At the heart of the Christian faith stands a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Few people seriously question whether Jesus existed in history. But many, influenced by the more skeptical scholars, doubt that the Christ of orthodox Christianity is the same as the Jesus of history.
Historian Paul W. Barnett lays these doubts to rest. He uncovers the methodological weaknesses present in some forms of critical scholarship, which demonstrates a failure to account for important early evidence about Jesus. Once the evidence is properly marshalled, a picture of Jesus emerges that fits well with orthodox belief in him.
“This ‘rabbinic’ religious and educational culture provides the most satisfying model to help understand the means by which, historically, we move from the person of Jesus to the written texts about him.” (Page 137)
“Through Roman eyes we observe a striking characteristic of the movement, which many modern historians do not notice. What struck the Romans was the intensity of the connection between the Christians and Christ. Roman loyalty to Caesar and the state was the fundamental expectation of all members of society, with the sole exception of the Jews. Romans, therefore, took powerful, even shocked, exception to the Christians’ loyalty to this ‘other king’. Their commitment to Christ as king was unto death, and thus a loyalty greater than loyalty to the emperor. This loyalty, which was expressed in private gatherings of adherents, was seen as politically subversive. According to the Romans, as reported in the Acts and as stated in their own writings, a Christian was one who was devoted to Christ.” (Page 34)
“Between 1980 and 1992 there were published no fewer than 260 books, articles and reviews devoted to life-of-Jesus studies.1 The challenge is that for the most part, this volume of literature presents a Jesus who is unrecognizable to the Christian faith as expressed in the historic creeds and confessions of the church.” (Page 15)
“It is a fundamental part of the task of historians to identify the biases in their sources and also to be conscious of their own interests and worldviews.” (Page 22)
“In terms of the logic of history there must have been some continuing impulse from the historical Jesus to the proclaimed Christ, some substantive continuity. But the Jesus of the manifold current reconstructions of Jesus research is in almost every case a future-less Jesus, a Jesus who is going nowhere, except to historical oblivion. Jesus must have been a different and a greater figure to have catapulted into motion the movement which impacted the world of its day in the way it did. The evidence for this impact is clearly seen in the New Testament and confirmed in the non-Christian sources.” (Pages 34–35)
Barnett offers important contributions to the manner in which we may responsibly work as both historians and theologians to understand not only the nascent Christian church, but also the historical Jesus whom they confessed. [His] work deserves wide dissemination.
—D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Paul William Barnett is an Australian Anglican bishop and historical. He is involved with Regent College and Macquarie University.