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Theology > Jesus > Introductory Considerations > The Historical Christ  


Usually the word “history” is associated with the word “Jesus,” and the word “theology” is associated with the word “Christ.” Thus, a distinction is forced between Jesus and Christ, so that whatever historical facts can be ascertained from the documents are attributed to the man Jesus, and the significance of those events along with the interpretation given to them by the early Church are attributed to the theological Christ.

In contrast to such thinking the title of this article conveys a separate perspective. Whatever history can be applied to Jesus equally applies to Christ, and whatever theology can be accurately applied to Christ equally applies to Jesus. Jesus is the Christ, and the Christ is Jesus. Any separation between the two is not worthy of the Christian Faith. Therefore, it is proper, even desirable, to speak of the historical Christ.

Martin Kahler’s distinction between historie (facts of history) and geschichte (significance of so-called historical facts) is an invalid distinction. It would seem that the Christian Church would reject the distinction, and especially reject the distinction in terms of the complications the distinction has introduced into Christian theology. For many the “significance” is more important than the “history.” But such a divorce of the two concepts is not allowed by the teaching of Scripture—in Scripture the significance is in the historical event, and significance does not exist apart from the historical event (see: Relationship of Theology and History).

Illustrations abound, but perhaps the best is found in the life of Jesus who is the Christ. The record of His life in the Gospels reads like history, and there is no reason to question that this was the intent of the original writers: they were writing history. There is absolutely no hint of myth, saga, or legend; rather the account is a chronology of events that are affirmed to have occurred. To think that the intent of the authors was otherwise is to reveal a determined bias that is brought to the reading of the Text, a bias that trusts human critique of the Text more than the declaration by the Text of what actually transpired, coupled with the affirmation by the Text of its own normative nature.

Many subtle and not so subtle hints in the Text associate Jesus with history, in fact, they do not just associate Christ with history but anchor Him in the midst of history, so much so that to deny the history is to deny the record itself. Consider the following facts:

   * Jesus the Christ is associated with Abraham, called “the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1),
      and associated with David, called “the son of David” (Matt. 1:1; Mk. 10:47-48);

   * The ancestry of Jesus the Christ is carefully delineated (Matt. 1:1-17; Lu. 3:23-38);

   * Jesus the Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea (Matt. 2:1);

   * Jesus the Christ was visited by wise men who gave Him specific gifts (Matt. 2:11);

   * Jesus the Christ is associated with the city of Nazareth (Matt. 2:23; 21:11;
      Jo. 1:45; Acts 10:38);

   * Jesus the Christ is called a Nazarene (Matt. 1:23; Mk. 1:24; 14:67; 16:6; Lu. 4:34;
      24:19; Jo. 1:45-46);

   * Jesus the Christ is associated with historical personalities:

                most excellent Theophilus (Lu. 1:3);
                a priest named Zachariah, of the division of Abijah (Lu. 1:5);
                his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth (Lu. 1:5);
                a decree went out from Caesar Augustus (Lu. 2:1);
                when Quirinius was governor of Syria (Lu. 2:1);
                shepherds living out in the field (Lu. 2:8);
                a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon (Lu. 2:25);
                the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Lu. 3:1);
                Herod the King (Matt. 2:1; Herod, the king of Judea in Lu. 1:5; same as Herod
                    the Great);
                Archelaus was reigning over Judea (Matt. 2:22);
                Herod the tetrarch (Matt. 14:4; same as Herod Antipas; also Herod being tetrarch
                    of Galilee, Lu. 3:1, 19; 9:17);
                Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis (Lu. 3:1);
                Pontius Pilate,  governor of Judea (Lu. 3:1);
                Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene (Lu. 3:1);
                the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas (Lu. 3:2);
                Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (Lu. 2:36);
                Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick with a fever (Mk. 1:30);
                a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus (Jo. 3:1);
                the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth (Mk. 7:26);
                the sons of Zebedee (Mk. 10:35);
                blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus (Mk. 10:46);
                Lazarus of Bethany, with two sisters: Mary and Martha (Jo. 11:1);
                a man named Zacchaeus (Lu. 18:2);
                the high priest, who was called Caiaphas (Matt. 26:3);
                a notorious prisoner called Barabbas (Matt. 27:16);
                Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mk. 15:21);
                rich man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57; Lu. 23:50);
                Mary Magdalene (Mk. 15:40);
                Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses (Mk. 15:40);
                Salome (Mk. 15:40);
                the one whose name was Cleophas (Lu. 24:18).

    * Jesus the Christ is associated with historical places:

                Bethlehem, the east, Egypt, Syria, Nazareth, Jordan River, wilderness,
                Sea of Galilee, Zarephath, area of Galilee, Cana, Gennesaret, Gergesa,
                Capernaum, Nain, Bethsaida, Samaria, Sychar, Judea, Tyre and Sidon,
                Decapolis, Caesarea Philippi, Dalmanutha, Jericho, Jerusalem,
                Pool of Bethesda, Bethany, Mount of Olives, Temple, Praetorium,
                Golgotha, Gethsemane, Emmaus.

    * Jesus the Christ is associated with historical events:

                deportation to Babylon (Matt. 1:17);
                the practice of burning incense in the Temple (Lu. 1:8-11);
                decree . . . that all the world should be registered (Lu. 2:1);
                murder of male children in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16);
                the practice of circumcision (Lu. 2:21);
                the offering of sacrifice at the birth of a male (Lu. 2:22-24, 39);
                the medical problem of leprosy (Mk. 1:40-42; Lu. 17:11);
                the practice of fasting (Mk. 2:18);
                the practice of putting wine in new wineskins (Mk. 2:22);
                the practice of sowing seeds (Mk. 4:3);
                the practice of fishing with nets (Lu. 5:4-6; Jo. 21:4-8);
                Feast of Unleavened Bread (Mk. 14:1);
                Feast of the Passover (Mk. 14:1; Lu. 2:41);
                teaching at the synagogue (Mk. 1:21; Lu. 4:15, 44; 6:6);
                observance of the Sabbath (Mk. 1:21; Lu. 4:16, 31; 6:6);
                paying taxes (Matt. 17:24-27; 22:20);
                buying and selling of animals in the Temple (Matt. 21:12-13);
                releasing of a prisoner at the Feast of Passover (Matt. 27:15);
                reference to the veil in the Temple (Mk. 15:38);
                the practice of rolling stones over grave entrances (Mk. 15:46; 16:3-4).

    * Jesus the Christ began His ministry at approximately age 30 (Lu. 3:23);

    *Jesus the Christ was baptized by John the Baptist in the river Jordan (Matt. 3:13);

    * Jesus the Christ had 12 apostles who are named and some details of their lives are given in various texts (Matt. 9:9; 10:1-4; Mk. 1:16-20; 3:16-19; Lu. 6:14-16; Acts 1:13);

    * Jesus the Christ was in constant conflict with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians (Matt. 12:2, 14, 24, 38; Mk. 3:6; 12:13).

The affirmation that this record is true history is given by Luke at the beginning of his writing, but what he affirmed about his work has been applied by the Church to the entire Scriptural record. There are only two options: either Luke is to be believed, or he must be declared a bold liar. Luke affirmed:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Lu. 1:1-4).

John makes an interesting observation concerning Jesus that is certainly intended by John to be regarded as historically true: “This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after He was raised from the dead” (21:14). Note the historical affirmations, at least six, in this single verse:

Jesus lived;

Jesus had disciples;

Jesus died;

Jesus was raised from the dead;

Jesus was seen after He was raised from the dead;

Jesus was seen at least three times by His disciples following His resurrection.

Either John is to be believed, or he must be declared a bold liar. There can be no moderating position. And what is true of John in this solitary verse is true of all of the verses that recount the life of Jesus who is the Christ.

Return to: Introductory Considerations; Next Article: Jesus of History or Christ of Faith

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