“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).
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).
[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: Continue reading