How is a Christian to go about studying the historical Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Last night, I finished reading a book by Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary called “Studying The Historical Jesus.” In this book, Bock does not really set out to give conclusions. He is writing for an audience that I believe consists of lay people interested in this kind of study and perhaps as a textbook for people starting off their college career.
Bock also writes from a conservative perspective, which is just fine of course. It’s important to point this out since he is writing to people who I suspect might be apprehensive about doing historical Jesus study. “Study the historical Jesus? Isn’t it a matter of faith? Don’t we have the Inerrant Scripture? If that is the case, then how is it that we are to do historial study? Are we calling into question the reality of Jesus?”
Bock answers with a strong no and encourages us to enter into the field explaining to us how the work is to be done. He starts off by giving us some cultural context. What was the world like at the time of Jesus? What was it like right beforehand? How did the culture interact? I was quite pleased to see him talking about the importance of honor in the ancient world, something not at all stressed in most works that assumes the ancient person was just like us in their thinking.
Bock does give some brief apologetic, but it is not for the resurrection. It is simply for the existence of Jesus. Of course, even this historical certainty is coming into question these days largely by internet atheists who prefer reading non-scholars on the topic and wikipedia entries. Of course, events like this only encourage me seeing as this is a fine time for Christians to be learning real facts on historical Jesus study and how it should be done while our opponents intellectually bankrupt themselves.
Next, Bock gives us information about how the quests for the historical Jesus have progressed with the third quest especially going on looking into the Jewish roots of Jesus. (I have a suspicion we may even have a fourth quest going on with the look at the social-science information.) This is a highly helpful summary of the history for those who are starting out.
Finally, Bock lists the kinds of approaches to gospel study that are going on today such as form and redaction criticism. Bock urges Christians to not ignore these even if they are often done from skeptical bases. We can still use the information to our advantage and learn valuable insights on how to approach the text. After all, if the Jesus of orthodox Christianity is really the same as the historical Jesus, why should we be afraid of any historical study? True study will get us closer to that Jesus if not right there.
In conclusion, I recommend this book to help those who are wanting to learn more about Jesus study and how it should be done, as well as reminding us that being an orthodox Christian does not mean one cannot use the historical tools that have been handed to us. Why not take the weapons of our opponents and use them to our advantage?