– A Review
As one begins to read the book Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, it becomes clear that the author, Christopher J. H. Wright, wishes to provide an in-depth understanding of the Old Testament to its readers. The sole aim of his writing is to evoke a new sense of appreciation of the scripture as well as Jesus. Wright endeavours to imbibe a thorough understanding in his readers about Jesus being the very essence of God.
Christopher Wright works as the director of international ministries at the Langham Partnership International in UK. This book is a part of a trilogy, each book in which focuses on one of the figures of the Holy Trinity. Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament revolves around ‘The Son’ in ‘The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit’ of the Trinity. Through the book, Wright tries to inform the readers about the links and bridges between the Old and New testaments. Through this understanding, he aims to transform followers of Christianity from ‘mild’ Christians to ‘solid’ Christians who have a thorough understand and belief in the Lord and God.
The author mainly relies on evidences given in Matthew 1 to 4 to reveal to readers how and why Jesus is several things at once, i.e.: God’s promises fulfilled, the Servant of God, the Son of Man and, ultimately, the Son of God. Jesus , hence, personifies the level of obedience expected by God from mankind, in order to justify the fulfilment of the promises made by God. This applies not only to Israel at the time of the Old Testament but to all nations across all times.
As the reader goes through the explanations given by Wright about these bible histories, they begin to see a common, repetitive pattern between the transgressions of man and the inexhaustible grace, kindness and mercy of God. The author emphasizes the importance of the correlation between promises delivered and the expectations of God from mankind arising through this fulfilment. The theme of obedience is also dominant in the book. The author discusses the mission of Jesus, highlighting his obedience towards God’s will as well as his mission towards mankind. Wright also draws up various instances wherein Jesus personifies the values of God through his interactions with those around him.
Throughout the book, Wright constantly emphasizes three things, namely: a) the relevance of the teaching of the Old Testament across nations and throughout time, hence, implying its practicability today; b) the requirement of obedience and meeting expectations set by God in order to in turn expect him to fulfil his promise; and, c) a reminder of the great role that Jesus plays in the life and faith of a Christian .
3 Critical Interactions with the Book
Through his analysis of the Old Testament, Wright seeks to bring out one vital point, that Jesus is not perceived as he should be. In his own words, Jesus has become a “photomontage composed of a random mixture of Gospel stories, topped up with whatever fashionable image of him is current.cut off from the historical Jewish context of his own day, and from his deep roots in the Hebrew scriptures.” According to Wright, modern Christians are increasingly becoming detached from the historical Jesus. Jesus, as portrayed today in Hollywood motion pictures, his depiction in the general media and his reference among even the church going folk has become superficial and diluted.
This skewed perception and understand of Jesus is what Wright intends to set right through his book. Using the Old Testament as a base, the author evaluates in detail all the aspects of Jesus such as his personality, character as well as his goals, including why he refrained from calling himself a messiah . He also deeply analyzes his cultural background as well as genealogy as this forms a vital part of who Jesus was. Jesus himself believed in Hebrew Scriptures and Wright encourages readers to in turn have a better understanding of the Old Testament in order to strengthen their faith.
In Chapter 3 and 4 evaluate Jesus’ role as the Servant of God and its relevance during his time as well as modern times. Wright explains that the title belongs to one who suffers on behalf of God and for His Purposes. While the title can often refer to Israel itself, it most often refers to Jesus. Jesus, as the Servant of God, has been tasked with restoring Israel, so that Israel, as Servants of God, may be a light to the Gentiles .
Wright’s work has several strong points, the greatest of which are his extensive knowledge and use of Old Testament passages which he uses to great effect to explain the various facets of Jesus and his work. He examines Jesus’ cultural background through the genealogy in Matthew 1-4 extensively, comments of the various titles of the Messiah and provides a study of the values of Jesus.
There are also several weaknesses in the book. To begin with, Wright tends to deviate from his main purpose of ‘Knowing Jesus’, most obviously in pages 174 to 180, where he contends that the modern church is to continue the mission of Jesus, making social justice and liberation as one of its primary functions . He even goes on to point out that Jesus used the Old Testament to solve the questions in his life. Why is the modern day church then based majorly on the New Testament while the Old Testament is more or less ignored? While Wright may have a point, the argument seems out of place in this book. Wright stretches the passage and it acts more of a distraction from the books main purpose rather than supporting it.
Wright causes some discomfort by claiming to be an ‘amateur’ in the studies of the New Testament leading one to question some of his authority as being one sided. However, he does clarify that he sought the aid of New Testament experts to help him with his work on the Old Testament. Brian Tubbs of Protestantism.com points out another weakness in the unsystematic manner in which the book is written . It often seems to meander, going back and forth between points already made, examples already given. Some readers may need to read the book at least twice to take in all the points being made in relevance to each other.
Further still, modern church going Christians may have trouble believing several statements made by Wright. Statements like “it was the Old Testament which helped Jesus to understand Jesus” . Such statements may make a reader feel as though Wright is denying Jesus’ divinity and laying far too much emphasis on the influence that the Old Testament had on him.
In Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament Wright is able to use Old Testament passages to bring new light on the person of Jesus and his self perception. In doing this, Wright has made it possible to consider how Jesus viewed himself, and therefore, how Christians should view him. Wright clearly has demonstrated the need for modern readers to consider the Old Testament when trying to understand Jesus and his mission. He has written a very well referenced work that uses the whole of the bible to explain Jesus in his own terms.
Although coming from one of the more theologically liberal traditions, Wright maintained very high views of both scripture and Jesus. I was pleasantly surprised not to have more disagreement with his assumptions and really only took issue with him on his application of the Servant of the Lord passage to the mission of the church. Wright succeeded in making me think about how Jesus considered himself in light of the Old Testament. I had not even thought to consider what Jesus thought of himself or how he had to interpret the scriptures in light of his own personhood. The concept was very interesting to me and will impact my future study of Old and New Testament passages alike. This, I think, is the ultimate goal of the book.
Alexander, P., 2008. Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. [Online] Available at: http://www.9marks.org/books/book-review-knowing-jesus-through-old-testament[Accessed 4 January 2013].
Horton, S. M., 1997. Book Reviews: Knowing Jesus though the Old Testament. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June, 40(2), p. 287.
Theilman, F., 1996. Jesus B.C. Three new books look at Jesus through the Old Testament. Christianity Today, March, 40(3), p. 61.
Tomasimo, A. J., 2003. Judaism before Jesus. Downers Grover, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Tubbs, B., 2007. Jesus and the Old Testament. [Online] Available at: http://www.suite101.com/content/jesus-and-the-old-testament-a21045[Accessed 4 January 2013].
Wright, C. J. H., 1992. Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Academic.