Friday, May 9, 2008

Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Chapter 3)

In chapter 3 of Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright describes the ancient pagan, Jewish, and Christian beliefs about life, death, and resurrection. First, Wright shows that both the Jews and the pagans believed that death was a one-way street. Once you died, you were dead and there was no coming back. Second, he shows that they both believed that the term "resurrection" meant "dead people coming back to life," not, "disembodied spirits going to heaven." Although pagans and Jews agreed about the meaning of the term "resurrection," the pagans denied any kind of a resurrection, while the Jews anticipated a future resurrection. Wright argues these points at length in his 2003 book The Resurrection of the Son of God.

Having established the meaning of the term "resurrection," Wright explain seven ways in which the Christian notion of the resurrection differed from the Jewish notion. (I found points 5 and 6 most interesting. My first exposure to N.T. Wright was watching him debate John Dominic Crossan in 2005 after he published The Resurrection of the Son of God. Crossan argued that "resurrection" was a metaphor for "God's moral clean-up of the universe," modeled after the idea of resurrection in Ezekiel 16. Wright argued that "resurrection" meant "Jesus died, and then He came back to life." It seems that Wright has now adopted some of Crossan's ideas, although I am sure he would say "the metaphorical use of 'resurrection' is grounded in the literal use, and most New Testament usages of 'resurrection' refer to the literal use.") The seven ways in which the Christian notion of resurrection differed from the Jewish were:
  1. Christians were remarkably united in their view of the resurrection.
  2. Although resurrection was peripheral in Jewish theology, it was central to Christian belief.
  3. Resurrection involves a transformed (i.e. "glorified") body.
  4. The resurrection has been split into two events--the resurrection of Jesus and then of everyone else.
  5. Resurrection is a metaphor for the moral clean-up of society.
  6. Resurrection is a metaphor for individual ethical transformation.
  7. Resurrection is vindication of Jesus as the Son of God.
Rather than arguing about points that Wright has spent his life forming, I thought it would be interesting to compare his thoughts on resurrection to 1 Corinthians 15. It's a lot of text, so I am not going to paste it (for both readability and copyright reasons). How do Wright's 7 point about resurrection compare to what you read in 1 Cor 15?

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