As part of a class tomorrow on Luke's Gospel, which also involves looking at the question of the Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith, I have jotted these thoughts down:
Gospel study raises important questions about history and about theology.
What can we know about Jesus as a historical person? Are the gospels reliable guides to this knowledge? We ask these questions in the same way that we might ask them about Julius Caesar and about the writings attributed to him, or about Winston Churchill about whom much is written and who wrote much himself (indeed won a Nobel Prize for Literature).
What can we know about the theological significance of Jesus of Nazareth? For instance, what makes Jesus the Messiah (Christ)? On what basis do we understand that the human Jesus is the divine Son of God? If we propose that certain miracles, especially the miracle of the resurrection prove the theological significance of Jesus, how do we know these miracles occurred (a re-litigating of the historical question above) and how do we know that miracles connect the historical Jesus to the theological Christ of our faith?
Questions of these kinds can be put in other ways. Does the history of Jesus make any difference to the Christ in whom we believe? If it turned out that (say) Jesus only fed 4999 men, is our faith worthless? (Answer: probably not). If it turned out that Jesus performed no feeding miracle, is our faith in vain? (Answer: probably, because miracles perform a role in the grounding of our faith in God’s activity in reality, compared with ideas about what God is like in a different ‘beyond reality’ existence). There is a connection between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, even if it is difficult to define that connection. (To be slightly absurd, between 4999 men being fed and no men fed, what number would matter in respect of when faith faltered at the faultiness of the history taught to us?)
This connection was obvious to the church of the New Testament which readily identified the historical person Jesus of Nazareth with the anticipated Christ sent from God and renamed this person Jesus Christ.
In part our faith is the handing on of that faith which from the beginning recognised Jesus as the Christ (that is, refused to recognise Jesus as other than the Christ, and recognised no one else as the Christ).
In part our faith is the conviction, through reading the gospels in conjunction with the whole of Scripture that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God – that is, we read the gospels as living documents bearing witness – in a remarkable way, considering the ancientness of the gospels – to the real Jesus, the Jesus who was both the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, so that we read them as history and theology, biography and creed concerning Jesus Christ.
For some there may be another part: in some experience within our lives we have met the risen Jesus Christ (e.g. through vision or auditory experience) and then realised that the one we have met is the one we meet when we read the gospels.
What do you think?