History and the Historical Jesus – an Excerpt from The Story of Jesus in History and Faith

The following is an excerpt from The Story of Jesus in History and Faith, by Lee McDonald

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Cover ArtModern historical assumptions present a significant challenge to biblical perspectives. Jürgen Moltmann agrees as he concludes: “In face of the positivistic and mechanistic definition of the nature of history as a self-contained system of cause and effect, the assertion of a raising of Jesus by God appears as a myth concerning a supernatural incursion which is contradicted by all our experience of the world.” When viewed from the perspective of modern historical assumptions, miraculous events are regularly classified as myth or legend, but not reality.

Contemporary theologians must determine whether there are limitations in modern historical methodology and whether there are real events of the past that are simply not discernible through this methodology. Those who confess that Jesus has been raised from the dead, the quintessential affirmation of the Christian faith, must wrestle with the complexity of the relationship between history and faith. The Gospel writers, and indeed all New Testament writers, were interested in the story of Jesus, in what he did or said, and they also acknowledged that Jesus cannot be understood apart from the Easter faith that they proclaimed.

The resurrection of Jesus is the presupposition for Jesus becoming the object of Christian preaching. Long ago, George Ladd aptly addressed the problem:

“The critical historian, as historian, cannot talk about God and his acts in the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Parousia; for although such events occur within the history of our world, they have to do not merely with the history of men, but with God in history; and for the historian as historian, the subject matter of history . . . is man. Therefore the historical-critical method has self-imposed limitations which render it incompetent to interpret redemptive history.”

The New Testament writers affirm God’s activity in history and supremely in his activity in the story of Jesus’ life and fate. There is a theological as well as historical way to understand and appropriate that activity today, and I will return to this topic at the end of this volume, but for now, we will ask about ways that biblical scholarship in modern times describes the distinction between “the historical Jesus” and “the Christ of faith.”

©2013 by Lee Martin McDonald. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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