Unlike the conclusion to Jesus and The Victory of God, the last section in The Resurrection of The Son of God is still a section in its own right making up about 50 pages or so. Before getting to the final section, so far we’ve covered the following areas in historical survey:
In the final section of the book, Wright turns to examine how beliefs are formed and if, after all this surveying, Christians are justified in believing an historical resurrection took place. In short, his answer is a resounding Yes!
At this point, I’d rather devote this post to concluding the book that interacting deeply with Wright’s final thoughts. The takeaway for me was that Wright was forthcoming that proving the resurrection historically happened will never be anything quite like a mathematical proof. Without saying in so many words, Wright is highlighting that historical proof is always inductive and therefore not as definitively conclusive as a deductive argument would be. However, he concludes his first chapter in the final section by not the force of the argument:
Historical argument alone cannot force anyone to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead; but historical argument is remarkably good at clearing away the undergrowth behind which scepticisms of various sorts have been hiding. The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivalled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity (718).
In other words, no historical survey can have the logical force of a deductive argument, but it definitely removes many if not all of the skeptical objections and forces the person who doesn’t believe in the resurrection to offer a better, more historically viable alternative. One of the results of Wright’s work is that many if not all other options are laying dismantled, all the evidence seems to point very clearly to a literal empty tomb that literally empty because Jesus literally rose from the dead and literally alive in a new embodied existence as we speak.
For Wright, the empty tomb and the appearances of the risen Jesus, taken together, have the force of a necessary and sufficient condition for the rise of early Christian belief (696). They are clearly a sufficient condition for the rise and explosion of Christian belief, but saying they are a necessary condition means there are no other options that could do as well explaining the phenomena of Christianity. Wright then defends this at length and shows that though is no end to human ingenuity, the best explanation for the rise of Christianity, and really the only one that accounts for all the data, is that the tomb really was empty because Jesus really was raised.
The final chapter then looks to worldviews. Here Wright wants to explore a little bit of what Jesus’ resurrection means, or better, what its implications are. In short, though for Wright it doesn’t prove Jesus was God, it does vindicate him as Messiah and Son of God. This might seem like a minor point, but Wright wants to ensure that the resurrection is seen as vindicating things Jesus was already claiming, rather than being seen as some totally unpredictable event that led everyone to reformulate or even create an explanation about Jesus that hadn’t existed before he died.
The way I’ve thought of it, and the way one of my Hebrew professors explained it, is that the resurrection is the box top that illustrates how to put the pieces together. It doesn’t paint a picture that isn’t already present in fragmented form in the pieces, but shows you the correct way to assemble them. So, on the one hand, you could look at the resurrection “proving” Jesus’ divinity, but at the same time, Jesus’ divinity can be “proven” from his words apart from the resurrection. For Wright then, the resurrection is properly seen as vindication, that though it did reframe the disciples worldview, it also supported conclusions they could have drawn prior but didn’t.
All of this is to say that Wright’s book is invaluable to anyone looking for an exhaustive historical survey about the resurrection. I’m glad I took the time to work through it in the weeks leading up to Easter and found myself growing more and more excited about the resurrection. While the arguments Wright presents won’t silence every last skeptic, they do go a long way to “clear the ground” and remove some arguments against from the table. To me, the most valuable work in the book is Wright’s exhaustive exegetical treatments that show how central the resurrection really is to the New Testament. Whether it’s Paul’s epistles or the concluding narratives of the Gospels, Wright goes to painstaking detail to show that the resurrection is not just a nice little add on to the Christian faith but that it is just as central as the cross and must taken together with it.
Wright does all this in a fairly readable style that won’t overwhelm people who haven’t read much academic theology or historical surveys. Because his book is exhaustive (and somewhat exhausting!) not everyone will want to pick up a copy for beach or poolside reading. However, it is well worth the time invested into if you are serving the church by teaching or preaching God’s word. In that case then, I think this is a book that pastors and teachers should have as a definitive source on the resurrection even if they don’t ever find themselves reading it cover to cover.
- Author: N. T. Wright
- Title: The Resurrection of The Son of God
- Publisher: Fortress Press (March 1, 2003)
- Series: Christian Origins and The Question of God
- Paperback: 817pgs
- Reading Level: Bible School (but definitely requires a Seminary level attention span and stamina)
- Audience Appeal: Prophets and kings interested in an exegetical and historical defense of the resurrection
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Fortress Press)
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