St Andrews University: Distance Learning Programme
‘The Bible and the Contemporary World’
Special Lecture by Professor N. T. Wright, St Mary’s College
Tuesday September 14 2010, 6.30 pm
Kingdom, Power and Truth: God and Caesar Then and Now
I am very grateful for the invitation to lecture this evening, and for the welcome you have given me. This is in no sense an official inaugural lecture – there may be time for that in due course; but I couldn’t resist the invitation to say something as part of a series on ‘the Bible and the contemporary world’. I have spent most of my adult life trying to hold the Bible and the contemporary world together and to discern the ways in which what most Christian churches call ‘the authority of the Bible’ actually impinges on the real world rather than merely on the private reality, or even the virtual reality, of a Christian existence which has detached itself from that world. Conversely, I have tried to discern ways in which the questions of our own day, framed in their own terms, can be brought to the Bible in the hope of finding, if not exact and complete answers, at least wisdom by which to take matters forward. I was delighted to hear of the distance learning project which was taking exactly this double topic as its theme this summer; and my mind went at once to one of the most remarkable of the conversations which Jesus has with an individual in John’s gospel, that final and fateful dialogue with Pontius Pilate in John chapters 18 and 19. I shall try to suggest this evening that this conversation contains within it the key elements of several of our most urgent and thorny public debates right now, and that reflecting on it in the light of them, and them in the light of it, may help us both to understand John’s gospel a bit better and to address our contemporary issues with a more biblically grounded Christian comment. I shall then offer some concluding reflections on the sort of exercise I have been undertaking, not for the sake of navel-gazing but because some remarks on method, in the light of some actual practice, may be of interest or even of value to those taking the present course.
A few introductory words about John’s gospel and this discourse as part of it, and then about the questions we face in our contemporary world.
Jesus and Pilate in John 18-19: introduction
John’s gospel, as we all know, is different – different from Matthew, Mark and Luke, but also different in tone and mood from the other great theologian of the New Testament, namely Paul. Some who are temperamentally attracted to Paul are repelled by John, and vice versa, and I have come to hope that it may be a mark of maturity that, after decades of studying Paul and the synoptic gospels, I have come late to a fascination with John. That fascination has not had time to extend, just yet, to studying much that has been written about the gospel, and it’s quite possible that I shall either tread on some toes or leave rather obvious omissions tonight. Three things, though, strike me as particularly interesting for tonight’s topic. Read on…