Book Review : Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Saint Augustine is quoted as saying “The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New?”  There is a tendency in Christianity today to overlook the Old Testament.  To some it is just historical work, and to others it may contain too much violence for them to reconcile it with their views.  This view of the Old Testament is greatly flawed and inhibits the foundation on which Jesus was to be brought into the world.  From Genesis through the writings of the Prophet Malachi there are many foreshadowings of the savior, and the believer would be wise to recognize this fact.

The author, Christopher J.H. Wright is an Old Testament scholar with a Doctorate in Old Testament ethics.  He was an Old Testament professor at Union Biblical Seminary, and is now the international director of the Langham Partnership International.  Wright is also an ordained Anglican and has written commentaries on many Old Testament books. Wright gets to the point by stating that the Old Testament “never fails to add new depths to my understanding of Jesus[1].”  This statement directly assaults the false view of the Old Testament that was addressed earlier.  The simple fact is that without the Old Testament there is no way to prove that Jesus was the Messiah.  Perhaps this is best stated by Wright himself toward the end of the book when he states, “without the Old Testament, Jesus quickly loses reality and either becomes a stained glass figure-colourful but static and undemanding, or a tailor’s dummy that can be twisted and dressed to suit the current fashion[2].”


Wright is very clear in his desire to make Jesus known in all scripture.  To the author it is virtually impossible to get a full understanding of Christ if the Old Testament is omitted.  He does this in an argument that spans five chapters.  Though the chapters are fairly long each does lay a foundation for the other.  The Old Testament is full of content and it could be very easy for an author to go off on tangents, but Wright stays focused only on that which concerns Christ.

Wright does this by relating New Testament themes back to its Old Testament types.  This typography helps the reader make the connection between events in the Old and New Testaments.  The Gospel of Matthew is expounded and the Old Testament connections are discussed in great detail.  This is done intentionally because the Gospel was originally written for Jewish ears, and the people reading or hearing it would make the connection that we may not make.  In this way the New Testament is presented as the fulfillment of the Old, which it is.  Wright says of this approach, “This means we need to look at Jesus in light of the history of the Old Testament, but also that he sheds light backwards on it[3].”

As previously stated Wright uses the Book of Matthew.  He uses it to show a link to the Davidic line as this will show that he is the Davidic king that the Old Testament speaks of.  In pages 55-101 Wright discusses the human nature of Christ. His culture, values, and specific prophecies are discussed.  These attributes could be subjects of various books in their own right.  The prevailing though is that the Old Testament is realized in Christ.

From a purely theological perspective there are many ideas worth noting, but two seem to be prominent.  Those two prominent items are progressive revelation and replacement theology.  Progressive revelation is the understanding that God reveals his word steps at a time.  In other words some things are made clearer later in scripture. Wright understands that things came in stages.  God had to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Messiah, and if it did not happen at the right time there would have been massive amounts of confusion.

Replacement theology, or supersessionism, is the idea that the church replaced Israel in God’s plan.  Wright suggests that Israel was God’s chosen nation from whom would come the salvation of the world.  Christ was the fulfillments of the law and God’s salvation is now available to every race.  Many prominent Christian groups hold to this view, and it is one that Wright holds to as well.   Wright states, “And indeed when the Hebrew prophets themselves looked hopefully into the future, they pictured God’s final and complete salvation in terms of a new and greater exodus, as a result of which salvation would reach to the ends of the earth[4].”  The Jewish leaders had to memorize much, if not all, of the Old Testament to hold their office.  They knew the prophecies, they saw them lived out before their own eyes, they can see what pieces of scripture was being fulfilled, but Jesus was still denied.


Wright does a great job in this work and he makes many good points to show that Jesus is spread throughout the entire Old Testament.  One thing that impressed the student was his everyday wording.  This is no doubt an academic work, and Wright could have easily opted to show off intellectually.  This vice was avoided, thankfully, and as a result the work is not intimidating to the everyday church goer who wants to study and learn more about scripture.  It is also presented in such a way as the professional theologian would not feel like he is stooping down a level to read a work.  It is presented in such a fashion that it is accessible to everyone.  That just is not common in works such as this.

Many authors have written about the genealogy in Matthew and linked it back to the Old Testament to prove that Christ is the fulfillment.  Wright states, “We see Jesus in the particularity of his context to Jewish history, and yet with universal significance which was attached to that history since the promise to Abraham.  We see him as the messianic heir of the line of David.  We see him as the end and also the beginning[5].” He masterfully goes thru the first seventeen verses of Matthew’s Gospel and elaborates on those generations.  It was thorough and very enlightening.  Any serious student of scripture would be wise to read this section.

Like any work there are strengths and weaknesses.  Though strengths abound there are some weaknesses though they were few and subtle.  One thing that was not noticed until the end of the book was that there were no footnotes.  This is very rare is an academic work such as this.  Though the bibliography is extensive, footnotes possibly could have helped link particular ideas to Wright’s way of thinking.  It would have given us an idea of what his research entailed to reach such conclusions.  The work as a whole is excellent, but footnotes may help some readers connect the dots in a deeper way.  To be honest this was the only “issue” I had with Wright’s work.  It was very enlightening and a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any student of scripture.  The early church father Jerome once said “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ[6].” Without a working knowledge of the Old Testament the Christian runs the risk of lacking in knowledge about the savior.  Knowing his history, typology, and culture gives us a deeper understanding and how far reaching God’s plan for salvation was.


Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, is a very enlightening book about the faith. We claim Christ as Messiah and we would do well to understand everything about him. The Old Testament did not only speak of him and what he would do, but it also influenced the way he lived.  He followed the laws of the Old Testament perfectly, and understands what it is to live under them.  That is why he was the perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Christians as a whole need to better understand the connection between the Old and New Testaments, and understand that Christ in in the whole Bible. Having a knowledge of this will help us all be better apologists and witnesses.  Wright himself says it best, “My constant comfort has been to remind myself that I am not writing for fellow scholars, but for people who want to deepen their knowledge of Jesus and of the scriptures that meant so much to him[7].”  That is just what he did.  Well done.




Kelly-gangi, Carol, ed. The Essential Wisdom of the Saints. New York, NY: Fall River Press, 2008.

Wright, Christopher J.h.. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Grove Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1992.

[1] Christopher J.h. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Grove Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1992), ix.

[2]  Ibid, 251.

[3] Christopher J.h. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Grove Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 2.

[4] Christopher J.h. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Grove Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 29.

[5] Christopher J.h. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Grove Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 8.

[6] Carol Kelly-gangi, ed., The Essential Wisdom of the Saints (New York, NY: Fall River Press, 2008), 26.

[7] Christopher J.h. Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Grove Ill: Intervarsity Press, 1992), x.

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