The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright is a book I’ve been wanting to read for some time; and now, with time off between semesters I am taking the opportunity to not only read through it, but to write through it so as to retain my reading, and to offer a succinct summary of some major and interesting points in each chapter. Below are my thoughts on the first chapter.
If one only read the first chapter of this massive volume, she would still gather a broad, but succinct understanding of where the resurrection debate is today.
In this introductory chapter, N.T. Wright discusses a few of the central historical facts under girding the resurrection, dispenses with a few oft repeated reservations for resurrection research, and offers a starting point from which the historical research of the resurrection can begin.
a) Extinguishing Presuppositions
A noteworthy point made within in the first pages is that the resurrection of Jesus has been a controversial belief ever since his inception. As Wright puts it,
“Proposing that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead was just as controversial nineteen hundred years ago as it is today. The discovery that dead people stayed dead was not first made by philosophers of the Enlightenment.” 1
Herein lies the peculiarity of the resurrection. Every Jew and Gentile in Palestine and beyond knew that dead people stayed dead and yet, the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead began and remained a controversial one. Therefore, the historical question that must be asked is “Why?”
That is, why, instead of being dismissed, did the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead create controversy?
b) The Central Fact
In the first few pages, Wright lets his readers know exactly where he is going. He endeavors to answer the historical question: ‘Why did Christianity begin and why did it take the shape that it did?’ Wright helpfully subdivides this question into the following, more specific questions: 2
(a) What did the early Christians think happened to Jesus?
(b) What can we say about the plausibility of these beliefs?
He goes on to write: “…it is perfectly possible for a scholar to conclude (a) that the early Christians thought Jesus had been bodily raised and (b) that they were wrong. Many have taken that view. It is incumbent on anyone who does, however, to provide an alternative account of why (a) came to be the case…”
Regarding question (a), it is accepted by virtually all scholars who study the resurrection, that Jesus’ followers at least believed that he had resurrected, bodily, from the dead. 3
c) A Mutation within Second-Temple Judaism
However, the early Christian proclamation that Jesus had bodily risen from the dead flies in the face of the religion from which it grew. While the Jewish religion was expecting a general resurrection sometime in the eschatological future, the early Christian belief was that Jesus of Nazareth had individually risen from the dead, already.
Thus, Wright concludes, “…the early Christian worldview is…best understood as a startling, fresh mutation within second-Temple Judaism. This then raises the question: what caused this mutation?” 4
- Wright N.T., The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God Vol. 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 6-7 ↩
- Ibid., 6-7. ↩
- for more on this point, see: Gary R Habermas, “Experiences of the Risen Jesus: The Foundational Historical Issue in the Early Proclamation of the Resurrection,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 45, no. 3 (Fall, 2006): 288-97. ↩
- Wright N.T., The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God Vol. 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 28. ↩