Courses

The Historical Jesus: Lecture One


Introduction.

        The Quest for the Historical Jesus began many years ago. Albert Schweitzer wrote the difinitive study of the Quest. This study is still worth reading even today. But when Strauss wrote his infamous "Life of Jesus Critically Examined" he brought the Quest to a screeching halt. It reamained a non issue for theologians for about a century until Ernst Kasemann began what was called the "Second Quest" in the middle of the 20th century. That quest, too, was short lived. Now we are in the midst of a renewed emphasis on the historical Jesus and this quest is known as the "Third Quest". Participants in this enquiry are often called "Questers" by those in the know.
        The presupposition of all three of these "quests" is that the Gospels are not historical accounts of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, they are theological treatises or sermons. The life of Jesus, then, must be rediscovered by examining critically the Gospels for the historical nuggets buried under the theological layers. That is a separate study as well.
        As the student is aware, there are some questers who see Jesus as a cynic philosopher and others who see him as an apocalyptic prophet. In the pages which follow neither of these courses will be taken. Rather, Jesus is seen here as a citizen of both the Greek and the Jewish worlds. He is both wise man and prophet. He is revolutionary and conservative. In short, he simply refuses to be categorized in either camp!

The Historical Jesus

        In what follows our procedure will be simple; we will examine those events and words from the life of the Historical Jesus which can be historically verified. What cannot be proven historically will not be considered. This, clearly, does not mean that the things not discussed did not happen; rather it means that they are beyond the ability of historical reconstruction to verify. For instance, we will not consider the birth, or resurrection of Jesus. Though these events happened, so far as I am concerned, in essentially the way the Biblical record states, still they cannot be proven and therefore will not be discussed. The student should not be mislead into thinking that I do not believe these events. Instead, the student should realize that ultimate matters are, for good reason, beyond the grasp of historical research. We are saved by faith, after all, and not by historical proof.
        So what can we know of the Historical Jesus? What did he do and what did he say? The Bold face print which follows are, so far as I can ascertain, all historical events and words drawn from the Synoptic Gospels. Interspersed, in commentary fashion, between these events are remarks on their historical significance by me. The text is the New Resvised Standard Version of the Bible. The textual references are not given as they often only interrupt the flow of the text and here they would serve no purpose at all.