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Was Jesus born of a virgin? Did he know he was the Messiah? Was he bodily resurrected from the dead? Did he intentionally die to redeem humankind? Was Jesus God? Two leading Jesus scholars with widely divergent views go right to the heart of these uestions and others presenting the opposing visions of Jesus that shape our faith today

10 thoughts on “The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

  1. says:

    Two of my favorite scholars Marcus Borg and N T Wright debate the meaning of Jesus One is decidedly conservative but both are thoughtful and well studied And raising hope for the future of Christianity I would venture a guess that they are best friends despite their differencesWright believes the gospels are what they are “because their authors thought the events they were recording—all of them not just some—actually happened” This may sound self evident to conservative Christians but it is not the way Borg sees it Two terms he uses to describe gospel writing are “metaphor historicized” and its complement “history metaphorized” Borg just can’t jump on board with a literal reading of the gospels; he describes this outdated way of reading the Bible with five adjectives literalistic doctrinal moralistic exclusivistic and afterlife oriented This view he says has ceased to work for a large number of people who find that if they must take the Bible literally they cannot take it at allAccording to Borg the “single most important difference” between these two scholars is their opinion about whether or not Jesus saw himself as the messiah Wright says yes Jesus understood his role as central to the salvation of the Jewish nation and by extension the world Borg says no Jesus’ role as messiah grew after his death and resurrection as the understanding of his followers evolvedIn my opinion the single most important difference in the thinking of these two scholars is not Jesus’ self understanding but the manner of his resurrection Wright says Jesus rose in body and showed himself physically to his disciples Never mind that this new body could somehow walk through walls and disappear at will “Resurrection” to a Jew meant a physical rising in body Wright argues that only an event of this magnitude could have triggered the devotion and dedication of the Jesus movement that continued on after his death In contrast Borg seems unconcerned with the empty tomb and interprets the resurrection in a spiritual manner I’m oversimplifying his position but Borg sees Jesus being “raised to God’s right hand” as simply meaning Jesus has captured the position of Lord in the lives in his disciples He is “raised up” by his followers after his deathAs I said these are two of my favorite Jesus scholars I believe Borg and Wright encapsulate liberal and conservative Christianity at their basic levels and studying the two in tandem helps us appreciate the arguments of both sides Great book

  2. says:

    Jesus asked his disciples Who do you say that I am? Two of today's leading theologians Marcus Berg and N T Nicholas Thomas Wright give their answers in alternating chapters on eight different aspects of ChristologyI will admit that I relate closely to Wright's views than Borg's and find Wright's readable And admit further that half way through the book I gave up reading Borg's chapters The book was due back at the public library and I wanted to finish with it before I started my new jobBorg makes a sharp distinction between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith The latter which he sees in most of the New Testament writings is largely metaphortical and is a product of the early church's imagination The virgin birth in his view is metaphorical as are miracles and one is not too sure about Jesus' resurrection itselfWright as much a historian as a theologian reads the same New Testament but sees one Jesus not two The J of History IS the Christ of FaithThe two different versions of Jesus lead to two different visions of the Christian life

  3. says:

    I am not a theologian and as such I can't review or evaluate this book on that level I am a Christian who was raised in the Anglican Church and I've always been fascinated by uestions of Biblical inerrancy I approached this book as someone who clearly believes in Jesus as Son of God and Saviour yet who is open to different ways of approaching the Bible Borg and Wright both make well written clear arguments to explain their views around Christ both as a spiritual and historical figure The authors addressed all the key uestions about Jesus and they didn't try to force the reader into accepting one point of view or the other; the book seemed to be meant to get people thinking and exploring these issues Any book that can take such complex matters and create a book that is not dry or textbook like should be applauded I thought the scholarship on both sides was sound although both relied a bit on their own previous works than I would have liked A bibliographylist of works cited to go along with the notes would have been appropriate I thought the layout was a bit annoying I'd have preferred a dialogue set up for each uestion so that I could read the authors' differing views side by side and it would've been easier to be clear on where they agreed and disagreed As it was I found myself going back and forth to see what each was saying on a particular subject This book may present a challenge to readers who have made up their minds about Jesus' identity either way As someone who does have faith I found it a good exercise to read something that asked me to set aside my beliefs uestion and be open to new possibilitiesinterpretations I actually found that in some ways my faith was strengthened because Borg was able to give me a way to look at the things in the Bible I find contradictory that doesn't reuire me to completely abandon the Bible This book can be complex in parts and it does assume a certain level of knowledge on the part of the readers' behalf I don't know that it's a great book for a beginner Anyone who is interested in the historical Jesus regardless of what you believe about him will find this book interesting if challenging at times I highly recommend it

  4. says:

    This is a good book for those who desire to compare two different ways of understanding Jesus Christianity and the Bible The cover states that the two authors are the leading conservative and the leading liberal scholar in the historical Jesus debate Perhaps true though it would not be difficult to find scholars much conservative than Wright and much liberal than BorgI am a huge fan of NT Wright so it was not surprising that I found myself agreeing with much of what he wrote and even anticipating what he was going to write since his chapters often echo other books This was my first reading of Borg so I tried to give him a fair shakeOverall I found NT Wright to be much convincing and consistent Borg affirms that he emphasizes Jesus' context in ancient Judaism p 8 but does not seem to follow through on this For example Borg identifies Jesus as a Jewish mystic a healer and exorcist one who taught wisdom beyond convention a social prophet a movement initiator even a messenger of the kingdom of God ch 4 The uestion is which Wright asks p 49 if a first century Jew was all of these things at a time when many Jews claimed to be Messiah can we imagine that Jesus and those around him did not wonder if he was the Messiah? The answer is clear if Jesus was doing all those things he had to at least wonder if he was the Messiah Given all that Borg says it makes no sense to deny Jesus thought he was the MessiahThis contextual problem continues in the discussion of the cross Borg admits that the idea of one's death having an atoning affect for others was present in the Jewish culture of Jesus' day and that it was very possible for a first century Jew to think this Yet he cannot affirm Jesus thought his death meant anything p 81 On the next page he writes that Jesus' death did not take him by surprise Again there seems to be a consistency issue Wright takes Jesus in his first century context consistently while Borg admits he does not want Jesus to have seen his death to have any significance p 82 In the final chapter Borg takes Wright to task for Wright argues that faith has a large part to play in the historical discussion Maybe Borg should take his own advice for his faith that Jesus did not see himself as Messiah seems to influence how he interprets the historyThere were other points where Borg does not appear consistent He says that it was against Jewish law to have a trial at night and it is impossible to imagine the Sanhedrin convening the night before Passover which is one reason he sees the story made up 88 Yet I wonder why the early Christians especially a community of mostly Jewish Christians would make up something that they probably knew was practically impossible Borg says that resurrection is not a resumption of previous existence which Wright and Christian orthodoxy would agree with it is an entry into a new kind of existence 131 But Wright shows in his chapter on resurrection and his magnificent book The Resurrection of the Son of God that this new kind of existence is a bodily new life a life after life after death Would the theology of resurrection which Borg gives that Jesus continues to live somewhere and his disciples experienced him give reason for them to overthrow all Jewish belief in only a future resurrection to say Jesus is arisen in the present? Again there is a disconnect hereAnother place where Borg fails to be consistent with the context and perhaps to let his own faith shine through is when he notes that if Jesus thought of himself as God we could uestion his mental health p 146 He says that he does not think people like Jesus have an exalted perception of themselves The only problem is if Jesus truly was God in the flesh in some way it is no longer a delusion And Wright shows that there were first century categories for a Jewish prophet messiah to see himself as God's representative even believing his appearance in Jerusalem was the divine visit so many Jews were waiting forI should give Borg credit for his chapters were thought provoking and I do agree with him on other things for example his description of the meaning of the cross and easter rejection and vindication of Jesus revelation of the way revelation of the love of God sacrifice for sin Whatever the cross and resurrection means it includes at least these things I also appreciated Borg's critiue of the idea that God is out there somewhere and he occasionally comes here to perform a miracle or something The truth is that God is always here and always interacting with creation not just sometimes in miracles Borg argues that God is always right here and than right here Wright agrees with Borg on that statementThe chapter on the virgin birth was helpful especially because I had never read Wright on this topic before He brings up some good points For example no one had ever seen Isaiah 714 the virgin shall conceive as a messianic text so the argument that Matthew made it all up to fit that text makes no sense besides the fact if that were the case why doesn't Luke uote that text? Also he notes that there are no pre Christian Jewish traditions that the messiah would be born of a virgin The only parallels were to pagan stories The stories in Matthew and Luke are very Jewish so it begs the uestion why would the writers borrow from pagans especially with the risk of offending their Jewish audience and as Wright says making Jesus out to be a pagan demigod 176 Wright also cautions us not to make of the birth stories than the Scripture does they are not there to prove Jesus is sinless or to prove that Jesus was divineWhat I found most interesting in Borg's treatment of this topic is that after illustrating the numerous differences in Matthew and Luke's stories he seems to reject Jesus' birth in Bethlehem in favor of Nazareth because they agree on it 181 2 Because Bethlehem was home to King David and because Micah 12 promises the future Messiah will born there is enough reason to reject it as made up But this seems to be taking suspicion to great lengths and simply ignoring the other possibility Jesus really was born in Bethlehem which is why both gospels have him thereThe final chapter is a great conclusion as both spend time summarizing where they have differed most and then illustrating what their theology of Jesus means for Christian life In many ways they end up in similar places This reflects that though very different they are not worlds apart I certainly find Wright's case compelling and consistent and I found my first reading of Borg interesting though I disagree with many of his pointsI highly recommend this book for pastors or students who seek to understand differing views on Jesus in the academy

  5. says:

    From the copy of the book I have this is what the title states on the front The Meaning of Jesus Two Visions The Leading Liberal and Conservative Jesus Scholars Present the Heart of the Historical Jesus Debate Yeah; it’s a bit long NT Wright presents a conservative viewpoint of the historical Jesus; Marcus J Borg’s view is a bit liberalAt first I got into the debate But then it started to get pointless Even when they disagree they seem to agree So often it seems like semantics And there seem to be so many logical problems it starts to get annoyingBorg has his share He’s constantly referring to a “majority of mainline scholars” who agree with what he says but never gives any evidence He suggests that Mark was written first containing the most accurate stories of Jesus but then reverses himself and uses some passages in Mark to prove that other passages in Mark aren’t true And he suggests that Jesus was a healer states that this was some sort of paranormal ability but that His healings weren’t miracles Huh?But Wright has his problems too One that stands out is the idea that the eyewitness testimonies of Jesus after his resurrection contradicting each offer some sort of proof that the eyewitnesses were real The fact that they don’t match proves that they are true?It seems like some of the arguments are so bad that even when I agree with the conclusions I want to throw out the assertionsPlus they continually refer to their own work – it’s as if they can’t explain their points without going back to their entire body of work But doesn’t that make them poor scholars if they can’t?Everything Borg argues seems to be dependent on the fact that Jesus was basically two different people before and after he died a pre and post Easter Jesus Before he died he didn’t know he was the Messiah; but became the Messiah at His deathAccording to Wright Jesus knew he was God and the Messiah while he livedSo far pretty much all of their arguments rest on these assertions Maybe that’s an oversimplification but for the purposes of a blog post I think it’s fairAnd I’ve gotten to the point in this debate where I’ve said “Who cares?”And maybe this is good Before reading this book if someone suggested that there could still be a body in the tomb of Jesus and still keep their faith I wouldn’t have thought it made sense Borg suggests this stating that he thinks that the resurrection was different from a bodily resurrection But now – I’m almost done with a lot of this discussion Whether Jesus knew he was the Messiah when he was on earth or the exact nature of the resurrection of Jesus – I don’t really care because it doesn’t impact my faithBut maybe the discussion is good – because I think it’s helping me see clearer the meaning of Jesuseven if or especially if all this arguing over semantics is pointlessBut the arguments aside there were some really good things in the book and they really ended up bering areas where Marcus Borg agreed with NT Wright Part of this is the process of discussion of argument I think I remember Rob Bell referring to it as wrestling with the text Part of the point is to talk about the Word discuss it think about agree and disagree about it Towards the beginning of the book Wright talks about how in the real world things meet merge fuse uestion each other uncouple again swirl around each other undergird and undermine each other examine each others' foundations and set about demolishing or reconstructing them appearing at one moment inseparable and at the next in an embarrassingly public family suabble I think this is part of the whole process we miss when we try to force everyone to agree with us But both authors also have some really good things to say about how we should live our lives I love how Wright talks about the Kingdom of God Jesus challenged his contemporaries to abandon the attitudes and practices toward one another which went with the xenophobic nationalism especially the oppression of the poor by the rich a constant strand in much of his teachingHe was welcoming of sinners into fellowship with himself precisely as part of his kingdom announcement; he was declaring that his welcome constituted them as members of the kingdomJesus was offering forgiveness to all and sundry out there on the street without reuiring that they go through the normal channels That was his real offense Jesus welcomed everyone you didn't need to be perfect and white and clean to enter into His God's Kingdom While I had major issues with Borg's treatment of the birth stories he does use it as a wonderful metaphor that I really liked His issues range from bad to worse in this area He claims that Luke shows the genealogy of Jesus going through the prophet Nathan; which is only true if you believe that David's son Nathan and the prophet Nathan were the same man but I can't find anything in the text to support that And then completely forgetting about Okham's Razor he writes How does one account for the common emphasis upon Bethlehem? One possibility of course is that Jesus was really born in BethlehemWhat then is left historically from these stories? He was probably born in Nazareth not Bethlehem Waitwhat?But back to the metaphor Borg ends his section on the birth stories of Jesus with this referring to the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart Eckhart spoke of the virgin birth as something that happens within us That is the story of the virgin birth is the story of Christ being born within us through the union of the Spirit of God with our flesh Ultimately the story of Jesus' birth is not just about the past but about the internal birth in the present That's just beautiful And Borg finishes up the book bringing the Kingdom of God full circle A vision of the Christian life that takes Jesus seriously awakens not only compassion but also a passion for justice Like those who stood in the Jewish prophetic tradition before him Jesus knew that the desperation of peasant life flowed from systematic injustice Destitution and degradation in his world and ours are neither natural nor inevitable but are the product of domination systems created and maintained by the rich and powerful to serve their own interests Such structures are neither ordained by God nor mandated by scarcity That's worth talking about Well not just talking aboutdoing something aboutyou know what I mean

  6. says:

    Basic uestions about Christianity are examinedwas Jesus born of a virgin? Did he know he was the Messiah? Was he God? Did he die to redeem mankind? The amazing thing to me is that any Christian scholar who professes to believe in Christ Borg would ever dare to ask these uestions in the first place The Jesus Seminar is to me a classic example of the wolves spoken of in the New Testament They profess to be believers but use their knowledge to undermine people's faith in Christ They feel comfortable believing that he did not really perform miracles or rise from the dead I believe they are dangerous scholars whose works are being sold as mainstream authoritative voices of Christianity

  7. says:

    Reading the Meaning of Jesus is like sitting at Centre Court in Wimbledon seeing two tennis greats volleying with all their might Enjoyable and exciting reading as you wait to see how the other author will return the serve There are 8 parts in the book with two chapters per part Borg plays for the progressive or liberal side while Wright represents the conservative side but both are devout Christians The good thing is that there is no hostility between them as they argue their points with respect humour and clarity In part one Borg serves and Wright returns the Bible Metaphorical vs Historical? In part two the historical Jesus Jewish Messiah or Jewish Mystic? In part three the uestion is the Death of Christ political martyr or something ? In part four the Resurrection was it the actual same body of the historical Jesus or some kind of Visionary experience? In part five was Jesus God? What was the defining moment his Birth or his Resurrection? In part six the Virgin Birth A Metaphor about great things or a Literal event? In part seven the Return of Christ a Failed expectation or an Alternative interpretation? In part eight the Christian Life a Life of Love vs a Life of Love? Throughout the book I would find myself agreeing with one author only to be challenged by a view I had never considered Wright and Borg are both very good writers but Borg is a bit readable while Wright can be slightly 'wordy' However you will find that both of them have very good arguments for their case Some reviewers have said Don't bother with Wright or Forget Borg he's wrong I would suggest that you don't support one or the other just because they agree with your views but look at the arguments objectively I can honestly say that my interpretation of the meaning of Jesus has been affected by the arguments presented in this book an apt title for such an impactful book The good thing is that in the end both authors believe that the purpose of being a Christian is to love others and bring social justice to this world And that is one thing we can all agree on

  8. says:

    The Meaning of Jesus is a fascinating debate between two of the big names in contemporary theology Coming into this book I've read a great deal of NT Wright but nothing previously about Marcus Borg Both men are excellent writers and thinkers who agree that Jesus is hugely important both historically and presently When it comes to details however they disagree on virtually every issue As a conservative evangelical I naturally agreed with Wright throughout the book I expected that to be the case from the get go What I didn't expect was that Borg's argument's would be consistently weak throughout the book That's not to say he doesn't make several compelling points He does and is clearly a very intelligent theologian However throughout his writings he routinely fails to approach Jesus through the context of Second Temple Judaism Given that seeing the New Testament in its original context is perhaps the strongest point in Wright's work Borg comes off uite weak in sections where context is highly relevant What's fascinating about this to me is that Wright's basic critiue of Borg is almost identical to his basic critiue of Piper in the justification debate Borg and Piper couldn't differ in their conclusions but both men have failed to properly put Scripture in its context a choice that in my view has led them far from an accurate reading of Scripture The one thing I wish would have been different in the format of the book is that it would have been nice to see Borg and Wright directly reply to each other's chapters They both work some of that into their own chapters but direct responses would have made the book that much valuable Even with that caveat this is a highly engaging read No matter which side of the debate you come down on you're guaranteed to learn a lot

  9. says:

    This is Marcus Borg and N T Wright's exchange via book It is useful if you want to understand where many Evangelical Americans see the historical Jesus debate stands right now I think mostly this book misses the point however in light of Bultmann's stuff on the meaning of faith I would recommend Bultmann's Kerygma and Myth instead of this if one in my opinion wants to really understand the issues of the historical Jesus in a way that involves honesty without intellectual suicide Although N T Wright's work as a historian is useful for biblical hermeneutics I don't think it can as he seems to think be the foundation for all biblical hermeneutics as such I agree with Schleiermacher at this point theology is a function of use by the church it is nothing in and of itself I think this is the real import between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith the church is not interested in the man they are interested in the Christ Whereas the former is a historical entity the latter is a religious entity and an icon of religious devotion The latter too is what we find in the gospels Of course Marcus Borg discusses this view uite a bit in this book I don't think that his philosophical position is very useful He seems to miss the point in light of Wittgenstein of what it means to engage with religious language I say this because Borg does not take himself to be giving over a religious account of the historical Jesus but wants to make philosophical arguments at certain points especially on the distinction between resuscitation and resurrection where properly understood this is a biological argument Anyway I would not recommend this book

  10. says:

    The Meaning of Jesus Two Visions co authored by Marcus Borg and NT Wright is an excellent read for the student of NT interpretationhermeneutics By design the book provides the reader with two uite different approaches one is traditional the other revisionist to eight very important topics in ‘Jesus’ studies Each of the essays provided by NT Wright utilized both scriptural and historical background information in a very logical presentation of his thesis Borg on the other hand built his responses from hypothetical sources such as ‘’ caricatures of early Christian communities developed from the ‘two source’ layered understanding of the development of the Gospels and ‘I feel’ or ‘I believe” statements I must admit I wearied of hearing Borg speak referentially to ‘most scholars’ or ‘a majority of mainline scholars’ All in all I would recommend the book to any serious student of the history of New Testament history theology and interpretation