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“Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright

Introduction

Dr. Christopher J.H. Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament is a complete analysis of the roles of prophets and law had in Jesus’ experiences with self-reflection, and thus enable the reader to gain an enhanced understanding of Jesus Christ. Dr. Wright himself is an esteemed scholar who has dedicated significant time to studying the Old Testament, while he is also the International Ministries Director of the Langham Partnership International. His views are fully evident in his writing, and one of his major convictions is that God the Father used every aspect of Israel’s history as recorded in the Holy Bible to reveal or express the values, mission, and basic identity of Jesus Christ. Wright’s book is a very conceptualized and indefinitely deep journey through the mysticism and symbolism of the ancient world.

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The connections between Israel and Jesus Christ are outlined, analyzed, and explained for the reader to understand and meditate upon. While Wright does not prove that the Hebrew records had a greater influence on Christ’s understanding of himself than his own divinity had, he does bring up some interesting points that allow the reader to wonder how large the plan for Jesus Christ really was, and how far the divine workings were integrated into the immediate surroundings in ways not previously considered on a large scale. [1] Wright’s beliefs are unconventional to the point that they seem to undermine popular Christian, beliefs, however, and this book contains some beliefs and expressions which have likely been simply dismissed by authorities on the subject. Ultimately, while Wright is not apparently challenged by the notion of combining humanity with divinity into one person with regards to the limits of each through Jesus Christ, Wright also does not seem to illustrate how Jesus was imbued with any characteristics of God whatsoever.

Brief Summary

Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament spans five chapters, and strangely does not include either a conclusion or an introduction. Each chapter contains a large variety of passages from the Old Testament as well as a fairly large variety of references to the Holy Gospels, while essentially expressing the number of connections between the two separate books. The book is much like other books which have attempted to do so in the past, to the point where anyone who has read such a book can essentially predict where Wright is going as the book moves forward. Wright does not, however, try to show where Jesus might exist in each Old Testament book nor in most of the stories within the books. Wright actually mentions how he finds these methods of finding Jesus in the Old Testament is less desirable while stating that typology is not the way to draw deductions from the Old Testament for itself but rather is a way to assist the reader to understand Christ from the Old Testament’s perspective. Dr. Phillips Long, an acquaintance of Wright, is quoted on the back cover expressing that the book itself is not simply a survey of Old Testament passages taken out of context nor is the book an attempt to find Christ everywhere in the Old Testament with outrageous interpreting. [2]

One of Wrights’s initial efforts is showing how Matthew intentionally began his book with seventeen verses of people’s names leading from Abraham and following through David while eventually ending at Jesus. Wright stresses “in Jewish society genealogies were an important way of establishing your right to belong within the community of God’s people” [3] Following this, Wright continues by discussing Israel’s history from the time near Abraham. The book does not accept the notion that the Old Testament has little to no value because it does not describe the life of Jesus or his keeping his word with God. Rather, Wright focuses on a two-fold benefit principle that the Hebrew Bible leads to a better understanding of the Bible overall. The concept that Christ’s life is only the sequential fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy is also not accepted. Wright says it is a mistake to claim Matthew’s writing is to express this fulfillment.

Most of the book discusses how God used the Hebrew Bible to show Jesus’ mission, values, and basic identity. The third chapter of the book ends in claiming the Old Testament gives a model that Jesus comprehended his own identity while further revealing to him a sense of self-awareness as the son of God, his father. Following this, the last two chapters of the book show how the Hebrew Bible impacted Jesus’ perception of his life mission and the values which he should hold. Jesus with regards to his roles as the Servant of Israel, the Messiah, and the Son of Man are all discussed, while Wright expresses his belief that Jesus looked to the words of Moses for inspiration in finding himself.

Critical Interaction

Wright writes from the viewpoint that the Hebrew Bible plays such a key role in Jesus’ understanding of himself that he may not have otherwise been able to do this on his own. This is essentially the weakest argument of Wright’s expressions, and unfortunately for both him and the reader, this is a major underlying theme throughout the entire book. The concept of Jesus as a divine figure does not seem to influence Wright’s stance on this subject. In one section, Wright claims that the servant pattern shown in Isaiah has a significant effect on Jesus. However, it is not clear whether Wright is suggesting that the first time Jesus read from Leviticus 19 as a child it helped to shape him or that Jesus read it at some point and it assisted him to develop what he would be teaching. This issue in the book is especially challenging as man does not, and maybe cannot, comprehend how both divine and human aspects were able to simultaneously exist through Jesus. Wright does not offer an explanation as to how Christ understood the thoughts of man but instead was required to read the Torah to be influenced by the contents within. Wright also seems to disregard the fact that the child being raised in the house of a carpenter was the Son of God from the beginning with his birth. Wright also never explains why he does not so much as even briefly mention or make any reference whatsoever to either divine elements or divine influence.

Other slight contradictions and missing pieces are evident as the book continues. For example, Wright states that the servant pattern as described within the book of Isaiah ultimately had one of the deepest influential effects on Christ. However, it is not clear if Wright is simply implying that the first time Jesus read from Leviticus 19 as a young child that it had an effect on him, or if he is saying that Leviticus 19 was key in the formation of what Jesus would be preaching at a later point in his life. Wright makes many references to the importance of Jesus’ baptism through John the Baptist while considering it to be a peak occurrence compared to other events near the time frame. Wright implies that Christ did not have full and positive confirmation of his real identity or mission from God until he was nearly thirty years old.

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Of course, as Christ would be killed only a few years beyond this before ascending into heaven, this would mean Wright is suggesting also that only a few years of Christ’s life were spent on a direct mission from God while the others were simply personal reflection and experimentation. While Wright says that Jesus merely accepted John’s baptism rather than requiring it, while both explaining how Jesus insisted on the baptism and not going into detail on how the baptism was simply accepted. Wright also does not address how the child Christ speaks on adult levels at a young age with officials. While many stories imply Jesus was already on a mission, Wright’s claim that another eighteen years and a direct conversation with God took place before a mission on par with divinity would occur. Other works in similar areas would strongly disagree with Wright in this area as it is a relatively common belief that Jesus always knew who he was, who his father was, and why he existed. This view would also imply that Christ did not need the Hebrew Bible to show him anything with regards to himself or his mission.

Despite Wright’s unconventional stance with regards to Christ’s identity, evolution, and divinity, Wright takes both Christianity and the relevant Jewish roots (apparently) quite seriously. Wright argues Israel’s importance in God’s plan and the development of mankind, perhaps best in passage “eschatological future hope of Israel saw their own history ultimately flowing into the universal history of the nations, in order that the nations should be granted salvation and inclusion within the people of God.”[4]. While some philosophers in this area suggest God sort of put Israel down and picked up Jesus during the time of his life, Wright never so much as implies this as he stresses the significance of Israel throughout the book. While Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament is a solid addition to academic effort towards the Holy Bible, it is undoubtedly not a piece that authorities will regard as an essential read for novices on such topics.

The strong points of this book show that there is value in analyzing the Old Testament to better understand the Holy Bible as a whole. Some pastors as religious officials have reviewed this book in a less formal manner, and essentially have the same opinions as emphasized here however they tend to focus more on Jewish principles rather than the Christian ones for some reason. Perhaps they would like to believe the book must have some serious value, rather than a mundane or worse level of value. As far as Christianity is concerned, the overall value of the book is drastically limited by the lack of acknowledgment of divinity and the lack of separation between Israel and the church.

Followers of the Christian religion who are stubborn in their comprehension of Jesus and thus fail to see him in any unique light have the most to gain from Wright’s book. Other potential gainers include anyone seeking to make more integral connections between the Old and New Testaments. According to Wright “the full significance of the Old Testament story in the light of where it leads – the climactic achievement of Christ; and on the other hand, we are able to appreciate the full dimensions of what God did through Christ in the light of his historical declarations and demonstrations of intent in the Old Testament”[5] More dedicated researchers and philosophers concerned with the Jesus aspects only likely have little to gain from the book, while having a serious potential to strongly disagree with it or criticizing its value. Pastors and instructors will see value in the Hebrew history, and perhaps the discussion of Matthew or other gospels.

Conclusion

Wright’s subject knowledge of the Old Testament combined with his ability to relate this to other areas is what makes this book special and useful to any number of historians or religious theologians. In such areas, Wright is quite thorough while he also gives rather deep instruction for further research on such topics. Wright also seemingly spent the effort some Christians would have liked to have seen go into discussion and elaboration with regards to divinity and Christ’s sense of knowing his own mission instead of on an argument to persuade the Jews that Jesus really was acting according to the said conditions for the Messiah.

The author has such diverse background that it is difficult to say if he falls into any specific category whether Calvinist or other. The author’s perceptions likely conflict with each other, let alone with others, thus raising the questions of the areas neglected as mentioned earlier. Readers will wonder what Wright’s views of such areas are, and seemingly will never be answered. Alas, as Wright indeed neglected such significant areas while making some philosophical contradictions, and all the while not offering to reason for any of this, the value of the book is lowered significantly. While this book had the potential to be seriously great, pure neglect and lack of consideration for some areas and leaving many readers hanging will also mean the less than positive opinions of many readers as well.

References

Harris, S. “A Theological Book Critique of Knowing Jesus Though the Old Testament.” Proclaiming Christ through the 21st Century. 2008.

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Tubbs, B. (2007). “Jesus and the Old Testament: A Review of Christopher J.H. Wright’s Book on Jesus in the OT.”

Wright, Christopher. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. InterVarsity Press, 1995.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 2). “Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/knowing-jesus-through-the-old-testament-by-christopher-j-h-wright/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 2). “Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright. https://studycorgi.com/knowing-jesus-through-the-old-testament-by-christopher-j-h-wright/

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"“Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright." StudyCorgi, 2 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/knowing-jesus-through-the-old-testament-by-christopher-j-h-wright/.

1. StudyCorgi. "“Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright." November 2, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/knowing-jesus-through-the-old-testament-by-christopher-j-h-wright/.


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StudyCorgi. "“Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright." November 2, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/knowing-jesus-through-the-old-testament-by-christopher-j-h-wright/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "“Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright." November 2, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/knowing-jesus-through-the-old-testament-by-christopher-j-h-wright/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) '“Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” by Christopher J.H. Wright'. 2 November.

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