The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed by Helen K. Bond

Helen K. Bond’s The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed is an insightful overview of Jesus’ life and teachings from the perspective of a historical study. It is a captivating guide that provides readers with an overarching understanding of the historicity of Jesus.

A book I enjoyed reading, trying to expand my understanding of Jesus as a historical figure.

But first, a quick overview of what you can expect to read and then my thoughts on it.

Summary of The Historical Jesus; A Guide for the Perplexed 

Part of a greater series, “A Guide for the Perplex,” of books that seek to explain larger complicated themes in a simple-to-understand fashion.

“Guides for the Perplexed are clear, concise and accessible introductions to thinkers, writers and subjects that students and readers can find especially challenging – or indeed downright bewildering.”

Bloomsbury

Helen Bonds, The Historical Jesus, lives up to its mission. A truly well-written book walking readers through a rapidly growing conversation and study spanning over 200 years concisely in 174 pages.

Easy to understand without dumbing down the content. A struggle when talking about the historical Jesus.

Dominated by scholars but enjoyed by the untrained.

The book divides into two sections, background and snapshots.

Backgrounds

Chapter 1 provides a concise overview of the quest history.

This is super helpful. Quickly catching you up to speed before diving into the current discussion about Jesus.

Divided into 4 widely accepted parts.

  • Old Quest
  • No Quest
  • New Quest
  • Third Quest

The Old Quest was the earliest attempt at answering the question of who Jesus was historical. Taking place between 1778 and 1906. With many contributors in this time, but Bond rightfully highlights Reimarus’s contribution in elevating the level of study. And his impact on the view of Jesus.

Ending with Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest for the Historical Jesus in 1906. another excellent read, which I would recommend for those seeking to understand the development of the historical Jesus in its early days. Especially its key contributors and their impact on the quest.

The No Quest phase was a result of many scholars “question(ing) whether it was possible to reconstruct the historical Jesus.” p.14 Along with a shift towards a greater focus on the Christ of Faith over the historical Jesus.

There was still work being done, but its impact wasn’t as great.

She dates the new New Quest, between 1953 and the mid-1980s. Sparked by Ernest Kasemann with a lecture to a group of former Bultman’s students.

With a shift in focus to methodology.

“The most striking feature of the New Quest was its attention to methodology. Participants wanted to get back to the words of Jesus” p.17

With the development of many forms of criteria to find the “real” words of Jesus.

The Third Quest (Mid-1980s to Present) was a move to place Jesus within his context, a Second Temple period Jew.

“A better appreciation of first-century Judaism meant that a reappraisal of the famous Jew from those times was in order.” P.19

With some debate, if this was started by Geza Vermes (1970s) or E.P. Sanders’s Jesus and Judaism (1985).

But she goes into much more depth about this phase and its many contributors. With small write-ups of 9 key scholars.

  • Geza Vermes
  • E.P. Sanders
  • Richard Horsley
  • J.D. Crossan
  • David Flusser
  • J.P. Meier
  • N.T. Wright
  • J.D.G. Dunn
  • Dale Allison

Chapter 2, provides a concise discussion of our sources for the historical Jesus. There are more than the 4 gospels in the New Testament, including Roman, Jewish and Christian. She does an excellent job of explaining what each has to offer and some of their limitations for understanding the life of Jesus.

If you are really short on time but want a quick “snapshot” of this particular event of Jesus’ life. Along with the discussions, challenges and solutions involved. These short summaries will quickly get you up to speed.

Snapshots

The largest section of the book develops along the lines of the third quest. Beginning by placing Jesus in the context of the Jewish world in chapter 3.

The remaining chapters focus on key moments of his life.

  • Birth
  • Galilean Origins
  • John the Baptist
  • Jesus’ message
  • Healer and exorcist
  • Family and supporters
  • Opposition in Galilee
  • Jerusalem
  • Trial and execution
  • Resurrection

In all of these, Bond does a great job of explaining the situations and challenges facing someone trying to understand the history surrounding Jesus’ life. Along with understanding our sources about his life.

What I appreciated most about these chapters are the one or two concise paragraphs at the end of the chapters/sections summarizing the discussion.

The last paragraph of chapter 4, Jesus’ Birth, is an excellent example.

“To summarize the findings of this chapter, the probability is that Jesus was the son of Joseph and was born in Nazareth, the small Galilean village where he grew up. Such a conclusion is generally held by most historical critics, including all those details in Chapter 1 (Except N.T.Wright).”

There you have it. One sentence and a clear understanding of what the current thoughts are about the birth of Jesus by historical scholars.

She does an amazing job throughout this section of providing an excellent summary of the material.

My Experience Reading The Historical Jesus; A Guide for the Perplexed

For starters, I love summaries and overviews, which allow me to quickly grasp the topic without having to wade through the weeds.

And Bond did an excellent job of this.

Without having a vast prior knowledge of the subject matter, after reading this book, I felt way more knowledgeable. Of both the history behind the historical Jesus pursuit and the key elements being discussed.

It truly delivers on Being a Guide for the Perplexed.

Bond walks a challenging tightrope with the supernatural, healing, exorcism, the resurrection. This cannot be avoided when you are talking about Jesus Christ, as almost all sources include the supernatural.

My Favourite Quote in the The Historical Jesus; A Guide for the Perplexed

First, I think she does a good job, including the subject matter. Many historians just write of his birth and resurrection as unhistorical, but she includes them as part of the discussion. It is very helpful to see what the many scholars’ opinions are about the matter.

Who believes that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of a virgin? She gives you a quick rundown.

Warning, if you hold a more conservative view (everything in the gospel is true and accurate), Bond is not playing guard for you.

She does not try to explain away the challenges with our sources and our understanding of the life of Jesus. This is a historical perspective, not a devotional. There is much to be admired about the life of Jesus, but historians are a little less flattering than other schools of thought.

Writing a short overview of the historical Jesus is no small task. I appreciated that Bond has included a biography of 41 books that helped her in writing this book, along with years of study. These are also a springboard to further your study if you want to learn more about the historical Jesus.

Another source that I enjoyed as an overview is The Historical Jesus Five Views. With 5 prominent scholars (M.Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, James D.G. Dunn, Darrel L. Bock) present their distinct views of the historical Jesus. Not so much a guide but a wide range of individual perspectives.

Back to the guide for the perplexed.

If you are just starting to investigate the historical Jesus. I would highly recommend A Guide for the Perplexed. It will get you started without a PH.D.

Complex discussion in simple terms.

If you are a more experienced student, it may be a good refresher. Bringing it all back together.

If you are looking for an in-depth technical read, this is not the book for you. Bond has intelligently written for the perplexed. The uneducated in the subject matter.

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.

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"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.