Request comments … – the answers

Professor Dr. James Dunn, Durham UK, on 30 March 2018

Sea Lizards, Fernandina, Galapagos August 1989
Sea Lizards, Fernandina, Galapagos August 1989

Dear Johannes Neumann,

Thank you for your letter of March 12. Apologies for my failure to respond earlier – sadly the letter was caught up under other papers for two weeks – and I do not tidy my desk often enough!


I am sorry to say that I find your starting point dubious and unhelpful. To say that ‘the figure of Jesus is still an unsolved mystery’ is a very unhelpful beginning.


And the reference to ‘New Testament Science’ is very odd as part of the starting point. The study of history is not properly or helpfully described as a ‘science’ and to treat it in the same way can be very misleading.


The contrast you draw on between ‘the historical Jesus’ and ‘the biblical Christ of faith’ tends to assume that all the significance seen in Jesus is read back from and by a later faith standpoint.


My starting point is to insist that if we do not recognise that Jesus made an impact, that the Synoptic tradition in particular is not to be seen as simply backward-glancing faith projections, but also and pre-eminently the forward-effecting impact made by Jesus on his disciples, we can hardly begin a sensible debate.


To mention just three examples which can only be explained effectively as indicating the influence/impact Jesus had: Jesus’ regular talk of ‘the kingdom of God’ must reflect Jesus’ own emphasis, since it is much less prominent thereafter; in the Gospels Jesus is commonly referred to as ‘Teacher’, but thereafter not so; teaching by parable was highly distinctive of Jesus, a way of teaching very little known or used before or after.


When you recognise the faith-creating impact evidently made by Jesus it simply is not true to say that ‘to combine historical reason and Christian faith in Jesus research’ has ‘failed’. Your summary of Jesus research I find very unsatisfactory and misleading. A study of John Meier’s A Marginal Jew would help set the picture straight.


It is the antithesis you make between ‘Jesus research’ and ‘faith in Christ’ which I find so misleading and unhelpful. As though a genuine historical researcher was debarred from the possibility of responding positively to the Jesus whose impact became steadily clearer as s/he became more and more familiar with the Gospel accounts of Jesus.


So you will see that I think you set off in the wrong direction and that you suggest an inquiry on misleading terms. I did not really understand your second point. So it is probably better that I leave my response at that.

With Easter greetings and all good wishes,

James Dunn

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