The Jesus Problem

The Jesus Problem November 6, 2013

Scot McKnight is reading through N.T. Wright’s massive book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. This is the hottest thing since the last baffling thing said out of the mouth of Pat Robertson or Mark Driscoll. The good news is that this is good to talk about and not a colossal waste of time.

I have sat back for a while watching numerous, repeated debates about the bodily resurrection, the atonement and others. Now I see another theme return from N.T. Wright. This one concerns the Incarnation of Jesus and the early church understanding in its Jewish context. This is the line from Wright’s book that arrested me as shared by McKnight:

It was then a matter of Jesus’ followers coming to believe that in him, and supremely in his death and resurrection – the resurrection, of course, revealing that the death was itself to be radically re-evaluated – Israel’s God had done what he had long promised. He had returned to be king. He had ‘visited’ his people and ‘redeemed’ them. He had returned to dwell in the midst of his people. Jesus had done what God had said he and he alone would do.

This resurrection inaugurates the Kingdom of God on earth. Death is transformed. In the Divine Liturgy, we read in the Second Antiphon this passage that essentially sums up the Orthodox faith:

Only begotten Son and Word of God, although immortal You humbled Yourself for our salvation, taking flesh from the holy Theotokos and ever virgin Mary and, without change, becoming man. Christ, our God, You were crucified but conquered death by death. You are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit-save us.

Perhaps the significant difference here is in a tiny article – “the.” Wright seems to be referring to the specific instance of the death of Jesus. The Liturgy is referring to both the death of Jesus and death in a more general and eschatological sense. After all, Paul does quote Isaiah in 1 Cor. 15:55. The King James just sounds better with this particular verse.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

I am interested to hear what Wright has to say about Paul. I have a sneaking suspicion that the closer we look at these texts, the closer we will come to the Orthodox understanding of them.

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