Friday, March 12, 2010

Who is Jesus? Who is the Christ? -- History and Faith Collide

Who is Jesus?  What does history tell us?  What does faith require of us?  Oh, there are a few folks who would say that Jesus never existed -- but they are few in number.  But, there are significant questions that bedevil both scholar and non-scholar, believer and non-believer.  One of the problems is that folks tend to absolutize (or at least sound as if they're absolutizing) their viewpoints.

As a preacher I am called to proclaim the gospel of the reign of God, a gospel both preached and lived by Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus is, for the preacher the focus of preaching, but according to William Brosend, a preaching professor at the School of Theology at Sewanee, Jesus can be our model of preaching.  Before I get to the preaching of Jesus, it would be important to look at the question of Jesus' identity.

Brosend speaks of a contrast between the "historical Jesus" and the "Jesus within history."  He prefers the latter, because it allows us to break free of unfortunate pursuit of a precise definition of Jesus' identity.  He writes of our dilema in the current debate:

As soon as someone says, "the historical Jesus," someone else says "the Christ of faith"; then the debate, at least since Bultmann, is on.  As far as I have been able to tell, it rarelyk gets anywhere.  Because the distinction, and many others like it (Borg's "pre" and "post"-Easter Jesus, for example), are overwhelmed by the formulations, and by the implications read into them by frequently unsypathetic audiences.  What was intended as a designation for the sake of precision becomes a label for use in political/religious/theological debates.  The "historical jesus" was, in the foundational uses by those engaged in the renewed quest, meant to disgtinguish at least the following:  Jesus as he could be known from multiply attested sources, biblical and otherwise (Crossan); Jesus as he could be known "scientifically" by reliable and otherwise (Wright and Meier); jesus as he can be known to believers before and after Easter (Borg); Jesus as he "really" was (Johnson).
Brosend admits that these are characterizations, but he means this not in a polemical way, but instead, wants to underline the problem that exists when the conversation moves from "the 'real' Jesus to the 'only' Jesus, when reconstructions of Jesus of within history are presented as historical and/or biblical absolutes, that a line has been crossed" (William Brosend, The Preaching of Jesus, WJK 2010, pp. 2-3).  Unfortunately, says Brosend, that line has been crossed and the conversation has begun missing the point! So, the question remains -- who is Jesus?  

7 comments:

John said...

Jesus, like God, and indeed like any person, and any event, can only be perceived - not known, and only from a limited perspective and in very limited terms. Humans are limited in what they can perceive, by (1) their senses, (2) the sources of information and (3) their own personal cultural/historical/social hermanuetical filter. How each of us perceives and interprets information about Jesus will be different, and in some sense, uniquely different. All we can hope for is to learn from each other's perceptions.

Until someone decides that what they perceive is the only truth - and then we are one step from violence, because when we KNOW the truth it is hard to passively tolerate lies.

John

Anonymous said...

I guess here is how I look at it and here is what "I know". As the post says.. there are a "few" who believe Jesus never existed, and that is their "faith". They "believe" he never existed.. fine.
Now.. for those that say he does, we must ask the basic question- Is he a lunatic or God? There really isn't a middle a ground if you believe the Bible is at least partially right on quoting him. He claimed to be God, so you either believe him or call him a lunatic and say "yeah right". History if FULL of nice teachers and great speakers, yet none declared to be God. You must also consider that the modern "novel" is a relatively new idea. Books of fiction like Beowolf and the Odyssey are so fictionalized, they would never be confused with real life. So either the writers were WAY ahead of their time, or....

Chuck

John said...

Chuck,

Actually, we have no idea whether Jesus claimed to be God or whether he limited his claim to being the king of the Jews, or whether he in fact did live. We only have the witness of certain individuals and communities who claimed to be his followers, each of whom, we must admit, had an agenda that included a need to find in Jesus something very special and a need to propagate to future generations what they discerned.

Indeed Jesus may have been just as special as the Evangelists allege (and I think he was) but, we don't have a reliable real time witness - only very interested parties who each wrote accounts which were unabashedly intended to send a message and not merely disinterestedly record events as they happened.

I accept this premise, that the information we have about what Jesus claimed about himself is limited, and highly suspect, and so I have no problem acknowledging that what I believe about Jesus is beyond evidence or proof. Lee Strobbel's misguided thesis notwithstanding.

I look at the strength and success of the Jesus movement and the "against all odds" preservation of Scripture over the millennia and, most of all, I look at my own experience of God, and I cannot escape the BELIEF that Jesus lived, and that Jesus was more than human, and that Jesus was the human face and the human voice of God, the Word who dwelt among us.

And I believe that Scripture preserves teachings about Jesus and about his message, his life, death, and resurrection which are intended for my uplifting and for the uplifting of all who hear and are captivated by this phenomenon.

(For everyone not so captivated, God is resourceful enough and motivated enough to find other avenues to gain their attention and bring them home. Scripture tells that Jesus claimed that in his "Father's house there are many dwelling places.")

And I am at peace with this.

John

Anonymous said...

Jesus seems to be quite "spiritual, but not religious" for his time.

I know you can point to scriptures that say otherwise. He was pretty convinced his was the way. I'm at peace with that. David Mc

Anonymous said...

John..
"We only have the witness of certain individuals and communities who claimed to be his followers, each of whom, we must admit, had an agenda that included a need to find in Jesus something very special and a need to propagate to future generations what they discerned." I could argue there are MANY MANY MANY people in history accepted as fact with far less evidence than Jesus and obviously not as debatable. There are the thousands of scripture copies found, more than any other book of antiquity, etc etc. No one debates that Julius Ceaser existed, yet I could use your same sentence about him. Like you, unlike today's book of the month, the teachings of the Bible taken by themselves are so time enduring, its almost impossible to think of them as not divine.

All this aside, if Jesus was just a nice, spiritual guy.. then we are all still dead in our sins and we should just eat, drink, and be merry as Paul suggests. We must all soberly consider who we believe Jesus to be (savior or teacher) and the implications of that. That is the real theology.
Chuck

Anders Branderud said...

This article uses the term "historical Jesus".

The persons using that contra-historical oxymoron (demonstrated by the eminent late Oxford historian, James Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue) exposes dependancy upon 4th-century, gentile, Hellenist sources.

While scholars debate the provenance of the original accounts upon which the earliest extant (4th century, even fragments are post-135 C.E.), Roman gentile, Hellenist-redacted versions were based, there is not one fragment, not even one letter of the NT that derives DIRECTLY from the 1st-century Pharisee Jews who followed the Pharisee Ribi Yehoshua.
Historians like Parkes, et al., have demonstrated incontestably that 4th-century Roman Christianity was the 180° polar antithesis of 1st-century Judaism of ALL Pharisee Ribis. The earliest (post-135 C.E.) true Christians were viciously antinomian (ANTI-Torah), claiming to supersede and displace Torah, Judaism and ("spiritual) Israel and Jews. In soberest terms, ORIGINAL Christianity was anti-Torah from the start while DSS (viz., 4Q MMT) and ALL other Judaic documentation PROVE that ALL 1st-century Pharisees were PRO-Torah.

There is a mountain of historical Judaic information Christians have refused to deal with, at: www.netzarim.co.il (see, especially, their History Museum pages beginning with "30-99 C.E.").
Original Christianity = ANTI-Torah. Ribi Yehoshua and his Netzarim, like all other Pharisees, were PRO-Torah. Intractable contradiction.

Building a Roman image from Hellenist hearsay accounts, decades after the death of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi, and after a forcible ouster, by Hellenist Roman gentiles, of his original Jewish followers (135 C.E., documented by Eusebius), based on writings of a Hellenist Jew excised as an apostate by the original Jewish followers (documented by Eusebius) is circular reasoning through gentile-Roman Hellenist lenses.

What the historical Pharisee Ribi taught is found not in the hearsay accounts of post-135 C.E. Hellenist Romans but, rather, in the Judaic descriptions of Pharisees and Pharisee Ribis of the period... in Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron), inter alia.

To all Christians: The question is, now that you've been informed, will you follow the authentic historical Pharisee Ribi? Or continue following the post-135 C.E. Roman-redacted antithesis—an idol?

Anonymous said...

No one debates that Julius Ceaser was praised, and expected to be praised as a god by many. Didn't make it so. David Mc