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Critical Book Review - Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Critical Book Review - Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

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Published by: Michael Boling on Jun 28, 2011
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TABLE OF CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION…………………………………………………………………...1 II. BRIEF SUMMARY………………………………………………………………...1 III. CRITICAL INTERACTION WITH THE AUTHOR’S WORK…………………..2 IV. CONCLUSION…………………………………………………………………….6 BIBLIOGRAPHY……………………………………………………………………...8


CRITICAL REVIEW OF “KNOWING JESUS THROUGH THE OLD TESTAMENT” INTRODUCTION Christopher Wright, in his book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament presents a concise examination of how the Old Testament clearly defines Christ’s mission thus assisting believers in developing a holistic understanding of the Messiah. For Wright, a true understanding of Christ is rooted in the concept “The Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completes.”1 As such, Wright avers the Old Testament serves as the basis for how one must understand the message and purpose of Christ as revealed in the New Testament. Wright’s viewpoint is in keeping with recent efforts to understand the historical Jesus as well as the Messianic Jewish effort to restore the “Jewishness” of the gospel. This review will show that while other works on this topic are more extensive in scope, Wright’s work, despite suffering from excursions into debatable theological positions such as replacement theology, is a valuable reminder of the need to interpret scripture holistically, particularly when attempting to understand Christ as a Jew and more importantly, as the promised Messiah. BRIEF SUMMARY Throughout the first chapter, Wright develops a major theme of his book, namely the development of Messianic hope as reflected in the covenants between God and Israel. As noted by V. Philips Long in his review of Wright’s work, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament is “not a mere survey of OT Messianic proof-texts lifted out of context, nor is it an attempt to find Jesus on every page of the OT by fanciful interpretations.”2 This is evinced in the opening portion of the book where Wright initiates his discussion with an overview of the genealogy


Christopher Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, V. Philips Long, “Book Notices,” Presbyterion 19, no. 1 (1993), 61.

1992), 2.


2 found in Matthew’s gospel in keeping with the theme of this chapter, that of Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. This genealogy was not merely a list of names; rather it was included by Matthew to purposefully reveal Christ’s bloodline, an important element for the Jewish people in establishing one’s connection as a member of the children of Israel. His approach reveals Christ is the true fulfillment of the covenants made with Israel in the Old Testament and notably, as uttered in the Old Testament prophetic texts, both pre and post-exilic. In chapter 2, Wright continues his effort to unite the Matthean text with the Old Testament Messianic promise. He clearly distinguishes between the concepts of promise and prophecy in an attempt to note the “dynamic quality that goes beyond the external details involved.” The position taken by some scholars that the New Testament narratives about Christ were intended solely to show how Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecy is rejected by Wright. In opposition to this stance and in keeping with his overall premise of a more holistic view of promise and prophecy, Wright instead avers a more elongated view that looks for patterns that reveal how “promise involves commitment to a relationship and a response of acceptance.” The message of the Old Testament was God’s continued desire for a personal relationship with Israel, a message Wright avers was finally fulfilled in the person of Christ through his sacrifice. The major theme of chapter 3, namely obedience to the Old Testament law and covenants, serves as the backdrop by which Wright reveals how the Old Testament texts contains a wealth of information not only for the believer to utilize in their effort to understand Christ, but more importantly for Wright, it was the Old Testament text that served as the framework by which Christ understood His own life and purpose. As a Jew, the Old Testament served as the framework by which Christ lived his life on earth. Long argues that Wright “describes how Jesus’ own sense of values and of his mission were deeply rooted in his close study of his Bible,

3 the Old Testament.”3 Thus, one must not merely view the Old Testament prophecies as simply fulfilled in Christ or as a foreshadowing of Christ. While such a position is valid, Wright notes to actually know Christ involves understanding the Old Testament and the influence it had on both the Jewish people throughout history and Christ’s own life on earth. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament continues with a discussion of Jesus’ mission on earth in fulfillment of the Old Testament Son of Man prophecy found in the book of Daniel. Additionally, Wright reveals how Christ is the servant of the Lord in completion of Isaiah’s prophecy. He interacts with the idea of Christ being a light to the world, to include the Gentiles, an idea subsumed in God’s covenant with Abraham. Israel’s mission was to be a blessing to all nations and Wright explicates in his text how this mission came to fruition through Christ. Christ’s role as savior of the world is inculcated in his role as the Messiah of Israel.4 The book concludes with an overview of the Old Testament ethical teachings as reflected in the teachings and life of Christ. The Jewish spiritual milieu of Christ’s time was largely a reaction to the rejection of the law that led to the exile of Israel from the Promised Land. In order to ensure such a wholesale rejection of the law never occurred again, Pharisaic legalism became vogue, a legalism which Christ viewed as antipodal to the fundamental purpose and intent of the law. Wright returns to a major theme of his book, the connection between the Old Testament promises and obedience, in an effort to reveal Christ’s teachings on the law. As noted by Stanley Horton in his review of this book, “Wright shows that many of the ethical teachings of Jesus had precedents in the OT and that they were the true heart of the law.”5


Ibid., 62. Wright, 176. Stanley Horton, “Book Reviews,” Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 40, no. 2 (June 1997),




4 CRITICAL INTERACTION WITH THE AUTHOR’S WORK John Walvoord argues for the orthodox position on hell. In his review of Four Views on Hell Robert Pyne properly notes “Walvoord relies on the idea that prophecy is to be interpreted literally.” Most notably, Walvoord frames his discussion of hell within proper hermeneutical principles by asking “what does the Bible teach?” on the subject of hell rather than overly interacting with church tradition or the position of noted theologians. His discussion of hell begins with a brief overview of Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna, the four main words utilized in Scripture to depict the place of the afterlife. According to Walvoord, “the Old Testament clearly teaches that there is judgment for the unsaved after this life and that this judgment continues over an extended period of time.”6 He correctly centers his discussion of hell’s eternality on numerous Scriptures that overwhelmingly portray the “sufferings of the wicked continue forever.”7 He notes Gehenna’s “usage in the New Testament is clearly a reference to the everlasting state of the wicked.”8 Further valuable support for eternal punishment of the wicked is seen by Walvoord in the concept subsumed in the term Hades most notably, Revelation 20 with its clear notations regarding Hades giving up the dead in order for them to be thrown into the lake of fire for eternal punishment. Walvoord rightly avers the lake of fire “does not provide annihilation but continual suffering.”9 Walvoord concludes his insightful discussion with a sound hermeneutical of the Greek word aiōnios. As with any term in Scripture, the proper definition is derived from both its


Ibid. Ibid., 17. Ibid., 20. Ibid., 23.




5 context and the semantic range of the word. In this regard, Walvoord brilliantly observes, “In support of the idea that aiōnios means “endless” is its consistent placement alongside the duration of the life of the godly in eternity.”10 Walvoord is not alone in his assertions on the meaning and usage of aiōnios. Author and theologian Herbert Lockyer also avers that aiōnios, specifically its root aion, is used most often in the New Testament to indicate time without end. This is evidenced by the fact that the term aiōnios, connoting everlasting and eternal, is used 14 times to describe the eternal rewards of the righteous and an additional 7 times to describe the final disposition of the wicked.11 Walvoord concludes his section with a brief notation of the literal depiction of hell in the New Testament. He supports his assertion with an overview of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, in particular the rich man’s request for water to cool his tongue. Walvoord sees in this request a “natural reaction to fire” with objections based on Scriptures use of metaphorical language to depict unknown or future events as based solely on theological differences rather than sound exegetical practice.12 Despite the validity of Walvoord’s position on a literal fire burning eternally in hell, his remarks suffer from brevity and lack of apologetic development. Professor William Crockett posits a position similar to that of Walvoord in regards to the eternality of hell; however, Crockett’s avers the depictions of hell as “figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom.”13 He claims the graphic views of hell that form the


Ibid., 24. Herbert Lockyer, All the Doctrines of the Bible (Grand Rapids, 1988), 292. Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, 28. Ibid., 44.





basis of most evangelical teaching in this area are largely based on medieval writings such as Dante’s Inferno. Crockett rightly advises the reader to make special note of hyperbolic language, particularly when exegeting Scriptures on the nature of hell. He accurately comments that “by paying attention to the contexts, we can avoid overliteralizing on the one hand, or diluting the meaning of Scripture on the other.”14 Crockett’s assertions; however, suffer from his conviction the literal view “makes the Bible say too much.”15 The metaphorical position ultimately fails to holistically determine what is to be taken metaphorically and what is to be accepted as literal. While Crockett’s arguments arguably have merit and are theologically sound, the reader is left wondering why hell could not be a literal place of fire and eternal darkness. Professor Zachary Hayes presents the Roman Catholic perspective of purgatory, a “state of purifying suffering for those who have died and are still in need of such purification.”16 Hayes frames his argument by asking “if the concern of the religious journey is to move to ever greater closeness and intimacy with God in a relationship of love, one must ask how the distance between God and creature might be bridged.”17 For Hayes, this bridge from man to God can be found in the purgatorial process of purification. As noted by Thomas Halstead in his review of Four Views on Hell, for Hayes, purgatory provides a way to “get us ready for heaven through purification.”18 Unfortunately, Hayes provides little Scriptural basis for his assertions choosing rather to provide support for purgatory from church tradition rather than clear biblical exegesis. Furthermore, Hayes provides no answer to Hebrews 9:27 which clearly states, “man is destined

Ibid., 51. Ibid., 54. Ibid., 93. Ibid., 96. Halstead, 226.





7 to die once, and after that to face judgment,” a verse which provides no room for a purgatorial stance on the afterlife. The final perspective presented in Four Views on Hell is that of Clark Pinnock who proposes what he labels as the conditional view. Pinnock firmly states his belief that “the traditional belief that God makes the wicked suffer in an unending conscious torment in hell is unbiblical.”19 As such, he proposes that annihilationism more closely resembles biblical doctrine as it “retains the realism of some people finally saying No to God without turning the notion hell into a monstrosity.”20 Perhaps the words of D. A. Carson provide salient background into Pinnock’s aversion to a literal perspective on hell. Carson notes that “despite the sincerity of their motives, one wonders more than a little to what extent the growing popularity of various forms of annihilationism and conditional immortality are a reflection of this age of pluralism.”21 Minimal biblical evidence support Pinnock’s sentiments nor his penchant to misinterpret the “destruction of the wicked” described through Scripture. Despite the popularity such a message might enjoy by those seeking to assuage their fear of eternal damnation, Pinnock’s position is scripturally feeble at best. CONCLUSION The importance of understanding the various theological arguments presented in Four Views on Hell book cannot be overstated. One simply cannot ignore the biblical teaching on hell due to difficulties in exegeting the totality of the doctrine of hell. To this end, Four Views on Hell contributes magnificently to providing believers with a valuable tool by which to evaluate various views on hell. While debate certainly rages in evangelical circles as to nature of hell,

Walvoord, Hayes, and Pinnock, 165. Ibid., 166. D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 536.




one thing is certain; rejection of the gift of salvation provided by Christ will have eternal consequences. The words of Dale Vree ring profoundly true as he rightly observes, “Could it be that the only result of attempts, however well-meaning, to air-condition hell, is to ensure that more and more people wind up there?”22 As believers we must be mindful that “Jesus and his disciples taught again and again in terrible terms that there is an irreversible judgment and punishment of the unrepentant. Warnings and loving invitations intermingle to encourage us to flee the wrath to come.”23


Dale Vree, “Hell Air Conditioned,” New Oxford Review 58 (June 1998), 4. John Wenham, The Goodness of God (Leicester, 1974), 41.



BIBLIOGRAPHY Horton, Stanley. “Book Reviews.” Journal for the Evangelical Theological Society 40, no. 2 (June 1997): 287. Kaiser, Walter. The Messiah in the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995. Long, V. Phillips. “Book Notices.” Presbyterion 19, no. 1 (1993): 61-64. Porter, Stanley. The Messiah in the Old and New Testaments. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007. Wright, Christopher. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

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