This is Richard’s latest blog. It’s a nice summary of all of his work on the historical Jesus over the last few years, and it starts with a statement that really should have completely altered the religious landscape already. It is; the Jesus of the Bible is not the historical Jesus, even if there was a historical Jesus. This is the consensus of all scholars, even the ones who have taken faith oaths at religious institutions. If you don’t accept this simple fact, you are a fundamentalist. That is, you are not credible as someone who understands how history works or what counts as historical evidence.
This leaves plenty of room for someone who wants to say they have a relationship with a living spirit, but no room for someone who says a story in the Bible about 5,000 witnessing a risen Christ counts as historical evidence. It leaves room for someone who says the intentions or teachings of a man in the 1st century became a parable in the NT, but no room for someone that says “Jesus actually said __________.” The consensus also says this Jesus person was crucified, but that’s it. After that, you’re into theology, you have left history behind.
Why does this matter? Notice what happens the next time someone mentions the consensus that Jesus was a real person. Watch the next words out of their mouth. It will be something from the Bible, and they will treat it as if it is historically accurate. As non-scholars, we might find ourselves on shaky ground attempting to argue the accuracy or strength of the consensus, but really, we don’t need to go there. We can just concede the consensus because it has very little to do with the Bible.
To play the devils advocate.
Suppose it may be possible that Paul did meet with Jesus’ brother James. How Paul refers to Jesus in the bible seems less consequential than the possibility that Paul’s account can be seen as corroborating evidence of Jesus’ existence. Is Paul’s account only referenced in the bible? Is his biblical account non-historical?
Considering, to make your statement true, you would need to calculate not just a meeting with Paul and James, but James’ relation to Jesus, the possibility would have a low probability. Yes, the only reference is in the Bible. Anything would be referencing it, not an independent account that adds evidence. Paul’s account is historical only in the sense that he wrote it.
The “way Paul refers to Jesus” is mostly as a spirit, as Richard likes to say, as some sort of space ghost. Paul says nothing about birth or mother or events in the daily life of Jesus. Most Christians will refute that if you say it, but ask them to show you anything. They will come up with two or three if they are very good Bible readers. Interpretation and apologetics are needed to place any of them in a time or place.
Let’s be honest. None of this matters. We could have video evidence of Jesus, performing what appear to be miracles, etc. And as soon as something he said, straight into the camera, differed from what a die hard christian believed, he’d be branded as a fake. You only have to watch 30 minutes of political news to see an example.
I don’t see how that hypothetical is relevant. Some people have poor reasoning, so?