N. T. Wright, an advocate of the NPP, would say, “Jesus’ actions make sense within his Jewish context, and within the socio-cultural world of Galilee in particular…” Now, there is a sense in which the cultural context of a passage can be hermeneutically helpful. However, that is not what Wright is saying.
Who is Jesus? Any Christian might easily answer this question by reaching for her Bible and turning to the gospels. But advocates of the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) would be quick to caution against such a naïve response. “Oh,” they might say, “you can know something about Jesus from reading the Gospels but you won’t know what the gospel writers intended for you to know.” Now, we might cock our head in wonder. We would ask, “What does that even mean?” And the answer would not be long in coming.
For example, N. T. Wright, an advocate of the NPP, would say, “Jesus’ actions make sense within his Jewish context, and within the socio-cultural world of Galilee in particular…” Now, there is a sense in which the cultural context of a passage can be hermeneutically helpful. However, that is not what Wright is saying. According to Wright, Jewish context and the socio-cultural world of Galilee, or to put it succinctly, Second Temple Judaism is necessary to a correct understanding Jesus. Jesus only makes sense when looked at through this lens. Thus, it is necessary for the reader of the Gospels to put on these historical, socio-cultural and theological lenses in order to read the Gospel properly – in order to “make sense” of Jesus. Or to put it negatively, no longer is Scripture the primary interpreter of itself – Second Temple Judaism is!
Intrigued, our evangelical friend asks Wright the next question. Who was/is Jesus? To this simple question, Wright responds, “He [Jesus] believed, in short, that he was the Messiah.” Now, Bible believing folks are going to ask the obvious when talking to someone like Wright. They are going to ask, “But what do you mean by that? Is Jesus divine? Is Jesus the second Person of the Trinity?” To which Wright will reply, “Forget the ‘titles’ of Jesus,…forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus.” What? To believe that Jesus believed that he was the second person of the Trinity is “pseudo-orthodox,” “arid reductionism” and “unthinking?”