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29 May 2010

BR: "The Resurrection of the Son of God" by N.T. Wright

I am no fan of N.T. Wright’s ecclesiology, for he is the bishop of Durham in the Anglican church, nor of his views on a number of contemporary cultural issues. However, I am consistently edified and frequently awed by his Biblical scholarship. He is a powerful defender of basic, historic Christian orthodoxy. His 2003 book on the resurrection is the subject of this review. The book is accessible to most Bible students, provided they like to read; the book is over 700 pages. Wright is a top flight scholar, but writes with stunning clarity and winsome prose.

Wright’s defense of the resurrection of Jesus contains some of the same arguments that have been put forward through the years, but generally with twists and illustrations that present them in a fresh and persuasive light. He also offers new arguments in response to more recent challenges set forth by liberal scholars such as John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. He also clears away several layers of popular misconceptions about the meaning of resurrection that are prevalent among Christians today. It has been my experience in dealing with brethren, including preachers, that a lot of study needs to be done in this area.

The book contains five sections, each containing a wealth of vital information necessary for a comprehensive understanding of the subject of resurrection in general and the resurrection of Christ in particular. Part one sets the scene by discussing the views of ancient pagans about life after death and their consistent rejection of what the Bible calls resurrection. With paganism’s views as a background, he is able to more clearly bring into focus the fact that resurrection does not merely refer to life after death, but to what he calls, “life after, life after death.” In this section he also works his way through Old Testament texts on resurrection. The second major section deals with Paul’s view of resurrection. The fifty pages devoted to 1 Corinthians 15 is worth the price of the book. Part three looks at non–Pauline doctrine on resurrection, in both the New Testament and early non–canonical texts. The fourth division deals with the actual accounts of Jesus' resurrection in the four gospels. He ends the book in section five by discussing the meaning of the resurrection.

The book proved most helpful to me in three areas. First, Wright’s astonishing familiarity with the intertestamental period brings needed clarity to the Jewish thinking about resurrection during this period. With this historical foundation in place, it is much easier to make sense of the New Testament texts on the subject. Second, the book’s careful exegesis on relevant texts is outstanding. The author deftly works through complex passages explaining the Biblical writer’s intent. Finally, Wright’s attack on various attempts to explain away a literal bodily resurrection is devastating. With laser guided precision he contends that the emergence of the early Christian church can only be explained in terms of apostolic testimony that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead. He insists that this is not only a plausible explanation for the existence of the early church, but the only explanation.

In addition to the information on the resurrection, the book gives helpful insights into eschatology. Wright contends that the resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the end. His view of eschatology and of the kingdom fits the “already / not yet” paradigm. The resurrection of Christ is not to be thought of as a singular event occurring in the middle of world history, but an end time event that was pushed back into the middle of history. In other words, what has happened in the resurrection of Christ is a foretaste of the consummation of all things.

I found the book profoundly satisfying and by far the best written, and most thorough work I’ve read on the topic. As with any work of man, I do not endorse everything presented in the book, but to the serious Bible student I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Lawrence Kelley
September 2006

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