Tom Wright, Scripture and God’s Authority

Tom Wright, Scripture and God’s Authority June 1, 2011

The biggest problem many of us have with how we frame the “doctrine” of Scripture is that it isn’t adequate to how Scripture arose as our Sacred Text or how it operates either in the church or with us as Bible readers. Here’s the traditional model: it’s a top-down deposit or transmission of information. In other words, Scripture is framed as revelation.

I, too, would place Scripture within a framework of revelation, but that’s not enough, nor is it the primary framing. [Handmade chart with Penultimate app on the iPad.]

What is your model? What model is most “biblical” for you? And, what do you think of Tom Wright’s take on Sabbath as an illustration of how his model of Bible reading works?

Scripture flows out of the Trinitarian inter-communicative Logos and it is connected to the Holy Spirit and it is a “product” as well of the church. The revelation model has a top-down model that moves from God to revelation intent to inspiration and author/text and inerrancy and authority and reading. It’s all framed as a top-down revelation. It’s inadequate because God chose to manifest truth and grace and redemption through history, at specific moments and over time and through authors and through a community, and that history is nearly eliminated in the revelation model. The model needs supplementation to frame a view of Scripture that is organic to how Scripture came into existence. This top-down model is too much golden tablets dropping from the sky.

But Scripture at the organic level emerges from authors who are part of God’s People (Israel, Church), and the books in Scripture arise out of particular circumstances and are written by authors with intent and agenda, and the individual authors interact with one another (Micah, Isaiah, Matthew, Romans, Hebrews, Revelation) and carry the Story forward so that the last version of the Story can reframe the former versions. And then there is the ongoing life of the church — and tradition. Many of us think the revelation model tells us very important things, but it is inadequate.

That is why so many of us value the voice of Tom Wright in this discussion. His newest book, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, is both a revision and an expansion of his former book The Last Word.

This book of Tom’s both revises and expands and, in particular, adds chapters that are test cases for how his theory of Scripture works out. He examines two topics, Sabbath and Monogamy. Today I will look at his Sabbath chapter, but first a brief on the big ideas of the book.

The expression “authority of Scripture” is shorthand for “the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through Scripture” (21). There is something important here, for Wright acknowledges that authority is God’s — and derivatively of Scripture. Any time someone equates the two, there opens the possibility for idolatry to occur. Furthermore, Wright is keen on showing that this authority of God is God’s authority in working out the Kingdom mission for his people and creation. Scripture, then, is a sub-branch of mission, the Spirit, eschatology, and the Church itself (29). Again, very important.

When Wright comes to sum up his entire argument, on pp. 115-116, he says this: The authority of Scripture is “a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.” Thus, the “authority of Scripture” is put into action in the Church’s missional operations. Scripture, he says, is more than a record of revelation and was never simply about imparting information — it is God’s word to redeem his people as God works out his plan for the entire created order. And you may know how the Bible teaches what Tom calls a 5-Act play: creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, Church. We are in the 5th Act now.

Now to Sabbath. Tom provides an exceptional illustration of how both to read Sabbath in its OT setting, what Jesus and Paul “did” to that teaching, how the Jubilee principle extends the Sabbath principle, and how Jesus is the transition to a new kind of time — death and resurrection and new creation, and thus how the Sabbath principle finds fulfillment in Jesus himself, and then he probes how to live that Sabbath principle out in our world. Here are some highlights:

1. In the OT Sabbath was a strong commandment, it was the day YHWH took up abode in the temple of creation (here he chimes in with John Walton) and asked image-bearers to enjoy that same rest.
2. Sabbath shows that history is going somewhere, it is a temporal sign that creation is headed toward that final rest, and it is sacred time.
3. Sabbath has to be connected to Jubilee, and therefore to justice and compassion for the poor, and that means Sabbath and Jubilee point us toward the restoration of creation.
4. Jesus thought the entire Sabbath principle pointed toward himself. Time was fulfilled in him; a new kind of time begins with him. Paul does not seem to care about Sabbath, and he observes its absence in Romans 13:9; Col 2:14-16; Rom 14:5-6. I have to be brief: it’s about time’s fulfillment. Sacred time finds its way to Jesus Christ and new creation.
5. To continue celebrating sabbaths is to focus on the signposts when we have already arrived. Thus, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” You don’t need the alarm clock when the sun is flooding the room with its light.

6. The early Christians didn’t transfer Sabbath to Sunday.
7. We don’t need to back up into a Sabbatarianism.
8. We “celebrate” instead of “rest” — a kind of celebration rest. We reserve this day for new creation life. Music, the meal, family, service, peace, justice, love — these are the notes of Sunday for those who see the fulfillment of Sabbath in Jesus.

We live in a perpetual sabbath.

"Larry Hurtado's blog - https://larryhurtado.wordpr... - he provides wonderful book reviews and/or directions to interesting ..."

Crowdsourcing For Resources
"New Testament Women require a post of their own,. There are many examples."

A Look at Biblical Womanhood (RJS)
"I disagree. https://thescripturesays.or...And so does Origen (c.e. 185-254) (https://thescripturesays.or...,And so does Ambrosiaster (c.e. 366-384) (https://thescripturesays.or..., ..."

The New Perpsective Is Earlier Than ..."
"don't leave out NT women. The first miracle was at the request of Mary. Women ..."

A Look at Biblical Womanhood (RJS)

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Fascinating. I get into this in my classes on hermeneutics. I think that maybe Tom’s answer (though I agree with it) is too complex an alternative to the first one. The way I see this, the most specific issue is that we need to relocated revelation in history (not, as the traditional view would have it, in the mind of the biblical author). And I probably mostly got that from NT Wright, actually. Revelation occurred in diverse times and places when God acted or spoke. In the logos who becomes flesh we have the climax of this whole trajectory. Scripture, then, is not the word of God itself, but testimony to the word of God. And it is, as you explaing a complex testimony which rooted in its own time and place. The logos of God was Jesus, of course. This opens up the theme of the apostolicity of the church and the development of the canon quite nicely. It makes sense of the historical development of scripture because, well, scripture is a historical testimony to God’s revelation and as such it did develop. Of course, this is not to deny that the scriptures are also INSPIRED testimony.

  • rjs

    This book I just ordered – it needs to be added to my library.

    I’ve thought and posted extensively on the nature of scripture as revelation, as inspired, and as authority. This is one of the biggest sticking points (in my mind anyway) in any attempt to remain faithful as one studies and learns in higher education, whether social sciences, history, biblical studies, or science.

    Any approach first needs to consider what scripture is, and the “revelation model” common in evangelicalism and fundamentalism gets this all wrong – it is inconsistent with the text, it is inconsistent with the way the text was used in scripture itself, and it leads to untenable self-falsifying conclusions.

  • rjs

    Oh, and I just got penultimate as well – the fact that (even?) Scot could use it to illustrate his post convinces me…

  • Tom Wright’s book ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’ has been one of the best I’ve read to date on the doctrine of scripture. Very helpful and rewarding. His two essays at the conclusion of the book put his proposal into action and offer incredible insights into two very important concerns – Sabbath and Monogamy. Worth reading.

    My review –

    Thanks for sharing, Scot.

  • I am encouraged by his holding out for the academic and pastoral role as important to give context and understanding to the reading of scripture. But at the same time he does not limit the reading of scripture to professionals. There can be right (or at least better) readings of scripture but through the Holy Spirit we as lay people can (and should) be soaking in scripture so we can participate in Christ’s work in history.

    I thought this was both one of his more accessible books and one of the strongest statements on the importance of serious study of scripture.

  • Rick

    “authority of God is God’s authority in working out the Kingdom mission for his people and creation. Scripture, then, is a sub-branch of mission, the Spirit, eschatology, and the Church itself”

    1) Isn’t mission a sub-branch of knowing God?

    2) Does this now put the church over Scripture?

  • An excellent post. Your first handwritten note is chilling. I was thinking to myself – that’s how idols are made. When God is too troublesome, fashion something more tractable instead. The discussion of sabbath is important, not least because it provides a pointer towards approaching far more controversial issues. If history is ‘going somewhere’ we retain a connection to the past but without captivity. I was reflecting on many of the same issues recently:

    I abandoned inerrancy a while ago, but discussions like this give me some hope that the alternative is better than a subjectivist riot.

  • Susan N.

    “And then there is the ongoing life of the church — and tradition. Many of us think the revelation model tells us very important things, but it is inadequate.”

    This reminds me again of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral… So much common sense in that model!

    ‘The Blue Parakeet’ gave me a “big picture” view, and way of viewing, Scripture as well.

    “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12, Ampl. Bible)

    Yowza! It’s a dynamic!! Awesome…

  • Scot:

    I don’t agree. Paul is instructing non-Jews and Sabbath is not a requirement for non-Jews. The realization that signs of the covenant are not required of non-Jews (Sabbath, dietary law, circumcision) explains Paul’s letters far better.

    It is really a poor argument that Wright makes (and I am a Wright fan). It is typical supersessionism. God’s work with Israel was temporary, in this view, and primitive. That sort of reading is more like Christian triumphalism than Biblical authority. It is nothing more than the “New Testament undoes the Old Testament” trope we have seen since Justin Martyr.

    Derek Leman

  • In addition to my last point (comment #9), understand that Paul uses a certain line of rhetoric in addressing gentiles, a line of rhetoric which is completely amenable to Judaism. That line is simple: dietary law, circumcision, and Sabbath are not absolute truths. They are not inherent truths. They are holiness commands. Thus, the rabbis have many times said that pig is good food. It is simply forbidden to Jews.

    Likewise, Paul addresses a community to whom the Sabbath is not commanded and emphasizes, as part of his case against the synagogue proselytizers who demanded they convert to Judaism, that Sabbath is really nothing (in the universal sense).

    This is good Judaism. Sabbath is a specific decision by God to have his people hallow a day every week. It is not universally true and time is uniform in reality. The commandment for Israel specifies one island in time as holy for purposes of sanctifying a people and creating a practice, but not to give a theology of time.

    Derek Leman

  • As for monogamy, I rather liked Jesus’ very Jewish explanation. Monogamy is the Torah’s original teaching (via the commands to Adam and Eve). The fact that God overlooked and allowed and even regulated polygamy (and slavery) was an accommodation to social structures where more pressing issues needed to be dealt with.

  • I’m with the Celebration vs. Rest with Sabbath post-Christ, however, does that mean we can’t learn from and teach the practice of Sabbath rest, i.e. intentional rhythm and rest within one’s week, month, etc. to slow down long enough to be renewed.

  • Scot McKnight

    Derek, the word “supersessionism” is a bludgeoning instrument, and blocks genuine engagement with Scripture. Find a better term instead of a caustic accusatory one.

  • Scot:

    I feel strongly that followers of a Jewish Messiah should not take theology in a direction that degrades our Messiah’s own spiritual tradition. I have many Christian theologians who agree with me, not least Karl Barth, Markus Barth, R. Kendall Soulen.

    It is more than appropriate to refer to views like Sabbath-was-primitive but now-we-are-enlightened and Judaism-has-ceased as supersessionism.

    That’s exactly what it is. Why is my soapbox deemed disallowed rhetoric? Have all the Christian theologians who engaged in Jewish-Christian relations been mistaken to use the term? I follow in their footsteps.

  • Scot McKnight

    Yes, an your second paragraph is a caricature and not close to what Tom Wright argues, so you are beating an imaginary wraith instead of the substance. Wright argues the OT text itself envisions an eschatology in Sabbath principle and Jubilee principle.

    As I have said to you before, if you believe salvation is found only in Christ you are in some senses supersessionistic. Now I don’t like the term “supersession” and I like “fulfillment” and “realized” and “inaugurated” but anyone who thinks Jesus is Messiah thinks something happened to the Old when the New came. For those who don’t, there’s an air of supersessionism…

    … but this post isn’t about how messianic Judaism interprets Sabbath.

  • So, if many Jewish followers of Jesus think the statement, “To continue celebrating sabbaths is to focus on the signposts when we have already arrived” is false, may we not say so.

    May we not say instead that Paul’s point was, “For non-Jews to keep Sabbath under compulsion is to deny that God accepts non-Jews as they are and adds conversion to Judaism falsely to the gospel”?

    Sorry, if my continued objections seem tedious, but theologians for the people of Christ must include all the people of Christ in their generalizing statements or their theology is off. And Jews in Christ have a viewpoint that should not be overlooked.

  • I come from traditions that talk incessantly about what the Bible says to me, and very rarely about what the Spirit says to the churches.

    Seems to me that Bible reading/study is:

    1. A team sport. Community hermeneutics.
    2. Exclusive. It’s Our book. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.
    3. The Spirit reads us while we read the Book.

    Great post! Wright’s book is in my pile to read, just moved it to the top.

  • Richard

    @ 16 Derek

    Doesn’t our NT include accounts of Jewish followers of Jesus breaking the separation (i.e. holiness) between Jews and Gentiles? I’m thinking of Peter and Paul having meals with Gentiles. I’m thinking of Paul writing how Christ tore down the wall and nailed the written code to the cross. I’m not Jewish though so maybe I’m missing how that isn’t different than OT Judaism.

    And I say that fully acknowledging how much I’m indebted to the perspective of Messianic Jews and those more familiar with the ANE to help me as a 21st Century North American better understand the Scriptures that point me to Jesus.

  • The revelation model in the first panel is certainly inadequate. It looks like the old “dictation” theory of inspiration. But who holds to that anymore? I do not see it taught among Evangelicals, not even those who were once styled as Fundamentalists. When I was in Bible college over thirty years ago — a school that identified itself as Fundamentalist — we were taught that the dictation theory did not do justice to the inspiration of Scripture.

  • scotmcknight

    Derek, yes, of course, you can say — without casting aspersions on the other side’s view.

  • Richard

    @ 6 Rick

    In Wright’s model, “mission” refers to God’s mission, not the church’s so technically God is over Scripture, not the church.

    Sounds a lot like Christopher Wright’s Mission of God hermeneutic.

  • Your description of Wright’s thoughts on the genesis and authority of Scripture sounds similar to my Orthodox priest-friend’s view of Scripture. Revelation of through the people of God (Church), but not as stand alone revelation (Golden Tablets) approach.

    I would take issue with the illustration of the Sabbath as being eliminated through Christ. Sabbath stands as a life-giving demonstration of the eternal sabbath according to the writer of Hebrews (perhaps Paul). It flows from the life and work of God at creation, and is not ‘merely’ a strong commandment given to guide a broken humanity to Jesus. Jesus observed Sabbath, but in a way that gave fulfillment to it not elimination of it.

    If we were to follow through on Wright’s use of sabbath as an illustration of Scripture, would we not then need to eliminate Scripture as we since The Word has come?

  • John W Frye

    Derek Leman,
    I agree with you that in the Judaizing controversy Paul did not condone Gentile believers submitting to Jewish practices as evidence of genuine faith. On the other hand, I think Paul’s concession to Jewish believers to continue practicing their cultural rituals was just that–a concession. You seem to think that the fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah of all that Judaism stood for is a threat to your (and the Messiah’s) spiritual tradition. Are you not open to having your own sacred tradition subject to revelation in Scripture and in the Christ? I think it is fine if you say you disagree with NT Wright’s take on the Sabbath, but to say that his statement is *false* seems an unfair indictment.

  • John Frye:

    If my use of the word “false” implied heresy, I did not intend it. I meant factually false (in my opinion).

    You interpret Paul’s practice of continuing Jewish distinctives (evident in Acts) as a concession. I interpret it as the obvious path of a Jewish follower of Messiah. We could debate the evidence for your concession view and my necessity view.

    But your question that applies more to the post is whether I think it feasible that the coming of Messiah would undo Jewish covenantal signs. I do not think so and for many reasons. The irrevocable election of Israel is something Paul affirmed (Rom 11:26-29) and I think it does not do justice to the earlier parts of Scripture to say, “We should assume that the New undoes the Old.” And if it were the case that the New undoes the Old, I would expect that to be part of apostolic preaching. It is not. Yes, I know about Mark 7 and Acts 10.

  • Scot:

    Perhaps it would be better if we had more terms than just supersessionism. A friend suggested I use a different term: post-sessionism. Soulen distinguishes various levels of supersessionism. I am not implying that Wright advocates punitive supersessionism (the Jews are being punished for rejecting Christ) or its more serious corollaries (the Church should help God punish Jews). I never intended to implicate Wright in that sort of supersessionism. Maybe you feel the term supersessionism necessarily includes these severe implications. I use the term as Soulen defines it and it covers all aspects of theology that displace Israel to make room for the Church.

  • @18 Richard:

    I do not assume that in sharing meals the apostles violated dietary law. They violated only anti-gentile sentiments of the time that were especially pressing because of rising tension with Rome. The wall that Christ tore down was imposed by men, not Torah. The Torah always permitted gentiles to offer at the Temple (see Numbers 15).

  • Bob

    Scot, great post! It resonated. And though I see that most of the comments are focusing on another issue, I just wanted to inject a comment on this statement you made about the “revelation model”: you said, “It’s inadequate because God chose to manifest truth and grace and redemption through history, at specific moments and over time and through authors and through a community, and that history is nearly eliminated in the revelation model”.

    I regard myself as an evangelical, but the social and intellectual structures that had sustained and made sense of modern evangelicalism began kind of  disintegrating for me over time and it was not at all clear that modern evangelicalism can or should survive their collapse. But along comes N.T.Wright. He seemed to be endeavoring to renew the biblical framework, within which (I hoped) a new, transposed “evangelical” commitment might emerge, one that might provide self-understanding and motivation for the church as it confronts an uncertain future. 

    As I read Wright, I saw that, at least in part, the key to this undertaking would include recovering the contingent historical perspective of the New Testament as it imagined its own future – a process that might get us to the heart of New Testament theology; and then to set about the creative and adventurous task of re-imagining new futures for ourselves consistent with that critically, realistically, and faithfully reconstructed narrative. Now I can ask without feeling all alone in the end-zone, what new paradigm, what new way of existing in the world, might emerge for the post-Christendom, post-modern, post whatever church as it seeks to be loyal to the original calling in Abraham to be an authentic new creation.

  • Paul D

    Very interesting and thought-provoking post. I have especially enjoyed the back-and-forth between Scot and Derek. I look forward to reading the book. From a pastoral point of view it looks to be helpful in dealing with long-standing issues of Christian sabbatarianism and parishioners who have come from 7th Day Adventist backgrounds. Now a question: How does Wright, or any of you, see Hebrews 4 in this context?

  • I think the root of the dissonance in the some of the comments on this posting is an unspoken assumption underlying your eight points concerning the sabbath with which you close your argument. The assumption is the universality of the people of God in such a manner as eclipses the particularism of Israel in the workings of God. If we assume that all statements in Scripture have an eventual intent and application to the whole people of God considered as a homogenous unit. this slants our interpretations in one direction, while, if we acknowledge that there were directives and a way of life given to Israel in particular which are unique to her, even if lessons may be drawn from these for the wider people of God.

    In my view, the seventh day Sabbath is one of these particularist institutions. You resonate with that reality by the way when you acknowledge that the seventh day sabbath was never transferred to Sunday, although large swaths of Christendom disagree with you on the matter (an I believe them to be wrong and you right).

    Speaking of right, I am afraid Tom Wright is more supersessionist than you are comfortable admitting. As but one evidence that this is so, in his “What Saint Paul Really Meant,” he compares Israel to a postman whose job it is to deliver the package to the Church. When the package is delivered, the postman is supposed to go away. If this isn’t supersessionism, what is it?

    Perhaps a more felicitous term which I use is cryptosupersessionism which I define as “an unconscious and entrenched cluster of presuppositions held by those who, even when rejecting supersessionism, assume the expiration or setting aside of those identity markers that formerly applied to the Jewish people, effectively nullifying Israel’s unique chosen status in whole or in part.” By this definition, at the very least Wright is a cryptosupersessionist. Sadly, in my view, he is far from alone in this.

  • Pardon, I failed to complete a statement at the end of my first paragraph above. It should end thus:

    . . . if we acknowledge that there were directives and a way of life given to Israel in particular which are unique to her, even if lessons may be drawn from these for the wider people of God, this slants our interpretations in another direction.

  • Scot,

    That second chart somewhat reminds me of Kevin Vanhoozer’s massive The Doctrine of Drama. I’m about 1/2 way through it now, but he contends that scripture is the medium through which direction for one’s performance in the drama of redemption is provided. It provides a participatory framework rather than an informational framework. Doctrine is the place where we find our place in the mission of God.

    I like both he and Wright’s understanding of scripture. Thanks for this post. Look forward to others.

  • Rodney

    Before we jettison the hierarchical model completely, John “the seer” operated with a similar view in the Revelation: God – Christ – Angel – John – Letter – Church.

  • Richard

    @ 26

    What does “there is no Jew or Greek” in Christ actually mean then according to your framework if it doesn’t mean the Jews as a nation lose their exclusivity? What do we do when the NT authors take language applied to Israel in the OT and apply it to Christians in the NT?

    Btw, have you read Christopher Wright’s Mission of God? I’d be very interested in your thoughts regarding his work.

  • Richard @33:

    When male and female cease to be distinct, I will see your point 🙂

    I have read some of Scot’s summaries of Christopher Wright and I definitely put him in my positive column of commentators and theologians to look into. I’m not sure how he addresses the relationship between Israel and the Church and whether he recognizes ongoing Jewish identity and the irrevocable election of Israel. I hope he does.

  • Cliff

    @ 33. You mention Jew and greek, but what of “there is niether male nor female?” In the same way that there are still boys and girls, there are Jews and there are Gentiles. God chose Israel as His priestly nation through which to impart knowledge and revelation to the world. It is through the scriptures of Israel, the Messiah of Israel, that we are ultimately reconciled back to the God of Israel. Erasing Israel’s unique status “in Christ” only repeats the sad errors of history. I hope this makes some sense.

  • On Christopher Wright. I have his big book and need to give it a good read. Here is a quote from something smaller of his which demonstrates supersessionist leanings, which is to be expected of a British Evangelical. “The election of Israel and the promise of land are . . . to be set in the context of God’s ultimate purpose for the salvation of humanity and the recreation of all the earth; they were not ends in themselves, but means to a greater end. The election of Israel and the promise of land are . . . to be set in the context of God’s ultimate purpose for the salvation of humanity and the recreation of all the earth; they were not ends in themselves, but means to a greater end (Christopher J.H. Wright, “A Christian Approach To Old Testament Prophecy Concerning Israel,” page 7.) Here again, Israel is seen as a means to an end, particularism is eclipsed and/or downplayed, and Israel is preliminary to something greater (which supersedes Israel).

    Or so I read it.

  • My approach has been (not surprisingly) shaped by John Howard Yoder’s To Hear the Word. Well worth checking out:

  • Kenny Johnson

    But what if supersessionism is true? That Israel was chosen for a specific role, which they fulfilled?

  • Bill

    It seems to me that asking whether we must choose between a revelational model or a missional model of Scriptures authority may be an unnecessary choice. When I look at the way the Bible (Jesus, Paul, etc.)describes its authority I see plenty of instances of the communication of information about God’s nature, will, etc. I also see scriptures authority functioning missionally. I would say that one assumes the other. It appears to me that the Jesus and Paul assumed that “the Scriptures” have authority because they are a disclosure God’s true story and this is precisely why they have the power to transform when we submit to their authority. As you know from speech act theory language can function in a variety of ways (information, rebuke, encouragement,etc.

  • @38 – Is it not a distortion of Israel’s election to see that election as being simply a matter of instrumentality? Is it right to so reduce God’s “everlasting love” of Israel ? If that is the case, then what of God’s love for the Church? Is that too merely a temporary means to a greater end?

    R. Kendall Soulen is surely right to remind us all that such temporizing of God’s love for Israel inserts rot into the heart of the church’s confidence in God. The only God the church has is the God of Israel, and if the best the Jews could expect is the privilege of being used, then the church might well shop around for a better bargain!

  • Paul Van

    Conceptually, it seems like an unnecessary and false dychotomy to abolutize the two “models” of inspiration, so that they become enemies of each other. The first model is a clear declaration about the *source* of scripture … the second is expressing how the content itself formulates the *function* of scripture. And both models have to take into account that the means God used varied. If we say that God did not dictate (ever), then we have a problem with Exodus 20 (the 10 commandments), all of the prophetic warnings, and the book of Revelation. If we say scripture is dictation from God (always), then we will be confused when we see the distinct personalities of Paul, Peter, James and John evidenced in scripture. Instead of abandoning or down-playing the revelation model, perhaps we simply need to embrace the fact that revelation is made up of a variety of genres, and that it has been given to mankind progressively. Recognizing the various genres keeps us from overgeneralizing the means by which God accomplished inspiration, and recognizing the progression of revelation clarifies the direction and intent of God’s creative/redemptive plan. A proper acknowledgement of those two aspects of the revelation model should give us a clear framework for embracing scripture truly as it is … the inspired word of God. Plus it will help us work our way through the questions about continuity and discontinuity between Israel and Church (ie. what exactly is the kingdom work of God in and through the church?).

    Of course, the issue could be much more serious (and damnable). It could be that we are simply preferring a model that allows us to stand above scripture and inform it … rather than standing under the authority of scripture, so that it informs us.

  • mark273

    Scripture flows out of the Trinitarian intercommunicative Logos? Well, of course. I think anybody can see that. It doesn’t seem like you even need to mention that its so obvious.

  • mark273

    @Stuart #36: But it seems like that is the point of Genesis 12:2-3, that through Abraham and Israel God would bring salvation to the world. I don’t see what in Wright’s statement that is objectionable or that denies a unique status for Israel. They are mediators, but salvation was not to stop with them.

  • mark273

    Maybe someone has mentioned this already, but this book is a revision of an earlier book called “The Last Word.” I just think its ironic that a book called “The Last Word” has been revised and expanded.

  • Bill

    Paul Van,
    Well said!

  • Having not read the book, I do not know if the following questions/thoughts are pertinent to the discussion (which has veered from the “model of authority” question anyway).

    I have had trouble recently with ideas of inerrancy/authority of scripture. People have classically relegated humankind to become slaves to their own interpretations of a book, which has resulted in a means for control instead of an invitation to live right and good in the world and to be a blessing to all the nations. It strikes me now that as Jesus told the Pharisees, Mankind was not made for the Sabbath – the Sabbath was made for mankind, what if he tells us today: Mankind was not made for the Scriptures – Scriptures were made for Mankind?

    People fear the use of rampant subjectivism, but I believe that is what we have anyway. The scriptures themselves promise that God’s law would be written in our hearts. Have we taken a newly formed “law” and wrested it out of the authority of God’s people, those who are supposed to hear his voice and live by his Spirit? I believe the Scriptures to be inspired and useful for instructing, rebuking, and training in righteousness. But are we giving too much credence to the authority of a book, when we are supposed to have access to the throne of the God who breathes life into us?

    I know these suppositions suggest colossal trouble, chaos even, for the church at large, but I have grown more and more uncomfortable with the way people have viewed scripture and its “authority.” In my view it truly does border on idolatry. Scripture is subject to God’s will. Should we make of it a book of rules? A way to condemn and criticize one another? A way to divide one another and cause strife? We have enough of that either way, so perhaps it is time to move on in freedom and in the authority of the Spirit.

    How does Tom Wright address these questions/issues? Where does authority really lie in this world, and why do people have so much trouble with authority resting on God’s people themselves?

  • Richard

    @ 34 and 35

    My point is not that they cease to exist but that they’re equals. By definition, equality and exclusivity can’t co-exist, no? You’re contending that they’re not equals, that while Yahweh is accepting some Gentiles, Israel is still the apple of his eye. Correct me if I’m misunderstanding what I see to be the conclusion of your points.

    To suggest that no longer viewing Israel as uniquely chosen leads us to “historical errors” (I’m assuming you mean persecutions, etc) is mistaken imho. I would argue that the reverse is equally dangerous for Israel – to argue exclusivity and exceptionalism reinforces the “us” vs. “them” mentality that leads to persecutions and violence.

  • As far as I can tell, one of the central questions of Romans (and a lot of the NT, actually, but very specifically in Romans) is what now marks the people of God? Underlying that is the idea that the synagogue (James) or ecclesia (most of the rest of the NT)was the assembly of the people of God. In the LXX, from what I understand, ecclesia was generally used to translate qahal, the entire community of the people of Israel. The authors of the NT were certainly aware of that fact and their singular use of it to describe the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, Jew and Gentile, has to be seen as significant.

    The Christian story is that faithful Israel (and faithful humanity, but that’s another thread) gets narrowed all the way down to a remnant of one man. But then from that man, it becomes a remnant that grows bringing life to all. That’s also the clear tradition of the Church from the NT on, not something created out of thin air by Justin Martyr.

    None of which excuses what the Church has so often done to Jews once they held political power. Nor does Tom Wright excuse it. But the ecclesia is the whole assembly of the people of God. And Christians apply that term to those of all the nations who follow Christ. Abraham was promised he would be the father of many nations and through Christ he has become the father of an assembly of all the nations.

  • Historically, I’ll note that there is no straightforward connection from Sabbath to the Lord’s Day. In fact, the gentiles in the Church before it was legal didn’t have the dispensation the Jews received for what the Romans called their “lazy day.” That’s especially true given that many of those early converts were slaves. They worked seven days a week. And the Lord’s Day worship was generally outside those times of work.

    Which is not to say that there isn’t a tradition that developed, especially once Christianity was not just legal, but a state religion, of treating the new day of creation as a special holy day and adopting some of the ideas of rest contained in Sabbath. Nor is it to say that that’s a bad or wrong thing. I don’t think it was. In fact, as I think the Radical Reformation showed, if you try to assert that every day is holy, pretty soon, no day is holy in attitude or practice.

    But the connection of the Christian day of worship on the first day with “Sabbath” is not one that can be found in Scripture.

  • ..the individual authors interact with one another (Micah, Isaiah, Matthew, Romans, Hebrews, Revelation) and carry the Story forward so that the last version of the Story can reframe the former versions.

    Whoa! It sounds like you (or Wright) are saying that God pulled a “bait-and-switch” on the Children of Israel when He told them they would be a people before Him forever (that is, until the church replaced them). More on this in a bit. Another way of looking at this statement is through the lens of “revisionist history”.

    8. We “celebrate” instead of “rest” — a kind of celebration rest. We reserve this day for new creation life. Music, the meal, family, service, peace, justice, love — these are the notes of Sunday for those who see the fulfillment of Sabbath in Jesus.

    We live in a perpetual sabbath.

    I’ll just take point 8 rather than the entire summary, but it seems like there’s a glaring contradiction between having a day to celebrate and to “reserve this day for new creation life” and living in a “perpetual sabbath”. While I expect a perpetual Sabbath once Jesus returns, he hasn’t come back yet. The world is still broken (fallen). The finger of God is still in motion, writing his Word on our hearts. The Sabbath (whether you consider it Saturday, Sunday, or a perpetual day) is a reminder (to me, anyway) that he will return and that one day the peace of a perpetual Sabbath will finally exist on Earth (I always think of Micah 4:4).

    I look at all this as a Christian man married to a Jewish woman (I thought I should be fair and let you know where I’m coming from) and I do not believe that God has abruptly marginalized my wife, my children, and my in-laws just because the church has chosen to interpret the later portions of the Bible as having “reframed” the earlier portions. When you look at your theological “day one” as having started in Matthew 1:1, you miss the richness of God’s mercy and grace in everything he did from the Creation of the world forward.

  • Richard

    @ 50

    How does God’s graciousness being expanded to include Gentiles necessitate marginalizing Jews?

  • It does not seem to me that Wright is saying the Bible is not God’s revelation, nor even that it’s not the authoritative source. He says that the Bible is precisely where God reveals The Story, the trajectory of all history and time, the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no other source for that. Those who would dispense with the Bible in favor of following an undefined, mystical sense of the Holy Spirit miss the point: if it is not in keeping with this source it’s not from the Spirit. On your own, you’re mostly wandering in the fog. This source teaches you how to identify what is of the Spirit, because it shows us what the Spirit is among us to do.

  • @Richard: If we believe that Jesus “fulfilling the Law” means a completion and no continuation, the covenants which define the Jewish people either cease to exist or are greatly reduced (along with the Jews).

    Go back and read the points from the review. then let’s consider deleting the traditional Sabbath observance, as illustrated there. The traditional logic of the church is that in “fulfilling” the Law (including the Sabbath), Jesus simply ended it. Reading Colossians 2:14, depending on which translation you use, either the “regulations” and “ordinances” (of the Law) were nailed to the cross and died with Jesus, or the “bill of charges” against humanity for our sins died with Jesus. The latter doesn’t mean that God is reversing His earlier establishment of the Sabbath (and by extension, His promises to the Children of Israel). The former pretty much requires it putting God’s Word in the uncomfortable position of not being permanent, even when he says “forever”.

    I agree (if I understand you correctly) that what Jesus changed when he lived, died, and was resurrected, is that he allowed humanity to enter into a covenant relationship with God without converting to Judaism (as did Ruth, for example), giving everyone covenant access to God. However, that access does not require the elimination of the Law of Moses relative to the Jewish people. It does seem to mandate that the non-Jewish members of the new covenant are largely exempt from such observances (except where Jesus taught them [not murdering, not divorcing except under certain circumstances, not stealing, and so on] *and* factoring in his directive [Matthew 28:18-20] to make *disciples* [not converts] of all nations..disciples are students who learn by imitation).

    The church doesn’t have to exist only if the validity of God’s promises to the Jewish people cease to exist. Jesus is the doorway for everyone, Jew and Christian alike, to access God, but Jesus lived a perfect *Jewish* life for a reason and it doesn’t have to be so he could “end” the Law. You could also interpret his life in relation to Jews as the perfect role model; the Law lived out as God fully intended.

  • scotmcknight

    Bob, you are right … Tom sees Scripture as revelatory.

  • David Rogers

    After reading so many comments from men of great minds and deep thinking, my head hurts! I can’t help call to mind Jesus’ admonition about, “straining at gnats while swallowing camels,” whole. The word is not reserved for, or even revealed to the wise, the mighty, or the noble. Instead the Word is meant for those of common understanding. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” (KJV) 1 Cor 1:26-29.

    When the commandment was given, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” that is pretty much what it meant then and now. It is still an affront to God to take His name in vain or to behave unholy on His Sabbath.

    Our knowledge of God comes from His Word. All other sources are flawed. When the modern pundits have gone the way of the early 20th century German theologians, the Word of God will still be infallible and the commandments will still mean what they did when Moses came down off the mountain.

  • Fine comments, but truth is probably to be found deeper, regarding the two related topics (the concept of inspiration of the Bible, and the sabbath rest /celebration).
    Luke, one of Paul’s associate missionaries and probably a non-Jew, seems to be most favorable toward the sabbath. Decades after event, he wrote of what the women disciples of Christs did in that afternoon of the Good Friday:
    “Then they returned and prepared aromatic spices and perfumes. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. Now on the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women went to the tomb, taking the aromatic spices they had prepared.” (Lk 23:56–24:1 NET)
    What and why did such things those women who knew the teaching of Jesus? Why Luke has mentioned it when he was writing to non-Jews? Those women did not simply hid themselves in that sabbath, for fear of the Jews, nor they kept the sabbath just because it was their country’s law. They did it ACCORDING TO THE COMMANDMENT (κατὰ τὴν ἐντολήν). This is so striking, that most translators here rendered the term ἐντολή (entolé = commandment)as Law, probably to suggest that it was a merely Jewish religious requirement.
    Now if Paul neglected the sabbath day, as apostle of the Gentiles, or if he kept it only as a Jewish custom, why did he celebrate the sabbath in the Roman colony Filippi (Acts 16) where there was no synagogue and no Jew? And why Paul and Silas have been accused as Jewish prozelitizers in Filippi, then beaten and thrown to jail, because they were perceived as changing good Roman tradition, by introducing new, Jewish customs? There were four Christian missionaries in Filippi in that occasion: Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke. Why Paul and Silas only have been tortured and thrown to jail?
    “We live in a perpetual sabbath” is allowing a metaphor to kill reality. As one would say: Now Jesus is the true bread and the true living water — so we don’t need eating and drinking anymore of physical food and drink. Moreover, there is that heavenly ark of the covenant in Revelation 11:19, which is shown in relationship to God’s final judgment. Does it mean anything ?

    As regards the model of Biblical revelation /inspiration / authority, there is no unobjectionable theological model. As a divine “word”, Bible is complex in many ways. Some information came explicitly to Biblical authors through prophetic visions/dreams. Some information is basically taken from historical records and oral memories. And not a few informations came to Biblical authors by unknown ways.
    For us, it is enough to accept that this divine self-revelation (Bible) is the supreme authority in religion, the only inspired and objective word of God, which we must consult. There are indeed a lot of human factors implied in the making of the Bible, from the human authors and their limitations, down to copyists, translators etc. And all that is human is imperfect. We may find sometimes even original (!) errors.
    My understanding and practice is the following. I distinguish the Biblical message from language, ascribing inspiration and perfection to the divine message only. The “language” itself (which is more than the linguistic or verbal aspects), including genre, literary style, rhetoric, logic [arguments etc.], minor data, and various other cultural aspects [for example, one’s cosmological model] are simply human, not divinely inspired, even when they are irreproachable, which usually the are). Biblical philology (including exegesis) studies basically the human aspects, and Theology (including hermeneutics) studies the divine message itself. It is wrong to build theology on the human stuff only, even though it is written there in the Bible. But it may be even worse to neglect the message of the Bible (God’s word), by ascribing its authority to human factors only. Apologize for my poor English and thanks for your patience !

  • Scott, how do you square this:

    To continue celebrating sabbaths is to focus on the signposts when we have already arrived. Thus, “Come to me and I will give you rest.” You don’t need the alarm clock when the sun is flooding the room with its light.

    with this:

    Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.


  • *Scot, rather, not Scott, sorry.

  • scotmcknight

    Joseph W, I was summarizing Tom Wright’s argument, and the point is that Paul makes that statement because he believes Sabbath — as he had known it before Christ — reaches its zenith in Christ himself. But I don’t want to speak for Tom.

  • Sorry Scot, I didn’t mean to suggest you were personally arguing what N.T. Wright says.

    I get the “zenith” argument, that’s fine. Theologically, I agree that Christ is our Sabbath rest.

    I am just concerned about NTW’s implication that, should a believer observe a Sabbath day of rest rather than a Sunday, they would be “focussing on the signposts”.

    I don’t think that is something we should be judging, hence my reference to the verse in Colossians.

  • gingoro

    “Oh, and I just got penultimate as well”

    While I like the diagrams I find the textual words very hard to read and tend just to flush posts that contain penultimate created material. Maybe I am just old and stupid but I can’t make out some of the words.
    Dave W