N. T. Wright on Jesus

Darrell L. Bock's picture

I often am asked about the work and views of N. T. Wright. Whether it is on Paul or Christianity in general, Jesus, or the resurrection, this British scholar has made his mark in the public square. What is hard for people is to take the time to read him, since much of what he has written appears in tomes of significant size.

Since he tends to say some things differently, people often give him a hard time without knowing why other than it is different. So they hear this and that about him and react. That is not the best way to get to know someone and their views.

This is why I am pleased to note his recent book, Simply Jesus. Here in a relatively short space and in simple, clear style, Wright sets forth his views about Jesus. He especially works hard at showing how the kingdom is about God reigning through Jesus. He argues thsi was Jesus' central message (and on this, I think he is correct). He also explains how the gospel is bigger than we often think.

This is a good way to get introduced to his views about Jesus and read about them first hand, rather than merely taking in what others say about him. This book is a good introduction to what Jesus was about. There are spots where I might say it differently or emphasize some points more. But the book is vintage Wright and there is much in it that does explain Jesus' goals well. That does not answer all the questions people ask about what he says in other areas, but this is the place to start because much of what Wright says starts with how he sees Jesus in his first century context.


Thank you for this recommendation.  I've read some of Wright's scholarly papers and have found him somewhat vague on Jesus' self-awareness of His divine nature.  Does Wright address this subject in the new book?

I may not have given N.T. Wright a fair hearing. Since you say he has vlauable insights, I'll take a second look. Thanks for giving advice to us all.



Darrell L. Bock's picture

He is still vague in that he highlights what he thinks the New Testament emphasizes, but does not help us see how we get from what he sees there to the early christological confessions of htre church. The closest he gets to this is at the end of his book on Jesus and the Victory of God. At the very close before the appendices he does begin to address that issue. In this shorter book, he focuses on how the NT emphasizes how Jesus is at the center of God's rule, sharing that authority. He tends to focus on how Jesus functions over an ontological discussion of who Jesus is, which of course was the concern of the creeds. The one remark he does make in the book is that settling on how to articulate who Jesus was (ontologically) took the church some time to sort out.

Is not the biggest controversy with Wright his views on Justification?  I have What Saint Paul really said, but have not read it yet as I'm not theologicially prepared to discern where he differs with my own understanding of the imputed righteousness of Christ. My understanding is that he denies the imputed righteousness of Christ. I've only read Surprised By Hope, which does not touch on that subject.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

As you know, my note was not on Wright and Paul. That discussion is very complicated because of the complexities of first century Judaism and the long theological history of the discussion. There is much in Wright's book, Justification, that is valuable. I do think that 2 Cor 5:21 teaches imputation, but it is hard to find the idea in other Pauline texts (Phil 3:9 may be a second text [Wright doubts it is taught anywhere]). For Paul, union with Christ and the righteousness we gain by drawing on the Spirit of God are more frequently mentioned as important to sanctification and to appreciate about the salvation Christ supplies by faith alone.

Reformed commentaries I've read on Justification and the Westminster Confession teach Romans 4:4-8 as imputed righteousness as well in Paul.  

I didn't intend on changing the subject of your post.  I just haven't heard Wright as being controversial on Jesus, mainly on Justification.  Probably because I see Wright appealed to and associated with Federal Vision theology (though I think their conclusions are drawn from different approaches).

Glad to see you posting again.  I really enjoy your Blog.

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Romans 4:4-8 merely says our faith is credited as righteousness. It does not say exactly how. Being declared innocent through Christ's substitutionary work could be all that is meant here. The reference to our sins being covered in verse 7 points in that direction.

Dr. Bock:

I am sorry for belaboring the point. I am still struggling to get this. Is it incorrect to say that God credits my account with Jesus's righteousness. It is common to hear that a divine exchange happened on the cross: Jesus took our sins upon himself and gave us his righteousness. Is this language correct?

Or, what happened on the cross was only Jesus taking our sins upon himself and God only declaring us justified, but not accounting us with Jesus's righteousness?

I would appreciate it if you kindly help me grasp this whole thing.

Thank you in advance, Dr. Bock!

Darrell L. Bock's picture



I think 2 Cor 5:20-21 does teach imputation, but Paul's emphasis is on the righteousness we gain in life by following God's Spirit and drawing on the provisions we have in union with Christ.

Thank you, Darrell for your integrity in not simply parroting the standard line on imputation, for example in Romans 4:4 ff. when you feel the context doesn't teach it and/or require it. As you know better than most, when one doesn't say what most are inclined to say the way most are inclined to say it and on the bases claimed by most, one opens oneself to defamation. It happens all the time. 

It takes real integrity, maturity and courage to state what you believe to be the truth regardless of whether it makes others happy. 

We need as many more people like you as we can get. 

I do appreciate N. T. Wright's work on the historical Jesus in general. But Im not sure that he does justice to the new testament texts concerning the subject of παρουσία. Being the gentleman that he normally is he does not however misses out on the opportunity to downplay a classical understanding of Jesus' utterance concerning his return and texts like 1 Thess 4:13-17. It seems to me that N. T. Wright do not believe in the second coming of Christ (in its classical sense). He usually filters what I believe to be the primitive worldview of the early church (the three-level-worldview) through his own of views of what apocalyptical language normaly contains (i. e. non-literal).

What's your take on N. T. Wright's view on the subject matter. Sincerely Magnus Nordlund,Sweden.                                                                                                                                  


Darrell L. Bock's picture


Yes, I think he misses it on apocalyptic and eschatological texts like 1 Thess. A read of Acts 1:9-11 should be good enough to answer him that there is something literal going on here.

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