Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament – Personal Thoughts

I apologize for the delay for this final post. It’s the time of year for academic conferences. I just got back from a consultation on the use of Bible software in the classroom and pastorate.

This is the third and final post in my series on Christopher J. H. Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament from IVP-Academic. You can find my posts on the author and contents: here and here. In this post, I will give my personal thoughts on the book.

First, I will start with the good. I like the book’s focus on story. In a sense, the first chapter of the book does on a much smaller scale what John Goldingay does in the first volume of his massive three volume set Old Testament Theology. Wright begins by tracing out the story of Israel up to the point of the New Testament. I was also happy to see that he includes a section on what he calls the “intertestamental period” – Protestant terminology. I appreciated this especially in light of the fact that one of the things I thought didn’t work in Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology (vol. 1) was his lack of focus on this time period. In my opinion, the story doesn’t flow as well without reference to this time period.

I also appreciated Wright’s focus on the fact that the story of Israel is unique, but at the same time familiar. In other words, there is obviously something special going on in the history of Israel according to the authors of the Old Testament; however, the Old Testament also has a great deal to say about God being at work among the nations. Wright brings into the discussion Amos 9:7, which is a text that I always like to make mention of when teaching Exodus.

Second, I like that Wright takes a broader approach to the concept of promise-fulfillment. He makes a clear distinction between promise and prediction, which I think is helpful. He does this in connection to acknowledging the strange way that Matthew sometimes cites Old Testament passages.  Wright doesn’t go as far as someone like Peter Enns in situating Matthew’s use of Old Testament texts within Second Temple Jewish interpretation. But, he does at least make readers aware that the New Testament authors were handling Old Testament texts differently than many modern readers would and that prediction is not the best way to think about this. I do, however, wish he would have done something with the word “fulfillment” as well, though I’m not sure what word he might have used.

Third, I appreciated that Wright discusses at length the title “Son of God.” I don’t think most people I teach realize the background of this title. Learning that Israel is called God’s “son” in the Old Testament (e.g. Hos. 11:1) adds a whole new layer of depth to this title for many people that I teach, in both parish and undergraduate contexts, since they typically associate this title only with Jesus’s divinity. Wright’s discussion of this title spans about 30 pages and would be beneficial reading for many people.

In terms of negatives, I would mention two. First, the book is a bit light on critical scholarship. For example, in the section on the “inter-testamental period” Wright states:

The canonical history of the Old Testament comes to an end in the mid-fifth century, with Malachi, Ezra, and Nehemiah (p. 24).

Unless I missed it, Wright doesn’t make mention of the fact that many believe Daniel to be the latest book in the Old Testament. I realize, of course, that this may not be widely accepted by evangelicals and that, even if this is the case, Daniel is set during the Babylonian exile. Yet a brief nod to critical scholarship, at least acknowledging differences over the dating of Daniel, might have been helpful.

Second, I also didn’t like that Wright steers clear of Matthew 2:23. He steers clear of it on p. 56 and comes back to it briefly on p. 104. But, I don’t think he ever really does a good job of dealing with the text. I think this is one of the things I appreciate the most about Peter Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation, namely he doesn’t steer clear of texts that seem exceptional, though this did lead him in a direction that many evangelicals didn’t like.

Overall, I would recommend Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. The positive aspects of the book far outweigh the negative ones. If, however, you are looking for something more thorough, I would recommend John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology (vol. 1) – also from IVP-Academic. He gives much more on the story and includes a final chapter attempting to do something like what Wright has done in his entire book.

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