James Dunn on Faith and Scholarship

To complement the current series on faith and scholarship over at Café Apocalypsis, we might note some interesting comments from James Dunn’s Jesus Remembered. Dunn favorably mentions Gadamer’s alliance with “those who want to maintain that faith is not in principle at odds with the hermeneutical process in its application to the study of the NT” (123) because the whole Jesus tradition began from a “faith stimulus” (127). That is, “the original impulse behind these records was . . . sayings of Jesus as heard and received, and actions of Jesus as witnessed and retained in memory” (129; emphasis original). This tradition emerged and was preserved “as an expression of faith” (132). All this is to say, as Dunn helpfully summarizes, that:

(1) The only realistic objective for any ‘quest of the historical Jesus’ is Jesus remembered. (2) The Jesus Tradition of the gospels confirms that there was a concern within earliest Christianity to remember Jesus. (3) The Jesus tradition shows us how Jesus was remembered; its character strongly suggests again and again a tradition given its essential shape by regular use and reuse in oral mode. (4) This suggests in turn that that essential shape was given by the original and immediate impact made by Jesus as that was first put into words by and among those involved or eyewitnesses of what Jesus said and did. In that key sense, the Jesus tradition is Jesus remembered (335).

Thus, because the Gospels are, self-evidently, documents originating from a belief in Jesus’ messiahship, all else being equal, the hermeneutical horizon (i.e., the interpretive possibilities allowed and preferred for the available data) of modern people who believe in Jesus’ messiahship is one step closer to the hermeneutical horizon from which the Gospels originated than that of modern people who dispute Jesus’ messiahship. Many other contingencies, of course, can still make fusing these horizons a difficult task that may produce different results ini different contexts, but this similarity of perspective on Jesus provides at least one firm point of tangency from which to begin.

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James Dunn
James Dunn

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