The Historical Jesus: Five Views

The Historical Jesus: Five Views

The Historical Jesus: Five Views is a compilation of five contributors – Robert M. Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, James D.G. Dunn, and Darrell L. Bock. Their positions and responses cover 300 pages of theological diversity on the person and historicity of Jesus Christ.

Price would be the far left view here suggesting that “quite likely there never was any historical Jesus .” (pg. 55). Crossan will respond with “I simply agree with vast swaths” of Prices’ argument. Johnson, Dunn, and Bock will take a much more conservative position affirming the existence of the historical Jesus. In fact, Johnson says, “Price gets Jesus to the vanishing point by the simple expedient of denying all the evidence that makes him visible.” (pg. 89) Dunn acts surprised that “there are still serious scholars who put forward the view that the whole account of Jesus’ doing and teaches are a later myth…” Bock notes that “even the Jesus Seminar saw around 20 percent of the Jesus material as going back to Jesus, using a very skeptical employment of such principles.” (pg. 100) The mythological view is a complete failure because it reads later literature and concepts back into 1st Century culture. The life of Jesus and the Gospels must be interpreted in light of being a 1st Century Jewish male.

Crossan says we must go back to the Jesus who is “a Galilean Jew within Judaism within the Roman Empire” (pg. 105) before we could ever know if he existed or not. This is true and the historical background data is pivotal. It seems as though Crossan himself fails to remove his presuppositions and ideals in the 21st Century. For example, Johnson commends Crossan but goes on to point out the modernized conception of Jesus emerging in such statements as, “John had a monopoly but Jesus had a franchise.”(See pg. 118; 126) Dunn suggests that Crossan is characterizing the setting in order to provide a backdrop for what he really wants to say. Dunn points out Crossan’s selective motif’s such as the dominating them of kingdom presence as well.

Johnson challenges us to learn the human Jesus. He calls us to examine the historical reading of the Gospels and Jesus. He sees the Gospel’s as excellent evidence to the humanity, and therefore existence, of Jesus. The Jesus “whom we engage and come to know as a human character in the canonical Gospels is also the historic Christ.” (pg. 177)

Dunn begins with “Remembering Jesus” and how the historical quest for Jesus has lost its way. He points out that the error in the historical quest has had three flaws since its inception. He puts these into three protests followed by a proposal. Protest one is against the “assumption that ‘the Christ of Faith’ is a perversion of the ‘historical Jesus’”. Protest two is against the assumption that “the only way to understand both the relation of the traditions in the Synoptic Gospels and the earliest transmission of the Jesus tradition is in literary terms” and proposing we give more attention and seriousness to the oral phase of the Jesus tradition. He concludes that it is “probably that the earliest transmission of the Jesus tradition was by word of mouth.” (pg. 211)

Bock writes about the Historical Jesus. He says that the study for the historical Jesus quest “began as a project of the Enlightenment to strip Jesus of the doctrinal layers allegedly said to be tied to him by the early church, so that only a historical Jesus should remain.” (pg. 250) Bock does a great job of laying down facts about the historical knowledge of Jesus as well as the way he and others viewed him in the text of Scripture itself. Bock and Dunn’s arguments differ since one stressed oral tradition and the other the historical literature and data. The believer should bear in mind however that both are valid forms of understanding the historical Jesus and the early formation of the Gospels themselves.

IVP Academics has done a great job in providing this book as a valuable resource. It was edited by J.K. Beilby and P.R. Eddy. Reading this book is a great way to jump right into the quest for the Historical Jesus. I recommend it for any bookshelf.

The Historical Jesus: Five Views

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