N. T. Wright on the Resurrection

The thesis is that the “Easter belief” of the early Christians (a) refers intentionally to a literal, physical (not merely spiritual) raising of Jesus from the dead, and (b) the mode and breadth of this belief can only be explained on the hypothesis that that is what actually happened. The thesis is pursued in specific and detailed interaction with the Leben Jesu literature, most of which denies the resurrection. The characteristic emphasis that we would expect from Wright is setting the stage by outlining the belief systems of “2nd temple judaism,” not excluding mention of the surrounding pagan cultures. The presentation of the biblical material is unique in presenting Paul first and only later the gospels.

The question of significance is relegated to a short chapter at the end of the book. The question is crucial: for, interpreted in terms of a non-Christian world-view, neither the resurrection of Jesus Christ nor any other “brute fact” implies the truth of Christianity, as Dr. Bahnsen pointed out repeatedly. But after a bit of confusing discussion of sense and referent (that evinces a third- or fourth-hand descent from Frege), Wright answers also this question in terms of the belief of those of the time, highlighting three imputed significations of the resurrection. These are discussed correlatively in the phrase, “resurrection of the son of god [sic].”
1. Jesus is Israel’s Messiah. (726-728)
2. Opportunistically, Jesus is rival to all pretenders to divine sonship, especially the Roman Emperors. (728-731)
3. The resurrection proves the verity of claiming Jesus as Son of the living and true God (731-736).

Thus, the lower-case ‘g’ is vindicated; what is formally merely the claim of the prerogatives of one tribal god against another is, via the resurrection, shown to be the god whose “narrative” includes creation, and power over creation: hence, the real God. This punchline clarifies the unusual title of the book as well.

The book could basically be seen as Josh McDowell for pointy-headed seminary types. It’s main usefulness would be apologetic, addressed to biblically literate non-Christians, especially those that dominate the mainline seminaries and graduate schools (though I doubt N. T. Wright would concede to saying it that way).

However, only a subset of those that already believe in the resurrection will, I suspect, actually study this 800 page tome, namely: professors at conservative seminaries and their captive students.

For, the issue of significance runs deeper than Wright suspects. That “three things” can be listed that the first generation Christians probably intended to be implied by their belief is merely of academic interest unless existentially appropriated. And noticeably absent in this connection is any reference whatsoever to the Protestant view of the resurrection as primarily soteric. For Wright, union with Christ in his resurrection, by faith alone, by which Christ’s righteousness is imputed, thus vouchsafing personal salvation, is ignored; and elsewhere, explicitly denied. The resurrection of Christ is finally merely an “issue” that academic gentlemen can discuss over their tea and crumpets, before proceeding to the auditorium to view the movie of the week. Wright’s tame and non-life-changing “take” on the question is welcome as one more historical novelty to chit-chat about.

The natural man will far sooner believe that a dead person came to life, than that an imputed, alien righteousness, to which he contributes nothing, is necessary for his eternal salvation.

In this connection, it is also disturbing, especially in view of the menagerie of theological apes that populate the index, to find that “our guys” are completely ignored: Ridderbos and Gaffin, to name just two.

Imagine an 800 page book on the resurrection of Christ that does not mention Gaffin’s work! Even the shroud of Turin gets a passing mention!

It illustrates Thomas Sowell’s insight, that everyone, no matter where he is on the spectrum, wants someone further to the right to castigate or ignore. There seems to be a natural leftward face of one’s sympathetic pleading and attempts at persuasion. Theonomists get the same cold shoulder from Westminster that Westminster gets from the likes of N. T. Wright. But the poor heavy-laden Westminster students! that are going to have to slug through Wright because he is a “serious thinker” that behooves “careful interaction” with! If they don’t burn out over it, I guess nothing will be lost except time.


Nicholas Thomas Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis; Fortress 2003). Lib of Cong. BS2398.W75 1992

5 thoughts on “N. T. Wright on the Resurrection

  1. “Union with Christ in His resurrection, by faith alone, by which Christ’s righteousness is imputed, thus vouchsafing personal salvation….” This statement should be memorized by every believer. It is too bad so many of our Reformed Pastors don’t see the necessity of bringing this out with great clarity every time they preached. If they would, our eeny weeny Reformed churches would start growing and we might even see some real competition with the mega churches, not to mention impacting the culture so as to actually CHANGE it! (For God’s Kingdom)

  2. Sorry, I don’t understand. I would not have thought of saying that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by being united to Christ in His resurrection, but by being justified by His shed blood. Am I missing something?

  3. Eliza — your statement is correct. But union with Christ is the mode by which his benefits, including justification, are appropriated. The place of the resurrection in that process is central, as Gaffin has shown. Your statement is better than mine when the focus is on justification exclusively, but I was giving a broader (more blurry?) focus to connect the point to the glaring failure of Wright’s book.

  4. Easter is garbage. What’s needed is a dose of reality and not blindly following what’s proported to be all the public preacher’s spewing of Christianty. This includes “Jesus”, “God” etc. Easter is so blantantly obvious. This is for the “good” Christians (word in question also). Not the one’s that come in via mass media. So many wolves invited in so few sheep to chew on. Ask yourself if Passover is no where near easter. Why do I celebrate easter? Yessuah died and the rising at passover. Go look it up it falls no where near easter. Spring solctace is easter the celebration of many false Gods. Please no stupid explanations. It’s sick. It’s blantant. Why follow anyone that reccmmends it. Further more if they recommend this how many other things will they give you or particpate in? I say all of them.

    Now the wolves are going to jump in and argue this. I don’t care if I don’t respond no point aruguing with fools.

  5. “Charles” — first, you are obviously more than one person, since some of your posts are completely illiterate, one has been linguistically flawless, and others (like this one) are in the middle, with enough full sentences to follow the drift, but punctuated with enough misspellings and solecisms to make one wonder.

    Likewise, I don’t know if “Committee Charles” is a group of kikes trying to hijack the discussion, or some 14-year-old “thundering sons of Wotan” trying to make kikes look more ridiculous than they already are.

    But in either case, your mindless attacks will not be permitted anymore; they are simply not helpful. If you have questions about a post, ask them; if factual corrections, make them; if rebuttals to arguments, do so. But these eructations show no connection to the posts at all, or evince an inability to read intelligently. For example, when establishment scholars like Wright speak about “Easter belief,” they are not talking about the details of a calendar holiday, but are referring to the historical day of the resurrection. This should have been obvious from the context, even if you are not well-read. Calling anyone that would engage you in argument a fool or wolf adds nothing except to cast doubt on your integrity as well as intelligence.

    This is your only warning, “Committee Charles.” Next offense, you will be added to the spam list.

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