Is The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate Worth Reading?

A discussion between 4 well know Jesus scholars about one of the most popular understandings of Jesus. Jesus an Apocalyptic Prophet.

A short read of 163 pages plus a bibliography.

Should You Read The Apocalyptic Jesus A Debate?

Allison and the many scholars who agree with his vision of Jesus would argue that Jesus’ apocalypse is all-encompassing. That there is little we can understand of Jesus outside of this lens.

But, the focus of this book is very narrow, considering the entire life of Jesus.

Yes, what you do with and how you understand Jesus’s teaching and actions is greatly impacted by how you perceive him.

Apocalyptic or not.

Or the many other paradigms.

But I think before jumping to conclusions. Go get lost in the weeds. Read, study our sources about Jesus. Primarily the gospels being the most trustworthy.

Along with the many valuable studies of the life of Jesus. Especially the ones that take the historical Jesus seriously.

If you keep running up on an apocalyptic Jesus.

Or find that your understanding of Jesus is limited without a paradigm to interpret him through.

Then, understanding the debate of the most popular perception of Jesus would be helpful.

Then reading The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate will give you a concise presentation to help you decide if Jesus is best understood through his view of the end times and how it relates to his times and life.

Why I Read The Apocalyptic Jesus a Debate

Since 1906 when Albert Schweitzer published The Quest of the Historical Jesus the view that Jesus was an Apocalyptic prophet has been held by the majority of New Testament scholars.

Making understanding the debate critical to understanding scholars’ presentation of Jesus. And Why.

I must confess. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Apocalyptic Jesus A Debate but I only ordered it to help with my writing of Was Jesus an Apocalyptic Prophet? It’s Complicated. As the title suggests, it is complicated to understand all the factors at play and why scholars come to the conclusions that they do. But The Apocalyptic Jesus A Debate helped to clear up much of my confusion. Giving a precious overview of both sides while explaining the implications.

“The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate” is a collaborative effort of 4 renowned New Testament scholars: Dale Allison, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Stephen Patterson. Edited by Robert J. Miller.

The 3 members of the Jesus Seminar who don’t think of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet argue against Dale Allison, one of the leading authorities who holds Jesus as one.

Overview of The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate

The book is divided into 3 sections and a short introduction.

With a little back-and-forth built in.

Introduction by Robert Miller (Editor)

A brief overview of the history and problems regarding the question of Jesus being an apocalyptic prophet.

The best part here is the defining of terms. Most importantly, the difference between eschatology and apocalyptism.

(Apocalypticism) envisions the end of history coming soon and brought about by an overpowering divine intervention.

The Apocalyptic Jesus A Debate p.6

As Bart Ehrman has noted elsewhere, it is regrettable that numerous individuals, including scholars, have the tendency to utilize these words interchangeably despite the fact that they possess distinct definitions. It is essential to discern the differentiation between these terms in order to interpret the arguments and attain a deeper understanding of who Jesus truly was.

The Debate

Dale Allision fleshes out and points to the many references within our sources that show Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet.

Uses broad strokes, focusing more on the general idea behind the saying or action than the more minute understanding. Those familiar with textual criticism may find this frustrating as he says it really doesn’t matter if Jesus used the exact words or not. Or even the authenticity of the teaching. We only need to concern ourselves with the idea. If it speaks of the imminent end, that is close enough to get the jest of what Jesus is thinking.

As noted, these ideas have been around for over a hundred years now.

So, Allison is not bringing much new to the conversation but does an excellent job of boiling down the argument in an in-sync manner. If you are new to the argument, this will be very helpful.

“Our goal is not to free of prejudices but to have the right prejudices.”

Dale Allison p.20

After Allison presents the whys, the other 3 wade into the why not.

As stated in the introduction, the view of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet has been the dominant view among scholars for many years now.

So Borg, Crosson, and Patterson do not so much have to present evidence for their views but to discredit the evidence for an apocalyptic prophet.

Borg starts by sharing his journey from apocalyptic prophet to not. Then spends some time on paradigm. In particular, the saying of Jesus. If we approach them from a non-apocalyptic perspective, we find many, if not the majority are neutral. Not needing to be understood as Jesus speaking of the immediate end.

He also pushes back for further clarification about the degree of Jesus’ apocalyptic vision. Raising a great question of intensity. Could Jesus only be speaking of the end some of the time? Not being his all-consuming vision. Leaving Allison, Crossan and Borg closer in vision than presented by Allison.

Side note: they regularly refer to each other on a friendly first-name basis. Throwing me sometimes, as I know them much more formal sense.

It was a long read, but I enjoyed the vision of Jesus that Crossan presented in The Life Of A Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. The like is to my full review. However, I struggled to follow Crossan’s argument in the debate.

This is not so much a full response as an indication of how I would conduct a more appropriately adequate one if time, space and, most especially, my present emphases, allowed it.

Crossan p.50

Therefore, I will not try to explain it but to say that Crossan tries to work within Allision’s argument and his methodology. Trying to show where they went wrong.

Patterson argues that more textual criticism would change our understanding of the relevance of Jesus’ sayings.

Along with flipping the pyramid.

Flipped Pyramid

Traditionally, including Allison, view the synoptic gospels as closer to the life and teaching of Jesus. Seeing the changing of Jesus’ teaching in the later books, in particular, the gospel of John and even more Thomas, who practically loses all his apocalyptic teaching. That the church changed his teaching as the imminent destruction did not happen.

Patterson says this is a mistake.

Rather, we should weight the teaching of the gospel of Thomas greater than the synoptic. Holding Thomas, possibly Jesus, as a better presentation of a non-apocalyptic Jesus.

My only question is, “Does this change the dating of the gospels?

After the three present their thoughts, Allison responds to their thoughts and fleshes out the argument even more that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.

Taking Stock

A small section of the book gives the writers more space to develop their thoughts while interacting with their debaters.


These 4 questions guide their responses, but overall, this section provides little to understand the discussion better.

But it is revealing of the challenge of presenting your thoughts. The value of understanding the other person’s view while holding to your own.

So What?

The best and most disturbing section of the book.

Jesus and Early Christianity

Allison bows out, discussing the impact of his vision on early Christianity, believing that this was already developed in the original argument. One of the pillars of the argument that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet is that the early Christians were considered also to be.

Borg argues that the evidence is not as strong as presented that the early Christians were apocalyptic.

Crossan first responds that our current understanding of the apocalypse is different than the first century.

“apocalyptism and ressurection stand or fall together.”

Crossan p.140

Followed by his standard argument of metaphorical language.

That our understanding of the resurrection and the end are both metaphors.

Patterson rounds out the discussion about early Christianity with the idea that, yes, some Christians were apocalyptic, but not all.

Therefore, we need not conclude that Jesus was apocalyptic because not all his followers after him were.

Then, possibly the most important part.

The Historical Jesus and Contemporary Faith

As my father would say, “What does it mean to me today?”

All four contribute, but Allison and Borg shine.

Allison starts with a disclaimer.

“I think of myself as an historian, not a theologian,”

Allison p.147

In short, he is trying to understand and present who Jesus was, not concerning himself with its implications.

Still, in presents some strong takeaway for us today of admiring an apocalyptic prophet from the first century.

Borg goes in the opposite direction. Arguing that how we perceive Jesus is critical for the Christian Faith. The outworking of both, go hand in hand.

Then, he paints a picture of the Jesus we need today.

Followed by a damming apocalyptic image of Jesus

The apocalyptic Jesus does not yield a compelling image. We might admire his heroism, the depth of his conviction, and his passion for the wrongs of this world being eventually righted by God. But we would also conclude that the historical Jesus is not only a stranger to our time (as any first-century person would be), but also largely irrelevant to our time.”

Borg p.156

Leaving you crying out.

What can I do with Jesus if the evidence points towards a Jesus who holds no value to us today?


Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

Recent Content

About Us

"Discovering the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth."

That is the mission of this website, and we hope that we can help you to experience.

If you spend much time in church, in a library, online or on youtube, you probably heard about Jesus Christ.
Well, so have I.

In my experience, and maybe yours, the emphasis seems to always be on Christ, not Jesus.

What I mean is the God side of the strange blend of God/Man. Or as some refer to as the Post Resurrection Jesus.

This is all great, but what has caught my attention is not the exalted Lord, but the carpenter who lived and died in a distant land, a long time ago.

A carpenter turned preacher who changed the world.