The Big Questions
If there is any figure in history that one cannot escape, it would easily have to be Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus can be most easily found in the pages of our Bible, deep within the texts of the gospels and remembered all through the rest of the New Testament. We can also find Jesus on our television screens and in the front pages of magazines and newspapers, with controversial headlines and claims about his life. Most commonly we find Jesus in the minds of the people around us. Images of a Jesus surrounded by angels and covered in blinding light, given titles such as 'King of Kings and Lord of Lords'.
Since becoming a Christian when I was sixteen and now studying theology as a young man, I have always wondered if we are right in doing so? Would the Jesus rooted in history applaud or correct us in our beliefs, traditions and ideas? Is there a difference between the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith? What do we know about the 'real' Jesus? The Jesus of Nazareth who had to eat food and drink water to survive, and made friends and enemies. The Jesus who got sick, who made mistakes, felt angry and even had a sense of humour. Who was he? What was he really like? What was his world like? What was his mission? Why did he die? Why was his teaching so profound and yet so dangerous?
The idea of this study is to reconstruct a Jesus that makes sense in history and one that appeals to world of his day. While scholars use scientific tools and critical methods of modern historical research, it should be noted that this 'historical Jesus' is figure of theory and will always be so. Jesus never kept a journal, nor did any of his first disciples for that matter. The sources we have surrounding Jesus are lacking and the resources in our possession are fragmented sketches tainted by developed traditions in both negative and positive lights as well as later works of theological biography. It is with a heavy heart that every scholar who wishes to attempt reconstructing the life of Jesus must first admit that the fully authentic Jesus of Nazareth in complete detail is something that cannot be ever achieved. However, that is not to say that studying Jesus as a historical figure is completely ludicrous or an endeavour in vain. Many liberal scholars believe that the first rule in Historical Jesus research is that one must distinguish the Jesus of History from the Christ of Faith.
I disagree with this approach.
Unlike the first followers of Jesus, I can obverse the Christ event from the side of the Resurrection. I know that the early church began. I know that the first followers of Jesus continued his ministry and message. I know that the early church didn't die or fade into history. That in itself tells me something. It tells me that there was something strangely unique in Jesus, in his life, his message, his death, but most of all his resurrection. It left a mark in history and a trail to be followed.
The Reality of Jesus
If we are to make sense of anything that is supposedly 'Christian', I believe we must look at our origins, our first members, our earliest traditions and most importantly our founder. If Christianity took root, it must have done so in its founder Jesus of Nazareth. By doing so, we can see that Christianity isn't some religion founded on a corrupted and changed message nor is it the product of mistranslations and editing as many would have us believe — that the Jesus of the New Testament, of the gospels, of Paul, is historically incredible and that Christianity is a mistake.
My concern is that if Christianity is not rooted in history, I have no faith and no reason to have faith. Yet to me something is so oddly clear in early Christian history. It is clear that the early Christians believed Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, Jesus performed miracles, Jesus lived a life so radical and different, Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus suffered, died and was resurrected.
It is clear that Jesus left his mark on history.
As a student of the 'Third Quest of the Historical Jesus', this series will attempt to answer the five questions mapped out by N.T. Wright and tackled by all scholars of the Third Quest.
In the weeks spent trying to answer these questions, I invite you to join me on this journey of discovery of the Jesus who is rooted in both history and faith. I invite you to reaffirm the faith that you have had for years or discover the faith whose source is found within reality, Jesus of Nazareth. In the great words of George Caird, "Anyone who believes that in the life and teaching of Christ, God has given a unique revelation of his character and purpose is committed by this belief, whether he likes it or not, whether he admits it or not, to the quest of the historical Jesus ... Christianity appeals to history; to history it must go."
What are your thoughts on this commentary?