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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Slow cook in and meditate on the four Gospels. Keep a journal on what God says to you as you do this;
- 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
- 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.)
- Kenneth Bailey - Jesus Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies In the Gospels (good scholarship and... this book is a lot of fun!)
- Richard Bauckham - Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony; Jesus: A Very Short Introduction
- Craig Blomberg - Jesus and the Gospels
- Greg Boyd - Jesus Legend, The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition; Cynic Sage or Son of God? (Once when I was in Craig Keener's office, and asked him what books are good on the Real Jesus, he pulled this off his shelf and said, "This is a good book.")
- Craig Evans - Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels
- Gordon Fee - Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study
- R.T. France - The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary of the Greek Text
- Joel Green - The Gospel of Luke
- Larry Hurtado - Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity
- Craig Keener - The Historical Jesus of the Gospels; The Gospel of John, Volume One & Volume Two; The Gospel of Matthew
- Andreas Kostenberger - Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective
- Scot McKnight - The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
- Michael McLymond - Familiar Stranger: An Introduction to Jesus of Nazareth (Craig Keener told me this was a good book.)
- E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O'Brien - Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible.
- Lee Strobel - The Case for the Real Jesus.
- Ben Witherington - The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth; What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible
- N.T. Wright - See Wright's "For Everyone" commentaries; Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters; Jesus and the Victory of God; and Wright's new The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion.
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