Jesus and Christian Ethics

By Spohn, William C. | Theological Studies, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Jesus and Christian Ethics


Spohn, William C., Theological Studies


New scholarly approaches account for much of the recent rise of interest in Jesus. Instead of starting from Christological and trinitarian doctrines, scholars have turned to history, literary criticism, and the social sciences to discover the identity and meaning of Jesus. Two conflicting responses based on historical methods appear in the works of John P. Meier and John Dominic Crossan.(1) The well-publicized Jesus Seminar scrupulously sorts biblical texts and the Gospel of Thomas into five layers of authenticity printed in different colors.(2) The "quest for the historical Jesus" has moved into a new phase. First, the 19th-century "lives of Jesus" presented him as a teacher of universal moral truths; then Rudolf Bultmann and the "second quest" portrayed Jesus as the eshatological prophet; now the "third quest" considers him a teacher of unconventional wisdom.(3) Jewish scholars have reclaimed the Jewishness of Jesus.(4) Major recent works on New Testament ethics anchor these teachings in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.(5) The 1994 convention of the CTSA addressed the theme of Jesus for the first time in its fifty-year history.(6)

Revisionist moral theology has generally brought in Jesus via Christological doctrines rather than "from below," i.e. from gospel accounts of Jesus' words and deeds. That too appears to be changing. Jon Sobrino has written the first volume of what promises to be liberation theology's most thorough Christology.(7) Sobrino focuses on Jesus from a conviction that "whenever, in the course of history, Christians have sought to reinvest Christ with his totality, they have returned to Jesus of Nazareth."(8) In his encyclical Veritatis splendor, Pope John Paul II made a similar move to ground Catholic moral teaching in the response of discipleship as portrayed in the dialogue between Jesus and the rich young man in Matt 19:16-22.(9)

Our review of the contemporary appeal to Jesus in Christian ethics and biblical studies will focus in turn on three central issues: the shift from history to ethics as the way to grasp the meaning of biblical texts; the question of whether Jesus is the eschatological prophet of the reign of God or an empirically astute sage; and use of the analogical imagination to move from Scripture to contemporary Christian normative reflection.

From History to Ethics

Interest in Jesus as the center of Christian ethics has increased as the historical-critical method has lost its monopoly in biblical interpretation. In the latter part of the 20th century it seems that ethics may be supplanting history as the primary mode of scriptural interpretation. Questions now focus on the meaning of Jesus rather than on factual knowledge about him. This shift has occurred in part because we have moved from a culture which prized historical fact and objectivity to one which evaluates systems of ideas primarily by their capacity for transforming individuals and society.(10)

In addition, historical method promised an objectivity it has been unable to deliver. New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson notes that "the new quest is carried out in an academic environment far removed from the religious polemics that characterized earlier attempts, and is able at last to deal with Jesus in truly 'historical' terms. It has been an embarrassment, therefore, that the many books generated by the new quest [specifically the work of Meier and Crossan] are no less divergent in their portrayal of Jesus."(11) Many contemporary scholars have abandoned the ideal of establishing who Jesus was with scientific objectivity on the grounds that the historical project cannot be separated from the author's own convictions.(12) Old Testament exegete Bruce C. Birch makes a disclaimer which has become familiar: "I no longer believe that it is possible or desirable to achieve objectivity in the exercise of this method. All interpreters bring their own perspectives and commitments with them to the text. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Jesus and Christian Ethics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.