Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

Historical Method: Hypothesis and Verification

Knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis s: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’1 For a hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must

  1. must include all the data

  2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture

  3. prove itself fruitful in other areas

For Wright the ‘inclusion of data is ultimately the more important of the two criteria’2.

I want to ask, Can we ever include all the data?

A good hypothesis will find verfication from the data. Yet a hypothesis, about anything, cannot make sense of all the data, but makes sense of a selection of the data. This may be illustrated with the example of a detective looking for evidence in a house robbery. A detective may develop a hypothesis about the burglar which includes some data including footprints, a broken window. However bright, methodological or scientific this detective is she cannot include all of the data,but only needs to include the relevant data. The complexity of life, objects and historical artefacts, cannot be be known in totality, nor do we need to have all data available before us before a judgement. Wright is wrong to say that a hypothesis must include all the data for the establishment of data, in an exhaustive sense, is an infinite task. We simply can do history, whether it be historical Jesus research or WWII, without knowing the full, or even the knowable, arithmetic, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, sensitive, analytic, historical, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical or pistic aspects3. In historical Jesus research we may say off hand that we must include all the data, but we quickly realise that we simply mean the relevant data. For instance we may say Jesus must be understood against the geographical backdrop of Galilee4 yet this not mean that we need to pursue to a full extent topological and biotic data.

Wright accepts that the ‘stack of data to be included is vast and bewildering5 and accepts that ‘seeing and assembling the data is a monstrous task’. 6 This assembling, surely involves selection, which brings with it, even at the data level, an amount of subjectivity, for what is relevant data to one community is irrelevant to another.

1NT&POG 99

2NT&POG 105

3Particularly helpful in this regard is the theory of modal aspects developed by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

5NT&POG 100

6NT&POG 101

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Just picked up my latest cd-rom from logos. Its called Studies in Jesus and the Gospels and contains 23 different monographs. I purchased them as a pre-pub and in the process saved myself some money. The idea is that you commit to buying the product before it has been published. As an electronic resource its easy to pull out quotes, highlight the text and they are fully searchable.

I started reading one last night by Sean Freyne which seeks to show Jesus’s ministry in the context of a historically reconstructed Galilee. There is some discussion of Galilee and Roman imperial rule. I found the follwoing quite stimulating.

“‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’—a call to accept Caesar’s rule, or a declaration that only what belonged to God was of any consequence? There seems little doubt about Jesus’ answer to his own question. Unlike some of his co-religionists who belonged to the retainer class, he was not prepared to accept the inevitability of Rome’s rule as expressed in its propaganda (JW 2.348–361). Like other kingdoms, it too was doomed to pass. Despite Rome’s claims, their peace could not be imposed. ‘They make a desolation and call it peace’ are words put on the lips of a British general Calgacus, by a Roman historian, Tacitus (Agicola 30.3–31). Jesus was not prepared to share the violent response to such conditions, espoused by many Jews throughout the first century, which eventually plunged the nation into a disastrous revolt. He believed in the power of symbols and symbolic action because he believed in a God of whom, unlike Caesar, no image could be made, and yet who summoned people to trust in his presence and his power. This was the risk of faith that Jesus was prepared to take. His was a faith that was grounded in a trust in the goodness of the creation as he had experienced it and reflected on its mysterious but hidden processes. It was also a faith that had been nourished by the apocalyptic imagination that this creator God was still in charge of his world and had the power to make all things new again. No human empire could be compared with this power, no matter how dominant it and its agents appeared to be. Caesar could have his image engraved on the coin of the tribute, but he could not control the power of the imagination that was fed by the tradition of God’s mysterious but powerful presence in the world, to which no image could do justice.”

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Jesus comes down from the mount of transfiguration to discover his disciples are involved in a dispute with the Scribes. A crowd have gathered who are greatly amazed (ἐξεθαμβήθησαν) when they see Him.  Some commentators have suggested that it is because Jesus face is still shining from the transfiguration. However this text makes sense without this interpretation as people were no doubt excited to see a man whom so many have talked about. Jesus ministry is gaining popular approval .

Jesus seeks to find out the cause of the dispute. The focus of the story now switches from that of groups (disciples, scribes, crowds) to the plight of a father whose son has a ‘spirit that makes him mute’.  The father had sought help from the disciples but they were not able to cast out the spirit. The stage has been set, Is Jesus greater than his disciples? Is Jesus able to do what the disciples could not? The desciples lacked strength (οὐκ ἴσχυσαν ), will Jesus?

Jesus does not immediately heal the boy but calls the generation unbelieving ( γενεὰ ἄπιστος ). Mark’s gospel is full of sayings about faith/belief. See 2:5, 4:40, 5:34, 19:52, 11:22-23).  Jesus accuses the generation of being unbelieving.  One is reminded of  Deut 32:5, Numbers 14:11 and Is 65:2 which speaks of the rebellion of God’s own people. Jesus came to heal and restore and bring the kingdom.  He also offered a challenge to those who were living lives of rebellion.

The boy was brought to Jesus and the spirit took over the boy. The presence of Jesus causes evil to raise its head. (Mark 1:23-26, 34, 3:11-12, 5:6-13).  Jesus looks to the father for faith, in contrast to the faithlessness of the generation.  The man is weak in faith, perhaps due to numerous failed visits he had made with exorcists and the inability of the disciples.

True faith is always aware how small and inadequate it is. The father becomes a believer not when he amasses a sufficient quantum of faith but when he risks everything on what little faith he has, when he yields his insufficiency to the true sufficiency of Jesus, “ ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ ” The risk of faith is more costly to the father than bringing his son to Jesus, for he can talk about his son but he must “cry out” (Gk. krazein) for faith.103 True faith takes no confidence in itself, nor does it judge Jesus by the weakness of his followers. It looks to the More Powerful One (1:7) who stands in the place of God, whose authoritative word restores life from chaos. True faith is unconditional openness to God, a decision in the face of all to the contrary that Jesus is able.

Edwards, James R.: The Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England : Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002 (The Pillar New Testament Commentary), S. 278 

Jesus commands the spirit in the first person (I command you) and it is not in the name of YHWH or one of the prophets.  Jesus has power, he could do what others could not. He has authority.

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Here is another tasty quote from Jesus and Politics In discussing the Messiah and the suffering servant,


Yet more difficult is the idea that the king can also be a suffering Servant. Deep in this great book [Isaiah] is a radical understanding of sin and injustice, a deconstruction of human autonomy and power, a knowledge of love and mercy, and a pervasive sense that God is with us. It requires the self-referencing attitude of the state and politics to be discarded in recognition of their accountability before God. Above all, it requires a complete rethinking of the idea of victory. Throughout sinful human history, conquest has been domination, self-will, glory, and control over others. Such thought forms are endemic to presidents, prime ministers, kings, and people through the centuries. Yet here in Isaiah a different fulcrum is intimated. To win is to fight for the other, the weak, the sick, and even the enemy. To win is to lose, even one’s life, steady in love. By his wounds we are healed. The deliverer is led like a lamb to the slaughter, and he bears our iniquities (is 53). No-one can be sure of the actual incarnation of Isaiah’s meaning in the Suffering Servant. But here is the prototype for the great hinge of political history in Jesus. It all swings on this. (page 103-104)

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 Another tasty quote from Jesus and Politics. In discussing the kingdom (reign) of God as part of Jesus’ ministry he says..

“Jesus moves around healing people—a man who is manic, a woman with fever, those who are paralysed and diseased, a man leprosy, and so on. It is clearly his prior concern: Jesus seeks out people who are ill and receives those who come to him. No one at that time or throughout most of human history has seen healings as part of politics. Wars? Yes. Taxation? Yes. Healings?No. That position is still resolutely held in the United States today. Yet, if care of our neighbour is part of just and righteous living, health and healing need to be a concern of the state, as they are now throughout much of the world. In Britain’s 2001 election, the National service was the dominant issue. So, we have this man walking around, lifting people up, giving them relief in mind and body, exhibiting what God’s rule is like, and it includes healing.”pp80-81

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I hope to be able to offer some tasty quotes from Alan Storkey’s Jesus and Politics: Confronting the Powers over the next few weeks. A short review can be found here. These postings are not attempting to be a review, critique or summary but merely a collection of tasty quotes.

In Chapter 1 Storkey sets Jesus in contrast to the ruthless Herod the Great. Jesus birth and life are tied in with Isaiah Ch 40.  Here is todays quote (page 24-25)

Isaiah 40:10-11 (ESV)
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

“These are strange words. Is God a ruler like this? Rulers demand taxes, slaves, soldiers, but here is a ruler who rewards. Rulers govern by fear and conquest, but here is a ruler who is gentle to the young and those who are pregnant. You cannot a cradle a lamb and be harsh. Rulers rely on armies, but here is one whose arms hold his subjects clsoe to his heart. Is it possible that all this conquest, domination, rape, and pillage are necessary when we live on God’s terms? Is it unthinkable in terms of usual world history, but here it actually begins to unfold. There could be another King.” 24-25






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Is Mark’s gospel based on eyewitness testimony. Richard Bauckham revisits, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses the case for Peter as the main eye witness source.


I want to give you two of his reasons.


  1. Inclusio of Eyewitness Testimony: The most authoritative eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus are those who were present from the beginning of his ministry (John the Baptist) until the resurrection. The gospels use a literary device called the inclusio of eyewitnesses, also used in two Greek biographies, by which the a character in the story is placed into the beginning and the end of the story, to show that he is one of the main sources of information. In Mark’s gospel Peter is mentioned in the early stages (Mark 1:16-18) and at the end (Mark 16:7).

  2. Plural to Single Narrative Devise is predominantly found in Mark’s gospel. This device is illustrated in the following verses.


        Mk 5:1-2 (NRSV) 1 They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.

    2. Mark 8 22 They [Plural]came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him[Singular] and begged him to touch him.

Mark 11:12 (NRSV) 12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.

Mark 14:32 (NRSV)32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”


This occurs 21 times in Mark. However this seems to be unnatural in Greek as textual variants abound which put these verses back into singular/singular, also Matthew and Luke change a good number of these verse back into singular/singular. This seems to indicate that the account is based on eyewitness testiomony in which they would say, for Mark 8:22, we came to Bethsaida. .


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Criteria of ‘Multiple Attestation’


The criterion of multiple attestation is a major player in the ‘Historical Jesus’ world and is used, amongst others, by Sanders, Meier, Ludemann and Crossan1 as a method which helps to discern the authenticity of a passage.

‘A passage is more likely to go back to Jesus if it has been preserved in two or more sources which are independent of each other.’2 Sanders & Davies


The criterion of multiple attestation focuses on those saying or deeds of Jesus that are attested in more than one independent literary source and/or in more than one literary form or genre. The force of this criterion is increased if a given motif or theme is found in both literary sources and different literary forms.’3 Meier


Plural Attestation in the first stratum pushes the trajectory back as far as it can go with a at least formal objectivity.’4 Crossan


The criterion of multiple attestation (CMA), as with the CDD, is a criterion which contains two different criteria. As the above quote by Meier illustrates the CMA has to do with whether a saying or action is attested in multiple sources (CMS) and/or whether it is found in multiple forms (CMF). The higher number of attestations the more likely the the saying/action of Jesus is authentic.


Criteria of Multiple Sources (CMS)

CMS, based upon a two source solution to the synoptic problem, was developed by F.C Burkitt5

We need, therefore, a kind of starting point for the consideration of our Lords doctrine, some external test that will give us a general assurance that the Saying we have before us is really from Him, and not the half-conscious product of one school of His followers. Where shall we find such a test? It appeared to me that the starting point we require may be found in those Sayings which have a real double attestation. The main documents out of which the Synoptic Gospels are compiled are (1)the Gospel of Mark, and (2) the lost common origin of the non-Marcan portions of Matthew and Luke, ie. The source called Q. Where Mark and Q appear to report the same Saying, we have the nearest approach that we can hope to get to the common tradition of the earliest Christian society about our Lords words. What we glean in this way will indicate the general impression His teaching made upon his disciples.6

Using Mark and Q as separate sources Burkitt identified 31 sayings of Jesus that were attested in both sources. This multiplicity in witnesses, that is Mark and Q, can increase the confidence, so Burkitt argued, in the saying stemming from authentic Jesus tradition.


As synoptic studies developed a four source hypothesis, using special Matthew and Special Luke as independent traditions, has increased the number of sources . In recent years some scholars have been restricted the sources to that of the synoptic gospels but include Gospel of John, Agrapha, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, etc. This inclusion of apocryphal gospels was discussed in an analysis of the methodology of Dominic Crossan.


Critique of CMS


1) Meier accepts that this ‘criterion cannot be used mechanically and in isolation’7. Meier does not accept the objectivity of this criteria as ‘In an individual case it is not a priori impossible that a saying invented early on by a Christian community or prophet met the needs of the church so perfectly that it rapidly entered into a number of strands of the tradition’8 , or as Stein puts it,


Another criticism of this criterion is that all that one ultimately can be sure of is that, if a tradition is found in all or most of the various sources laying behind our Gospels, that tradition is deeply embedded in the earliest traditions of the early church. Multiple attestation does not prove absolutely that the tradition is authentic! On the other hand the criterion of multiple attestation can, if we are able to establish the existence of various sources lying behind the Gospels, establish the probability that. such a motif is authentic.9

CMS, taking on board Stein’s comment, is a useful tool in uncovering material which is present in the Jesus tradition prior to the source which is being studied. However, to state that a periciope/saying is present in earlier tradition is not he same as saying it authentic. An early date does not of itself guarantee authenticity.


2) CMS does not allow for a study of the authenticity and the trustworthiness of the sources themselves. In a court of law it would not matter if their were multiple witnesses to a crime if all the witnesses were untrustworthy, or if all witnesses were basing their testimony on an earlier inaccurate witness. Likewise one trustworthy witness would be sufficient to bring conviction. This raises the basic question ’Are the synoptic gospels trustworthy? Are the apocryphal gospels trustworthy? In a court of law a trustworthy witness could be someone who has access to the data, someone who had no motive to change the tradition, and a witness whose credibility could be challenged by others if they strayed from other peoples memory of the events.

[A] Plurality of independent sources attesting a particular tradition is no guarantee of the authenticity of a tradition (no matter how numerous such sources may be), but only the authenticity of its age.10

2) The CMS is dependant on a particular solution to the synoptic problem. Usually this has taken the form of Markan priority. Markan priority, although having scholarly consensus, is not without its detractors.11 The objectivity of CMS is removed once it is seen that it is itself based on a highly contested hypothesis. Any change to the priority of Mark and the existence of Q would drastically change the results achievable by the CMS. CMS is used, by, amongst others, Meier, Sanders and Crossan, as part of a classical foundationalist epistemology. Can a criteria which is itself based on Markan priority, which is at best highly probably, provide a sufficient foundation for developing a reconstruction of Jesus.


3) The criteria, at times, is used in a negative way, in that a pericope/saying which is only singularly attested can not be used to form a part of the bedrock of Jesus tradition. This in my opinion, as with Stein, is an inappropriate use of this methodology for ‘to assume the inauthenticity of such a witness is to assume that anyone who testifies to any event without collaborating evidence is to be assumed a false witness.’12

Burkitt himself concedes this point,

Now I am not going to claim that the list of sayings [those that have multiple attestion] which I have read to you are the deepest or the most original of the recorded Sayings of our Lord. It may be very well be that some of the most profound of the sayings of His that have survived at all are recorded only by a single evangelist.13

4) A complete abandonment of the CMS is not needed as, with a recognition of its subjective nature due to its building upon on at best a probable solution to the synoptic problem, it can be used as testimony and corrective against contrasting portraits, as Burkitt affirms

At least it will be useful to us a corrective: any other Portrait of the Lord which we may draw must not be inconsistent with the portrait attested by the mouth of our two witnesses [Mark and Q]


Singly attested sources, if adopting a piecemeal approach to the gospels, can be judged as more likely to be authentic if they do not contradict the multiple attested sources. As with Moule ‘I see no reason to reject a tradition merely because it appears in only one stream, provided it is not intrinsically improbable or contradicted by the other’14. However in the light of point 2 above no claim to objectivity can be made.


5) M. Eugine Boring sought in 1988 to see an expansion of the CMS to include that of the extracanonical sources.

While not so objective as it first appears, this criterion does seem to have some usefulness, but independent extracanonical forms of the sayings must be considered among the witnesses examined. These were all but ignored in the earlier period. The recent resurgence of interest in the extracanonical gospels in general and the Gospel of Thomas in particular, stimulated especially by Helmut Koester and his students, has increased the usefulness of this criterion.15

In theory this may seem like a perfectly appropriate idea but unless it the source is itself trustworthy it is, like criticism two above, of little use.



The Criteria of Multiple Forms


The second and related form of CMA , CMS, was developed by Dodd and sought to affirm the historicity of a part of Jesus ministry by noticing that it is attested in number of forms.16 The example below shows how this criteria is used.




Eg. Did Jesus welcome outcasts and outsiders?17

Dodd answers, in History and the Gospel, this question by appealing to both CMS and CMF. The gospels are understood as being, not only a collection of multiple sources, but also a collection of multiple forms. The gospel pericopes are placed, as with form criticism, in various groupings such as parables, poetical sayings, pronouncement stories. These pericopes are analysed to see how widespread the view of is of ‘Jesus’ welcome of outsider‘ . After analysis Dodd finds the ‘welcome of outsiders’ present across the forms and sources.


This aspect of Jesus’ teaching is found in a ‘great variety of traditional ‘forms’-aphorisms, parables, poetical sayings, dialogues, stories of various kinds [CMF] -taken from all four strata of the synoptic gospels (Mark, Q, Matthew’s Special Source, Luke’s special source)[CMS]18

This method allows Dodd to provide an answer to the above question.


‘We may say surely say, on strictly critical grounds, that we have here [Jesus welcome of outsiders] a well attested historical fact.’19

It is interesting to note that this does not, in Dodd’s opinion, guarantee the authenticity of any of the individual pericopes, but does allow us to speak authoritively on the broad message behind the text for ‘this fact [Jesus welcome of outsiders] stands independently of the historical status’ of the stories used.’20



Critique of CMF


A) CMF proceeds by a form critical method which seeks to place the gospel materials into different form critical categories (parables, pronouncement stories). The use of forms within the gospels is not in itself a hard science, as within form-critical scholarship ‘[N]o universally agreed-upon list of forms exists.21 and even when these categories are in place ‘[M]any passages, however, do not easily fall into one of the primary form-critical categories. Many seem to mix together several forms22. This debate over classification will thus impact the level at which a passage is judged authentic by CMF. Therefore, CMF is not simply a method which givens universally agreed results, the results will be as diverse as that of form criticism.


B) CMF, as with CMS, does not guarantee the authenticity of a ’theme’ and cannot be a criteria in which a passage is judged objective. However, CMF is useful in placing a given theme of Jesus (embrace of the outcast, kingdom of God) into a point earlier than the gospel composition. As with Stein,


The appearance of this motif in multiple literary forms of the materials does not “prove” conclusively its authenticity, but at least ‘the criterion has some value in distinguishing comparatively early from comparatively late traditions, ’23

C) CMF shows that a theme is earlier in the tradition than the date of gospel composition, but it does not, as Dodd noted, allow us to speak any more authoritatively on the historicity of any given pericope. The CMF does not take us back to the ‘voice of Jesus’ but to the overarching themes of Jesus life and ministry.









1 Crossans use of this criteria is discussed elsewhere in this paper

2 Sanders, Ed Parish ; Davies, Margaret: Studying the Synoptic Gospels 323

3 Meier, John P.: A Marginal Jew : Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1 The Roots of the Problem and the Person. New York : Doubleday, 1991 175

4 Crossan The Historical Jesus xxxiii

5 Burkitt, F. Crawford: The Gospel History and Its Transmission. 2nd ed. Edinburgh : T&T Clark, 1907

6 Burkitt The Gospel History and Its Transmission 147

7 Meier, John P.: A Marginal Jew : Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1 The Roots of the Problem and the Person 175

8 ibid 175 See also G Petzke Die historiische Frage nach den Wundertatun Jesus NTS 22:1975-1976) 180-204, ‘There is no reason to think that something is more reliable historically because it is reported a number of time’ (Mehrfact). Trans by Meier

9 Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” R.T. France & David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, Vol. 1, Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1980. pp.225-263. 222 Also Porter, Stanley E.: The Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research : Previous Discussion and New Proposals 86 ‘the point has been raised that multiply attested tradition points to an earlier stage in the tradition, but it does not necessarily indicate authenticity, which must be determined through other criteria.’

10 Theissen and Winter The Quest for the Plauible Jesus 14

11 In support of the Two Source (Greisbach) Hypothesis , Farmer, William R., The Synoptic Problem (Dilsboro, N.C.: Western North Carolina Press, 1964) (2d ed. 1976), McNicol, Allan J., et al. eds., Beyond the Q Impasse — Luke’s Use of Matthew: A Demonstration by the Research Team of the International Institute for Gospel Studies (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press Int’l, 1996)Orchard, Bernard J. & Riley, Harold, The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels? (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987) also The Case Against Q Studies in Markan Priority and the Synoptic Problem Mark Goodacre Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2002 which seeks to defend Markan priority whilst critiquing and dispensing with Q

12 Stein 232

13 Burkitt The Gospel History and Its transmission 167-168 see also

14 Moule The Phenonomeon of the New Testament 71

15 Charles W. Hedrick, ed ; Charles W. Hedrick, ed ; Society of Biblical Literature: Semeia. Semeia 44. Atlanta, GA : Society of Biblical Literature, 1988 (Semeia 44), S. 13

16 Dodd, C. H.: The Parables of the Kingdom. 1st. ed. London : Nisbet, 1935 26-29 but more fully developed in Dodd, C. H.: History and the Gospel in which Dodd guides us through six examples.

17 The example of the Kingdom of God is given by Stein The Criteria of Authenticity An example of the use of this criterion might be to see if Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God was realized in his ministry meets the criterion of multiple forms. Thus we shall see how broadly based such a teaching was in the gospel traditions. In this instance it is evident that this motif is found in: pronouncement stories (Mark 2:18-20; Luke 11:14-22); miracle stories (Luke 5:36-39); and sayings (Matt. 5:17; 13: 16-17).Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 233

18 Dodd History and the Gospel 93

19 Dodd History and the Gospel 94

20 Dodd History and the Gospel 94

21 Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 243

22 Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 245

23 Robert H. Stein, “The ‘Criteria’ for Authenticity,” 233

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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.

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The end of the ‘Old Quest’: Albert Schweitzer


Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) is often portrayed as the man who put an end to the ‘old’ quest. It is certainly true that Schweitzer placed a nail in the coffin of the ‘romanticised’ portraits of Jesus but more conservative scholarship, with less tendency to either adopt a enlightenment epistemology or a romanticed sketch pad, seems to have continued unabated.1 If Schweitzer did hammer a the nail into the coffin of ‘Romanticised’ pictures of Jesus, then coffin, to continue the metaphor, was already in production as t 15 years previously when Martin Kahler rebuked the ‘entire life of Jesus movement [‘Old/First Questers’] for leading scholarship into a ‘blind alley’.2

However, the impact of Schweitzer is not to be minimised, as he sought to offer a comprehensive overview and devastating enthusiastic critique of previous attempts at ‘life of Jesus‘ scholars. Jesus, as Schweitzer saw it, was being portrayed as a preacher of ethical ideals and his Judaic eschatological message was being ignored.

           There was a danger that we should offer them a Jesus who was too small because we had forced him into conformity with our human standards and human psychology. To see that, one need only read the lives of Jesus written since the [eighteen] ‘sixties, and notice what they have made of the great imperious sayings of the Lord, how they have weakened down his imperative world-condemning demands upon individuals, that he might not come into conflict with our ethical ideals, and might tune his denial of the world to our acceptance of it. Many of the greatest sayings are found lying in a corner like explosive shells, from which the charges have been removed. No small portion of elemental religious power needed to be drawn off from his sayings to prevent them from conflicting with our system of religious world-acceptance. We have made Jesus hold another language with our time from that which he really held.3

In contrast to the ‘romanticised’ portraits of Jesus, Schweitzer sought to paint a picture of Jesus who was not acceptable to the modern world. This Jesus was a fiery eschatological prophet who was convinced that the end of the word was at hand. His message was less about ethical ideals but about the future kingdom which God would bring. Jesus goes to the cross to bring the kingdom of God, laying ‘hold of the wheel of the world to bring it to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws Himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes Him.’5 Schweitzer’s Jesus is a ‘stranger and enigma’6 to both modern society and Christianity.


1 See Porter The Criteria of Authenticity 37 who offers a critique of the monolithic understanding of the history of Jesus research. Also Bock Studying the Historical Jesus 144-145 ‘To call this period one of ‘no quest’ is probably an overstatement’ 144

2 Kähler, Martin: The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans Braaten 46-71

3 Neill, Stephen ; Wright, N. T.: The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861-1986 215

 Eschatology for Schweitzer is

5 Schweitzer Quest for the Historical Jesus as cited in Dunn Jesus Remembered 47

6In either case, He will not be a Jesus Christ to whom the religion of the present can ascribe, according to its long-cherished custom, its own thoughts and ideas, as it did with the Jesus of its own making. Nor will He be a figure which can be made by a popular historical treatment so sympathetic and universally intelligible to the multitude. The historical Jesus will be to our time a stranger and an enigma.’ Schweitzer Quest for the Historical Jesus 399

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