The PostBarthian

Karl Barth against the Quest of the Historical Jesus

Composite of Jesus portraits (source: wikipedia)

Composite of Jesus portraits (source: wikipedia)

The Quest for the Historical Jesus that has captivated the world for the past two centuries and, perhaps, was at its pinnacle after the publication in 1906 of Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus and is still going strong as evidenced by famous publications such as N.T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of GodHowever productive the Quest has been, it is also true that it was the Exalted Jesus, and not the so-called Historical Jesus that is the savior of the world. It is the Lord Jesus proclaimed by the Church, and not as Schweitzer concluded his book by describing the Historical Jesus as, "He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not."

In Karl Barth's The Resurrection of the Dead, I found this excellent quotation that provides an excellent critique of the Quest that calls the entire enterprise into question:

"I have received it from the Lord. The Lord Himself repeated to him, Paul, what He said as the Founder of the Supper": "in the night, when the Lord Jesus was betrayed. . . ." By this categorical assertion, Paul does not mean to guarantee, which would interest us, that these were the authentic words of the so-called historical Jesus. For what we call the historical Jesus, a Jesus pure and simple, who is not the Lord Jesus, but an earthly phenomenon among others to be objectively discovered, detached from His Lordship in the Church of God, apart from the revelation given in the Jesus of the Church and at first to the apostles—this abstraction was for Paul (and not for him alone) an impossible idea. The thought that Jesus should and could be first regarded by himself, in order then to recognize Him as Lord, could at most be for him a painful recollection of his former error. This Jesus, who is not the Lord, who is known after the flesh (2 Cor 5:16), was in fact the foe whom he persecuted; he no longer knows Him. But Paul is not now reflecting on what this Jesus, who was known after the flesh, might have said on the occasion of the Supper, but upon what Kyrios Jesus, the Lord of the Church, said to him, Paul, when He made him His ambassador. The Lord does not live for him in the oldest, best-attested or most credible tradition--why should it be just the Lord who lives and speaks there?

Barth, Karl. The Resurrection of the Dead. Ed. R. Dale Dawson. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2003. 65. Print.

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2015 Karl Barth Pastor’s Conference

Register now for the 2015 Karl Barth Pastors Conference. The conference's title is "Karl Barth & the Mission of the Church", and will be June 24-26, 2015 at Princeton Theological Seminary. If you are a Pastor, this is an excellent conference to choose to attend this year. Speakers include: Christian Andrews, M. Craig Barnes, Debbie Blue, Nancy Duff, Peter Heltzel, Willie Jennings, Fleming Rutledge, Ry Siggelkow, Kara Slade, and Will Willimon.


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Hans Küng on Peter’s Confession that Pauline Justification by Faith Alone is Hard to Understand

El Greco - Saints Peter and Paul (source: wikipedia)

El Greco - Saints Peter and Paul (source: wikipedia)

Peter truly speaks as the victor of Rome when he said that Paul's Doctrine of Faith Alone was difficult to understand. This is an Essene pesher when I equate Peter with Roman Catholicism and Paul with Protestantism, but is it not true that the Tridentine formulas that are so odious to Protestants really are due to this same problem of Peter's confession regarding the great difficulty in studying the doctrine of Grace. Continuing my pesher, there is also a warning that Peter pronounces after his confession that we are in danger and many have already done so to twist the Doctrine of Grace to our own destruction and of others.  Beware!

2 Peter 3:15-18 NRSV "So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity."

Hans Küng has demonstrated that the Tridentine statements on grace are wrongly misunderstood by Protestants to be Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian synergism. Despite the explicit denial of Semi-Pelagianism in the Second Council of Orange, there is no convincing some Protestants otherwise (and some Catholics as well!) despite Peter's warning (2 Peter 3:17).

A point of particular difficulty to understand, which continues to fuel the Protestant Reformation, is the Pauline vs Petrine understanding of Grace. In the following quotation from Hans Küng's Doctrine of Justification, is an excellent explanation of how the Roman Catholic doctrine of Grace, i.e. habitus, is understand by Catholics and misunderstood.

"Barth's fears that God's grace might become, perniciously, 'my' grace are unfounded if we keep in view the fact that grace is mine only as the grace of God; I never "have" it; it is never simply at my disposal. The term habitus is not meant in the sense of "having" grace, but, as Bonaventure explains "to hold is to be held" [..]. Grace is given to me each day as something completely new. It becomes "my" grace--as a consequence of the incarnation--but always as a grace alien to me, according to the paradoxical formulation of Trent: [..] ("Thus, it is not personal effort that makes justice our own."--D809). The 'Index of Celestine' states in Chap. 2: "Unless he who alone is good grants a participation in his being, no one has goodness within himself. This truth is proclaimed by that prontiff (Innocent I) in the following sentence: 'For the future, can we expect anything good from those who mentality is such that they think they are the cause of their goodness and do not take into account him whose grace they obtain each day, and who hope to accomplish so much without him?" And in Chap. 6: "The same teacher Zosimus instructed us to acknowledge this truth when, speaking to the bishops of the world about the assistance of divine grace, he said: 'Is there ever a time when we do not need his help? Therefore, in every action and situation, in every thought and movement, we must pray to him as our helper and protector'" (D 131 and 135)"

Küng, Hans Justification: The Doctrine of Karl Barth and a Catholic Reflection. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004. 205. Print.

I believe in One Holy Catholic Church.

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Karl Barth’s use of Saga in Exposition of Scripture

Karl Barth (source:

Pastor Karl Barth (source:

Karl Barth's Doctrine of Holy Scripture is expounded in the Church Dogmatics Vol. I/2 §19-21, yet for kinetic learners, Barth's Doctrine of Scripture may be bested learned by reading Barth's expositions of Scripture in the myriad fine print sections throughout the paragraphs of the Church Dogmatics, especially at the end of sections. Barth's introduction to his Doctrine of Creation in the Church Dogmatics Vol. III/1 is an extended commentary on the first chapters of Genesis, and exemplifies Barth's Doctrine of Scripture at work, most notably it contains Barth's definition of the saga genre of literature.

I recently read Karl Barth's infamous exposition of the Spies in the Promise Land from Numbers 13-14 in the Church Dogmatics Vol. IV/2 §65.2, and then came across it a second time while reading George Hunsinger's essay in Thy Word is Truth: Barth on Scripture, and took it as a sign that I should share this as an exercise to the reader in observing Barth's ontology of Scripture in practice.

The strength of Barth's exegesis is that he is not paralyzed and thrown into the abyss of 'Bible Difficulties' debates that Inerrancy suffers from while trying to explain how this story has elements from exilic and post-exhilic judaism yet purports to be an eye-witness account of conquest era Israel. Barth also evades the doldrums of demythologization where the complete historicity is consider mythological by more critical, modern scholars. Barth's use of Saga demonstrates how both stories are told of ancient years and of the situation of the redactor in one narrative. The epistemological proof is in how Barth's exposition has the most explaining power and yields the most fruit from the proverbial grapes brought back from the land of Canaan. Particularly in Barth's keen insight in the parallels of Joshua and Caleb vs the ten spies to that of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah and the ten lost tribes. Also, don't miss the reference to the two witnesses of Revelation in this passage that Barth expands!

Karl Barth's exposition of the Twelve Spies of Canaan (Num 13-14):

Once again a biblical passage will give concretion to our analysis. And this time we turn to Num 13-14 –the history of the spies whom Moses sent to investigate the promised land.

Tissot, The Grapes of Canaan (source: wikipedia)

Tissot, The Grapes of Canaan (source: wikipedia)

We call it a “history” and this calls for a short hermeneutical observations which applies in retrospect to the three preceding excursi as well. The term “history” is to be understood in its older and naïve significance in which—quite irrespective of the distinctions between that which can be historically proved, that which has the character of saga and that which has been consciously fashioned, or invented, in a later and synthetic review—it denotes a story which is received and maintained and handed down in a definite kerygmatic sense. In relation to the biblical histories we can, of course, ask concerning these distinctions and even make them hypothetically. But if we do we shall miss the kerygmatic sense in which they are told. Indeed, the more definitely we make them and the more normative we regard them for the purpose of exposition, the more surely we shall miss this sense. To do justice to this sense, we must either not have asked at all concerning these distinctions, or have ceased to do so. In other words, we must still, or again, read these histories in their unity and totality. It is only then that they can say what they are trying to say. To be sure, the history of the spies does contain different elements. There is a “historical” element in the stricter sense (the persons and cities and localities mentioned). There is also an element of saga (the account of the branch of grapes carried by two men, and of the giants who inhabited the land). There is also the element which has its origin in the synthetic or composite view (fusing past and present almost into one) which is so distinctive a feature of historical writing in Old and New Testament alike. It is to the latter elements that we must pay for they usually give us an indication of the purpose which led to their adoption into the texts. But in relation to them, if we are discerning readers, we shall not overlook the historical elements or even jettison those which seem to have the character of saga. When the distinctions have been made they can be pushed again into the background and the whole can be read (with this tested and critical naivety) as the totality it professes to be.The purpose of Num 13-14 is to show how dreadful and dangerous is the retarding role played by evil anxiety in the transition of Israel from the wilderness to the promised land as an action in the history of salvation. It was perhaps in this way, in the shadow of this particular failing in relation to Yahweh, that at a later period—perhaps at the time of the Exile when it was confronted by a dangerous return to its own land—Israel saw its past. Yet this does not mean that at the earlier period of its existence in the wilderness its attitude was not exactly the same, or very much the same, as reported in the story. We shall now consider the picture which it gives.

The wilderness wandering seems to be reaching its end and goal. Israel is on the steppe of Param (Num 13:1) on the very threshold of the land from which Jacob and his sons had once journeyed to Egype—the country which their descendants had now left far behind them. The will of Yahweh in the great act by the Red Sea, which was their deliverance and liberation, and Yahweh’s covenant with them, had had as their goal that they should dwell in the land which was now before them. Other nations lived there, but it was still, and already again, their land; for Yahweh had promised it to them. In all their march through the wilderness the inhabitation of this land had been their absolutely sure and certain future, guaranteed by God Himself. And now it is to take place. Yet they are not to be brought in blindly and passively. Although led by Yahweh at the hand of Moses, they themselves are to act and dare, knowing where they are going, and knowing the land and its inhabitants and soil and cities (13:18f.). This knowledge is to be given them by trustworthy witnesses who will summon them to joyous action. That is why the twelve spies are selected and sent out, all chosen from among them, one from each of the tribes, and in each case one of the princes or leaders. Caleb from the tribe of Judah and Oshea (whom Moses called Joshua) from the tribe of Ephraim are the representatives of what later become the leading tribes in the south and in the north, and they will be particularly prominent later in the story. These spies are to be eyes for the rest of the holy people, and when they have seen they are to be the mouth of authentic witness to this people. With this commission they are to enter the land which God has promised Israel, which already belongs to it according to His will and Word, and which has only to be appropriated; and they are then to return and tell. This is all arranged by Moses at the commandment of Yahweh (Num 13:1-21). There will, of course, be a certain element of risk in crossing the frontier, both for them and the whole people after them. It will be a venture, as we can see from the exhortation of Moses: “Be ye of good courage.” Note that they are also told to bring back some of the fruits of the land: “The time was the time of the firstripe grapes” (Num 13:20)—not the true grapes, but those of the approaching harvest. The Israelites themselves will actually see these first-fruits. And Moses is confident that these will speak for themselves and kindle the gratitude and joy and courage of the people. In all this we have to remember that there is no question of establishing the glorious content of the promise or the certainty that Yahweh will fulfill it and bring them into this good land. On the contrary, the whole being of this people rests on the promise of Yahweh. The only purpose, then, is to confirm the promise and to remind the people of its content and certainty. The spies can only be witnesses of the promise, and the people is to hear it attested by them and see it attested by the proofs of fruitfulness which they bring.

But it is at this point—quite unexpectedly and incomprehensibly from the standpoint of the story—there comes the invasion of anxious care. It arises first among the spies themselves. Ten of these prove to be fainthearts. They have faithfully and eagerly fulfilled the first part of their commission. They have gone through the whole of the south as far as Hebron. At Eschcol they have cut off the great bunch of grapes “and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and the figs” (Num 13:24). And they return and tell Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation about the land, and show the fruits, and say: “We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless…” (Num 13:26f.). After all, there is a serious “But.” It is not for nothing that they were told to be of a good courage. And without courage the promise given to the whole people cannot be fulfilled. There was a risk. A venture had to be made. All the spies had been aware of this. But ten of them had obviously not proved to be very courageous on the journey. It is these ten—the overwhelming majority—who, as is only right, act as the spokesmen. And the second part of their report is as follows: “Nevertheless the people be that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.” There then follows a list of all the warlike people they found: the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites (Num 13:29f.). The report is amplified later: “And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Isreal, Saying, The land which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there was saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the gians: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Num 13:32f.). Even the milk and honey and great cluster of grapes did not compensate in their eyes for this drawback; what they feared was incomparably greater than what they desired. The truth and power of the divine promise to attest which they had been chosen and now stood before the people could and should have been thrown in the scales against those hosts of people and their strong and secure cities and even the giants. But they themselves had not taken the truth and power of the promise into account, and so their report concluded: “We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we” (Num 13:31). They had not really seen as witnesses of Yahweh and therefore they could not speak as His witnesses. They could not encourage His people, but only attest their own anxious care.

We remember that they are speaking to the people of Yahweh—the people to whom the promise and its content and certainty are not something new, for whom they are only to be confirmed, who are to be summoned by them to resolute action. Surely they will unanimously reject as false witness this report and its conclusion. Unfortunately not. Instead we read that when the people of God heard this report there arose a murmuring; the murmuring of the care engendered in the people too. There were, of course, two witnesses who were not anxious and who were therefore true witnesses, Joshua and Caleb. And we are told (Num 13:38?) that Caleb “stilled the people before Moses” with the words: “Let us go up at once, and posses it, for we are well able to overcome it.” But the continuation of the report of the other ten swept aside this word of encouragement. When the people heard of giants, every restraint was cast aside: “And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night” (Num 14:1). The following day the murmuring was against Moses and Aaron. So that we have good reason to suspect that this was not an accident but a supremely radical refusal which compromised everything. And indeed: “The whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we have died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we have died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? (Num 14:2f.). Thus from the future, in which they do not see Yahweh and His promise and its fulfillment and His faithfulness and power, but only these people and their strongholds, only these giants, before whom the spies saw themselves as grasshoppers, death reaches into their present in the form of this mad desire, and even into their past. They are afraid—their poor wives and children!—of what God promises and tells them to do. They would rather have been long since dead—what is the value of milk and honey and clusters of grapes and pomegranates and figs?—in Egypt or in the wilderness. Better this then meet the obviously gigantic danger of their future. But even if they are terribly anxious they are still alive, and can do something to escape the danger. And so there comes the maddest thing of all—a conclusion which far surpasses the purely negative conclusion of the spies: “Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?” (Num 14:3f.). Absolutely everything is called in question by the care which has now assumed gigantic proportions as a result of this report about giants: their deliverance and liberation; the will and Word of Yahweh in this act; His covenant with them; and naturally the authority of Moses and Aaron. Their will is to choose another leader, to set off in the opposite direction, and to return to Pharaoh and slavery—the very thing which, in spite of the protest and warning of Jeremiah, is finally done by the Jewish remnant after the destruction of Jerusalem, “because of the Chaldeans: for they were afraid of them” (Jer 41:18). “No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell” (Jer 42:14). The madness is complete. Panic knows no limits. This is how the people of Yahweh proves itself. This is the way in which it treats the divine promise and therefore its own history and election and calling.

What follows in face of this situation is quite majestic: “Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel” (Num 14:5). They did not try to contradict. They did not speak any word of warning or exhortation. When the people of Yahweh holds back, the only hope for this people is Yahweh Himself: the absolute prostration of worship before Him; the intercession of those who know Him for those who do not, of those who persist in His calling and certainty of His promise for those who forget and deny and surrender it. Yet in the first instance we are not told of any intercession, nor is there any express reference to Yahweh. We are simply told that they fell on their faces before this crowd in all madness of its anxiety.

But this is not all. For a lower level, nearer to the people but resisting their anxious care, representing the true cause of the people because the cause of Yahweh, persisting in His calling and promise, there also stand the two faithful and reliable witnesses Joshua and Caleb (the two referred to, perhaps, in Rev 11:3f.). The first thing that we are told concerning them is that they rent their cloths (Num 14:6) as a sigh of their supreme horror at what they recognized to be an act of supreme transgression. There then follows their entreaty in which in all the tumult of that raging anxiety they issue their call, their final appeal, for joy and courage and action: “The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not” (Num 14:7f.). Here again we have the clear line of the obedient human action corresponding to the goodness and certainty of the divine promise and sharing a priori its triumphant character. Yahweh is with us. Hence our enemies, even though they be giants, are impotent, and we shall overwhelm them. The only thing is that we must not fear, i.e., we must not be obstinate against Yahweh or question and therefore forfeit perhaps his benevolence. But this has already happened. The people is already deaf to this last appeal. It is in vain, therefore, that they reacall once more the promise of Yahweh. “All the congregation bade stone them with stones” (Num 14:10). The two faithful witnesses? Or Moses and Aaron as well? Either way, there can be no doubt that raging anxiety now aims to destroy physically the protest made against it in the name of the divine promise, juding its divine Judge in the person of these men, and making this its final word.

It is to prevent this dreadful climax that at this moment the glory of the Lord appears before the tent of revelation in the sight of all Israel, averting the murder of the two witnesses and the irrevocable apostasy of the people, but also as an act of judgment on them. They have made an enemy of the God whose friendship they have despised and rejected. They have evoked death by fearing it. There is now interposed a long section (Num 14:11-20) which tells us how God threatens what they have deserved and how it is averted by the explicit intercession of Moses. We see here how extreme is the consequence of their extreme rebellion against Yahweh. It is nothing less than their destruction and therefore the annulment of the covenant and promise. But this does not take place. For Moses prays: “Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of they mercy, and as thou has forgiven this people, form Egypt even until now” (Num 14:19). And Yahweh’s answer is: “I have pardoned according to they word” (Num 14:20). This does not mean, however, that what has happened has not happened or has no consequences. The ten false witnesses must die a sudden death (Num 14:37). And there can be no question of an entry into the land, and therefore of the fulfillment of the promise, for the whole generation which has been guilty of the anxious care, first in a childish, and then in a raging form. With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, who “had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully” (Num 14:24), “they shall not see the land” (Num 14:23). “This evil congregation, that are gathered together against me, in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die”—not in Egypt, for the will and act of God cannot be reversed, and the covenant and promise are not annulled, but in the wilderness as they have desired, without experiencing the fulfillment.

The story ends on a dark and unconciliatory note (Num 14:39f.). “The people mourned greatly” when Moses reported what had happened. They suddenly realize that they have sinned. But it does not appear that they are so very concerned about their sin, their care, their obstinacy against Yahweh, and therefore their transgression of the covenant, or that their confession of sin goes so very deep, when early the following morning they come to Moses armed and ready to march northwards into the land: “Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised.” Has their fear of the death which they desired in the wilderness, and which has been ordained for them, suddenly become greater than their fear of the giants? At any rate, they are not ready to accept the destiny which now impends in consequence of their own guilt. They will march out and fight. But they can do this only in defiance of the command of Yahweh. The courage of those who are anxious is no more pleasing to Him than their cowardice. “It shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord to Him than their cowardice. “It shall not prosper. Go not up, for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies… . Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and discomfited them, even unto Hormah” (Num 14:44f.). Ubi cessandum est, semper agilis, prompta et audax est incredulitas, ubi autem pergendi autor est Deus, timida est, pigra et mortua, is Calvin’s observation on this incident (C.R., 25, 209). Their incredulitas met with the fate which it must always suffer whatever form it takes. The note of comfort at the end of the story—apart from the existence of the little ones about whom they had been so anxious (Num 14:31)—is that in this careless enterprise the care-ridden Israelites did not take with them the ark of God, and therefore it was not involved in the catastrophe (Num 14:44).

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics Study Edition 25. Ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Trans. G. W. Bromiley. London: T & T Clark, 2010. 96-100. Print. [478-483]

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Albert Schweitzer epitomizes D.F. Strauss’ Life of Jesus


Albert Schweitzer [source: wikipedia]

Albert Schweitzer loved David Friedrich Strauss, and that's no understatement! In Schweitzer's infamous book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede [online text], there are three whole chapters dedicated to introducting D.F. Strauss (Ch. 7), summarizing his Life of Jesus and works (Ch. 8) and discussing the critical and appreciative academic responses to Strauss (Ch. 9). I've been reading Strauss' Life of Jesus, Critically Examined and reviewing responses to Strauss by theologians I respect (and maybe adore, to be honest!) such as Karl Barth, George Hunsinger, N.T. Wright and now Albert Schweitzer. D.F. Strauss is Schweitzer's beloved, and accepts him but not without criticism.

Schweitzer believes that Strauss laid the foundation for the Quest of the Historical Jesus, which Schweitzer famously championed, and believed Strauss formalized the demythologization as a theological disciplined that had not be clearly grasped by his predecessors. Schweitzer may be seeing too much of himself in Strauss at the bottom of a dimly lit well, but Schweitzer's positive appraisal of Strauss' work and moving introduction to the hardships of Strauss' life cannot be ignored. Schweitzer does not receive Strauss without criticism, and he is quick to point out that Strauss has not seen the benefit of eschatology (which Schweitzer is well known for his infamous contributions to apocalyptic aspects of Jesus) and to note that Strauss did not comprehend the Marcan priority of the Gospels.

In Chapter 8: "Strauss's First Life of Jesus", Schweitzer provides and excellent summary of the most notable parts of D.F. Strauss' massive tome (my copy of the Life of Jesus is consolidated to 800 pages, but the first edition was over 1,400 pages). Many theologians are willing to allow the category of myth to bible before Jesus' baptism and after his ascension, but Strauss made no such exemption, compromise or concession. The Life of Jesus directly address the inner bounded set that was off limit to his contemporaries and predecessors. In the following extended quotation from The Quest of the Historical Jesus [amazon], a summary of this massive tome is eloquently abridged to a few pages in the eloquence that few like Schweitzer posses. This is an excellent taste of Schweitzer that represents my experience after plowing through the super-majority of Strauss' Life of Jesus.

Gaudenzio Ferrari, Life of Jesus

Gaudenzio Ferrari, Life of Jesus [source: wikipedia]

David Friedrich Strauss [source: wikipedia]

David Friedrich Strauss
[source: wikipedia]

The final statement in this quotation is key, because though its been 180 years since Strauss first published The Life of Jesus it is still a current book in theological discussion to this day, even if only as a historical marker in the development of academic studies, it is the one 'Life of Jesus' that surpasses all the so-called 'Lives of Jesus' genre of publications.

In the stories prior to the baptism, everything is myth. The narratives are woven on the pattern of Old Testament prototypes, with modifications due to Messianic or messianically interpreted passages. Since Jesus and the Baptist came into contact with one another later, it is felt necessary to represent their parents as having been connected. The attempts to construct Davidic genealogies for Jesus, show us that there was a period in the formation of the Gospel History during which the Lord was simply regarded as the son of Joseph and Mary, otherwise genealogical studies of this kind would not have been undertaken. Even in the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, there is scarcely more than a trace of historical material.

In the narrative of the baptism we may take it as certainly unhistorical that the Baptist received a revelation of the Messianic dignity of Jesus, otherwise he could not later have come to doubt this. Whether his message to Jesus is historical must be left an open question; its possibility depends on whether the nature of his confinement admitted of such communication with the outer world. Might not a natural reluctance to allow the Baptist to depart this life without at least a dawning recognition of the Messiahship of Jesus have here led to the insertion of a legendary trait into the tradition? If so, the historical residuum would be that Jesus was for a time one of the adherents of the Baptist, and was baptized by him, and that He soon afterwards appeared in Galilee with the same message which John had proclaimed, and even when He had outgrown his influence, never ceased to hold John in high esteem, as is shown by the eulogy which He pronounced upon him. But if the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance with a view to "him who was to come," Jesus cannot have held Himself to be sinless when He submitted to it. Otherwise we should have to suppose that He did it merely for appearance' sake. Whether it was in the moment of the baptism that the consciousness of His Messiahship dawned upon Him, we cannot tell. This only is certain, that the conception of Jesus as having been endowed with the Spirit at His baptism, was independent of, and earlier than, that other conception which held Him to have been supernaturally born of the Spirit. We have, therefore, in the Synoptists several different strata of legend and narrative, which in some cases intersect and in some are superimposed one upon the other.

The story of the temptation is equally unsatisfactory, whether it be interpreted as supernatural, or as symbolical either of an inward struggle or of external events (as for example in Venturini's interpretation of it, where the part of the Tempter is played by a Pharisee) ; it is simply primitive Christian legend, woven together out of Old Testament suggestions.

The call of the first disciples cannot have happened as it is narrated, without their having known anything of Jesus beforehand; the manner of the call is modelled upon the call of Elisha by Elijah. The further legend attached to it—Peter's miraculous draught of fishes—has arisen out of the saying about "fishers of men," and the same idea is reflected, at a different angle of refraction, in John xxi. The mission of the seventy is unhistorical.

Whether the cleansing of the temple is historical, or whether it arose out of a Messianic application of the text, "My house shall be called a house of prayer," cannot be determined. The difficulty of forming a clear idea of the circumstances is not easily to be removed. How freely the historical material has been worked up, is seen in the groups of stories which have grown out of a single incident; as, for example, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by an unknown woman, out of which Luke has made an anointing by a penitent sinner, and John an anointing by Mary of Bethany.

As regards the healings, some of them are certainly historical, but not in the form in which tradition has preserved them. The recognition of Jesus as Messiah by the demons immediately arouses suspicion. It is doubtless rather to be ascribed to the tendency which grew up later to represent Him as receiving, in His Messianic character, homage even from the world of evil spirits, than to any advantage in respect of clearness of insight which distinguished the mentally deranged, in comparison with their contemporaries. The cure of the demoniac in the synagogue at Capernaum may well be historical, but, in other cases, the procedure is so often raised into the region of the miraculous that a psychical influence of Jesus upon the sufferer no longer suffices to explain it; the creative activity of legend must have come in to confuse the account of what really happened.

One cure has sometimes given rise to three or four narratives. Sometimes we can still recognise the influences which have contributed to mould a story. When, for example, the disciples are unable to heal the lunatic boy during Jesus' absence on the Mount of Transfiguration, we are reminded of 2 Kings iv., where Elisha's servant Gehazi tries in vain to bring the dead boy to life by using the staff of the prophet. The immediate healing of leprosy has its prototype in the story of Naaman the Syrian. The story of the ten lepers shows so clearly a didactic tendency that its historic value is thereby rendered doubtful.

The cures of blindness all go back to the case of the blind man at Jericho. But who can say how far this is itself historical? The cures of paralytics, too, belong rather to the equipment of the Messiah than to history. The cures through touching clothes, and the healings at a distance, have myth written on their foreheads. The fact is, the Messiah must equal, nay, surpass, the deeds of the prophets. That is why raising from the dead figure among His miracles.

The nature miracles, over a collection of which Strauss puts the heading "Sea-Stories and Fish-Stories," have a much larger admixture of the mythical. His opponents took him severely to task for this irreverent superscription.

The repetition of the story of the feeding of the multitude arouses suspicion regarding the credibility of what is narrated, and at once invalidates the hypothesis of the apostolic authorship of the Gospel of Matthew. Moreover, the incident was so naturally suggested by Old Testament examples that it would have been a miracle if such a story had not found its way into the Life of Jesus. An explanation on the analogy of an expedited process of nature, is here, as in the case of the miracle at Cana also, to be absolutely rejected. Strauss allows it to be laughed out of court. The cursing of the fig-tree and its fulfilment go back in some way or other to a parable of Jesus, which was afterwards made into history.

More important than the miracles heretofore mentioned are those which have to do with Jesus Himself and mark the crises of His history. The transfiguration had to find a place in the life of Jesus, because of the shining of Moses' countenance. In dealing with the narratives of the resurrection it is evident that we must distinguish two different strata of legend, an older one, represented by Matthew, which knew only of appearances in Galilee, and a later, in which the Galilaean appearances are excluded in favour of appearances in Jerusalem. In both cases, however, the narratives are mythical. In any attempt to explain them we are forced on one horn of the dilemma or the other—if the resurrection was real, the death was not real, and vice versa. That the ascension is a myth is self-evident.

Such, and so radical, are the results at which Strauss's criticism of the supernaturalistic and the rationalistic explanations of the life of Jesus ultimately arrives.

In reading Strauss's discussions one is not so much struck with their radical character, because of the admirable dialectic skill with which he shows the total impossibility of any explanation which does not take account of myth. On the whole, the supernaturalistic explanation, which at least represents the plain sense of the narratives, comes off much better than the rationalistic, the artificiality of which is everywhere remorselessly exposed.

The sections which we have summarized are far from having lost their significance at the present day. They marked out the ground which is now occupied by modern critical study. And they filled in the death-certificates of a whole series of explanations which, at first sight, have all the air of being alive, but are not really so. If these continue to haunt present-day theology, it is only as ghosts, which can be put to flight by simply pronouncing the name of David Friedrich Strauss, and which would long ago have ceased to "walk," if the theologians who regard Strauss's book as obsolete would only take the trouble to read it.

Schweitzer, Albert. Ed. James M. Robinson. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Trans. W. Montgomery. New York: Macmillan, 1968. 81-84. Print.

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G. C. Berkouwer explains Karl Barth’s Eschatology

Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903-1996),(source: librarything)

Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer  (1903-1996)
[source: librarything]

G.C. Berkouwer was a Dutch Reformed Theologian in the Amsterdam tradition along with theological greats including Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and H. Berkof. Berkouwer wrote an excellent introduction to Karl Barth's theology titled, The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth: An Introduciton and Critical Appraisal in 1956. The first half of Berkouwer's book on Barth contains a clear and concise summary of Barth's Doctrines of Election and Reconciliation in the Church Dogmatics. The second half of the book contains Berkouwer's critical yet appreciative appraisal of the themes that appeared in the first half of the book. Overall, it is an excellent book that I highly recommend, with the primarily mistake being that it was published during Karl Barth's lifetime and before Barth concluded The Church Dogmatics, allowing Barth to respond critically in the later volumes of the Church Dogmatics.

Berkouwer's Chapter VI. The Eschatological Triumph stands out in as a particularly helpful introduction to Karl Barth's enigmatic Doctrine of Redemption. Barth's Church Dogmatics is an unfinished summa, and the last volume he intended to write, "The Doctrine of Redemption", was to be on eschatology with an emphasis on the Holy Spirit. Berkouwer concedes early in The Triumph of Grace in The Theology of Karl Barth, that Barth often surprises (frustrates?) our anticipations when he finally sets in ink his opinions, and Barth's rejection of Infant Baptism is a classic example and remember Barth's modifications in his rejection of Natural Revelation from CD II/1 to CD IV/3. In retrospect, these doctrines are discernible in retrospect, but not until they are incarnated in the KD. So Berkouwer's chapter on Barth's eschatology must be understood with a grain of salt, especially as there are inconsistencies in what Barth says (in particular regarding Barth's statements on the continuation of human life after the final trumpet). Nevertheless, I've selected some quotations from this excellent Chapter VI. The Eschatological Triumph to help us imagine what Barth's eschatology might have come to be!

 G.C. Berkouwer on Karl Barth's Eschatology:

Again, generally a bad idea to write a book on Barth's Church Dogmatics while Barth is still alive, but c'est l'vive. Berkouwer is right that Barth's eschatology may be reconstructed by his published volumes of the Church Dogmatics. Barth often lamented that people were excited about the forthcoming volumes that hadn't read the already published volumes. Berkouwer relies almost entirely upon the Church Dogmatics Vol. III/2 §47 as his source of Barth's eschatology, with a few quotations from the Church Dogmatics II/1 §39 as well.

Berkouwer's introduction to Barth's eschatology:

"Although that part of the Kirchliche Dogmatik which will deal specifically with eschatology (the doctrine of redemption) has not yet been published, it is fully possible to include this aspect of Barth's theology in our discussion. From the beginning of Barth's theological development eschatology has played an important role in his thinking. Even in the earliest phase of his thinking he emphasized that eschatology should not merely be a concluding chapter in works on dogmatics, but that it should permeate the whole of our reflection on the gospel."

Berkouwer, G. C. The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth. Trans. Harry R. Boer. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1956. 161. Print.

Berkouwer's next section explains Barth's paradigm of eschatology in frame of "beginning time" to "ending time", where man's finite is bounded by these two terminals, and how man lives under the constant threat of disappearing to the abyss of non-being from which he emerged as embodied by our constant fear of death. The novelty of Barth's eschatology isn't that resurrection provides us an extension of "ending time" into the infinite future, but instead the natural death that man intended to experience as part of the created order; this natural death is unlike the empirical and unnatural death of which the curse of sin produced that we are constantly living in in fear under, but a death in the sense of fulfillment of life in a way that will never be forgotten in the eternity of God.

The work of God reveals Jesus Christ as the Lord of time. In connection with this theme Barth speaks extensively about our time and then discusses successively the "given time," the "limited time," the "beginning time," and the "ending time." Especially his views about time as ending time claim our attention here. it does not lie in Barth's intention to present a phenomenological analysis of time, of the limitations of human life, and of death, in his discussion of the ending time. All that he wishes to say in this connection he says from the viewpoint of the miracle of Christ's appearance: the "God with us" of reconciliation. What consequences does this conception have for the eschatological triumph?

In order to gain a right understanding of this "ending time" it is desirable to note first what Barth means by the "beginning of time." There was a time in which we were not yet, as also there shall be a time in which we shall not be any more. Human life lies between the poles of this two-fold not-being, the "being-not-yet" and the "being-no-longer." We are, it is true, more concerned with out "being-no-longer" than with our earlier "being-not-yet," but there is, for all that, every reason to give attention to this later form of our being. We are not eternal. We have a beginning time. We come out of non-being. That is to say -- note the peculiar sequence of thought -- "since my very origin I am threatened by nothingness; I stand designated, in a certain sense, as a being which is also able to move towards nothingness." (KD III/2, p. 698)

Ibid. 152-3

In the next quotation, Berkouwer explains Barth's distinction between the curse of Empirical Death to the goal of Natural Death. Berkouwer in this chapter notices that Barth admits that this doctrine has no precedent in Church History and that it stands on a hair string of Scripture. Unfortunately, Berkouwer waited for the explanation in CD V, but the "being-not-yet" of the CD V never came to a "has been".

Man's death is no longer the suffering of deserved judgment, "but it is only its sign" (KD III/2, p.730). The death of Christ sheds a wholly new light over our ending time. Empirical death did constitute a continual threat of all life, but He has undergone this threat (KD III/2, p733). Man was deserving of this death and in the Old Testament we see it portrayed in all its seriousness. But light has dawned in the midst of this darkness because the judgment has been executed. Jesus Christ has borne it. "No other man stands in this center and therefore no other stands really in the judgement of God" (KD III/2 p.736). The others -- the Christian knowingly, the non-Christian as yet unknowingly -- now stand only under the sign of the judgement (KD III/2 p.737). Through Golgotha man has been spared the suffering of this deserved judgment. The one judgement over Christ has become an irrevocable and unalterable fact.

Ibid. 156

The following quotation is the best paragraph in the entire book. The strength of Berkouwer's interoperation of Barth's Eschatology that it not only allows for the resurrection of men that lived, but of all beauty that has ever existed in Creation, such that nothing is lost.

God permits nothing to be lost -- no hue in deepest ocean depths, no wingbeat of an insect that lives but a day, nor the earliest time in earth's history, and certainly nothing in our life. God will not be alone in His eternity, but He will be together with His creature, His creature in its limited duration. "Present before God" -- in this way the creature will be and will remain." This is the way in which it will be enfolded in the great rest of God. This is its preservation in time. This is the mystery of the preservation which must be understood in the light of the expression repeated twenty-six times in Psalm 136, "For His mercy endureth forever." (KD III/2, pg102-3).

Ibid. 164

Another quotation that expands Barth's (inconsistent?) concept of ending continuation as the resurrection of the dead and his concept of "having been" as eternal fulfillment of life in natural death.

It is not easy to come to a clear insight with respect to Barth's solution of the problem of the ending time in its relation to eternal life. We must, in the first place, notice that Barth sharply opposes the idea of an extension of human life after death. When Christ through His victory ushers in the last day, and God shall in the end be all in all, there comes into being a "present without an afterward" (KD III/2, p.759). There is no continuation, no further happening, after the sounding of the last trump. "The hope of the New Testament concerning the beyond of human death is not some sort of changed life which is continued in some sort of unending future. Not this, but the 'eternalizing' of our ending life is the content of the New Testament hope." The hope that we have does not involve an extension of our life; its point of reference is our life as it has been. The life that has been, life in the limitations we have known, is "eternalized," and this action upon the life that has been takes place in such a manner that it does not include a continuation of our finite existence in the future.

This is the resurrection of the dead.

Barth's conception of the "eternalizing" of our ending life has so far as I know, no antecedents in the history of the Christian doctrine.

Ibid. 158

In the following quotation, if there is any doubt regarding Barth's doctrine of resurrection, this will clarify the orthodoxy of Barth's position and is helpful to understand's argument for natural death as part of God's good Creation.

Christology is decisive for Barth's anthropology as well as for his eschatology. In view of the mortality of Jesus Christ, Barth rejects, because of Christological-Soteriological considerations, the identity of end and judgment as self-evident (KD III/2. p. 769). We must distinguish between end and curse, dying and punishment, death and the judgment of death (Ibid.). Man's end and man's mortality belong to God's good creation. Barth makes this very clear: "It belongs to the nature of man, it is God's creation which determined, and to that extent made it good and right, that the existence of man in time should have an end, that man should be mortal. That we shall one day only have-been answers to a law by which we are not necessarily bound, imprisoned and condemned to destruction. Death is not in itself the judgment, nor is it in itself the sign of judgment. Factually, however, it is that" (KD III/2. p. 770).

This factual, this empirical death, has also a hidden aspect in which the boundary as such does not contain a threatening element, and this hidden aspect belongs to the good creation. Here death as boundary becomes the transition from being to not-being, it is the parallel to man's beginning time from not-being to being.

"It is therefore not unnatural but natural for human life to move on to this terminus ad quem. It is natural to ring life out as it was once rung in and therefore it is limited not only as its beginning, but also with respect to its future" (KD III/2, p.770).

Therefore man does not as such have a "beyond," nor does he need one, "for God is his beyond [Jenseits]." There is no extension of his earthly temporariness. This thesis, Barth emphasizes, may under no circumstances be understood to mean that death means finis [dead is dead] and that there is no reason or room for life for hope and expectation. Also in his quality as having-been man is not nothing but "participates in the eternal life of God" (KD III/2, p.770). It is precisely his life on this side of death, his ending and dying life, that is glorified (KD III/2, p.771).

Ibid. 159-60.

Any further quotations would mean I might as well quote the entire chapter at length! Whether Berkouwer has accurately described Barth's eschatology is left as an exercise for the reader!

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D. F. Strauss’ Life of Jesus, Critically Examined

David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874)  [source:wikpedia]

David Friedrich Strauss (1808 – 1874)
[source: wikpedia]

The post-Enlightenment period exhausted printing presses with volumes titled, "The Life of Jesus", which used the historical-critical method to uncover the historical Jesus from the exalted Jesus proclaimed by the Church. The landmark and most famous Life of Jesus was David Friedrich Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, Kritisch Bearbeitet. (The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined, ET).  The first edition was printed in 1835, and a substantial revision appeared in the the fourth edition of 1840. As the Dodransbicentennial Anniversary [175 years] approaches, Strauss's Life of Jesus, although a dated book, remains as a historical marker in the "Quest for the Historical Jesus" that continues to this day!

Strauss's Life of Jesus has been demonized until this day, and the responses to it are as polarized today as they were in Strauss's own life time. The publication of The Life of Jesus, received such a strong negative reaction that he disqualified from employment by all the Universities and the Church. If he lived today, Strauss may have been a bishop in the Episcopal Church, so it may have been better for him, but it may have been worse if he lived in Calvin's Geneva! (I love Calvin, don't worry!)

D.F. Strauss is a disciple of Friedrich Schleiermacher, and the Life of Jesus, Critically Examined is dependent on Schleiermacher's A Critical Essay on the Gospel of St. Luke and on Dr. Heinrich Paulus (1761 – 1851) with almost every page containing a citation from Schleiermacher or Dr. Paulus. Schleiermacher wrote his own Life of Jesus and believed that the Gospel of John had priority over the other gospels, and that the Gospel of Luke was the preferred synoptic gospel (I've previously reviewed Schleiermacher's Life of Jesus) and this presupposition is assumed by Strauss. Today, the priority of the Gospel of Mark is assumed by the academic community, contra Schleiermacher, and this isn't seen as undermining Strauss' critical work, but ricocheting Strauss's criticism of the synoptics to Strauss's favored Fourth Gospel.

Soon, two hundred years will have passed since the first printing of Strauss' Life of Jesus, so there are other more important and recent works on the Quest for the Historical Jesus. My personal favorites are Albert Schweitzer's The Quest of the Historical Jesus and N.T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God. In retrospect, the pendulum swung to far toward rationalism in Strauss's Life of Jesus and has swung back towards, as Anselm might say, fides quaerens intellectum ("faith seeking understanding"). Strauss has fallen into the very chasm he wished to free himself, because he exchanged the historical Jesus for the enlightened, exulted Jesus of Rationalism. Then again, I am falling into the hyper critical response to Strauss without appreciating the help he has provided us in knowing Christ. I believe in the resurrection, as the creed says, so the rational program that dismisses supernatural has an a priori presupposition against the object of my faith. Even if Strauss has been rendered a Judas, Judas' betrayal facilitated the death and resurrection of Jesus! (pace. the Gospel of Judas).

D.F. Strauss  (source:wikipedia)

D.F. Strauss

I was traveling from Indian side of the Himalayas to Seattle today, and I sat next to a girl from Germany, and asked her if she was familiar with Friedrich Schleiermacher or D.F. Strauss, and she said everyone in Germany knows Schleiermacher and Strauss (but not Barth!). I explained to her that the Bible is polarized today between the Inerrantists and Rationalists. It's like a soldier who has an infected wound on his arm, where the Inerrantist (Biblicist) denies that the infected exists and the Rationalists (Strauss) chooses to amputate the arm!

Today, John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus and Robert Funk's (of the Jesus Seminar) The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus may be my contemporary equivalents of D.F. Strauss on the extreme skeptical-rational side, and one of my favorite Roman Catholic theologians Raymond E. Brown on the 'orthodox' Catholic side in his books The Birth of the Messiah and The Death of the Messiah. Crossan once compared himself to Brown by saying that he believed that the Bible represented 20% historicity and Brown 80%. Although Raymond E. Brown and N.T. Wright may be more relevant today, it was Strauss's method that initiated the historical-critical method that has been so productive until this day.

Strauss's Life of Jesus is an 800 page behemoth that is reminiscent of Tatian's Diatessaron in that Strauss has combined and reduced the four Gospels into a single biography of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. It's helpful to remember that as Tatian's Diatessaron came to the pinnacle of its popularity the Church rejected it in order to retain the four witnesses.  My point is that we should never allow a compendium or assimilation of the kerygmatic witnesses to replace the Gospels themselves. Strauss' thorough combing over of the four Gospels demonstrate all the problems that exist in the text, but a warning should always follow that the problems uncovered are due to reading the Scriptures in a way that they were not intended, no matter how productive it may be.

In the following long quotation from the Introduction of The Life of Jesus, Strauss explains his historical-critical method. It provides several examples, that I will quote at length instead of providing selections from the book. It's a better explanation in Strauss' own words than I planned to summarize:

§16 Criteria By Which To Distinguish The Unhistorical In The Gospel Narrative

Having shown the possible existence of the mythical and the legendary in the Gospels, bob on extrinsic and intrinsic grounds, and defined their distinctive characteristics, it remains in conclusion to inquire how their actual presence may be recognized in individual cases?

The mythus presents two phases: in the first place it is not history; in the second it is fiction, the product of the particular mental tendency of a certain community. These two phases afford the one a negative, the other a positive criterion, by which the mythus is to be recognized.

Negative. That an account is not historical – that the matter related could not have taken place in the manner described is evident,

First. When the narration is irreconcilable with the known and universal laws which govern the course of events. Now according to these laws, agreeing with all just philosophical conceptions and all credible experience, the absolute cause never disturbs the chain of secondary causes by single arbitrary acts of interposition, but rather manifests itself in the production of the aggregate of finite causalities, and of their reciprocal action. When therefore we meet with an account of certain phenomena of events of which it is either expressly stated or implied that they were produced immediately by God himself (divine apparitions – voices from heaven and the like), or by human beings possessed of supernatural powers (miracles, prophecies), such an account is in so far to be considered as not historical. And inasmuch as, in general, the intermingling of the spiritual world with the human is found only in unauthentic records, and is irreconcilable with all just conceptions; so narratives of angels and of devils, of their appearing in human shape and interfering with human concerns, cannot possibly be received as historical.

Another law which controls the course of events is the law of succession, in accordance with which all occurrences, not excepting the most violent convulsions and the most rapid changes, follow in a certain order of sequence of increase and decrease. If therefore we are told of a celebrated individual that he attracted already at his birth and during his childhood that attention which he excited in his manhood; that his followers at a single glance recognized him as being all that he actually was; if the transition from the deepest despondency to the most ardent enthusiasm after his death is represented as the world of a single hour; we must feel more than doubtful whether it is a real history which lies before us. Lastly, all those psychological laws, which render it improbable that a human being should feel, think and act in a manner directly opposed to his own habitual mode and that of men in general, must be taken into consideration. As for example, when the Jewish Sanhedrim are represented as believing the declaration of the watch at the grave that Jesus was risen, and instead of accusing them of having suffered the body to be stolen away whilst they were asleep, bribing them to give currency to such a report. By the same rule it is contrary to all the laws belong to the human faculty of memory, that long discourses, such those of Jesus given in the fourth Gospel, could have been faithfully recollected and reproduced.

It is however true that effects are often far more rapidly produced, particularly in men of genius and by their agency, than might be expected; and that human beings frequently act inconsequently, and in opposition to their general modes and habits; the two last mentioned tests of the mythical character must therefore be cautiously applied, and in conjunction only with the tests.

Secondly. An account which shall be regarded as historically valid, must neither be inconsistent with itself, not in contradiction with other accounts.

The most decided case falling under this rule, amounting to a positive contradiction, is when one account affirms what the other denies. Thus, one gospel represents the first appearance of Jesus in Galilee as subsequent to the imprisonment of John the Baptist, whilst another Gospel remarks, long after Jesus had preached both in Galilee and in Judea, that “John was not yet cast into prison.”

When on the contrary, the second account, without absolutely contradicting the first, differs from it, the disagreement may be merely between the incidental particulars of the narrative; such as time, (the clearing of the Temple,) place, (the original residence of the parents of Jesus;) number, (the Gadarenes, the angels at the sepulchre;) names, (Matthew and Levi;) or it may concern the essential substance of the history. In the latter cases, sometimes the character and circumstance in one account differs altogether from those in another. Thus, according to one narrator, the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the Messiah destined to suffer; according to the other, John takes offence at his suffering condition. Sometimes an occurrence is represented in two or more ways, of which one only can be consistent with the reality; as when one account Jesus calls his first disciples from their nets whilst fishing on the sea of Galilee, and in the other meets them in Judea on his way to Galilee. We may class under the same head instances where events or discourses are represented as having occurred on two distinct occasions, whilst they are so similar that is impossible to resist the conclusion that both the narratives refer to the same event or discourse.

It may be here asked: is it to be regarded as a contradiction if one account is wholly silent respecting a circumstance mentioned by another? In itself, apart from all other considerations, the argumentum ex silentio is of no weight; but it is certainly to be accounted of moment when, at the same time, it may be shown that had the author known the circumstance he could not have failed to mention it, and also that he must haven known it had actually occurred.

Positive. The positive character of legend and fiction are to be recognized sometimes in the form, sometimes in the substance of the narrative.

If the form be poetical, if the actors converse in hymns, and in a more diffuse and elevated strain than might be expected from their training and situations, such discourses, at all events, are not to be regarded as historical. The absence of these marks of the unhistorical do not however prove the historical validity of the narration, since the mythus often wears the most simple and apparently historical form: in which case the proof lies in the substance.

If the contents of a narrative strikingly accords with certain ideas existing and prevailing within the circle from which the narrative proceeded, which ideas themselves seem to be the product of preconceived opinions rather than of practical experience, it is more or less probable, according to circumstances, that such a narrative is of mythical origin. The knowledge of the fact, that the Jews were fond of representing their great men as the children of parents who had long been childless, cannot but make us doubtful of the historical truth of the statement that this was the case with John the Baptist; knowing also that the Jews saw predictions everywhere in the writings of their prophets and poets, and discovered types of the Messiah in all the lives of holy men recorded in Scriptures; when we find details in the life of Jesus evidently sketched after the pattern of these prophecies and prototypes, we cannot but suspect that they are rather mythical than historical.

The more simple characteristics of the legend, and of additions by the author, after the observations of the former section, need no further elucidation.

Yet each of these texts, on the one hand, and each narrative on the other, considered apart, will rarely prove more than the possible or probable unhistorical character of the record. The concurrence of several such indications is necessary to bring about a more definite result. The accounts of the visit of the Magi, and of the murder of the innocents at Bethlehem, harmonize remarkably with the Jewish Messianic notion, built upon the prophecy of Balaam, respecting the star which should come out of Jacob; and with the history of the sanguinary command of Pharaoh. Still this would not alone suffice to stamp the narratives as mythical. But we have also the corroborative facts that the described appearance of the star is contrary to the physical, the alleged conduct of Herod to the psychological laws; that Josephus, who given in other respects so circumstantial an account of Herod, agrees with all other historical authorities in being silent concerning the Bethlehem massacre; and that the visit of the Magi together with the flight into Egypt related in the one Gospel, and the presentation in the temple related in another Gospel, mutually exclude one another. Wherever, as in this instance, the several criteria of the mythical character concur, the result is certain, and certain in proportion to the accumulation of such grounds of evidence.

It may be that a narrative, standing alone, would discover but slight indications, or perhaps, might present no one distinct feature of the mythus; but it is connected with others, or proceeds from the author of other narratives which exhibit unquestionable marks of a mythical or legendary character is restricted to those features of the narrative, upon which such character is actually stamped; and whether a contradiction between two accounts invalidate one account only, or both? That is to say, what is the precise boundary line between the historical and the unhistorical? – the most difficult question in the whole province of criticism.

In the first place, when two narratives mutually exclude one another, one only is thereby proved to be unhistorical. If one be true the other must be false, but though the one be false the other may be true. Thus, in reference to the original residence of the parents of Jesus, we are justified in adopting the account of Luke which places it at Nazareth, to the exclusion of that of Matthew, which plainly supposes it to have been at Bethlehem; and, generally speaking, when we have to choose between two irreconcilable accounts, in selecting as historical that which is the least opposed to the laws of nature, and has the least correspondence with certain national or party opinions. But upon a more particular consideration it will appear that, since one account is false, it is possible that the other may be so likewise: the existence of a mythus respecting some certain point, shows that the imagination has been active in reference to that particular subject; (we need only refer to the genealogies;) and the historical accuracy of either of two such accounts cannot be relied upon, unless substantiated by its agreement with some other well authenticated testimony.

Concerning the different parts of one and the same narrative: it might be thought for example, that though the appearance of an angel, and his announcement to Mary that she should be the Mother of the Messiah, must certainly be regarded as unhistorical, still, that Mary should have indulged this hope before the birth of the child, is not in itself incredible. But what should be excited this hope in Mary’s mind? It is at once apparent that that which is credible in itself is nevertheless unhistorical when it is so intimately connected with what is incredible that, if you discard the latter, you at the same time remove the basis on which the former rests. Again, any action of Jesus represented as a miracle, when divested of the marvelous, might be thought to exhibit a perfectly naturally occurrence; with respect to some of the miraculous histories, the expulsion of devils for instance, this might with some limitation, be possible. But for this reason alone: in these instances, a cure, so instantaneous, and effected by a few words merely, as it is described in the Gospels, is not psychologically incredible; so that, the essential in these narratives remain untouched. It is different in the case of the healing of a man born blind. A natural cure could not have been effected otherwise than by a gradual process; the narrative states the cure to have been immediate; if therefore the history be understood to record a natural occurrence, the most essential particular is incorrectly represented, and consequently all security for the truth of the otherwise natural remainder is gone, and the real fact cannot bet discovered without the aid of arbitrary conjecture.

The following examples will serve to illustrate the mode of deciding win such cases. According to the narrative, as Mary entered the house and saluted her cousin Elizabeth, who was then pregnant, the babe leaped in her womb, she was filled with the Holy Ghost, and she immediately addressed Mary as the mother of the Messiah. This account bears indubitable marks of an unhistorical character. Yet, it is not, in itself, impossible that Mary should have paid a visit to her cousin, during which everything went on quite naturally. The fact is however that there are psychological difficulties connected with this journey of the betrothed; and that the visit, and even the relationship of the two women, seem to have originated entirely in the wish to exhibit a connexion between the mother of John the Baptist, and the mother of the Messiah. Or when in the history of the transfiguration it is stated, that the men who appeared with Jesus on the Mount were Moses and Elias: and that the brilliancy which illuminated Jesus was supernatural; it might seem here also that, after deducting the marvelous, the presence of two men and a bright morning beam might be retained as the historical facts. But the legend was predisposed, by virtue of the current idea concerning the relation of the Messiah to these two prophets, not merely to make any two men (whose person, object and conduct, if they were not what the narrative represents them, remain in the highest degree mysterious) into Moses and Elias, but to create the whole occurrence; and in like manner not merely to conceive of some certain illumination as a supernatural effulgence (which, if a natural one, is much exaggerated and misrepresented), but to create it at once after the pattern of the brightness which illuminated Moses on Mount Sinai.

Hence is derived the following rule. Where not merely the particular nature and manner of an occurrence is critically suspicious, its external circumstances represented as miraculous and the like; but where likewise the essential substance and groundwork is either inconceivable in itself, or is in striking harmony with some Messianic idea of the Jews of that age, then not the particular alleged course and mode of the transaction only, but the entire occurrence must be regarded as unhistorical. Where on the contrary, the form only, and not the general contents of the narration, exhibits the characteristics of the unhistorical, it is at least possible to suppose a kernel of fact actually exists, or in what it consists; unless, indeed, it be discoverable from other sources. In legendary narratives, or narratives embellished by the writer, it is less difficult, – by divesting them of all that betrays itself as fictitious imagery, exaggeration, etc. – by endeavoring to abstract from theme every extraneous adjunct and to fill up every hiatus – to succeed, proximately at least, in separating the historical groundwork.

The boundary line, however, between the historical and the unhistorical, in records, in which as in our Gospels this latter element is incorporated, will every remain fluctuating and unsusceptible of precise attainment. Least of all can it be expected that the first comprehensive attempt to treat these records from a critical point of view should be successful in drawing a sharply defined line of demarcation. In the obscurity which criticism has produced, by the extinction of all lights hitherto held historical, the eye must accustom itself by degrees to discriminate objects with precision; and at all events the author of this work, wishes especially to guard himself in those places where he declares he knows not what happened, from the imputation of asserting that he knows that nothing happened.

Strauss, David Friedrich, tr. George Eliot. The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined. Cambridge: CUP, 2010. 87-92. Print.

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Helmut Gollwitzner on the Tower of Babel: How to Preach the Old Testament by Example

Tower of Babel (source: wikipedia)

Tower of Babel (source: wikipedia)

In Helmut Gollwitzner's collection of sermons, The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis, contains a sermon that is an excellent treatment of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). I've provided a quotation from it because it exemplifies how to preach the Tower of Babel. Stanley Hauerwas lectures and writings on the Tower of Babel have a similar interpretation where the story explains how the pride of man resulted for acquiring the technology of brick building, however the advantage of Gollwitnzer's approach is that he improves upon Hauerwas's hermeneutic and does so in preaching.

The following quotation is from Helmut Gollwitzner's sermon, "Work that is worthwhile", preached on May 2nd, 1976 on Genesis 11:1-9. This example may be used as a template for preaching the rest of the Pre-History in Genesis 1-11 (not only the Tower of Babel). This approach is incredibly more helpful and illuminating than the common anachronistic reading of Genesis 11 as modern history and as something that is undone by Pentecost.

The building of the Tower of Babel is the history of the great Empires, from century to century the great Empires and their great Caesars. They unite many lands and people under their rule, one ruling language, one administration, one culture. All this happens in the name of union and peace, all, it is claimed, for the blessing of mankind—Pax Romana, Pax Germanica, Pax Britannica, Pax Americana. But when the unification reaches its culminating point, the decay has always already set in. There must be some kind of canker in these attempts at unification. And yet today we really need unification. Do you remember how, after 1945, after the end of the attempt to unite Europe under German domination, everybody spoke of world government, whose time had now come—and today mankind is as fragmented as ever it was, particularly today when really a common effort of will among all nations is necessary to end the madness of armaments, for a new world economic order, and for the saving of our biosphere if we do not wish to perish. Instead of that we hear today the despairing talk of the "ungovernable character of the world". In great matters as in small, in large-scale politics as in small groups, in town-councils and in Presbyteries, our work remains fruitless because we cannot understand languages, because what continually happens is like what is said here, that "no one any longer understood another man's language".

Thus the ancient narrator three thousand years ago described what he saw round about him when he looked at the great Empires of that time, Egypt and Babylon, and at the same time he predicted the history of mankind up to the present day. For this purpose he used a story which he did not himself invent, but which people were telling each other everywhere in the oriental world at that time, and by which they used to explain the origin of two quite different phenomena, the origin of tower-like mounds, or rather high towers and ruins of towers, which people gazed at with wonder in the Mesopotamia of that day—and the phenomenon of the many kinds of language, which are so troublesome because they make it hard for one man to understand another. The gods must have interfered here—hence these enigmatic mounds and ruined towers, and hence the confusion of the nations and languages.

The biblical narrator, who adopted this aetiological saga (that is what scholars call such stories about origins), has no concern for the gods, he does not believe that there live above us gods who feel jealous and anxious because of the great powers of man, and for that reason intervene in defense of themselves. He knows, as an Israelite, the one living God, the Creator, who loves his creatures, who has equipped his human beings with many gifts and great powers, who wills to bless their work and make it prosper, who rejoices in the powers of his creatures. And yet he sees a truth in this saga, and for that reason he places it at the end of his account of the beginnings of the history of mankind, which is now contained in the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis. Thus a good beginning—the man and the woman in the garden of this earth, they have food and work, they live in peace and fellowship, the work is profitable, it is a healthy world. Then this one special, specially endowed creature of God—man, destroys more and more the Creation and himself, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the men of the story of the Flood, and lastly this tower-building—these are the stages of an accelerating disorder, destruction growing like an avalanche which starts with men and turns bad on themselves. The narrator merely tells the story; he does not comment on it. But his narrative forces this question upon us, what has gone wrong here, that man is so destructive, and that God does not bless men, but confronts them with his judgment?

Gollwitzer, Helmut The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of Crisis. England: T&T Clark, 1981. Trans. David Cairns. 2-3. Print.

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Helmut Gollwitzer on How to Preach the Word

Helmut Gollwitzer died 21 years ago today (source:wikipedia)

Helmut Gollwitzer died 21 years ago today
(source: wikipedia)

Helmut Gollwitzer (1908-1993) died 21 years ago today. I was first introduced to this amazing theologian by Dr. W. Travis McMaken, in his recommendation of Gollwitzer's The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis. In the forward, Gollwitzer's amazing life is introduced by the English translator David Cairns, which contains not only amazing names of teachers (such as Karl Barth) and teaching posts Gollwitzer entertained, but also the censorship he received by the Gestapo and his imprisonment in the asbestos mines of Siberia.

Gollwitzer provides an introduction to this collection of sermons that includes the following charge to preachers everywhere on how to preach the Word of God. It's a remarkable introduction to an impressive compilation of sermons that all preachers of the Word are a poverty to live without!

As a way to secure the freedom required if preaching is to be taken seriously, my friends and teachers - here I have especially to name Karl Barth, Eduard Thurneysen and Hermann Diem - recommended in the Reformed tradition text-sermons, that is, the attachment of the sermon to the biblical text. They taught that the Bible text should not be merely a motto placed at the head of the sermon, not merely the occasion for all sorts of associations, not merely a peg on which to hang a theme chosen by the preacher, but should be in concrete control of the preacher. The sermon should make this text more perspicuous to the hearer than it was before. At the same time it should give pleasure, so that one is thankful for it, and be a source of guidance for life today. The preacher's subordination to this text frees him from all other authorities, from ecclesiastical authorities - that was the liberating experience of the Reformation - and from political authorities - that was the liberating experience at the time of Hitler's dictatorship.

For this reason my sermons to this day have always been sermons from a text, and perhaps this makes them sound rather old-fashioned to younger theologians. I wonder at their preference for handling themes, in the service of which the biblical text is then exploited, and do not know whether I ought to admire the courage that is needed to believe that one's own ideas have so much truth-content in them that people should use Divine Worship to expound them. For it is, after all, that same gathering of the congregation, which should equip it, by the handing down of the great story of hope, to be a living cell in the world of men that is being shaken by deadly convulsions. But there can be no law ordaining that sermons should have a text, everyone must see what authorizes him to open his mouth in the name of the living God, and we can only tell each other what helps us to face up to the moment of truth which is the hour of public worship.

In my experience, subordination to the biblical text has a liberating effect also because in this moment of truth which challenges our responsibility to an unusual degree, it sets us free from responsibility for what is to be said here and now. The text takes over the responsibility, and through it, he in whose name these first witnesses spoke, to whom we owe our biblical texts. If I had to preach my convictions, my knowledge, and my experiences, what fills my heart at the present moment, and what stirs my mind, my Christianity and the certainty of my faith, then the responsibility would wholly lie with me, and the question whether I am at this precise moment a believer, and am certain of all these astonishing assertions of the Christian faith, might rightly hinder me from putting my foot on the first step of the pulpit stairs. What makes me go on, and open my mouth, can only be the knowledge that I have not to speak out of the wealth of my religiosity, but rather that I, a poor doubting man, am the first hearer of what the ancient text proclaims and promises to me and to all who sit before me. What is said to me, and what I have to pass on to others, is always much more than what I could say on my own authority, much more than I have already experienced, know and believe. It is always something unbelievable, incomprehensible, inconceivable, that is now to be proclaimed, and something through which in our company, including the preacher as well as the hearers, new beginnings of hope, new hope for beginners, and consequently discipleship of beginners must come into being.

Gollwitzer, Helmut The Way To Life: Sermons in a Time of Crisis. England: T&T Clark, 1981. Trans. David Cairns. xii-xiii. Print.

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Jürgen Moltmann: God without Future begets a Future without God

(source: wikipedia)

(source: wikipedia)

Jürgen Moltmann's Religion, Revolution and the Future contains the two following quotations on Earth Ethics. An eschatology with a God without Future—a hope without the Earthbegets an Atheism that hopes for a Future without God. The Cosmic Christ, The Pantocrator, is The Lord over all Creation, not just a group of men or subset of their souls. As Karl Barth said, the exterior basis of Creation is the Covenant and the interior basis of Creation is the Covenant. A faith without Creation is Marcionism. Any eschatology of hope that excludes a hope for the Earth, only creates Atheism as a hope for the Earth. (For further assessment of Moltmann's Ethic of Hope, see my post on Moltmann's Ethic of Hope for the Earth.)

Since Christians, the churches, and theology believed in a 'God without future' the earth has joined itself to an atheism which sought a future without God. The messianic hope emigrated from the church and became invested, evolution, and revolution." Jürgen Moltmann, Religion, Revolution and the Future

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 200-1. Print.


"If one hopes for the sake of Christ in the future of God and the ultimate liberation of the world, he cannot passively wait for this future and, like the apocalyptic believers, withdraw from the world. Rather, he must seek this future, strive for it, and already here be in correspondence to it in the active renewal of life and of the conditions of life and therefore realize it already here according to the measure of possibilities. Because this future is the future of one God, it is a unique and unifying future. Because it brings eschatological liberation, it is the salvation of the whole enslaved creation. The messianic future for which Christianity arouses hope is no special future for the church or for the soul alone. It is an all-encompassing future. As all-encompassing future, its power of hope is able to mediate faith to earthly needs and to lead it into real life."

Moltmann, Jürgen Religion, Revolution and the Future. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969. Trans. M. Douglas Meeks. 218. Print.

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