Contemporary Portrayals of Jesus: Part 2

Who is Jesus? Looking in Chapter 3, “Jesus and the Relationship Between the Gospels” of B&H Academic’s The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament, the authors discuss some Contemporary Challenges to the New Testament Portrayal of Jesus.

Last time we looked at

1. The Traveling Cynic Philosopher
2. The Charismatic Faith Healer
3. The Apocalyptic Prophet
4. The Social Reformer

We’ll continue looking at the last four views today.
View 5 is wrong
View 6 is good, but inadequate.
View 7 is more properly placed than Views 1-5
View 8 is correct.
So, today, the posts will (mainly) show more positive and correct views of Jesus.

5. The Feminist Jesus

Proponents:

E. S. Fiorenza and R. R. Reuther

Fiorenza’s Proposed Jesus:

  • Wished ‘’to liberate women and other marginalized people from male-dominated social structures and Roman imperialism’’ (121)
  • She states Proverbs 1-9 integrated language about Egyptian goddesses into its view of Yahweh
  • Because of this, Jesus envisions and worshipped God as Sophia, “a feminine portrayal of deity”

Reuther’s proposed Jesus:

  • Was a ‘religious seeker’ who was initially drawn to John the Baptist’s apocalyptic message of repentance
    • Jesus broke with John, being inspired by a vision of Satan falling from heaven like lightning (Lk 10.18)
      • He didn’t need to wait for God’s future intervention since Satan’s power was already broken
  • After being crucified some disciples were persuaded that Jesus was not dead but alive

Problems:

The claim that Jesus worshipped Sophia is based on the questionable interpretation of Proverbs 1-9, and Fiorenza dismisses numerous texts where Jesus declares God to be “Father.” Her arguments never give adequate explanation for why a feminist Jesus

“who wished to abolish all distinctions between men and women would appoint twelve men as his disciples and choose three of these men as his inner circle.”

6. The Sage

Proponents:

Ben Witherington III

The Proposed Jesus:

  • Might best be understood as “a teacher of wisdom or sage who regarded himself as the embodiment or incarnation of God’s wisdom” (121)
  • Numerous sayings have ‘remarkable similarities’ to descriptions of divine Wisdom in the
    • Old Testament
    • Apocrypha
    • Pseudepigrapha.
  • “This Wisdom was often personified in ancient texts such as Proverbs 8 to portray Wisdom as God’s agent who
    • was sent with a commission
    • possessed God’s very mind and will
    • revealed it to others” (122)

Problems:

No real problems, Witherington is a great evangelical exegete. The only criticism is that this picture is inadequate, which Witherington himself acknowledges saying that Jesus was “also a healer, a prophetic figure, and saw himself as Messiah.”

7. A Marginal Jew

Proponent:

J. P. Meier

The Proposed Jesus:

  • Marginalized himself by abandoning his livelihood as a carpenter
  • His prophetic ministry required him to depend on others’ generosity
  • His teachings and practices didn’t bode well with the views and practices of major Jewish sects
    • prohibition of divorce
    • ‘rejection’ of fasting
    • his voluntary celibacy
  • His brutal execution showed he was pushed to the margins by both the political and religious establishment of Palestine.

Problems:

Meier “wished to develop a portrait of Jesus that would satisfy any honest historian regardless of his philosophical or religious commitments” (123). His works affirms that Jesus performed what he and others called miracles, that he was a Jewish eschatological prophet, and mediated the joys of salvation. But the purpose of his research was to describe the Jesus that could be pieced together by serious historical research, not the Jesus who lived and is no longer recoverable.

Still, Kostenberger tells that Meier’s work, though wrought with shortcomings, is “far more carefully and reasonable argued than most other contemporary portraits.”

8. The Risen Messiah

Proponent:

N. T. Wright

The Proposed Jesus:

  • He was a divine messianic figure who rose from the dead
  • He was an “eschatological prophet who came to announce that God was going to return to Zion to dwell with his exiled people again” (123)
  • His miracles and exorcisms were prophetic signs showing
    • that God was presently at work restoring Israel and defeating Satan
  • His table fellowship with the marginalized and the rejected demonstrated his offer
    • to forgive sinners
    • to “include them in the restored Israel”
  • Replaced adherence to the temple and fidelity to the OT with allegiance to himself
  • “Jesus not only proclaimed the return of Yahweh to Israel;
    • he enacted, symbolized, and personified that return”
  • Jesus “believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 653)
  • Jesus did rise from the dead
    • and he experienced a bodily resurrection

Problems:

There are no problems, generally speaking. Wright provides one of the more biblically faithful portraits of Jesus. “At those points in which he departs from the traditional Christian view of Jesus and his teaching, the traditional view is generally superior” (124). Overall, Wright’s portrait of Jesus is far superior to any of the other portraits mentioned above.

Conclusion

Often times scholars who commit to discovering the historical Jesus end up presenting a type of picture of themselves. Recently Crossan has said,

that it “is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history, to do autobiography and call it biography”
(Crossan, Historical Jesus, xxviii).

“Feminists discover a feminist Jesus in the Gospels; liberal Protestants tend to find a liberal Jesus; and so forth” (125). A scholar’s presuppositions can have a powerful influence on not only their research, but their conclusions, what they keep and what they leave out.

Their sources have a powerful influence. Those who depend on noncanonical sources other than the Gospels and the rest of the NT often times results in a picture distorted from the traditional Christian view. It’s not that noncanonical sources are bad, but they should not be used to discover who Jesus is, but instead used to see what others thought about him. Those who want to find Jesus should look nowhere else but the NT and the Gospel writings themselves.

If it needs to be said, I’ll say it: I’m enjoying Kostenberger and the gang’s NT introductory work. There is a lot in here, and more posts are on the way!

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Filed under Biblical Studies, Jesus and the Gospels

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