“The Historical Problem of Knowing Jesus”
Macquarrie begins his inquiry into the Person of Jesus of Nazareth through an analysis of the fruits of historical, source criticism of the New Testament Gospel accounts of Christ. 18th century thinker Samuel Reimarus proposed an account of the historical Jesus whereby he was a political leader who sought political revolution in Jerusalem. As that ended in “failure” on the cross, Reimarus could only interpret the resurrection accounts from the apostles as deception. In the 19th century, David Friedrich Strauss’s analyzed the New Testament as myth, which for him are non-literal accounts that indicate religious, spiritual truth about Christ, truth that had to be interpreted and shaped by the predictions about the Messiah found in the Old Testament. The immediate fruits of this approach, the many “Life of Jesus” apologetic accounts, portrayed Jesus in purely human terms, eliminating anything supernatural. Despite the many problems theologians today have with this era of christology, Macquarrie emphasizes that this era of christology demonstrated the difficulty of finding a human person in the scriptural accounts, difficulty that remains in the more contemporary forms of biblical criticism such as form and redaction criticisms, and difficulty that seems to indicate more about 1st-century society and the biases of the four evangelists than about the person of Jesus himself.
Macquarrie himself seeks to avoid a “counsel of despair” about the problems about the historical reliability of the Gospels about the historical Jesus, because Christianity is in fact a historical religion based upon the Logos of Christ has become flesh, a reality that provides hope and confidence to Christian believers. He advises taking seriously the conclusions of New Testament scholars. He demonstrates such “brinkmanship” with an analysis of the skeptical assertions about the historical Jesus made by Rudolph Bultmann, which Macquarrie sees as ultimately helpful toward rejecting docetic claims about Jesus, and toward affirming that Jesus himself saw true hope in his own identity as the Son of God. This is because historical criticism such as Bultmann’s have given us the sense of renewed reality about Jesus, about the voluntary nature of his death, against the superficiality of interpretations that saw Jesus having foreseen and foreknown all of the details of his life and death, interpretations which actually deny his true humanity: a man of “flesh and blood and feeling.”
keywords: Samuel Reimarus, source criticism, David Friedrich Strauss, Life of Jesus, myth, dialectical method, Gospels as literary genre, “Life of Jesus” apologetics, form criticism, redaction criticism, Bishop John Robinson, clash between theologians and New Testament scholars, Henry Ford, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, Logos, Platonists, Hope and Confidence, metaphysics, ethics, Edward Schillebeeckx, brinkmanship, claims to Messiah, Docetism, “obedience unto death,” Passion and Resurrection, Bishop Charles Gore, John the Baptist, Garden of Gethsemene, Last Supper, Dr Martin Luther King, Søren Kierkegaard.