Category Archives: New Testament – Gospels

Book Review: The Modern Search for the Real Jesus

Amazon Link: The Modern Search for the Real Jesus

The Modern Search for the Real Jesus


The Modern Search for the Real Jesus is an introductory survey of the historical roots of “Gospels Criticism,” as it has been done since the enlightenment. The book is written by Robert B. Strimple. The basic outline of the book starts in the 18th century and develops the first stages of Gospels Criticism, which has come to be known as the “Old Quest” for the historical Jesus. This quest was basically terminated with the likes of Albert Schweitzer and some rationalist critics who saw the “Old Quest” as fundamentally flawed in its approach to the historical nature of the Gospels themselves. Then, finally in the 20th century, Rudolf Bultmann appeared and gave a ‘watershed’ theory that would ultimately result in a “New Quest” for the historical Jesus. If I could summarize the book into funny categories, I would divide Strimple’s history of ‘Modern’ Gospels Criticism into these three basic categories: 1) Finding your own personal Jesus, 2) Burning everyone’s Personal Jesus, and 3) Solo Fide (Only Faith) – Jesus doesn’t matter anymore. Yes, that is how I felt after I read through the book and processed the basic thought patterns of each transformation of Gospels Criticism. Ultimately, instead of trying to summarize what each person said and thought, the most important thing to understand about Gospels Criticism is that everyone basically subscribed to three principles of history: 1) Any historical work can never be sure, it is only ‘probable’ that something happened, 2) If we cannot see it duplicated today, then it never could have happened in the past (i.e. – no miracles, resurrections, etc.), and 3) Every effect has to have a sufficient cause. Given these three principles, it should become clear that any ‘divine’ activity is strictly prohibited from being ‘known’ in history.


The full worth of this book should be seen in the comprehensive understanding that is given to every figure addressed throughout the book. Each person’s primary methodology in Gospels Criticism is clearly explained with the practical implications laid out for each. I especially enjoyed all the comments by Strimple throughout the book that he set in parentheses (). It became clear, after reading the first two parts of the book, why Strimple divided the various critics into the areas noted above. The “Old Quest” really was obsessed with creating Jesus in their own personal image. Then the “Old Quest” ended in flames with the old critics being called on the carpet for making Jesus in their own image. Finally, the last portion of the book, resolved the events of the burning of the old quest by showing how Bultmann and his disciples embraced the fruits of rationalistic historical criticism – since you really cannot know anything about the ‘historical’ Jesus, a radical faith (without Jesus) is the only real means of finding personal fulfillment in studying the Gospel writings.

One of the more helpful aspects of understanding the “Old Quest” is what Strimple calls their ‘apologetic’ purpose. The very first two critics Strimple mentions saw themselves as apologists for Christianity given the new era of rationalistic enlightenment. In their sincerity, they saw themselves as making Christianity palatable for a modern person who didn’t know what to do with all the miracles and faith claims of the Bible. But this of course lead these early critics to deny the very heart of the good news of Jesus – that he not only died for sins but that he was resurrected from the dead and lives today in heaven, at the right hand of God, saving people from Satan, death, and sin through the work of his Spirit. That is where the liberal critics step in. Knowing that most of the things that were important to historic, orthodox Christians were now gutted from the Gospel accounts, these liberal critics sought to reconstruct Jesus into a ‘real’ historical figure that people could actually appreciate and follow after – since after all, everyone knows that Jesus had to be a great guy – even though his followers added all that non-historical data to his life in the Gospel accounts. But in the end, they only made Jesus look like themselves (i.e. – a deist, a Hegelian, or a liberal protestant) Strimple, in effect, captures the heart of each Gospels critic as he traces their work through to their ultimate conclusions. This leads us to the last two sections of the book.

Strimple very clearly lays out the downfall of the “Old Quest” by means of the skeptical “radical” critics and the climactic work of Albert Schweitzer. Thus, the downfall of the “Old Quest” can be categorized by two claims from the ‘fire-starters’ noted above: 1) The Gospels were heavily influenced by followers of Jesus, so much so that they are primarily theological works, not historical work. 2) The “Old Quest” critics ended up reconstructing the life of Jesus to look a lot like their own worldviews, which was essentially the same thing the “Old Questers” were accusing the Gospel writers of doing to Jesus! This second claim is one of the only positive things that Albert Schweitzer gave to the history of Gospels Criticism.

Finally, in the last portion of the book, Strimple gives us a very helpful picture of the Bultmann’s thinking and how he and his disciples proceeded to embrace the ultimate futility of the modern Gospels Criticism movement. First, I would like to note the partial ‘breath of fresh air’ that I experienced when reading the sixth chapter on Martin Kähler, the supposed forerunner to Bultmann. Kähler’s work, while not affirming the inerrancy of Scripture, seemed to be thoroughly affirming of orthodox Christian doctrine and faith. But, in the end, his impact on Gospels Criticism was not revival. It was instead food for thought that pushed Bultmann to the conclusions that he drew. Strimple strongly presents the ultimate foolishness of Bultmann’s existential and a-historical conclusions about the Jesus of history. Recalling my third section title in the summary above, Bultmann basically proposed that faith is the only means for a person to be justified in seeking out a life of ‘authentic existence.’ This is the concept of ‘solo’ fide – only faith – where Bultmann concluded that knowing the history of Jesus didn’t matter. Instead, what the Gospel writers were trying to accomplish was to show their reads how to live a truly authentic life. And that authentic life could come in any form, not just Christian religion. Thus, it was the ‘left-wing’ disciples of Bultmann who really ‘got it’ and carried out Bultmann’s conclusions to their ultimate end – ‘who cares about Jesus anymore, we just want an authentic existence!’


I found only two negatives in this survey of Modern Gospels Criticism: 1) Strimple did not always connect the three parts together very clearly as he structured the book into chapters. Yes, he made it clear why he segregated the book into the three parts, but as I read, the information was sometimes so much that I did not always track with who came first and why someone influenced another person. It might just be the case that undertaking any such survey like this is always prone to that weakness. 2) Though I attribute this second issue to when Strimple wrote the book, I would have liked to have seen a fourth section covering what has more recently been called the “Third Quest” for the historical Jesus. The book dates itself by not addressing anything beyond what has taken place directly after Bultmann.


The Modern Search for the Real Jesus is a short, yet comprehensive, book that will accurately introduce a well read student of the Bible to the historical roots of Gospels Criticism. I say ‘well read’ because the book contains several references to the German language and also deals with fine distinctions and critical methodology. This book is primarily going to benefit someone seeking to be a pastor or Bible scholar, both of whom will run into these methods and conclusions in much of the scholarly commentary work done on the Gospels today.

Book Review: Mark as Story by David Rhoads

Amazon Link: Mark as Story by David Rhoads

mark as story


The primary purpose of the book, Mark as Story, by Rhoads, Dewey, and Michie, is to give a full introduction to reading the Gospel of Mark as Narrative or Story. This means that one should not first of all read mark as “history.” Instead, the authors recommend that the Gospel of Mark should be read (1) independently of other Gospel accounts, (2) while avoiding modern cultural assumptions, and (3) without reading in modern theological conclusions such as systematic formulas of the Trinity or Jesus’ Hypostatic Union. A full translation of the text of Mark is also provided in the book with particular emphasis on word and phase repetition, even to the point of maintaining the Greek word order where proper English allows. But the “bread and butter” of this book is contained in the literary analysis of the entire Gospel. In subsequent chapters to the translation, the authors provide detailed outlines and examples of how to understand the Gospel’s (1) Narrator, (2) the Cultural and Geographical Settings, (3) the Plot Lines, and (4) the Characters – such as Jesus, the Judean Leaders, and the Disciples of Jesus. Lastly, Mark as Story concludes with an afterword and two helpful appendixes. The afterword addresses how to read the Gospel of Mark with integrity, seeking to let the story of Jesus have its way with us and “work its magic” by using our imagination to read the story the way it was originally intended to be read by the first century audiences. The two appendixes are there for the more serious study of the Gospel, providing the reader with the proper tools and directions of what to look for when reading and re-reading the Gospel with several different questions and analysis points in mind.

Areas of Agreement

Keeping in mind that the authors of Mark as Story only intended this book to be a literary or narrative explanation of the Gospel of Mark, the reader must not misconstrue the fact that the Gospel of Mark contains accurate historical information about the first century, Jesus, and Jesus’ followers and enemies. The lack of historical analysis of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story is appropriate in the fact that the authors’ stated intentions were not to address this Gospel as “history.” Therefore, if one reads this book with the understanding that the authors are not denying the historical data that is found within the Gospel of Mark – let the reader understand – this book might be extremely helpful to the more conservative or evangelical reader.

In the literary analysis of Mark’s Gospel, multiple key subjects are highlighted and brought to the table by the authors: (1) the coming of God’s rule/kingdom, (2) the persecution that is associated with following God’s way, and (3) the work of Jesus to restore and change the way things are in world. These, along with other similar theological conclusions, are to be commended in the authors of Mark as Story. The general structure of Mark’s Gospel tells the story of God’s in-breaking rule and kingdom through the coming of Jesus and the persecution and rejection that is bound to follow those who seek after God’s way. This is something that other scholars have called inaugurated eschatology. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection inaugurate both the Kingdom of God and the Great Tribulation that was spoken of in the Old Testament Scriptures. By following the literary analysis provided in Mark as Story, one will come to a much deeper understanding of how important it was to the first century Christians who read or heard the Gospel of Mark while they were facing the wicked persecution of the Roman Empire in the mid to late decade of 60 A.D. It is with this clear structure that much of the Gospel of Mark can be cogently understood and read in its proper first century context.

A final and strong area of agreement is the fact that all Christians need to understand the literary side of Mark’s Gospel in order to better perceive the lessons and meanings that Mark intended his readers to receive as they read his Gospel account. By learning to read and understand plot lines, narrator functions, and cultural and geographical settings, the reader of Mark’s Gospel will have the ability to pick up on and imagine themselves in the story of Jesus as he brings God’s rule into this world and encourages all his followers to tell about God’s rule where they live and work. And while character analysis is an important feature of this Gospel, it is the conclusion of this reviewer that holding only to a literary reading of Mark’s Gospel will ultimately leave several character traits lacking, especially in the person and work of Jesus. This will be addressed in the next section that follows.

Areas of Disagreement

Many things could be said about the translation of Mark’s Gospel in Mark as Story, but an area of disagreement needs to be pointed out. Translating Mark in a word-for-word fashion is not the most effective way of getting the story of Mark across to the interpreter of Mark. Though this reviewer understands why the authors translated in this fashion, the overall translation was harder to follow in many areas given that Greek word order (which was emphasized in the translation) is non-existent for first century Greek grammar, especially as it relates to English grammar which demands word order for comprehension. But this is a minor disagreement and the translation can stand for the purposes of the authors’ literary analysis in bringing to light various patterns and repetitions in the Gospel of Mark.

Getting back to the Character analysis provided by the authors of Mark as Story, this reviewer cannot help but express his primary and strong disagreement and reservations with how certain aspects of Jesus’ character were described in the second to last chapter of the book. This is where a historical reading of the Gospel, along with a first century Christian understanding of Christology and Soteriology must be understood while reading Mark’s Gospel. Even though the authors believe that a literary analysis should exclude reading Mark as “history,” they do affirm the need for some cultural background to be understood in terms of Mark’s audience in the first century. Unfortunately, this is where several off-handed remarks are made by the authors of Mark as Story. For example, while it must be agreed that the Gospel of Mark does not need to address every theological meaning of Christ’s death, one cannot conclude with the character analysis that because “Jesus [was] already pardoning sin” that “his death is not needed to make forgiveness possible.” And later, in the same section, they conclude that Jesus’ statement about his “blood of the covenant” is not about sacrifice for sin, but merely a covenant sacrificial idea. But this assumes, once again, a certain view of modern theological interpretation that the authors of Mark as Story have so glaringly warned against. The first century Christian audiences would have had much more information about Christian theology than the authors of Mark as Story are willing to admit. While more examples could be given, this should stand as an adequate example of the types of problems that occur in the character analysis portion of the book.


Mark as Story is a valuable literary reading of Mark’s Gospel and should be commended to those seeking to study the Gospel of Mark in a deeper way with proper literary hermeneutical guidelines. While looking out for the areas of disagreement, much can be gained from both the translation and the literary analysis of the Narrator, Setting, Plot, and Characters provided in the book, Mark as Story.

Colbert takes on Bart Ehrman… a second time

Once again, Colbert hands Bart Ehrman a rattle snake and tells him to chew on it! Just kidding, but please observe as Stephen Colbert uses standard Christian apologetic arguments against Dr. Ehrman’s claim. I especially love the final example about the elephant, even though his telling of the story isn’t quite as eloquent as I would present it. 🙂

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bart Ehrman
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor NASA Name Contest

[HT: James Grant]

Maundy Thursday: The Commandment

Last Supper

John 13:31-35: A New Commandment

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

N. T. Wright on the Resurrection

James Grant says,

Mark Driscoll provided something of an overview of N. T. Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God. Here is Driscoll’s brief five-point summary of Wright’s argument:

  1. Resurrection and its cognates mean “life after ‘life after death.’”
  2. Ancient paganism strenuously denied the possibility of resurrection.
  3. A strong belief in the hope of future resurrection existed only within the bounds of certain sects of Judaism.
  4. The only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus, alive again.
  5. Though admitting it involves accepting a challenge at the level of worldview itself, the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead.

Read his whole post.

[HT: James Grant]

Holy Saturday: Anticipating the Resurrection

In honor of Holy Saturday, here is a good interview with N.T. Wright regarding the resurrection of Jesus.

Below is an excerpt…


At the National Pastors Conference in San Diego,’s Brian Lowery got to interview N. T. Wright about his latest book—Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church—and how it relates to preaching. Since we are all in the midst of the Easter journey, his words are timely, challenging, and above all else, hopeful.

Preaching Today: In your book Surprised by Hope, you talk about a deeper understanding of hope “that provides a coherent and energizing basis for work in today’s world.” How has that deeper understanding influenced your preaching through the years?

Bishop N. T. Wright: [Studying] the Resurrection for an earlier book, Resurrection of the Son of God … ended up rubbing my nose in the New Testament theology of new creation, and the fact that the new creation has begun with Easter. I discovered that when we do new creation—when we encourage one another in the church to be active in projects of new creation, of healing, of hope for communities—we are standing on the ground that Jesus has won in his resurrection.

New creation is not just “whistling in the dark.” It’s not a kind of social Pelagianism, where we try to improve things by pulling ourselves up from our own bootstraps. Because Jesus is raised from the dead, God’s new world has begun. We are not only the beneficiaries of new creation; we are the agents of it. I just can’t stop preaching about that, because that is where we’re going with Easter.

For me, therefore, there’s no disjunction between preaching about the salvation which is ours in God’s new age—the new heavens and new earth—and preaching about what that means for the present. The two go very closely together. If you have an eschatology that is nonmaterial, why bother with this present world? But if God intends to renew the world, then what we do in the present matters. That’s 1 Corinthians 15:58! This understanding has made my preaching more challenging to me, and hopefully to my hearers, to actually get off our backsides and do something in the local community—things that are signs of new creation. (more…)

Good Friday: The Good Shepherd Is Slain-The Bridegroom Is Taken Away

Here is today’s Good Friday prayer and meditation from Touchstone Magazine.



Almighty and Everlasting God, who willed that our Savior should take upon Him our flesh and should suffer death upon the cross, so that all mankind should follow the example of His great humility, mercifully grant that we may both imitate the model of His patience and become partakers of His Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from Saint Andrew’s Missal)

This is the day commemorating annually the unique sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the true Pascal Lamb of our salvation, by whose blood we have been purchased unto God as His own consecrated people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. Christians today gather at the foot of the cross with Mary the Lord’s Mother, the beloved disciple John, the repentant Mary Magdalene and her several companions, the confessing Centurion and all others who have, down through the ages, foresworn all righteousness of their own in order to be justified and made holy by the redeeming act of the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.

March 21

The Suffering Servant: When did the early Christians go to the Old Testament, and specifically, to the Book of Isaiah, to interpret and understand the significance of Jesus’ sufferings and death?

Although St. Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost affirmed that Jesus had been delivered to His enemies “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23), he did not cite any specific Scriptures to demonstrate this purpose and foreknowledge. This fact seems particularly worthy of note, because Peter did on that occasion cite biblical prophecy with respect to our Lord’s resurrection (2:25-36).

Not until Philip do we find our earliest recorded example of recourse to the Old Testament to interpret the theology of Jesus’ sufferings and death (8:28-35). Surely this was not Philip’s own idea.

Jesus Himself had dropped more than one hint on the subject. He avowed, for example, that He suffered in fulfillment of Holy Scripture (Matthew 26:54), a declaration later prompting His disciples to search the Old Testament under that perspective.

Moreover, Jesus also spoke of the soteriological significance of His death by declaring that His blood was “shed for many for the remission of sins”(Matthew 26:28), thus introducing the Old Testament liturgical category of the “sin offering” to interpret what He accomplished on the cross.

Finally, Jesus described Himself as a servant, who came to give His “life as a ransom for many” (20:28). The Old Testament source for this assertion left no room for doubt. Jesus was clearly identifying Himself as the Servant of the Lord portrayed in the Book of Isaiah, that Servant who “poured out His soul unto death,” who “bore the sin of many,/ and made intercession for the transgressors.” In the suffering Jesus believers would recognize the One who “was led as a lamb to the slaughter,” who was “wounded for our transgressions, . . . bruised for our iniquities,” who “has borne our griefs/ and carried our sorrows.”

Jesus Crusifixion

Continue reading Good Friday: The Good Shepherd Is Slain-The Bridegroom Is Taken Away