Sigurd Grindheim, «Faith in Jesus: The Historical Jesus and the Object of Faith», Vol. 97 (2016) 79-100
Did Jesus call his followers to believe in him? or did he merely call them to believe in God or in the contents of his teaching? This article examines the evidence found in the Synoptic Gospels and discusses its possible Christological implications in light of the Scriptures of Israel and the writings of Second Temple Judaism. If Jesus expected to be the object of his disciples’ faith, his expectation may be understood in light of his redefinition of messiahship. But he may also be seen to have placed himself in the role of God, who was the object of Israel’s faith in the Scriptures of Israel and in Second Temple Judaism.
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80 siGuRD GRinDheim
criterion would only result in a caricature, an anomalous Jesus, enig-
matic to his surroundings and misunderstood by all of his followers 2.
this point is well taken, but this critique of the criterion of dissimilar-
ity applies to its negative use, not to its positive use. While the new
trend in Jesus research is to be welcomed for its emphasis on Jesus’
Jewishness, it should not lead us to ignore his uniqueness. the criterion
of dissimilarity should not be used alone, but a judicious use of this
criterion will help us to see the ways in which Jesus stood out with
respect to his environment.
my thesis is that the synoptic evidence is not entirely conclusive,
but it is plausible that Jesus did expect his followers to have faith in
his person 3. there are two, not necessarily mutually exclusive ways
to account for such an expectation: that Jesus thought of himself as
filling the role that in Judaism was reserved for YhWh, or that he saw
himself as a messiah that was also a heavenly character.
2 J.p. meieR, A Marginal Jew. Rethinking the historical Jesus. the Roots of
the problem and the person (aBRl; new York 1991) i, 172; similarly, m.e. BoRinG,
“the historical-critical method’s ‘criteria of authenticity’. the Beatitudes in Q
and thomas as a test case”, Semeia 44 (1988) 17-21; s.e. poRteR, “how Do We
Know What We think We Know? methodological Reflections on Jesus Research”,
Jesus Research. new methodologies and perceptions. the second princeton-
prague symposium on Jesus Research, princeton 2007 (princeton-prague symposia
series on the historical Jesus 2; eds. J.h. chaRlesWoRth – B. Rhea – p. poKoRný;
Grand Rapids, mi 2014) 91-92. instead, Gerd theissen and Dagmar Winter have
underscored that, as a historical person, Jesus would have fitted into his Jewish
environment (The Quest for the Plausible Jesus. the Question of criteria [trans.
m.e. BoRinG; louisville, KY 2002] 167-171; cf. also a.-J. leVine, “putting Jesus
Where he Belongs. the man from nazareth in his Jewish World”, PRSt 27
 177). taking a cue from leander Keck, James Dunn insists that the historical
Jesus is the characteristic Jesus, and that elements that are characteristic of the
Jesus tradition are likely to be authentic (A New Perspective on Jesus. What the
Quest for the historical Jesus missed [Grand Rapids, mi 2005] 57-78).
3 the most sustained argument for the view that the historical Jesus called
for faith in his own person is found in m.W. YeunG, Faith in Jesus and Paul.
a comparison with special Reference to ‘Faith that can Remove mountains’
and ‘Your Faith has healed/saved You’ (Wunt ii/147; tübingen 2002). Yeung
focuses on the instances in which Jesus is recorded as saying “your faith has
saved you”. the present study complements Yeung’s work by examining the ex-
plicit references to faith in Jesus’ person. For a similar view, see also t. sheaReR,
“the concept of ‘Faith’ in the synoptic Gospels”, ExpTim 69 (1957) 6;
J. RoloFF, Das Kerygma und der irdische Jesus. historische motive in den
Jesus-erzählungen der evangelien (Göttingen 1970) 153-159; G.e. laDD,
A Theology of the New Testament (ed. D.a. haGneR; Grand Rapids, mi
1993) 306; n.t. WRiGht, Christian Origins and the Question of God. Jesus and
the Victory of God (minneapolis, mn 1996) ii, 263.