I believe scholars must deal with two main issues regarding the understanding of the historical Jesus. First, there is little extrabiblical information that describes a physical Jesus (Gundry, 2012, p. 130). And second, it seems that scholars continue to struggle with being able to validate (in their research and minds) the authenticity of Jesus’ direct quotes in the Gospels (p. 129).
With regard to the first issue, Gundry tells that a complete biography of Jesus is impossible to obtain simply because the Gospels – as the primary source for information about Jesus – share very little about Jesus as a living, breathing man (p. 127). Though a number of biographies were written about Jesus in the 19th and 20th centuries by noted scholars and organizations, the biographers seem to have focused and postulated more on who Jesus became and less on the actual, historical Jesus (p. 127-130). This, perhaps, isn’t surprising simply because there is not any hard and extensive information on Jesus that can be drawn upon to write biographies other than the paucity of information about Jesus from the Gospels.
And second, it seems odd but interesting that even the exact words of Jesus are a matter of disagreement and contention. I can’t help but think that it’s been God’s intent to not reveal the literal words and physical descriptions of Jesus in order that we might spend more time considering the broader implications of a redemptive God and less time on the physical appearance of Jesus and on the parsing of literal words supposedly said by Jesus. Regardless, the fact is that, once again, scholars can barely agree on the literal and verbatim words that are recorded to have been said by Jesus in the Gospels and, rarely, in extrabiblical sources (p. 129).
Overall, there simply is not much to go on to describe a physical and historical Jesus other than being able to say that he existed 2000 years ago in what we know of as present-day Israel.
With regard to discussions on the writing of the Synpotic Gospels, it’s fascinating to consider the theories behind how Matthew, Mark, and Luke were possibly authored. Perhaps I rationalize, but, to me, God is not revealed so much in the words as in the essence of the words of Scripture. Which translation, which language, which interpretation, which paraphrase shall I use? I wonder if a seeker of God will find God regardless of where the seeker is looking – God will find the seeker instead of the other way round. The cynic, on the other hand, won’t find God anywhere even if God slaps him up the side of the head! With due respect to scholars of lower and higher criticism of Scripture, God will reveal himself to those who are looking one way or another regardless of the nuances found in today’s rendering of Scripture.
Gundry, R. (2012). A survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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Good thoughts. I had to laugh at your description of the cynic and tend to agree with you. Getting into a debate with a cynic can make you feel like you are “beating your head against a wall.” Most cynics have this stubborn attitude that they MUST defend what they believe. And they feel that they must also get everyone else to believe what they believe. The idea of Faith is difficult for a cynic to comprehend. It requires that they set aside what they think they know about God and be open to learning something new. Faith doesn’t make sense. It requires that they take a step into the unknown. A debate with a cynic can not be won. But a challenge for them to act in faith, to take a step into the unknown and ask God to “show up” in their lives is something they cannot debate.