Monday, 5 November 2007
"In Accordance with the Scriptures" #5: The Problem with the Jesus Seminar
Here I finally continue my thread focusing on Seitz's essay, "In Accordance with the Scriptures" (1998). My purpose is to demonstrate that the Old Testament is an indispensable witness to Jesus Christ, and thus forms the matrix within which he is to be comprehended. In order, the previous posts can be found here, here, here and here.
The problem with the "Jesus Seminar" is that is resists the force of the scriptures, as Paul and the creed mean that, on our understanding of Jesus, and consequently, it does not take seriously Jesus' relationship to God as imprinted by scripture's prior word and guided by that word's according potential. In order to understand the one who came to do the Father's will, we should assume that he took significant bearings from the scriptures of Israel, in exactly the public form we can now read them.
Historical investigation into Jesus is in itself not 'wrong'.One has every right to observe the root system of a tree. To do so, however, involves uprooting the tree itself. If, furthermore, one begins to insist that the tree is not as it should be, given the underground investigation, that the mature growth is a misunderstanding in need of correction by experts, or, more enticingly, that the underground tree is the tree itself, is the "historical tree", is that which should occupy our attention, that we have had things upside-down - then, Seitz claims, we are beginning to approach the logic of the Jesus Seminar.
The element of Jesus as requiring unveiling and discovery is not wrong, but has been translated and domesticated by the Jesus seminar and much historical-critical endeavour. It is not that Jesus is hidden behind the words about him, which must then be sifted to get at the "historical Jesus." It is, rather, that the words that tell about him simultaneously convey their inadequacy, in formal terms, because of the subject matter they are trying to reach. The very fourfoldness of the gospel record is a witness to the majestic difficulty of the endeavor of presenting Jesus as a character of time and space, fully man, fully God. But this is not an inadequacy that can be remedied through historical-critical heavy lifting, because it inheres with the subject matter itself, which is God in Christ - who exposes our inadequacy in trying to speak of him, and yet simultaneously remedies this through the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, allowing the frail testimony of human minds to be the lens on the glory of God, a touching of the ark of the covenant.