The Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith?

New Testament scholars sometimes contrast the Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith. Not everyone means the same thing by this contrast. Christian scholars, for example, usually recognize that what we can know about Jesus by conventional historical methods is limited; it is therefore less important than how we worship him by faith. We know enough historically to believe him worthy of our trust, and so we embrace the rest of his message because we trust him and his faithfulness in commissioning the right agents (especially the first apostles) to give us their testimony about him.

But sometimes scholars value the historical Jesus that they reconstruct in opposition to, and as more real than, the Christ of faith. Jesus’s early followers would likely have seen this as a problem.

Consider 1 John 4:2-3:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. (NRSV)

Or 2 John 7:

Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist! (NRSV)

According to this apostolic witness, the Jesus who came in history is the Jesus who rose from the dead and now sits exalted at God’s right hand. The Jesus who came in the flesh is not different from our faith; he is the very one who matters for our faith.

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