Theology for the Long Haul

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Historical Jesus and Therapy for Bible Scholars

Many of you know I am currently working on my master's thesis. The topic is The Scandal of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. My goal is to find out how Jesus' teaching and ministry was an offense to some in his culture and context. I see this as useful information given the nature of Jesus words in Matthew 10:

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. "It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! "Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. "What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. "(vv. 24-27 NASB)

That said, investigating "Historical Jesus" studies is a part of my research, and to that end I have been reading three books:

1. The Historical Jesus: 5 Views edited by Paul Eddy and including essays by Robert M. Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, James D.G. Dunn, and Darrell Bock.
2. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig Keener
3. The Sage from Galilee by David Flusser (a Jewish Rabbi)

While I have gained a greater understanding of how scholars from diverse backgrounds and with varying theological commitments interpret Jesus, I have also been frustrated and disappointed. I expected to be greatly challenged by the writings of Price and Crossan especially, only to be blown away by how much one can assert from very little evidence. Price it seems, would have me believe that the ancient narrative of Attis, (whose hair grew and pinkie finger moved after death) was a source for Jesus' resurrection story....really? Crossan would have me doubt the Biblical account and trade it for a re-creation of his own, which looks more like Crossan than any Messiah of a 1st century Jew. Johnson's post-modern approach is appealing at times, Dunn makes me laugh (in a good way), Bock is predictable (not necessarily a bad thing), Flusser is informative, and Keener is awesome (though at times giving too much credence on too little evidence in my opinion). Like I said, I'm learning a lot.

Two of the most valuable things I am learning are: 1) Scholars don't know all they say they know; and, 2) All people (including those who claim to be objective) create a Jesus that reflects their theological commitments and personal concerns. The more I read from scholars like Robert Price, Bart Ehrman, Crossan and others I find their struggle with Jesus is spiritual and not intellectual. If you listen to Price speak, he can't seem to help mocking people who believe there could be divine accountability. He's afraid of hell, and so he mocks it. Ehrman also wears his heart on his sleeve. His desire to be more intelligent than his professors at Moody and Wheaton fuels his animosity towards evangelical Christians. The further I get into Biblical Studies the more I realize that the profession has as much to do with personal therapy as it does scholarship.

I am unsure at this point where all this will take me. I want to make a difference with my studies, but I am seeing that what people really need (Bible scholars included) is an encounter with the living Christ. I'm sure the answer includes both a move of the Holy Spirit, and my (and others') obedience to thier calling. My prayer is that good scholarship will open a door for unbelieving academics to encounter Christ on a spiritual and experiential level.

What are your thoughts


  1. You're frustration is fully justified. All of your sources rely on 2nd-4th century Hellenist Church redacted literature that contradicts, professes to supersede and displaces all of the 1st century Judaic literature, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly 4Q MMT (see Prof. Elisha Qimron, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert) that vividly and explicitly demonstrate the religious environment that constrained the historically authentic 1st century Pharisee--Torah-Teaching--Jewish Ribi. You'll find a new horizon that Christianity willfully ignores at

  2. Thanks for your comment!

    My primary source for the Historical Jesus is the Gospels (all of which were written in the first century and likely before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD). While I would agree that Jesus himself was a first century Jewish sage/teacher, I'm not sure where you are heading. Are you saying that Jesus was a Pharisee? I agree that he was a teacher/rabbi and that he taught the Torah, but I do not think we have enough evidence to dismiss what the Gospels say about Him. Outside of the Gospels, Josephus, and a couple Roman sources we don't have anything on the historical Jesus, and none of these contradict the Gospel account.

    On another note... are you familiar with the writings of David Flusser? Would you share his perspective on Jesus?