Friday, March 6, 2009

The Jesus Studies

The Jesus Studies

For over 100 years, there has been a quest to identify the historical Jesus and differentiate between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. Here are some of the aspects of these quests.

The First Quest Period-1778-1906: marked by works such as David Strauss’s, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. Under the influence of David Hume, Strauss dismissed the reliability of historical and supernatural elements in the Gospels as “outrageous” and “myths” Another important work of this period was Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus. (1)
The No Quest Period-1906-1953: Rudolf Bultmann regarded Schweitzer’s work as methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate. (2) Schweitzer’s thesis marked the end of the Old Quest and the beginning of the No Quest period. Through the first half of the twentieth century, the pursuit of the historical Jesus seemed to some scholars to be futile and irrelevant. The failure of the Old Quest, as N.T. Wright has said, had left a “deep ditch” separating the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith. During the period of the No Quest, critical scholars became more interested in examining the New Testament for what it revealed about the early church and its evolving message. Rudolph Bultmann was a primary leader in what is called form criticism during this period. Form criticism sought to draw distinction between various literary forms within the gospels- parables, pronouncements, proverbs and so on- and to identify the stages of development of the texts and the traditions behind them as they passed from oral to written form. (3)

The New Quest Period- 1953-1970: Ernst Kasemann, a student of Bultmann began the “new quest” in a 1953 lecture. While he rejected some of Bultmann’s views, he was concerned with the person of Jesus as the preached word of God and his relation to history. The major work of the new quest is Gunther Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1960). (4) Among the New Questers were German scholar Joachim Jeremias whose works in the 1950’s and the 1960’s focused heavily on the message of Jesus rather than on reconstructing a full-blooded biography. In the United States, the groundwork for the New Quest was laid by the eminent New Testament scholar James Robinson of the Claremont School of Theology, whose 1959 book called A New Quest of the Historical Jesus defined many of the issues that would come to dominate the scholarly community for decades.(5)

Weaknesses of The First Quest, The No Quest and The New Quest:
Anti-supernaturalism: Miracle accounts and any references to the supernatural are immediately rejected. This is unjustified. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatural but not anti-natural. A miracle, of course, is a special act of God in the natural world, something nature would not have done on its own. (6)It is beyond the scope of this article to defend the philosophical basis for miracles. For an excellent treament of this topic, feel free to read Norman L. Geisler. Miracles And The Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992).

A false separation: These quests fail to show that there needs to be a dichotomy between the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history. They assume the Gospels are non-historical. (7) In relation to the resurrection, Ben Witherington III says:

Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it. (8)

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
Something that all historians consider in evaluating a historical document is the usge of eyewitness testimony. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge. How do we know something? The role of testimony is one of the primary ways humans can know anything about historical events. Testimony as an epistemological enterprise plays a large role in the most recent work by British scholar Richard Bauckham in his book called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony. Bauckham does a superb job in evaluating how testimony can be treated as historical knowledge. He also compares the use of eyewitness testimony in the Gospels and the survivors of the Holocaust.
In the Bible, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Tanakh legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15).

In recording the historical events that are related to the life of Jesus, we see the usage of testimony and witness in the following passages:
Luke 1:4: Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigating everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.
Acts 2:32: This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses of it.
1 John 1:1: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of life.
Acts 10:39: We are witnesses of all that he did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross.
Acts 4:19-20: Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
1 Peter 5:1: So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed.
2 Peter 1:19: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.
1 Corinthians 15:1-17: Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.

Paul's lists the elements of the Gospel:
The Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
He was buried.
He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
He then appeared to all the apostles.
He then appeared to 500 brethren at one time.
He appeared to James.
He appeared to Paul.
If the Messiah is not risen, their faith is in vain and they are false witnesses of God

Misunderstanding of “myth”: Most of the people who are involved in these quests misunderstand the nature of “myth.” Just because an event is not empirical does not mean it is not historical. C.S. Lewis, who wrote several fantasy novels said "First then, whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to lack literary judgment, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading . . . If he tells me that something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he had read, how well his palate is trained in detecting them by the flavour; not how many years he has spent on that Gospel . . . I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this." (9)

Genre Issues: In studying for his doctoral dissertation, Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College in London England, researched the genre of the gospels. Burridge says, “Genre is the like a kind of contract between the author and the reader, or between the producers of a programme and the audience, about how they will write or produce something and how you should interpret what they have written. Therefore, it is important that you know what the genre of the thing is before you come to interpret it."(10)

As Burridge diligently searched for a genre, he compared the content of the gospels to other Hellenistic bioi (“lives” or biographies), such as Isocrates’s Evagoras, Xenophon’s Agesilaus, Satyrus’s Euripides, Nepos’s Atticus, Philo’s Moses, Tacitus’s Agricola, Plutarch’s Cato Minor, Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars, Lucian’s Demonax, and Philostratus’s Apollonius of Tyana. Burridge placed special attention on the prologue, verb subjects, allocation of space, mode of representation, length, structure, scale, literary units, use of sources, style, social setting, quality of characterization, atmosphere as well authorial intention and purpose.Because of the gospel’s similarities to these ancient biographies, Burridge concluded that the genre of the gospels is an ancient bioi as well. The desire to place modern historiographic expectations on an ancient biography is a continual apologetic issue that can be resolved by studying the conventions that the ancient authors used. (11) Most of the modern world’s standard of accuracy is defined by an age where tape recorders, video cameras are prevalent. However, as Ben Witherington says so well, “Works of ancient history or biography should be judged by their own conventions.” (12)
A non-Jewish Jesus: Many Jewish scholars view the “New Quest” period as just another attempt to “de-Judaize Jesus” or deny his Jewishness.

The Third Quest Period-1970 and on: As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.” Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(13) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults.(14)
Some of the other non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn.
In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (15)

Both E.P. Sanders and James Charlesworth say “the dominate view today seems to be that we can know pretty well what Jesus was out to accomplish, that we can know a lot about what he said, and that those two things make sense within the world of first- century Judaism.” (16)

Geisler N. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999, pgs 385-386.
Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 176-182.
Geisler, pgs 385-386.
B. Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, pg 167.
Lewis, C.S. Christian Reflections. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967, 154-55.
Burridge R. and G. Gould. Jesus Now and Then. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2004,pg 48.
Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 218. See Burridge, R. What Are the Gospels?: A Comparison with Graeco Roman Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Second Edition, 2004.
Witherington, 18.
Craig, 240-241.
Sheller, 191.
Craig, 240-241.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

My own experiences in learning of the historical context of the NT has enriched my understanding of the text. I've learned how the gospel accounts fit into their own time and culture, and how this gives Jesus' words and life far deeper meaning. This in turn has deepened my faith, thus, for me, bringing together the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.