Posts Tagged ‘Bultmann’

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

7 ibid.

Read Full Post »

Within ‘the quest for the historical Jesus’ a number of criteria have been put forth which can be used to ‘sift’ the gospels to find authentic Jesus tradition. In a series of posts over the next weeks I would like to highlight and critique a number of these criteria.


To begin with we have ‘ The Criteria of Double Dissimilarity’(now on referred to as CDD) which can be understood as a criteria which sifts the gospels to find sayings of Jesus which have no correpsondance with either Judaism or the early CHurch. Once a unique standpoint is found we can be relatively certain that it stems from the historical Jesus. This methodological tool was first advocated by Bultman.

‘We can only count on possessing a genuine similtude of Jesus where, on the one hand, expression  is given to the contrast between Jewish morality and piety and the distinctive eschatological  temper which characterised the preaching of Jesus; and where on the other hand we find no specifically CHristian feratures’ ‘Bultman History of the Synoptic Gospels

The CDD, iniated by Bultman, gained the rubber stamp of ‘serious’ schoalrship in the works of Kasemann and Perrin.

Kasemann ‘We can only sketch in a few bold strokes the embarassment of critical research. it lies in this; while the historical credibility of the Synoptic tradition has become doubtful all along the line, yet at the same time we are still short of one essential requisite for the identification of the authentic Jesus material, namely, a conspectus of teh very earliest stage of primitive Christian history; and also there is an almost complete lack of satisfactory and water tight criteria for this material. In only one case do we have more or less ground under our feet, when there are no grounds either for deriving a tradition from Judaism or for ascribing it to primitive Christianity”

Perrin (1967) ”Thus we reach the fundamental criterion for authenticity upon which all reconstructions of the teaching of Jesus must be buillt, which we propose to call the ‘criterion of dissimilarity’. Recognising that it follows an attempt to write a history of the tradition concerned, we may formulate it as follows: the earliest form of a saying we can reach may be regarded as authentic it it can be shown to be dissimilar to charecterisitic emphases both of ancient Judaism and of the early Church, and this iwll particularly be the case where Christian tradition orientated towards Judaism can be shown to have modifed the saying away from its origonal emphasis’

 What do we make of this? I offer the following criticisms.

  1.  This method does not achieve what it sets out to. It merely tells us what was unique about Jesus not what is historically authentic. We would not apply this method when studying the historical Aristotle or the Hitler. If we taek the Hitler as an example and apply  CDD as described by Kasemann, we woudl only be able to have firm historical ground when we find soemthing about Hitler which is differant to Germans living at the time of Hitler, and differant to that which is found in later Nazi writings. Or take Aristotle as an example, we would be on sure ground if, and only if, we find tradition about Aristotle which is differant from the larger Greco culture and differant from later aristotelian philosophers.
  2. This method assumes that we have a detailed undersatnding of Judaism and the early church in all its variety. We simply do not have this information
  3. This method is strongly biased against orthodoxy. Would it not be fair to say that followers of Jesus (early Church) would have sought to have imitated the teaching and lifestyle of their founder.
  4.  Jesus was Jewish. All his teaching and praxis can only be understood as taking place within a Jewish worlview, yes a variation on it, but a Jewish worldview nontheless.

Read Full Post »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.