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The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: Volume 3

N. T. Wright (Author)
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Why did Christianity begin, and why did it take the shape it did? To answer this question – which any historian must face – renowned New Testament scholar N. T. Wright focuses on the key question: what precisely happened at Easter? What did the early Christians mean when they said that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead? What can be said today about this belief?

This book, third in Wright's series Christian Origins and the Question of God, sketches a map of ancient beliefs about life after death, in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds. It then highlights the fact that the early Christians' belief about the afterlife belonged firmly on the Jewish spectrum, while introducing several new mutations and sharper definitions. This, together with other features of early Christianity, forces the historian to read the Easter narratives in the gospels, not simply as late rationalizations of early Christian spirituality, but as accounts of two actual events: the empty tomb of Jesus and his "appearances."

How do we explain these phenomena? The early Christians' answer was that Jesus had indeed been bodily raised from the dead; that was why they hailed him as the messianic "son of God." No modern historian has come up with a more convincing explanation. Facing this question, we are confronted to this day with the most central issues of worldview and theology.
Release date: 
March 17, 2003


MINNEAPOLIS, MN (November 24, 2003)
The Resurrection of the Son of God, published by Fortress Press, an Augsburg Fortress imprint, has been honored with two 2003 Theologos Awards for Book of the Year and Best Academic Book from the Association of Theological Booksellers. The Theologos Awards were announced on Saturday, November 21st, in Atlanta at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL).

The Very Reverend Dr. N. T. Wright, recently consecrated Bishop of Durham in England and widely acclaimed New Testament scholar, delivered the keynote address at this year's Fortress Press Lutheran Professors and Graduate Students Breakfast held on Monday, November 24th in conjunction with AAR/SBL. The Resurrection of the Son of God is the third volume in Wright's much-noted series, Christian Origins and the Question of God.


N. T. Wright is the recently consecrated Bishop of Durham in England and widely acclaimed New Testament scholar. Among his many influential works is the newly published The Resurrection of the Son of God, the third volume in his much-noted series, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Fortress Press, 2003). Below is an interview between Wright and K.C. Hanson, Biblical Studies editor for Fortress Press.

KCH: What do you hope the effect of The Resurrection of the Son of God will be on those who read it?

: I hope that this book will confirm the faith of those who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus! Challenging them to think it through in what for most will be quite new ways (not least the political implications of saying that Jesus is Lord), I hope that, for those who don't believe in Jesus' bodily resurrection, this book will bring them up short and make them face the quite massive historical arguments. Instead of assuming either that 'modern science has disproved that sort of thing,' which of course it hasn't. Science studies the normal, repeatable events, whereas the whole point of the Christian claim is that Easter was abnormal and only to be repeated at the very end. Or that 'modern biblical and historical scholarship has shown that the earliest Christians believed in a non-bodily resurrection,' which is ultimately wishful thinking on the part of some scholars and some in the churches.

KCH: How relevant is the category of history/historical to the resurrection?

: Very! The early Christians believed firmly that something had happened in real history, in the space-time-matter reality of their world. If someone had convinced them that it was simply an experience inside their own heads or hearts, they would have said 'then we've been mistaken' — and their reasons for living as followers of Jesus the Messiah and Lord would have been taken away. This is of course very counter-intuitive to many mainline churches in America, in particular, who have been fed various kinds of ahistorical existentialism for so long they don't realize it's not the real thing.

Of course the word 'history' is sometimes used to mean 'what a post-enlightenment philosopher can put onto his/her Procrustean bed.' I regard that as a downgrading of 'history.' The God the early Christians believed in is the God who made, and has remained active within, the real world. Beware of Platonism here in particular.

KCH: How do the accounts of Jesus' resurrection fit into the larger picture vis-à-vis Judaism?

: First, those first-century Jews who were expecting a resurrection thought of it as a last-minute, large-scale event; the early Christians said it had happened to one person in the middle of history, something nobody had seriously proposed before.

Second, first-century Judaism could use the word 'resurrection' both literally, to refer to that future large-scale reawakening, and metaphorically, to refer (as in Ezekiel 37) to the restoration of Israel. The Christians maintained the literal use but changed the metaphorical one; instead of the restoration of Israel, they used resurrection-language to speak of baptism and holiness.

Third, first-century Judaism, though believing firmly in bodily resurrection, never developed much of a theory about what sort of a body this would be. The early Christians quickly developed the theory that it would mean a transformed physicality – still a body but with new properties.

The main thing underlying this, though, is that the early Christians firmly agreed with their Jewish contemporaries in seeing 'resurrection' as involving bodies, i.e., physical reality. This is after all what the word meant at the time, as also in the writings of those pagans who denied that such a thing was possible.

KCH: After doing this research and writing this volume, has your view of Jesus' resurrection changed?

No and yes.

No: I think the book has simply enabled me to see, and to spell out in much more detail, what I have said in lectures, etc., for many years now but never had a chance to work through in such depth.

Yes: I see much more clearly than I did before the way in which, for the early Christians, Jesus' resurrection really was the start of God's new creation, the new world in which Jesus reigns as Lord, the world in which they decided to live conterminously with the present evil age. And in particular I have seen, again and again, how this played out politically in ways that much scholarship has simply screened out.

KCH: You originally planned your series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, to be five volumes. What prompted you to change the original plan and do this volume?

Originally it was a matter of space. SPCK, the British publisher who commissioned Jesus and the Victory of God told me there wasn't enough room in the book for a chapter on the resurrection as well. At the same time I had to do the Shaffer Lectures at Yale Divinity School in 1996 (the year of JVG's publication) and they had to be about Jesus. I didn't want to do a potted version of JVG. So I decided to do the Shaffers on the resurrection and turn it into an extra volume. Of course by the time I worked up the Shaffer lectures there was plenty of material for three lectures, and when I then tried to write it up as a book it grew and grew and grew. Further, I found that most of the writing about the resurrection in the scholarship of the last fifty years or so has made enormous and remarkable errors which needed careful explication and correction. I hope that readers of the new volume will see the point!

Table of Contents

  1. The Target and the Arrows
  2. Life beyond Death in Ancient Paganism
  3. Origin and Shape of Jewish Resurrection Beliefs
  4. Resurrection outside the orinthian Correspondence
  5. Resurrection in Corinth: Introduction
  6. Resurrection in Corinth: The Key Passages
  7. When Paul Saw Jesus
  8. Resurrection in EarlyChristianity Apart from Paul
  9. Hope Refocussed (2): Other New Testament Writings
  10. Hope Refocussed (3): Non-Canoncial Early Christian Texts
  11. Hope in Person
  12. The Story of Easter
  13. Fear and Trembling: Mark