40 Questions on the Historical Jesus by Marvin Pate
Marvin Pate, Professor of Christian Theology at Ouachita Baptist University, seeks to get at the heart of the study of the historical Jesus in recent times. The format of the book follows the most pertinent questions regarding the historical Jesus from what’s at stake with the four gospels, the Old Testament and the Messiah, and the historical reliability of the gospel accounts. While study of the historical Jesus continues, Dr. Pate handles the most significant questions for the church and the academy concerning this avenue of study. What comes out of the book is a well-reasoned, fully researched, and thorough investigation of not only the historical Jesus but those who have written on this subject over the years.
While many today have heard of the Jesus Seminar and their work, few have really dived into how and why they came up with their results. After finding only 18% of Jesus’ sayings and acts deemed authentic, we are left to wonder how they came to these assumptions (57)? Pate notes that they used two criteria mainly, the criteria of dissimilarity and the criteria of multiple attestation. In a word, the criteria of dissimilarity “states that a saying or deed of Jesus that stands out both from his Jewish heritage and from his later followers (the church) truly goes back to Jesus (57).” The criteria of multiple attestation states that, “If a saying or deed attributed to Jesus occurs in two or more of these sources, it is thought to be authentic. If it occurs in only one source, it is not thought to be attested to and therefore is not considered authentic (57).” The result is that (58),
“…Jesus, he ends up with no connection to his Jewish heritage and no ties to the church he founded. In other words, the Jesus Seminar portrays Jesus as a “talking head” with no body. So this “talking head” Jesus appears to be is nothing more than a Greek style philosopher who utters mere moral maxims about how to treat each other, but who makes no claim to be the Messiah, announces no kingdom of God, makes no proclamation against sin, and subverts no religious establishment.”
The surprising element in all of this work by the Jesus Seminar is that Jesus ends up looking a lot like a modern day religious wisdom teller, not someone who was crucified on a Cross.
In Question 20, Pate takes up the question regarding why we have four gospel accounts, not one, or not many more. After surveying the ground of the traditional view that the NT provides reliable record of the four eyewitnesses and their various perspectives, Pate brings to the foreground the liberal attempt to dismantle authority and continuity. Pate draws on the work of Ben Witherington III who argues that the form of gospels that liberal scholars promote are full of Gnostic thought, but this thought didn’t come about until at least the 2nd century and there is no evidence that any Christian church recognized Gnostic texts as authoritative (205). Further, the multiple Gospel accounts give different perspective that fill out the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, thus giving readers a fully orbed view.
This is an excellent book on the historical Jesus that presents the material in a compelling manner, clear with arguments from the best sources.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.