Mercy Hill Church Resurrection Blog

If Christianity Is Not Based on History, It’s Foolishness

The Enlighment and its promotion of logical and skeptical thinking led many biblical scholars to doubt what can be known about the Jesus of Nazareth who actually lived and breathed in Israel in the first century. They questioned their ability to trust the gospel accounts which contain fantastic miracles and a main character who gave evidence of being divine and made equally odd statements seeming to declare just that. This skepticism led to what is now known by scholars as “the Quests for the Historical Jesus.”

The First Quest

The first quest lasted from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth. This quest’s goal was to study the manuscripts of the gospels critically and pull out the material that we could trust (which ended up not being much) and write books reconstructing the life of Jesus based on what we can affirm as probably true in the gospels. Most modern conservative scholars agree that most of these reconstructions of Jesus ended up looking a lot like the scholar who did the reconstruction. It also led to a Jesus divorced from the miraculous and divine, leaving a Jesus who was a great moral teacher who died an honorable and exemplary death. This created breeding ground for the social gospel.

The Abandoned Quest

The next quest, called “The Abandoned Quest” (1906-1953), was a rejection that anything about Jesus could be known for sure. One of its main scholars, Rudolph Bultmann, said, “I do indeed think that we can know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Chrstian sources show no interest in either, [and] are moreover fragmentary and often legendary.”[1] Because of this belief, Bultmann split the way he talked about Jesus into two: (1) the historical Jesus and (2) the Christ of faith. The Jesus portrayed in the gospels, according to Bultmann, was a Christ of myth and was only a record of how the disciples experienced Christ in faith. The gospels are “not primarily an objective account of factual occurrences, but of the impact that various occurences had on the disciples. [Their] aim is not to inform us, but to transform us; not to add to our store of information, but to affect our existence.”[2] According to Bultmann, the gospels and their record of miracles like the resurrection should have their effect on our Christian faith and should be a part of the life of the church, but that doesn’t mean they are true.

Paul’s Quest

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15 reject both views. In the first quest, there was a skepticism that said the true historical Jesus—whatever can be learned about him—is who we should be concerned with. “Thus for the first questers, the challenge was not to have faith in Jesus as much as it was to recover the faith of Jesus.”[3] Jesus is simply a great example. Yet, Paul would affirm that Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3), meaning there was a supernatural transaction where Christ took the wrath of God for his people’s sins. Not to mention that in Paul’s historical account, he includes the miracle of the resurrection. Jesus was and is beyond a good example; he is the God-man who must be believed in to be saved (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

In the abandoned quest, we have Bultmann who claimed that the historical nature of Jesus is really of no value to believers, even if we could find it out. It’s our faith that’s important. It’s what the telling of the myth of the resurrection does in our hearts that is what is important. Paul would say, “wrong!” His proclaimed message of Jesus, which he considered to be of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3), included Christ’s death, his resurrection, his appearance to the apostles and others. His mention that there were those still alive (1 Cor. 15:6) who witnessed these things begs for the Corinthians to go ask about these things if they don’t believe them.

Paul believed in the historicity of his report and the reality of the resurrection. In fact, Paul bet all of the truth of Christianity on the resurrection being a historical event: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” The entire Christian faith rests on the historical truth of the resurrection. For if Jesus Christ did not raise from the dead, he was just a man who should not be followed because he just died like everyone else.

Further Resources

Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods – Darrell L. Bock

– Alex Nolette (Equip Coordinator/Community Groups)

[1] Gregg R. Allison Historical Theology pgs. 383-384

[2] Millard J. Erickson Christian Theology: Third Edition pg. 833

[3] Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, Charles L. Quarles The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament pg. 126