The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Part Four on J.D.G. Dunn)

The Historical Jesus: Five Views (Part Four on J.D.G. Dunn) February 19, 2010

In chapter four of The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP), I was looking forward to reading what Prof. Dunn had to say about Jesus.  His chapter, as you might have guessed, follows his approach which he laid out in Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003).  In this ongoing discussion, he presents several points.

1. Dunn argues that the faith of the disciplines in carrying on the Jesus tradition and its eventual inscription does not obscure our knowledge of Jesus.  Rather, we see that ‘Jesus evoked faith from the outset of his mission and that this faith is the surest indication of the historical reality and effect of his mission’ (p. 203).

2. Dunn also reiterates his concern that our focus on the synoptic problem should move past purely literary theories dependent on author copying and redacting and take more seriously the ‘oral phase of the history of the Jesus tradition’ (211).

3. Like other Third Questers, Dunn encourages a search for Jesus within the context of early Judaism and not in pristine distinction to it (see p. 219).

Some of the responses to Dunn were useful.  Crossan challenges Dunn’s literary/oral dichotomy by pointing out that certain variances between the Synoptics almost beg to be understood in terms of redaction (he lists the excellent example of Mark 6:2; Matt. 13:55; nothing in Luke).

Luke Timothy Johnson also continues to impress me with his insights.  He, like Crossan, also clearly prefers a literary approach that sees a lot of intentionality in the divergences (as literary-theological crafting).

My position is that the Gospels both contain real memories of Jesus and the shaping of them from the resurrection perspective, as well as the shaping of the memory through the prism of Scripture.  Such energy in interpretation suggests there is really something to remember; but such levels of interpretation make the historian wary of overconfidence in describing the basis of the memory in detail (241).

Dunn takes the quest one step closer to the Jesus of history (as he walked on earth and existed in time and space) than Luke Timothy Johnson’s literary approach.  I think this is useful because Christianity is, in a distinct way, reliant on the belief that there was a real Jesus who really came from God, really died, and really rose again (and really sent the Spirit).  Dunn is happy to explain that the traditions upon which the Gospels are based were alive and came from various worshipping communities who had a remembrance of Jesus through the testimony of eyewitnesses.  However, the differences in the traditions still leave us with more than one Jesus!  These versions of Jesus all agree on some significant things, but what are we to make of the differences?

Again, if ‘Mark’ read Luke’s gospel – what would he make of it?  Would he say -no, you didn’t quite get that right.  Or, that’s a great angle of the story.  Would he hi-five him or punch him in the face?  Would the world implode?

While these four chapters have made so many things clear, there are several unanswered and unaddressed questions….

Next is Bock on the evangelical approach to the historical Jesus.

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