Bauckham, Richard. “Chapter 1, From the Historical Jesus to the Jesus of Testimony.” Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.” Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006, pp. 1-11.
The quest for a “historical Jesus” has been in progress for about 200 years, resulting in many scholarly and popular books and articles. Baukham finds the quest to be flourishing, especially in North American scholarship (Bauckham 2006, 1). He does, however, note this quest is mostly undertaken by historians rather than theologians. This leads him to ask whether the Jesus who is an historical figure is the same as the one around whom Christianity is centered (Bauckham 2006, 2). Christianity has historically recognized Jesus as portrayed in the four canonical Gospels to be the very real person in whom Christianity is rooted. The conflict arises when historians take the Jesus of those Gospels as someone constructed by early Christians to meet perceived needs.
Bauckham sees a serious issue when historians approach texts which have a long and credible reputation for reliability, such as the Gospels, and acts with an assumption of their inaccuracy (Bauckham 2006, 3). This results in widely varied (and unprovable) interpretations of the things described in them. At issue is the significance of Jesus’ person and actions. For this reason, Bauckham considers the best way to reach a solid understanding of Jesus is to work with the body of material in the Gospels, where we do find the bulk of the data about Jesus (Bauckham 2006, 4).
Key to Bauckham’s approach is the idea that the Gospels are historiography based on eyewitness testimony (Bauckham 2006, 5). Accepting history as testimony requires a certain amount of weighing the credibility of the different witnesses. Yet is also allows the scholar to investigate the theological and interpretive claims made by the text, rather htan discarding them out of hand as something unrelated to facts.
Bauckham takes the Gospel accounts to be “much closer to the form in which the eyewitnesses told their stories or passed on their traditions than is commonly envisaged in current scholarship” (Bauckham 2006, 6). Hedoes not think there was a very long process of transmission and elaboration. This departs from the presuppositions of form criticism, which remain influential though the methods are not so widely used as they once were. On the contrary, Bauckham is conscious that the eyewitnesses of the events described in the Gospels continued to live, work, think and speak in their communities, some of them for decades, through the time when the Gospels were being written (Bauckham 2006, 7). The Gospels are more like contemporary testimony than like traditional folklore. They were not passed from generation to generation before being written (Bauckham 2006, 8). Finally, Bauckham observes that historiography of the period routinely favored eyewitness accounts and made no attempt to screen out the interpretations of the witnesses (Bauckham 2006, 9). The involvement of the witnesses was important as it allowed future readers to interpret the events well.