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Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through Old Testament

by Suleman
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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Summary & Overview
  • Critical Interaction
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Introduction

There is a plethora of views, philosophies, stories and criticisms regarding the most enigmatic figure of all times, Lord Jesus Christ and Christopher J.H. Wright open a new arena by placing Christ in the paradigm of history as he tries to know the man through the Old Testament. According to Christopher J.H., most of the westerners of the twenty-first century do not view Jesus in a true light. They have made him a “photomontage composed of a random mixture of gospels”. They fail to visualize the real “messiah” or saint who traversed on this earth two thousand years back. In “Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament”, Dr Wright earnestly tried to reconstruct and reconnect the modern individual with Jesus from chronicles. Wright, an Anglican Clergyman and the renowned theologist present his thesis on five neat stages summarized in five points about the Old Testament in his book “Knowing Jesus through Old Testament”. In his book, Wright tries to enlighten his reader that the Old Testament is where Jesus “found the shape of His own identity and the goal of His own mission”. Wright strongly believes that Jesus is famously misinterpreted and in his theological debate, he tries to present a more convincing and contextualized picture of Jesus.

Book Review of Knowing Jesus through Old Testament

Summary & Overview

In the book, Wright comes up with a critical problem regarding the representation of Christ. He brings forth a critical case where he explains very systematically that in modern psyche, in fact through the entire 20th century, Christ is described in various films, stories or paintings as a white-skinned wise sage whereas the matter of fact is that most of the viewers or reader are aware of the fact that Christ never spoke English. This is where Wright differs from his contemporary writers. Wright very consciously wants to appeal the psyche of his modern readers by triggering the theories regarding the origin or background of the messiah. He wants to understand and answer any questions regarding the enigmas surrounding the figure of Christ. Wright precisely explains to his reader that the Old Testament is not merely a text foe-shadowing Christ but it gives an ideal representation of Him and His work. The deviation of the image of Jesus from its deep root into Hebrew Scriptures and historical context of His time into something modern and fashionable is Wright’s main point of disagreement. He clearly explained that the Old Testament is important not only to understand Christ but it is equally helpful and compact in its own way to understand Christ’s vision and mission. Wright also helps us to see that the whole plan of redemption was laid out from the very beginning. There are lots of topics underlying the text like Jesus and His mission, Jesus and His promises, the values of Old Testament, the identity of Jesus in Old Testament and how through a story Jesus is looked at in the whole of Old Testament. He also brought an area which is normally overlooked but Wright presented it in a superb way. Wright portrayed the alignment of Jesus’ life with the ethical Old Testament. Another important aspect of the book is Christ’s mission as seen through the Old Testament. Wright beautifully expels the relevance of Christ and His importance and need throughout the ages and what tasks he accomplished. He most importantly forms a vivid note on typology of scriptures in the Old Testament and helps his readers to form a right view of Jesus through scriptures which is often misinterpreted. Wright uses Mathew as his touchstone text and he describes Jesus not only as a son of Abraham and David but also positions Jesus as the ultimate fulfilment of the Old Testament stories. Wright displays it clearly in his book “Knowing Jesus through Old Testament” that how Mathew’s genealogy consider Christ as a ‘Davidic Messiah and there by holding out the promise of Jewish liberation and ascendency. The most important and significant theme and topic of the book is to make us feel that the Old Testament not only displays Christ as the Messiah of Israel but Wright make us see him through the pages of Old Testament as more cosmic fitting into the God’s scheme of things to save not only Israel particularly but nations beyond Israel too.

Critical Interaction

Christopher J.H. Wright in his book “Knowing Jesus through Old Testament”, provides a different kind of thesis presented neatly in five parts documenting five points precisely summarized. Wright uses Mathew as his touchstone text and he uses Mathew text very methodically and worked on his way from Jesus’ genealogy to wilderness testing. For Wright Old Testament is not just a Jesus’ genealogy, it is much more than that.

Mathew 1 seems to be the completion of the Old Testament story (1-54). His infancy as recorded in Mathew 2 appears to be the fulfilment of the Old Testament promise (55-102). His Baptism in book 3 proves that he understood his identity in terms of Old Testament scriptures (pp103-135). The self-realization as Isaiah’s servant and Daniel’s son of man documents that he lived and preached an Old Testament mission (136-180) and Christ’s wilderness testing in book 4 launches him as the obedient son of God who re-modelled God-centred morality in such a way that Israel mentioned in Old Testament failed to do (pp181-252).  (Alexander, 2008).

The book “Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament” transports the exegetical, exciting and magical Christology into some different realm and leaves us aback that how Wright could be able to pull out the rabbit from the conventional Christology. Wright carefully affirms the historical reality and the Old Testament mega-events in the respective historical context. He superbly uses the historical significance then guided by the interpretation of the text in the New Testament as an initiator in understanding his search for Jesus in the Old Testament. Any novice, scholar, student or laymen can easily fit into the Wright’s scheme of things. He is so confident and so solid in dealing with the text that once he finishes preaching Jesus through the Old Testament, we are left identical with it. Wright almost gave a new identity to the Old Testament making it a first-hand text for learning Jesus. His goal was to represent a true Jesus in true historical context and cure his readers of some kind of inhibitions that the Old Testament is just a foreshadow of Jesus. He tried to explain that the Old Testament is little more than a shadow and children’s picture book. The scriptures in-scripted on it has to convey a lot and a proper understanding of the text can rally bring wonders in our understanding.

“Jesus was not just the same figure pasted from fragments of the Old Testament together. He transcended and replaced the old models so that what started in the light of their Scriptures as a shaft of Jesus’ wisdom and understanding could come to an end to his followers as a deepening and surprising new understanding of their Scriptures in light of Jesus (p. 117, emp, Orig.).” (Alexander, 2008).

The most important section of the book is where Wright successfully helps us to understand the difference between promise and prediction. Wright understands and explains in his page from 70 to 77 of the book that the promise or prophecy involves a level of ongoing fulfilment which becomes more obvious form the quotes of the book:

“Because [the promise] involves the relationship between one another and commitment, the quality of the relationship is dynamic and goes beyond the external details involved … the material form in which it is fulfilled may be quite different from the literal form in which it was originally made, and yet it is no less a valid fulfilment of the promise (pp. 70, 71).” (Alexander, 2008).

The conclusion drawn by Wright in his book is also well supported by his arguments in the text. God made promises to Israel but that promise itself transformed and transcended in order to confirm God’s faithfulness rather than called to any sorts of question:

“It will be more like illusions than actual objects to pine for original aspects of the promise… To insist on a literal fulfilment of prophecies can be to overlook their actual nature within the category of promise, with the potential of different and progressively superior levels of fulfilment (pp. 76-77).” (Alexander, 2008).

The style of the book “Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament” is lucid and very comfortable for the starters to read and understand the text. The sentences in the book are short and powerful and the material is framed and organized in a pretty intuitive manner. This makes it quite clear the reason behind its staying in print for such a long period. After having a close inspection to the text, the only shortcoming that can be identified is the unnecessary use of long verses to establish certain points and the meandering and the wandering of the text makes it double-backed and reiterated with some points already being mentioned in some chapters. A more methodical approach in writing would have made the text more compact yet the book “Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament” not only makes his readers start preaching Jesus through Old Testament but makes them love to do it.

Conclusion

“Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament” by Christopher .J.H. Wright is a book which is worth investing time and money. The motive of the author behind this book is totally accomplished. Preaching Christ from the New Testament is common and obvious but avoiding the Old Testament and feeling hesitant to preach Christ from the book is incorrect. The Old Testament is sometimes treated as an optional introduction at best. Wright’s book is an example of implementing biblical theologies in order to enrich our preaching free from any kind of impoverishing in our exegesis. The book is a good source for brainstorming. ‘Understanding Jesus in the Ancient Testament’ is not a piece that should be read on the fireplace in the late evenings to please any kind of theological appetite but the book is very much reflective. It appeals to a reader’s heart as the theologies and theories of Wright about Christ delve deep into the soul and mind of its readers. It launches a volley of questions regarding the “Messiah of Israel” as represented through the Old Testament and leaves us thinking about Christ’s origin. It makes us think about the original interpretation of the biblical scriptures and how could a man two thousand years back could think and preach the saga of Universal Brotherhood and love for neighbours that till date seems to be so contemporary and very need of time.

Bibliography
  • Alexander, Paul. 1998. “Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.” 9marks. http://www.9marks.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526%7CCHID598014%7CCIID2438290,00.html (Accessed 03 October 2009).

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