Jesus in the Church's Gospels: Modern Scholarship and the Earliest Sources

Jesus in the Church's Gospels: Modern Scholarship and the Earliest Sources

Jesus in the Church's Gospels: Modern Scholarship and the Earliest Sources

Jesus in the Church's Gospels: Modern Scholarship and the Earliest Sources

Excerpt

Jesus in the Church’s Gospeh (hereafter, as I often refer to it, JICG) was written in 1965—66, at a high point in time for “the New Quest of the historical Jesus.” It was originally written for adult forums in congregations of the Lutheran Church in America and other churches and then rewritten with scholarly apparatus, such as the endnotes, in 1966-67. Since publication in 1968 (Fortress Press, paperback, 1973, 4th printing, 1982; London: SPCK 1970), it has had a useful career among readers of all sorts, at times in college and seminary courses (in Korea and China too, I’m told). The pattern of writing first for lay people, then for a more scholarly audience, may abet clarity. Foster R. McCurley and I repeated it in producing the “Word and Witness” program for the Lutheran Church in America in the 1970s (Spanish, German, Swedish, Finnish translations still in use) and then Witness of the Word: A Biblical Theology of the Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986). JICG was hailed by some as a minor classic, for, among other reasons, its outspoken treatment of anti-Semitism with regard especially to the trial and death of Jesus (52-66); cf. Charlotte Klein, AntiJudaism in Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978) 153-54.

As a fruit of the “New Quest,” JICG was written with awareness of the original quest for the historical Jesus (1778 till World War I), chronicled by Albert Schweitzer (with his own apocalyptic, eschatological prejudices), and the view (1920-50 or so) that no biography of Jesus is possible (Rudolf Bultmann and others). 1 dealt with this background in “Lives of Jesus during the Great Quest for the Historical Jesus,” Indian Journal of Theology 23 (1974): 33-59. The New Quest fragmented. Other interests took over in biblical studies—for example hermeneutics, literary criticism. Narrative and reader-response criticism have notoriously little interest in any historical Jesus. Feminist theology is more interested in Jesus, however.

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, the “Jesus Seminar” arose in the United States, and a so-called “Third Quest.” The Jesus Seminar asks legitimate questions, using historical-critical methods, but often over-rigorously reacts against “Fundamentalism” and against what some of the scholars involved once themselves believed or preached as evangelists. The “Third Quest” (after the Old and New ones) lumps together a variety of books and articles more open to positive findings on Jesus in his Jewish setting; cf. N. T. Wright, Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 799-801. 1 have dealt in print with some of this material in “Jesus and Christology” (a survey written in 1980, revised 1983, a few references added in 1985) in The New Testament and its Modern Interpreters, ed. E. J. Epp and G. W. MacRae (Philadelphia: Fortress/Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 501-64 (extensive bibliography) and in “Jesus and Paul in . . .

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