Jesus Christ is among the most influential people in all of history. Along with the Buddha and few others, people not only wondered who he was, but what he was. This question still remains with us today: Who and what is he? For the believer he is the Son of God, incarnate and sent into the world. For the secular person he is sometimes thought of as a good moral teacher or merely an itinerant preacher who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Each person, and perhaps especially the theologian, is forced to grapple with the question of who Jesus is as well as what the best ways to find the answers to that question are (Kereszty 3).
In the period of the Enlightenment there was an extreme emphasis on reason. Literature was subjected to different kinds of criticism to try to penetrate the meaning behind the written form. The bible was not an exception to this and was submitted to the literary and historical criticisms common to the period (4). The application of various criticism is not a problem in and of itself; however, when coupled with human reason as “the ultimate norm of truth” it can lead to troubling presuppositions which may cloud the ability to see the truth. Many of these scholars desired to emancipate the “historical Jesus” from the Jesus of faith so that the truth of Jesus could be found.
However, the liberal question for the historical Jesus has some problems. One major issue that each person who seeks this historical figure has been a tendency to see himself reflected in Christ and so Jesus takes on the traits that the author desires to find (6). A second problem arises because the gospels are rejected as biographies and so a “historical reconstruction of Jesus as he actually lived and acted is historically impossible and theologically illegitimate” (7). Finally, the faith erodes under the constantly changing understanding of the historical Jesus. So, this method gives way to the New Quest in which both the preaching of Christ and the New Testament are understood to contain authentic information about Jesus (8).
A major issue with the New Quest is that it is difficult to know what exactly is meant by the historical Jesus since its form has always been in flux. Jesus was also quite difficult to apply the common historical tools to because many of the events recorded of his life resist the normal categories (9). They also sought to separate facts from the interpretation of the events being examined, which is neither feasible nor is it even clear if this is desirable because writing is meant to be interpreted to be understood (10).
The Third Quest attempts to rediscover the Jewish roots of Jesus. This attempt, like the others, attempts to supplant the Jesus of faith with the real historical “Jesus who is accessible to our age” (12). This approach does have many positive aspects, but is often colored by the ideology of the writers (11). As with the other approaches, there are positive aspects but they must be carefully considered in light of some of their weaknesses for nearly the only thing they agree on is that Jesus is not the Jesus of the gospels.
However, an alternative option is the ability to integrate truths found through the study of history and literary criticisms with the truths of faith. History cannot be reduced to facts, but exists in objective events with subjective experience (17). This is valuable, but even more so when understood in the context of God’s plan (21). The Jesus of faith is based on testimony and this testimony is subject to verification and the depth of the conviction of those testifying, even unto their deaths (24).
Both the truths gleaned from historical research and those handed down by the Church have value for the believer. The more perfectly we know someone, the better we can love them. In the case of Christ, we come to know him better through study, but also through our experience of Him in our lives. Ultimately, both of these aspects help deepen love for Christ and His Church.
Kereszty, Roch. Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology. Saint Pauls/Alba House, 2002.