What we Don’t Know about the Historical Jesus

Mark Goodacre has a very nice (and brief) article up at The Bible and Interpretation discussing how little we really can know about the life of the historical Jesus. Check it out.

UPDATE: I was reading over some comments on James McGrath’s Debunking Debunking Christianity and I came across a comment that I think bears directly on the question of the historical Jesus. James responds to a claim that a believing scholar who recognizes Jesus’ error regarding the end of the world is being intellectually dishonest in maintaining his faith. James responds thus:

The answer is that we’ve come to realize that, if even Jesus could be wrong, then how much more likely is it that I will be seen with the benefit of hindsight to have been wrong, most likely about a far greater number of things? We’ve thus found ourselves challenged to let go of yet another fundamentalist assumption we once shared, namely that being a Christian is about Jesus having been right all the time, and following him in the hope that we can be (or at least believe ourselves to be) right all the time. In other words, we understand Christianity to be more about a process, one that involves humbly admitting that we are wrong, rather than about confident claims to certainty.

One Nick responded with the following:

Jesus is always right because Jesus is God and Man. If Jesus is wrong about something, than He isn’t God, because God is Omniscient; and if Jesus isn’t God, than Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and if He didn’t rise from the dead, than Christianity is false.

This deals with what I believe to be a rather common assumption. This assumption holds that if it’s in red letters in the Bible then it’s what Jesus said. While James is right that Christianity is not about absolutes like Jesus being right all the time, it’s also rather naive, in my opinion, to insist that the New Testament’s eschatology must be understood as derived directly from the historical Jesus himself. This refuses to recognize the human element in the composition and redaction of the biblical texts, which, I think many would agree, accounts for more biblical ideology than many theists and non-theists seem to be aware.


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