The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History

The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History

The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History

The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith: The Incarnational Narrative as History

Synopsis

The story of Jesus of Nazareth, as recounted in the New Testament, has always been understood by the church to be historically true. It is an account of the life, death, and resurrection of a real person, whose links with history are firmly signalled in the creeds of the early church, which affirm that Jesus 'suffered under Pontius Pilate'. Contemporary historical scholarship has, however, called into question the reliability of the church's version of this story, and thereby raised the question as to whether ordinary people can know its historical truth. This book argues that the historicity of the story still matters, and that its religious significance cannot be captured by the category of 'non-historical myth'. The commonly drawn distinction between the Christ of faith and Jesus of history cannot be maintained. The Christ who is the object of faith must be seen as historical; the Jesus who is reconstructed by historical scholarship is always shaped by commitments of faith. A reconsideration of the Enlightenment epistemologies that underlie much historical scholarship shows that historical knowledge of this story is still possible. Such knowledge can be inferential, based on historical evidence. A careful look at contemporary New Testament studies, and the philosophical and literary assumptions upon which it rests, shows that this scholarship should not undermine the confidence of lay people who believe that they can know that the church's story about Jesus is true.

Excerpt

In a trivial sense every human religion is a historical phenomenon and has historical roots. Every human religion has some kind of historical foundation, in the sense that its origins lie in some set of historical events. Nevertheless, there are large differences both between different religions and even within a single religion in the significance attached to these historical origins. The historical origins of Hinduism seem lost in the mists of time, and Hinduism seems none the worse for that. Buddhists certainly revere Gautama, but Theravada Buddhists do not think that enlightenment is in any way contingent upon historical knowledge of Gautama's life. It is rather the timeless truths that Gautama discovered that are important.

History seems more important for Islam and Judaism. Devout Muslims believe that God revealed himself to Muhammad, and that the right path to submission to Allah is found in the revelation thus given. Nevertheless, the focus of the revelation is not on Muhammad, but on Allah. One should accept Muhammad as a faithful revealer of Allah, but the locus of faith is Allah, not Muhammad. History seems still more important for Jews, for Orthodox Judaism has always seen itself as grounded in the claims that God chose a historical people for a particular destiny, delivered that people from oppression, and continued to deal with that people in history, to fulfil God's own purposes for the human race. It is an open question, one still debated by Jewish theologians, to what . . .

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