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Historical Jesus Theories: N. T. Wright

The purpose of this web page is to explain and explore some of the theories offered up by contemporary scholars on the historical Jesus and the origins of the Christian religion. Issues include the nature of the historical Jesus, the nature of the early Christian documents, and the origins of the Christian faith in a risen Jesus Christ.

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N. T. Wright

In The New Testament and the People of God, N. T. Wright sets forth a critical realist account of knowledge. By this, Wright means that it is impossible to do "mere history" from a supposed objective standpoint, just as much as it is impossible to see an object without using one's eyes. Wright states that the text and our own worldview stand in dialogue, with historical knowledge as the interplay of text and worldview in public dialogue.

Wright sketches Second Temple Judaism as telling the story of Israel's relationship to God and as using the symbols of Temple, Land, Torah, and Ethnic Identity. Jews held to creational monotheism over against henotheism, pantheism, deism, and Gnosticism. Jews held to providential monotheism, according to which God is continually active in the world. And Jews held to covenantal monotheism, in which God plans to restore the world through Israel. Jews rejected the forms of dualism in which there are a source of all that is bad and a source of all that is good, in which the material world is a shadow of the ideal world, and in which human beings are composed of body and spirit in opposition. Wright contends that Jews hoped for the revolution of the current world order but not a destruction of the material world in a final conflagration as depicted in Stoic philosophy.

Wright writes, "it should be quite clear that what united early Christians, deeper than all diversity, was that they told, and lived, a form of Israel's story which reached its climax in Jesus and which then issued in their spirit-given new life and task." (The New Testament and the People of God, p. 456, emphasis original) Wright turns the typical form-critical assumption on its head in saying that it is likely that pericopes originally contained narrative contexts but were stripped of them in a process of Hellenization, as is seen in the Gospel of Thomas. Wright rejects the "Q-plus-Thomas hypothesis" of a non-eschatological Jesus movement and states that Q, if it existed, was in form much like Community Rule from Qumran in containing both future and realized eschatology.

Wright elaborates on his disagreement with scholars such as Crossan and Mack in his book Jesus and the Victory of God. Wright uses as his principal tool the criterion of double similarity, according to which material that makes sense in a Jewish context and explains the rise of the church is likely to be historical. Wright maintains that Jesus planned for his own death: "Jesus, then, went up to Jerusalem not just to preach, but to die . . . Jesus believed that the messianic woes were about to burst upon Israel, and that he had to take them upon himself, solo" (Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 609). Wright believes that the development of soteriology in the church cannot be explained adequately unless it had its seed on the far side of Easter.

Please enjoy exploring the varied Historical Jesus Theories offered by these authors through the links below.

Jesus the Myth: Heavenly Christ

Jesus the Myth: Man of the Indefinite Past

Jesus the Hellenistic Hero

Jesus the Revolutionary

Jesus the Wisdom Sage

Jesus the Man of the Spirit

Jesus the Prophet of Social Change

Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

Jesus the Savior

For more information on the debate over the historical Jesus, visit the Christian Origins web site.

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

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Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

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Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.