How faith in Jesus can trump faith in scripture

“Our aim in the present study is to show that Jesus did not expect a speedy and supernatural destruction of the world.” (Lily Dougal and Cyril Emmet, The Lord of Thought, from the Preface, dated Sept. 1922).

At the time of their writing, these two New Testament critics were very much alarmed at a growing bias in NT criticism.  “It is now widely held that the whole thought of Jesus was governed by the belief that the end of the world was very near, or, at least, that this belief was a confusing element in his outlook.”  Of course the authors were discussing a 15-year trend inaugurated by Albert Schweitzer’s 1906 book, Von Reimarus zu Wrede (The Quest of the Historical Jesus).

Schweitzer had claimed that the teaching of Jesus is inconsistent with itself except when everything is viewed from the perspective of a thorough-going eschatological frame of mind.  Except the problem with his view is that it makes Jesus inconsistent with reality – because some scripture texts make Jesus wrong about the proximity of the end, and his return in glory.

Dougal and Emmet agree with Schweitzer that the eschatological teachings attributed to Jesus are inconsistent with his higher teachings, but they reject Schweitzer’s means of achieving consistency for Jesus.  Schweitzer, they argue, has only created his own false pattern of consistency in Jesus teaching, “by forcing upon all his sayings and parables an interpretation in harmony with the more fanatical Judaism of his time.”  (p.2)

They offer a solution which can only alienate both fundamentalists and moderns:

“Considering the circumstances in which the Gospels were compiled, it is more becoming for us, in the first instance, to suspect the records of inaccuracy than to assume that the inconsistency lay with Jesus.” (p.9)

I’m fine with the authors’ rejection of plenary inspiration.  Trouble is, they imply a new principle which skeptical critics are sure to hate – the principle of an inerrant Jesus  But I like it! 

“In the history of any one of the canonized Christian saints, when sayings and acts are attributed to him or her which to us appear inconsistent and unworthy, our first proceeding is to suspect the accuracy of the narrator … on the hypothesis that the inspiration of the saint for goodness and wisdom was greater than the inspiration for accuracy enjoyed by the disciple.” (p.7-8)

Seriously, a hermeneutic principle like inerrant Jesus is unapologetically faithful – only it requires that our faith in the perfection of Jesus trumps our belief in the perfection of scripture.  There’s bound to be difficulty discriminating the inerrancy of Jesus from the inaccuracy of apostles and gospel writers.  But the result for eschatology is an important one – the axiomatic rejection of a merely human Jesus who is either self-contradictory or  a fanatic and delusional Jew yields refreshing fruit in a healthy critical skepticism regarding all assertions or allusions in scripture which suggest that a destructive end-of-the world scenario is a necessary adjunct to the true Gospel.

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16 thoughts on “How faith in Jesus can trump faith in scripture

    • Thank you for your generous offer of contact on these interesting questions.

      In fact I own and have read most of the Schweitzer, and also possess a copy of Strauss’s big book in the Eliot translation, which I have sampled in some of its details.

      Although I am very sympathetic with the higher criticism of religious texts, I am not in agreement with Strauss’ presuppositions or analysis. He’s a great foil however, for someone like myself.

      I’m pretty content with my present level of understanding of historical Jesus research, but I’m sure I don’t know everything.

      I am currently very actively involved in seeking an answer to the following question – How and why does it come about that so many of the ‘findings’ of historical Jesus research resemble so closely the negative points made by medieval Jewish polemicists who published defenses of Judaism against Christianity before Reimarus (some of whom Reimarus seems to know passably well). Your thoughts?

  1. I frankly think that Jesus anticipated the end of the age as coming soon. Certainly Paul did. I guess I’m not quite sure where the inconsistency lies with his other teachings?

    I have come to see Jesus as all too human, though in near complete communion with God during his ministry. His reluctance to name certain things, like when the actually coming would be suggests he had not been given such knowledge and was careful not to be specific.

    But then, of course, I’m pretty progressive when it comes to biblical interpretation and exegesis.

    I have long believed Jesus made no claim of divinity of himself, and that this was confired upon him upon his death on the cross by a loving God who saw his perfect self-sacrifice as worthy of the resurrection.

    • Thanks for writing Sherry.

      I’m thinking you won’t take offense if I tell you that ‘once upon a time’ I would have shared heartily in all of your opinions. Because it’s also true that I’m not finished seeking yet (neither are you I imagine), and these things spiral around sometimes, so I’m not implying relative worth of position here.

      What I cannot reject is the fact that I have apprehended a hint of spiritual reality in silent prayer which indicates that the universal God is a bit more like what Jesus said than what ‘Jew or Greek’ has said. So I go with my ‘best light.’

      I’m not a worshipper of Jesus but of the Father of all, whose worship I believe Jesus knew something about. I don’t criticize other ways – except those of my fellow readers of the “New Testament’ with whom I disagree.

  2. Dear John Anngeister,

    [[quote]]
    In fact I own and have read most of the Schweitzer, and also possess a copy of Strauss’s big book in the Eliot translation, which I have sampled in some of its details.
    [[/quote]]

    Yes, if you mean the sigler press edition, that is a great volume. Probably the one that most own. http://www.siglerpress.com/Strauss.htm and at $24, i mean you can’t beat that for probably the single greatest book on the historical jesus ever written.

    And yes, you are not alone in people that OWN the book, but have not actually read it. It is a big fat book. But of course it did completely change how NT studies are done. I still consider it the best book on the subject

    [[quote]]
    Although I am very sympathetic with the higher criticism of religious texts, I am not in agreement with Strauss’ presuppositions…
    [[/quote]]

    I don’t know what you mean by that. Can you explain? Are you a supernaturalist? I hear mostly supernaturalists, specifically usually calvinists use that kind of term. And often it get’s used to simply totally ignore various things. What are you talking about when you say “his presuppositions”?

    And no problem if the topic is not one that you are interested in pursuing, perhaps others will. I am welcome contact from anyone that is interested in the subject. And that is one of the great things about these websites, and blogs, and the internet in general, they help us find and meet other people that may share common interests.

    Cheers! webulite.com

    • Yes, I am an a priori supernaturalist, but by no means a calvinist.

      The point of God’s existence and love for all is for me axiomatic. And I’m not inclined to believe that the true meanings of an alleged revelation or an alleged Incarnation are available as data for historical research.

      I do enjoy reflecting on the lower-level questions, however – such as what does and does not constitute a miracle and what possible value could one have for faith anyway? Or the question regarding what of ourselves and our experienced world may or may not be subject to divine will, etc.

      Thanks for visiting, then.

    • Sorry I missed your question on Strauss.

      By accepting the higher criticism and rejecting ‘his presuppositions’ I must have implied a contradiction to you. I was referring not to his excellence as an imaginative critic but rather to the elements of hermeneutical suspicion which I think ruined his great work. The hermeneutic of suspicion is false, in my view, and can be easily isolated from the geunuine working presuppositions of the higher criticism. In my view.

      Oh and I regret now that I paid $65 for a 1906 edition of the Leben, which is in great condition but unfortunately needs to be handled with care. That $24 version sounds more like a good reading copy to me. Ah well, I knew it was an important book.

  3. Dear John Anngeister,

    [[quote]]
    Yes, I am an a priori supernaturalist, but by no means a calvinist.
    [[/quote]]

    Thanks. I know that there are both supernaturalists and history oriented folks in this subject area. I tend to talk mostly with historians, although I am happy to talk with supernaturalists also, but only on the history issues. For example, I am happy to talk with historians and supernaturalists on what was discussed at the council of nicea. I would discuss with neither historians or supernaturalists if the gods approved of what was done at the council of nicea.

    I study christian history from about the time of the revolt of the maccabees till about the council of nicea in 325CE. I don’t get into the supernaturalism aspects of the topic, but just study it as a historian.

    [[Thank you for your generous offer of contact on these interesting questions… I’m pretty content with my present level of understanding of historical Jesus research…[[/quote]]

    no problem. As I was saying… the internets is a great tool for meeting people. But just like in real life, you are not going to have follow up convos with everyone you meet.

    Cheers! webulite.com

  4. Dear John Anngeister,

    [[quote]]
    Sorry I missed your question on Strauss.

    By accepting the higher criticism and rejecting ‘his presuppositions’ I must have implied a contradiction to you.
    [[/quote]]

    No… I am sorry… my question went to when you said ‘his presuppositions’. I simply have no idea what that means. That was what I was asking about.

    Cheers! webulite.com

  5. Dear John Anngeister,

    [[quote]]
    webulite, that’s very funny (to me) that you have no idea what the word ‘presuppositions’ means when used in conjunction with Strauss.
    [[/quote]]

    If you mean to your prior post;

    [[quote]]
    By accepting the higher criticism and rejecting ‘his presuppositions’ I must have implied a contradiction to you.
    [[/quote]]

    Sorry. Not sure what is funny about it. If you can explain what you mean by “his presuppositions” perhaps I would understand.

    Cheers! webulite.com

  6. webulite, we both agree that Srauss was a great critic and quite a ground-breaker, but you seem to have him up on a pedestal. No presuppositions?

    There are presuppositions at the foundation of any scientific or literary inquiry. My problem is with historical critics of religious texts who presuppose deceit and mythology whenever the text suggests an interpretation sympathetic with a subject’s spirituality or some impingment of ‘the supernatural’ upon quotidian events.

    Strauss in his Preface writes that both supranaturalism and naturalism represent ‘antiquated’ approaches to his subject matter.

  7. John Anngeister,

    [quote] webulite, we both agree that Srauss was a great critic and quite a ground-breaker, but you seem to have him up on a pedestal.
    [/quote]

    I would say that he could be the most important scholar of christianity that existed.

    Certainly his book _the life of of jesus critically examined_ is the most important work done on early christianity ever. And his work also changed how christian history was done from the moment it was written down to our day. So, yes, I would consider him perhaps the greatest. Certainly within the top five that study early christianity of all time.

    I might put Adolf von Harnack, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_von_Harnack and Friedrich Nietzsche, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neitche way up there too. Perhaps Joseph Campbell, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell as well.

    You keep talking about “presuppositions”. I don’t know what you are talking about. You will have to explain it for me to understand.

    Cheers! webulite.com

    • webulite,

      I would call it a fatal presupposition of Strauss to hold that the kind of faith evoked by the life and teachings of Jesus had no object different from the promises of either second-temple or apocalyptic Judaism until a-f-t-e-r the resurrection. Where did he get that?

      Did Strauss even allow that Jesus himself might have possessed a God-consciousness which transcended his native religious environment? In his final dissertation, he dismisses the christology of Schleiermacher (sec. 148), whose position is I think the only one which actually nullifies the absolute critical victory which Strauss desires. This dismissal is due only to Strauss’s presupposition about miracles, which disallows the existence of a self-consciousness such as Schleiermacher posits for Jesus (on grounds that such a thing would constitute a ‘miracle’ in itself).

  8. Dear John Anngeister,

    [quote]
    I would call it a fatal presupposition of Strauss to hold that the kind of faith evoked by the life and teachings of Jesus had no object different from the promises of either second-temple or apocalyptic Judaism until a-f-t-e-r the resurrection. Where did he get that?
    [/quote]

    You have not explained what you mean by “presuppositions”, so I have no idea what you are trying to say.

    [quote]
    Did Strauss even allow that Jesus himself might have possessed a God-consciousness which transcended his native religious environment? In his final dissertation, he dismisses the christology of Schleiermacher (sec. 148), whose position is I think the only one which actually nullifies the absolute critical victory which Strauss desires. This dismissal is due only to Strauss’s presupposition about miracles, which disallows the existence of a self-consciousness such as Schleiermacher posits for Jesus (on grounds that such a thing would constitute a ‘miracle’ in itself).
    [quote]

    AH! This may be helpful on your continued use of the word “presupposition”. You say, his “presupposition about miracles”. This would be an incorrect usage of the term. Strauss, and others view on miracles and supernaturalistic events are “conclusions” not “presuppositions”. They are a result of study of on the topic, and finding that the supernatural has not been demonstrated, and is a speculative idea. Like the idea that there are for example “invisible green elves”.

    Another example, would be the idea that a Doctor has a presupposition that a patient has a lymphatic system. This is not a presupposition. This is a conclusion as a result of their medical training.

    The fact is that the supernatural has never been demonstrated. It is not a presupposition of scientists that supernaturalistic events do not occur, it is their conclusion based on a lack of evidence or data.

    To understand the difference between a presupposition (hypothesis) and conclusion (knowledge) I would recommend http://webulite.dyndns.org:8080/wiki/defining_supernaturalism where the idea is clearly explained.

    I see that you have been using the term “presupposition” as most people would use the term “conclusion”, and that explains my prior inability to understand your use of the term.

    If supernaturalistic events are ever demonstrated, they will be included in our knowledge base. Until then, people’s speculative hypothesis that there is such a thing as supernatural events is not something that a historian will get involved in.

    Cheers! webulite.com

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