Posted by: crewsnr | May 12, 2009

Faith in the Search for the Historical Jesus?

jesusSeveral days ago, I was reading an article on PBS’s Frontline internet page about the historical Jesus and modern society’s search for his identity.  It seems like every year, particularly during Easter, someone writes an article or a TV show is aired about the identity of Jesus.  I could not help but think that the New Atheists would applaud this effort even though they would disagree with its purpose and its intentions.

These articles and shows usually try to answer two questions: Who was this man?  And what do we actually know about him?  The first question can be answered in many different ways.  Some people believe he was a good moral teacher and social worker.  Others think he was a charismatic leader attempting to overthrow Roman rule.  A few suggest that he was a crazy lunatic.  And many believe that he was God Incarnate.

Yet, can we historically verify any of these claims?  To search for the historical Jesus, we study the Gospel stories in the Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures, and outside external sources like the works of Josephus.  We even read non-canonical “Christian” texts and conduct archeological digs to find clues about first century Judaic life.  It appears like we have a plethora of information, but can we fit it together into a unified depiction of the historical Jesus?  Well, not exactly.  All of these works must be read within context, using the historical-critical method to interpret them correctly.  Yet, even when this is done, these texts provide multiple figures of Jesus, which sometimes agree with the portrayals found in other sources and other times differ greatly

Therefore, we cannot conclusively support any of these ideas, at least not in a way that will satisfy our post-modern demands for historical veracity.  Wayne A. Meeks, a Biblical Studies Professor at Yale University, said that “the temptation is, out of all of the various figures of Jesus that emerge in our sources, to pick one and say, ‘That’s the real one.’”  So, what do we do now?  The answer is simple, and every Christian already knows the answer.  We live by faith.  We have faith that Jesus is God Incarnate.  This answer would make Dawkins and his colleagues hysterically jump up and down, appalled at the ridiculous faith claims of Christians.  Yet, don’t we already live “by faith” in almost every other aspect of life?  I have faith that I will wake up tomorrow.  I have faith that I can trust the rational capabilities of my mind.  I have faith that the building I live in will not crumble to the ground right now as I write this blog.

Thus, each person must individually answer Jesus’ question: Who do you say that I am?

To read this Frontline article, entitled “What Can We Really Know About Jesus?”  Visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/reallyknow.html

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Responses

  1. This is interesting, and I have noticed that in the past too. Especially around the Easter season, people seem to go on “Jesus exploration overhaul.” Even though he is a man that so many people find comfort in, or strength through, or someone to model themselves after, how much is actually known about him? I think it’s fine to look towards Jesus for all of those things but also to recognize that we don’t know many hard facts about him.


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