Wright on reading the Old Testament

Before I knew which direction yesterday’s sermon would take, I thought I might spend time dealing with the inspiration of scripture and 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”) Two-thirds of Chan and Beuving’s book Multiply is about the Bible—what it is, why we read it, how we read it. And the truth is, that part was perfectly good. (Did Chan delegate the Bible stuff to his coauthor? Multiply feels like two books. The tone of the second part is more grace-filled and less Francis-Chan-ish than the first.)

While preaching about the inspiration of scripture will make a good sermon some day, I decided the problems raised by the first third of the book—specifically, Chan and Beuving’s nearly Pelagian disregard of the role of God’s grace in sanctification—were too large to ignore.

While I was thinking about the inspiration of scripture, I revisited N.T. Wright’s wonderful little book on the authority of scripture, The Last Word. Wright deals nicely with the persistent problem of how Christians handle the Old Testament. We can neither embrace it as a normative guide for Christian living nor reject it by that reductive reasoning that ends every argument with, “Yes, but it also says we can’t eat shellfish! You don’t get to pick and choose!”

Well, yes, in fact we do get to pick and choose—or at least the Church does. And the reason we do so, Wright explains, is that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the two testaments. Here’s his rationale, which I find helpful:

It is not hard to imagine illustrations of how this continuity and discontinuity function. When travelers sail across a vast ocean and finally arrive on the distant shore, they leave the ship behind and continue over land, not because the ship was no good or because their voyage had been misguided, but precisely because both ship and voyage had accomplished their purpose. During the new, dry-land stage of their journey, the travelers remain—and in this illustration must never forget that they remain—the people who made that voyage in that ship.

Perhaps the best example of this line of thought anywhere in the New Testament is one of the earliest: Galatians 3:22-29, where Paul argues that God gave the Mosaic law for a specific purpose which has now come to fruition, whereupon that law must be put aside, in terms of its task of defining the community, not because it was a bad thing but because it was a good thing whose task is now accomplished. But, as the whole letter indicates, the people of God renewed through Jesus and the Spirit can never and must never forget the road by which they had traveled.[†]

N.T. Wright, The Last Word: Scripture and the Authority of God—Getting Beyond the Bible Wars (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 57.

2 thoughts on “Wright on reading the Old Testament”

  1. Hi, I am from Australia.
    Please find a reference which gives a unique understanding of the fabricated origins, and the institutionalized politics purposes of the “New” Testament (and much more too)






    1. John,

      I quickly perused these links. (The first one didn’t properly load on my browser.) There’s a lot of jargon I didn’t understand. Could you summarize, in your own words, what these writers are getting at? Thanks!


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