You are on page 1of 10

Paul Whalen UBBL 330-02 23 September 2013 Debate I: Critical Summary Marcus J. Borg and N.T.

Wrights The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions collaborates the two authors differing views on the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith. While Borg and Wright emphasize both versions of Jesus as significant, each author makes notable departures from the other. Borg, for example, emphasizes a distinct Jesus of history and faith brought to life by hermeneutical study and a religious worldviewas opposed to a secular Newtonian worldview; he also expounds on the nature of the gospels and their metaphorical departures from historicity to bring symbolic meanings to Jesus. Wright, on the other hand, focuses less on the importance of hermeneutics or worldviews and more on the acceptance of the gospels unique formationa mixture of contradictions, variances, and agreementswhich gives a realistic understanding of how history and faith operate; in addition, he holds that events in the gospels can be couched in metaphorical language to add further importance to Jesus and yet be historically true. Lastly, Borg and Wright sharply divide on what constitutes a viable source or piece of data for revealing the historical Jesus. Nevertheless, both conclude that the point of historical biblical study is for the sake of understanding Jesus not only as a remarkable historical figure, but too as the divine identity of the Christian faith. Borg states two facts about the gospels: they are a developing tradition as well as a mixture of history remembered and history metaphorized (Borg and Wright, 4). Developing tradition describes how the memory of Jesus life and teachings evolved in order to better suit the changing needs of people faced with new situations and experiences; the aftereffects Jesus resurrection also forced the early Christians to see Jesus in a new light; this caused new traditions

to develop as Christians experienced revelations of Jesus spiritual identity as the risen Lord. The idea of developing tradition eventually took shape in the gospels. The gospels, however, further adapted the traditions of Jesus ministry into testimonies that synthesized both history remembered and history metaphorized (5). History remembered recounts the actions or sayings of Jesus which hold historical veracity. History metaphorized conversely relates metaphorical or symbolic points that, while important to faith and an understanding of Jesus ministry, are not always historically true. Borg points out that Christian scholarship must discern between these two to uncover who Jesus actually was in his historic context. Borg makes one final dichotomy: the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus (7). The preEaster Jesus refers to an understanding of who Jesus, the Galilean Jew, actually was, the one who lived, taught, and was crucified. The post-Eater Jesus refers to him after his death; this is the Jesus of faith, the one who exists metaphysically in Christian tradition, thought, and theology. Distinguishing between the two is important so that one is not lost at the expense of the other; in this way, Jesus remarkable life as a human as well as his spiritual identity in Christian faith receive due attention and reflection. With the study of history, Borg explains several lenses he uses when approaching Jesus, but one lens in particular supersedes all others. This is the macro-lens called worldview (9). A worldview is cultural, taking many forms for different people, but can generally be said to separate into either a secular or religious camp. The secular worldview follows a modern Newtonian comprehension of the universe under scientific laws of matter, energy, cause-andeffect, and not accounting for the supernatural. The religious, accordingly, highlights

unexplainable occurrencesmiracles, healings, visionsas supernatural, belonging to God, and understands that the secular worldview does not have all the answers. Returning to the historical Jesus, Borg explains two steps to construct the historical Jesus within his context. The first step seeks to discover what traditions about Jesus are earliest and, therefore, most accurate. The second step examines canonical, non-canonical, and secular sources to uncover the historical context surrounding Jesus Jewish homeland. Seeing Jesus as he might have lived and acted in light of history opens new understanding to see, as Borg states, the figure behind the gospels (14). Wright, in contrast, points out that in the literature and history of the period surrounding Jesus, Christians and non-Christians understood Jesus without the modern familiar split of history and faith brought about by the Enlightenment (16). Emphasizing that history must thus not be divorced from faith, Wright explains that a modern worldview has influenced this dichotomous perception, and that this modern worldview skews accurate hermeneutical study of Jesus, inducing scholars to misinterpret or develop false suspicions of ancient authors. The modern worldview also causes scholars to see metaphorical language as implying fabrication; Wright, however, argues that there is no proof this language entails a fabricated event or idea, but it is the skewed perception of the scholar. The modern scholar should seek to be aware of how language usage is relative to peoples historical context. Wright, in addition, notes that with the data and sources available, besides the gospels which scholars use to create their images of Jesus, no coherent picture of Jesus can present itself (20). The gospels thus are the primary means of historical investigation, and from them, in order to reconstruct Jesus, scholars have created three hypothetical stages explaining the gospels development: the shaping of preliterary oral tradition, the collecting of oral traditions into

literary sources, and the collecting and editing of these literary sources into polished gospels (20). Within discussion of these stages, the hypothetical Q comes up, as do other theories, ushering in much scholarly debate. Wright states that the study of history does not operate like a hard-science, often being messy, with loose ends and inconsistencies (22); he says this to accentuate the fact that the stages, sources, and scholarly hypotheses are only conjectures and should not distract from the images of Jesus that are available to examine. Wright states that through faith and historical context, believers come to know Jesus, understanding his passions, dislikes, love, and personalityand through this, believers are confronted by love rooted in historical action and passion (26). From this point, exploring the historical context surrounding Jesus life serves to enlarge and deepen faith. Thus the Jesus of faith and history converge, each one helping to illuminate the other. History particularly serves to keep faith from fantasy, and faith to keep history from antiquarianism (26). Therefore, Wrights focus is on historical context as well as a personal relationship with Jesus in order to reveal the true historical and faith Jesus. Borgs key point regarding the gospels is that they are more than a historical biography of Jesus ministry. The gospels metaphorize his ministry, adding symbolic language to convey meanings that can be powerfully true in a nonliteral sense (6, 5). Borg offers the example of Jesus being called the light of the world; in this case, while he is not literally a light, Johns metaphorical assertion about Jesus is a clear. Borg, however, goes further, stating that actual events can be metaphorical as well as completely fabricated, like the feeding of the five thousand or Jesus turning the water into wine. The latter claim appears less sound because Borg can consider concrete events, not merely abstract concepts, to be metaphorical and fabricated merely due to the metaphorical language describing them. Wright offers a different approach to this; he

claims that metaphorical language does not necessarily negate the historicity of an event but serves to invest that history, those people, with significance that a bald and unadorned narrative would lack (19). First-century Jews, according to Wright, used this type of language. Nevertheless, Borg and Wright conclude on a similar note: that the gospels recount more than plain history. Reconstructing history and the formation of the gospels, however, poses difficulties because of peoples differing worldviews. Wright explains that seeing history is to see through ones own spectacles, and when attempting to reconstruct the past, the scholar inevitably involves personal presuppositions (17). Such presuppositions and worldviews are rooted so deeply within some hermeneutical methodologies, in fact, that radical theories and convoluted hypotheses have emerged regarding the formation of the gospels. This hermeneutic of suspicion, according to Wright, is flawed because people find difficulty discovering the intent and motives of living authors (18); how much more difficult is it attempting to discern the intent and motives of the long-deceased, Jewish writers of the Bible? Wright emphasizes his no-holdsbarred view towards history and faith, which accounts for the contradictions, variances, and agreements within the gospels as common to any study of history as well as common to the faith journey (18). While seemingly reasonable, Wright discounts the utility of the hermeneutics behind the formation of the gospels, which provide further insight into Jesus and his historical context. Borg, like Wright, agrees that worldview, like a macro-lens, ultimately shapes a persons perception (9); he, however, sees a religious worldview as important for studying Jesus. A religious worldview accounts for supernatural phenomena as coming from God; this view, or lens, combined with hermeneutics reveal Jesus fully without losing either his divinity or

humanity. Together, they decisively affect what we see in the figure behind the gospels (14). Hermeneutics emphasize the remarkable human being who Jesus was within the historical context of the gospels and the religious worldview unites the risen Jesus with the present world (8). Thus as scholars study the formation of the gospels, a truer image of Jesus comes to light in both a historical and faith image. However, where Borg and Wright most sharply divide is on what constitutes a viable source or piece of data for constructing the historical Jesus. Borg utilizes his two step program. Firstly, he investigates the Christian sources, including the hypothetical Q and the Gospel of Thomas, seeking which developing traditions came earliest (4). Secondly, he searches for historical context to explain the original meaning behind actions and words within the sources. Borg also pours over Jewish and non-Jewish literature written during Jesus time in order to give clearer historical context. While Wright consents to the need and method for uncovering historical context to give clarity to the historical Jesus, he is stalwartly unsupportive of Borgs first step: the treatment of sources. Considering the myriad theories surrounding Q and the poverty of sources about Jesus beyond the gospels, Wright states, The available sources do not offer a coherent picture (20). Furthermore, because the nature of the gospels themselves is considered by Borg to be founded on a developing tradition, modern scholarship is left to discern between what is historically true or fabricated based on its own methods in examining the gospel sources; of which, Mark and the hypothetical Q are considered earliest and thereby most important. However, as historical study is not an exact science, such methods are not reliable. In addition, based on these methods, much of piecing together the historical Jesus then assumes that the image of Jesus from the gospels is not the true Jesus of history, yet there is no proof for this claim except for the conjectures of the scholars. We cannot settle in advance the question of

how much, if any, of the gospel material belongs to a period later than that of Jesus himself, states Wright, meaning that before reconstructing the historical Jesus, a scholar cannot form a conclusion and then assume the early church invented the gospel material not found in the scholars conclusion (23). Stated differently, the historical method a scholar follows cannot be tailored to reach a desired conclusion (24). There can be no agreement, therefore, on sources between Borg and Wright, save the need to acquire historical context. Historical context is the last point Borg and Wright cover. As aforementioned, Borg sees context as necessary, working with hermeneutics and a religious worldview, to reveal the Jesus of the gospels. Wright understands historical context in a more emotional sense; he explains that it allows the Jesus of history to converge with the Jesus of faith, and the more he learns about Jesus historically, the more [he] find that [his] faith-knowledge of him is supported and filled out (26). Historical context thus reinforces the Jesus Wright experiences in his current Christian walk. While Wrights claim seems rooted in subjectivity, the notion of possessing factual historical context adds some universality and objectivity to viewing Jesus. Against each other Borg and Wright tackle one key issue about Jesus: his place in history compared to his place in faith. While Borg sides with a more dichotomous image of the two, he still reconciles the fact that both are necessary for an accurate understanding and, specifically related to the historical Jesus, are important for highlighting which aspect of faith have developed over the years as traditions evolve to meet new challenges. Wright, on the other hand, consolidates both images and prefers to ignore theoretical hermeneutics as it relates to the formation of the gospels. Historical context, however, weights heavily on Wright, and that joined with a personal relationship with Jesus is extremely necessary. Together, Borg and Wright offer compelling arguments, and it would behoove any believer to consider what each one has to say.

Works Cited Borg, Marcus, and N.T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1999.

Debate I: Turn 7, Negative Argument Enlightenment and Worldview Jesus of Faith and History are actually the same The Age of Enlightenment happened around late 1600s. The Enlightenment was a new worldview that caused new ways of thinking rationally and scientifically. However, this had a bad effect on faith and religion. Since that time, people began doubting miracles and supernatural occurrences. And when talking about Jesus, peoplewhether Christian or non-Christianbegan to separate Jesus into two different halves: the first half is the Jesus of history and the second half is the Jesus of faith. History talks about Jesus as a mortal man who lived and died. And Faith talks about Jesus as a divine eternal being in Christian religion. These two images as very different. However, it was not always supposed to be like this. Wright explains that he read the texts about Judaism, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other pre-Christian documents. And when they talked about history and faith, they did not separate them. Instead, they used symbolic and metaphorical language to talk about history, so that they could combine their faith and history together. And that was the worldview of the timeunlike the Enlightenment, which separates history and faith. And one example of this Enlightenment worldview is how some modern scholars view Jesus miracles. They say that because the gospels use metaphorical or mythological language Jesus never actually performed some miracles. However, these scholars are blocked by their own worldview that separates fact from faith. For the Jewish culture at the time, metaphorical language didnt mean that something was fake. The Jews used metaphorical language to enhance and give more meaning to historical events that were lacking or too simple. They didnt just make up these events for rhetorical purposes.

In fact when we read the Bible, Wright talks about how important it is that we examine the historical context of events around Jesus so that we can try to drop our modern thinking and see Jesus more clearly. Wright actually says that when we see the Bible and look at history, we see through our own spectacle. And Borg also supports this saying that when we see the world and Jesus, we see through our own lens. Back to those scholars who made those wrong claims about metaphorical language. Theres actually a lot of problems where scholars view the entire gospels incorrectly. For example, Wright points out that many modern scholars are obsessed with discovering the hidden intents or motives of the gospel writers about Jesus and the ways how the gospels were compiled. So that when they find similar events or small differences or special miracles, the scholars hypothesize what the gospel writers intents and motives were by adding those things. However, Wright says that even nowadays, with modern writers, we cant figure out their motives or intents behind their stories unless they tell us directly. And because the gospel writers are dead, Wright says that we should adopt a new type of thinking that combines our history and facts with our faith. So that we arent obsessed with the contradictions, the variances, or the agreements within the gospels because we cant always understand them, and sometimes they dont even exist in the first place. Most importantly, we need to see Jesus in light of history and faith, before the Enlightenment, when those two things were combined.

Marcus Borg sees Mark and Q as the two primary documents behind the synoptic gospels (12). As a result he sees them as the two earliest written sources for the determining the life of Jesus. As a result, Borg sees material from Matthew, Luke and John as being part of the developing tradition about Jesus (13) and not always reliable for reconstructing the Pre-Easter Jesus (or historical Jesus or the Jesus as he really was NOT as he was remembered by Christians). 10