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The Evidence for Jesus Paperback – January 1, 1986
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This relatively small book discusses four questions: (1) the historicity of the Gospels; (2) did Jesus claim to be the Son of God?; (3) what the first Christians believed about the resurrection; and (4) unity and diversity in earliest Christianity. It assumes little or no knowledge of the Gospels and could be studied profitably by beginners and those who are exposed to fanciful stories of Jesus' life (e.g., Jesus married Mary Magdalene and moved to India). The discussion of the resurrection is particularly good, and Dunn shows that there are few parallels to belief in Jesus' resurrection in the pagan or Jewish world of the time.
Not everyone will agree with Prof. Dunn's conclusions. For example, he argues that John's Gospel is something of a theological commentary on Jesus' life and that the dispute with "the Jews" reflects the later separation between church and synagogue. Another book, which complements this one and reaches perhaps more conservative conclusions, is F.F. Bruce's THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS: ARE THEY RELIABLE?
Professor Dunn's book deals with four issues which provide a response to the television series, Jesus: The Evidence, which first aired in the mid-eighties, and, according to Dunn, misrepresented the scholarly consensus in early Christian studies. Rather than provide a balanced overview of scholarship, this show favored the eccentric views of a minority of scholars, and thus misled many viewers. This book is a brief reply, and deals with four salient issues:
1. The Reliability of the Synoptic Gospels
2. Finding the Historical Jesus in the Gospel of John
3. Beliefs of the Resurrection in the Early Church
4. The Early Church -- Christianity or Christianities?
Brief, lucid, and a fine example of deftly blending scholarship with a concern for the contemporary church, this book is a must for every layperson not yet exposed to critical scholarship.
A scholar of a moderate bent, Dunn begins by mentioning the difficulties created by the "gap" between Jesus' ministry and the writing of the gospels (which he places at 36-39 years), the fact that the Gospels were written in Greek but Jesus taught in Aramaic, and the redaction of the sources in the Gospels. The discussion of the redaction of material in the Gospels is surprisingly in-depth for such a short book. Dunn demonstrates that though there is redaction, it is focused on a core of historical information accepted by each of the gospels.
Dunn goes on to demonstrate quite convincingly that Jesus considered himself uniquely to be God's son and that the earliest Christians believed in the empty tomb and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. These chapters are not your typical apologetics, because Dunn has quite a sceptical eye for some material. Nevertheless, his careful analysis shows the emptiness of overly sceptical conclusion-jumping.
Dunn considers the early Christian epistles and other evidence to conclude that there was diversity in early Christianity, but not nearly as broad as some contend. Ultimately what bound Christians together was their belief in "Jesus as the climax of God's ongoing purpose for man's redemption, the one whom God had raised from the dead and exalted as Lord, the man who demonstrated most clearly what God is like.Read more ›
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James D. G. Dunn (born 1939) is a British New Testament scholar who was Professor of Theology at the University of Durham prior to his retirement; he is also a minister of the... Read morePublished on June 17, 2013 by Steven H Propp