“Simply Jesus” by NT Wright

In Simply Jesus, renowned New Testament scholar NT Wright speaks to Christians from all walks of life to answer a simple question: Who is Jesus? An essential question to any human being, Wright addresses this issue through exploring the context of Jesus which exposes the more subtle implications of Jesus’ self and message that are absent in many churches. Rather than simply take the side of conservative evangelicals or skeptics, regarding the answer to who Jesus was, he finds a fair balance by criticizing both sides of the spectrum and allowing each side to inform the other practically about the topic. In approaching Jesus’ character, rather than simply performing dry exegetical work, he approaches the issue of worldviews to begin his exploration of answering the question of who Jesus is. After all, “if we are to do real history, we have to allow people in other times and other places to be radically different from us” (22-23).

The greatest accomplishment, considering his audience is the average church go-er, is his language and style. Simply Jesus is written like a conversation with an academic thrust. So, rather than simply observing a text book, the reader is able to speak with NT Wright about the topic. He accomplishes this task through a variety of tools like rhetorical questions, personal stories, and easy to understand language. Furthermore, he explains Jesus’ context clearly in divided categories, simplifying the historical records in order that it may be easier for his readers to understand. At last, Wright makes his book more than answering the question of who Jesus is. Simply Jesus is a call to believers to take responsibly their roles as disciples of Jesus, the body of Christ operating on this earth, which is Jesus’ Lordship and rule.

The greatest issue with Simply Jesus was in his discussion regarding the Scriptures that formed the backdrop for Jesus’ ministry. Although he rightly includes Isaiah 40-66, Daniel, and Zechariah, he fails to fully discuss Jeremiah 31:31-34, the prophetic text about a New Covenant. If he is to fully discuss the ministry of Jesus, which results in the “New Covenant”, it is absolutely necessary to discuss how Jesus uses the concept of New Covenant, originally presented in Jeremiah, in a 1st century Jewish and Roman context. While there is not too much lost from this information’s absence, there would be much gained by addressing this backdrop of Jesus.

In conclusion, Simply Jesus is a book that is essential for any person seeking to understand the Gospels. While it should not be read in place of the Gospels, it should be read as a guidebook to understanding Jesus’ context. Because it is more than a textbook, the reader can have a spiritual experience as Wright paints the context of Jesus that made his message so radical. Believer should recognize his context and now recognize that we are called to the same thing. Believers are called to be more than privatized religion. Just as Jesus was political, in some sense, Christians should be political when they state that Jesus is Lord and King over all of history. This point, often forgotten, is an essential to understand who Jesus is and how we follow him. Thus, any Christian serious about knowing God, about knowing Jesus, should set aside a few days to allow God to speak to them through Simply Jesus.

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“Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective” by Martti Nissinen

Martti Nissinen critically considers the role, and even definition, of sexuality in the ancient world. Originally published in Finish in 1994, and in English in 2001, Nissinen approaches homosexual relations from a historical perspective, because he recognizes how the modern person’s thoughts of sexuality differ from how the ancient world thought of sexuality. Throughout his work, he explores texts of Assyrian, Greek, Roman, and biblical origins. In analyzing concepts from a multitude of ancient texts, he clearly shows, with strong evidence, the basics of how the ancient world thought of sexuality and gender. He also demonstrates how the modern reader of the Bible, especially the Christian, must take seriously the cultural significance and meanings behind the texts, which are so rooted in another time.

His conclusions of ancient views on sexuality ultimately show how sexuality, biological sex, gender, and life all inter-relate. For example, he demonstrates the assinnu of the Assyrian and Babylonian deity Ishtar. The assinnu was a priest-like person who was neither male nor female. That said, the assinnu cannot either be a “transgender” in the most modern terms because their roles within society had nothing to do with sexual orientation, which is, in and of itself, a 19th century creation. He goes on to show how homoerotic relationships, not to be confused with homosexual relationships, existed and were viewed in classical antiquity, the Hebrew Bible, and Judaism.

Challenging the traditional view of Christianity, Nissinen challenges any interpreter of the Bible to reconsider his or her approach to the Bible, even suggesting that the modern view of homosexuality is under “the authority of the Hellenistic Jewish synagogue” rather than the Bible (124). Although his view and study pose a significant challenge to more conservative Bible readers, it is important to understand the history if any person hopes to make a reasonable, honest, and well-thought out argument for or against—or perhaps somewhere in the middle— homosexuality in the 21st century.

Though it is well-written, well-researched, and in depth (often times it is quite explicit), it is also accessible to any reader without too much use of technical language to limit the audience to be scholars. If you are a scholar, a student, or simply hope to study the history of sexuality for answers on life, this book is perfect for you. Though it is about 20 years old, the scholarship is still relevant for today and essential for understanding how same-sex relation were understood in the ancient world. And, if you’re a theologian, there is even an appendix specifically exploring the theological implication of the historical overview and practical applications for what can be done in light of them.

 

Click here to purchase “Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective”