The Jesus of Faith or The Jesus of History?

By Eric Chabot

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.

Books That Deal With These Issues

I quickly want to mention two books. I advise reading The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition: By: Paul Rhodes Eddy, Gregory A. Boyd and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony: by Richard Bauckham. Bauckham’s book is very significant in that he lays out some of the differences between ancient and modern historiography. After all, this issue plays a tremendous role in understanding the Gospels/New Testament (see more below). And by the way, The Jesus Legend is critical reponse to legend theorists. For those that want to see how silly it is to propose the theory that Jesus didn’t exist- click here to read Did Jesus Really Exist? By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

Let’s Look at the Quests

The First Quest Period-1778-1906: The First Quest was 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)

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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…

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