I’m doing well at finishing books. Lately I wrote about The Wrong Messiah by Nick Page. It’s perhaps something of a testament to my craziness that at the same time as, and since long before, reading Page’s book, I’ve had The Ressurection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright on the go.
Anyone who’s seen the book will know that it runs to over 700 pages. For anyone this is a bit of a challenge. For me, a slow reader bent on reading c.100 different books at once, it’s madness. But I can declare the end has come, and two full years of stop-start reading later, I’ve finished this book. Don’t let my tardiness dissuade you. It’s entirely my fault for reading too many books at once. This one is worthy of your time.
It’s difficult to summarise the importance of this >;700 page book in the space of one (hopefully) short blog. I shall attempt to be factual and restrain excessive laudatory.
It’s the third in Wright’s series on Christian Origins and the Question of God. The previous volume, Jesus and the Victory of God, took a scholarly look at the rest of Jesus’ life (as I understand – I haven’t actually read it). The resurrection got I think a passing mention, leading some critics to accuse Wright of not believing in the resurrection – an accusation which, Wright says in the introduction to this formidable tome, he thinks can now be gently laid to rest.
This extremely important topic has been subject to a wide variety of interpretations by scholars and theologians resulting in a pervading picture across the church that tends to fundamentally water down the picture given to us by the simple declaration of the early church – that Jesus was raised from the dead – to mean that Jesus was somehow alive in heaven, in the hearts of his church, and so on, while never actually having left the tomb. In other words, it has been reduced to metaphor.
Wright’s incredibly in-depth historical and exegetical analysis breaks down the myths that have gone to build up this quite false picture and through long argument provides an incredibly convincing picture that ultimately shows that there is no sense in which the self-respecting historian can come to any other conclusion than that the early church said that Jesus had risen from the dead because they believed that this really was what had literally happened to him, and that there is good reason to suppose that they were correct.
His study includes a survey of ancient beliefs about what “resurrection” could mean, both within and outside Judaism; in-depth analysis of Paul’s writings on the subject including 2 full chapters on Paul’s great resurrection passages in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 4-5; and a very complete survey of all other NT and early Christian writings on the subject. Interestingly he reserves study of the 4 Gospel narratives of the resurrection for the end, when all historical bases have been covered, making for four beautiful commentaries on those passages, free from having to footnote all the huge historical, theological and philosophical questions that would have arisen had they been taken as the starting point of the book. There are of course still issues but it is gratifying to reach these chapters after such in-depth study of the complete historical context for them.
I have already given Wright’s ultimate conclusion, that the resurrection is solidly grounded enough to be taken as historical fact; the manner in which he reaches this conclusion is enlightening, challenging, thought-provoking, and instructive in many areas of history and Scripture! As I said, it’s well worth your time.