Catholic Books Review: N. T. WRIGHT: The Resurrection of the Son of God

“A fool can ask more questions than a wise man can answer,” or so goes a Chinese proverb. I entered college with a simple faith and quickly found myself assailed in the classroom by numerous detailed questions challenging some of my most basic Christian beliefs. “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures.” The Nicene Creed had slipped effortlessly past my lips a thousand times but now the professor challenged the definition of resurrection. The authors meant Jesus rose in their hearts, or the spirit of his memory lived on. But certainly no modern scholar still advocates the barbaric notion of a bodily resurrection . . .

N. T. Wright recounts in his introduction that The Resurrection of the Son of God catholic review was intended to be a final chapter in his previous work, Jesus and the Victory of God. But as he considered the multiple challenges that modern biblical scholars present against an historical reading of the resurrection accounts, the work ballooned into the current 817 page tome. These are just the two most recent additions to N. T. Wright’s ambitious six-volume series on “Christian Origins and the Question of God,” that will certainly be one of the defining series on Jesus’ resurrection.

N. T. Wright’s research is extensive and detailed, but his argument can be summarized simply. While Judaism supplied the general concept of resurrection to the early Christians, it did not do so in the specific manner found in the writings of the early Church. In other words, the Christian understanding and description of resurrection, while grounded in Jewish tradition, was significantly distinct from the Jewish notion. Furthermore, while neither the empty tomb nor the appearance of Jesus could have generated a belief in the resurrection on its own, taken together these accounts are evidence that demand a verdict on the claim of bodily resurrection. Accordingly, the simplest explanation is what the New Testament writers profess, namely, that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.