Book Review: The New Testament and People of God by N.T. Wright

As regular readers of this blog will know (and I know there are more than the 2 “followers” displayed – I can see some statistics!), I have already read and reviewed volume 3 of N.T. (Tom) Wright’s magnum opus, Christian Origins and The Question of God. That was mainly due to my not realising at the time that it was part of a series, something I probably ought to have known, having met Wright a couple of times while he was the Bishop of Durham, though at the time we were discussing So it only seemed right to go back to the beginning and do the whole series. My hope is to be able to go through volume 2 (Jesus and the Victory of God) before he publishes volume 4 (Paul and the Faithfulness of God), currently due out at some unspecified date in 2012.

The book was something of a revelation (if you’ll pardon the pun) as it is the longest introduction I have ever read. Wright spends about the first third of the book (which is 500 pages long – and they ain’t exactly small pages in large print) discussing his methodology and setting out his stall in meticulous detail. I know this may not be of particular interest to readers who want to get the Wright’s summary of Judaic and early Christian history, but it is well worth it, I think, as it demonstrates the level of care needed to approach this topic.

Having set himself up, Wright then proceeds to give a summary history of Judaic thought roughly from the time of Judas Maccabeus through the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. He acknowledges that this is a summary rather than a detailed analysis and does provide plenty of references for the interested reader to follow-up on. At times, it is a bit dry and it took me a while to go through; I would readily admit to not being having taken it all in.

From here, Wright gives what is, in my opinion, the most fascinating chapter: an overview of Christianity from roughly A.D. 30 to A.D. 125. Wright acknowledges the difficulty in trying to study the history of the church given the scarcity over the contemporary sources, and their reliability (e.g. not trusting what Eusebius had to say without at least a pinch of salt).

In both his sections on Judaism and early Christianity, he looks at what they did (praxis), believed and hoped for. The reader should always be aware that this is an introduction, so Wright brushes on topics he intends to look at in much more detail later on. It serves as a useful appetiser and I can’t wait to get going on Jesus and Victory of God.

There were points in it where I was not convinced by Wright’s arguments, though these tended to be on comparatively minor areas. Overall, it is a work of immense integrity and scholarship. It will of interest to anyone who is interested in how historical and theological research is carried out by the best scholars in their field, to those who want to find out about the history and beliefs of the early Christians and the world in which they lived and will be of immense value to all who read it.