Chapter 2: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today

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One cannot or should not accuse N.T. Wright of supercessionism. It seems that all of this theology is grounded in a very real and very present Israel. His second chapter, Israel and God’s Kingdom People, in which he examines Scripture as used by ancient Israel, shows that this basis is in no danger of fading. For Wright, in his Kingdom Theology, the ultimate goal of Israel, and of God through Israel, is the establishment of the Kingdom of God. So, what role does Scripture play in this pursuit? Wright sums it up as, “…we may propose that Israel’s sacred writings were the place where, and the means by which, Israel discovered again and again who the true God was, and how his Kingdom-purposes were being taken forward.” (p34) He goes on to note that Scripture wasn’t just a reflection of the times, but a continued voice of God to Israel. I see problems with that viewpoint, but I also see the allowance needed in that viewpoint, especially in reading Matthew and Hebrews. All in all, though, Wright still holds Scripture in a prima position.

He begins to tackle the idea of inspiration, but leaves it thread-bare. This is a subject which many miss today – as to what inspiration of Scripture actually means. Wright is correct, I believe, that it is an idea ever-present in Judaism and Christian  (or as present as present is when collecting canons and texts, etc…), but it has gotten mixed up with this idea of inerrancy and “the word of God”, i.e., the Text for many, but in reality, not pointing to anything written at all (p36). This is why I disagree with the image of a Transcendent God (which Wright seems to enjoy), because it is through inspiration (of Scriptures) and through the active word of God wherein God connects to us and remains ever present. And Wright’s acceptance of transcendence, at least for me, make his proclamation of keeping Scripture as something more than a “record of revelation”, as indeed, very much a continuing “speech-act (p37, both) very ironic. I mean, if God is so transcendent, then how can Scripture continue to be give us hope, instead of just imparting information about a far-distant time when God was just a little less than too far away? If there is wonder working power in the narrative expressly related to inspiration which is the work of the Spirit, then how can it be that God is wholly transcendent, regardless of the paradoxes of being ever-present which Wright uses as a qualifier?

He ends this brief chapter with two lessons drawn from Second Temple Judaism’s use of Scripture. For those Jewish believers, which would later involve Christians, Wright contends that Scripture provided a “controlling story” and a call to obedience. Both uses call for a shaping of the corporate body, in response to God, using themes and narratives. In this, Scripture served as an authority, but a modern guide.

So ends this chapter. Wright really needed to focus more on inspiration, which many conflate with their notion of authority. Further, this chapter was later week on how Judaism then and now used and uses Scripture and this might translate to use of Scripture by the first Christians, and of course today. His focus is on how the narrative shapes us, as if the Spirit of God is not transcendent, but ever working through Scripture to bring about the Kingdom of God.

Pish Posh.


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12 Replies to “Chapter 2: Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today”

  1. I had a brief discussion with one of my pastors last week about the new perspective, and he would say that NT Wright is a deluded liberal heretic. Seriously.

    It was funny and a bit sad. He showed me some books by NPP proponents that he hadn’t read, but he complimented John Piper’s critique of the NPP, which he had read.

    So his idea of learning is to only read critiques of ideas that he deems offensive in advance. No wonder I could never be a conservative. At least he lent me a Jim Dunn book and I’ll read it so it won’t go to waste.

  2. The problem with Wright IMO is that he is absolutely correct about many things but can’t see the implications.

    Yes, Jesus and Paul were focused on the kingdom, and the kingdom was a Jewish kingdom on earth that had nothing to do with going to heaven. That may be a crude summary, but Wright gets all that.

    Fundies fear such obvious historical analysis because it emphasizes who Jesus really was and guts the central teaching of the modern church, that christianity is about accepting Jesus as your personal savior and going to heaven when you die. Jesus probably would have smacked the crap out of anybody who said that to him.

    However, the logical conclusion of the understanding of what Jesus most likely taught doesn’t lead anywhere near christianity, but Wright can’t go down that road.

    1. What do you think it leads too? (i’m saying this because I wonder if we are on the same track)

      I note that in many scholars, who do theology, there remains a strain of a “must have theology” which they cannot overcome. I don’t fault Wright for being imperfect, just noting them

      1. Where does it lead? That, of course, is the big question, one on which I’ve changed my mind before and probably will again.

        When you put Jesus in his time period and read his words in that context and then try to figure why anybody would have followed him and wanted him dead, it seems that he is best understood as an apocalyptic prophet. Duh, that’s not original. People 2,000 years ago (just like today) read what they believed to be scripture as applying to them personally.

        God promised that Israel would rule the world with justice through a messiah or messiahs. That meant the overthrow of the Roman rule, which could only happen through supernatural means.

        I’ve come to despise “theology” because it obscures what was originally simple. If you need a big word to explain your position, it has to be wrong. Remember, we are dealing with teachings among ancient peasants who had no access to divinity schools or complicated Greek concepts. If you resort to those things, you have taken a simple religion and turned it into something it is not.

        To me, the best summary of Jesus I’ve ever read comes from Bart Ehrman: Jesus preached the imminent coming of god’s kingdom. He called people to behave in a manner consistent with the ethics that would prevail in that kingdom.

        Of course, Jesus, like everyone else who has ever predicted any variation of the end of the world or the second coming, turned out to be wrong. Either that is because:

        1) everyone around him misinterpreted his words and failed to get his real meaning (not bloody likely IMO), or
        2) god progressively revealed more truth about his will after Jesus died (but if Jesus was god, it makes no sense that he didn’t make it clear. And in any case progressive revelation opens the door to anything being true. David Koresh was misunderstood by his peers and killed by the gov’t, maybe the prophets had him in mind) or
        3) Jesus was wrong, kind of like an ancient Hal Lindsey. I think this is th emost likely, although probably there are other possibilities.

  3. Wright brilliantly challenges fundamentalistically-inclined Southern Baptist pastor types, who resist coming out of their historically-bound theological comfort zone and resort instead to “Wrightianity” slurs and such like.

    Thank God for N. T. Wright.

  4. I have made it to the chapter on The Sabbath. This is a good book, easy to read but maybe one of the best books on scripture I have ever read. I don’t agree with everything he writes, but his teaching on the Kingdom of God is brilliant.

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