94 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars looking over Jesus' shoulder as he reads his Jewish Bible
When scholars write popular books, it is sometimes evident that they are speaking a strange tongue. Chris Wright's semi-popular biblical theology does not suffer this deficiency. Wright wears his scholarship lightly and writes with a good preacher's respect for his audience's intelligence and lack of awareness of the issues that detain and entertain the specialist. The...
Published on August 11, 2005 by David A. Baer
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed-bag of deep insight and troubling Christology
In his book, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Christopher J. H. Wright argues that a complete understanding of the person and work of Jesus is dependent upon an appreciation of His understanding and relationship to the Old Testament. While the subject matter and Wright's presentation are captivating, the theological ramifications of his...
Published on August 15, 2012 by ChristopherRay
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94 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars looking over Jesus' shoulder as he reads his Jewish Bible,
This review is from: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set) (Paperback)
When scholars write popular books, it is sometimes evident that they are speaking a strange tongue. Chris Wright's semi-popular biblical theology does not suffer this deficiency. Wright wears his scholarship lightly and writes with a good preacher's respect for his audience's intelligence and lack of awareness of the issues that detain and entertain the specialist. The result is a solid and enriching example of a mature hermeneutic that takes the Old Testament seriously in its own right, and then seeks in it a witness to Jesus.
The organization of the book's five chapters underscores the book's unwavering focus on both the Old Testament and on Jesus. Wright names them, respectively, 'Jesus and the Old Testament Story', 'Jesus and the Old Testament Promise', 'Jesus and his Old Testament Identity', 'Jesus and his Old Testament Mission', 'Jesus and his Old Testament Values'. The result is a confessionally Christian biblical-theological treatment of the texts that avoids and occasionally critiques the hermeneutical blunders that bedevil much Christian proclamation of Old Testament texts.
In his first chapter ('... Story', pp. 1-54), Wright presents a fairly conventional survey of Old Testament history and literature. I use the term with no pejorative meaning, for Wright is convinced the average Christian knows little of this material, and so his task is essentially remedial. Indeed, his method has biblical precedent, for example in Stephen's speech in Acts chapter seven.
The author takes his cues from the manner in which the gospels frame their protagonist in terms of his relationship to a heritage that we know principally from the pages of the Old Testament. It is evident from the outset that Wright will read Jesus with rather than against the grain of the Old Testament and the Judaism of his own day, an argument that will be developed in the book's final chapter.
Wright gives due attention to the 'inter-testamental literature' and, to this reader's satisfaction, attempts a brief rehabilitation of the Pharisees, a matter that requires attention in the light of his chosen readership of 'typical Christian carol-singers'. Wright is eager to establish that the Old Testament sets the basic definitions of terms like 'redemption', 'salvation', and the like that will be bandied about in the New in the expectation that readers will know to what they refer. He is particularly attentive to the character of the Old Testament as 'story', a tale that will not be fully told by the time the first testament comes to its end, and so points forward to God's subsequent redemptive activity in Jesus himself. Indeed, 'the Messiah was Israel', an affirmation that for Wright seems to hint more at the continuity between the two literary sections of the biblical story than at the discontinuity that is evidenced by them.
The relationship of story to promise is critical for a work of this kind, not least because a popular view of the Old Testament as a context-less 'book of promises' about Messiah is strong among many Christians. The architecture of Wright's book already suggests a more organic link between Old Testament story and promise, a matter to which the author turns in chapter two ('Jesus and the Old Testament Promise', pp. 55-102). Noting the manner in which the Gospel of Matthew cites texts with regard to Jesus that were actually written of Israel, Wright offers this programmatic statement: 'Not only does the Old Testament tell the story which Jesus completes, it also declares the promise which Jesus fulfils.' The singular word `promise' where one might have anticipated 'promises' signals Wright's intention to develop a nuanced and unmechanical view of how Jesus accomplishes this completion and this fulfillment. For Wright, Matthew begins with the experience of Jesus that he shares with his community and works his way back to Old Testament scriptures that are now seen to possess a deeper sense than another reader might have anticipated. The Old Testament is a matrix of promise in that it reveals a God who promises redemption, restoration, healing, and the like. Jesus, in unforeseen ways, becomes the agent of that complex and hope-instilling promise.
Wright accents the personal ('I-Thou') nature of promise, including its need for a response if it to become effectual. He is also eager to establish that promise affirms the history and the people among which it was established in a way that mere prediction cannot. Though Wright does not use this language, this allows the Old Testament to point towards fulfillment in a impressionistic or even 'fuzzy' manner rather than in the mechanical precision that today motivates some Christians to discover mechanical and ludicrous literal fulfillment of a vision never intended for such realism and little adapted to its requirements.
A final section embeds promise in the rich concept of covenant. Wright is surely faithful to his sources when he concludes that 'the overwhelming impression that makes itself felt through all this study of promise and covenant, is God's unwavering intention to bless.'
'Jesus and his Old Testament Identity' (Chapter three, pp. 103-135) probes what scholars call the `messianic self-identity' of Jesus, a topic that might seem odd or even contentious to Christian believers who have not thought seriously about Jesus' humanity. Wright wants to establish the fundamental role that the Hebrew Scriptures played for the 'carpenter's son from Nazareth, who takes upon himself a staggering identity with awesome personal consequence ... by accepting and internalizing three Old Testament figures.' The chief value of this chapter is Wright's extended exploration of typology, a venerable and much-abused element of Christian hermeneutics. For Wright, the typological instinct is valid as `a way of understanding Christ and the various events and experiences surrounding him in the New Testament by analogy or correspondence with the historical realities of the Old Testament seen as patterns or models'. This definition once again locks the two poles of his book (Jesus and the Old Testament) in an embrace without which each loses its meaning, worth, and veracity. An extended discussion of what Jesus and his earliest interpreters meant by the phrase 'son of God, as this was applied to the aforementioned carpenter's son.
'Jesus and his Old Testament Mission' (Chapter four, pp. 136-180) underscores the reality that Jesus' self-identity was inseparably bound to his sense of having been sent by his Father. Palestinian Jewish self-consciousness at the time found expression in the concept of exile. It was a simple thing to transfer the moniker and imperial qualities of biblical 'Babylon' to Rome, a new generation's oppressive presence. Over against this imperial intrusiveness, popular Jewish expectation focused on Israel's restoration.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth stepped into this cauldron of hope and resentment, in solidarity with the imminent fact of Israel's redemption but with a novel angle on how that was to be accomplished. A number of linguistic and conceptual receptacles were ready at hand to be filled with the content that Jesus would bring to them: son of Man, anointed one ('messiah'), servant of the Lord. With varying degrees of reticence and enthusiasm, Jesus used or allowed these terms to be used of him, typically modifying the accent in surprising directions that the early church, upon further reflection, would transmit in the teaching and proclamation that are the stuff of the New Testament.
Jesus and the apostles were able to discern an ample participation by non-Jews in the 'Israelite' restoration that they perceived occurring in their midst. Paul would work this out into a clearer articulation of his own 'sending' or mission to the gentiles.
Wright's final chapter ('Jesus and his Old Testament Values', pp. 181-252) shows how Jesus life was fully aligned in moral-ethical terms with his Old Testament legacy. This chapter competently indicates the continuity between the testaments, since for Wright Jesus more often underscores or occasionally draws out the fuller implications of Old Testament ethics as they already exist than adds uniquely New Testament-ish ethical instruction.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How Jesus might have figured out he was the Messiah by reading the scriptures,
This review is from: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set) (Paperback)
In this book, Christopher Wright attacks the popular idea that we can know Jesus without knowing the Old Testament (an idea expressed through biblical illiteracy and an emphasis on "New Testament" Christianity). His thesis--"the Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completes" (2)--is well defended on every page. I especially valued his insights into how Jesus rooted his identity in both God's declaration at his baptism as well as scriptural promises regarding Isaac, David, and the "servant of the Lord" (from Isaiah). Highly recommended.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great grasp of Jesus back in the Old Testament,
This review is from: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set) (Paperback)
An intriguing passage in the New Testament (NT) states, "Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." (Luke 24:27). Christopher Wright's book titled `Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament' gives a reasonable answer to what Jesus may have told these disciples from Emmaus. Many NT Christians believe they can fully know Jesus without knowing the Old Testament (OT). On page two, Wright states "The Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completes." Even the NT needs to be read in light of the OT. Wright draws out the identity, mission and values of Jesus. Jesus completes the OT promises in surprising ways. Wright deals with the popular idea that Christians can know Jesus without knowing the OT.
This book sheds light on how Jesus used and completed the OT message in relation to His identity, mission and values. The author fleshes out 5 comprehensive themes each close to 50 pages in length. The NT book of Matthew chapters one to four are the primary text Wright uses to expound his five main points. The reader will gain a clear understanding of Jesus' life mission and destiny as the book is read through. The comprehensive vision of God's redemptive plan and purpose is the main theme throughout the book.
I highly recommend this book as a strong introduction to understanding Jesus in light of the OT. It goes well beyond the typical work that merely shows the OT types and how Christ was hidden all along waiting to be discovered in the OT. The hermeneutical principles used by the author focus on the biblical text in its original context and then the theological principles are extracted from the text. The author avoids a textual criticism approach. One will not see a discussion on looking for source material nor speculation on JEDP theory. He also goes beyond messianic proof texting and leaves out typology about the Temple and Tabernacle. The author's primary purpose in writing this text is for everyday Christians and he avoids an overly scholarly approach to the material. Wright's text serves as a contrast to R.T Frances' book on Jesus and the Old Testament which covers more criticism and has a lot of footnotes. Despite Wright's lack of explicit scholarly focus, the book still remains a scholarly and thought-provoking work. A strong explanation of typology is made in the chapter on Jesus' identity. A weakness of typology is when the reader of the OT fails to find much reality in the events and persons of the OT in themselves. This jump start to Christ away from the historical context is a Platonic view of the OT. The OT becomes a collection of shadows. Typology is defined by Wright as a way to understand Christ and events surrounding him in the NT by analogy and correspondence. Historic realities are seen as patterns or models. Typology should not be the sole way of understanding the OT.
A weakness of the book is that it meanders and the author many times seems to cover too much material in each chapter. This leaves the reader without clear handles on main points and it confuses essential material from peripheral material. One constructive criticism is for the author to edit out some of the redundancy in the book. A few more graphs and summary indicators would help as well. It is easy to get lost in the amazing breath of the material. Some chapters can be shortened. Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament is an excellent perspective on Jesus and how His life reflected theological concepts of the OT. The book is covenantal in nature and is mission orientated. The author achieved his goal to get me to see Jesus in the Old Testament and the NT. I will definitely be able to answer ways in which Jesus may have instructed the Emmaus disciples. When others make statements such as, "The Old Testament is not relevant for Christians today" or "We need to just read the gospels and the NT letters to learn all there is to know about Jesus.", I can now quickly add more perspective to these statements. I will also read the OT and ask the question, "How may this passage have been used by Jesus and how was it lived out in His life?" His redemptive purpose is our mission and it started in the Old Testament.
Mark J. Armstrong
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful Insights into Jesus,
In his preface, Christopher Wright reveals that his conviction that "the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus" underlies the theme of Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. He states that he writes this book for people wishing to "deepen their knowledge of Jesus and the scriptures that meant so much to him." Wright uses the Old Testament to shine a light on the life and identity of Jesus. He uncovers how Jesus' knowledge of the Old Testament would have influenced him. Similarly, he looks at how the Old Testament scriptures influenced the Jews of Jesus' day and their reactions to Jesus' ministry. Through this, readers can develop a keener insight into who Jesus is and what Jesus accomplished on the cross when he said, "It is finished." (Jn 19:30 ESV)
Wright begins his book with the beginning of the gospel story about Jesus. He uncovers what is behind the genealogy of Jesus that begins Matthew's and Luke's gospel.
A major component of the identity of Israel that Wright discusses is its mission and ministry to be a blessing to all nations.
As Wright shares the story of Israel that is behind the genealogy, he emphasizes the promises of God to Abraham and to David. Seeing in his genealogy Abraham and David, Jewish readers of Matthew's and Luke's gospels would immediately associate Jesus with the promises made to these significant men in Israel's history.
Wright indicates that two characteristics of the Jews during Jesus' time were an increased devotion to the torah and an "upsurge in apocalyptic, messianic hope." (Wright 26) Jesus' hearers would have had significant knowledge of Old Testament scripture and would have been applying it to their times in hope of seeing signs of God's messiah.
In Wright's book, we see that the cross and resurrection are the answers to the problems of obedience to the law and to the prophesied deliverance and restoration of Israel. He writes, "The New Testament affirms that the Gospel of the cross and resurrection of Christ is God's complete answer to the totality of evil and all its effects within his creation." (Wright 30) Wright shows that the work of Christ is a universal work that offers deliverance and redemption to not just Jews but to Gentiles also.
Wright sums up the theme of the Old Testament and New Testament culminating in Christ, "Taken together both testaments record the work of God's saving work for humanity." (Wright 34) Wright asserts that God's redemptive history includes the following four principles: election, redemption, covenant and inheritance. Wright concludes that God, not man, fulfills this saving work in Jesus, Israel's Messiah and the world's Savior.
In addition to looking at the Old Testament in relation to Jesus' death and resurrection, Wright also examines in depth how it shapes his identity, mission and values. He asserts through his book that it is impossible to fully know Jesus apart from knowing the essential parts of the Old Testament. He writes that Jesus completes the story that the Old Testament begins, "It declares the promise which he fulfilled...provides the pictures and models which shaped his identity...programs a mission which he accepted and passed on...teaches a moral orientation to God and the world which he endorsed, sharpened and laid the foundation for obedient discipleship." (Wright 252)
Wright contends that Israel, as the recipient of God's promise, was to be a conduit of that promise to all nations. He calls Israel the intended priesthood of God in the midst of the nations bringing them to the saving knowledge of God.
Although Israel was a recipient of God's promise and election, the people could only walk in the promise and election by grace and faith. Wright writes, "The promise comes as the initiative of God's grace and always depends on God's grace. But that grace has to be accepted and responded to by faith and obedience." (Wright 68)
In his discussion of the necessity of faithful obedience, Wright continues, "No doctrine of election, no covenant theology, no personal testimony of redemption, can relieve us of the imperative necessity of faith proving itself in active obedience." (Wright 70) He elaborates that the initiative of God's grace or promise demands a response of obedient faith now from Jews as much as Gentiles. Wright continues to emphasize God's requirement of faithful obedience in regard to his covenant promises to Israel. Despite Israel's disobedience, the covenant continued, because it was grounded in God's grace and purpose for humanity. According to Wright, God's covenant promises reveal his intense desire to bless people.
I think Wright lacks clarity in his discussion of obedience in the context of the new covenant in Jesus. Israel's repeated failures are indicative of Christians' similar inability to live up to the standards of the law. Obedience for the Christian, Jew or Gentile, is to a new call, as Christians are the recipients of a new covenant that comes through faith by grace. The difference that Wright does not explicitly note is that Jesus has fulfilled not only Israel's role as servant but has fulfilled the requirement for obedience for the recipients of the promise. Jesus answered, `The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." (John 6:28-29 NIV)
It seems that Wright does not distinguish between the requirements of faithful obedience to the law under the prior covenants to Israel and faithfulness under the new covenant. What Jesus requires is not works or behavior but belief and faith for salvation. Although Wright points to the prophets' promises of a new heart and the law written on hearts, he seems to be advocating the idea that the new covenant through Jesus merely makes it easier for followers to obey the law rather than rest in Christ's work on the cross finally acknowledging that all of our righteous works are but "filthy rags." (Is 64:6 NIV)
Wright looks at how the Old Testament would have revealed to Jesus his role as savior of the world. Wright points out three roles that Jesus would have seen, "sovereignty, servant hood and sacrifice. All three are built into the calling of Jesus. All three are given depth and meaning by the Old Testament characters whose identities are merged in Jesus." (Wright 110)
Wright profoundly relates the conflict between man's earthly vision and God's eternal, spiritual vision. He writes,"We have imagined that the best way to save the world was to run the world. With the tragically ironic result that Christian mission in the name of the Servant has been indelibly associated in the minds of many with power--military, cultural economic and political. It is an image that is hard to live down. "(Wright 178)
He contrasts this with God's prescribed mission of service and sacrifice for the world. The way of Jesus, the way of sacrifice and service, is what we can learn from the Old Testament. Wright concludes that Jesus' message is the message at the heart of the Old Testament. It is the message of the Jubilee year of the Lord and of restored relationships to God, the sovereign king over all--what Wright calls an "Old Testament concept" now at hand. (Wright 243)
Shakespeare On Spirituality: Life-Changing Wisdom from Shakespeare's Plays
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed-bag of deep insight and troubling Christology,
In his book, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Christopher J. H. Wright argues that a complete understanding of the person and work of Jesus is dependent upon an appreciation of His understanding and relationship to the Old Testament. While the subject matter and Wright's presentation are captivating, the theological ramifications of his assertions range from deeply thought-provoking to troublingly unorthodox.
In his preface, Wright succinctly and passionately declares that "in reading the Hebrew scriptures I am handling something that gives me a closer common link with Jesus than any archaeological artefact [sic] could do." Wright is an accomplished author and pastor, as well as the head of Langham Partnership International (John Stott Ministries in the U.S.A.). His book seeks to guide the reader to a deeper understanding of Christ by shedding Old Testament light on His place in history and the grand plan of God, as well as Jesus' own values and understanding of His identity and mission. His contention is that "the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus" (Wright, ix).
BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE BOOK
In this particular work, Wright digs deep into the narratives of the Old Testament to uncover the cultural expectations and messianic thought that set the stage for Jesus' entry into the world and then coalesces all of it in light of the full New Testament revelation to show the redemptive purposes of God woven throughout. Addressing this in terms of Jesus' fulfillment of both the story and the promise of the Old Testament, Wright shows Jesus as the pivotal point in all of history both in terms of fulfilling the historical expectation of Israel for a deliverer, and as the culmination of God's plan to bring blessing and salvation to the nations of the world. The author then moves to show how this placement of Jesus within the context of historical Israel shaped his own understanding of both his identity and mission, and applies this to the mission of the Church. Finally, Wright analyzes how an understanding of the Old Testament aided Jesus in living out his identity as He faced the challenges of his convictions, sorted out the "whirling confusion of thought" in His mind, and wrestled "with the future direction of his [sic] own calling" (Wright, 182-186).
The initial points of Wright's book are very compelling. He sets the advent of Christ into the greater historical picture of Israel, building a historical pedigree of Jesus as not only a Jew and a Davidic heir, but as the divine agent of blessing through Israel to the rest of humanity (Wright, 4). The author's point, which becomes a seminal theme throughout book, is that God's plan from the beginning was to use Israel as a conduit of blessing to all nations. In this light, and drawing on parallels in language and structure between Matthew and Genesis, Wright argues that Matthew was intentional in painting his portrait of Christ as an unmistakable "new creation", the pivotal point of human history, "the end of the beginning" and "the beginning of the end" (Wright, 8). His application of passages throughout the Pentatuch, the Psalms, and the Prophets paints a very clear picture of the intention of God to bring salvation to all nations, rather than bringing it to them only as a result of Israel's inability to exist as the people He intended. This is an important point because the picture of Israel being the people of God while He allows the rest of the world to suffer in ignorance as the objects of His wrath is a common criticism by opponents of the Old Testament. Through his analysis, Wright reconciles the God of the New Testament with that of the Old by pointing out that even the destruction of nations such as Canaan served the greater purpose of creating an Israel through which He could bless the entire world with salvation through Christ.
A controversial matter arises several times in the book when Wright deals with prophecy. Particularly in the second chapter, the author refers to an analogy of a father promising his son a horse, but in the meantime a car is invented, which the father presents to his son instead. Wright uses this to talk about the promises of God, saying that "because it is the relationship behind it that matters, the material form in which it is fulfilled may be quite different from the original form in which it was originally made", thereby allowing for God's promises to be fulfilled in ways unimaginable at the time the promise was initiated (Wright, 70). While this may indeed be valid in the application Wright cites, the principle itself can easily be misapplied if it is appropriated to prophecy carte blanche. Additionally, it reflects a troubling modern tendency to attempt to apply prophecy (particularly eschatological prophecy) in a one-to-one or one-to-many relationship with particular events and figures using human reasoning. The promises of God are true, and will be fulfilled in His timing and by His methods. These will likely often defy all human pattern-matching and finger-pointing as God weaves His tapestry of history.
The primary difficulty of the book arises very early (toward the end of the first chapter), but is easily overlooked amidst the promising arguments that surround it. Here, Wright writes of Jesus, "the New Testament presents him to us as the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. And the Messiah `was' Israel. That is, the Messiah was Israel representatively and personified" (Wright, 44). If this is not an obvious reflection of a skewed Christology upon the first reading, it takes on that character in light of the rest of the book. As the author moves into his third chapter, Jesus and His Old Testament Identity, Wright's Christological nuances become much more bold and assertive. Throughout the remainder of the book, Christ is painted as having learned of His identity, mission and values from the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, "it was the Old Testament that helped Jesus to understand Jesus. . . The answers came from his Bible, the Hebrew scriptures in which he found a rich tapestry of figures, historical persons, prophetic pictures and symbols of worship" (Wright, 108). Jesus is said to have taken "upon himself a staggering identity with awesome personal consequences" by "internalizing three Old Testament figures", namely Davidic King, Son of God, and Davidic Messiah (Wright, 109). Elsewhere, Jesus is painted as using the Scriptures as the means by which Jesus "understood his own essential identity" and "gave depth and colour to his primary self-awareness as the Son of his Father God" (Wright, 135). Using these statements, Wright creates an image of Christ almost akin to the old heresy of adoptionism where Jesus learns of His identity and mission gradually as He matures following His baptism. This understanding, Wright contends was revealed to Christ at the baptism, with the words of The Father being as much for Jesus' instruction as it was it was for the crowd's (instruction)(Wright, 105). Then Jesus developed a further understanding of His mission "from a deeper reading of his scriptures" (Wright, 145). This progressive revelation within the mind of Jesus serves to undermine his divinity even to the extent that it implies He did not know what His mission on Earth was for the first three decades of His life. We are then left with two alternatives. Either we must conclude, as with adoptionism, that Jesus was not divine prior to His baptism, or that He was divine, but His knowledge was so limited by His assumption of humanity that He did not know fully who He was. These are both utterly unacceptable alternatives, as a Christ who was both divine and human from the moment of His conception is taught clearly both in the Scriptures and in the earliest canons of the Church. Insult is added to injury as Wright repeatedly comments on the incompleteness of Christ divinity with comments about a "whirling confusion of thought in the mind of Jesus" (Wright, 184) and His "wrestling with the future and direction of His own calling" (Wright, 187). The very idea that Christ learned from the Scriptures is a denial of His pre-existence and the fact that the Scriptures are His words. If "the Word" was indeed in the beginning with God, and "was God", then how could this Word incarnate go to the Scriptures to derive anything at all, since He is the source of those very Scriptures? If Jesus is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8), how could He possibly have needed to learn anything about His identity or mission? Though this fallacy in the author's line of reasoning soured the last half of the book for me, the validity of Wright's arguments in the first sections still stands.
This book as a whole is one I would hesitate to recommend to a general lay reader due to the deviant Christology that permeates its second half. That being said, the first one hundred or so pages offer an insight into understanding the Old Testament in the light of Christ, and vice-versa, that is quite enlightening. I would recommend it for advanced readers with a solid Christological base, and suggest that its better principles be taught second-hand rather than being given cover-to-cover to the layman.
Christopher J. H. Wright set out on a noble and necessary pursuit with Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Along the way, he accomplished his goal of presenting a compelling and detailed argument for the inseparable link between the story and promise of the Hebrew Scriptures with Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, he also went down paths of reasoning that are very deviant from an orthodox understanding of the person and nature of Christ. This produced a work that is at the same time profound and profane, holy and heretical, and is not suitable for casual reading except by the forewarned and critical mind. This theological briar patch serves to overshadow what otherwise would be a very insightful treatise.
31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Postmodern Christology,
I was disappointed with this book. While it is masterfully written, what first promised to be a scholarly update detoured into postmodern Christology. Wright's work is reflective of his presuppositions and methods. He seems to have naturalistic leanings. Biblical theology has been distinguished from systematic theology in that the biblical data is studied critically as an historical discipline, whereas systematic theology is more philosophical. Wright's work reveals a chasm between liberal biblical theology and orthodox systematic theology. Wright's book simply does not logically cohere with the essential doctrine of Christ's divinity. This criticism will be thoroughly documented through multiple lines of evidence found in Wright's book.
The New Testament unabashedly leads one to the conclusion that Jesus is God. Wright's Old Testament biblical theology methodology masks that inference. For instance, there is no comparison between the exalted Jesus that emerges from John Walvoord's examination of Jesus in the Old Testament found in Jesus Christ Our Lord and the Jesus presented by Wright. Conspicuously absent from Wright's work is any discussion of Christ's eternity past or the incarnation. For example, in Micah's prophecy about his birth in Bethlehem it is said, "...from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days" (Mic 5:2). This infers Christ's eternality. Wright does not go there. Another example, James Montgomery Boice argues that the atonement was Jesus' main mission and that "the death of Jesus is the theme of the Old Testament..." Wright is not as decisive. Furthermore, Wright never mentions theophanies, the appearances of Christ in the Old Testament before the incarnation. According to Walvoord, "It is the teaching of Scripture that the Angel of Jehovah is specifically the second Person of the Trinity." It follows that when Jesus said "before Abraham was I AM" (Jn. 8:58) the Pharisees understood it as that claim. Nevertheless, I have to wonder if Wright does. There is a vast difference between the Christology coming from a theologian like Walvoord or Boice and a biblical scholar like Wright. Even more disappointing, the tone of Wright's work implies such a high Christology is fanciful and unnecessary. After all, who would complain if he received a car when he was only promised a horse?
Wright's analogy about the son that expected a horse yet received a car has limited merit. It might be useful for addressing traditional Jewish objections that Jesus didn't meet their expectations. However, I would qualify that as, "he hasn't yet met their expectations." Wright seems to discount any precision at all in prophecy. Examples of prophetic precision include the exact seventy year exile (Jer. 25:11), Cyrus explicitly named 100 years in advance (Isa. 44:28), the fall of Tyre (Eze. 26) and Isaiah fifty-three's remarkably prescient description of Jesus. Consider that a car would indeed be a disappointment if you were a jockey entering a horse race. Thus, it is more likely that when God promises a horse he will indeed deliver a horse. Most of the problems seem to stem from our expectations of sequence and timing. God is not bound by time. In the case of Jesus, it is a case of now and also not yet. I still expect very literal fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy in the millennial kingdom. While two advents are not revealed in the Hebrew Bible, there is ample reason to expect Jesus will fulfill the details the Jews are still waiting for. Unfortunately, I do not get the impression that Wright thinks so.
His discussion of typology is somewhat sobering in respect to traditional dispensational scholarship. Perhaps there has been overindulgence. However, I am critical of Wright's treatment. Arthur W. Pink is famous for his typology of the Tabernacle. After listing a multitude of ways the tabernacle was a type of Christ, Pink remarks, "Thus we see how fully and how perfectly the tabernacle of old foreshadowed the Person of our blessed Lord." I am fairly certain Wright had Pink in mind with his criticism. Wright makes typology seem like only a human conceived analogy. In contrast, like Pink, I believe God orchestrated history as an intentional pointer to Christ. The Passover lamb, Abraham's offering of Isaac and the sacrificial system are much more than backward looking analogies. They were planned. He is over compensating and rationalizing away the wonder of it. His criticisms are somewhat valid, we do need to understand the original context, yet it doesn't mean the typological interpretative scheme is completely wrong, only that perhaps some have overindulged it. I agree it is not the way, as in the only way to interpret the Old Testament, but I really don't think it is used so exclusively, even by those deemed fanciful.
Not wishing to appear fanciful, Wright often hedges. For instance, first he says most scholars are agreed that "Son of Man" was not a Messianic title. Then he works his way through three categories of "Son of Man" sayings. The idea is that these categories represent how Jesus defined himself. While it is true that "son of man" can be used a human title, Jesus referred to himself as "the Son of Man" as in a reference to Daniel 7:13. Wright celebrates this possibility with enough pomp to almost seem like worship. But it's not a speculative matter. In fact, Jesus makes the connection for us at his trial. He claims that they will see him coming on the clouds (Mat 26:63), just like the Son of Man in Daniel seven. And it is not the first time he claimed it (Mat 24:30). Wright gives tacit acknowledgement to these eschatological passages yet does not fully allow for what they imply. For instance, the third category is that Jesus will "sometimes act as a judge on God's behalf." One wonders, does this mean Jesus is merely God's agent? It reeks of Arianism. Jesus is God, the second person of the trinity, but this book seems embarrassed to come out and say it.
Another egregious error is that Wright characterizes Jesus as a mere human being sorting out his own identity by reading the Hebrew Bible. The book is burdened with examples. For example, he writes:
"The Old Testament provided the models, pictures and patterns by which Jesus understood his own essential identity and especially gave depth and colour to his primary self-awareness as the Son of his Father God."
To the uncritical reader the ending might sound like a high Christology but I just do not believe Jesus needed assistance in his self-awareness. Jesus was not a normal man merely using the Hebrew bible to figure it out as he went along. Yet, Wright uses phrases like Jesus "drew on another figure from his Hebrew bible and that was the Servant of the Lord." This reads like Jesus is just acting out what he read. Also, Wright can't seem to make up his mind. For instance, he first states, "Jesus here claims to be the one that Isaiah 53 was written about" and then one page later hedges saying there are only "good grounds to believe Jesus saw himself are the servant figure..." From this sort of tentative language, one wonders if maybe Jesus only saw himself that way. After all, people like the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and David Koresh also see themselves that way. He continues this line claiming,
"In order to get the full value of this insight into the mind of Jesus, however, we must do the same as we did for the other figures that Jesus found in his Hebrew scriptures and applied to himself - especially the Son of God."
Apparently, Jesus simply "found and applied". This mischaracterization is ubiquitous. Again in chapter five, Wright discusses how Jesus was "molded and formed in his values" by the Hebrew Scriptures. This is just astounding. I hope that he might consider that Jesus did not merely find ideas in his Hebrew scriptures and apply them to himself. Perhaps the author might consider the fanciful notion that they were written specifically about Jesus and that Jesus was even present when the prophets wrote them. Indeed, if Jesus created all things and pre-existed the entire universe in perfect triune fellowship, then Wright's "figuring it out as he goes along" Jesus just seems absurd. Jesus might ask Wright, "But who do you say that I am?" (Mat.16:15)
His contrast of the servant of the Lord as an individual with the nation is quite good. Especially in light of the rabbinic attempt to explain it away by reinterpreting the Servant as the nation post AD 70. Wright describes how the nation failed in their role and that Christ shoulders the role of the servant. Strangely, Wright now sees that role in the church. He lists four points where his biblical insights impact modern Christians: (1) the continuity of the mission from ancient Israel to today; (2) Wright points out that Paul exhorted "to the Jew first" and it was very encouraging that he does not endorse supersessionism; (3) our mission in servant-hood as exemplified by Jesus' washing the disciple's feet and (4) the completion of the mission in its wholeness. On this final point Wright loses coherence. He writes of Jesus,
"Yet it is clear that in his own lifetime he did not complete the task entrusted to the Servant of bringing the law and justice of God to the nations. Is it not then surely the case that these are aspects of the mission which he has entrusted to his servant church, those, being `in Christ' are commanded to carry forward `all that he began to do and teach'?"
This is blatant eisegesis albeit creative. Actually that reference is to Acts 1:1 and it is merely Luke telling his reader that he recorded "all that he began to do and teach." Our mission is to, "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," (Mt 28:19). Furthermore, Jesus promised to return to complete His mission (Matt. 24:30, Rev. 3:11, 22:7, 22:12, 22:20). While dominionists also promote Wright's idea, they seem rather odd eschatological company for an Anglican biblical scholar.
Maybe Wright is too concerned with what other scholars think? In the end, it seems that this book promotes knowing a different Jesus than the eternal omniscient Lord in whom "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what you would expect... But more,
This is a great book by a person who really loves the topic that he is writing about. Christopher Wright really goes into the details of how the Old Testament shaped Jesus, His message, and His worldview, and because of that through reading the Old Testament and studying it we can be similarly shaped. Far from being just a book about theophanies or descriptions of Jesus or about messianic prophecies, this book focuses on how to become more Christlike by understanding what the Old Testament teaches us about loving God and loving our neighbor. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wright Brings the Old Testament to Sunday Morning Fold,
In the text by Christopher J. H. Wright titled Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Wright outlines a precise argument for the existence of Jesus of the New Testament, as seen from within the Old Testament. It is evident, from the opening chapter, that Wright's intention for writing this volume was to take his readers deeper into the life of Jesus while showing the audience a side of Jesus not often studied in the current evangelical culture today. This review will present an overview and critique of Wright's Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament through a summarization of the text and a discussion on Wright's conclusions.
Wright, born to missionary parents serving in Brazil during the Second World War, grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as an Irish Presbyterian and was educated in Cambridge in the 1960's. Before being ordained in the Anglican Church of England in 1977, Wright served as a high school teacher, and later would go on to serve as an associate pastor before moving his family to India to teach at the seminary level. Wright continues to work as an author and is the International Director for Langham Partnership International (LPI), a ministry that works with other pastors, publishers, and educators.
Wright has authored several books that focused attention towards interacting with the Old Testament, God, and the Holy Spirit. With the depth of Wright's books, He is sometimes viewed as an author who writes more for those seeking solid food than for the spiritual infant (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Summary of "Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament"
Wright takes on the task of showing Jesus in the Old Testament by examining Jesus in five different dimensions; the story of Jesus, the promises declared and fulfilled, and His identity, mission, and values. Pulling heavily from the book of Matthew, Wright takes time in the first section to examine the importance of the genealogy of Jesus in a way not often addressed by the casual congregant. This in depth look at the foundation of the story of Jesus is tied back to the Genesis stories and the historical context of Abraham to David to Jesus Himself. While the book of Matthew does this as well, Wright goes beyond Matthew to pull from historical information including a look at how Jesus interacts with historical Israel and the inter-testamental period (Wright 1992, 19-24).
In the second section of the book, Wright reviews the promises of Jesus from the time they are declared in the Old Testament text, methodically moving through the various covenants, or guarantees, made leading up to and including the New Covenant promise of the New Testament. Wright equates the covenants of the Old Testament to that of tributaries, which all feed into a main large stream, and that the life of Jesus must be viewed in light of all the previous covenants. According to Wright, the New Testament writers based their knowledge of Jesus and His ministry upon already known Hebrew scriptures, showing that the Old Testament "declared the promise which Jesus fulfilled." (102)
Section three focuses on identifying Jesus as son. In this section Wight looks at the relationship the New Testament has with Jesus and compares that to the family relationship that Israel has to God (118). Expressed in the father-son relationship, the comparison made is shown through the attitude of God, and the expectations of God, towards the Israelites, and broken down from a national level to a personal level. (122)
As Wright moves through the main portions of his text into section four, the discussion turns to the mission of Jesus, the expectations of the Jews at the time of His ministry, and how His mission is related to the Old Testament. Relying heavily on the book of Isaiah here, Wright identifies Jesus, the Servant, with the Israelites and with the coming restoration of Israel from captivity (158, 161). The argument continues by pointing out the promise and message of God was to first go to the Jews, then to the Gentiles as Paul stated in Romans. Wright concludes this section with a look at the mission of the church as servant, highlighting the historical abuse of servant-hood by the church that it must now overcome (180).
The fifth and final section examines, in depth, the scriptures and values that Jesus pulled from during His earthly ministry. Wright shows how much Jesus relied on the Old Testament, and the Law, from everything to being tested in the wilderness by Satan to His many parables while teaching others. As Wright systematically walks through the teachings of Jesus he again points out the universal message of salvation is to go out in obedience to God, first to the Jewish nation, and then to the Gentiles, while correlating Jesus' words in the New Testament to that of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. As Wright concludes, he takes a look at Jesus and his use of the book of Psalms and the reign of God. Examples are taken from various Psalms that show reference to Yahweh as king, sitting on the thrown of God, and how God's rule aligns with human life on earth, even in it's current form (243).
Interacting with "Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament"
Wright has taken a complex topic, one that is rarely discussed in the evangelical "New Testament" Church of today, and presented a historical and possibly more complete biblical view of Jesus. As is often the case in the 21st century Church, many fail where Wright has succeeded in conceptualizing a true picture of Jesus portrayed in the Old Testament. Although at times Wright uses large blocks of Old Testament text tied together to describe seemingly less complex conclusions (see 107-116 to conclude Jesus is the Son of God), he provides a valuable resource for the Christian able to consume "solid food" (Hebrews 5:12).
The initial section largely pertaining to the genealogy of Jesus started an important basis for interweaving the life of Christ and the stories of the Old Testament. Something seen as perhaps not stimulating enough for the modern reader, the genealogy is of the utmost importance and provides that direct connection of Jesus to the Old Testament. Wright properly compares and contrasts the less interested Christian, and other concepts he has discovered in areas throughout the Old Testament, as the `Caroling Christians' (8). This premise used to describe our modern day luke-warm Sunday going Christians of our culture today is not only something that Wright brings to light, but he also indirectly charges those current teachers and pastors with the responsibility of connecting Jesus with the Old Testament, and therefore bringing discipleship to the `Caroling Christians', and the Church body.
As Wright moves forward, he often pulls from history and what it offers in teaching and reproof. His look at the inter-testamental period showed how much the Jew of that time depended and relied on scripture (23), later showing that Jesus also relied on the Old Testament text as well, even going as far to point out the obvious, that Jesus didn't even read the New Testament (ix). The author makes the point to show how utterly deficient the modern, or post-modern, Church is in understanding the importance of the Old Testament text in regards to their own faith. While this is most certainly the case today as countless scholars and pastors have pointed out, Wright could have examined this even closer going beyond the preface of the text, although the completed work is a conclusion to this premise. Jesus did not have the New Testament to use and evaluate His own life, as Wright points out, Jesus answered the questions of His own life by using the text of the Old Testament.
As Wright continues into the heavier sections of the book he does not stop challenging his reader to a higher understanding of the complex issues at hand like the differences between a guaranteed promise and it's corresponding fulfillment with the predictions made (68). The extended discussion on the covenants, or international treaties as he properly describes them, is so vital to understanding the Old Testament and how it relates to Jesus, that Wright does well in almost placing a mandate on pastors and teachers to examine these topics in greater detail for the benefit of their own students (78-80). Many full-length scholarly reviews have been completed on Wright's work, most complimenting the ability of Wright to explain a more proper understanding of the relationship between Israel, God, and His Son Jesus, while taking an approach using biblical scholarship rather than systematic theology. Paul Alexander notes that Wright's work can "help us avoid becoming practical Marcionites" by only preaching the Old Testament as an introduction to the New Testament.
Wright presents the Church with an opportunity to bring the Old Testament back into the fold of Sunday morning worship. Jesus Himself relied on the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God, which is often put aside in the more modern form of evangelism. Although possibly repetitive at times, Wright's arguments are presented in a clear and rationale manner and provide a concise correlation between the Jesus of the New Testament and the God of the Old Testament. A thorough examination of this book, and perhaps Wright's other two books as well, would not only benefit the reader but those people the reader currently leads in faith.
Alexander, Paul. "Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament." IX Marks. September 2008. [...] (accessed June 25, 2010).
Murray, David P. "Jesus never read the New Testament." The Gospel Coalition. April 21, 2010. [...] (accessed June 25, 2010).
Wright, Christopher J. H. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.
 Brian Tubbs, "Jesus and the Old Testament: A Review of Christopher J.H. Wright's Book on Jesus in the OT." Suite101, May 11 2007, [...] (accessed June 25, 2010).
 David P. Murray, "Jesus never read the New Testament," The Gospel Coalition, April 21, 2010, [...] (accessed June 25, 2010).
 Tubbs, 2007.
 Paul Alexander, "Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament," IX Marks, September 2008, [...] (accessed June 25, 2010).
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Old and New Testament is bound together through Jesus Christ,
Dr. Wright has gleaned a large amount of material from the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, Wright has identified the first seventeen versus as the key to understanding the authentic Jesus Christ. Even though using the book of Matthew as the framework for the study of Jesus is not uncommon, Wright may have done so with a more thorough and interconnected analysis. It is remarkable that Wright presents as much theology and salvation-history as he does with a two hundred and fifty-two page book!
Christopher J.H. Wright's, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament is the vehicle that transports the reader to a deeper understanding of God's ultimate plan for the redemption of mankind. The final destination is the understanding that:
1. Without considering the Old Testament we cannot fully comprehend the historical Jesus.
2. The Promises of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are fulfilled with Jesus Christ.
3. Salvation-history is completed through Jesus.
4. The Old and New Testament is bound together through Jesus Christ.
The author claims that if God's final work of redemption is accomplished through Jesus Christ's Crucifixion then the Gospel must include the exodus model of liberation, the sacrificial model for atonement, and the restoration model brought about because of God's grace. Christopher Wright notes that the New Testament does indeed include these elements. Throughout the book Wright does a competent job of unpacking each of these models, he explains how each model has implications that are related to the events presented in the New Testament which are associated with Jesus Christ. Wright points out how influential the Book of Leviticus was to Jesus. In many ways, the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus can be viewed as the ethical standard for the New Testament.
An interesting theme that is brought out in this book is how Israel was chosen and ordained by God to be a missionary nation for all other nations of the world.God purposely placed Israel in the center of the Ancient Near East surrounded by multiple ancient Near Eastern world powers. By doing so, Israel was forced to depend on and trust the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to survive. Israel's missionary purpose seems to be an area that is less well known to the "average" Christian.
A book such as Wrights' has considerable utility in bringing a greater knowledge of Old Testament theology, and the interconnectedness that Jesus has with the salvation-history of Israel to the reader. Wright points out several lesser known facts about Jesus, for example, Wright addresses that Jesus had Gentile ancestors and explains why this is significant. Many Christians may not know this about Jesus' genealogy.
After reading Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, the reader will not only gain an awareness of the salvation-history, which reaches fulfillment in the Crucifixion of Jesus, but also gain a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Christopher J.H. Wright accomplishes his goal of explaining why we should "face "up to the distinctive claims of the Hebrew text to gain a valid understanding of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. This book is ideal for a wide spectrum of readers, from scholar to the person that seeks a deeper understanding of Jesus.
Dr. Christopher J.H. Wright, in his book Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, has produced an effective book that draws the Old and New Testament together. He has done an excellent job pointing out that Jesus is the lynch pin of this necessary merging. Further, this book is a rapid vehicle in presenting the story of salvation-history, and for reaching the final destination - Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament,
This book held my attention from the preface to the last page. It was my own personal journey through the Old Testament. It definitely added new depths to my understanding of and love for Jesus. It helped me to gain a greater appreciation for the Old Testament. Too often we shun the Old Testament and dive directly into the New Testament. But it was the only Bible that Jesus had. It was the Psalms that he sang and the stories that he read. As Jesus studied the Old Testament, it shaped his values and his culture. In reading the Old Testatment, he found his identity and mission. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of the Messiah and the New Testament's King of King for eternity. This book gave me a clearer understanding of the Jewish laws and the covenant of redemption that God made with Israel, which ultimately included all nations then and in the future, and that includes me.
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Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set) by Christopher J. H. Wright (Paperback - March 8, 1995)