Thoughts on the Search for the Historical Jesus

A friend of mine is wrestling with her seminary class on the New Testament, and asked for my thoughts on the Search for the Historical Jesus.  Here's what I said (in the midst of a threaded discussion on peace)...

The Search for the Historical Jesus seems like a good idea, but in practice it was loaded with biases that ruled out the discovery of the Real Jesus as one that could do miracles and did expect people to identify him as God. I found my NT seminary classes challenging too, but found great insight in the whole experience of approaching Scripture not as a book dropped out of heaven (from non-biased observers of historical happenings) but as faithful records of the experiences of God's people with God as they interpreted them. (I think that's pretty close to how Dallas Willard described the OT).

The gospels aren't the same as our modern genre of historical biography and thier intent isn't passing on the facts of Jesus' life but instead through them to illuminate the meaning of his life and the nature of his person. Certain events are undeniably historical, but chronology and exact quotations just aren't what the authors were concerned about...and it turns out these aren't what disciples need to be concerned about.

To tie this all into peace - there's a certain peace discovering that our faith doesn't rest on the book and any single interpretation of it, but on the God to whom the book and its characters testify. The book faithfully ushers us into his presence, it does this without error without being 'inerrant' in the technical fashion invented by modern minds foreign to ancient sensibilities. Since our faith doesn't rest on the book (but flows through it to God) we need not be anxious about 'historical criticism' or any other scholarly approach. Our God, and our experience of God is unassailable. It is this reality that gives the Bible it's authority, not the Bible's authority that makes God real.


  1. Chris, You said
    "there's a certain peace discovering that our faith doesn't rest on the book and any single interpretation of it, but on the God to whom the book and it's characters testify."
    I think I like that statement. It points to the author that led the writers to spell out their experiences and thoughts. Good statement Christ. It's something to remember as I mull through all the things I read.

  2. Thanks, Rich. That statement is something that really changed the way I approached Scripture (for the better). Or perhaps I should say it changed the way I approach God through Scripture.

  3. this applies as well to the search for the historical anyone...

    "Your idea of me is fabricated with materials you have borrowed from other people and from yourself. What you think of me depends on what you think of yourself. Perhaps you create your idea of me out of material that you would like to eliminate from your own idea of yourself. Perhaps your idea of me is a reflection of what other people think of you. Or perhaps what you think of me is simply what you think I think of you."

    Merton, No Man Is an Island, p. 194

  4. Great quote, Collin. Though the difference with the historical Jesus is that, unlike any other historical person, Jesus is also a contemporary person - he is, after all, the risen and living Jesus.