One of the stranger parts of being a Christian is regularly encountering a text that is from antiquity. And this means regularly thinking about people who lived so long ago, in a civilization much different from mine. I’m thankful for scholars who help with this challenging discipline!
I liked this observation, from Larry Hurtado, Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology at the University of Edinburgh.
It is, however, one of the unavoidable features of Christianity that it is a historical religion, its origins provenanced, a number of the leading figures identifiable, and with texts from the earliest period, some of which take us back to within ca. 20 years after Jesus’ execution. So, it’s really unavoidable for thinking Christians to take seriously the historical nature of their faith…
…In fact, to my mind, it’s one of the attractive features of Christianity that it is a historical faith, and doesn’t claim to be simply some set of timeless truths (e.g., to be discovered by contemplation). It means living with the nature of historical knowledge on a number of issues (limited by extant evidence, always provisional and subject to correction, and conclusions often disputed). But it can be an intriguing exercise to try to project ourselves back into the setting of earliest Christian centuries, when they were having to understand what they believed had happened to them, and without the later creeds, theologians and church structures of subsequent centuries.