The Quest for the Historical Jesus is a topic that I am both annoyed and intrigued by. Chalk this reaction up to my evangelical upbringing but I am like a high-schooler in the midst of drama.
“They drive me nuts, I hate listening to them talk! … What did they say? Tell me everything.”
I am both attracted to and repelled by the work and findings of this movement.
Before we go any further, lets see how others Justo L. González introduces it:
Historical Jesus: Often contrasted with “the Christ of faith,” the phrase “historical Jesus” is somewhat ambiguous, for sometimes it refers to those things about Jesus that can be proved through rigorous historical research, and sometimes it simply means the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The phrase itself, “historical Jesus,” was popularized by the title of the English translation of a hook by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1910). In this book, Schweitzer reviewed a process, begun by Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768), which sought to discover the Jesus behind the Gospels by means of the newly developed tools of historical research. After reviewing this quest of almost two centuries, Schweitzer concluded that what each of the scholars involved had discovered was not in fact Jesus of Nazareth as he lived in the first century, but rather a modern image of Jesus, as much informed by modern bourgeois perspectives as by historical research itself.
Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1905-1916). Kindle Edition.
González goes on to explain that much of the quest was abandoned after Schweitzer’s findings but has recently reappeared in a minimalist expression (what are the bare facts that can be validated?).
Grenz is clear about this historical quest – that its proponents think Jesus:
- never made any messianic claim
- never predicted his death or resurrection
- never instituted the *sacraments now followed by the church.
All of this was “projected onto him by his disciples, the Gospel writers and the early church. The true historical Jesus, in contrast, preached a simple, largely ethical message as capsulized in the dictum of the “fatherhood of God” and the “brotherhood of humankind.”
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1089-1093). Kindle Edition.
A modern manifestation of this quest is seen in the Jesus Seminar.
You can hear our podcast about with John Dominic Crossan from this past May.
I am deeply indebted to those in Historical Jesus research. I never knew any of this stuff (like Empire) as an evangelical pastor. It has been both eye-opening and disorienting (not to mention the theological whiplash).
I have problems with so many of the conclusions reached but am so grateful for the depth of engagement and sincerity of scholarship. My faith has been enriched and informed in ways I could never have imagined.
There is just something about the whole enterprise that gets under my skin and rubs me the wrong way. It is possible to be grateful for a pebble in your shoe as you journey?
Even as I write this I am thinking, “I don’t like where you take this… but I need to know what you know. I just want to draw different conclusions than you do.”
This, of course, is the danger of venturing outside your comfort zone.
Artwork for this series by Jesse Turri
July 30, 2014 at 10:55 pm
BY BELIEVING IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST IS MEANT BELIEVING IN THE SPIRITUAL QUALITY OF LIFE HE REVEALED,NOT A MERE PAYING LIP SERVICE TO A HISTORICAL FIGURE…PRAYER COMES FROM TRUTH INSIDE YOU,AND YOU ARE CONTINUALLY AT PRAYER WHEN YOU LIVE ACCORDING TO THAT TRUTH… UPON A LIFE I DID NOT LIVE,UPON A DEATH I DID NOT DIE,I RISK MY WHOLE ETERNITY…NOTHING IN MY HANDS I BRING SIMPLY TO THE CROSS I CLING, FOR REMEMBER THAT THESE BAD BEGINNINGS HAVE HAD A GREAT EFFECT IN MAKING A MAN FRUITLESS
August 2, 2014 at 12:39 am
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August 3, 2014 at 4:12 pm
What is it about the topic that makes you so uncomfortable? Given the many controversies swirling around the early Christian communities and the varieties of point of view evident in the documents that followed decades after Jesus’ death, I would think that better historical and cultural information from his actual environment would be considered useful in clarifying our understanding of Jesus and his thinking. (I do not come from an inerrantist background, so this may be keeping me from understanding your position.)
Personally, I’m more comfortable with this than I am with the authority put on the centuries-later intellectualizing of Augustine or Calvin.
September 11, 2014 at 11:49 pm
First, I agree with you about the authority/Augustine point
Second, the aspect of the conversation that makes me uncomfortable is the presumption to be able to determine with some certianty what Jesus actually said. The ability to vote on the authentic sayings and what was added by the later (early) church communities is the part that gets me.
It is also the process by which that happens. For instance, the more embarrassing a story is (making Jesus or the disciples look bad) the more likely it is to be voted authentic since it would have been odd for them to leave it in unless it really happened. (?)
What do you think?