Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Historical Method: Hypothesis and Verification

Knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis s: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’1 For a hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must

  1. must include all the data

  2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture

  3. prove itself fruitful in other areas

For Wright the ‘inclusion of data is ultimately the more important of the two criteria’2.

I want to ask, Can we ever include all the data?

A good hypothesis will find verfication from the data. Yet a hypothesis, about anything, cannot make sense of all the data, but makes sense of a selection of the data. This may be illustrated with the example of a detective looking for evidence in a house robbery. A detective may develop a hypothesis about the burglar which includes some data including footprints, a broken window. However bright, methodological or scientific this detective is she cannot include all of the data,but only needs to include the relevant data. The complexity of life, objects and historical artefacts, cannot be be known in totality, nor do we need to have all data available before us before a judgement. Wright is wrong to say that a hypothesis must include all the data for the establishment of data, in an exhaustive sense, is an infinite task. We simply can do history, whether it be historical Jesus research or WWII, without knowing the full, or even the knowable, arithmetic, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, sensitive, analytic, historical, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical or pistic aspects3. In historical Jesus research we may say off hand that we must include all the data, but we quickly realise that we simply mean the relevant data. For instance we may say Jesus must be understood against the geographical backdrop of Galilee4 yet this not mean that we need to pursue to a full extent topological and biotic data.

Wright accepts that the ‘stack of data to be included is vast and bewildering5 and accepts that ‘seeing and assembling the data is a monstrous task’. 6 This assembling, surely involves selection, which brings with it, even at the data level, an amount of subjectivity, for what is relevant data to one community is irrelevant to another.

1NT&POG 99

2NT&POG 105

3Particularly helpful in this regard is the theory of modal aspects developed by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

5NT&POG 100

6NT&POG 101


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Just picked up my latest cd-rom from logos. Its called Studies in Jesus and the Gospels and contains 23 different monographs. I purchased them as a pre-pub and in the process saved myself some money. The idea is that you commit to buying the product before it has been published. As an electronic resource its easy to pull out quotes, highlight the text and they are fully searchable.

I started reading one last night by Sean Freyne which seeks to show Jesus’s ministry in the context of a historically reconstructed Galilee. There is some discussion of Galilee and Roman imperial rule. I found the follwoing quite stimulating.

“‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’—a call to accept Caesar’s rule, or a declaration that only what belonged to God was of any consequence? There seems little doubt about Jesus’ answer to his own question. Unlike some of his co-religionists who belonged to the retainer class, he was not prepared to accept the inevitability of Rome’s rule as expressed in its propaganda (JW 2.348–361). Like other kingdoms, it too was doomed to pass. Despite Rome’s claims, their peace could not be imposed. ‘They make a desolation and call it peace’ are words put on the lips of a British general Calgacus, by a Roman historian, Tacitus (Agicola 30.3–31). Jesus was not prepared to share the violent response to such conditions, espoused by many Jews throughout the first century, which eventually plunged the nation into a disastrous revolt. He believed in the power of symbols and symbolic action because he believed in a God of whom, unlike Caesar, no image could be made, and yet who summoned people to trust in his presence and his power. This was the risk of faith that Jesus was prepared to take. His was a faith that was grounded in a trust in the goodness of the creation as he had experienced it and reflected on its mysterious but hidden processes. It was also a faith that had been nourished by the apocalyptic imagination that this creator God was still in charge of his world and had the power to make all things new again. No human empire could be compared with this power, no matter how dominant it and its agents appeared to be. Caesar could have his image engraved on the coin of the tribute, but he could not control the power of the imagination that was fed by the tradition of God’s mysterious but powerful presence in the world, to which no image could do justice.”

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Jesus comes down from the mount of transfiguration to discover his disciples are involved in a dispute with the Scribes. A crowd have gathered who are greatly amazed (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν) when they see Him.  Some commentators have suggested that it is because Jesus face is still shining from the transfiguration. However this text makes sense without this interpretation as people were no doubt excited to see a man whom so many have talked about. Jesus ministry is gaining popular approval .

Jesus seeks to find out the cause of the dispute. The focus of the story now switches from that of groups (disciples, scribes, crowds) to the plight of a father whose son has a ‘spirit that makes him mute’.  The father had sought help from the disciples but they were not able to cast out the spirit. The stage has been set, Is Jesus greater than his disciples? Is Jesus able to do what the disciples could not? The desciples lacked strength (οὐκ ἴσχυσαν ), will Jesus?

Jesus does not immediately heal the boy but calls the generation unbelieving ( γενεὰ ἄπιστος ). Mark’s gospel is full of sayings about faith/belief. See 2:5, 4:40, 5:34, 19:52, 11:22-23).  Jesus accuses the generation of being unbelieving.  One is reminded of  Deut 32:5, Numbers 14:11 and Is 65:2 which speaks of the rebellion of God’s own people. Jesus came to heal and restore and bring the kingdom.  He also offered a challenge to those who were living lives of rebellion.

The boy was brought to Jesus and the spirit took over the boy. The presence of Jesus causes evil to raise its head. (Mark 1:23-26, 34, 3:11-12, 5:6-13).  Jesus looks to the father for faith, in contrast to the faithlessness of the generation.  The man is weak in faith, perhaps due to numerous failed visits he had made with exorcists and the inability of the disciples.

True faith is always aware how small and inadequate it is. The father becomes a believer not when he amasses a sufficient quantum of faith but when he risks everything on what little faith he has, when he yields his insufficiency to the true sufficiency of Jesus, “ ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ ” The risk of faith is more costly to the father than bringing his son to Jesus, for he can talk about his son but he must “cry out” (Gk. krazein) for faith.103 True faith takes no confidence in itself, nor does it judge Jesus by the weakness of his followers. It looks to the More Powerful One (1:7) who stands in the place of God, whose authoritative word restores life from chaos. True faith is unconditional openness to God, a decision in the face of all to the contrary that Jesus is able.

Edwards, James R.: The Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England : Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002 (The Pillar New Testament Commentary), S. 278 

Jesus commands the spirit in the first person (I command you) and it is not in the name of YHWH or one of the prophets.  Jesus has power, he could do what others could not. He has authority.

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Here is another tasty quote from Jesus and Politics In discussing the Messiah and the suffering servant,


Yet more difficult is the idea that the king can also be a suffering Servant. Deep in this great book [Isaiah] is a radical understanding of sin and injustice, a deconstruction of human autonomy and power, a knowledge of love and mercy, and a pervasive sense that God is with us. It requires the self-referencing attitude of the state and politics to be discarded in recognition of their accountability before God. Above all, it requires a complete rethinking of the idea of victory. Throughout sinful human history, conquest has been domination, self-will, glory, and control over others. Such thought forms are endemic to presidents, prime ministers, kings, and people through the centuries. Yet here in Isaiah a different fulcrum is intimated. To win is to fight for the other, the weak, the sick, and even the enemy. To win is to lose, even one’s life, steady in love. By his wounds we are healed. The deliverer is led like a lamb to the slaughter, and he bears our iniquities (is 53). No-one can be sure of the actual incarnation of Isaiah’s meaning in the Suffering Servant. But here is the prototype for the great hinge of political history in Jesus. It all swings on this. (page 103-104)

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 Another tasty quote from Jesus and Politics. In discussing the kingdom (reign) of God as part of Jesus’ ministry he says..

“Jesus moves around healing people—a man who is manic, a woman with fever, those who are paralysed and diseased, a man leprosy, and so on. It is clearly his prior concern: Jesus seeks out people who are ill and receives those who come to him. No one at that time or throughout most of human history has seen healings as part of politics. Wars? Yes. Taxation? Yes. Healings?No. That position is still resolutely held in the United States today. Yet, if care of our neighbour is part of just and righteous living, health and healing need to be a concern of the state, as they are now throughout much of the world. In Britain’s 2001 election, the National service was the dominant issue. So, we have this man walking around, lifting people up, giving them relief in mind and body, exhibiting what God’s rule is like, and it includes healing.”pp80-81

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I hope to be able to offer some tasty quotes from Alan Storkey’s Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers over the next few weeks. A short review can be found here. These postings are not attempting to be a review, critique or summary but merely a collection of tasty quotes.

In Chapter 1 Storkey sets Jesus in contrast to the ruthless Herod the Great. Jesus birth and life are tied in with Isaiah Ch 40.  Here is todays quote (page 24-25)

Isaiah 40:10-11 (ESV)
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

“These are strange words. Is God a ruler like this? Rulers demand taxes, slaves, soldiers, but here is a ruler who rewards. Rulers govern by fear and conquest, but here is a ruler who is gentle to the young and those who are pregnant. You cannot a cradle a lamb and be harsh. Rulers rely on armies, but here is one whose arms hold his subjects clsoe to his heart. Is it possible that all this conquest, domination, rape, and pillage are necessary when we live on God’s terms? Is it unthinkable in terms of usual world history, but here it actually begins to unfold. There could be another King.” 24-25






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Is Mark’s gospel based on eyewitness testimony. Richard Bauckham revisits, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses the case for Peter as the main eye witness source.


I want to give you two of his reasons.


  1. Inclusio of Eyewitness Testimony: The most authoritative eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus are those who were present from the beginning of his ministry (John the Baptist) until the resurrection. The gospels use a literary device called the inclusio of eyewitnesses, also used in two Greek biographies, by which the a character in the story is placed into the beginning and the end of the story, to show that he is one of the main sources of information. In Mark’s gospel Peter is mentioned in the early stages (Mark 1:16-18) and at the end (Mark 16:7).

  2. Plural to Single Narrative Devise is predominantly found in Mark’s gospel. This device is illustrated in the following verses.


        Mk 5:1-2 (NRSV) 1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.

    2. Mark 8 22 They [Plural]came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him[Singular] and begged him to touch him.

Mark 11:12 (NRSV) 12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.

Mark 14:32 (NRSV)32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”


This occurs 21 times in Mark. However this seems to be unnatural in Greek as textual variants abound which put these verses back into singular/singular, also Matthew and Luke change a good number of these verse back into singular/singular. This seems to indicate that the account is based on eyewitness testiomony in which they would say, for Mark 8:22, we came to Bethsaida. .


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