Sunday, November 30, 2014

Can We Use the Gospels to Know the Real Jesus?

My question is how the New Testament writers came to their belief in the Divine Sonship of Jesus of Nazareth, if it was not connected with the historical impact of Jesus himself.
The issue of the historical Jesus is a huge one, but a few facts can be our anchors.
First, the NT writings (most of them) can be reasonably and reliably dated in the lifetime of the eye-witnesses of the historical Jesus. Paul, whose letters are very close in time and in contact to the historical Jesus and his circle, who claims to be handing on the traditions he received (1 Cor. 15), is the strongest evidence, and his clear teaching about the divine identity of Jesus is undoubted. So we can date this testimony within 20 years or so from the life and resurrection of Jesus (see dating of Corinthians, early 50's CE).
Also, the canonical Gospels themselves can be dated in the first century, even allowing for the fourth Gospel to be placed at the close of the century , just within the eyewitness life-spans. There was a continuous community of testimony. As Richard Hays shows in his latest book, the Christology of the Gospels is the same in essence to the other NT writings.
Sceptical scholars can dispute the dating of NT writings but my guiding principle is to rest on sufficient evidence. We have some strong date indicators about the short interval between Jesus and the written belief in his Divine Sonship. The letter to the Hebrews, for example, was surely composed before the destruction of the Temple in 66-70 CE. The whole argument of the letter is the obsolete or fulfilled nature of the Jewish sacrificial  system. Had the Temple already been destroyed, it is inconceivable that this fact would have been omitted by the writer; it would have clinched his argument.
So I give the benefit of the doubt to the Gospels when it comes to presenting reliable historical testimony about Jesus, recognising that there are theological themes governing the presentation. I see no reason to believe that the Gospel writers invented a legendary Jesus while so many living witnesses were alive.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Divine-Human Identity of Jesus Christ

Recently I read with great enjoyment the new book by Richard Hays on the Gospels - "Reading Backwards". Hays unfolds the ways in which the canonical Gospels unveil the divine identity of Jesus. It is firmly clear, I believe, that the New Testament writings testify in different ways to their belief that Jesus Christ shared the identity of the God of Israel. This mystery, later developed and expounded into the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Son, is an astonishing idea to be found in these Jewish, Second Temple period documents. This high Christology is very early; you find it in the letters of St Paul reliably dated in the 50s CE. This means that in the lifetime of many eyewitnesses of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, this faith in him as worthy of worship as Divine, was a reality.
There are sceptical, revisionist scholars who think it was highly unlikely that Jesus himself had this view. But how did it arise, then, if it was not connected in some way to the historical Jesus? I am thinking about what it was in the life, teaching and activities of Jesus Christ, that led his friends to this deep mystery about his identity and nature. I will collect my thoughts and share them in this blog.