Jesus in History and Faith

BA (Hons) in Theology - Year 1
COURSE UNIT 327 - 8327


The unit focuses on the so-called ‘quests of the historical Jesus’ from the eighteenth century to the present.  It draws out the significance of specific historical insights and critically examines the value of the quests themselves for the articulation of the Christian faith today.  Beginning with an overview of the quests, and the way in which critical understanding of the Gospels has developed, it proceeds to a study of the work of some recent representative scholars in the field on which students work in groups, leading to presentations.  Two sessions then focus on the range of ancient sources on which scholars draw, apart from the New Testament, to illuminate the Jesus of history, for example the Dead Sea Scrolls and the non-canonical Gospels, critically weighing their potential value and the use sometimes made of them.  The unit concludes by engaging in the debate over the theological value (or otherwise) of the ‘quests of the historical Jesus’ for Christian faith, and exploring what is entailed in proclaiming and commending the Jesus of history today.  The unit thus synthesizes various elements of students’ study at previous levels – of the Gospels, apologetics, modern church history and communication – by focusing on an intriguing recent stream of intellectual history and the role it may play in Christian witness.


To build on the study of Jesus begun at Level 4 by exploring in more depth the different modern construals of Jesus as a historical figure, and exploring the implications of ‘historical Jesus studies’ for Christian faith, proclamation and apologetics.


Category of outcome

By the end of this unit students should be able to:

Knowledge and understanding

·      Articulate in a nuanced way the development of the historical study of Jesus since the eighteenth century

·      Expound the approach of one scholar or school in historical Jesus studies in depth

·      Critically assess the value of historical research in shedding light on the portrait of Jesus in the Gospels

Intellectual skills

·      Incorporate insights from the historical study of Jesus into their formulations of faith, doctrine and ethics

·      Assess the impact of cultural and religious perspectives on biblical scholarship

·      Hold together faith and reason in their apprehension and communication of Christian origins

Practical and Transferable skills; Personal qualities

·      Communicate the significance of Jesus with sensitivity to historical questions

·      Access and evaluate ancient sources other than the Bible with a view to weighing their historical value

·      Work together in small groups on a research project (not 8327)

·      Present a shared project in an attractive way (not 8327)


Assessment task


Weighting within unit



500 words


2000 words





·         327:


·         8327:

A presentation as part of a group

An essay



3000 words

2000 words





·         327:

·         8327:

An applied essay

An essay

and a learning journal*


* Distance learning students are required to pass this element. So long as this element has been passed, they will be eligible for compensation if the overall unit mark is within the compensation zone (30-39%), and the compensatable credit allowance as set out in the Degree Regulations has not been exceeded.




Available on which programme(s)?

BA in Theology


1.    From Christology to the ‘historical Jesus’: the birth of the modern quest for Jesus

2.    The nineteenth-century ‘liberal’ Jesus

3.    Albert Schweitzer and the return of the ‘eschatological’ Jesus

4.    What do we need to know about the historical Jesus for Christian faith?

5.    Sources, methods and hypotheses in the contemporary debate

6.    Contemporary perspectives 1 (group presentation): Jesus the apocalyptic prophet

7.    Contemporary perspectives 2 (group presentation): Jesus the social revolutionary

8.    Contemporary perspectives 3 (group presentation): Jesus the sage

9.    The contribution of social-scientific frameworks

10.  The contribution of theories of orality, memory and performance

11.  Theology, proclamation and apologetics: the Jesus of history as the Christ of faith

Teaching method

Interactive illustrated lectures, class discussions and group work

Additional eLearning content

Unit materials are available at Spurgeon’s Online to support student learning


Written feedback within 15 working days from submission

Date of approval (for office use)

September 2014

Information updated on

December 2015

Indicative reading

Allison, Dale C., The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009)

Beilby, James K. and Paul R. Eddy, eds, The Historical Jesus: Five Views (London: SPCK, 2010)

Bockmuehl, Marcus, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. P., 2001)

Bond, Helen K., The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T. & T. Clark, 2010)

Borg, Marcus J., Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (London: SPCK, 2011)

Casey, Maurice, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of his Life and Teaching (London: T. & T. Clark, 2010)

Crossan, John Dominic, Luke Timothy Johnson and Werner H. Kelber, The Jesus Controversy: Perspectives in Conflict, Rockwell lecture series (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999)

Dunn, James D.G., Christianity in the Making, Vol.1: Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)

Ehrman, Bart D., Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)

Horsley, Richard A., Jesus and the Powers: Conflict, Covenant, and the Hope of the Poor (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010)

Keener, Craig S., The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009)

Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (London: SCM, 1998)

Vermes, Geza. Searching for the Real Jesus: Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Religious Themes (London: SCM, 2009)

Wright, N.T., Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian origins and the question of God, 2 (London: SPCK, 1996)

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Jesus in History and Faith

BA (Hons) in Theology - Year 1
Course Unit 327 - 8327





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Dr Stephen I. Wright

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