Are we not butchering truth by slicing up the mainstream view of Christ? The phrase "historical Jesus" assumes that the Jesus we knew as children was make believe. So how historically accurate is the Lord Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Bible? 80%? 60%? It can't be lower than 50%, can it? When it comes to matters of the spirit I don't believe we are asking the right questions by asking if the Jesus of the Bible is historically accurate. True, it would help us in understanding the man and his message but there are only two possibilities concerning the accuracy of his biblical portrayal: either it's historically true or it's not.
[Modern 3D rendering of how Jesus might have appeared, Illustration by BBC Photo Library.]
It seems too polarizing to say that the Biblical Jesus is either historically true or not true, but stating that the historical accuracy of the Biblical Jesus varies by degrees doesn't help much either. What we must understand is that one Christian group among many won the rights to rewrite history in the early years of the church. The Bible didn't descend from heaven nor was it preserved from error. It is through the lens of history that we may find the historical Jesus, but if we find something different, what then do we do?
In Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg attempts to clear the confusion by separating the sacred image of Jesus into two: the Pre Easter Jesus and Post Easter Jesus. The Pre-Easter Jesus was the real historical flesh and blood Jesus reconstructed by historians based on the best possible evidence available of how he walked, talked, and lived in Roman occupied, 1st century Palestine. Some people would stop here and say that the Jesus of the New Testament is historically accurate because his followers (and God) made sure of it by writing it down in the Gospels. As I stated earlier one group, the proto-orthodox group, among the many other Christian groups (Read Bart Ehrman's Lost Christianities) won the battle of orthodoxy and went on to select which books were accepted into the Bible. They decided how the story of Jesus would be told based on their beliefs and how they experienced a resurrected Christ, the Post Easter Jesus.
I define the Post Easter Jesus as the Jesus of Christian tradition and experience. That is the Post Easter Jesus is not just the product of early Christian belief and tradition, but an element of experience....After Easter, his followers experienced him as a spiritual reality, no longer as a person of flesh and blood, limited in time and space, as Jesus of Nazareth had been. Rather, Jesus as the risen living Christ could be experienced anywhere and everywhere. Increasingly he was spoken of as having all of the qualities of God. Prayers were addressed to Jesus as God, and praise was offered to Jesus as God in Christian worship. In short, his early followers experienced the risen Christ and addressed the risen Christ as the functional equivalent of God, as "one with God."(Borg, pg. 16)The purely historical Jesus can be found by sifting through the church's beliefs, tradition, and experience of the post-Easter Jesus. This is what historians do to find out who Jesus was, what he taught, and how his final days might have actually played out.
The quest for the historical Jesus should not lessen our personal sacred image of Jesus but in fact enhance it just as the stories about Jesus should also enhance our spirituality. All we have of Jesus are stories left on bits of paper and parchment. We must each as ourselves which has more significance and meaning to YOU: Stories on fragments of parchment, a historical reconstruction of the life of Christ, or the message of compassion and love that Jesus brought, taught, and lived throughout his short life on Earth? I believe they are all important but the message itself is what I hold closest to my heart.