week 1
week 2
week 3
week 4
week 5

Week 1.

OUTLINE. These are the topics, as outlined in the book, and the page number.. We hope to follow this outline, with room to explore topics of interest to the group.

  1. Christian Origins and the New Testament 3
    1. Introduction
    2. The task 6
    • What to do with the wicked tenants 6
    • The questions 11
    • The history of Early Christianity 14
    • New Testament Theology 18
    • Literary Criticism 25
    • The Task Restated 26
  2. Knowledge: Problems and varieties 31
    1. Introduction
    2. Towards Critical Realism 32
    3. Stories, Worldviews, Knowledge 38
    4. Conclusion 44
  3. Literature, Story, and the Articulation of Worldviews
    1. Introduction 47

Christian Origins and the New Testament 3

Why this book? Preface: The author tried to write two books. This is detailed in the preface of the book.

Something must now be said about the scope of this first volume. It is basically an exercise in ground-clearing, designed to enable me to engage in further work on Jesus, Paul and the gospels without begging quite so many questions as I would have done had I tried to squeeze this material into the early chapters of other books. In most of this book, then, I write as a fascinated amateur, rather than a highly-trained professional. My own specializations have been Jesus and Paul, and I have come to hermeneutical and theological theory on the one hand, and to the study of first-century Judaism on the other, as an enthusiastic outsider. Some, eager for exegesis, will find much of this book arcane and unnecessary; others, having spent their lives sifting material that I here pull together quite briskly, will suspect that important questions are still being begged. (This is particularly true of Part II.) I have found it neces-sary, though, to trespass on these territories, since the present climate of New Testament studies has thrown up so many confusions of method and content that the only hope is to go back to the beginning. The only way of alleviating the remaining inadequacies of the present work would have been to turn each Part into a whole book in itself.

This all leads to a final word of warning. I frequently tell people that quite a high proportion of what I say is wron, or at least flawed or skewed in some way which I do not at the moment realize. The only problem is that I do not know which bits are wrong.


Israel is a land that has been fought over since the beginning of time.

Similarly, there has been a battle over the 'ownership' of the New Testament. There are two main sides: those who insist the NT be read in a thoroughly historical way, without the burden of theology. This view says we must find the original meaning of the text, no matter what feelings it may hurt.

On the other side there is the group that resist them. Some regard the NT as a sort of 'magic' book, whose meaning has little to do with what the first century authors intended. It exists, so it seems, to sustain the soul, not to stretch the mind.

Both sides are defending modern positions: post-Enlightenment rationalistm on the one hand, anti-Enlightenment super naturalism on the other. Both sides need to reckon that there might be alternatives.

The task 6

What to do with the wicked tenants 6

Read this text before we move on:

Then Jesus began teaching them with stories: “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head. The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son’

“But the tenant farmers said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him and murdered him and threw his body out of the vineyard. “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you—he will come and kill those farmers and lease the vineyard to others. Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’ ”

Mark 12:1-11

If we are to take this text and study it, how might we do that? What are the different ways to read this passage from Mark? How have people read this text in the past?

There are four types of reading:

  1. Pre-critical. The Bible is the holy word of God, and there is nothing more to it. Problems? It fails to take into account many other things.
  2. Historical. They might ask themselves:
  1. Theological. This asks different, sometimes overlapping questions:
  1. Postmodern. This looks into the process of reading itself:

The questions 11

These questions break down into smaller ones. From the literary perspective:



The history of Early Christianity 14

What was the early church like? What were its main movements? How did it change, within a hundred years, from being a small Jewish sect to a large and loosely knit, multi-cultural group stretching across the Roman empire? TO know this, we must know their worldview. We must know their theology.

We want to read between the lines- because the early authors were not trying to convey this information. Studying the history of the early church, including the history of its beliefs, is possible, fascinating, and possibly fruitful.

But how do we study the history of Early Christianity when most of the sources are the New Testament itself? This can lead to a vicious cycle of speculation.

It seems clear that the simple historical description of early Christianity and its theology cannot by itself be a complete enterprise. The historical approach- what has been used to this point, of attempting to study early Christianity, without taking into account the theology of the early church, is doomed to failure.

New Testament Theology 18

Why should people think that studying the New Testament would allow a fresh word from their god to be heard?

This belief grows out of the ineradicable Christian conviction, held from very early times, that being Christian means, among other things, living, believing, and heving in some sort of continuity, in principle, with the New Testament.

The New Testament is given authority not because it witnesses timeless tryth, but because it witnesses the mighty acts of the creator god within history, and especially in the events concerning Jesus.

In order to create a 'normative' view, of the New Testament, it is inevitable that one will emphasize one part of the text at the expense of the rest (21).

The biggest problem faced by 'New Testamanet Theology' is what to do with Jesus. Strictly speaking, it does not include the teachings, or resurrections of Jesus, but merely the beliefs of other NT writers about Jesus.

Why are we faced, in both popular and scholarly work, with frantic efforts to locate, distill, salvage, or even invent something that can be called 'New Testaament Theology', and that will serve as the substance of academic courses and as the starting poing for church life, preaching, mission, and evangelism?

  1. Protestants regard the NT as the 'real' authority for Christians.
  2. The philosophical context has beem Idealism, wwhich is more abstract than concrete history.
  3. It fuels preaching.

The book goes into detail about these approaches, and restates them as a summary on page 26-28: we must come up with a way to combine these various approaches: historical, literary, and theological- to read the New Testament.

We need to do both history and theology. but how? This book is part of that answer. We need to rethink a basic worldview.

Literary Criticism 25

Instead of doing history in order to uncover timeless truths, we study (biblical) literature to receive messages that transcend space and time.

We are building on the work of a scholar named Bultmann.

To put another way, why should we read the New Testament differently than we read something like Pride and Prejudice?

The Task Restated 26

Knowledge: Problems and varieties 31


We have seen that the study of the New Testament involves three disciplines in particular: literature, history, and theology. They are, as it were,, amont the armies that use the New Testamanet as a ballteground. Many of the debates which have occupied scholars as they have crossed the terrain of gospels and epistles have not been so much the detailed exegesis of this or that passage, but the larger issues as to which view of history, or of theology, they will take, and which pieces of territory they can then annex with a claim of justified allegiance.

Scholars often agree on the details, but before moving on, we must take a step back and look at the larger picture of how all the smaller pieces fit together.

The basic argument Wright proposes in this section is the problem of knowledge itself*. This can be clarified by looking at the worldviews which form the grid through whcih humans, individually and collectively, perceive all of reality. In particular, on key feature is the element of story.

Towards Critical Realism 32

Critical Realism is the approach Wright uses to get us there. This wins out over:

  1. positivists. There are some things we have KNOWLEDGE of things. They can be tested empirically. (page 33). These are solid facts. Things that can be measured and tested in the world.
  2. phenomenalism where one can only be assured of ones own sense data.

So, either we believe everything written (positivists), or believe very little (phenomenalism).

This can lead to the view that when I am reading something, I am looking at the author's mind within the text. All I am really doing is seeing the author's view of events, or maybe the authors intention, or maybe only my own thoughts in the presence of the text.

Wright proposes something between these two views called critical realism.

It takes up a balance between facts, and the author's interpretation.

The process goes like this (page 36):

  1. The observer makes an observation on an object as the initial observation.
  2. This view is challenged by critical reflection.
  3. but it can survive the challenge and speak truly of reality. (p 35)

This still poses a problem: how can one verify that knowledge is true?

We need a larger framework on which to draw a set of stories about things that are likely to happen in the world; to make a hypothesis of a pattern. Put another way, how does the specific data "fit" within the larger stories? We must look closer at stories themselves. We need a FRAMEWORK.

It seems the scientific method of creating a hypothesis, and going out to find the data to support it, simply won't do. It works for other fields, but for the historian, this method will lean towards finding evidence to support one's cause, at the expense of other facts that stand in the way.

In what way do the large stories and the specific data arrive at a fit? in order to examine this, we must look closer at stories themselves.

Stories, Worldviews, Knowledge 38

Stories are one of the most basic modes of human life. Human life is grounded in, and constituted by the implicit or explicit stories which humans tell themselves and one another.

They are used in personal and domestic discourse not only to provide information about events, but to embody and reinforce, or perhaps modify, a shared worldview within a family, an office, a club, etc.

When we examine stories and how they work within one another, we find that human beings tell stories because this is how we perceive and relate to the world.

Stories are particularly good at modifying or subverting other stories and their worldviews.

Also, stories can be deceitful. This leads to a great summary on page 41 of Judaism, and this book's approach to the topic.

The takeaway is that there is no such thing as neutral or objective proof; only the claim that we are now telling about the world as a whole makes more sense, in its outline and detail, than other potential or actual stories offered.

There is no such thing as 'neutral' or 'objective' proof; only the claim that the story we are now telling about the world as a whole makes more sense, in its outline and detail, than other potential or actual stories that may be on offer (p 42).

Conclusion 44

Do we use stories? Or do we use the scientific method, with a hypothesis, and the goal of proving the hypothesis? Wright will use both, then provides an example on page 42-43 of driving in the car and forming a hypothesis based on seeing a car driving with flashing lights. As more data becomes available, the hypothesis changes to a different story.

The proposal is a relational epistemology telling stories about accounts as they really are (page 45).

This theory of knowledge and verification acknowledges the "storied" nature of knowing, thinking and living within the larger model of worldviews and their parts. It acknowledges that all knowledge of realities external to oneself takes place within the framework of a worldview, of which stories form an essential part.

Literature, Story, and the Articulation of Worldviews

Introduction 47

The study of early Christianity is the study of literature.

This can cause a problem of knowledge. Reading poses a few questions:

All of this points towards the pattern of a story, and we must look at the way stories function, then apply them to the New Testament.

Wright gives a poem on page 48, and it is tricky to understand, but he highlights that this poem is a part of a larger story in itself. It does not provide all answers, but indicates elements outside of the poem itself.

As a class, maybe we can read it together and discuss.

As humans, we are drawn to story, and a story invites us to share the world by what it says, and what it doesn't say.

How much of all this can we, or must we, get right? And how much remains open to new readings and interpretations?