Monday, August 10, 2009

How Much Does It Matter?

Here's a question posed by Mr. Bill in our Sunday morning adult education class: "How much does it matter to you that the gospel stories may not be historical?"

As I ponder that question, here are a few things that come to mind that are shaping my initial response:
  • Jesus never wrote anything; we have no first-person record of his sayings/actions as we have with the writings of the apostle Paul
  • None of Jesus' 12 apostles wrote the gospels (one of the "assured" results of historical inquiry)
  • The gospels were written 40 - 70 years after the death of Jesus
  • Each gospel presents a unique picture of Jesus as seen from the writer's perspective
  • The gospels are clearly "devotional" documents, not historical documents
  • The Gospel of John gives us the clearest evidence of how theology is at work in gospel composition, but the other three are also theologically driven
  • The nature miracles make no sense historically, they make perfect sense theologically
  • Scholars can not agree on criteria for the evaluation of the saying of Jesus
  • The memory of Jesus was dependent on the strengths and weaknesses of oral tradition
  • The Jesus tradition seems well placed in the social/political situation of the day
  • First century historiography was different from our own
  • We have no way of knowing what comes from the historical Jesus, even though the setting for the story seems well placed.
  • Whether you use only the canonical gospels or supplement with data from the non-canonicals, we are still left with an historical construct that may or not be accurate.
  • Does it matter? Not if the gospels are viewed as religious/devotional documents that act as sacrament, allowing us to experience the creative Spirit of the universe.
  • As a part of our tradition, we believe that the canonical gospels provide us with what we need to know about Jesus
History is interesting, but theology takes us to the throne of God!

No comments: