Miracle, Method, And Metaphysics: Philosophy And The Quest For The Historical Jesus -- By: Stewart E. Kelly

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 29:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: Miracle, Method, And Metaphysics: Philosophy And The Quest For The Historical Jesus
Author: Stewart E. Kelly


Miracle, Method, And Metaphysics:
Philosophy And The Quest For The Historical Jesus

Stewart E. Kelly*

*Stewart E. Kelly is Professor of Philosophy at Minot State University in Minot, North Dakota.

I. Introduction

The Quest for the Historical Jesus has been the subject of much scholarly attention in the past twenty-five years or so. N. T. Wright, John Dominic Crossan, Ed Sanders, Marcus Borg, Ben Witherington, John Meier, Ben Meyer, and many others have all made significant contributions to the literature.1 Still there remains a great divide between those scholars who affirm the divinity of Jesus, and those who see the “evidence”2 as suggesting a rather low Christology. It seems that some of the reasons that explain this divide are philosophical in nature, and thus that philosophy can and should contribute to the issues surrounding the Quest. In what follows, I briefly tackle two significant issues that intersect the modern Quest for Jesus and contemporary philosophy: 1) The question of miracles—How might arguments for the miraculous impact the Quest and our view of Jesus? and 2) The question of historical method—What should we think of the Historical-Critical Method and its underlying Troeltschean presuppositions?

It seems to me that analytic philosophy has valuable advice to offer in both of these important areas, and in what follows I offer a critique of many current scholarly practices and give a few suggestions as to how the Christian biblical scholar might approach the Quest. Much of modern theology still presupposes the impossibility of the miraculous, and as Ben Meyer has written, “Theology like this is only driven out by prayer and fasting, neither of which seems to have figured prominently among the resources of liberalism.”3The key question is whether the central claims of

Liberal4 theology bear up under closer scrutiny, and it is to that question we now turn.

II. The Question Of Miracles

For many years the gospel accounts were accepted at face value. But with the rise of Deism, higher biblical criticism, and Enlightenment presuppositions, scholars began to question whether miracles were still palatable to the modern mind. With the ascendancy of reason, the treatment of the Bible like any other book, and the arguments of Hume and the Deists to fall back on, the miracle stories in the Scriptures came under attack. Karl Bahrdt (1741-1792)...

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