The ‘No Quest’/The Interim
‘Schweitzer is thus the turning-point in the history of the ‘Quest’. He demolishes the old ‘Quest’ so successfully- and provided such a shocking alternative- that for half a century serious scholarship had great difficulty in working its way back to history when dealing with Jesus. This was the period of the great via negativa, when theologians applied to Jesus that tradition of reverent silence which in other traditions had been reserved for speaking about the one God’1
Between Schweitzer and Kasemann, an interim period took place in which serious scholarly attention to the Jesus Quest became more limited. It is unfair to call this period the ‘no quest’ as some schoalrs, such as T.W. Manson and Vincent Taylor did continue to work with the historical Jesus. However, the liberal ‘lives of Jesus’ no longer dominated the world of Jesus scholarship.
This was not simply as a result of Schweitzer’s critique but was in large part due to the horrific events of the first world war, which dispelled (once and for all?) the myth of liberal optimism of humankinds moral development, and provided a theological vacuum in which Barth’s dialectical theology and Bultman’s existentialism could take the academic high ground. Neither Bultmann or Barth showed much interest in the historical Jesus. . In this brief overview of the quest it is necessary to outline, however briefly, Bultmann’s attitude to the historical Jesus for he is often understood as having no interest in Jesus, whereas, as I will show, he has limited interest in Jesus.
Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976)2
For an insight into Bultmann’s attitude to the historical Jesus it is only necessary to read the introduction to Jesus and the Word. In this introduction he sets forth his theological and philosophical presuppositions. Historical study is not understood as being an objective activity (contra enlightenment) but is to be understood as personal encounter (existentialism) , that is a ‘dialogue with history.’3 Bultmann limits attention to the purpose of Jesus and discounts any study which would seek to see to find the personality of Jesus.4 This ‘purpose can only be understood as teaching’5 and only in the sense that they ‘meet us with the question of how we are to interpret our own existence’. Bultmann, therefore, offers us an existentialist historiographical approach which leads, not to a pursuit of the life of the historical Jesus, but to the Christ of Faith who confronts us in the text.
Bultmann summarises his work, and in doing so shows us his historical scepticism and his interest in kerugma at the exclusion of questions of authenticity, or the personality, life and actions of Jesus.
There is little more to say in introduction. The subject of this book is, as I have said, not the life or the personality of Jesus, but only his teaching, his message. Little as we know of his life and personality, we know enough of his message to make for ourselves a consistent picture. Here, too, great caution is demanded by the nature of our sources. What the sources offer us is first of all the message of the early Christian community, which for the most part the church freely attributed to Jesus. This naturally gives no proof that all the words which are put into his mouth were actually spoken by him. As can be easily proved, many sayings originated in the church itself; others were modified by the church.6
Bultmann at times is caricatured as being against the quest for the historical Jesus. This may well be an overstatement, but with an existentialist hermeneutic which only has interest in kerygma, historical Jesus scholarship is seriously restricted. As example of the existentialist hermeneutic is to be seen in Bultmann’s understanding of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is to be seen, not as an ethical ideal (romanticism), nor as eschatological (Schweitzer), but as an existential call to ‘the marvellous new, wholly other’.7
1 N.T. Wright J&VOG 21
2 Theissen and Winter The Quest for the Plausible Jesus 103-112 Porter Criteria for Authenticity 36-47,
3 Jesus and His Word 3-4 ‘When he observes nature, he perceives there something objective which is not himself. When he turns his attention to history, however, he must admit himself to be a part of history; he is considering a living complex of events in which he is essentially involved. He cannot observe this complex objectively as he can observe natural phenomena; for in every word which he says about history he is saying at the same time something about himself. Hence there cannot be impersonal observation of history in the same sense that there can be impersonal observation of nature.’
4 Ibid. 8
5 bid 10
6 Ibid 12