By George Albert Wells
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Extra resources for Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity
Books of the Bible are quoted from the Revised Version (RV), published 1881–85 of the Authorized or King James Bible (AV) of 1611. On some few occasions I refer to more recent translations—the Revised Standard Version (RSV) or the New English Bible (NEB)—or have rendered the Greek text of the New Testament literally or adapted it to the syntax of my sentences. The terms ‘Mark’, ‘Matthew’, ‘Luke’, and ‘John’ sometimes designate the author of the relevant gospel and sometimes that gospel itself. Which meaning is intended will be clear from the context.
And this is a problem for the psychologist and the historian. It is the fourth gospel—discussed in my Chapters 1 and 8—which so heavily emphasizes Jesus’s divinity, and which also almost eliminates his apocalyptic preaching. I have not repeated the detailed account of the gospel Passion narratives which I gave in my 1989 book, but I wish to advert here to their links with the doctrine of the atonement—a doctrine less prominent in the gospels1 than in the epistles, naturally enough, as the epistles are much concerned to interpret Jesus’s death.
They were more concerned with salvation than with historical facts, and it was belief, not inquiry, that assured them of salvation. The creed of a given brotherhood served to identify it, and Paul’s formula, “We preach Christ crucified” seems to have been just such a sectarian shibboleth. To understand his doctrine of union with Christ we need to be familiar with the psychology of mysticism rather than with the detailed history of Palestine. Christian scholars understand clearly enough that to regard, as they do, the Jesus of the early epistles and the Jesus of the gospels as one and the same person entails accepting that a historical personage who was—in the formulation of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury—something like an ancient equivalent of “a car mechanic from somewhere near Basra” came to be worshipped as God within a few decades of his death, “well within the lifetime and the neighbourhood of those who had known him intimately” (2007, pp.
Cutting Jesus Down to Size: What Higher Criticism Has Achieved and Where It Leaves Christianity by George Albert Wells