This volume by Paul Barnett is a calculated reaction against the popular dichotomy between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. In Finding the Historical Christ Barnett seeks to establish that the two figures are, in fact, one and the same.
The culmination of Barnett’s After Jesus trilogy, Finding the Historical Christ carefully examines the ancient sources pertaining to Jesus, including writings by historians hostile to the Christian movement (Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny), the summarized “biographies” of Jesus in the book of Acts, and especially the four canonical Gospels. Based on compelling historical evidence, Barnett maintains that Jesus of Nazareth regarded himself as the prophesied Christ, as did his disciples before Jesus died and rose again. This is the only way to explain the phenomenon of the early church worshiping Jesus.
“Subjectivity in history writing is not new. Indeed, subjectivity-based historiography was the norm in the era when the gospels were written. By subjectivity I mean the writer’s discernible tendency to report and interpret events according to his values and prejudices with the intent that the reader (i.e., hearer) adopt the writer’s values and prejudices in the interpretation of the events.” (Page 5)
“Yet the literary development in the three synoptic texts occurred from first to last over a period as brief as twenty years. This is not as often noticed by students of Christian origins as it deserves to be. Scholars sometimes give the impression that gospel texts developed over several generations, rather than within just one.” (Page 45)
“A second consideration (noted by Tuckett) is that the parable of the sower in Thomas is a ‘gnosticising redaction of the synoptic parable.’ In other words, at this point at least Thomas reflects a Gnostic origin in the second century or later. Related to this, J. H. Wood has found Thomas to have many points of contact with other second-century texts that reveal dependence on the canonical gospels.92 Indeed, Wood argues for the reliance of the Gospel of Thomas on all four gospels, and therefore holds it to be an early witness to the fourfold gospel.” (Pages 41–42)
“Of utmost importance is the verifiable observation that the four canonical gospels were in circulation by the end of the first century.” (Page 8)
There is currently something of a revival of confidence in the historical value of the Gospels. Paul Barnett’s work, notable for its sober use of historical method and its many fresh observations and proposals, is an excellent contribution to that development.
—Richard J. Bauckham, Bishop Wardlaw Professor University of St. Andrews
Over his illustrious career, Paul Barnett has returned repeatedly to questions about the historical Jesus, the historicity of the Gospels, and the history of earliest Christianity. Drawing together scattered strands of all of that work, elaborating them further, and adding still new ones, Barnett here mounts what may be his most impressive case yet for the accuracy of the canonical material and the messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth on historical grounds alone.
—Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of the New Testament, Denver Seminary