N. T. Wright

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The Rt Reverend
Tom Wright
MA (Oxon)  DD
Professor of
New Testament and Early Christianity [1]
at the University of St Andrews
Wright speaking at a conference
in December 2007
In office 1 September 2010 – present
Other posts
Ordination 1975
Consecration 2003
Personal details
Birth name Nicholas Thomas Wright
Born (1948-12-01) 1 December 1948 (age 66)
Morpeth, Northumberland, England
Nationality British
Denomination Anglican
Spouse Maggie[2]
Children Four[2]
Alma mater Exeter College, Oxford

Nicholas Thomas "Tom" Wright (born 1 December 1948) is a leading New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop. In academia, he is published as N. T. Wright, but otherwise tends to be known as Tom Wright.[3] Between 2003 and his retirement in 2010, he was the Bishop of Durham. He is now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College in the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Among modern New Testament scholars, Wright is an important proponent of traditional views on theological matters including Christ's bodily resurrection[4][page needed] and second coming.[5] Additionally, he has expressed opposition both to the ordination of openly gay Christians and the blessing of same sex partnerships and marriages as occurs in the US Episcopal Church.[6] However, he has criticised the idea of a literal rapture,[7] co-authored a book with his friend Marcus Borg,[4] a widely known voice of liberal Christianity, and is associated with the Open Evangelical movement and New Perspective on Paul, both of which are seen as controversial in many conservative Protestant evangelical circles.

Early life[edit]

Wright was born in Morpeth, Northumberland. In a 2003 interview, he said that he could never remember a time when he was not aware of the presence and love of God and recalled an occasion when he was four or five when "sitting by myself at Morpeth and being completely overcome, coming to tears, by the fact that God loved me so much he died for me. Everything that has happened to me since has produced wave upon wave of the same."[8]

He was educated at Sedbergh School, then in Yorkshire, Wright specialised in classics. From 1968 to 1971, he studied literae humaniores (or "classics", i.e. classical literature, philosophy and history) at Exeter College, Oxford, receiving his BA with first class honours in 1971. During that time he was president of the undergraduate Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. In 1973 he received a BA in theology with first class honours from Exeter.

From 1971 to 1975 he studied for the Anglican ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, receiving his (Oxford) MA at the end of this period. He was later awarded a Doctor of Divinity (DD) degree by Oxford University.[9]


In 1975 he became a junior research fellow at Merton College, Oxford and later also junior chaplain. From 1978 to 1981 he was a fellow and chaplain at Downing College, Cambridge. In 1981 he received his DPhil from Merton College, Oxford, his thesis topic being "The Messiah and the People of God: A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans".

After this, he served as assistant professor of New Testament studies at McGill University, Montreal (1981–86), then as chaplain, fellow and tutor at Worcester College and lecturer in New Testament in the University of Oxford (1986–93).

He moved from Oxford to be Dean of Lichfield Cathedral (1994–99) and then returned briefly to Oxford as Visiting Fellow of Merton College, before taking up his appointment as Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey in 2000.

Between 1995 and 2000, Wright wrote the weekly Sunday's Readings column for the Church Times. He has said that writing the column gave him the "courage" to embark upon his popular For Everyone (SPCK) series of commentaries on New Testament books.[10]

In 2003, he became the Bishop of Durham. On 4 August 2006 he was appointed to the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved for a period of five years.[11]

On 27 April 2010 it was announced that he would retire from the See of Durham on 31 August 2010 to take up a new appointment as Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College, St Andrews in Scotland, which will enable him to concentrate on his academic and broadcasting work.[12][13]


New Testament doctrine[edit]

Wright's doctrinal perspectives, with reference to the New Testament, are expressed throughout his writings. In his popular book Surprised by Hope, he outlines the scriptural emphasis on resurrection as the blessed hope of all Christians. Though critical of the North American church's overemphasis on "going to heaven when you die" and underemphasis on the resurrection from the dead, he does not deny the teaching that one's soul lives on after death. He advocates a reunion of soteriology and ecclesiology, commenting that such a connection is often neglected in Protestantism. In addition, he is critical of various popular theological ideas, such as the dispensationalist doctrine of the rapture.[14]

Scholarly work[edit]

Wright's work has been praised by many scholars of varying views, including James D.G. Dunn, Gordon Fee, Richard B. Hays and Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. Critics of his work are also found across the broad range of theological camps. Some Reformed theologians such as John Piper have sought to question Wright's theology, particularly over whether or not he denies the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. Although Piper considers Wright's presentation confusing, he does not dismiss Wright's view as false. In response, Wright has stated he wishes Piper would "exegete Paul differently" and that his book "isn't always a critique of what I'm actually saying." Wright also expressed how he has warmed to Piper and considers him a "good, beloved brother in Christ, doing a good job, building people up in the faith, teaching them how to live."[15] In 2009, Wright has since addressed the issue in his book Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2009). He has sought to clarify his position further in an interview with InterVarsity Press.[15] Many conservative evangelicals have also questioned whether Wright denies penal substitution, but Wright has stated that he denies only its caricature but affirms this doctrine, especially within the overall framework of the Christus Victor model of atonement.[16] Despite criticism of some of his work by Reformed theologians, other Reformed leaders have embraced his contribution in other areas, such as Tim Keller who praised Wright's work on the resurrection.[17] Wright has received praise from Catholics,[18] such as the author Fr. Robert Barron, who has cited Wright's historical scholarship on multiple occasions.[19][20]

Secular utopianism[edit]

In 2008, Wright criticised "…secular utopianism," accusing it of advocating "the right to kill unborn children and surplus old people..."[21] Times columnist David Aaronovitch challenged Wright specifically to substantiate his claim that any secular group does indeed advocate the killing of elderly people, leading to an ongoing exchange in which Wright held to his main point.[22][23][24][25]

Historical Jesus[edit]

Regarding the historical Jesus, Wright stands broadly in the tradition of Albert Schweitzer (thoroughgoing eschatology), against what he sees as the thoroughgoing scepticism of William Wrede (famous for his thesis on the Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark as an apologetic and ahistorical device) and the Jesus Seminar, Wrede's modern-day counterparts.[26][page needed] In some ways his views are similar to those of such scholars as E.P. Sanders and the lesser-known Ben F. Meyer (whom Wright calls "the unsung hero" of New Testament studies).[27] However he disagrees with the view of Sanders that the Pharisees would not have exhibited the violent opposition to Jesus depicted in the Gospels.[28] He also thinks it is a mistake to say that Jesus expected the imminence of the end of history, as Schweitzer thought,[26][page needed] but rather thinks that Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as something both present and future. He has also defended a literal belief in the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead as central to Christianity.[5]

Wright has also received criticism in some more liberal theological circles, e.g. by Robert J. Miller. In contrast, the Jesus Seminar's Marcus Borg, with whom Wright shares mutual admiration and respect, has co-authored with Wright the book The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.[4] In 2005, at the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum, Wright also conversed with Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan as to the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. Wright and Crossan, who also hold mutual admiration for one another, hold very different opinions on this foundational Christian doctrine. For Crossan, the resurrection of Jesus is a theological interpretation of events by the writers of the New Testament. For Wright, however, the resurrection is a historical event—coherent with the worldview of Second Temple Judaism—fundamental to the New Testament.[29]

With the publication of Wright's 2012 book, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, Wright has been critical of some ideas concerning the historical Jesus in both American evangelical preaching and the work of C.S. Lewis, who Wright admits was a major influence in his own life. In an interview,[30] Wright summarises this critique: "One of the targets of this book is Christians who say: Yes, the Bible is true. It’s inerrant and so on. But, then, they pay no attention to what the Bible actually says. For too many Christians it seems sufficient to say Christ was born of a Virgin, died on a cross and was resurrected—but never did anything else in between. I’m saying: That’s not the way to understand the Gospels."

Homosexuality in the Anglican Communion[edit]

Wright was the senior member from the Church of England of the Lambeth Commission set up to deal with controversies that emerged following the ordination of Gene Robinson as a bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.[31] In 2009, the Episcopal Church authorised the clergy to celebrate commitment liturgies for people in same-sex relationships. Wright described the action as a "clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion" in a Times opinion piece.[6]

Wright attracted media attention in December 2005 when he announced to the press, on the day that the first civil partnership ceremonies took place in England, that he would be likely to take disciplinary action against any clergy registering as civil partners or any clergy blessing such partnerships.[32]

He has argued that "Justice never means 'treating everybody the same way', but 'treating people appropriately'".[6] In August 2009, he issued a statement saying:

...someone, sooner or later, needs to spell out further (wearisome though it will be) the difference between (a) the "human dignity and civil liberty" of those with homosexual and similar instincts and (b) their "rights", as practising let alone ordained Christians, to give physical expression to those instincts. As the Pope has pointed out, the language of "human rights" has now been downgraded in public discourse to the special pleading of every interest-group.[33]


He has been awarded several honorary doctoral degrees,[34] including from Durham University in July 2007,[35] the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in April 2008,[36] the University of St Andrews in 2009,[37] Heythrop College, University of London in 2010, and the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary & University in May 2012.

In 2014, he was awarded the Burkitt Medal by the British Academy 'in recognition of special service to Biblical Studies'.[38] It was announced in March 2015 that he is to be made a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE).

Selected works[edit]

  • The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, Fortress Press, 1991 .
  • Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship, Wm B Eerdmans, 1997 [1994]  — 1st ed. by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).
  • What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, Wm B Eerdmans, 1997 .
  • The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, Downers Grove, IL, 2000 .
  • Wright, NT; Crossan, John Dominic (2006) [2005], Stewart, Robert B, ed., The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue (paperback ed.), SPCK  — 1st edition by Augsburg Fortress.
  • Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Fortress Press, 2005 ("Paul: Fresh Perspectives" co-edition SPCK, 2005).
  • The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. Harper SanFrancisco, 2005.
  • Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. Hardcover ed. SPCK, 2006 co-edition HarperCollins Pub., 2006.
  • Judas and the Gospel of Jesus: Have We Missed the Truth about Christianity?. SPCK 2006 / Baker Books, 2006.
  • Evil and the Justice of God. SPCK, 2006 / Intervarsity Press, 2006.
  • "The Reasons for Christ's Crucifixion," Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ (ed. by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin), 2007.
  • Borg, Marcus J; Wright, Nicholas Thomas (2007), The Meaning of Jesus: Two visions, New York: HarperCollins .
  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. SPCK, HarperOne, 2008.
  • Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened. SPCK, 2008 / Westminster John Knox, 2009. (co-authored with Craig A. Evans) Ed. Troy A. Miller.
  • Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. SPCK, 2009.
  • Virtue Reborn. SPCK, 2010. Published as After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters through HarperOne in North America, 2010.
  • Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today (A Revised and Expanded Edition of The Last Word - 2005). HarperOne, 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-201195-4.
  • Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters. HarperOne, 2011. ISBN 978-0-06-208439-2.
  • How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels. HarperOne, 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-173057-3.
  • The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. HarperOne, 2013. ISBN 978-0-06-223050-8.
  • Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013. Ausburg Fortress, 2013. ISBN 978-0-8006-9963-5.
  • Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues. HarperOne, 2014. ISBN 978-0-06-223053-9.
  • Paul and His Recent Interpreters. Ausburg Fortress, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8006-9964-2. Release Date: November 1, 2014
  • Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. HarperOne, 2015. ISBN 978-0-06-233434-3. Release Date: 06/01/2015

"Christian Origins and the Question of God" series[edit]

Four volumes published, two more planned:

  • The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God 1, Augsburg Fortress, 1992 .
  • Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God 2, Augsburg Fortress, 1996, ISBN 978-0-8006-2682-2 .
  • The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God 3, Augsburg Fortress, 2003 .
  • Paul and the Faithfulness of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God 4, Augsburg Fortress, 2013 .
  • The Gospels and the Story of God . The four gospel writers as theologians in their own right.
  • The Early Christians and the Purpose of God . The practical, hermeneutical and theological implications of all of the above.

"For Everyone" series[edit]

The For Everyone series, a commentary on the New Testament, was completed in 2011:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/divinity/rt/staff/ntw2/
  2. ^ a b "Bishops", Diocese of Durham, Anglican 
  3. ^ See, however, for example, Amazon.co.uk. ASIN 0281064776.  and Amazon.com. ISBN 0061551821. 
  4. ^ a b c Borg & Wright 2007.
  5. ^ a b Van Biema, David (7 February 2008). "Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop". Time. Retrieved 19 May 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c Wright, Nicholas Thomas 'Tom' (15 July 2009). "The Americans know this will end in schism". The Times (London). Retrieved 19 May 2010.  The same piece is also available on the Fulcrum website.
  7. ^ http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_BR_Farewell_Rapture.htm
  8. ^ Amos, Michael 'Mike' (12 February 2003), "Our friend from the North", Northern Echo 
  9. ^ "Bishop of Durham", Bishops in Lords, Church of England 
  10. ^ Thornton, Ed, "Wright has 'J.K. Rowling-plus' appeal, says SPCK", Church Times, 22 July 2011
  11. ^ The London Gazette: no. 58062. p. 10685. 4 August 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2007.
  12. ^ News & events (news), Durham: Anglican 
  13. ^ "Faith", Times (article) (UK) 
  14. ^ "Farewell to the rapture". Bible Review (NT Wright Page). August 2001. Retrieved 20 November 2011. Cf.Wright, NT (2008). Surprised by hope: Rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church. ISBN 978-0-06-155182-6. When Paul speaks of 'meeting' the Lord 'in the air,' the point is precisely not—as in the popular rapture theology—that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. Even when we realize that this is highly charged metaphor, not literal description, the meaning is the same as in the parallel in Philippians 3:20. Being citizens of heaven, as the Philippians would know, doesn't mean that one is expecting go back to the mother city but rather means that one is expecting the emperor to come from the mother city to give the colony its full dignity, to rescue it if need he, to subdue local enemies and put everything to rights 
  15. ^ a b "Trevin Wax interview with N.T. Wright on Surprised by Hope". Retrieved 22 September 2011. 
  16. ^ Wax, Trevin (18 November 2007), Wright on penal substitution 
  17. ^ "An Interview with Timothy Kell", First Things, 25 February 2008 
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ [2]
  20. ^ [3]
  21. ^ "In quotes: The ethics of embryos". BBC News. 24 March 2008. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  22. ^ Aaronovitch, David (25 March 2008). "Wicked untruths from the Church". The Times (London). Archived from the original on 9 May 2008. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  23. ^ "Bishops speak out on embryos". The Times (London). 26 March 2008. Archived from the original on 5 May 2008. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  24. ^ Aaronovitch, David (31 March 2008). "Who wants to kill the elderly?". The Times (London). Archived from the original on 16 May 2008. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  25. ^ Wright, Tom (3 April 2008). "Euthanasia – a murky moral world". The Times (London). Archived from the original on 6 July 2008. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  26. ^ a b Wright 1999.
  27. ^ Wright, N. T. (1997). The original Jesus: the life and vision of a revolutionary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-4283-6. OCLC 38436317. [page needed]
  28. ^ Jesus and the Victory of God, 1996, pp. 376–383, ISBN 978-0800626822 
  29. ^ Stewart, Robert B (2007). Intelligent design: William A. Dembski & Michael Ruse in dialogue. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. ISBN 0-8006-6218-0. OCLC 148895223. [page needed]
  30. ^ "N.T. Wright interview: Why Left, Right & Lewis get it wrong". Read The Spirit online magazine. 28 March 2012. Retrieved 21 November 2013. 
  31. ^ "The members of the Lambeth Commission". The Windsor Report. Anglican Communion. October 2004. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  32. ^ "Gay vicar flouts partnership rule". BBC News. 21 December 2005. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  33. ^ Rowan's reflections: unpacking the Archbishop’s statement, Anglican Communion Institute, July 2009 
  34. ^ Wright, Nicholas Thomas. "Curriculum Vitae". Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  35. ^ "Anniversary accolades for major achievement" (Press release). Durham University. 8 June 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2008. 
  36. ^ White, James 'Jim' (1 May 2008). "Theologian NT Wright packs the house". Religious Herald (Richmond, VA). Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  37. ^ "Honorary degrees". University of St Andrews. 25 June 2009. Retrieved 29 June 2009. 
  38. ^ "BURKITT MEDAL FOR BIBLICAL STUDIES 2014". Prizes and medals. British Academy. Retrieved 9 December 2014. 

External links[edit]

Church of England titles
Preceded by
Michael Turnbull
Bishop of Durham
Succeeded by
Justin Welby