Friday, January 02, 2009
The Historical Jesus and New Testament Theology
Does the historical Jesus belong to Christian Origins or New Testament Theology? Bultmann made the historical Jesus the presupposition for New Testament Theology whereas others such as Joachim Jeremias and N.T. Wright have made him the starting point for it. More recently, Bob Gundry has argued that the traditional Jesuses of the Gospels are more important than a reconstructed historical Jesus. Why does New Testament Theology even need a historical Jesus when it has the portraits of Jesus in the canonical Gospels?
First, we start with the recognition that the Gospels are theological biographies and contain historical memories and a theological interpretation of those memories for communities in the Greco-Roman world. While their narratives as a whole contain theological texturing, it is their redaction of historical materials that often tells us of their theological purposes. Thus, in order to see the theology we often have to look for the history. Second, the Gospels themselves are part of the process of the reception of the historical Jesus and the Easter event in Christian communities. Third, the Gospels point in a pre-Easter direction and provide us with information about the historical sequence of events that constituted Jesus' ministry and the circumstances leading to his death. Even the Fourth Gospel with more of the vox than verba of Jesus still retains a degree of historical authenticity that is said to be validated by the testimony of the Beloved Disciple. Fourth, as long as we believe that theological utility is not tied to historical authenticity, then we have no fear of the historical Jesus. Alternatively, the historical Jesus is theologically significant in terms of showing that Christians cannot be docetists and rooting God's revelation of himself in his Son in the theatre of human history.
In other words, the historical Jesus is a crucial component of the canonical Jesus because (1) the canonical Gospels include the impact of the historical Jesus, and (2) the historical Jesus is only available through the testimony and confession of the early church's faith.