Posts Tagged ‘History’

While N.T.Wright goes on to make a different point than the one I make here concerning the reconstruction of history…I quote:

“The very subject matter of history is unruly, and all attempts to reduce it to order by a sort of intellectual martial law are suspect.  The more one knows about any event, the more complex one realizes it to be.  Simplicity is much easier to project on to events when little evidence is to hand.  Thus, though there will be an eventual or ultimate simplicity about a good historical hypothesis, and though one should not rest content with odd complexities, inclusion of data is ultimately the more important of the first two criteria” [that is (1) the relative weight of “different criteria used in the verification or falsification” and (2) the “proper working out” of those criteria].  (N. T. Wright, NTPG 1992, pp. 104-5).

He argues from this against those who would over complicate the issue and try to “simplify” Jesus and the Gospel accounts by trimming out portions considered as reflective of early church confession, polemics and history rather than belonging properly to the historic Jesus.  While I certainly follow him in this assessment, my own assessment includes the notion that historical reconstruction from the Gospel accounts (or from anywhere in Scripture…or anywhere else for that matter) is not as straightforward as some would have us believe.  Nor is it as complex as others would have us believe.

Having preached now through the Gospel according to John over the last two years I have repeatedly encountered what many expositors and theologians have considered to be non-historical writings littering John’s account.  To be certain, he cannot be easily correlated to the other three.  But rather than this being a problem for myself…I see this as a blessing.  It has added a complexity to the historical reconstruction of Jesus that I believe helps to actually sharpen and deepen and widen my faith rather than shake and undermine it.  John should neither be dismissed as a-historical, nor should he be the historical and the others regarded as a-historical.

The gospel writers were all writing history, but with specific theological intent and not with modern pre-conceptions and illusions of historical objective aloofness  and scientific exactness.  They wrote not always in exact chronological order nor identical details, but with important themes and foci always before them. There have been times in my studies that I have had to laugh at the attempts of commentators to bring the accounts into some form of “harmony” and other times that I’ve thought, “That actually seems to make sense of what seemed before to not.”  What we end with is not a simple stick-man picture of Jesus who seems only lifelike to other stick-people…but a (and…yes…THE) Jesus who is complex…multifaceted…cannot quite ever be comprehended…who challenges us time and again to read His story…and ultimately…to be read by His story.

I must admit that John has enriched my faith (through simultaneously complicating and simplifying it) more than I thought he would when I first began the series (which shouldn’t surprise me given his stated purpose for writing – John 20:31; cf. J. Ramsey Michael’s comments in the newly published NICNT on John  HERE).   I will be sad when I finish this coming December…but on to 1 Corinthians where Gordon Fee and Anthony Thiselton have a bit for me to read on that wonderful letter of Paul’s.

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