Bible Alive Jesus Christ 002: "Criteria & Historical Foundations“”


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What is the nature of the 27 New Testament Documents? Learn our three goals for this course: We will try and 1) determine the meaning of the earthly life of Jesus illuminated by our Christian faith in his resurrection; 2) show Jesus’ central place in God’s plan of salvation and his role in revealing and carrying out that plan; and 3) show that the inspired portrait of the New Testament is not fictitious, but sheds light on the mystery of the real Jesus of Nazareth.

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Bible Alive Jesus Christ 002: "Criteria & Historical Foundations“”

  1. 1. Bible Alive: Jesus Christ Class Two: Criteria and Historical Foundations
  2. 2. The following presentation would be impossible without these resources
  3. 3. And most of all… By Father Roch A. Kereszty o. cist. Thank you Father Roch!
  4. 4. Setting the Tone <ul><li>God became one of you, humans; If you do not become God again, then you tarnish the birth and ridicule his death. </li></ul><ul><li>—Angelus Selesius </li></ul>
  5. 6. Setting the Tone <ul><li>I was once asked what the Father did in heaven. And I said that he was generating his Son, and that this activity was so agreeable to him and pleased him so much that he does nothing other than generate his Son, and both of them flourished in the Holy Spirit. When the Father generates his Son in me, I am that very same Son and no one else. </li></ul><ul><li>—Meister Eckhart </li></ul>
  6. 8. Setting the Tone <ul><li>The abyss that is my soul invokes unceasingly The abyss that is my God: ‘Which may the deeper be?’ </li></ul><ul><li>—Angelus Selesius </li></ul>
  7. 10. Let us Pray <ul><li>Father </li></ul><ul><li>All things praise you in your Son </li></ul><ul><li>By your Spirit conform all things to </li></ul><ul><li>Jesus Christ </li></ul><ul><li>Grow our faith to illuminate our reason </li></ul><ul><li>And grant us reason to critically appropriate </li></ul><ul><li>Our faith. </li></ul><ul><li>Amen. </li></ul>
  8. 11. Summarizing Last Class <ul><li>We learned that this theology of Christ is not merely an intellectual construct but demands the gift of faith. </li></ul><ul><li>We defined Christology and saw its importance; we saw the difference between ascending and descending Christologies. </li></ul><ul><li>We critiqued each quest for Jesus. </li></ul>
  9. 12. The Problem with the Criteria of Dissimilarity & Plausibility <ul><li>Extremes are bad. </li></ul><ul><li>To overemphasize the criterion of dissimilarity leads to the absurdity that Jesus had NOTHING in common with his social milieu (first century Judaism) or the movement originating from him (Christianity) (see Kereszty, p. 13). </li></ul><ul><li>To overemphasize the criterion of plausibility postulates a Jesus hardly distinguishable from the many Jewish Rabbis and charismatic figures of the first century (Ibid., p. 13). </li></ul><ul><li>Under both presuppositions Paul is most frequently accused for inventing the divine savior myth and for founding Christianity </li></ul>
  10. 13. What is the nature of the New Testament Documents? <ul><li>The 27 New Testament documents, in particular the four canonical Gospels, do not pretend to incorporate all the objective data about Jesus. </li></ul><ul><li>Again, the Gospels are TESTIMONIES, not biographies. </li></ul><ul><li>On the basis of SOME selected historical facts they testify that … </li></ul><ul><li>1) God acted definitively through Jesus, </li></ul><ul><li>2) that God revealed himself and reconciled the world to himself through Jesus, and </li></ul><ul><li>3) that Jesus himself is God. </li></ul>
  11. 14. Yeah, but are they TRUTHFUL?? <ul><li>How can we be sure that they are in fact truthful testimonies? (Kereszty, p. 22) </li></ul><ul><li>Answer: Because they relate sincerely their author’s beliefs about the meaning of the events that center on Christ. </li></ul><ul><li>Moreover their testimony is confirmed by the deaths of the martyr apostles—Peter, James, and Paul—all of whom died before the first generation of Christianity had finished, AD 30-70, and whose existence and martyr-deaths are not doubted by any historian. </li></ul><ul><li>These martyr apostles considered their own lives less important than their witness to Christ. </li></ul>
  12. 15. But is the apostles’ testimony just factual, or more? <ul><li>Much more! </li></ul><ul><li>The apostolic testimony is not only truthful (accurate at reporting facts); it is also true in the sense that, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles are illuminated and they perceive the TRUE MEANING of these events in God’s Plan of Salvation. </li></ul><ul><li>Remember: the Bible is all TRUE, but has some FACTS. TRUTH is more than being “truthful” Truth means more than “fact.” </li></ul>
  13. 16. If the Apostolic Witness is Truth, then it follows that… <ul><li>… it is preserved from all error, right? </li></ul><ul><li>(Kereszty, p. 22) </li></ul><ul><li>Answer: WRONG. </li></ul><ul><li>While they are inspired (God-breathed) testimonies, neither these documents’ character as testimonies, nor the inspiration of the Spirit preserves them from ALL historical errors. </li></ul><ul><li>Neither their being testimonies or being inspired preserved them (or protected them) from the freedom with which religious events were narrated at that time and in the milieu where the Gospel traditions were shaped and transmitted. </li></ul>
  14. 17. MORE than “Just the Facts.” <ul><li>The Earliest Christians, ancient storytellers, added both fact and commentary, actual detail and literary embellishment, to bring out the real meaning of a historical event. </li></ul><ul><li>REMEMBER: it is only a modern, Western concern to sharply distinguish between fact and commentary, between actual detail and literary embellishment, and even now it is often unsuccessful. </li></ul><ul><li>An amazing wedding of creative freedom and fidelity belonged to the catechists and evangelists of the apostolic Church. </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers of the apostolic tradition show fidelity to the memory and events pertaining to Jesus as well as creative freedom in shaping Jesus’ traditions (i.e., sayings and acts of Jesus) in order to bring out the meaning for a particular audience. </li></ul>
  15. 18. GASP! But that means there are historical uncertainties! <ul><li>Should we, as people doing theology (critically reflecting on faith) be troubled by these historical uncertainties arising from this ancient literary genre called “Gospel”? </li></ul><ul><li>Answer: No. </li></ul><ul><li>The historical uncertainties should be viewed as a necessary consequence of the Incarnation . </li></ul><ul><li>Why? First we must admit that many events in the history of Jesus will forever remain unknown. Many other facts can only be stressed as a matter of plausible conjecture with higher and lower degrees of historical probability. </li></ul>
  16. 19. Think about what the Incarnation means… <ul><li>(See Kereszty, p. 23) If God indeed became man, then God must have accepted all the consequences of the human condition—God would have to accept the historical condition of human beings which includes living in a particular time, place and culture. </li></ul><ul><li>It would HARDLY be consistent for Jesus to do violence to the way in which his own history was told and recorded in that culture by the people of that age. </li></ul><ul><li>He did not arbitrarily change their way of thinking and writing by giving them a crash course in modern western historiography, so that they could write a textbook about him that would satisfy the curiosity of today’s historians and scholars. </li></ul>
  17. 20. What can we learn from all this? <ul><li>How does the same critical method which circumscribes, and calls attention to, certain gray areas of uncertainty in any historical reconstruction in the life of Jesus provides also VALUABLE TOOLS with which we can verify historical material in the faith documents of the New Testament. </li></ul><ul><li>What are the important conclusions? </li></ul>
  18. 21. Important Conclusions: <ul><li>During his earthly life—prior to the resurrection—Jesus sent out disciples to preach the coming of the Kingdom. </li></ul><ul><li>What did these men and women need to demonstrate that the kingdom was close at hand? </li></ul><ul><li>They needed </li></ul><ul><li>1) a collection of Jesus’ sayings (logoi) and parables and </li></ul><ul><li>2) stories about his miracles. </li></ul>
  19. 22. What does this mean? <ul><li>This means that the COLLECTION, MEMORIZATION, and HANDING ON of SOME OF the sayings of Jesus and the COMPOSITION of SOME stories about him and SOME of his mighty deeds probably already began during his public ministry, rather than long after his death, as some scholars have suggested. </li></ul><ul><li>Of course these must have been interpreted in a RADICALLY different manner than they would be AFTER the resurrection. </li></ul>
  20. 23. What about AFTER the death and Resurrection? <ul><li>First these and many more “Jesus Traditions” would be handed on orally and then, after time, began to be fixed in writing. </li></ul><ul><li>At one point and for a while it seems that oral and written traditions existed side-by-side. </li></ul>
  21. 24. The Three Stages of Development <ul><li>Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation or Dei Verbum (§19) and the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s, “Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels” (§6-9) both illustrate and teach that the Gospels contain materials that originated in three distinct periods or “stages”: </li></ul><ul><li>Stage 1: Jesus’ actual words and deeds during his ministry in the late AD 20s (e.g., Jn 9—Jesus was known as a healer) </li></ul><ul><li>Stage 2: The Post-Resurrection Preaching of the Apostles’ faith interpretations/convictions about Jesus arising after the Resurrection, especially that he was the divine “Lord” and “Son of God” (e.g., the blind man worships Jesus, Jn 9:38). </li></ul><ul><li>Stage 3: The Writing of the Gospels about Jesus that were shaped by the situations, concerns and insights of the Gospel writers themselves (e.g., the blind man’s parents dread “the Jews,” as if Jews are a separate group, Jn 9:22]. </li></ul>
  22. 25. How were the “Jesus Traditions” maintained for authenticity? <ul><li>Read 1 Cor 15:3-8 </li></ul><ul><li>For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, </li></ul><ul><li>that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Kephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. </li></ul>
  23. 26. How were the “Jesus Traditions” maintained for authenticity? <ul><li>Read Lk 1:2 </li></ul><ul><li>… just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word </li></ul><ul><li>Read Acts 2:2. </li></ul><ul><li>And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. </li></ul>
  24. 27. How were the “Jesus Traditions” maintained for authenticity? <ul><li>In spite of the remarkable freedom to reinterpret and actualize the Jesus Traditions, the teachings and acts of Jesus, in different situations for different local churches, “the Twelve” and other “Eyewitnesses of the Word” had an important conserving and guiding influence over the development of the Jesus Traditions. </li></ul><ul><li>As these “Jesus Traditions” were formed and actualized as contemporary events taking place in the churches’ liturgy, handed on, reflected upon, and put into writing, these authorities served as sources and agents of control and authentication for the whole process. </li></ul>
  25. 28. Skepticism <ul><li>What about the skeptical claim that Jesus Traditions could have developed like folklore about Paul Bunyan? </li></ul><ul><li>Skeptics raise the problem of the uncontrolled folklore syndrome. </li></ul><ul><li>Anyone who suggests that the “Jesus Traditions” could have developed out of mutated folklore forgets or ignores two crucial pieces of evidence… </li></ul>
  26. 29. Evidence against “Inflationary Myth” Claim <ul><li>Paul’s letters (written between no shorter a time span than 51 and 57 AD and no broader than 49 and 64 AD) antedate the fourth gospel by several decades and they attest a “HIGH Christology.” </li></ul><ul><li>This Pauline “Christology from Above” could not have originated with Paul (and Paul could not have invented the divine savior myth or Jesus being divine). </li></ul><ul><li>How do we know this? Upon careful examination of the corpus of Pauline letters, we see that the foundation for his “high Christology” he did not invent but received from the earliest communities existing before him. </li></ul>
  27. 30. Stuff “in Paul” that predates Paul <ul><li>That Paul’s high Christology of Jesus (Jesus as pre-existent Son and LORD) depends on previous traditions can be seen in his use of what we call pre-Pauline kerygmatic fragments / formulas . </li></ul><ul><li>To see these Traditions antedating Paul’s literature, read Rom 1:1-4, 8:15; Gal 4:6; 1 Cor 15:3-7, 11:23-26, 16:22; Phil 2:5-11. </li></ul><ul><li>This indicates a “Christology from above” present in the first years after the crucifixion of Jesus. </li></ul>
  28. 31. MORE Evidence against “Inflationary Myth” Claim <ul><li>Paul makes sure that what he teaches agrees with Kephas, James and John, the “pillars” before him. </li></ul><ul><li>Paul obviously is aware that he would “run in vain” if his gospel did not agree with those who are responsible for the communities of Palestine. </li></ul><ul><li>It is inconceivable that he would create a Christology of “the pre-existent Son” and “Lord” (referring to Yahweh) in opposition to the Palestinian leaders. </li></ul>
  29. 32. Communion, Despite Differences <ul><li>Read Gal 1:18-20, 2:1-10 </li></ul><ul><li>The four figures—Kephas/Peter, James, John, and Paul—dominate the landscape of the New Testament; despite their distinct theologies, they are anxious to assure that there is only one Gospel. </li></ul><ul><li>It is their handshake of fellowship or rather communion ( koinonia ) between these four controlling figures (Gal 2:9), then, which is the GUARANTEE for the general historical reliability of the New Testament traditions. </li></ul>
  30. 33. What do these considerations justify? <ul><li>They justify an OPEN ATTITUDE towards the historical reliability of the Gospels as a whole. </li></ul><ul><li>There is no reason for a systematic skepticism that assumes a priori that all Gospel stories and sayings are inauthentic. </li></ul><ul><li>It would be unreasonable to do so. </li></ul>
  31. 34. The Limits of these findings <ul><li>That’s fine for looking at the New Testament in general, but what about the historical authenticity of individual sayings or facts (each specific Jesus Tradition)? </li></ul><ul><li>The above mentioned general considerations DO NOT guarantee the historical authenticity of all the specifics. </li></ul><ul><li>In order to do that, biblical historians have worked out certain criteria. </li></ul>
  32. 35. 1. Criterion of Double Dissimilarity <ul><li>If a saying of Jesus or a story about Jesus cannot be explained as a product of his contemporary Jewish or Hellenistic milieu, one the one hand, or on the other, having been derived from the long tradition-shaping forces of the primitive Church nor the literary or theological purposes of the Evangelist, AND it ALSO happens to FIT well into the life-situation of Jesus, we may assume with a reasonable degree of certainty that this Tradition is authentically of Jesus. </li></ul>
  33. 36. Double Dissimilarity Example <ul><li>J. Dupont shows convincingly via “double dissimilarity” that the core of the “Temptation story”, must be from Jesus and NOT inspired by some situation of the early church. </li></ul><ul><li>AFTER Jesus’ death, political messianism held no appeal to the Church. Yet during his earthly life Jesus was incessantly pursued by the crowds to reveal himself as Davidic heir and king and thereby assume the role of messianic king, liberate the people and land from the yoke of Rome, and set up a political kingdom of God. </li></ul>
  34. 37. Being Excessive with this Criterion <ul><li>What would happen if we use this criterion exclusively or excessively? </li></ul><ul><li>Answer: Jesus becomes absurd, someone unrelated to his own cultural milieu and the movement that sprang from him. </li></ul>
  35. 38. 2. The Criterion of Embarrassment <ul><li>We can establish authenticity with an even greater degree of certainty if the examined saying or story is not only DIFFERENT FROM, but also clearly OPPOSED to, the contemporary Jewish or Hellenistic milieu and/or to the tradition-forming forces of the primitive Church so that it caused embarrassment for the Early Church. </li></ul>
  36. 39. Embarrassment cont. <ul><li>E.g., Jn 1:46 </li></ul><ul><li>Nothing is expected from Galilee by this culture proud for those of racial purity. </li></ul><ul><li>Galilee means Half-breeds and religious infidels. </li></ul><ul><li>The early Church had to GRAPPLE with this prejudice by showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah IN SPITE OF his Galilean origin. </li></ul><ul><li>Think about it: would the Church have invented a fact that would have made her preaching and her work less successful? </li></ul>
  37. 40. Another Example <ul><li>More embarrassing a scandal than Jesus’ Galilean origin was his end: a failure at what the people expected, executed at the hands of Gentiles, a crucified Messiah rejected by the leaders of his own people. </li></ul><ul><li>Jesus failed to win over the people and he died in what could only be seen as a shameful execution—this was THE MAJOR obstacle the early Church had to face. </li></ul><ul><li>And what about the cowardly actions of his innermost circle of followers? Jesus’ severe reprimand of Peter, their leader, and Peter’s denial of Jesus demonstrate a RARELY paralleled degree of frank disclosure, honesty, and integrity that guarantees authenticity . </li></ul>
  38. 41. The Parousia Embarrassment <ul><li>Read Mk 13:32 </li></ul><ul><li>“But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father…” </li></ul><ul><li>Mt 24:36 </li></ul><ul><li>“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. </li></ul>
  39. 42. Parousia Embarrassment cont. <ul><li>Reconciling the early Church’s post-resurrection understanding of Jesus as LORD (= Yahweh) who shares with God’s dignity and almighty power with Jesus’ avowal of his IGNORANCE concerning the date of the Parousia must have been EXTREMELY difficult. </li></ul><ul><li>This was a terrible scandal—some manuscripts of Matthew omit the words “not even the Son,” yet it was preserved first in Mark and then in our best manuscripts of Matthew. </li></ul><ul><li>Why? The Church would not have invented this. They preserved it because it must have come from Jesus. </li></ul>
  40. 43. 3. Criterion of the Personal Style of Jesus <ul><li>The personal style of Jesus is recognizable in some of his sayings and in most of the parables attributed to him. </li></ul><ul><li>The solemn introductory statement of “Amen” to his teachings or the word “Abba” by which he calls upon God are UNIQUE formulas which characterize him alone and which distinguish him from his contemporaries appear insignificant yet they contain the WHOLE of the Christology of the Apostolic Church. </li></ul><ul><li>And the parables with their intense evocative power! They bear the mark of a creative religious genius, a master. It’s easier to accept that they came from Jesus than some unknown master under a pseudonym. </li></ul>
  41. 44. 4. Criterion of Multiple Attestation <ul><li>If the same story or saying is attested to with some variation in several independently developed traditions (such as the Synoptics, John and the epistolary lit., and in particular the proto-Pauline corpus) the likeliest explanation is that we have an AUTHENTIC saying of Jesus or an AUTHENTIC memory of his life and works which was elaborated differently by different local churches. </li></ul><ul><li>E.g., the Institution of the Eucharist (1 Cor 11:23-26—Lk 22:17-20, Mk 14:22-25—Mt 26:26-29, and John interprets the Eucharist in chapters 6 and 15). </li></ul><ul><li>The most likely explanation for the Eucharist being celebrated at such an early date is that it was instituted by Jesus himself. </li></ul>
  42. 45. 5. Criterion of necessary explanation <ul><li>If a group of ascertained historical facts about Jesus defies ANY other intelligible explanation than the one presented in the New Testament, then the New Testament’s explanation MUST be accepted as the most probable. </li></ul><ul><li>We will employ this last criterion in the next weeks ahead to see the facts connected with the alleged appearances of Jesus after his death resist ANY other explanation than the one offered us by the New Testament: Jesus did indeed appear to the disciples and Paul. </li></ul>
  43. 46. Kereszty’s Caveat <ul><li>These criteria are HELPFUL in recovering SOME of the sayings and SOME of the facts about Jesus. We should however keep in mind that these criteria yield only a CONVERGENCE of probabilities and a MERE FRAGMENT of the real Jesus as he lived and taught. NOR can we use them in an EXCLUSIVE SENSE, as if the traditions, to which these criteria CANNOT be applied, were—by that very reason—inauthentic. Recent literature has demonstrated convincingly the Jewishness of Jesus ; in many ways he did fit into his environment and must be explained in light of it. </li></ul>
  44. 47. Making things CLEAR <ul><li>We are not, nor can we, PROVE the claims of the New Testament as if they were facts. </li></ul><ul><li>The limits of our apologetic are that we are showing ONLY that accepting such claims in faith is not against reason. </li></ul><ul><li>Anything attempted beyond that is rationalism. </li></ul><ul><li>Questions & Assignment. </li></ul>