One of the most influential New Testament scholars today is N.T. Wright. While some find him controversial, it is difficult to argue against his intelligence and output of biblical and theological content.
One of his major projects is on Christian Origins and the Question of God. While I had read the second and third volumes in this series, I finally had the opportunity read the first, The New Testament and the People of God.
In some ways the title is misleading as only a small portion of the book is actually on the New Testament. Still, this is an important book as it lays all the historical framework for the volumes that follow.
Many readers want to just jump into the biblical text and discover the interpretation. But Wright asks us to pull back and reflect on the nature of history. How can we know things as history? Wright navigates through a number of theories and lands on critical realism. It is very helpful discussion that is stretching to those not familiar with the theoretical nature of history.
One of my favourite parts of the book is his presentation of Second Temple Judaism (see my episode on Second Temple Judaism). An important part of the third quest for the historical Jesus is to interpret him in his Jewish context. Students of the New Testament are fooling themselves if they think a good understanding of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) is enough. Much of Jewish thought of the first century was developed in the so-called intertestamental period.
Wright takes us through the tales of the Maccabees and summarizes much of the Jewish history given to us by Josephus. Wright presents the data from the appropriate sources and correctly warns us about the problems of using later rabbinic sources (e.g. Mishnah, Talmud) to reconstruct first century Jewish thought.
This book introduces an idea that is influential in the rest of Wright’s understanding of the New Testament. Wright believes that the Jews still considered themselves in exile, even after Cyrus the Great allowed them back in their homeland. The reason for this is that promises of renewal found in the Prophets had not appeared. Jews, such as the Qumran sect, looked forward to an eschatological fulfillment that end exile.
The volume concludes with an introduction to the New Testament. More than a quest for the historical Jesus, this section is a quest for the early church. That is not to say Wright is pessimistic about the historical Jesus, but this is important background. Later volumes delve much more into the historical Jesus.
Although this is a fairly thick book, I was able to read quite quickly. Wright has a readable style and is gifted at explaining complex ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it for anyone interested in the New Testament.