TIME: Why, then, have we misread those verses?
Wright: It has, originally, to do with the translation of Jewish ideas into Greek. The New Testament is deeply, deeply Jewish, and the Jews had for some time been intuiting a final, physical resurrection. They believed that the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again. Belief in that goodness is absolutely essential to Christianity, both theologically and morally. But Greek-speaking Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right, but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies. The church at its best has always come back toward the Hebrew view, but there have been times when the Greek view was very influential.
TIME: Can you give some historical examples?
Wright: Two obvious ones are Dante’s great poetry, which sets up a Heaven, Purgatory and Hell immediately after death, and Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine chapel, which portrays heaven and hell as equal and opposite last destinations. Both had enormous influence on Western culture, so much so that many Christians think that is Christianity.
TIME: But it’s not.
Wright: Never at any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised, therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to do.