The Modern Search for the Real Jesus (Book Outline)

The Modern Search for the Real Jesus by Robert Strimple

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The following is my fairly detailed book outline of Robert Strimple’s book.  It should serve as an excellent historical introduction to the “Jesus Quests” for students of the Gospels as well as interested lay persons.

1 Part One: The Old Quest

  • The biblical critic always comes to his or her criticism with certain fundamental presuppositions.
  • Roots of Gospel Criticism:  Gospel criticism as a literary science came in to being as a child of the Enlightenment, the philosophical product in the mid-eighteenth century of the earlier English deism and French rationalism.
  • The Enlightenment: the release of man’s reasoning from all external authority.  Principle of human autonomy.  No historical testimony (including the Bible) may be recognized as possessing inherent authority.
  • Three primary principles of the Enlightenment, which eliminate from consideration the truth claims of Christianity and the possibility of revelation, miracles, or any direct divine act in human history a priori:
  1. The principle of methodological doubt
  2. The principle of analogy
  3. The principle of correlation (all historical phenomena exist in a chain of cause and effect)
  • First assumption of the Old Quest was that Jesus was merely human like the rest of us, that the Jesus presented in the Gospels is not the Jesus of history.  This leads to Historical Experimentation instead of actual Historical Research.
  • Conclusion: People want a Jesus in their religious thought, they just don’t want to take him as he is.

1.1 Rationalistic Criticism

  • Rationalism: the philosophy that says reason is the source of truth, and reason – not sensory experience – is the sole criterion of truth.  That which is not “rational” (that which my mind cannot see as truth) may not be believed.
  • Deism developed out of this philosophical rationalism, which believes three primary tenets:
  1. There is one supreme God, who is to be worshipped.
  2. The human soul is immortal.
  3. Virtue and morality are the sum and substance of religion.
  • Rationalists claimed the life of Jesus did not contain anything supernatural or unique.  Only his teaching is of value, and even that is only of relative, not unique, value.

1.1.1 Hermann Reimarus (1694 -1768)

  • The founder of the Old Quest for the Historical Jesus
  • His Jesus thesis:
  1. Jesus could be understood in terms of his contemporary Jewish environment and thought world without introducing any supernatural elements
  2. Jesus announced the coming of this kingdom and intimated that he was to be the leader in it.  His ethics and his fundamental religious concepts were simply those of Judaism.  No break with Judaism was contemplated.
  3. But Jesus was a failure.  He thought his program was about to be realized twice during his ministry. 1) When he sent out the 12 on their preaching and healing mission, and 2) when he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
  4. Jesus wasn’t trying to start Christianity and he has no role to play in modern religious faith.  Jesus’ view of the kingdom was political only.
  5. His disciples started Christianity as a religion of fraud.
  • Reimarus’ significance is that he asked lasting questions:
  1. What was Jesus’ own view of his messiahship?
  2. How significant was the eschatological perspective (coming of God’s kingdom and his role in it) in Jesus’ own thought?
  3. Who was the real founder of Christianity, Jesus or the apostles?

1.1.1.1 Summary Critique of Reimarus

If the real Jesus was different than the Gospels indicate, how did the Christian church begin?

(Continue reading here.)

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