Scripture is not all “timeless truth”

Here, still in the introduction, Wright warns against the notion that the Bible is only useful when you’ve boiled it down to “timeless truths” and theology that can be applied to any context and situation.

Such a “timeless theology” is then the real object of the historical quest. If and when we discover what the beliefs of the New Testament writers were, we can, like theological archaeologists, unearth the essential substructure of Christianity in order to carry it off and display it elsewhere, making it available for all generations in some kind of museum. ‘Theology’ then becomes the ‘real’ thing that the New Testament is ‘about’, the real fruit that emerges when the outer skin of historical circumstance is peeled away. This is often states in terms of some aspects being ‘timelessly true’ and others being ‘culturally conditioned’.

The problem with this programme is that the skin does not peel away so cleanly. It is very difficult to produce a ‘theology’ from the New Testament that is couched in ‘timeless’ categories, and if we succeed in doing so we may justifiably suspect that quite a lot of the fruit has been thrown away, still sticking to the discarded skin.

-N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p.20

All of the New Testament is ‘culturally conditioned’: if that were to disqualify an idea or a theme from attaining ‘relevance’ to other periods or cultures, the New Testament as a whole is disqualified.

This approach may work decently with a book like Romans, but really fall apart with something like I Corinthians, where the specific audience was foremost in the writer’s mind. Again, genre matters.