N.T. Wright on the Main Theological Discussions of First Century Jews

I have mentioned in the past about the whole Piper-Wright debate on justification. I have also shared how I have read both books: Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright and Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision.

And I do hope to one day write a multiple article series in which I compare, contrast and analyse the two views on justification. But below is a quote from N.T. Wright’s book on justification, particularly looking at what first century Jews were most concerned about theologically.

Then and there I realized that most Jews of the time were not sitting around discussing how to go to heaven, and swapping views on the finer points of synergism and sanctification. There were of course plenty of Jews who did discuss things like the interrelationship between divine and human agency, and indeed the question of who would inherit the “age to come,” the great time of salvation, but for the most part they were not engaged in the debates on which our own traditions have concentrated. They were hoping and longing for Israel’s God to act, to do what he had promised, to turn history the right way up once again as he had done in the days of David and Solomon a thousand years before. Nor were they obsessed with “going to heaven when they died.” Some believed in resurrection: they would die, but God would raise them on the last day. Others did not. Others again believed in a future disembodied immortality. But all this was not, to put it mildly, the main or central topic of their conversations, their poems, their legal discourses, their late-night meetings. The rabbis (meaning, in a broad sense, the Pharisees, of whom Paul had been one, and their successors over the next few hundred years) do not for the most part say, when discussing their particular interpretations of the ancestral law, “This is what you need to do to make sure you go to heaven,” or “to make sure you will be raised from the dead.” The worry about the afterlife, and the precise qualifications for it, which has so characterized Western Christianity, especially (it seems) since the Black Death, and which have shaped and formed Western readings (both Catholic and Protestant) of the New Testament, do not loom so large in the literature of Paul’s contemporaries. (p55-56)