Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Chris Wright

  • Paperback: 267 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 8, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830816933
  • Amazon.com
  • WTS Books

A Summary

According to the Preface, Knowing Jesus grew out of the the sad reality that many Christians who love Jesus knew little about “who he thought he was and what he had come to do.”  Wright’s burden in this book is to demonstrate that the deeper we go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer we come to the heart of Jesus.  The book is divided into five chapters, which are then divided into several subheadings: 1. Jesus and the Old Testament Story.  2. Jesus and the Old Testament Promise.  3.  Jesus and his Old Testament Identity.  4. Jesus and his Old Testament Mission.  5. Jesus and his Old Testament Values.  For Wright, the Hebrew Scriptures tell a story which is picked up by the New Testament writers, and a story which finds its culmination in Jesus the Messiah.  In a word, it is the story of God on mission, to put the world to rights.  This is at the heart of Wright’s theology in Knowing Jesus.

A Brief Interaction

Wright takes on what he terms “The Two Covenant Theory.”  He sees this as unbiblical for the following reasons: He goes on to show how unbiblical this view is: first, it ignores that fact that Jesus is Jewish, “came within Israel, to Israel and for Israel.”  Second, it fails to take into consideration Jesus’ mission to Israel and God’s purpose of extending salvation to the Gentiles.  Third, it utterly subverts Paul’s view that at the heart of the Gospel is the fact that God has created new humanity out of both Jews and Gentiles, because Jesus was not just Israel’s Messiah but the new Adam.

Regarding Romans 11:26, “And in this way all Israel will be saved,” Wright believes this refers to the grating in of the Gentile nations.  “It was by that means, in that way, that ‘all Israel will be saved'” (p. 171).  But Wright’s point only stands if indeed God’s original promises, though not replaced or uprooted, but have been redefined around Jesus’ death and resurrection.  A point which Wright argues from Ephesians 2:15-16 and 3:6 (p. 177).  This is a position that I’ve recent come to myself.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an example of how to do biblical theology; if you’re looking to avoid practical Marcionism, focusing only on the New Testament, concluding that the Old Testament is optional; and if as a preacher you find yourself hesitant to preach Christ from the Old Testament, let me highly recommend Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright.

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9 Responses to Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Chris Wright

  1. Mike Gantt says:

    To reinforce your point: I wonder how many who read Hebrews when it speaks of “better promises” (8:6) think the writer is referring to promises found in the NT instead of the OT. Of course, the writer is in fact referring to OT promises which “have been redefined around Jesus’ death and resurrection,” thus making them “better.”

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament by Chris … | Pulplit Magazine

  3. T.C. R says:

    Mike,

    Yes, good point. There’s still so much to mine from the OT and its continuity in the NT, especially around Messiah Jesus.

  4. JasonS says:

    That sounds good. I have it on my “to read” shelf, and look forward to it.

  5. T.C. R says:

    JasonS,

    Yes, it’s a great read. You’ll discover such for yourself. 😉

  6. ScottL says:

    TC –

    I had to read this text while in seminary. It was a good text for connection between the OT and NT. I always share his illustration of the father who promises to buy his son a horse when he turns 21, but how, subsequently in later years, the car was invented. And so, on his 21st birthday, the father gives a car to the son rather than a horse.

    Wright relates this to the promises of God in the OT. God’s promises came as a ‘horse’ in the OT. But in the new covenant in Christ, God actually superseded in fulfilling them by giving the ‘car’, for He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we could ask or think. Some are still telling God that He must give them the horse (Jews return to Palestine, rebuild physical temple in Jerusalem, etc). But God says I want to give you something better (inheriting the earth, Jesus as the temple and His body as temple, etc).

    Here is the specific quote below:

    ‘Imagine a father who, in the days before mechanized transport, promises his son, aged 5, that when he is 21 he will give him a horse for himself. Meanwhile the motor car is invented. So on his 21st birthday the son awakes to find a motor car outside, “with love from Dad”. It would be a strange son who would accuse his father of breaking his promise just because there was no horse. And even stranger if, in spite of having received the far superior motor car, the son insisted that the promise would only be fulfilled if a horse also materialized, since that was the literal promise. It is obvious that with the change in circumstances, unknown at the time the promise was made, the father has more than kept his promise. In fact he has done so in a way that surpasses the original words of the promise which were necessarily limited by the mode of transport available at the time. The promise was made in terms understood at the time. It was fulfilled in the light of new historical events.’

    • T.C. R says:

      Scott L,

      Yes, a great illustration indeed, actually reenforcing what I’ve since come to believe about many OT prophecies regarding, something Dispensationalists need to get. This is a quite fitting illustration on so many levels.

  7. Mike Gantt says:

    ScottL,

    Your is a point well made. I would only add that as it has a lesson to teach Jews who would prefer a return to physical Jerusalem over the “better promises” of God (Hebrews 8:6), it teaches that same lesson to Christians who prefer church to the kingdom of God. For as the new covenant replaced the old, so the kingdom of God replaced the church – in the very same moment in time.

  8. ScottL says:

    Mike –

    I would say the kingdom rule of God is supreme, and the ekklesia consists of those submitted to the rule of God. But the kingdom is prior to, superior to, and exists even without the ekklesia of Christ. It’s the rule of God which gives relevant to the ekklesia of God.

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