Introducing the New Testament, 2nd Edition

A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey


4. Jesus

Video Introduction


The New Testament portrays Jesus as both a theologically significant person who lived at a particular place and time, and also as an eternal figure who reigns from heaven and lives in the hearts of believers. The Gospel narratives focus on the first of these figures, describing the life and career of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus conducts an itinerant ministry to rural Jewish peasants, proclaiming the imminence of God’s rule. He tells parables, performs prophetic acts, and works remarkable miracles, especially healings and exorcisms. He comes to be identified as the Son of Man, Messiah, and Son of God but enters into conflict with the religious leaders of Israel. Eventually, he is crucified by order of the Roman government and, then, raised from the dead.

Academic study of the New Testament often focuses on discerning the particular ways in which Jesus is portrayed by different authors; this enables each New Testament book to be understood on its own terms, apart from what other New Testament writers might have believed or known about Jesus. The field of historical Jesus studies, by contrast, uses the New Testament writings as sources for determining what can be verified as “historical facts” about Jesus apart from the interests of theology or commitments of religious faith.

Compared to the Gospels, New Testament epistles and other writings display less interest in Jesus as a man who once lived in Galilee and more interest in the exalted figure of Jesus who remains the primary object of Christian faith.

Study Questions

  1. Explain why it is significant to distinguish between “the earthly Jesus” and “the exalted Jesus” and give an example of one way in which this distinction is made within the New Testament itself.

  2. List three facets of Jesus’s public ministry and indicate which of these would distinguish his ministry from that of John the Baptist.

  3. What range of meanings might be attached to the New Testament phrase “kingdom of God”? What did Jesus mean when he employed this phrase in his preaching and teaching?

  4. How does the New Testament portray the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel: Why do they take offense at him? Why does he find them offensive?

  5. Give two examples of how a single New Testament author’s portrayal of Jesus differs from the portrait of Jesus obtained from the New Testament as a whole.

  6. Cite two examples of New Testament claims regarding Jesus that historians would be unlikely to regard as “verifiable historical facts.” In each case, indicate what principles of historical science would guide historians who render such judgments.

  7. Give two examples of instances in which an image of the exalted Jesus is more prominent in the writings of a particular New Testament author than in the New Testament as a whole.

Video: Early Images of Jesus