N.T. Wright’s third volume in his Christian Origin’s series is special too me as it’s the the first truely heavy book of theology (or non-fiction for that matter!) that I was successful in plowing all the way through. Ever. I blogged about lots of passages a few years ago, but while cleaning out some files on my computer, I found a text file with some additional excepts. I don’t think I’ll ever get a moment to address these and a lot of them probably don’t deserve a whole blog post anyway. Therefore, I am going to dump them here just for future reference.
On the confusion of “literal”, “metaphorical”, “concrete”, and “abstract”, especially with regards to bible interpretation.
One other vital matter must be mentioned at this point, since space has precluded fuller treatment in the body of the text. I constantly run into loose talk about a ‘literal’ resurrection as opposed to a ‘metaphorical’ one. I know what people mean when they say that, but those words are unhelpful ways of saying it. The terms ‘literal’ and ‘metaphorical’ refer, properly, to THE WAYS WORDS REFER TO THINGS, not to the things to which the words refer. For the latter task, the appropriate words might be ‘concrete’ and abstract’. The phrase ‘Plato’s theory of forms’; literally refers to an abstract entity (in fact, a doubly abstract one). The phrase ‘the greasy spoon’ refers metaphorically, and perhaps also metonymically, to a concrete entity, namely the cheap restaurant down the road. The fact that the language is being used literally or metaphorically tells us nothing, in and of itself, about the sort of entities it is referring to.
On how the resurrection has already begun, sort of.
…those who learn how to be Jesus’ people in Caesar’s empire will ‘shine like lights in the world’. This is a deliberate echo of Daniel 12.3, indicating that Paul, here as elsewhere, had thought through the present life and vocation of Christians in terms of a resurrection life which had already, in one sense, begun, even though it was to be completed in the bodily resurrection itself.
On Paul’s “boasting” in 2 Corinthians 11
His crowning achievement is a wonderful parody of the corona muralis, the highest Roman military honour, gained through being the first besieger to climb over the wall of a city. When he, Paul, was himself under threat in Damascus, he was the first one over the wall – let down in a basket and running away.
On verbatim quotes in the gospel
This does not mean, of course, that these predictions are all verbatim reports of things that Jesus said. The shift each time from ‘after three days’ in Mark to ‘on the third day’ in Matthew and Luke (with Luke omitting the whole clause on the second occasion) is a clear sign of editorial tidying-up at an early point in the tradition; assuming that Jesus died on a Friday, three full days had not passed before the Sunday morning, but it was ‘the third day’, and that is what we find in the very early tradition which Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:4.
On Herod thinking Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead
Perhaps the simplest explanation for why Herod said what he did – or why someone said that he said it – is the general idea, current at least since the Maccabees and Daniel, that Israel’s god whoud vindicate a righteous sufferer, and that Herod might well think of John in that way.
On the larger structure of John
The large-scale outoworking of this can be seen in John’s deliberate sequence of ‘signs’. Though this is controversial, I believe that John intends his readers to follow a sequence of seven signs, with the water-into-wine story at Cana as the first and the crucifixion as the seventh. The resurrection of Jesus takes place, he is careful to tell us twice, ‘on the first day of the week’, and I believe this is best interpreted as the start of god’s new creation. On the Friday, the sixth day of the week, Jesus stands before Pilate, who declares ‘behold, the man!’, (19:5) echoling the creation of humankind on the sixth day of creation. On the cross Jesus finishes te work the father accomplished’, 19:30, corresponding to the completion of creation itself. There follows as in Genesis, a day of rest, a sabbath day and then, while it is yet dark, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb ‘on the first day of the week’
On heaven and its ongoing nature.
It [the tree of life] bears fruit every onth, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Here and elsewhere we glimpse, not a static picture of bliss, but a new creation bursting with new projects, new goals and new possibilities. The long story of God and the world, of God and Israel, of God and the Messiah, has arrived at its goal. Death always was the ultimate denial of the good creation; no, with its abolition, the creator’s new world can proceed.
On words in the Oxford English Dictionary
The word ‘transphysical’ seems not to exist, surprisingly enough (one might have throught some enterprising ontologist would have employed it long since), and I proffer it for inclusion between transphosphorylation and transpicuous in the Oxford English Dictionary. The ‘trans’ is intended as a shortening of ‘transformed’. ‘Transphysical’ is not meant to describe in detail what sort of a body it was that the early Christians supposed Jesus already had, and believed that they themselves woul eventually have. Nor indeed does it claim to explain how such a thing can come to be. It merely, but I hope usefully, puts a label on the demonstrable fact that the early Christians envisaged a body which was still robustly physical but also significantly different from the present one. *Its absense may of course be explained by the curiously Levitical taboo against mixing Latin and Greek roots.
On the rich theology in the Odes of Solomon
The Odes take their place along with the great theologians of the first two centuries, a living reminder that the church expresses and learns its faith as much by poetry and song as by theological argument.
On only women telling the early accounts of the resurrection
The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; where the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it. That they did NOT tells us either that everyone in the early church knew that the women, led by Mary Magdalene, were in fact the first on the scene, or that the early church was not so inventive as critics have routinely imagined, or both. Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?