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Christopher Wright's book
In contemporary times, many modern and post-modern Christian churches and denominations focus almost explicitly on deconstructing passages in the New Testament to reinforce the value of Jesus and his effect on Christianity. As such, there has been a dearth of emphasis on the Old Testament and its role in not only facilitating the New Testament, but also in influencing the life and position of Jesus as the Messiah. Christopher Wright, who holds a doctoral degree from Cambridge in Old Testament ethics and has authored a number of books related to the Old Testament's place in Christianity, has written another book that attempts to rectify this oversight. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament focuses on the continuity between both testaments of the Bible to demonstrate their collective impact on Jesus. The Christ did not operate in a vacuum; to the contrary, he was part of a lengthy lineage of prophets and individuals who God established covenants with to establish his will, his land, and his religion. The author attempts to emphasize the value of the Old Testament in influencing Jesus and Christianity as it is known today.
Wright's approach to proving this particular point is decidedly systematic. Approximately the first 50 pages of this work of literature are devoted to contextualizing the Old Testament and establishing its preeminence as a source for the New Testament and Christianity. It was during the Old Testament that the tradition which Christ would eventually continue was first established, most eminently with Abraham. Abraham was the first prophet whom God selected to give birth to the nation of Israel; it was too Abraham that God promised to deliver many children, land, and prosperity. This particular covenant helped to set the stage for the rest of the covenants in the Old Testament, which included God's pacts with David and Noah, among others. Essentially, Wright establishes the fact that Jesus was part of a tradition of Old Testament figures favored by God as the foundation for the premise of the entire book. It is also important to realize that in establishing this groundwork for the rest of the book, Wright is emphasizing the commonalities between Israelites or Jews and Christians. The information about Abraham in particular reinforces the notion that the lineage of these two different religions is the same. In doing so, he is successfully able to convey the sentiment that the Old Testament does not apply simply to Jewish people, but to Christians as well.
In approximately the next 50 pages of the book, the author explains how even though God established a covenant with different representatives (Abraham, David, Jesus and others), it was always the same covenant and was simply using a new vehicle (or person) to further the same goal. This is aspect of the book is vital to the author's argument, since it enables readers to understand that their belief in Jesus is simply an extension of the belief of others in Abraham. Whatever distinctions that people may consider between the Old and the New Testament, between God's affiliation with David, Abraham and Jesus are not important -- all of these individuals simply helped to establish Christianity and, most importantly, the situations and circumstances that would result in the glory of God's son, Jesus. Write explicates the fact that the birth and passion of Christ is the fulfillment of the original promise that God made to both Abraham and David -- a key idea which emphasizes the continuity among these individuals, God's presence in the world, and between the Old and the New Testaments.
In the remainder of the book, the author focuses on various facets in the life of Jesus that demonstrate just how integral the Old Testament was to his maturity and to his gaining the requisite knowledge and understanding of the divinity within him to fulfill his role as the savior of the world. This final portion of the book is perhaps the most convincing for Wright's premises, since he offers key passages in the Bible in which Jesus invokes and studies the Old Testament. Moreover, the wisdom he has attained from these books in the Bible assist him a great deal. The author widely implies that in such a way Jesus is merely fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament by realizing the divinity within himself and ascending as the righteous son of God.
It is quite clear that Wright is merely an evangelist of the Old Testament's importance. Such a statement is not made to belittle his points, but it certainly helps to elucidate them and give the reader the proper context for internalizing the information in this book. Wright's entire premise is to underscore the fact that the Old Testament has value. Moreover, that value is found in the New Testament which serves as a completion to the groundwork that was initially provided in the Old Testament. In attempting to unify these two different sections of the Bible he is also attempting to unify the various religious adherents from God from the Christian and Jewish faiths, by both stressing the fact that the Jewish religion widely discussed in the Old Testament was the precursor to Christianity as well as emphasizing the fact that Jews and their religion were God's initially chosen people.
As such, virtually all of his major assertions are buttressed with Old Testament passages and occurrences that he uses to champion his evangelism of this part of the Bible. Viewpoints supported by New Testament text largely pertain to Jesus's interaction with the Old Testament in the form of lessons and scriptures. When utilizing the former approach, he is perhaps at his best in doing so when he discusses the direct impact of the Old Testament on Jesus himself. It is pivotal to recall that during the life and times of Christ, the New Testament was not written (a point which Wright refers to on more than one occasion) 1. As such, Christ had no other textual, spiritual reference to study and incorporate into his life but the Old Testament. Acknowledging this reality is pivotal to abetting Wright's conviction, because it implies that if the sapience and authority of the Old Testament was good enough to help Jesus, then it certainly should be applied to Christians in contemporary times. The author buttresses this contention by referring to Christ's numerous quoting of scriptures, both in times of peril and in times of peace. When he was tested by Satan, Jesus quoted scriptures that both underscored his since of reserve and steady faith and which served to rebuke the adversary's attempts. He also utilized many Old Testament passages in his ministry and teaching to others, which supports the notion that he was well versed in the book and that it played a substantial role in his life. The following quote shows that Wright believes that Old Testament was critical to forming Christ's identity and that in. "the Hebrew scriptures… he found a rich tapestry of figures, historical persons, prophetic pictures and symbols of worship. And in this tapestry, where others saw only a fragmented collection of various figures and hopes, Jesus saw his own face. His Hebrew Bible provided the shape of his own identity" 2.
Other strengths in the manuscript include the critical element of continuity that the author established between the events and personages of the Old Testament and their culmination, as it were, within Jesus himself. The author cites critical biblical texts to emphasize this point, including the passages such as "And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring" 3. Additionally, it is worth noting that these commendable aspects of Wright's work ultimately serve to justify his evangelism of the Old Testament -- or rather his reason for champion the Old Testament so. That reason in the basic premise that the entire book stands upon, which is the fact that the exploration of the Old Testament, its personalities and principles, are ultimately an exploration into the heart and motivation and formation of Christ himself 4. (due page ix).
Ultimately, the principle flaw in Wright's argument is not one in logic or reasoning, but rather in theological perspective. In choosing to repeatedly stress how the Old Testament formed Christ's character, Wright borders on almost presuming that Christ was simply a regular individual who gained his prowess or divinity merely through assiduous study. There are some theologians who have perceived Wright's point on this matter as such, including Bryan Catherman, who published a review in which he stated that Wright is alluding to the fact that Jesus was not himself innately divine, and it was only through copious scholarship and adherence to the Old Testament that God selected him as the Christ figure 5. Catherman's opinion is not necessarily completely accurate. However, for less discerning readers, or those who simply have a varying theological point of five from Wright's, it is understandable that one may make such an inference. There is little doubt that Wright is more…[continue]
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