Monday, March 20, 2017

Studying the Real Jesus

Window, in Detroit's Orchestra Hall

One of my former philosophy students asked: "I am curious to understand what you mean when you say "The REAL Jesus." Could you tell me about it?"

Here's how I think about this.
  1. For forty-seven years I have been studying about Jesus of Nazareth. I engage in "historical Jesus" studies. In my PhD program I did a qualifying exam on ancient Christology. I wrote my dissertation on metaphor theory, and New Testament theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg's idea of "resurrection" as a metaphorical way to speak of an historical reality.
  2. As a "Christ-ian" and Jesus-follower, and as one who once cried out to Jesus to rescue me and got rescued, I've devoted my life to knowing about Christ, and knowing Christ.
  3. But the historical Jesus gets buried under the layers of culture. We have, e.g., an "American Jesus." I'm not interested in that, except as it tells me some things about our culture and religion. What little "Christian TV" I've watched in days past contains much misleading stuff on Jesus, like the "Prosperity Gospel Jesus," which, as far as I can tell, is nothing like the Jesus of, e.g., Matthew 25 (and elsewhere).
  4. I am interested in studies like my friend Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. Texts like this peel away layers of cultural accretion to expose the Jesus of history. I have a large stack of books devoted to doing this. For a good mini-book by a great New Testament scholar, see Richard Bauckham's  Jesus: A Very Short Introduction. For a longer read see Bauckham's wonderful, scholarly Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.  
  5. The "Real Jesus" is: 1) the Jesus who walked the earth in the early first century, was crucified, buried in a tomb, and was raised from the dead; and 2) the Messiah ("Christ") who now lives, within and without us.
  6. Strategy: 1) Slow cook in and meditate on the four Gospels. Keep a journal on what God says to you as you do this; 2) read New Testament scholars on Jesus. Just as anyone wanting to study brain surgery should read texts written by brain surgeons, in studying Jesus one should read the works of New Testament scholars who know the original languages, the socio-rhetorical environment of the time, and the socio-cultural environment of the time; and 3) abide in Christ (John 14-15-16), both individually and corporately. That is, live the life Jesus called you to live, as seen in John chapters 14-15-16.
Want to do Real Jesus studies? I suggest the following authors, texts, and websites. (Note: you can ignore Internet Jesus-debunkers who have never engaged in this kind of scholarship.)



This would be good for starters. 

And, of course, read the New Testament for your own self.


  • Begin with the 4 Gospels.
  • Read them as if for the very first time.
  • Take notes.
  • Pay attention.
  • See how and why the Real Jesus was either embraced or despised.
Needed: Old Testament background; Second Temple Judaism background