The Storied World of the Bible with N.T. Wright
Back in October 2018, Shechem London met to look at what we should do together. We decided to study the online lecture course by N.T. Wright, “The Storied World of the Bible.” On several Saturdays from December 2018 to July 2019, differing numbers of us met to study, listen to Tom Wright’s lectures, answer some of his questions, and generally to try to make sense of Wright’s often dense unpacking of what the Bible has to say. (That is, we should have taken more note that the series is authored by N.T. Wright, and not the more accessible Tom Wright…)
To quote from one description of the course: “The Bible can often be a mystery to those who read it. There are various narratives which combine to make a great story. We have a great story, which is God’s story, which is then the story of creation, with humans in the middle of it.” Then there is Israel’s story (humans as promise-bearers), and that of David and his family – in special charge of God’s people, bringing God’s justice. And within this vocation, the parallel temptation to abuse it.
Genesis 1-3 sets the scene. God builds a temple, the creation, and puts humans in it as his image (his idol). The creation is a good place, created by a good God. But then comes failure of vocation/allegiance, failure to live for God. Our gaze is captured by the snake. (This may ring bells with some of the things we were learning with Tim Sudworth at HoD last year.) And so starts the pattern of exile – expelled from the garden, then Babel; Israel deported from the promised land to exile in Babylon; then during the 2nd temple period, in the land, but in internal exile.
So to a new arc of the story, with Abram and Sarai as the new pair (cf Adam and Eve). God does not scrap the vision when the original couple fail, but the promise to Abram (in Gen 15) includes within it the reference to slavery in Egypt. Again, new creation with the Exodus – waters divided – as the dark power, Pharaoh, does its work. Abram’s vocation becomes Israel’s vocation to be a holy nation. The covenantal narrative in Deuteronomy 30 is for Israel to serve God as true promise-keepers. But there again the possibility of failure is recognised.
Then we were reminded that in Col 1:1-10 and Jn 1:1-18 we have Paul and John putting Jesus as the true image-bearer, as the tabernacle within which God’s fullness dwells, and as ruler of all. And wisdom theme – Paul echoing Proverbs echoing Genesis.
This is a mere skating over the surface of what was covered in the first three sessions (units 1-7). The next two (covering units 8-13) went on to look at David, the temple as a working model of creation, then destroyed; the lament of Ps 89, with its longing for God to act; God then comforting his people in Isaiah 40-52, promising to bring them from exile in Ez 37, dwelling in the land that God gave them, with David yet as their prince.
Sonia and I missed the last two meetings, so did not get the chance to see how everything was brought together at the end. For me, it represented another means by which to appreciate the huge depth of Wright’s work, and the lucidity and fluidity of his communication of many-layered subjects. I am currently part-way through a set of his very dense books, in which I have for the first time been able to get some understanding of how the standard evangelical statement “Jesus died for my sins” fits with Jesus’ mission and teaching as revealed in the gospels, and how both fit with the old testament. I know that in participating in these sessions to look at “The Storied World of the Bible” we barely scratched the surface of the full depths of how the Bible reveals the patterns and pictures of God’s plan of salvation for his world.
The headline texts for each unit are:
- Gen 1:1-5, 2:3
- Gen 2:15-25
- Gen 12:1-9
- Ex 14:21-31
- Deut 26:16-19
- Col 1:12-20
- Jn 1:1-18
- 2 Sam 7:1-17
- Ps 71
- Ps 89:1-8
- Is 40:1-11
- Is 52:7-15
- Ez 37:1-4