The Preterist’s Historical Jesus

Here is the next post on Preterism, specifically critiquing Scot McKnight’s lecture titled, "Catching the Wave, or Facing the Tsunami?"

This post may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Scot McKnight and many other scholars are making a big deal about the third quest for the Historical Jesus. I’ve got a few comments regarding this whole debacle before I deal with the conclusions that many want to jump to in response to the latest craze. Everybody wants to know what Jesus was really like. What did Jesus really say? How does Jesus look without the interpretation that the New Testament church gave him? Or should I write, how did Jesus look without the Pauline lens?

The idea behind this third quest is that all the materials in our Bibles were written by the New Testament church several years after the resurrection of Christ and therefore carry a certain view of Jesus of Nazareth. These historians want to know what Jesus looked like without the influence of His followers inserting their beliefs into the New Testament writings.

First off, we wouldn’t have anything written down about Jesus of Nazareth if God didn’t purposefully provoke early Christians to write about Him. These writers were moved by the Holy Spirit to record events in such a way to convey certain truths. The Jesus of Nazareth that God wants you to know about is contained right in the pages of your own Bible and you need look no further. I think the goal is a good one, but it should be termed "Jesus in Context". This can be accomplished by reading the gospel accounts and attempting to forget everything you know based on your studies of the epistles. Also, the more familiar you are with the Old Testament prophecies, the better you will be equipped to understand how Jesus would have been viewed by those who knew those OT prophecies well. The answer to me: Study your Bible. Your studies will be enhanced by being able to differentiate between gospel accounts and epistolary revelation, and by OT scriptural knowledge. If these historians spent as much time studying their OT scriptures as they do debating the authenticity of Jesus’ words, they would be years ahead in their studies, in my humble opinion.

Secondly, God also intended for the church to come to great revelations concerning Jesus of Nazareth upon studying His overall life as they reflected upon the OT scriptures. (One need look no further than Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7:2-53 for a great example of this.) God wants us to have an understanding of Christ based on the writings of the New Testament scriptures. OT prophecies concerning the Messiah, revelation given the apostles as they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the vision that John had on Patmos are all just as much a part of the Historical Jesus as the original, audible words that Jesus spoke while here in His earthly body. Jesus was not done speaking when He spoke the words of Acts 1:7-8 then ascended into heaven. He continued to speak through the spirit of Messiah to the apostles revealing truths about Himself that they were unable to comprehend until they reached the other side of the cross, John 14:26, 15:26, 16:12-15. These words are just as much a part of the Historical Jesus as those that He spoke before the cross. These post-ascension words were spoken in history by Jesus the Christ just as surely as the words recorded in the gospels were spoken in history by Jesus the Christ.

Why am I spending this time before delving into Preterism? You will notice a correlation between those who believe in Preterism and those who want to examine what Jesus originally meant in context. In their minds, when Jesus spoke about future events, His direct meaning was confined to events that were occurring within that generation. You will also notice a correlation between Preterism and Open Theism if you study further. They contend that Jesus’ knowledge of the future was quite limited and saw events only in that generation in which He was living.

It is difficult to determine if Scot buys into the above philosophies based on his treatise. But Scot does mention these issues in his lecture. He clearly places himself within the scholarship of the third quest for the historical Jesus allying himself with Nicholas Thomas Wright. He also limits Jesus’ prophetic knowledge in this way. Quote: "Where I part from many Evangelicals is in my view that Jesus’ language is prophetic and apocalyptic, and therefore ambiguous, and his knowledge is also prophetic, and therefore limited. … Further, I think Jesus’ vision of the future did not extend beyond A.D. 70 and … he saw everything taking place, in an indeterminate sense, at A.D. 70." This doesn’t mean that Scot ascribes to Open Theism, only that Jesus in His humanity was limited in His knowledge of the future, which is an important distinction to make. But as we will see in a future post on prophetic tension, it makes no difference to the Futurist if Jesus knew or did not know whether or not the end times events would occur at 70 A. D.

There will be one more post on the Historical Jesus focusing on the historical evolution of the gospels since Scot cites this as evidence in favor of 70 A. D. fulfillment. Then I will post on prophetic tension, or perhaps the post will be titled: Jesus – first century apocalyptic or prophet of God? After that, I hope to get to specifics.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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