Does Tom Wright Believe Jesus Is God?

I am sometimes asked, “Does Tom (N.T.) Wright believe Jesus is God?” Or I am told that he does not. I’m also asked the same question about Jimmy (J.D.G.) Dunn. Wright and Dunn are Brits. I know both of them, and we have discussed this subject briefly. I regard both men as being at the top of their craft–New Testament scholarship. Both are very cordial and a total delight to talk to. When Tom Wright does public speaking, he charms his audience.

For me, Wright and Dunn answer this question about whether or not Jesus is God with a positive answer. But it’s not the straightforward “yes” answer that most Christians are looking for. Almost all Christians are taught that if you do not believe that Jesus is God, you are not a Christian. And they are taught that this question has a straightforward answer, so that the proper answer to it is a very unequivocal “yes.”

I think Tom Wright dances around this question. For example, he co-authored a book with Marcus Borg, who certainly does not believe that Jesus is God. That’s why the publisher asked them to do this book entitled The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. Part V is entitled “Was Jesus God?” It consists of two chapters. Borg authored ch. 9: “Jesus and God;” Wright authored ch. 10: “The Divinity of Jesus.” In a chapter so entitled, the reader would expect to get a yes or no answer about whether or not Jesus was God. Moreover, in Wright’s chapter you would think that he is going to tell us that Jesus is divine.

Borg begins his chapter by saying that people often ask him if he believes Jesus is God. Borg doesn’t answer it straight out either. Instead, he answers that Jesus did not believe he was God ([p. 145). Borg later says that Jesus “is not different in kind from us but as completely human as we are” (p.148). So, Borg obviously does not believe Jesus is God. But this statement also reveals that he does not believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead with an immortal body, and a later chapter is about that.

Wright in his chapter also says, “I do not think Jesus ‘knew he was God’” (p. 166). Wright has made this very statement in other books. That leaves the question open, so that Jesus may have been God but he just didn’t know it then. And that is what Wright believes. For he says on the next page, “The early church was not reticent about saying that Jesus was messiah, that his death was God’s saving act, and that he and his Father belonged together within the Jewish picture of the one God” (p. 167).

This is the same way Bauckham and Hurtado talk about the issue. They all dance around the question, “Was Jesus God?” But they give what must be understood as a positive answer to it. In fact, Wright begins this chapter by saying that he is often asked this question, and he answers, “I regard this as deeply misleading” (p. 157).

In Wright’s little book, Who Was Jesus? (p. 51), he says he was on a panel discussion at Oxford and the “interviewer tossed me the question: ‘Was Jesus God?’ That’s one of those trick questions that you can’t answer straight on. It assumes that we know what ‘God’ means, and we’re simply asking if Jesus is some identified with this ‘God.’ What we should say, instead, is: ‘It all depends what you mean by ‘God.’”

In both books I don’t think Wright then tells how this is a misleading question or even why we should get into the question of what is meant by “God.” This question, “Is Jesus God?”is a very historical question for the church. Wright, the consummate churchman, knows this quite well. He just doesn’t want to answer it point blank since I think he knows there is a lot in the Bible that is against a positive answer.

One time I told Tom about my RJC book and its thesis–that the Bible does not say that Jesus is God. I then asked if I could send him of copy of it. He said yes (and I did), but he also replied that he wouldn’t have time to look at it and indicated that he wouldn’t be convinced by it. I’ve seen him subsequent years, and he has not mentioned the book.

I seem to be from the old school, that you let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” a “no.” I do get frustrated sometimes when some scholars don’t give straightforward answers. Worse yet is if they say one thing in a book and then turn around and say the opposite. Scholars identify that innocuously as believing in a paradox; I usually call it believing in a contradiction. I’m not saying this about Tom Wright. But I do think that sometimes he should answer in a more straightforward manner.


Categories: God, Jesus, New Testament scholarship, NT Wright

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7 replies

  1. Given the fact that dr.Tom (N.T.) Wright is a big fan for Paul’s “philosophy”, his own view about Jesus, which is a obscure, shouldn’t surprise us!
    I mean what the heck is this supposed to mean?
    //That’s one of those trick questions that you can’t answer straight on. It assumes that we know what ‘God’ means, and we’re simply asking if Jesus is some identified with this ‘God.’ What we should say, instead, is: ‘It all depends what you mean by ‘God.’// ?!

    It just reminds me with the “deep philosophy” of Paul when he established that the law of God is not good for our nature, it only intensifies the sins inside us, and it only leads to death, yet the law of God is holy!
    Who do you think your’e kidding with mr, Paul?
    This confusion is also true with Paul’s view about Jesus.

    Those scholars seem to follow the steps of Paul in which they have established that Jesus didn’t think he was God, yet they cannot answer if Jesus is God or not!

    “Indeed, those who conceal what We sent down of clear proofs and guidance after We made it clear for the people in the Scripture – those are cursed by Allah and cursed by those who curse” QT.

    “And indeed, there is among them a party who alter the Scripture with their tongues so you may think it is from the Scripture, but it is not from the Scripture. And they say, “This is from Allah,” but it is not from Allah . And they speak untruth about Allah while they know. It is not for a human [prophet] that Allah should give him the Scripture and authority and prophethood and then he would say to the people, “Be servants to me rather than Allah,” but [instead, he would say], “Be pious scholars of the Lord because of what you have taught of the Scripture and because of what you have studied.” QT.

    Qur’an is indeed Mubīn. Very clear! Jesu is not God. He’s a human being like us. God is one as people understand what one means. Twisting facts by giving them “philosophical names” will not change the facts.
    It’s like when christians have named their shirk as (Trinity), and they think that would change the fact they are polytheists.

  2. “Wright in his chapter also says, “I do not think Jesus ‘knew he was God’””

    I find that amusing too. I find Unitarians dance around the question about what exactly the Logos is in a similar manner.

    But the question “is Jesus God” is a loaded question is it not?

    If we use the word Jesus to encapsulate everything that he is then this Jesus definitely came in to existence at a certain point in time. This cannot be true of God.

    • LOL, so Ignoramus just demonstrated the dance that trinitarians do, and basically proved how Wright and other Christians just cannot and will not give an honest answer.

      How is asking whether Jesus was God a “loaded question”? Is he God or not? If I were to ask a Hindu if Krishna was God, they would say “yes”. There is no ambiguity or dancing around the question. So why can’t Christians like Wright simply give a “yes” or “no” answer?

      • Does God have a body?

        I know Allah does according to the Koran. Just by way of comparison but off topic.

      • Yes, off-topic. Christians do that when they get stuck and cannot explain their topsy-turvy theology.

        Once again, why is it so difficult to answer a simple question with a “yes” or “no”?

  3. If God doesn’t have a body Jesus can’t be God. That is the difficulty with answering the “simple question” with a yes or no.

    If, on the other hand, you asked me if Jesus was God incarnate I would answer yes.

    Does any Muslim know in what form Allah subsists?

    • “If God doesn’t have a body Jesus can’t be God. That is the difficulty with answering the “simple question” with a yes or no.”

      Exactly. This is why Christians have to be sly and avoid answering the question, because they know exactly where it leads: Jesus cannot be God because he has a body (of course, there are other reasons as well, such as Jesus not knowing all things, Jesus feeling hungry, etc.).

      If Jesus was “God incarnate”, then you still have the conundrum of explaining why this so-called “God incarnate” didn’t behave like God.

      Your repeated attempts to redirect this uncomfortable discussion to Islam is another tactic Christians use when they get cornered.

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