Scholars, throughout history have been amidst several debates on the authenticity and the accuracy of Jesus Christ’s existence. The historicity of Jesus is vital to Christians since he is the central figure of their faith, the early text sources of Christs historiography are found in the official gospels and most of the books of the Bible’s New Testament, including the letters of Paul (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001). The accounts on the New Testament are, conversely, broad, the canonical gospels of the New Testament portray Jesus in varying ways and varying perspectives, these flaws led to what is now the Quest for Historical Jesus.
The quest for Historical Jesus is the attempt to construct a biography of Jesus Christ in a non-theological or non-religious manner. Alsatian theologian Albert Schweitzer posits that the first quest originally began in the 18th century. The first quest utilized historical methodologies of their time to define myth from actual historical account. The purpose of the quest is to have an alternative means to know who Christ really is.
The Biblical reconstruction of the life of Christ are found on the four canonical gospels which provide the most detailed sources of information as these writings are narratives on Jesus (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001). The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John focus on the ministry and the pre-destined suffering and death of Jesus. A narrative of Paul’s life is written on the Acts of the Apostles seperately. This narrative served as the basis to determine dates and the authorship of his letters through the location of their origin in the context of his biography (Aland, 1961).
The words and the writing style were also examined so as to compare it to Paul’s other epistles. This was done to imply that similar style means similar authorship and that diversity in vocabulary in different works imply different authorship (Aland, 1961). The dissimilarities on how Jesus is portrayed in each gospel and the question of authorship on Paul’s letters attracted critics to question the authenticity of the works on Jesus’ life found in the New Testament, which led scholars to mix Biblical content with other methods of discovering Jesus (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001).
The second quest’s proponent, Gunther Bornkamm, focuses more on the tighter relationship between Jesus and the early theology of the church (Crossan, 1991). The later advocacies ,however, turned against the primary principles of the quest through as the reliability of the synoptic gospels began to be a topic of debate (Crossan, 1991). The Second Quest’s argue on the authenticity of the gospels also include the late publication and formation of the New Testament itself (Robinson, 1976).
They reject the idea that the New Testament can absolutely be accurate since there is little research regarding it in earlier years (Robinson, 1976). The Gospel of Thomas, a New Testament apocryphon and the Q document, a postulated missing document, part of Matthew’s and Luke’s are implied as text sources of the second quest, since it is, by tradition, an alternative text and equally valuable in terms of historically researching on the life of Christ (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001).
This implication however, is untrue for the scholars due to its date of publication and close adherence to the synoptic tradition found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001). The third quest for the Historical Jesus rely on the ancient textual layers to reconstruct biographical data. These batch of scholars tend to put their positions in the positions of the first century Jews, who were the witnesses to Christ’s existence (Crossan, 1991). The third quest suggest that, primarily, interpretations of Jesus’ actions should be within the context of Judaism.
If Historians place Jesus in a socio-historical context of Judaism, Jesus can eventually give Jesus a clear and concise description (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001). This context of the quest for the Historical Jesus is most compelling since in order the native faith and home of Jesus will be explored thoroughly (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001). This is also focused on the ancient texts in scrolls and the traditions of Judaism as the materials for re-constructing Jesus in a third person perspective (Crossan, 1991).
The third quest refuses to rely on the traditional gospels of the New testament and choose to re-construct Christ’s life in the ancient Jewish perspective, as a Rabbi who anounces the Kingdom of God (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001). The announcement of the Kingdom of God is part of Jesus’ teachings, however, the gospels do not contain any explanation on the impact of the definition of the Kingdom of God to the Jewish followers of Jesus’ time (Achtemeier, Green & Thompson, 2001).The third quest furthers that this approach can aid in defining Jesus and his message in a detailed manner.
Achtemeier, P. J. , Green, J. B. & Thompson, M. M. (2001). Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology. Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company. Aland, K. (1961). The Problem of Anonymity and Pseudonymity in Christian Literature of the First Two Centuries. Journal of Theological Studies 12: 29-49. Crossan, J. D. (1991). The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. London: HarperCollins.