The Resurrection of the Son of God

Ben Rae | Mar 24th, 2009

Written by NT Wright
London, England: SPCK, 2003

What did Jesus' disciples mean when they said he had been raised from the dead? Historically Christians understood them to mean that Jesus had actually been restored to physical life with a transformed body never to die again. But with the rise of modernism many theologians began to argue that the first disciples weren't talking about physical resurrection—after all, dead people don't rise—they were simply trying to describe the feeling that Jesus was somehow still with them. It was like he’d been raised from the dead. Unfortunately people soon started taking the disciples’ resurrection language literally, and the rest is history.

The Resurrection of the Son of God (TROTSOG) by N.T. Wright is quite simply a massive and brilliant demolition of this theory.

Wright begins by surveying how ‘resurrection’ was used in pre-Christian literature and concludes that it always referred to the idea of someone being restored to physical life after a period of death. In other words ‘resurrection’ never meant some sort of non-physical ‘life after death’, it meant ‘life after life after death’. Pagans denied that resurrection ever happened, but most Jews believed that God would bring it about at the end of the age.

Wright then explores the New Testament and other early Christian writings for their understanding of resurrection. He demonstrates that when the early Christians spoke about resurrection they—like everyone else in the ancient world—meant a physical restoration to life after a period of death. They never wrote of resurrection as a non-physical experience. Like many non-Christian Jews, the early Christians looked forward to a future resurrection of all people. What made them distinctive was that they believed that God had already resurrected Jesus.

In the final section of TROTSOG, Wright raises two crucial questions. Firstly, if early Christians universally believed that Jesus had been physically raised from the dead, then what led to this belief? And secondly, what did Christians mean when they said that the resurrection declared Jesus to be ‘the Son of God’? Wright concludes that the best explanation is that Jesus really was raised from the dead, and that the early Christians—reflecting on the Old Testament—realised that this could only mean that Jesus was the Son of God, both in the sense of Messiah and the incarnate second person of the Trinity.

TROTSOG is a fascinating and impressive book that accomplishes its task brilliantly. This review has only sketched a brief outline but there are hundreds of fascinating insights in this book that will keep stretching your mind, and expanding your understanding of God and his plans. Although TROTSOG is occasionally hard work Wright’s prose is always clear and often a delight to read—at times he’s even laugh-out-loud funny! At 750 pages (and almost $100) it’s too big to give to the casual non-Christian inquirer into the resurrection, but it’s worth taking the time and making the effort to read it yourself. It helped me to rejoice again in Jesus’ resurrection and to long for the day when all believers will join him as resurrected people in God’s new creation. Enjoy!

Warning: N.T. Wright is a leading proponent of the ‘New Perspective’, so he gets justification badly wrong. Fortunately the issue doesn’t really affect TROTSOG, but keep an eye out for it in his other books.