Of a certainty there has been no more controversial subject in historical studies than that of the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is the head and the Chief Cornerstone of the Christian faith. In Christianity almost every word recorded within the pages of holy writ refer ultimately to Jesus. For the skeptic, and agnostic this poseses a problem of epic proportions. For the question is asked how can we truely know this Jesus of history?
This sort of conundrum has led to a host of various interpretations of history and faith as it pertains to the discovery of the "real" Jesus. It was during the 18th Century Enlightenment that German, Deist scholar Dr. Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768) set forth a totally different and radical view of who Jesus was. He set forth the idea that Jesus was a political and social idealist who never intended to start a religion and failed in his mission to liberate the Jews politically. He gave no creedence to the Jesus of faith or miracles for that matter. (Please Go Here To See Why He Was Wrong)
Partially due to the era of Enlightenment, there have been countless individuals who have set out to define, shape and reevaluate who Jesus was. To display how heated and contentious this subject can be Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) reviving thoughts set forth by German Professor G. Wobbermin tried to solidify the idea that the "historical" Jesus was even different from the "historic" Jesus. The distinction, he claimed, was that the "historic" Jesus was responsible for untold evil and repression of individuals down through the ages, while the "historical" Jesus was a person of meekness who truely sought to help individuals. In essence, in this argument, the "historic" Jesus is a product of what Christians and the church "believe" about Jesus and that "belief" is not necessarily patterened after the "historical" person.
Jesus very own words seems to negatively cap this argument in some way:
Mt. 10:34-36 ~ "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35-For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36-And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household."
Again, there have been countless others such as E.P. Sanders and in more recent times apostates such as John Dominick Crossan, co-founder of the Jesus Seminar (The Who's Who Of Apostates), and a host of other agnostic professors some of which have been featured HERE, such as Elaine Pagels, Bart D. Ehrman and James D. Tabor and even atheists such as Robert Price and Richard Carrier that have set forth their own versions of the historical Jesus. So among scholars as we have noted, there is a battle for the historical Jesus.
Dr. John P. Meier, Professor of New Testament at the University Of Notre Dame, in his landmark works "A Marginal Jew- Rethinking The Historical Jesus" Volumes 1-3 Poses a question in Volume 1 of the Series as such:
- "...what do we mean when we say that we are pursuing the "historical Jesus" or the "Jesus of history"?..."By the Jesus of history I mean a Jesus that we can "recover" and examine by using the scientific tools of modern historical research." ~ Dr. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Rethinking The Historical Jesus Volume 1, (1991 Doubleday) pg. 25.
One of the primary influences within modern scholarship pronouncing the differences between the historic and historical Jesus was German Lutheran, New Testament professor and father of biblical form criticism, Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) He rejected the historical Jesus as a basis for faith and claimed the genre of the gospels to be kerygma which he described as a development of preaching, having taken a literary form. Regarding the person of Jesus however, he set forth the following:
- "...we can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary..." ~ Rudolf Bultmann "Jesus And The Word" pg. 14
One of the reasons this is so important and controversial is because we can't and don't necessarily know "everything" about the Jesus of history. For instance, we do NOT know his favorite colors, food, or shoes etc. Other even more significant historical information such as what Jesus did in his intermediate years is still a mystery to us. These are the things that we can only wonder about the Jesus of history, but yet we have received from him enough to evaluate and know the Jesus of our faith.
These thoughts and recent discoveries (1945) of alternate gospels at Nag Hammadi, Egypt have caused some scholars to proclaim that we now have the missing pieces necessary to help us find the "real" Jesus. These finds, however have been less than convincing and in many cases clearly legendary dated too late to shed any light on the person of the First Century Messiah and savior of the world, and contain messages more associated with gnosticism than Christianity in any era.
For the person who doesn't mind delving deeply into the epistemology of their faith and further past traditional biblical studies, these thoughts and this debate quite naturally lead to other questions that I pose and ask you to contemplate and respond:
- Is the Jesus of history the same as the Jesus of faith?
- Whom must the Christian know in order to gain salvation, the historical Jesus or the Jesus of faith?
- Are we required biblically to know the Jesus of history in order to come to saving faith?
Heb.11:6 ~ "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
However this verse addresses a matter of faith and not necessarily history.
In essence this post os for them that are into serious analysis of their faith and examination of Jesus. One thing I am confident of is that Jesus can stand any thorough examination that we require. He remains the only figure in history that invites us to emainine him and know his realness. Remember what Jesus said to Thomas:
John 20:24-29 ~ "24-But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25-The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. 26-And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27-Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28-And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29-Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
Thank God, Jesus can stand any examination whether one of history or one of faith.
Picture Courtesy of Greg Webb, Black Jesus Picture Collection
The Case For The Real Jesus ~ Lee Strobel, 2007 Zondervan
Dethroning Jesus ~ Darrell Bock & Daniel B. Wallace, 2007 Thomas Nelson
Reinventing Jesus ~ Komoszewski, Sawyer & Wallace, 2006 Kregel
The Missing Gospels ~ Darrell Bock, 2006 Nelson Books
The Jesus Legend ~ Paul Eddy & Gregory Boyd, 2007 Baker Academic