rather than accept that his overarching theological system does not in fact totally work, impressive none-the-less, he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that fact but instead massages any offending data to make it fit his single grand narrative – or simply ignores the contrary evidence.

    As James Dunn puts it, “the single grand narrative effectively brackets out a good deal of the data, privileges some of the data as more conducive to the story the historian wants to tell, and orders the selected data into a narrative sequence which validates the view put forward by the modern historian.”

    This trait is common in science were pioneers get very attached to their theories and are loath to acknowledge weaknesses in their hypotheses, to the extent of denying or massaging the evidence.
    I suggest that this may help explain Wright’s general brilliance, the weaknesses of his impressive grand narrative in certain (key) areas and his uncharacteristically embarrassing logic, or lack-thereof, when Biblical texts get in the way.

    I have just posted a comment on Amazon on the subject, which, if you don’t mind, I will repeat below.
    You can remove it, shorten it or use it in any way you see fit.
    Regards,
    Eric

  19. E. McAdams says:

    # Wright and the Deity of Christ

    ** Introduction

    While reading “How God Became King” I initially misunderstood Wright when he was talking about Jesus going to Jerusalem. When he referred to Jehovah God returning to Jerusalem as promised, I assumed wrongly that he was calling Jesus “Jehovah” and thus acknowledging His Deity.

    However, with more careful reading, it became clear that Wright, based on a very “original” unpacking of the parable of the noble who goes away to become king (Luke 19. 11-27), was instead claiming that Jesus, like an OT prophet, was pre-enacting, in His own journey to Jerusalem and His driving out the sellers in the Temple court, how Jehovah would soon “return” to Jerusalem and destroy the Temple. (How God Became King, pg 97).

    Jesus is NOT Jehovah, He was just illustrating (or “embodying” or “incarnating” as Wright VERY, VERY misleadingly puts it) what Jehovah’s return would look like. Jesus was a prophet, a man.

    [I note that even Craig who commented above, a close reader of Wright’s work for over 10 years, nonetheless appears to have been fooled by Wright’s verbal slights of hand.
    “ Given that [Wright] can use ‘symbolically enacting’, ‘embodying’, and at times ‘incarnating’ .. to describe Jesus’ agency interchangeably, how is it you understand these ways of speaking about Christ’s mission unorthodox?”
    The problem is that a ‘symbol’ does not incarnate anything, unless in the most loose, figurative of senses, most certainly not in an Orthodox Christian sense were Jesus is God in flesh (Latin ‘incarnāre’ to make into flesh). Using such words interchangeably in a key argument is just not acceptable, especially for such a well-educated wordsmith such as Wright. To be blunt, it’s a con.
    The Queen’s standard flying above her palace symbolises her presence; the flag is most definitely not the Queen.
    However, I also note that Craig repeatedly refers to Jesus as an Agent, which does NOT cohere well with John’s presentation of the Word being God-by-nature, “tenting” in flesh. Craig also stresses Jesus’ vocation and mission, rather than His nature. I suspect that he is playing the same word games as Wright and hence has not been fooled.
    Jesus is “god” because He presented God’s future actions, just like OT prophets symbolically pre-enacting God’s future actions.
    The prophets, with their prophetic praxis (deeds, practice), however were not God. See below]

    As I had so clearly misunderstood Wright on this occasion, granted it was a rather strange and tortuous argument, I got to thinking that maybe I (and others?) am wrong in assuming that Wright has an orthodox Christian view of Christ’s Deity.
    I therefore decided to have a closer look at what Wright has to say on the Deity of Christ and have spent several months studying everything I can find that he has written on the subject.

    ** Wright the historian and his “Jesus of history”

    Wright has been upfront, on a few occasions, on his non-orthodox views on the Deity of Christ, he now pokes fun at Orthodox beliefs and even terms them heresy.

    Apparently Wright was an orthodox Christian at some early stage and believed in the “Christ of faith”, as he terms it.
    Wright repeatedly stresses that he is a historian and that it was these studies which have lead him away from his early faith to a belief in his new “Christ of history”.

    As an historian who only accepts reasonable, credible, “natural” explanations of events, Wright has come to reject the “supernatural”, virgin-born, God-in-flesh, God-by-nature, Jesus; the “Christ of faith”.

    “.. the classic Western Christian myth about Jesus, which is still believed by millions around the world. In this myth, a supernatural being called “God” has a supernatural “son” whom he sends, virgin-born, into our world, despite the fact that it’s not his natural habitat, so that he can rescue people out of this world by dying in their place. … (such myths will not) stand up to full on, hard-edged, no-nonsense historical scrutiny.” (Simply Jesus, pg 30).
    [For some reason, “as an historian”, Christian Bishop Wright feels that he is qualified to decide what God can and cannot do.]

    Instead, he now believes in a much more credible, historically-acceptable “Christ of history”.

    When Wright calls Jesus “god” he now means something very different to what the Church has believed. Jesus was a man whom people later came to mistakenly believe was Jehovah God based on their misunderstanding of what Jesus actually said and from the adulterated NT records.

    “After fifteen years of serious historical Jesus study, I still say the creed ex animo; but I now mean something *very different by it, not least by the word `god’ itself*. The portrait has been redrawn. At its heart we discover a human face, surrounded by a crown of thorns.”
    “..What are we therefore saying about the earthly Jesus? In Jesus himself, I suggest we see the biblical *portrait* of YHWH come to life…
    “..the Jesus I have discovered through historical research is certainly not .. the Jesus I expected or wanted to find when I began this work nearly twenty years ago”
    (Jesus and the Identity of God)

    “I have found from time to time that the Jesus I knew by faith seemed less and less like the Jesus I was discovering by history” (The Meaning of Jesus, 25).
    “My own understanding of Jesus, and hence of Christianity, has been deeply and profoundly affected by my historical study. … The closer I get to Jesus within his historical context, the more I find my previous ideas, and indeed my previous self, radically subverted.” (Wright “Who Was Jesus”)

    I now believe that Wright is now in effect “subverting” the Deity of Christ and the definition of “God”.
    His readership appear to be largely unaware that he is preaching another Christ (and Gospel), 2 Corinthians 11:4; Gal 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 15:1.

    Wright’s Jesus was NOT virgin-born, God by nature. According to him that is a “gross category mistake”, “a Christological heresy”, “unthinking would-be orthodoxy”.

    Wright’s Jesus was just a man, obviously unaware that He was God – by definition.
    He did believe that He was a prophet, (NOT called) to warn the people of coming judgement and to pre-enact it by turning over some tables – just like Ezekiel in the OT lying on his side or Jeremiah smashing his pot to symbolically illustrate what Jehovah was going to do.

    In contrast to all other prophets, Jesus was not called to this role, He just presumed to take it upon Himself to announce and enact God’s coming.
    According to Wright, Jesus was aware that it was very likely that He was making a terrible, lunatic mistake.

    To Wright, that presumption is perfectly reasonable for a good, Torah-abiding Jew of the time.
    However, Scripture says that “a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything *I have not commanded* .. is to be put to death.” (Deut 18:20)

    As is often the case, it boils down to believing Scripture or Wright.

    ** Messiah is just a human, therefore Jesus is just a human

    Wright’s Jesus did believe that He was the (very human) Messiah, “the son of God” in a very loose human sense.

    Wright gets very upset with people who believe that “Messiah” and “Son of God” were considered Divine as well as human.
    “One of the most persistent MISTAKES throughout the literature on Jesus in the last hundred years is to use the word `Christ’, which simply means `Messiah’, as though it were a `divine’ title ..” [Wright `Who was Jesus?’p.57].
    “..Christian use of the word ‘Christ’ (the Greek translation of ‘Messiah’), and indeed of the phrase ‘son of god’, as though they were ‘divine’ titles has not helped people to grasp this point; but grasped it must be if we are to understand Jesus in his historical context [i.e. the one proposed by Wright]. Getting this straight frees the historian [i.e. Wright] from a good deal of NONSENSE that has been propagated in the last hundred years or so” (Wright “JVG” pg 478).

    Wright’s argument that Messiah and Son of God refer only to a HUMAN who is not also God by nature is the linchpin to Wright’s rejection of all that `NONSENSE’ on the Deity of Christ recorded in the OT and in the NT.
    Once you accept his claim, he is then free to ignore or rewrite the Scriptural accounts.

    How does Wright come to the conclusion that Messiah, the Son of God, is simply and solely human?
    Very easily, by ignoring all the evidence – a very effective technique

    First he ignores the passages in the OT which say that the Messiah would be God (Isa 9:6; Psalm 45:6-7), Jehovah (Jeremiah 23:5-6) and, as well as be born a human baby, would be pre-existent of old (Mic. 5:2) and would rule for ever. He was to be no ordinary human

    Next, Wright the self-acclaimed expert in second Temple Judaism, manages to ignore the views of the ancient rabbis who puzzled over the prophesies that Messiah would be Jehovah God as well as man.
    “These earlier (versions of Judaism) .. resorted to the myth of the Messiah as savior and redeemer of Israel, a *supernatural figure* engaged in political-historical tasks as king of the Jews, even a *God-man* facing the crucial historical questions of Israel’s life and resolving them: the Christ as king of the world, of the ages, of death itself.”
    (Jacob Neusner in “Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era”)

    In contrast to what Wright claims (that Messiah would be (just) a human), some ancient rabbis obviously did note these passages in the OT and that Messiah would be “God”, “Jehovah”, etc.; i.e. the supernatural, God-man that Wright ridicules and claims does not stand-up to his historical and theological scrutiny.

    Next Wright ignores every key passage on the subject in the NT.
    He ignores the NT account of His virgin birth and the reasons given for His titles “Son of God” (Luke 1.30 – 35) and “Jesus” (Matthew 1:21).

    He ignores that Jesus is called God and that the Titles of Deity are ascribed to Him by His disciples and the Gospel writers.

    As the Word He is God-by-nature. As Messiah, the Word in Flesh, He is `Son of God’ and thus considered equal with God (John 5:16-18, Note it is John commenting and not just the opinion of 1st Century Jews).

    Once again, Wright, in spite of his much trumpeted emphasis on 1st Century Judaism, simply ignores the recorded reactions of the Jewish leaders and experts of the time to Jesus’ “blasphemous” claims (John 19.7).

    So how can Wright seriously ignore all the evidence, including all the Scriptural evidence?
    Easy, according to his position, the NT has been effectively falsified by the early church and fortunately Wright, the historian, is there to filter out all that `supernatural” nonsense and false-witness – this just happens to include just about all of the record pertaining to the Deity of Christ.
    In addition, he also ignores the OT and the views of the ancient rabbis on the grounds that they are rather puzzling

    To prove his point that Messiah was really only a man and thus justify his setting aside of all the evidence, Wright presents the following awesome piece of logic.
    You should go make yourself a cup of tea at this stage..

    Wright’s argument is that, after Jesus, a man called bar-Kochba claimed to be Messiah. As bar-Kochba was obviously not Divine, that “proves” that Messiah and “Son of God” in Scripture refer simply to a human being.
    “There was… nothing particularly surprising in ordinary human beings thinking they might be the Messiah. That of itself certainly didn’t mean that the person in question was thinking of himself as divine..” [`Who was Jesus?’p.57]. Nothing surprising!! Don’t spill your tea.
    “There are puzzling and opaque TEXTS in the Hebrew scripture which speak of the king as one speaks of Israel’s god. There are passages where the roles of YHWH and of the king seem to be intertwined. *BUT* THERE IS NO EVIDENCE to suggest that the various messianic and quasi-messianic figures .. THOUGHT OF THEMSELVES, or were thought of by others, IN THIS FASHION. *SO* [note the logical step, or lack thereof], when Peter says to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah’, and when Caiaphas says the same words but as an IRONIC question, neither of them should be understood as either stating or asking whether Jesus thinks he is the incarnate second person of the Trinity” JVG pg 478
    [Elsewhere, Wright admits that there are indications that bar-Kochba may well have made Divine claims]

    This is WatchTower logic at its very, very best!
    Wright’s argument is that, as some idiots imagined they were Messiah and as they were obviously very much ordinary humans and not Divine, God’s prophesied Messiah must therefore be an ordinary human and not Divine!
    The idiot’s view trumps God’s. The idiot’s view trumps all the evidence.

    On these grounds, Wright feels free to rewrite or ignore the NT, the OT and Christ’s claims of Deity.
    “Messiah is not God” is Wright’s linchpin argument on which his rejection of the true Deity of Christ is built upon.

    ** Is Jesus god?

    When asked if Jesus is God, Wright squirms, squeals and wriggles like a reluctant witness in a mafia trial. He does not want to tell an outright lie but can’t tell the truth.

    We do not know enough about “God”, there are lots of “gods’, it depends on what you call “god”, etc …. and I thought that there was only one True God!.

    It’s like asking a dubious seller at some market stall if the ring he is selling you is really made of gold. “It depends on how you define `gold'” he replies. “If `gold’ is this silver looking material with `made in Hong Kong’ stamped on it, then the ring is indeed `gold'”. Are you conned?

    Wright’s position, simply stated, is that Jesus was a man, He was NOT God-by-nature.
    Wright believes the human Jesus can in some sense be called `god’ if you define `god’ as meaning a man who enacted God’s coming to Jerusalem by turning over a few tables in the outer courts of the Temple.
    If that is your definition of `god’, then Wright will agree that Jesus is `god’. But he will not agree that Jesus is Jehovah, the God of Israel, who was prophesied to come to the Temple.
    Jesus symbolised that (later) coming by His actions turning over the tables.

    “My proposal is NOT that we understand what the word “god” means and manage somehow to fit Jesus into that. Instead, I suggest that we think *historically* about a young Jew, possessed of a desperately risky, indeed apparently crazy, vocation, riding into Jerusalem in tears, denouncing the Temple, and dying on a Roman cross-and that we somehow *allow our meaning for the word “god” to be recentered around that point*.” (Wright “Jesus and the Identity of God,”)

    No, Wright’s Jesus is not the God of Christianity nor of the early church nor of the NT.
    His Jesus is that of the WatchTower; a human `god’ who is called `god’ because he represented the true God in some way (Psa 82:6,7).
    Wright’s is a much more sophisticated version.
    He hides it better with his misleading use of such (redefined) terms as “incarnates”, `embodies”, “god”, “divine”,..

    « Plus ça change, moins ça change »

    P.S. I used to take Wright’s “Second Temple Judaism” seriously.
    Craig pointed out above that “Wright’s work as a historian has been about locating terms in their first century content. The question is whether his exegesis is convincing or not, and whether or not his work as a historian is accurate in sketching the first century Jewish world.”

    Well, having now followed up on several of his claims, I conclude that it is all a bit of a con.
    Wright simply sets aside all that Scripture states on any given subject by trumping it with some highly questionable, cherry-picked example from “Second Temple Judaism” or beyond.
    This is his “homoeopathic hermeneutic” approach; one man’s opinion anywhere in history outweighs all of Scripture on any given topic.
    I now note that he uses this bluff to redefine every key Biblical concept – God, Gospel, Repentance, Justification,..
    If you have to redefine every piece of the jigsaw puzzle to get them to fit together, it would suggest that the picture you are trying to create with these mutilated pieces is wrong.
    Wright’s “Second Temple Judaism” trump card has worked well for a while but people, including me, are now starting to check it out for themselves and question its validity.

  20. E. McAdams says:

    My question regarding Wright’s claim that his is a “Christology from above” is motivated by two observations.

    1) Wright, of all people, appears to me to have a “bottom up” approach, if I have understood these terms correctly. Jesus was a man whom the Church later (mis)understand as being God. Wright the historian seeks to explain how Jesus the man came to be seen as God by the early church

    2) When Wright reviewed Pope Benedict’s “JESUS OF NAZARETH Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection” he describes (negatively) “Christology from above” as an approach in which the orthodox theological cart is placed before the historical horse.

    Wright therefore does not appear to be a fan of that approach. Why then his reported claim?

    • E. McAdams says:

      @ Eric Cummer

      I have searched high and low (sorry for the pun) to find where Wright claims that his Christology is a ‘Christology from above’ and not a ‘Christology from below’.
      The only place he comes close that I can find is indeed in the panel discussion you mentioned at Duke University which is on YouTube under “N.T. Wright: Panel Discussion on Pauline Theology with Faculty”.

      As I understand it from the web, a ‘Christology from above’ is one that starts with the Word, the pre-incarnate Jesus, who was God and became flesh and tries to grapple with His humanity.
      A ‘Christology from below’ starts with Jesus the man and tries to grapple (or not) with His Deity. Wright appears to me to (now) be in the second group, hence my surprise at his reported statement.

      In the discussion, at time 13:00, he says “.. to my surprise I find myself arguing, not only does Paul have what in the trade we call an early high Jewish Christology, but that he isn’t doing this by looking at Jesus and gradually thinking “Wow maybe he’s actually divine”, but that he is TELLING A STORY ABOUT ISRAEL’S GOD COMING BACK and finding that to do that YOU HAVE TO TALK ABOUT JESUS. This is, IF YOU LIKE, a Christology from above not JUST a Christology from below and I am in debate with various scholars about that.”

      Pointing out that you have to talk about Jesus and His symbolic pre-enactment when you are talking about Israel’s God returning to Jerusalem is NOT the same as saying that Jesus IS the God of Israel who returned, as prophesied, to the Temple.
      It’s like me pointing out that when describing the actions of the US troops on D Day, to be historically correct one must talk about the important role of the French Resistance (e.g. Dwight Eisenhower in his memoir, “Crusade in Europe”).
      That in no way means that the French Resistance were US Troops.

      Wright does NOT appear to have a ‘Christology from above’ and he seems to know/betray it.
      Look at his use of the phrase “if you like” when (re)defining the term “‘Christology from above’:
      According to English usage “You say ‘if you like’ when you are expressing something in a different way, or in a way that you think some people might disagree with or find strange”. http://www.collinsdictionary.com/
      Yes, I find it strange that Wright claims that his is a ‘Christology from above’ because he simply states that Jesus was involved in the Story by prophetically and symbolically pre-enacting God’s return.

      Wright redefines far too many terms, it appears to be his hallmark.

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