Behind the Life of Jesus: Why so many images of Jesus?

John Dickson and Greg Clarke discuss the different portraits of Jesus that exist in our society.



John Dickson and Greg Clarke discuss the different portraits of Jesus that exist in our society.

On the set of the Life of Jesus documentary, John Dickson and Greg Clarke talk about the different ways our society views Jesus, and why it’s important to get our portrait of him from the historical texts.


JOHN DICKSON: Greg, we’re here in Sepphoris, one of the major cities just outside Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, shooting scenes about how Jesus didn’t really fit with the first-century expectations about the Messiah. And it makes me wonder whether we do a similar thing today, whether there are just different portraits of Jesus, none of which match the real man?

GREG CLARKE: Yeah, I think a lot of people have a big problem with Christianity, but most people have a lot of time for Jesus himself, but they do actually develop their own versions of who Jesus is in order to suit their purposes. I mean, a lot of people take Jesus’ life and his teachings and they sort of magnify some part of it out of proportion in order to make their own point. And so you get Jesus the anti-capitalist and the socialist because he told his disciples to share their possessions; or you get gentle Jesus, meek and mild, with no reference at all to his anger at religious hypocrisy or the way he was brave in the face of the Roman authorities. And as the church moves on through the ages you get different images of Jesus, so in the medieval period the most common image is baby Jesus suckling at mother Mary’s breast, which kind of doesn’t do justice to the adult Jesus which really is the figure that we know most about. I mean, you can get tough-guy Jesus for those riding around on their SUVs; you can get pacifist, Ghandi-Jesus if you kind of distort the Sermon on the Mount.

JOHN DICKSON: But there’s sort of a half-truth to all of these pictures, isn’t there?

GREG CLARKE: Yeah, there is something there, but none of these caricatures really add up to the full picture of Jesus that we have. To get that full picture we really have to stick to the historical texts, and we have to resist the temptation to fill in the gaps in the text where we don’t have information or to take one part that appeals to us the most and pull it out at the expense of all the others. But the thing is, when you do pay attention to the historical record, a really fascinating figure of Jesus emerges that kind of breaks out of all the categories we want to apply to him.