5 Questions About “The Historical Jesus”

I am just starting N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, which is volume two of his multi-volume work Christian Origins and the Question of God. I’ve read some of his short, popular works in the past, and thought it was time to tackle his scholarly work.

After outlining the various “quests” for the historical Jesus that historians and New Testament scholars have launched since Reimarus, Wright distills five questions that a plausible hypothesis about Jesus should be able to answer.

  1. How did Jesus relate to first century Judaism?
  2. What were Jesus’ aims?
  3. Why was Jesus crucified?
  4. How did the church come into being?
  5. Why are the Gospels what they are?

These questions are a challenge to the entire “historical Jesus” project. Enlightenment era biographies of Jesus assumed a radical discontinuity between first century Judaism, Jesus, and the first century church, which seems highly unlikely. What would account for the points of continuity and discontinuity between the Jews of King Herod’s day, and Christians like Ignatius of Antioch, if not Jesus? Modern portrayals of Jesus as a very nice man who didn’t say or do anything in particular, cannot account for what made him “crucifyable” in the eyes of the authorities.

Wright believes that we know enough about first century Judaism, first century Christianity, and the Gospels, to present a coherent description that answers the questions… which is why he wrote the book.

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