History and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels -- By: Grant R. Osborne

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 24:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: History and Theology in the Synoptic Gospels
Author: Grant R. Osborne


History and Theology
in the
Synoptic Gospels

Grant R. Osborne

Grant R. Osborne is Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

It is a supreme irony that a century ago Albert Schweitzer summed up the nineteenth century quests for the historical Jesus by showing that they had all painted a Jesus in their own image. He called for a new openness to history, to let “Jesus be Jesus.” In his inimitable prose he said,

Formerly it was possible to book through-tickets at the supplementary-psychological knowledge office, which enabled those traveling in the interests of life-of-Jesus constructions to use express trains, thus avoiding the inconvenience of having to stop at every little station, change, and run the risk of missing their connection. This ticket office is now closed. There is a station at the end of each section of the narrative, and the connections are not guaranteed.1

The result was a new age of historical inquiry designed to discover the true “historical Jesus.” Fueled by the historical skepticism of Wrede and Troeltsch,2 the new era sought to determine “the real Jesus” of history. The results have been disappointing to say the least. The new Jesuses have suspiciously resembled the old in the sense that the so-called pure historians have also “modernized”3 him and created a list of figures that would fit their own times quite well. A brief perusal of the pictures developed in recent decades will illustrate this: the existential Jesus of Käsemann and Bornkamm; the itinerant cynic philosopher of Funk and Crossan; the Spirit-filled

teacher of wisdom of Borg; the revolutionary social activist of Horsley; the prophet of Sophia of Fiorenza—all depict a Jesus who would find a perfect niche in the modern world more than one that fits the actual biblical and historical portrait. We have come full circle back to Schweitzer, proof that the so-called scientific advance promised in critical circles has not been forthcoming. The thesis of this paper is that no historical or “real” Jesus is possible until we take the data of the gospels seriously as historical documents in their own right.

At the same time, evangelical scholars must answer charges that we as well have failed to solve the problem. Luke Timothy Johnson has challenged the “cultural agenda” behind evangelical scholarship, saying,

A. .. complex pattern of avoidance can be found among those professors of Ne...

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