27 May 2007

The Resurrection of the Son of God: A Review of N.T. Wright

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Christian hope, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Kingdom, N.T. Wright

A Book Review: N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press, 2003). 817 pp.

A little over two weeks ago I found myself in Barnes & Nobles with Rachael looking for some book on dragons (Eragon or Eldest?). Somehow I ended up in the religion section of the store and N. T Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God caught my eye. I had wanted this book for the last couple of years but never got around to ordering it from Amazon, but now it was in front of me. So I picked it up and began to read through a few pages and could not put it down. So after shelling out 39 dollars (as I recall) I came for dragons and left with Wright. Being home alone in the evening has left me with a lot of quiet time for reading into the wee hours of the night. I finished all 738 pages of text Thursday night.


Who is N.T. Wright?

My first encounter with “Tom Wright” was as a student at IBC when one of our teachers, Stephen Broyles, assigned reading from a book called The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986. Wright had recently updated the classic originally written by Stephen Neill. But I did not know who he was and honestly he had not attained the stature he has today. In the early 1990s I ran into him again in his excellent book The Climax of Covenant in Paul in which he really began to make a name for himself.

Today, without a doubt, “Tom Wright” is the most influential New Testament scholar on the planet. He has taught at McGill University, Cambridge and Oxford. Wright has published something like 40 books and over 120 peer reviewed academic articles. In the face of the Jesus Seminar hoopla (he is takes Burton Mack, John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg on and bests them soundly) Wright began work on a monumental six book series “Christian Origins and the Question of God.” The first volume of that series, The New Testament and the People of God is already considered a classic … and if there was one book I could force every Church of Christ preacher to read and digest it would be NTPG. This book caused not a ripple in NT studies but something on the order of a Tsunami. As surely as Rudolf Bultmann basically set the agenda for NT studies (either “liberal” or “conservative”) for much of the 20th century so Wright has done so at the beginning of the 21st.

N. T. Wright is more than an incredible scholar. He is a lover and disciple of Jesus the Christ. I had the privilege of hearing Wright speak in person while in Milwaukee and his concern for spiritual formation and Christian discipleship is plainly evident. But he is also a genuinely “approachable” person. I was impressed … and I am not easily impressed. I respect his work so much that I have a link on my blog to a website dedicated to his writings.

Wright’s love for the church finds expression in his not so new (now) role as Bishop of Durham. I have listened to and read many of his sermons and he does better than many who are far less informed in their “scholarship.” Recently Wright wrote a book called “Simply Christian” that has been hailed as the new “Mere Christianity.” Fellow blogger Bob Bliss has posted a review of that work on his blog in the last couple of days,

The Resurrection of the Son of God

This book won the Association of Theological Booksellers “Book of the Year” award in 2003 and it deserves that honor. I wish I had read this book before I started my series on “Heaven.” The book is divided into three parts with a total of 19 chapters.

Part I is called “Setting the Scene” and in two hundred pages that surveys the Jewish and Greco-Roman context of Jesus and the early church is explored in depth. Wright’s mastery of the primary sources of the ancient world is phenomenal. This man’s knowledge is incredibly broad but it is also deep. Do not let the word “depth” scare you away. Wright is hardly a difficult person to read. Martin Heidegger is hard to read. Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans is difficult to read. Wright is deceptively simple (kind of like a Gospel writer). One of the most stimulating parts was he exposition of the Wisdom of Solomon that I just ate up. He devotes a full two hundred pages in setting the scene, students this is an exercise in historical context. He concludes this section with this observation,

We begin by reaffirming the preliminary definition with which we began. ‘Resurrection’, with the various words that were used to for it and the various stories that were told about it, was never simply a way of speaking about ‘life after death . . . Resurrection was, more specifically, not the redefinition or redescription of death, a way of giving a positive interpretation … but the reversal or undoing or defeat of death, restoring to some kind of bodily life those who had already passed through that first stage. It belonged with a strong doctrine of Israel’s god as the good creator of the physical world. It was the affirmation of that which the pagan world denied” (p. 201)

This is an important point for Wright. He believes it is imperative to nail down as best we can what the first century folks meant by the word. I happen to agree with that methodology and anyone who has ever had a discussion about the meaning of baptizo does so as well … even if we are not consistent in applying that method.

In the next section Wright explores Paul (he devotes a full 50 pages to the exposition of 1 Corinthians 15 alone), the early Gospel traditions (not the resurrection narratives per se at this stage of the book), then he makes the interesting move to look at what the early Church believed about the resurrection.Here he spends another hundred or so pages looking at the Ignatius, Polycarp, Athenagoras, New Testament apocryphal writings, he even looks in the earliest Christian writings in Syriac.Then he explores key Gnostic texts and demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that there is a radical difference in what NT writers affirmed and the “orthodox” writers affirmed and what the Gnostics did.

Finally Wright gets to the Resurrection Narratives. Wright’s method here is simply good critical scholarship. He is after two of the most fundamental questions that can be asked at this point in the ball game: 1) What exactly is it that the early Christians believed about the “resurrection;” and 2) WHY did they believe it? Why did the early Christians hold onto a belief that, as he shows clearly and convincingly, was so at odds with the culture … when the Gnostics showed that it was theoretically possible to affirm some kind of faith in Jesus without affirming a monstrous doctrine like the resurrection of the body.Further Wright asks how the affirmations of “Messiah” and “Lord” could have survived in early Christianity.The answer to these questions is that God did for Jesus of Nazareth what the Jews had believed about the word “resurrection!”The Creator God of Israel (a theme vital to the early post-Apostolic Christian writers) entered into history and reversed the verdict that Jesus was a fraud.

In my view The Resurrection of the Son of God is not simply a book that will exercise your brain, it is not simply a book that will open up the heart of the New Testament in ways that many of us never imagined possible but this is a book that when you are done reading it you will find that your faith has grown muscular and confident.

I am waiting (patiently?) for volume four of Wright’s series to come out. Wright has changed the way I read the Bible. I commend this book to your as one of the truly monumental books in print. In a sea of fluff passed off as insight this book shows that loving the Lord with your mind does not imply a failure to love him with your heart.


Bobby Valentine

26 Responses to “The Resurrection of the Son of God: A Review of N.T. Wright”

  1. ben overby Says:


    I read The Resurrection of the Son of God as soon as it hit print. I wasn’t disappointed. Wright always documents his source material to the hilt, which allowed me to dig deep, deep into the subject. I was convinced, in the end, that he is absolutely Wright. Many Christians, though believing in life after death, do not affirm the resurrection! He leaves no stone unturned, and provides compelling exegesis for every scripture touching on the resurrection.

    Simply Christian is his most popular work, but I think TRSOG is his most important.


  2. ben overby Says:

    oops, I meant to say that he’s absoutely “right.” Obviously, he’s Wright (regardless of whether he’s right or not). Very confusing. : )

  3. Bob Bliss Says:

    Bobby, contain yourself! 🙂 Seriously, thanks for the review. I am now looking forward to reading this book with greater anticipation.

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Ben I thought it was a clever play on words.

    I have read at least a dozen Wright books: Climax of Covenant; NT&People of God; Jesus & the Victory of God; Who is Jesus; the Challenge of Jesus; Following Jesus (Sermons); Crown & Fire (Sermons); The Lord & His Prayer (sermons); The Last Word; The Meaning of Jesus; Judas and the Gospel of Jesus; a couple volumes of his New Testament for “Everyone” and Simply Christian (I am probably leaving something out) and now Resurrection. I have never been disappointed in a Wright book. A couple of his more popular works I was pleading for MORE …

    Bob I do need to learn self control don’t I. I have been working on it and I go to self control anonymous but I keep falling of the wagon, 🙂

    You will be blessed by reading this book.

    Have a blessed Pentecost … Today is Pentecost btw and my sermon is Act 2.

    Bobby Valentine

  5. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Welcome to the blog. Having visited your blog I know we are coming at things from radically different directions.

    You are right about some things and very wrong about others. You are correct that it would appear that some (not all by any means) of the Corinthian “Jesus-worshippers” did not believe that a “corpse” would come out of the ground. This is true. Some, in common with prevailing Greek ideas, embraced some kind of “spiritual” salvation but not a bodily resurrection.

    That was and is the crux of the controversy isn’t it!!

    It is not the case that Paul thought worms ate the body of Jesus or that it decayed in the ground. First Corinthians 15 as a whole affirms Paul’s faith in the raised Christ. Paul ties our own resurrection to that of Jesus. We will be like the resurrected Christ … Paul I suppose could have been wrong.

    But I don’t believe he was.

    BTW I read Richard Dawkins book The God Delusion and found him to be just about as offensive as any right wing fundamentalist KJV only preacher.

    Thanks for coming by.

    Bobby Valentine



    Thanks for the review. You are far more eloquent than me, and I think you did a good job of it. You are not out of control, in my opinion! 🙂

    As you know, I am a Wright enthusiast, and have read nearly all his books. This one included. I too cannot say enough about how Wright has changed my reading of the Bible. He is the English Historian who comes to all those German Philosophical Theologians of the last 3 or 4 generations and corrects them profoundly. He brings the first century alive with great intensity. He sets the NT on the stage of the OT where suddenly the drama makes sense! I hate to put the mere man on such a pedestal, but I cannot imagine a life long faith without Wright’s help. Seriously.

    I think you are absolutely Wright to suggest reading this book to EVERY CoC preacher! I second the motion! I hope ever preacher period will read it. It is necessary, and you won’t be a player in the next generation without doing business with Wright, that is my prediction.

    And lastly, the Wright puns are funny, but I have found a few websites that express Wright pun fatigue. Beware. All the Wright jokes have been told and retold abundantly. But, I still like them. 🙂

    Thanks for this review. I enjoyed it.

    And, BTW, miss you around MG…


    Jesus is Lord!

  7. Matt Says:

    Whenever I want to get a book I go to the book store and look at it and then I go to this website and find it and buy it there. Do one search and you will never buy books the same again.


    Thanks for the review.

  8. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    I think your reading of Paul is greatly mistaken … in fact I think it is simply wrong.

    Bobby Valentine

  9. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    I think it’s safe to say that Wright’s book on the Resurrection of Jesus has replaced what used to be the contemporary standard on the subject, “Jesus–God and Man” by W. Pannenberg. Great post on a great subject, Bobby.

    It seems to me that the “pastoral” question is, What are the best ways to help people in the pew to have the same sort of revolution in thought that preacher types have when they read Wright? I’m thinking especially about notions of resurrection, Jesus’ and ours. When I first read Pannenberg, I realized that how I then regarded my present and future state was so very different from what I had thought and assumed before. If I started to talk about it with other believers, it was as though I was speaking Chinese. Note to self: must get a copy of “Simply Christian.”

  10. laymond Says:

    steven, I am glad to see someone bring up 2 Cor:5:1 if you add on the next 9 vs it becomes hard to argue against.

  11. Matt Says:

    Frank, what about Raymond Brown’s work?

  12. Frank Bellizzi Says:

    Matt, I never read the R. Brown book on the Resurrection. What did you think of it? My guess is that it’s a little more metaphysical and less “from below” than someone like Pannenberg or Wright?

  13. Falantedios Says:

    No it doesn’t, Laymond.

    You’re still using Webster to define “destroy” and trying to fit Paul’s argument into that.

    Try letting the Bible define the words, and fit YOUR understanding into that.

    Biblically speaking, “Destroy” does not always intimate “cease to exist.” The world was destroyed by the Noahic flood, but it did not “cease to exist.”


  14. Steven Carr Says:

    And Jerusalem was not ‘destroyed’ in AD 70.

    It was merely transformed.

  15. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    At one time folks believed and argued that it was impossible for a triangle to have more than 180 degrees. It was impossible.

    Then a brilliant man came along and said that was not the case because some space is curved. So in non-Euclidian geometry … the world of contemporary physics it is possible to have a triangle with more than 180 degrees and still be a triangle.

    If you and I can understand this, with a little teaching and using the CORRECT rules for reading (putting something in context) then you surely can grasp how “destroy” does not always mean annihilate. It is easier to grasp than Quantum Mechanics by a long way.

    The NT was written in Greek, not English. Just like the Illiad or the Odyssey or Plato’s dialogues. That being the case one needs to look at the Greek to determine what these authors meant. And it is not the case the the word “destroy” means to disintegrate or disappear or cease to exist. The same word “destroy” occurs in Peter’s description of Noah’s flood. The world was “destroyed” but it did not cease to exist.

    So learning to use the proper rules in reading is simply being fair to a given author … I think that is a good rule for all. Believers and nonbelievers … don’t you.

    So you see we do live in a world were destroy does not mean “no more” and triangles can indeed be more than 180 degrees. What a wonderful world God created.

    Bobby Valentine

  16. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Read Romans 8.23 Steven.

    Bobby Valentine

  17. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Oh, and Steven, when the world was “destroyed” did you not notice that animals did indeed die. Probably by the millions. And all the people outside the ark died too.

    But did you also notice that the fish did not die. Did you notice that there was a mountain left after the “destruction” for the ark to rest upon. Did you notice that there was blue skies and a rainbow and trees to produce a leaf … all after the “destruction” of the world. Clearly the world did not cease to exist even though it was destroyed.

    Now have you also noticed that in 2 Peter 3 that Peter parallels (a good literary device that any literary lover recognizes) the eschatological destruction with that of Noah. That means there are some keys in the one to understand the other. There will be a “flood” for sure, not water but of fire. And all those who are outside of the ark … not lovers of Jesus … will be dealt with … according to 2 Peter. But the world that emerged in Genesis 9 was a “new earth” … made clean and fresh for a new start. Peter says the world will be made “new” again and will be good for a fresh start.

    Then Peter asks the great question: What kind of people ought we be in light of this …

    Bobby Valentine

  18. Bob Bliss Says:

    Bobby, excellent analysis of 2Peter 3. I think I understand it even better now. I’ve always had a doubt in my mind that Peter was talking about the total annihilation of the earth (i.e. after the fire it ceased to exist) but didn’t quite know how to go about proving it. Although I did know to point out that Peter shows that after the flood there was a new earth which meant that the idea of the world ceasing to exist was not in Peter’s mind when writing these words. Of course, Jim McGuiggan believes that Peter is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. We will have to discuss the differing interpretations sometime. Thanks for the new understanding.

  19. Jim Says:

    Very good post on a great scholar, a good writer, and an important thinker today. I have heard Wright on several occasions at Baylor and have not been disappointed.

  20. Steven Carr Says:

    ‘Clearly the world did not cease to exist even though it was destroyed.’

    And I’m sure that when Paul spoke of the earthly tent being ‘destroyed’, he assumed that bodies eaten by fish, or burned to smoke and ashes still existed.

  21. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    It was not only the fish that survived. There were animals by the thousands, birds, fish, trees and probably some bugs … rats, mice and the whole nine yards. Far more than fishies.

    I think Romans is not only fairly clear it is crystal clear. Romans 8.11 … your “mortal” bodies, vv. 19ff … creation itself will be redeemed, etc.

    Bobby Valentine

  22. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Steven I have written on Romans 8.11 earlier on this very blog. Just look down a couple of posts. But Romans 8.11 has everything to do with the resurrection.

    I am so glad that one with so little faith has so much interest in the scriptures.

    Bobby Valentine

  23. Matthew Says:

    Thanks for the review. Personally love reading and giving new ideas on books to read. Check out

  24. Matthew Says:

    Hey, was that International Bible College in Florence. If so, cool.

  25. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    It was.

    Bobby V

  26. Zack Says:

    I happened across your website today and noticed you discussed N. T. Wright. You may be interested to know that we at Logos Bible Software are publishing an electronic edition Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. You can visit its Pre-Pub product page here: http://www.logos.com/products/prepub/details/3101 . The Logos edition will be fully searchable, and all references and footnotes will operate as hotspots, immediately presenting the cited information whenever the cursor rolls over them. All this and more make this esteemed work even more useful for study. And you can help us see this product get the attention it deserves! Contact me for more info: zrock [at] logos [dot] com.

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