On March 2, I posted 7 Reasons to Read the Final Days of Jesus. Today Andreas Köstenberger answers questions regarding this new book he co-wrote with Justin Taylor. The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived is a great resource to use in preparation for Holy Week. A free study guide is available. I previously interviewed Justin.
Your book cites very specific dates for Holy Week (March 29-April 5 AD 33). Do you think it’s important to use exact dates? Are you fairly confident those are the correct?
Well, as a biblical scholar, and as a Christian, I want to know what I can know about the Bible and about the life of Jesus as precisely as possible. On the one hand, I want to be honest with the limitations we have with regard to the available evidence, but on the other hand, I want to use the evidence we have to the fullest extent possible to determine a given piece of information, such as the dates for Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Also, my experience has been that many use dates; it’s just that some reconstructions seem to be backed up by evidence better than others.
I think the fact that Luke, in particular, correlated the coming of Jesus Christ with other historical data such as the reign of Tiberius tells us that he himself was concerned to give us precise information about important salvation-historical events such as the beginning of the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. So I feel that in seeking to determine the precise dates of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection we are in good company and have biblical precedent. While I would not want to stake my life on those dates, I think these kinds of responsible reconstructions commend the Christian faith to seekers or doubters and underscore the historical nature of Christianity.
You mention two ways to read the Gospels: horizontally and vertically. What’s the difference between these two techniques?
Reading the Gospels horizontally means to see how each Gospel relates to the others, as complementary witnesses to the same set of historical events and statements. Take the various accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, for example. None of the Gospels gives us all of these appearances, but Matthew, Luke, and John each have some. Reading the Gospels horizontally will give you all the information across the board, which is obviously very valuable, because that way you’ll know all that the Bible says about this particular set of events.
Reading the Gospels vertically means reading each Gospel from beginning to end as independent, self-contained narratives of the life of Jesus. This kind of reading capitalizes on the insight that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each told their own story, and we must respect the literary and theological integrity of their work. As we read the Gospels vertically, we will get a better sense of their respective emphases. For example, Mark does not feature any resurrection appearances though he does end his Gospel at the empty tomb. So we should ask, “Why did Mark write his Gospel in this way?”
Jesus spent a long time teaching his disciples on the night before his death. What did he focus on in this teaching? How can our knowledge of this change the way we live today?
Jesus taught on a few important subjects. Let me mention three. First, he taught his followers about love. He showed them that it is because of love that he went to the cross, and so anyone who would follow in his footsteps must likewise be a man or woman of love. Second, he taught his followers how to continue in close relationship with him now that he was going to return to the Father. He told them is that they would receive the indwelling Holy Spirit and that they must remain faithful to Jesus’ teachings and share the good news with others. Third, he taught his followers about the need for believing prayer in his name. As they embarked on their mission, they could ask Jesus for the resources they would need, and he would supply them with everything they needed to complete their mission. Taking to heart what Jesus taught his first followers will encourage us to become people of love, to continue in close relationship with him, and to appropriate his resources as we go about his mission.
What was one thing you learned from Justin during this project?
Just one thing? I learned a lot from Justin, but one thing that particularly comes to mind is that he really has a passion to help people in the churches and serious Bible students grasp aspects of the Christian faith more deeply and more precisely. He consistently challenged me to communicate clearly and to use responsible scholarship to answer real questions and to help us connect the dots in the biblical story.