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The Story of Jesus in History and Faith

An Introduction

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Many books are available on the historical Jesus, but few address issues that are critically central to Christian faith--namely, Jesus as resurrected Lord, Christ, and Son of God. This comprehensive introduction to the study of the historical Jesus takes both scholarship and Christian faith seriously.

Leading New Testament scholar Lee Martin McDonald brings together two critically important dimensions of the story of Jesus: what we can know about him in his historical context and what we can responsibly claim about his significance for faith today. McDonald examines the most important aspects of the story of Jesus from his birth to his resurrection and introduces key issues and approaches in the study of the historical Jesus. He also considers faith issues, taking account of theological perspectives that secular historiography cannot address. The book incorporates excerpts from primary sources and includes a map and tables.


Part 1: History and the Historical Jesus
1. History, Historical Inquiry, and the Historical Jesus
Part 2: Sources for Studying the Historical Jesus
2. The Gospels: Their Relationships and Reliability
3. Other Sources for Studying the Historical Jesus
Part 3: The Story of Jesus in History (Events and Teachings)
4. The Story of Jesus in History: From Birth to His Scriptures
5. The Story of Jesus in History: From the Transfiguration to His Burial
6. Easter: The Story of Jesus within History and Faith
7. Conclusion: Jesus in History and Faith


"Lee Martin McDonald is world famous for his books on the development of the biblical canon. In the present book, designed for nonspecialists, Lee focuses on the Jesus story. In light of the advances in perceiving the evidence of eyewitness accounts in the Gospels and the fact that oral tradition is not always untrustworthy, Lee wisely points out the vast amount of reliable historical information in the Gospels, although they were primarily composed to defend the faith and win converts (kerygmata). Lee assesses the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for comprehending Jesus' time and his unique message and astutely includes not only the so-called apocryphal gospels but also the Jewish traditions about Jesus. Lee writes with skill, insight, and spiritual energy. His insight that Jesus' message proves 'we are significant enough to be loved' will be moving for many readers, as well as the notion that the biblical Jesus is also the Christ of faith. This book is highly recommended for classes and all who find Jesus' story riveting and compelling."

James H. Charlesworth, director and editor, Princeton Dead Sea Scrolls Project; George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary

"The Story of Jesus in History and Faith is perhaps the best technical survey of Jesus research now in print. It is at once exhaustively thorough, painstakingly fair, and enormously readable. This is simply a great book that will serve scholars and students alike who need to become current on virtually every critical issue surrounding the Gospels, the life of Jesus, and the intersection of history and faith."

Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament, Wheaton College and Graduate School

"Lee McDonald writes as a veteran scholar with a depth of experience in both the church and the academy. The Story of Jesus in History and Faith distinguishes itself by offering readers a learned and carefully nuanced discussion of what history is, how it is written, and what relevance it has for our understanding of Jesus. McDonald skillfully leads his readers through all of the important topics and questions, including the historical reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Careful reading of this book will profit believers and skeptics alike. I am pleased to recommend it."

Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, Nova Scotia, Canada

"Lee McDonald has provided a wide-ranging compendium of useful information on the study of the historical Jesus, including an account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that engages the major critical issues. This material will be well suited to students at various levels of engagement. This is vintage McDonald."

Stanley E. Porter, president, dean, and professor of New Testament, McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

"In what must be regarded as a tour de force in Jesus studies, Lee McDonald has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by David F. Strauss in the nineteenth century, effectively challenging his two dichotomies: that the Jesus of history must be divorced from the Christ of faith, and that the historicity of the Fourth Gospel is decimated by that of the Synoptics. As a fourth quest for Jesus seeks a way to include the Gospel of John, this book will play a pivotal role in restoring the critical integration of history and faith regarding the greatest subject of both fields: Jesus."

Paul N. Anderson, professor of biblical and Quaker studies, George Fox University; author of The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel

"McDonald surveys the broad range of issues and sources in historical Jesus research in a way that is irenic toward all sides. Rather than pursuing a partisan line, he writes as an independent observer and yet with sensitivity to the scholars with whom he disagrees."

Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Lee Martin McDonald

    Lee Martin McDonald

    Lee Martin McDonald (PhD, University of Edinburgh), before his retirement, was professor of New Testament studies and president of Acadia Divinity College. He is the author or coauthor of several books, including The Biblical Canon, and coeditor of...

    Continue reading about Lee Martin McDonald


"Although books on the historical study of Jesus have flooded the market over the past 10 to 20 years, relatively few have been written by scholars specifically to help nonspecialists understand the issues in historical Jesus research. Some of the volumes that fit this category have a dry textbook feel that makes persevering to the end difficult. . . . [This volume] is informed by deep scholarship. It is also very readable and understandable, even for nonspecialists. . . . The book is fair, well written, well researched, and arguably one of the best of its kind. . . . Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers."

D. Ingolfsland,


"There is no shortage of books written for the purpose of introducing students and scholars to the critical academic discussions taking place within historical Jesus studies. The present volume is unique within this genre in that it purposefully approaches those academic discussions from a perspective informed by faith. . . . This compelling and well-written book is suitable for use in a number of venues; chief among them are seminaries and divinity schools within mainline and broadly evangelical traditions. Pastors, teachers, and other church leaders will also benefit from engagement with this volume."

Christopher W. Skinner,


"McDonald has produced a valuable resource for students, pastors, and educated laypersons in churches. . . . [This volume] successfully introduces non-specialists to the complexities associated with studying Jesus."

Chris Winchester,

Expository Times

"When history is done well the reader is able to see the story of Jesus as the Gospel writers intended. The Story of Jesus in History and Faith does this for the reader. . . . McDonald's extensive knowledge and application of Jewish background material to illuminate the Gospel narratives is a real strength of the book. . . . The volume is a clear example of how history and theology can be used in a complementary manner to provide a better understanding of the biblical narratives. . . . McDonald provides an excellent example of how the Jewish background can supplement and expand how we read the Gospels. This contribution shows the value of background literature, particularly for students who are new to Jesus research."

Benjamin I. Simpson,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"McDonald faces the challenge inherent in writing any introduction to a topic such as this by striking the appropriate balance between being concise and being thorough, which he meets admirably. . . . McDonald has offered a wonderful introduction to the problems of studying Jesus historically and how this relates to one's Christian faith. It would be a valuable contribution to any theological library."

J. Jordan Henderson,

Asbury Journal

"[A] substantial volume. . . . McDonald seeks to redress the problematic dichotomy between history and faith. . . . He is in large measure successful in [his] attempt to bridge critical scholarship and Christian theology. . . . McDonald displays strong knowledge of the relevant materials, evidence of a long and fruitful career of teaching and writing in this area. . . . McDonald is to be commended for this well-researched and carefully argued work. It will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any minister, undergraduate, or seminary student seriously interested in the story of the historical Jesus from a committed posture of Christian faith."

Daniel M. Yencich,

Stone-Campbell Journal

"It is likely one could complete their research on Historical Jesus scholarship without ever picking up [this book]; however, their research would remain incomplete. . . . There is a deep canyon lacking in Evangelical scholarship, especially in the area of the Historical Jesus. Too much time is spent on defending this or that position, only to allow the entire scheme to slip away. McDonald presents nothing new so as to be groundbreaking, but has built up a virtual library aimed at engaged critical scholarship in the area of the so-called Historical Jesus quest. His charts and other compiled, and simplified, data will remain helpful to all students of the Gospels and their literary sources. His citation and use of secondary material, or material not related to the New Testament, is immediately impressive given that it is not the New Testament that proves the plausibility of Jesus or the message of Jesus, but those who would be his contemporaries. In short, [this] is a much needed volume to give us a firm ground on how to explore the quest of the Historical Jesus without letting ourselves get in the way."

Joel Watts,

Unsettled Christianity blog

"McDonald seeks to talk reflectively about the Historical Jesus from the perspective of both history and faith. . . . McDonald is a clear and capable writer. This book would be a nice choice for a course on the life of Jesus. . . . Lecturers as well as students will benefit from McDonald's topical bibliography. I warmly recommend this to teachers and students as a 'faith-friendly' guide to studying the historical Jesus!"

Nijay K. Gupta,

Crux Sola blog