Jesus among the historians

“While it is perhaps inappropriate to offer sweeping criticisms of scholars whose work I respect and from whom I have learned a great deal, I must say that [many portraits] of Jesus are unfair in that each presentation limits the evidence of the Gospels to a handful of sayings or events and builds an entire picture of Jesus primarily from one strand of the Gospel tradition. Yes, Jesus was a wise sage and a deeply religious man, and his teachings were undoubtedly more socially revolutionary than many evangelicals imagine; each of these portraits says something truthful about Jesus. At the bare minimum, they need to be combined for a fuller presentation.

My fundamental disagreement with each of them is that such a Jesus would never have been crucified, would never have drawn the fire that he did, would never have commanded the following that he did, and would never have created a movement that still shakes the world. A Jesus who went around saying wise and witty things would not have been threatening enough to be crucified during Passover when he was surrounded by hundreds who liked him. A Jesus who was a religious genius who helped people in their relationship with God and was kind, compassionate, and gentle would not have been crucified either. A social revolutionary would have been crucified (and this partly explains Jesus’ death, in my view), but it is doubtful that such a revolutionary would have given birth to a church that was hardly a movement of social revolution. And if in the process of surviving, this movement had to shave off the socially revolutionary bits of Jesus, it is amazing that they decided to connect themselves, even root themselves, into a person who was a social revolutionary at heart. No, these pictures of Jesus will not do.”

Scot McKnight, Who is Jesus? An Introduction to Jesus Studies in Wilkins and Moreland (eds), Jesus under Fire (Zondervan 1995), pages 61-62

2 replies
  1. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    I would completely agree with McKnight or Wilkins or whoever said the above (can’t find it in any link) about the evidence in the gospels.
    Thankfully the Jesus Seminar treats the gospels as religiously motivated texts; which they are, and comes to more measured and rational conclusions. The same measure and rationality that christians themselves show they can exhibit when considering other religoius texts.

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