Jesus and Scripture (Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright)


This is part 5  of the series blogging through the book Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright. You might want to start with part 1 and work your way through the series.

Wright uses chapters 3 through 6 to examine the use of the Scriptures throughout the history of the church. This post will review Wright’s cursory examination of ‘Scripture and Jesus’, which he summarizes as follows:

at the heart of his work lay the sense of bringing the story of scripture to its climax, and thereby offering to God the obedience through which the Kingdom would be accomplished.

For Wright, the Kingdom is about God putting ‘the world to rights, judging evil, and bringing forgiveness and new life’.

N.T. Wright on Colbert Report

In emphasizing the Kingdom storyline and the climatic entrance of Jesus, Wright downplays two aspects of scripture. The first is Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy:

[Jesus] was not simply envisaging himself doing a few scattered and random acts which corresponded to various distant and detached prophetic sayings; he was thinking of the entire storyline at last coming to fruition, …

The second is Jesus’ view of scripture as authoritative:

these [sayings of Jesus on scripture] are all somewhat ad hoc – in other words, that Jesus is not reported to have made the authority of scripture a major theme in his teaching …

Wright goes on to say that Jesus’ saying about Scripture are puzzling and we can’t see ‘what on earth is going on’ unless we put them into the larger storyline.

I agree with Wright that Jesus is the central character of the scriptural storyline and His accomplishments (including death and resurrection) are central to the Kingdom. Without Jesus the “story” has no hero. No one comes to save the day, evil is left judged, sins are left unforgiven, and we are left waiting for someone to set the world right.

But have you ever watched a movie or read a story, where after following the characters and events trying to figure out how the story is all going to come together, you realize at the end that the details don’t address the built up needs or support the conclusion. The details of a story can provide depth and enrich the story that draws the reader in and helps them understand what is going on. They can help the reader become attached to the characters. They can also ground the story in history.

But if they are “ad-hoc”, “scattered and random”, or “distant and detached” then they take away from the overall story and leave the reader with that gnawing feeling that, despite the merits of the overall plot, it doesn’t add up. In this case that causes doubt as to what is real, what is possible, and what is added to keep the storyline moving along at certain points. And the hard questions like why is there evil, why does the world need to be made right, and is Jesus the only hero that can bring in the kingdom unanswered.

While the meta-narrative of the Scriptures is important, part of what makes the story so great is that all the details matter and make sense too. It was the fulfillment of the details that let God’s people know that the true hero has arrived and can be trusted to save the day.

Here are 10 statements Jesus made about the Scriptures:

  1. Jesus demonstrated and was recognized as having authority to teach and explain the Scriptures (Matt 5:21-22 and subsequent verses which conclude with Matt 7:28-29)
  2. The Scriptures don’t save – but point to Jesus who does (John 5:39-40, 46-47 also Luke 24:25-27)
  3. Jesus used Scriptures to deal with physical temptations and spiritual conflict (Matt 4:1-11)
  4. Jesus used Scripture to explain how God expected people to act (in this case on marriage) (Mark 10:2-9)
  5. Jesus relied on the details of Scripture to explain theology (who God was and in this case the reality of resurrection) (Luke 20:37-40)
  6. Jesus relied on the details of Scripture to explain theology (who He was – the Son of David) (Matt 22:41-45)
  7. Everything in the Law will be accomplished (Matt 5:17-20)
  8. Jesus fulfilled specific prophecies (Luke 4:6-21; Isaiah 61:1-2)
  9. Jesus pointed to prophecy fulfillment to help John Baptist understand He is the Messiah (Matt 11:2-6 ; Isaiah 35:5-6; 42:6-8; 61:1-2)
  10. Jesus looked forward to prophecy fulfillment in the future (Matt 24:15-21)

What do you think they say about Jesus’ view of the scriptures?

What would you add to the list?

[Continue reading through the series: part 6]

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