The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus


Informally presents and evaluates complex--sometimes troubling--issues in scholarly discussion of Jesus Christ.

"Whatever one makes of these pages, they are the stammerings neither of an apologist nor of a skeptic but instead of an oft-confused Protestant who has come to his conclusions, modest as they are, quite gradually, and who may alter his uncertain mind about much tomorrow. Of two things only do I feel assured. The first is that, as unchanging things do not grow -- rocks remain rocks -- informed changes of mind should be welcomed, not feared. The second is this: the unexamined Christ is not worth having."
-- from the introduction

In this book, which he describes as "my personal testimony to doubt seeking understanding," Dale Allison thoughtfully addresses ongoing historical-theological questions concerning Jesus. What should one think of the modern quest for the historical Jesus when there is such enduring discord among the experts, and when personal agendas play such a large role in the reconstructions? How much history is in the Gospels, and how much history does Christian theology require that there be? How does the quest impinge upon conventional Christian beliefs, and what might it contribute to contemporary theological reflection? The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus is the personal statement of lessons that a respected participant in the quest has learned throughout the course of his academic career.


I have, for many years now, involved myself in the so-called quest of the historical Jesus. During most of that time, the religious implications of my activities have been at the margin of my awareness. Despite being a lifelong churchgoer, my self-conception has usually been that of a historian writing to historians, not of a Christian writing to Christians. Moved by curiosity and the attendant joy of discovery, and desiring to evaluate the evidence honestly, whatever the outcome, I have sought to learn, through historical-critical methods, what I can about the first-century Jew Jesus of Nazareth.

I have never been without theological motives or interests. Until a few years ago, however, I had not attempted to pursue those interests with much diligence or to examine my motives with much care. Recent circumstances have pushed me out of my historical-critical pose. After accepting a teaching post at a Protestant theological seminary, I soon discovered that future pastors are not interested in undertaking historical labor without the prospect of theological reward. in order, then, to keep my audience, I was compelled to complement my critical inquiries with theological deliberations.

Sustained theological reflection also became incumbent when I accepted an invitation to join a research group at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, a group dedicated to discussing “the identity of Jesus.” the participants included not only well-known biblical scholars —

1. Papers produced for that group are now collected in Beverly Gaventa and Richard Hays, eds., Seeking the Identity of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008).

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