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Reacting to Biblical Criticism

How does Biblical criticism relate to faith? How does one relate this to the work of the Jesus Seminar, for instance? Scot McKnight has an excellent answer in his post A Letter to a Question-full Christian (HT: Pseudo-Polymath). McKnight doesn’t deny the differences in the gospel texts (the main issue at hand), but he also uses some common sense explanations about how such things occur, and how that might relate to historicity.

I do disagree with one sentence:

No one dies for a myth, or at least they shouldn’t.

I believe it is precisely for the myth that people are willing to die. But I am absolutely certain I am using the word “myth” in a different sense. If Jesus was simply a guy who died and was raised, there would be nothing to believe in. Think about his life. There is nothing there that has not at least been claimed of someone else, and except for the virgin birth, you can find similar experiences in scripture–martyr’s deaths, even resurrections. None of that convinced us that Jesus was God.

We commonly use the term “myth” to as a sort of synonym for “wild fictional tale without historical foundation.” (OK, I exaggerate slightly, but allow me the fun.) I’m referring to the part that “ostensibly relates historical events usu. of such character as to serve to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural phenomenon, and that is esp. associated with religious rites and beliefs” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary). The point is that we give greater meaning to the story of Jesus than the apparent physical happenings would warrant, even were all of them proven true. In my view nothing in the record would make us decide Jesus was God. We would probably decide he was the most impressive of prophets.

But the myth that grows around him, that builds in the meaning and relates it to me now. Thus history can be flexible–not absent, but malleable–as Christians understand the mythos that results from Jesus.

McKnight’s conclusion is great:

Now, here’s where I have come: I believe in the Gospels and what they say about Jesus not simply because I have learned that they can be trusted on the basis of historical methods and inquiry, but more importantly because God has spoken to me through those records, because I have found Jesus to be utterly saving and wonderful, and because the Spirit who speaks to me is the Spirit who has spoken to others — beginning with the apostles who put down these sayings and events into words in such a way that the Church — the Church that is led by the same Spirit — has constantly told just this story about Jesus. It is the only story of Jesus I know; it is the story of Jesus that tells my story. Faith, my friend, is always involved in everything we confess in our faith, including the truthfulness of the story about Jesus. [emphasis mine]

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