Encountering the New Testament, 4th Edition

A Historical and Theological Survey

series: Encountering Biblical Studies


12. The Modern Search for Jesus

Chapter Intro Video

Chapter Objectives

  • Construct a brief outline of the three phases of the search scholars have made for the “real” Jesus
  • Identify the scholars who have played major roles in this debate
  • Evaluate the current status of this search
  • Discuss the search for the real words of Jesus
  • List the criteria used to find what Jesus really said
  • Suggest a suitable approach for evangelical scholars interested in this debate

Chapter Summary

  1. Skepticism fostered in scholars since the Enlightenment dictates that anything that seems supernatural be ruled out or reinterpreted.

  2. Schweitzer observed that most nineteenth-century scholars seeking to find the historical Jesus removed Jesus from his place in history and inserted him into their own historical period.

  3. Bultmann developed a method called demythologizing to reinterpret the early Christian myths such as the incarnation and deity of Christ.

  4. The quest for the historical Jesus has had three phases: the old quest, the new quest, and the third quest.

  5. A group of seventy scholars called the Jesus Seminar worked over six years to validate the words of Jesus and concluded that 82 percent of the words ascribed to Jesus were not actually spoken by him.

  6. More than twenty-five criteria are used to identify the authentic words of Jesus.

  7. When historical research is conducted without presuppositions that rule out God’s involvement, it can bring greater understanding of the Bible.

Study Questions

  1. Recount briefly the modern search for Jesus.

  2. What was Rudolf Bultmann’s contribution to this search?

  3. Why did the “post-Bultmannians” reject Bultmann’s views?

  4. What are some of the current emphases in the search for Jesus?

  5. What is your evaluation of the search for Jesus?

  6. Recount briefly the search for Jesus’s real words.

  7. What are some of the criteria used to determine Jesus’s real words?

  8. Is there a way to integrate faith and research in analyzing Jesus as a historical figure? Explain.