The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus

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Before the Enlightenment, the canonical Gospels were thought of as, among other things, written copies of the past. The documents and the history beneath them were taken to be, for all practical Christian purposes, identical.

Modernity, however, has inserted a wedge between the literary Jesus and the historical Jesus, and it has pried them apart. The experts may not, when dealing with this saying or that event, concur on the degree of distance between the words on the biblical page and what really happened, but no one who is informed can, without further ado, equate the text with the past: the former often strays from the latter.

The order of episodes in Luke is not the same as that in Matthew, so at least one of those gospels does not narrate events according to their historical sequence. And the Jesus of John does not much sound like the Jesus of Mark, so at least one of those representations must be farther from the historical Jesus than the other.

What are we to think when our modern historical reconstructions do not match the narratives of our sacred texts? Does history become our authority and so trump the text? Can history somehow replace the text? And what is the theological status of a passage whose historicity is debated or denied?

Dale C. Allison Jr, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, pp 40-41. Allison is Princeton Theological Seminary’s Professor of New Testament.


Categories: Enlightenment, Gospels, History


2 replies

  1. Quoth the Ken Raven “Liberal Scholars!”

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