Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Historical Jesus 5: Summing Up

posted by xscot mcknight

This has been a good week of conversation about historical Jesus studies, but it is worth our time just to put together some of the leading ideas that need to be kept in mind.
Above all and over everything in historical Jesus studies is an echo of something Schweitzer said long ago: When historical Jesus scholars look down into the deep well of the evidence for Jesus they tend to see a Jesus that looks alot like themselves. Liberals find a liberal Jesus; conservatives find a conservative Jesus. No one doesn’t care — don’t let them fool you. Which means what? We need serious deconstruction every time we read a book about Jesus. Every time; every book; mine too. Everyone wants Jesus on their side.
And standing next to this observation is this: there was Jesus — the real one, the one who lived and died. There is the real Jesus and there are the Gospels; the Gospels interpret Jesus and present Jesus. And there are reconstructions of Jesus based on the Gospels, based on ancient evidence, based on methods. Both the Gospels and scholars today “construe” Jesus into an image. Which do we trust?
First, let us remember that the “historical” Jesus is the “Jesus” that is constructed by scholars on the basis of historical Jesus methods. The historical Jesus might be the “real” Jesus of flesh and blood, but what we must say is that the historical Jesus is the one that scholars arrive at when they use scholarly methods.
Second, the driving force of the historical Jesus quest is the desire to wedge apart the Church’s beliefs about Jesus (the Gospels, the Creeds) and what “disinterested” scholarship can recover about Jesus on the basis of historical methods.
Third, the historical Jesus is not the same as learning about the Jewish world and situating something we see in our Gospels into that Jewish world. There is lots of this today in conservative books and pulpits, but this is not the same as historical Jesus studies. It is a historical understanding or contextualizing of the Jesus of the Gospels.
Fourth, I don’t think historical Jesus has any place in theological studies for the Church. To bracket off one’s theological views in order to study the historical Jesus and then to do theological studies on top of that bracketed-off-study-of-Jesus is a vicious circular argument. You won’t find the Church’s Jesus this way because you’ve decided the Church’s Jesus isn’t allowed at the table! Historical Jesus studies is for historians.
Fifth, still, nearly every historical Jesus scholar I know — and I know most of them — believes in the portrait of Jesus they construct on the basis of the historical methods. John Dominic Crossan and Marc Borg and Tom Wright and Dick Horsley et al believe, so it seems to me, in the Jesus they have constructed. (We all do this, don’t we?)
Sixth, historical Jesus studies have waned significantly in the last ten years. The hey day was the 80s and 90s but the creative work has been done, climaxing perhaps in Tom Wright’s big book, and mostly the conversation has grown stale. What used to attract hundreds to academic sessions now attracts 30 or 40.
Seventh, very few women scholars have found their interest in the historical Jesus debates to such a degree that they write new books on the historical Jesus. I don’t know why, for many have engaged the debate. Two major American scholars, both of them Jewish, who have written books on Jesus are Paula Fredriksen and Amy-Jill Levine.
Eighth, when it comes to the Jesus Seminar speaking of a “consensus”: balderdash! How could one possibly have a consensus about Jesus? Ask every scholar in the world? The vast majority of those who were polled in the Jesus Seminar format are New Questers and theologically unorthodox; the results can be easily deconstructed as representing the group that knew in advance where they might end up. This is said by one who has fully engaged that scholarship, has learned from that scholarship, and who knows that there was great give-and-take within that Seminar.
Final point: postmodernity has emphasized, though not discovered, that all history writing is the work of a writer to take facts etc and string them into a meaningful narrative so that the meaning of a life is brought to the fore. This means that even the Gospels are “presentations” by authors. The question is this: What role does another “Jesus presentation” play in the life of the Church? Do we need any presentations outside those the Church has given us in the Gospels? Are these the “way the Church understands Jesus”?



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Patrick

posted August 17, 2007 at 1:40 am


Scot,
A nice summing up. It’s been a little while, but I remember that Sandra Schneiders (a woman, indeed a Catholic nun) in “The Revelatory text,” had a great discussion of the “historical” vs. the “real” Jesus (whose reality includes the resurrection, which has to be more than historical…). I don’t think her book has enjoyed the reception I think it deserves.
PS: it’s “Horsley”



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Wolf N. Paul

posted August 17, 2007 at 3:03 am


It is interesting to find myself saying this as an Evangelical and thus a Protestant:
In the end it comes down to what Josef Ratzinger says in his book “Jesus of Nazareth”: I trust the Gospels, and that determines my view of Jesus, of his miracles, of his resurrection.



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bruce

posted August 17, 2007 at 6:03 am


Scot,
A great summing up
Bruce



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Diane

posted August 17, 2007 at 6:58 am


I locate myself in the gospels for my understanding of Jesus but apparently there is a huge hunger in this culture for more and for a non-gospel understanding. I’m sure this roots in the way the gospels have been domesticated, poorly interpreted, misused, made stale, etc. Also the gospels can act as a tease, giving us a glimpse of Jesus and a hunger for so much more.
Are the gospels the way the church understands Jesus? Good question that can be taken in many ways. One way: Does the church go back to the gospels primarily or to other authoritative texts that interpret the gospels for them? Often, I think, the authoritative texts become central and the gospel secondary. Another way of understanding the question is: Are the gospels and the church’s understanding of them (ie, enacting of them) congruent? Well, you’re back to interpretation but I would say that the gospels and church behavior are often not congruent. Certainly another question is the interplay of the gospels and the rest of the NT. We build up a composite Jesus glossed through Paul, James, John, as well as the gospel accounts.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 17, 2007 at 7:28 am


Wolf,
One of the reasons that I, too, am attracted to the Pope’s comment is in the recognition that all history writing is interpretive. The attempt to get behind the interpretation to the real Jesus in the historical Jesus studies was an attempt to get to nowhere. There is no such person to be found. So we ask now “Whose interpretation?”



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Matthew

posted August 17, 2007 at 7:58 am


Scot,
I appreciate this post. The intro, each of the eight points, and the conclusion. It has been an instructive series, one that I know I will refer back to.



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ron

posted August 17, 2007 at 7:59 am


Definitely, each of us see, or can be predisposed to see, our preferred Jesus in the “historical” one. But while there are many historical Jesuses, there are many gospel Jesuses also. I grew up with a Jesus that was mostly concerned about my “immortal soul”, my personal morality, and was opposed to the “social gospel”. Now I see how, or at least strongly suspect that, this particular “gospel Jesus” has much more to do with its compatibility with the region through which it passed (the American south with its particular historical juxtaposition of piety and inhumanity) than with the Jesus of history, whoever he was. No less than the “historical” Jesus, the gospel Jesus we choose depends on what we bring to the table. The “historical” Jesus is of as much value as the “gospel” Jesus, I think, helping us recognize not only the levels of tradition and interpretation that have been layered on Jesus, but perhaps that we impose ourselves.



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Fred

posted August 17, 2007 at 8:09 am


Thanks Scot, I have gained useful insight from your post. I am certainly not a biblical or historical scholar (my background is the physical sciences). I come from a conservative evangelical background (not fundamentalist) and have started to read a lot of NT Wright. I can see how as a historian he must approach his work without the presuppositions of theology, but he does not appear to then rule out the supernatural as most of the historical quest scholars have. He also seems to arrive at a view of scripture that is fairly consistent with much evangelical thinking. The fourth and fifth points in your summary have troubled me. As I continue to study Tom Wright will I be misled or will I be helped to a better understanding of the “real” Jesus?
I know some of the teachings I have grown up with have reflected poor biblical scholarship. Reading scholars such as yourself and Tom Wright has been very helpful to me. The questions at the end of your summary are also my questions and I really don’t know the answers, but the answers are very important. I will continue to follow your posts and the insights shared by you and others.



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James McGrath

posted August 17, 2007 at 8:12 am


It may be that you had the Jesus Seminar specifically in mind when you wrote your fourth point. But if you are suggesting that what Jesus actually said and did (as opposed to the partially-overlapping category of what the Gospels present him as doing and saying) is altogether irrelevant to Christianity, then that only seems a legitimate assertion if one informs Christians that one is dealing with a Jesus that is not being subjected to critical investigation in the way all other historical figures are, and so nothing that theologians adopting your approach say or do can be taken as confirmed.
I certainly agree that there needs to be critical study of those claiming to critically study Jesus ‘objectively’, even though they have as clear an agenda as anyone else. But to abandon historical-critical study of Jesus has one major detrimental consequence on theology: we then can fail to see that, already in our earliest sources, Christian writers were contextualizing their portraits of Jesus, developing and adapting the tradition. Those who take this approach often end up in extremely conservative forms of Christianity, for whom what the Gospel authors wrote matters, and not what they were doing when they wrote what they wrote.



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knsheppard

posted August 17, 2007 at 9:04 am


Scot,
I still think an important consideration in the evaluation of historical Jesus studies lies in how we got here – how we came to value ‘disinterestedness’ in a secular fashion. Charles Taylor has been addressing this for some time under the banner of ‘philosophical anthropology’, and his forthcoming book based on his Gifford lectures (A Secular Age) is explicitly a philosophical history of secularism – something I think will contribute in important ways for the contextualization of the historical Jesus debate.



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ChrisB

posted August 17, 2007 at 9:17 am


There is the real Jesus and there are the Gospels; the Gospels interpret Jesus and present Jesus.
Modern “lives” of Jesus find a Jesus remarkably like the author, but can we hold out hope that the apostles were changed by Jesus to such a degree that their stories present, as close as is humanly possible, the authentic Jesus? (I know they all have their emphases, but is that the same as presenting a different person?)
the driving force of the historical Jesus quest is the desire to wedge apart the Church’s beliefs about Jesus… and what “disinterested” scholarship can recover about Jesus on the basis of historical methods.
Might we say that, at least for some, the driving force is to find a Jesus they can respect without necessarily having to obey?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 17, 2007 at 9:20 am


James,
Thanks for the push back. See if this is more amenable. I have in mind, not historical contextualizing of either the Jesus of the Gospels or the how the Gospel traditions arose, but a tradition-critical analysis that then postulates the authentic material about Jesus and then suggesting that it is the reconstructed Jesus that the Church “ought” be believe in. I don’t think the reconstructions are what the Church is to believe.



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Diane

posted August 17, 2007 at 9:39 am


Scot,
I agree with you in comment five. That points the finger back to us to try to understand why we favor one interpretation over another, which gets us thinking critically and perhaps with some self-awareness.



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Mark Goodacre

posted August 17, 2007 at 10:05 am


Thanks for an excellent series, Scot. I have been blogging my reflections on it as you go on my blog at http://ntgateway.com/weblog/labels/Historical%20Jesus.html



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Randy Barnhart

posted August 17, 2007 at 10:33 am


Scot,
Would you please elaborate a bit on point #2? I may be reading it improperly, but I find myself wanting to take issue with the suggestion that “the driving force of the historical Jesus quest is the desire to wedge apart the Church’s beliefs about Jesus…and what ‘disinterested’ scholarship can recover about Jesus …”
I see that clearly in Funk and others. I do not see it many. Some want to show the continuity between the results of sound historical work and the church’s picture of Jesus.
I see your use of “disinterested,” and I think that may be the missing ingredient in the way I am understanding or misunderstanding you, but I no longer think the Seminar participants see themselves or would claim with a straight face to be disinterested.
Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you (or more likely the situation!). Thanks.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 17, 2007 at 10:51 am


Randy,
Thanks and a good question. This, I suppose, depends on who we are looking at. Tom Wright, for instance, is trying to get people to embrace a historical Jesus who leads us straight to the Jesus of the Church. There are also plenty others.
But, by and large, historical Jesus studies — starting with Reimarus and through Schweitzer and the no/new questers — have had one major agenda. To get behind the Church’s Christ to the real Jesus, and when you get there you will see he is nothing like that Church’s Christ. The point of the quest was to do this. It was its driving force.



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Beyond Words

posted August 17, 2007 at 11:38 am


Scot, thanks for that last remark #15 to Randy. I was ready to pounce on you with a comment asking you to please clarify your point #5 that seems to lump Wright with the historical Jesus people who are of the Jesus Seminar ilk, (Borg and Crossan).



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Julie

posted August 17, 2007 at 1:04 pm


But, by and large, historical Jesus studies — starting with Reimarus and through Schweitzer and the no/new questers — have had one major agenda. To get behind the Church’s Christ to the real Jesus, and when you get there you will see he is nothing like that Church’s Christ. The point of the quest was to do this. It was its driving force.
So the real question is: why? What do you think the motivation would be to do this? What is it about the church’s Jesus that is perhaps worth challenging and re-evaluating according to JS scholars or other historical Jesus Questers?
What I find troubling about the discussion that ends with “all have agendas and agenda shapes all” is the attempt to incriminate without really addressing what it is that drove those scholars to rethink the depiction of Jesus. Is there anything about the Church’s “presentation” of Jesus that needs to be rethought, looked at again? I think they’d say yes!
I want to try to answer your questions at the end:
What role does another “Jesus presentation” play in the life of the Church?
It helps us to recognize that the Gospels ARE in fact constructions and presentations. It helps us to evaluate critically rather than accept uncritically.
Do we need any presentations outside those the Church has given us in the Gospels?
Depends on what you mean by “need.” Clearly those of us who have been troubled by the theological constructions of our various traditions are looking to see if the “presentations” we’ve received are as reliable or appropriately understood as they are purported to be.
Are these the “way the Church understands Jesus”?
I don’t understand this question. The Gospels are interpreted by every tradition, each with a lens it chooses to use based on its theological heroes.
To me, the scholars who brought a historical-critical lens to the Gospels challenged the authority of those traditions through an academic schema. They did so for reasons not discussed here. Perhaps they saw the way women were historically mistreated, or the way that war and violence are justified using biblical material, or perhaps they noted that the cosmology of the ancient world no longer fits our world and that impacts what “belief” and “faith” and “reason” mean when correlated with words and ideas like resurrection, miracles and healings.
So can you please unpack this statement more fully (since you know many of these guys)? To get behind the Church’s Christ to the real Jesus, and when you get there you will see he is nothing like that Church’s Christ. The point of the quest was to do this. It was its driving force.
Why would it be? Are their reasons illegitimate, according to you?
Thanks for the dialog.
Julie



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Scot McKnight

posted August 17, 2007 at 1:21 pm


Julie,
Most of my post is a lot less judgment than it is description. The historical Jesus quest is designed to wedge apart the Church’s Jesus from what can be known by historical methods. The Church’s Jesus is found in the Gospels. The Jesus of historical Jesus studies is “another Jesus” other than those of the Gospels. This is the major thrust of the post.
As for motives, that’s a tricky one: and almost impossible for someone to know unless the author makes it clear. Funk came pretty close to saying the Church got it all wrong and he wanted to offer a Galileo-like return to a different approach. And he seemed to think this newly reconstructed Jesus was worth believing in.
I do think the historical-critical method has clearly shown that the Gospels we now read are the result of a process of editing and pasting and it helps us to see the tendencies and interpretations of the authors. I think that is the point: they are interpretations, and they are the Church’s interpretations, and they are the interpretations the Church embraced as reflecting its understanding of Jesus.
What I came to realize, and I have done historical Jesus work for years and am an editor for an academic journal on the study of the historical Jesus and evaluated a proposal recently, is that this work does one major thing: it deconstructs the Gospels and then reconstructs a different Jesus. Historical methods do that; historians are interested in doing that.
What role, I am asking, does such a reconstruction play in the Church? Does the Church revise its view of Jesus because of Crossan? (Kaehler famously said “no” and Bultmann followed him. I think it would be fair to say that at some level Bultmann didn’t think historical Jesus studies were helpful for the Church’s faith about the Christ.) Here are my answer: “Little” and “No.”
Do they have redemptive value in helping us to understand the Gospels? Sure. Constantly. We’ve all benefited from that.



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Josh

posted August 17, 2007 at 1:57 pm


Hey Scot,
The Jesus studies do help us to better understand our Lord and can help us to make changes in places that we may have misunderstood him or the gospel authors.
I love C.S. Lewis because he used everyday language and common sense to address some of these same issues that modern scholarship dishes out. Lewis said that we should take all reconstructions with a grain of salt, especially the ones that tried to analyze the forces that shaped a work such as literature from the same time period and cultural identifiers. He noted that when his contemporary literary critics tried to dissect his works, they would offer influences on his literature and interpretations that would be wrong 100% percent of the time. ONE HUNDRED PERCENT! For example, they would say that the Lion in his Narnia stories were influenced from the animal characters in so and so’s book. C.S. Lewis’ response: No they weren’t, he had his own imaginary animal land since he was a kid and that’s were he come from. If contemporary critics got Lewis wrong, what about critics seperated by hundreds of years?
The best way is to understand how an author tells a story or communicates (in the synoptics, how pericopes are arranged) and try to understand him or her the best one can. I have a deep hunch that God only chose people who had a deep desire for their people to obey God to write the scriptures; no other agenda. I believe this is the heart of inspiration.



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Sam Meyer

posted August 17, 2007 at 2:30 pm


Dr. McKnight,
I really do think you are being unfair to Bishop Wright. While your slight retraction in your response 16 makes it a little better, I have to agree with Dr. Goodcare.
Bishop Wright clearly says that we always have a perspective, but that we can still do history and get at what actually happened to some extent. Your either/or seems to comply with a postmodern despair resulting from the modern split between history and theology.
For more on Bishop Wright’s view of Jesus and the historical quest for him, see:
http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.org/articles/jesusquest.htm
I assume you are aware of these things. I wonder if you might comment more specifically on your opinions of Wright’s work.
I also wonder if you think Barth’s epistemology might bridge Lessing’s great ugly ditch?



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Sam Meyer

posted August 17, 2007 at 2:31 pm


Dr. McKnight,
I failed to say that I fully understand that Barth’s epistemology overcomes Lessing’s ditch very differently than Wright’s. I did not mean to equate them.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 17, 2007 at 2:38 pm


Sam,
I don’t think I’ve said we can’t get to the historical Jesus; history gets what history can get. But what we get will always be shaped more or less (and there’s a difference for me) by the perspective of the historian.
I’m not sure to which point I’ve made you are responding about Tom Wright, whose book on Jesus is #1 for me. Are you responding here to what I said over at Mark’s blog?



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Sam Meyer

posted August 17, 2007 at 2:46 pm


Dr. McKnight,
I just saw your comment there. That offers a bit more for me. Thanks. I’m still confused, though. There you seem to define an historical Jesus person in a way precludes Wright from the outset. Am I understanding you…rightly? Wright’s four-fold filter of story, symbol, praxis, and question is not a method that qualifies him in the historical Jesus quest?



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Peggy

posted August 17, 2007 at 2:51 pm


Scot,
Great summary and comments. It is a bit of a sad thing when someone offers you a gift and you whine about wanting something else. That’s what this thread makes me think about–how the Holy Spirit brought the Bible into being and everyone pick at it rather than receiving it gladly.
I understand the need to look soberly at everything we receive–and continue to appreciate your straighforward and humble stance. Thanks for being one who encourages the asking of the right questions as well as believes that God has provided the essential answers–if we will look at them as his gift.



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Sam Meyer

posted August 17, 2007 at 2:54 pm


Dr. McKnight,
Or maybe it’s Wright’s hermeneutic of love rather than suspicion that disqualifies him from your series definition?
Glad to hear you like Wright’s book on Jesus. In some way, I see him bringing together history and theology while leading the way through modernism and postmodernism, as he would say, “out the other side.”



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Scott M

posted August 17, 2007 at 3:05 pm


Scot, I’m a little confused by the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the gospels myself. I do grasp that some historians approach the work with an agenda — conscious or unconscious — to discredit the picture of Jesus presented in the gospels. But the gospels themselves are a historical account, especially by the standards of ancient history. They are at least as credible an account as, say, Josephus. More importantly, they present themselves as historical accounts and biography, so they must in part be judged that way. So I feel like I’m missing the point.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 17, 2007 at 3:15 pm


Sam,
Here’s what I’m saying:
A historical Jesus scholar must distinguish between the Christ of the Gospels from the Jesus of history. That’s what I think the definition of a historical Jesus scholar is. (Jimmy Dunn’s new book adds a major new wrinkle but that is something that is very recent.)
Tom Wright both “is” one and “is not” one in that by and large his Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospels — how often does he say “this isn’t authentic?” I don’t know that I’ve seen him do this. Maybe I’m mistaken. That means that he’s really doing what Scott M is asking about.
The Jesus of a historical Jesus scholar is someone “less” than the Jesus of the Gospels. Many are doing what can be called setting the Jesus of the Gospels into a credible historical context. That is different than pushing through the Gospels, sorting out what is authentic and what is not, and then finding a “new” Jesus.
Wright, in effect, finds the Jesus who combines the Gospels but who has been missed by the Church because the Church hasn’t been sensitive to the themes that animated Jesus’ vision and mission. (My book, A New Vision for Israel, develops some of this too.)
And Scott M,
I think the Gospels are credible and reliable and they are “doing history” the way the early Christians and ancients “did history.” But they are perspectival biographies, what some would call “didactic [teaching] and kerygmatic [preaching] biographies.” All wrapped into one.



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Sam Meyer

posted August 17, 2007 at 3:34 pm


Dr. McKnight,
Thanks. I think I understand what you are saying.



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Scott M

posted August 17, 2007 at 3:38 pm


OK. I think I get the distinction you are making. And it’s about the way we often “do history” today. Sure they are teaching and preaching biographies, but that’s generally the only sort that got written in ancient cultures.



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Dana Ames

posted August 17, 2007 at 4:54 pm


Perhaps the HJ scholars are reacting against the picture of Jesus portrayed in/through some churches, an interpretation of the Jesus of the gospels that somehow omits Jesus’/God’s aims and purposes, or changes them, subtly or not-so-subtly, or reduces them. Though we may think that where the HJ scholars land is theologically heterodox, though their vision of Jesus ends up being “less” than the Jesus the gospels present, I wonder if they have not actually been right to take up the quest. Particularly since it seems all of them come from the wealthier nations of the West, and from “higher” rather than “lower” church traditions.
Well, I suppose we can’t know everything about what motivated them all, but this is how my mind’s wheels turn.
Thanks again, Scot. V. helpful.
Dana



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Ken Schenck

posted August 17, 2007 at 5:50 pm


I’ve tried to think of any historical Jesus names that strike me as relatively disinterested in what their conclusions might turn out to be. Interestingly, Ed Sanders came to mind. Not that his reconstruction is free from all subjectivity, but it seems to me that he really doesn’t care. Maybe I’m way off here–I don’t know him personally. Maybe this is a false impression.
I grew up with so much credulity in so many things that turned out to need revision that it’s important to me for presuppositions to be evaluable, including fundamental faith presuppositions like the nature of Jesus as he was in history. I don’t need them to be provable, but they are fully examinable to me. If faith were to turn out to require great feats of irrationality, it would invalidate itself for me.
I would lose my faith if I felt like my method had to be to cook the books, to find a way to make the data fit my faith somehow. With the historical Jesus as with any item of faith, my star is the most likely answer. I’ll never reach the star, but it seems to me the only star to steer by and yet claim to serve a God of truth.



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carrie

posted August 17, 2007 at 6:03 pm


“What role, I am asking, does such a reconstruction play in the Church? Does the Church revise its view of Jesus because of Crossan?”
The reconstruction can play a role because it makes us think and question, and that is a good thing. Should the Church revise its view of Jesus due tot his reconstruction? No, because the deconstruction/ reconstruction required throwing out the possibility of the supernatural from the start. Since most searches for the historical Jesus leave that out, they can only add a limited insight into Jesus of the Gospels.



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James McGrath

posted August 17, 2007 at 6:45 pm


Thanks for the reply Scot. I suppose I would ask which Jesus the church ought to believe in then. It can’t simply be ‘the Biblical one’ because it is not at all obvious that the Johannine Jesus is the same as the Lukan, for example, without addition/subtraction/reinterpretation.
Historical study makes it possible to make sense of why we have the divergent portraits and data that we do.
If the Jesus Seminar and many earlier historical Jesus scholars began with the aim of recovering a Jesus that was NOT the Jesus of the Church, is the answer simply to accept the Jesus of the Church? Isn’t there a middle ground that seeks to listen to and learn from critics outside the church (as well as within), but also seeks to listen to and learn from the wisdom of the church’s tradition?
If we don’t do that, then those we ignore may simply be the ‘fools’ who say in their heart ‘there is no God’. But there is every likelihood that, by rejecting a priori those who say that which we do not want to hear, we will be in the position of Israel as portrayed in Scripture (both Testaments), unwilling to accept criticism, and unable to hear voices, like that of Paul would have seemed in its time, saying ‘I know Scripture says X, Y and Z’, but God is doing something new, something marvelous, and if you are limited by Scripture rather than having God’s openness, you will miss out.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 17, 2007 at 6:58 pm


James,
For some reason I’m surprised by that comment, because I wouldn’t have thought I would be proposing anything other than what you think are the advantages of historical study. My proposal is that the reconstruction of a Jesus other than the Church’s Jesus — and your suggestion that we’ve four of those in our four Gospels — is not a task for the Church.
So we are summoned to all the Church’s “Jesuses”.
My point then is this one: Which Jesus does the Church believe in and follow — the one reconstructed on the basis of historical methods or the one the Church has offered? Do we believe in the Jesus we reconstruct — whose Jesus? with the reality that he might change tomorrow — or the Jesus of the Gospels — laid out as we can discern the historical contours giving rise to those Gospel portraits to be sure — as the Church has understood him?
So far as I can see this is entirely compatible with apologetics, genuine historical research, etc..



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RJS

posted August 17, 2007 at 8:13 pm


Scot, It’s been a great summary series. I only wish that I’d been able to engage in the discussion somewhat more fully. Thanks.
Ken, I think you hit it here – in dealing with “Historical Jesus” studies, or any other consideration (science for example) I would also lose my faith if I felt like I had to cook the books to make the evidence fit “the Faith”. On the other hand, much of the historical Jesus discussion is “cooking the books” by ruling out a supernatural component a priori.
James, I don’t quite understand why you think that the Jesus we believe in can’t simply be the Biblical one? I guess that I would start with the assumption that the Jesus of the church is the Biblical one – even with obvious elements of interpretation in the telling. All of these impressions – in the four gospels and in the rest of the NT are pieces that must be considered part of the evidence. Or do you think that the different accounts yield incompatible pictures?



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Scott Watson

posted August 17, 2007 at 11:27 pm


If we want to come down on the various “quests,” which were an attack in Christian orthodoxy, which many saw as sullied in many ways, we have to take a look at ourselves too. If quests 1 & 2 wanted to get behind the texts to undermine the Jeusus of the Church,it could be said that the Church, in practice,has often ignored or compromised the Jesus of the Gospels.This is why we must not blithely marginalize “alien” voices.They may be calling us back to aspects which we’ve filtered out for our own theological/ideological/political reasons. It takes a level of humility and discernment to do this. I suppose it’s the same as the challenge that Jesus issued to the Pharisees and Jewish leadership of his day:it would have been easy just to label him a “heretic” and treat him accordingly without wrestling with his message and mission.



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Ken Schenck

posted August 18, 2007 at 10:55 am


RJS, I completely agree with you and Scot that cooking the books is no respecter of persons :-)



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James McGrath

posted August 18, 2007 at 10:57 am


“Incompatible” might be going too far – after all, Christians have found themselves able to live with the differences between the Gospels (although often due to a lack of detailed knowledge of these writings, rather than because they actually managed to harmonize them).
But HOW is one to harmonize them, even if one thinks one should? If one starts with the Gospel of John, one can perhaps ignore the fact that the other Gospels have no notion of Jesus’ pre-existence (the recent book by Simon Gathercole notwithstanding). But one could just as readily start with Luke’s Gospel, with its emphasis on a Jesus who grows in wisdom, and who accomplishes his works through the power of the Spirit, and understand the Word of the Fourth Gospel to be that same Spirit.
In short, the church’s Jesus, if there is to be a single one, cannot be the Jesus of the Gospels, end of story. One must also accept the creeds. This is quite natural anyway, since the Bible would not exist as a collection without the church. But I’m not sure that most Protestants who speak about adhering to ‘the Jesus of the Bible’ would be willing to follow their reasoning through to these seemingly logical conclusions. :)



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2007 at 11:13 am


James,
Where does the word “incompatible” come from?
I’m all for working with the historical trajectories within the Gospels of the Church, the canonical Gospels. All the variety is all to the good.
I agree also with the 3d paragraph in your comment: the Jesus of the Church is the Jesus of the Gospels and Paul and Hebrews and, in a lesser sense (this is a big debate today) the Jesus of Nicea/Chalcedon.
Which is precisely the Jesus that the historical Jesus quests that was to be both tested and found wanting.



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RJS

posted August 18, 2007 at 11:28 am


Scot,
I think the word incompatible came from my comment. I don’t see how the variety is a problem – unless the viewpoints are truly incompatible. The Jesus of the Church is the Jesus of the Gospels and Paul and Hebrews etc. – and the Jesus of the creeds, if one takes broad outlines and doesn’t worry too much about the debates that led to extremely particular wording.
The Jesus of the Jesus Seminar is a priori incompatible with the Jesus of the Church, and I think the Jesus of history.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 18, 2007 at 11:45 am


Thanks RJS. I thought James was responding to my use of “compatible” and was jumping ahead in logic and I couldn’t figure it out.
The Jesus of the Church develops out of the Gospels but finds the Gospels compatible, and that is in part why they are in our Bibles! Big issue, and one we can’t enter here, but canon and creed are mutually interlocking movements.
And I would add the “only” story the Church has about Jesus.



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vynette

posted August 18, 2007 at 6:12 pm


There is no ‘incompatiblity’ between the synoptics and John. One major reason for the universal misunderstanding of certain statements in John’s gospel is a failure to discern the fact that John gives the ‘spiritual’ presentation of Jesus’ life and work that is lacking in the synoptics. It is from a banal interpretation of words set within John’s spiritual framework that a theory such as pre-existence draws support.
Another reason for misunderstanding is the practice of proof-texting to support various points of doctrine.
John’s gospel is ‘spiritual’ in the sense that it represents a clear, analytical appraisal of Jesus’ life and work viewed in relationship to its impact upon accepted thought and contemporary values. It has nothing to do with some esoteric spirituality or “gnosis.”



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Doug Allen

posted August 18, 2007 at 9:18 pm


In #27 Scott M. says similarly to other posts, “I do grasp that some historians approach the work with an agenda…” But all historians have an agenda, don’t they? Most Muslim religious historians find Jesus to be a prophet, most Jewish historians find him to be an extraordinary rabbi, most Christian historians find him to be the Christ. Though not Jewish, I pretty much side with the Jewish interpretation. This 5-part series has been wonderfully instructive for me. I am reminded of something Reinhold Niebuhr said to several of us at a meeting almost 50 years ago, “Religion should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.” These historical studies do disturb those smugly comfortable with their dogmatic interpretations, and that is good IMHO. But these studies, especially the Jesus Seminar, in my case, help me reclaim spiritual teachings that I might otherwise have rejected. This is a redemptive value that Scot may not have been thinking of. And this is comforting. I was wounded by my early experience with Christianity and have been horrified at how the Church enabled and enables so much inhumanity to man. The Jesus Seminar and the Jesus Creed book and blog (Scot will not like the juxtaposition!) have allowed me to revisit what I rejected and helped me forgive the Church and its members, and get beyond most of that to where I am able to affirm the Jesus creed and each day, after my many failings, renew the affirmation. Reinhold Niebuhr also said, “Forgiveness is the final form of love.” I’m getting there…
Doug Allen



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Julie

posted August 18, 2007 at 10:45 pm


Doug, I *loved* this post of yours.
But these studies, especially the Jesus Seminar, in my case, help me reclaim spiritual teachings that I might otherwise have rejected.
Me too. And this:
I was wounded by my early experience with Christianity and have been horrified at how the Church enabled and enables so much inhumanity to man.
In my case, I’ve been amazed at the inhumanity of much theology and how it distances us from those we should love who are deemed lost.
And I heartily endorse the intriguing juxtaposition that you included at the end. Thank you for saying is all well.



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James McGrath

posted August 19, 2007 at 12:56 pm


Hi again Scot! It sounds like we are still trying to figure out whether we actually disagree, and if so about what precisely! :)
Your language seems to me to potentially suggest that everything in the canon fits together smoothly, and must do so, since it is in the canon! Isn’t this a circular argument? Might the canon not appropriately function, as Jimmy Dunn suggests, to illustrate an appropriate diversity as well as unity?
For me as a scholar of the New Testament as well as a Christian, I seek to allow the results of both historical cricial study (which shows things that the church would not on its own draw to my attention, such as Jesus’ expectation that the kingdom of God would fully dawn during the generation that witnesses his public activity), and the life-transforming and world-changing impact of Jesus that the church carries forward into our time, to interact and dialogue with one another. To listen to only one or the other would be to ignore part of the evidence. I guess my biggest concern is that your language might seem to condone the tendency of most Christians who have never studied the Bible in an academic way even on their own to ignore views that disagree with what they presuppose. Anyone who does that will obviously not learn anything new – presumably even God could not get through to such individuals!



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Scot McKnight

posted August 19, 2007 at 1:11 pm


James,
Thanks. I don’t think the Church’s Gospels neatly cohere in each aspect, and one always feels jumps and leaps forward from the NT Gospels to Nicea/Chalcedon. So, we probably agree. And I agree that we need the academic and historical.
My only real point has to do with “which” Jesus we believe in. Funk’s or Matthew’s? Sanders’ or Mark’s? Even Wright’s or Luke’s?



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RJS

posted August 19, 2007 at 3:14 pm


James,
I agree that it is important to acknowledge the diversity in the NT as an essential – but not incompatible diversity.
You are rightly concerned that Scot’s language might seem to condone the tendency of many Christians to ignore views that disagree with what they presuppose (listened to an example in a discussion in a class this morning in fact). But I would be equally concerned that your emphasis on the diversity – almost to the point of incompatibility – serves to condone a skeptic’s approach (no thinking person would believe in the Jesus of the Church).
I don’t think that we can believe in the historical Jesus of Borg or Crossan or Wright or Sanders or any of the others. We believe in the Jesus of the Church (Matthew and Mark and Luke and John and the letters and the development from these to the outline of the major doctrines found in the creeds). Historical and academic studies lend insight – often important insight – into the Jesus of the Church but they do not replace the Jesus of the Church.
As a Christian in an academic setting it is, I think, equally important to avoid the trap of the simplistic thinking typical of the evangelicalism or fundamentalism many of us grew up in and the extreme and somewhat arrogant skepticism and elitism of the academy.



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James McGrath

posted August 20, 2007 at 7:35 am


I personally have found Keith Ward’s approach helpful. He attempts to take completely seriously the results of historical study of Jesus in particular and the Bible in general. But he goes on to seek to integrate that theologically into his approach to Christianity – something that one would not expect E. P. Sanders to do, nor would it necessarily be appropriate for him to do so as a historian. Just as you on another page stuck to description and forewent apologetics, historians will often tell us what they see but not what they think we should do about it.
Some will feel that a historical investigation which discovered Jesus’ views to be more human and less divine than we are comfortable with undermines Christian faith. I have reposted an earlier blog post of mine that suggests this is not necessarily the case, and that such information can in fact have a positive role to play in Christian discipleship and theology. The post is now at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/08/taking-jesus-humanity-seriously.html



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