Professor Daniel B. Wallace compares N.T. Wright to Rudolf Bultmann

Prof. Daniel B. Wallace

In another able critique of Bishop NT Wright’s view of Paul and Justification, dikaiosunē theou, that is, “the righteousness of God” and so on, I find it interesting that Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, begins his essay with a comparison of Wright to Bultmann:

N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, has become in the last several years a household name among evangelicals.  In some respects, he is emerging as the 21st century equivalent to Rudolf Bultmann.  Both scholars are known for their synthesis of the NT message. They have written multiple volumes dealing especially with global treatments on the theology of the NT. They both have also written commentaries on various NT books, but this is not their primary contribution. In short, both Bultmann and Wright are biblical theologians. One basic difference is that whereas Bultmann was a theological liberal, Wright is an evangelical (or conservative or at least significantly farther to the right than Bultmann). Wright’s respect for the text is vastly higher than Bultmann’s was. And this means that his view of the historicity of the biblical record is significantly higher than Bultmann’s was as well.

What I find more interesting, however, is professor Wallace’s censure of Bishop Wright:

The worst feature of this important work [Wright’s latest book on Justification] is Wright’s hubris.  He takes such an incredibly dogmatic stance on almost every aspect of his understanding of Paul’s view of justification, and condemns his exegetical adversaries with such sweeping statements, that one gets the impression that we are seeing the reincarnation of Athanasius: Wright contra mundum. And all too often, that hubris is converted into rhetoric that has very little substance.  Rather than reading a reasoned, sustained argument for a New Perspective view of Paul on justification, I felt as though Wright assumed that the debate was over and that he simply wanted to browbeat people into submission.  Strip away the rhetoric and the book would have been half the length. Of course, it wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining to read, but the argument would have been clearer and, I think, more forceful. But I digress; enough for now on tone.  Read the entire essay…

Here’s the grind: Bishop NT Wright is probably frustrated that most in the evangelical world, scholars and laypeople alike, have made up their minds to reject his reading of Paul and have chosen rather to continue their traditional reading of Paul.

“No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’” (Luke 5:39, NET, italics mine)

This entry was posted in John Piper, Justification, Martin Luther, NT Wright, Pauline, Rudolf Bultmann and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Professor Daniel B. Wallace compares N.T. Wright to Rudolf Bultmann

  1. Justin says:

    So how is Wright similar to Bultmann again? Because they are both prolific Biblical theologians? They are about as different as any two theologians could be.

    IMO, this is all just for rhetorical effect. Wallace knows what he’s doing here comparing them. Wright’s an easy target, and we as evangelicals like to eat our own.

    As for the rhetoric of the book… let’s not forget that it is a response to John Piper, who wrote an entire book critiquing Wright on this issue. It’s hard to see how one responds to that without a little rhetoric involved.

    Forgive the language, but Wright is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t here.

  2. Scott W says:

    I grant Wallace is correct in relating Wright to Bultm ann as a biblical theologian, and that at times he does speak in generalities. But, as in is Romans commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible he sets forth exegetically his views on dikaosyne in a sustained way that belies the piecemeal attempts which are more apt to be mallable to dogmatic concerns of a Reformed sort.

    I think the rhetoric employed against Wright which, at times, comes close to “labelling” comes as result of the fact he will not be intimidated or bullied by his fellow evangelicals, who feel threatened as one undermining the core of what is seen as Protestant Evangelical doctrine within their camp. How ironic this is because, like the Reformers, he sees himself as standing for Scripture over against (Protestant Evangelical) tradition.

  3. Justin: I believe you got the gist of the post. 😉

    How ironic this is because, like the Reformers, he sees himself as standing for Scripture over against (Protestant Evangelical) tradition.

    Scott: Yes, in many says, that’s the good Bishop’s belief.

    And he will not be intimidated. 😀

  4. Rod says:

    I think it is an outrage that Daniel Wallace compares NT Wright to Athanasius. NT Wright is not going through persecution or was his life going under the threat of exile or death, as Athansasius was. A shameless and rather weak comparison. That’s just coming from a big fan of Athanasius.

  5. Rod: seems like he’s guilty of the same. 😉

  6. Kevin Sam says:

    Wallace could have compared Wright to any other liberal theologian. I think Wright is as liberal as an evangelical can get before crossing the over the line into being a real liberal. Yeah, I’d the comparison is fair.

  7. Justin says:

    Yeah…but why? Who gains in all of this? Maybe I’m just getting old, but this kind of thing just seems more and more pointless to me.

    As someone else said, Wright has a lengthy Romans commentary out there (written before Piper’s critique) which lays out his view on these things. If Wallace genuinely wanted to interact with Wright’s views, he would go there, not to the 200 or so page response to Piper.

    A scholar of Wallace’s caliber should know this…which makes the whole thing just seem like one more session of let’s beat up on the whipping boy of the moment, who happens to be Wright.

    Just my opinion, of course. ‘)

  8. Kevin: never heard that charge before. How so?

    Justin: again, I don’t think Wright’s view of Justification was properly handled in Wallace’s critique.

  9. Kevin Sam says:

    Justin, it’s just more fun to beat up on people you know rather than people you don’t know. It’s also how it happens in a school yard. Wright just made himself an easy target I guess. But he has followed the academic mindset of having to come up with new research, e.g., new perspective on Paul. I think this mindset in academia is overrated and ends up getting people in trouble.

  10. Rod says:

    Does NT Wright actually compare himself to Athanasius? What humility!

  11. well, anyways, Wallace’s critique is absoluely spot on as to the problems with the New Perspective on Paul – that it is not that good on exegesis and is really more of a sociological thing than a bibilical/exegetical thing.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Wallace’s critique.

  12. Richard says:

    I would agree with NTW’s understanding of dikaiosunē theou. He has done a great deal of exegetical work on it and in the context of 2TJ it makes far more sense that the ‘traditional’ reading.

  13. Brian: as I mentioned above, I’m working on a review of Prof. Wallace’s essay. He’s got a fundamental problem in his essay. More on that later. 😉

    Richard: I agree with you. Others, including myself at first, continue to misunderstand NTW.

  14. Well, I stand by my comment and I agree with a comment one of my professors made about it:
    clear as a bell, and the conclusion says it all. It rings true about Wright: He is maddeningly pontifical and sweeping, but in truth is “scholarship lite” for all his trappings. He doesn’t really DO exegesis. He says he does, but he is so sure he is right that he seems to consider himself above the dirty work of proving his point. Wallace is brilliant, of course, in his critique.

    If I were Wright, I wouldn’t like having guys like Dan Wallace against me. He hardly fits the caricature of American Evangelicals that Wright persistently reacts to.

    Here is my thing: I think Wright is wanting to do the ol switcheroo. The righteousness of God has typically and still does mean that righteousness of God imputed to humanity for their salvation – there may be cases of where it refers to God’s covenantal faithfulness but there is every little actually exegetical support for it as Wallace effectively shows (remember we get meaning based of usage and context not derivation or something else so when there is very few if any actually cases where dikasoune tou theou refers to covenantal nomism, then it can’t mean that in other places too).

    If it is there it is not in the forefront of the book of Romans, perhaps in the background but not the foreground. This is where Wright does the ol switcheroo – he wants covenatal nomism to be in the front not the back and wants the salvific issue to be in the background and this is where he is getting it backwards.

    I understand why he is reacting in some of the ways he is and why he wants to emphasize covenantal nomism, but I think he takes it too far, in my personal opinion.

    Also, personally, unless I am completely missing what Wright is meaning by God’s covenatal faithfulness – in my opinion, how he communicates it – empties the cross of it’s power….

  15. Brian,

    What is an exegesis without a proper worldview? That’s the fundamental problem with Wallace. More later…

    (remember we get meaning based of usage and context not derivation or something else so when there is very few if any actually cases where dikasoune tou theou refers to covenantal nomism, then it can’t mean that in other places too).

    True about context. But which context? Just Romans, or the worldview that informs Paul’s views in Romans? I’m afraid it’s the latter. More later…

    Also, personally, unless I am completely missing what Wright is meaning by God’s covenatal faithfulness – in my opinion, how he communicates it – empties the cross of it’s power….

    The Cross is not emptied of its power at all. In fact, Wright shows the wonderful dimensions that is the Cross of Christ.

  16. right, I woud agree that for NT Wright, the cross is not about the power to save, but rather something akin to a clock on the wall telling us what was happening at the moment in God’s covenantly faithful plan. I am not eve sur he believes the Jews are in need of the cross of Christ – they are already a part of God’s plan, that is part of what covenantal nomism is about.

  17. Brian: you have misread Wright at that point. Here’s a passage to consider:

    The Messiah has done that for which Israel was chosen in the first place. His death has made atonement through which all nations are redeemed. God’s faithfulness is therefore fully and finally unveiled in the cross. The Messiah has done for the world what Israel was chosen in the first place…. God set him forth as a hilasterion. All those who believe the gospel message of his death and resurrection are now themselves accorded the status of dikaios: righteous, forgiven, with the covenant. (Paul, p. 120).

    The Scriptures make it clear that Israel, once chosen, would always be a part of God’s plan.

  18. Richard says:

    Brian, have you read this and the references in footnote 5?

    What about this and this from the New Dictionary of Theology.

  19. Richard says:

    Not sure wht the first ref didn’t work, here it is.

  20. Justin says:

    Where did you get that impression of Wright’s view of the new covenant? I haven’t heard that concern (for all of the criticism I have heard of Wright’s reading of Paul).

    I can tell you that if you listen to the lectures on Romans over at, he speaks to the issues you raise, and comes down very firmly on the side of the new covenant through the death and resurrection of the Messiah being for all (the Jew first, and also to the Gentile), and expounds this very well. Actually his classic Reformed sort of reading of the “all Israel” sections in Romans 11 emphasizes this “one new family” concept all the more. He sees no future for ethnic Israel, and sees “all Israel” redefined as “all who call upon Jesus”. (As did Calvin, apparently)

    I’m not sure I can go as far as that with him, although I can see where he’s coming from.

  21. Jim Poulos says:

    Fact is, NT Wright’s work is looking like the tortoise making it to the finish line while the many criticisms are the hares only making a good show.

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