Historiographical Methods and Biblical Christology (III): A Theological History of Jesus

[Continued from Part II]

Father Roch continues his historiographical reflections by building on his general principles the conclusion that the “we have found a rationale in the very nature of historiography for going beyond mere history and attempting to inquire into the meaning of the ‘Jesus event.’”:”(Source: Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology.:”[New York: Society of St. Paul, 2002.]“: Indeed, transcending the limitations of reconstructions of the “mere” historical record “is required by the history of Jesus itself: unless we accept the perspective of faith, the Christ event presents a historical anomaly–the appearance in our world of something so disconcertingly new that it explodes all the prefabricated categories of historiography.”:”(Ibid., 19.)”:

What is this “perspective of faith,” then? First, the New Testament documents “were those in which the Church recognized an authentic apostolic witness to Christ.” The Church “was aware” of the inspiration of these documents, and that they had been written not just after Jesus’ death “but from the even more illuminating perspective of his definitive, risen state.” Second, the insight of the resurrected Jesus “sheds light on every event and word in his life. His history, then, is not merely human history, but the history of God himself: God has expressed himself definitively in and through the life, death, and resurrection of the man Jesus, and has reconciled the world to himself through him.” Third, this means that “every event in the history of Jesus is filled with God’s mystery, and contains inexhaustible riches.”:”(Ibid., 20.)”:

The Gospels are not detailed, connected biographies or collections of data for the sake of the data themselves: “Their purpose is to record the events and the teachings of Jesus insofar as they have meaning for the Church to which the evangelist addresses his Gospel.”:”(Ibid., 21, emphasis his.)”: Here Father Roch displays an assumption that most Protestants would find exceedingly problematic: biblical errancy. He says that the Church knew of “the many divergences and contradictions between the Gospels” but that she “resisted all attempts at harmonization. “She preferred the four-Gospel canon to Marcion’s only Gospel (a truncated version of Luke), to Tatian’s Diatessaron and other gospel harmonies.”:”(Ibid., 21.)”:

The reason for this is that the Church preferred “the riches and variety of the apostolic traditions” over “a unified version of the deeds and teachings of Jesus.” She wanted to preserve “the fullness of the traditions as they had developed through various channels in various milieus, over against any attempt to produce a single, seemingly more consistent story of Jesus.”:”(Ibid., emphasis his.)”: In other words, “The catechists and evangelists of the apostolic Church show an amazing combination of fidelity and creative freedom; fidelity to the memory of events and words pertaining to Jesus and creative freedom in shaping the Jesus traditions in order to bring out the meaning for a particular audience of what Jesus actually did and said.”:”(Ibid., 22.)”:

In the Protestant context, this sort of historical approach to Scripture is usually excoriated (often with the slur “Liberal”) and thought to be completely destructive of faith. For, how can you trust that the Bible is the inspired Word of a God who is always Truthful and is in total control of everything if He cannot preserve His Word from being infected by error? As the common Evangelical argument goes, if one part of the Bible is erroneous, might not all of it be?

I believe, however, that it is important not to simply react to this affirmation by Father Roch of actual contradictions in the New Testament records, for as Father Roch’s own continued discussion shows, he is able to retain full confidence in the records and the divine, and fully truthful character of Scripture. It is a different order of confidence than one finds in typical Protestant circles, but that seems to be because Father Roch has a rock solid belief in what he takes to be implications of the Incarnation:

Far from being troubled by the many historical uncertainties arising from this ancient literary genre, the theologian should rather see in this state of affairs a necessary consequence of the Incarnation. He will admit that many events in the history of Jesus will forever remain unknown. Many other facts can only be assessed as a matter of plausible conjecture with higher or lower degrees of historical probability. If God truly became man, he must have accepted all the consequences of the historical condition–which includes living in a particular time, place and culture. It would hardly be consistent for him to do violence to the way in which his own history was told and recorded in that culture by the people of that age. He did not arbitrarily change their way of thinking and writing by giving them a crash course on modern historiography, so that they could write a textbook about him that would satisfy the curiosity of today’s historians.:”(Ibid., 23.)”:

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2 Responses to Historiographical Methods and Biblical Christology (III): A Theological History of Jesus

  1. St. Worm says:

    Bro. Tim,

    This is indeed illuminating, since the assumption of Evangelicalism is that the integrity of the Faith is built upon careful harmonization of texts instead of Kerygma testified by the texts. I’ve wondered for a while now the utility of approaching the Bible in “apologetics” mode when it doesn’t lend itself that way. We get hints, clues, & statements about its veracity on a historical level, but maybe we should learn to read it “as is” rather than “as our Critics would have us respond.” The Gospels (as well as many other of the sacred books) are clearly history wrapped up in a theological agenda. So they don’t read like “straight history” — so what?

    I know some will misrepresent what I just said, so for the record, the Bible *IS* true, and is without error. But it is cast in the mould of its times and culture that did care to relate revelation the way we newspaper moderns would want to read about it. “Just the facts” is not the Bible — no story gives “just the facts”. Holy Writ gives the facts in a Heavenly Tale. The Incarnation secures the historicity of our True Myth (to use a Lewisism), but the History is not recorded with camcorder precision and continuity; but snapshots and collages.

    The Bible doesn’t need fixing or need contrived apologetics to make sure the critics won’t ever breathe a word against it: it need only to demonstrate a basic reliability and accepted on its own terms. There’s lots of room for disagreement about specific things within the Bible. That’s the history of the Church.

  2. Tim Enloe says:

    Right on all counts, St. Worm. As I will show in a subsequent post, Father Roch has some interesting things to say about apologetics that takes its cues from Modern skepticism and essentially adapts the defense of the Scriptures to categories which are intrinsically hostile to faith–thus distorting the apologetic enterprise entirely.

    And for the record, I also don’t buy into Father Roch’s biblical errancy position. I just happen to think, however, that there is great value in paying attention to other perspectives on the faith, especially when they are intriguingly able to retain a full confidence in God while accepting assumptions which oneself finds objectionable. Having to engage another perspective and give it a close reading and a fair hearing is an excellent exercise in developing self-criticism–something in which we Protestants are often very much lacking.

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