The gospels we have were carefully vetted against a body of early church literature—and the four gospels in the Bible are the most historically accurate, divinely inspired accounts of Christ. For two millennia, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have been used to inspire billions of people to believe in Jesus and the salvation he brings. Each of them has unique things to show us about his life and ministry and what it means to follow him.
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ZA Blog Books and articles that equip you for deeply biblical thinking and ministry. Rarely do both the instructor and the students rave about a textbook.. Mark L. To study the Gospels is to study the foundation of Christianity, and in Four Portraits, One Jesus, author and professor Mark Strauss provides an expert and understandable introduction to these first four books of the New Testament.
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Email Address. Join the Conversation Required Leave this field blank. Full Name. Your Comment. Taking up again the dialectical process of Hegel, he held that the proper category for drawing near to the life of Jesus was neither that of the dogmatics of the supernatural thesis , nor that of natural explanations antithesis , but rather that of myth synthesis. For Strauss, myth is none other than the historical covering of the religious ideas of the first Christians, put into use by a young community enthused about its founder, and then tragically devastated by his death.
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Therefore, the whole supernatural element present in the Gospels is not the conscious and deliberate invention of the first disciples Reimarus , but rather a collective and unconscious elaboration of the community, and therefore a popular legend. In regards to historical data, Strauss shows himself to be a skeptic and minimalist: it is not important to know that which Jesus was historically: that which is relevant for us is solely his spiritual message of reconciliation between the human and the divine.
Here, the path for the thought of Bultmann had already been laid out.
Three years after the work of Strass, C. Weisse and C. Thus the skepticism of Strauss was scaled down and in the second half of the 19th century a theological current took shape, known as "liberal theology"which set out to reconcile faith with reason by undertaking in depth the so-called "quest on the life of Jesus" Ger. Leben-Jesu Forschung. The quest sought to "iberate" the image of Jesus from dogmatic encrustations, having formed already during the epoch of the first Christian community and continued in the following periods, "to return to the man Jesus of Nazareth," by reconstructing the exact historical biography and in the end to sketch out his psychological itinerary.
From here ushered forth a long series of portraits of Jesus, from that of the sweet dreamer of Galilee Renan to that of the romantic who was the perfect archetype of the moral ideal of humanity Schleiemacher. In a well-known conference of , M. The Gospels then would not be a fount for putting together an historical biography of Jesus, but rather "a profession of faith in the messianic reality of the crucified one. The finishing stroke would come with A. Schweitzer with the work History of the Quest of the Life of Jesus in which, starting with Reimarus, he showed with unrelenting sharpness that all of these lives, on the pretext of having been derived from the Gospels, were indeed fictitious representations.
In reality, each epoch, each theology, every author was dressing up Jesus with their own clothes: the rationalists described Jesus as the ideal gentleman of the Victorian age; the socialists as the first great social reformer; the idealists as the quintessence of humanity.
The Four Gospels
The work of Adolph von Harnack merits to be treated separately. In one of his most famous works, The Essence of Christianity , he dedicated several pages to the historical aspect of the Gospels. His starting point is their "kerygmatic" nature: the Synoptics are books of propaganda and their intention was not the registering of chronicles of facts, but rather the proclamation of faith in Jesus. Therefore, based upon the Gospels one cannot reconstruct a biography of Jesus, although one need not on account of this deny their historical nature.
Their historical nature becomes clear in their "archaic character" which distinguishes them from all the other posterior writings, especially on account of the form of narration, so simple and efficacious, and for the Hebrew or Aramaic language which one discovers with facility behind the Greek text. After years of patient labors, he returned to the classic positions Luke depended upon Paul, Mark as the interpreter of Peter Up until this point, the position of Catholic theology was essentially based upon an "external criticism," i.
Classical apologetics developed such a defense according to three classical approaches: a to show the "integrity" of the text, i. One gradually began to see that such a position ended up being insufficient to offer a full response to the criticisms having been brought forth. Continuing on the path of the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of the faith, several German reformed scholars, after having declared a failure the attempt of reason to arrive at the facts which really took place in the past, opted for faith alone, as being the only way capable of putting us into contact with the Christ living and present in the Church.
The greatest exponent of this current of thought was Rudolf Bultmann , the passionate advocate of an anti-rationalistic stance, and belonging to the Lutheran tradition. In his work, History of the Synoptic Tradition Bultmann held the historical research of the Gospels to be an impossible, illegitimate, and unnecessary research. Indeed, the research of the history of Jesus is impossible: the Gospels are not an ordered account of eye-witnesses, but posterior creations, having come to light after a long collective gestation minimally a good forty years after the events took place at the heart of a believing community which was not intending to preserve, as intact relics, the words and actions of Jesus, but rather desired to leave a witness of their own passionate faith in him.
Or, if one likes, a collection of individual pearls, later united in a series which has no pretext of being the original order. Having been put together by the first communities, the gospel passages reflect not the history of Jesus but the history of those communities, with their needs, their ideals, their "vital situations. Beyond impossible, the historical study of Jesus would be, for Bultmann, illegitimate in itself: namely, not only positively impractical, but also theologically unacceptable.
If the Gospels are the "word of God," who do we think we are —protests the Lutheran Bultmann— to approach God and ask for Him to give us a guarantee of the credibility of his word? If anything, it is the word itself which puts a question to us, to ask us if we want to believe or not. And what kind of faith would it be of the one who believes only when human reason has decided that one can trust in the word of God? Furthermore, one is dealing with useless studies, in as much as that which the believer knows of Jesus is already essential, namely that he and he alone is the savior of my life and the Lord of history.
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This is the Jesus that one has need of, the Jesus who is meaningful to the believer, who calls upon and invites one to leave behind the inauthentic existence of the common people to the authentic life of his disciples. The most interesting reaction was that which exploded within his own school, right after the end of the Second World War. If it is true that the historical existence of Jesus can be understood only in light of the resurrection, that "light" in which the Gospels were surely redacted, it is all the more true that Easter cannot be understood without being rooted in and without a reference in regards to the facts which preceded it: either the glorified Lord has the same countenance as that of the Crucified One, or in place of the Nazarene, one substitutes a mysterious, impalpable celestial being.
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Mt However, contrary to Bultmann, for his disciple the historical study is relevant to the faith itself, because it helps us to be realize that God acted in history before we even became believers. As did the Evangelists, so must we hold ourselves firmly anchored in the history of Jesus to be able to categorically affirm that it is from this history, and not from us, that salvation comes.
Regarding the topic of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, a current of thought, having diffused itself in the most recent decades among diverse Jewish scholars Ben Chorin, Flusser, Levinson, Neusner and others needs to be mentioned.
Comparing the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
This current of thought, in its acknowledging the reality of the historical-messianic event of which he was the protagonist, tends to consider Jesus as an observant Jew, a just man and member of the people of Israel. On the part of Christians J. Meier, E. Sanders, G.
Stanton and others , set into motion by the provocative question whether Jesus was only a "marginal figure" of Judaism J. The third quest instead seeks to base the historicity of the Nazarene and of his doctrine on the "continuity" with the Judaic environment in which He manifested Himself for a synthesis, cf.
Segalla, and The opinions, in Jewish circles, are not unanimous: one passes from the personality of a Jesus who is a simple miracle worker, to that of a Master who would be inserted in the stoic-cynical tradition, from that of an eschatological prophet, to that of a Rabbi profoundly engaged in the renewal of the true cult of God. Beyond this disparity of interpretations, one of the most interesting results of this "third quest," whose effective realization —not to be forgotten— is now possible also thanks to the furthering of the Jewish-Christian dialogue in both religious and intellectual fields, is found in all that which helps us to know up close the historical world of Jesus, thereby allowing us to understand with greater historical rigor his deeds and words.