Periodical Reviews -- By: Andrew J. Cress

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 175:700 (Oct 2018)
Article: Periodical Reviews
Author: Andrew J. Cress

Periodical Reviews

By The Faculty And Staff Of Dallas Theological Seminary

Andrew J. Cress


“Hope Deferred? Against the Dogma of Delay,” N. T. Wright, Early Christianity 9 (2018): 37–82.

The writings of Ritschl, Weiss, Schweitzer, and Bultmann argue or assume that Jesus incorrectly predicted his imminent return, leading to disappointment and embarrassment in the early church. Wright’s core goal in this article is to deconstruct this influential perspective. In the article, Wright successfully demonstrates the difficulties inherent in such arguments by asking questions like “If Jesus was wrong, then why was there a second generation of believers?” and “If life in the present moment was a key point of the earliest faith, then why would there be any disappointment in the delay?” On these points, Wright’s contribution is strong.

Wright’s second claim is that Second Temple Jewish eschatological and apocalyptic texts do not pertain to the end of the world or a cosmic catastrophe, as proponents of the disappointment view have claimed. Instead, he argues that these texts are linguistically rhetorical affirmations of the collapse of earthly structures in the social, cultural, and political realms. In Wright’s view, the texts are about this world, not a new one, and he explains how the disappointment reading fit the social and cultural environment of its proponents. It coincided with efforts to diminish what developed in subsequent generations of the early church (known as Early Catholicism—not to be confused with Roman Catholicism) by emphasizing formal impulses and increased institutionalization. At issue is not whether the early church was an apocalyptic movement—it was. The real question is in what sense, and with what message these apocalyptic beliefs were held. This second concern is the ultimate burden of the article.

Wright makes three points on the basis of Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic texts: they are about the turbulent ancient world of Israel, they are rooted in biblical expectation (not deist or epicurean rationalism), and the disappointment view underestimates the importance to first-century Jews of the temple and Jerusalem’s fall. These critiques are tied to Wright’s acceptance of the linguistic work of his mentor G. B. Caird in The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Duckworth, 1980).

Two questions are central in the discussion: Are there any end-of-the-world New Testament texts? and What do texts with a time designation (e.g. Mark 9:1 and

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