On the first day of my Jesus of Nazareth class I ask students to complete a “test” that explores how our self-perception influences our perception of Jesus. (The test: NEICE Images of Jesus (PDF)), but for some odd reason the pages are in reverse order.) The test demonstrates that we all tend to make Jesus in our own image. This idea seems to get the attention of most students, which leads me to a few more thoughts.
Here’s my question for the day: What is the most shattering thing you learned about Jesus in the Gospels that altered what you previously thought about Jesus?
First, I trot out seven “kinds of Jesuses” that we can find at the local bookstore. The traditional Jesus who was divine, the eschatological Jesus of Schweitzer who expected the end of history imminently, the social Jesus whose vision was a transformation of the social order, the political Jesus whose vision concerned the powers in Jerusalem, the liberal Jesus who exhibited the ultimate ethic of love, the religious Jesus who lived a life of communion with God, and the cultural-critic Jesus whose vision got to the core of the culture of Galilee and Judea.
Second, I suggest we need to challenge the view of Jesus that we bring to the text of the Gospels by reading the Gospels in several ways:
1. Historically — by asking how Jesus fit into his Jewish world.
2. Thematically — by examining specific themes in the Gospels from beginning to end.
3. Individually — by asking how Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John each present Jesus.
4. Comparatively — by comparing both major ideas in each Gospel and specific parallels between the Gospels.
5. Literarily — by reading each Gospel as a work of literature and art and rhetoric.
NEICE Images of Jesus (PDF)