THE QUEST / SEARCH FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS
The "quest for the historical Jesus" is based on the assumption
that the Gospels, when interpreted literally, do not provide an accurate
description of Jesus' life, healings, beliefs, and teachings.
Theologians involved in the quest believe that much of the material in
the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) is unrelated to real events.
The stories largely reflect the evolving beliefs of the early Christian
Conservative and liberal Christians have very different
beliefs about the Bible, about Jesus' earthly ministry, and thus the
need to search for the historical Jesus.
Conservative Christian beliefs:
Religious conservatives tend to view the Bible as inerrant.
It was written by authors who were inspired by God. It is free of error
(when properly interpreted), and adequate to meet all of one's spiritual
needs. Conservatives believe that the Bible contains a full and accurate
description of Jesus' life:
||According to the Gospel of John,
Jesus has existed since the creation of the world.
||According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke,
he was conceived by a Jewish virgin and the
Holy Spirit, circa 4 to 7 BCE, in Palestine.
||All four gospels accurately describe his baptism, ministry,
execution, resurrection, re-appearance to
his followers, and ascent to heaven.
Thus, there is no need to search for the historical Jesus. All the
information one needs to know is already in the Bible. One merely needs to
pick it up and read it. There are many apparent conflicts among biblical
passages. However, all or almost all can be either harmonized or
attributed to minor copyist errors. Those that cannot be harmonized will
be done so in the future.
Liberal Christian beliefs:
Religious liberals tend to view the Bible very differently.
||They note that essentially all of the information about Jesus and
his earthly ministry is contained in the gospels. Very little is seen
in the various Epistles or in extra-biblical documents by contemporary historians.
Paul, for example, rarely mentions Jesus' ministry. He appears to be
unaware of such items as the virgin birth,
the empty tomb and bodily resurrection.|
||They conclude that many, perhaps most, of the statements and actions
attributed to Jesus were never actually said or done by him. They are
fictional accounts created by various primitive Christian movements in
order the support their theological beliefs about Jesus.|
||They do not view the gospels as biographies of Jesus. They regard
them as theological writings, intended to bolster the faith of the
||They interpret the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) as
containing a variety of material of varying accuracy -- including:
||Some accurate recordings of Jesus' words and actions.|
||Some paraphrases of Jesus' words.|
||Some fictional accounts of Jesus' words and actions, created by
the authors to:
||support their group's developing theology, or
||fill-in missing periods in Jesus' life, or
||make their writings fulfill a prophecy from the Old
||Some ideas borrowed from Mediterranean
||Some religious propaganda intended to attack other religious
groups, including Rabbinic Judaism and Gnostic Christianity. These
were viewed as threats to the authors' Christian faith groups.|
||If one reads the Gospel of Q (an early
gospel whose text is contained in Matthew and Luke) and then studies
the four gospels in chronological order (Mark, Matthew, Luke and
John), a pattern emerges. In the earliest writings, Jesus is clearly
portrayed as an itinerate rabbi / teacher / philosopher / spiritual
healer. The synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke), written circa 70
to 90 CE, show the gradual development of theology about Jesus. John,
the last gospel, written circa 100 CE, presents Jesus as a divine
being, the Son of God, who has been in existence since the creation of
Enormous effort has been committed over the past two and a half
centuries to discover the historical Jesus by stripping away the multiple
layers of theological accretions added to the gospels in the hopes of
glimpsing the actual Jesus. The "search" has accelerated
in recent decades, partly due to:
||Recent findings by archaeologists.
||The increased availability of information on the two dozen or so
forms of Judaism during the
1st century CE.
||The addition of skilled historians to the search.
||Increased study of early Christian epistles and gospels that never
made it into the official canon.
||The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library.
Copyright © 2000 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-MAY-28
Latest update: 2004-OCT-31
Author: B.A. Robinson