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A New Quest of the Biblical Jesus by James M. Robinson


James M. Robinson is the Arthur J. Letts Professor of Religion and Director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at the Claremont Graduate School and Co-chair of the International Q Project. Published by SCM Press LTD, Bloomsbury Street, London, 1959. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Chapter 4: The Legitimacy of a New Quest


[Editor's Note: The extensive footnotes for these chapters are omitted. They are available only in the printed copy.]

A. The Relevance of the Theological Question

The historian may well feel that the possibility of a new quest is itself sufficient basis for its legitimacy, simply because any possible subject of research is a legitimate topic for the free, inquiring mind. This is certainly true, and one may consequently expect to see from time to time research in this field which is motivated merely by man’s insatiable desire to know. However this stimulus would not be such as to provide a concentration of research comparable to that of the original quest, nor could this stimulus produce a new quest which would be a distinctive characteristic of our day, in comparison with other topics where the possibilities of success are much greater. If a new quest of the historical Jesus is to be undertaken on any large scale, it must have some specific Impetus in terms of the meaningful concerns of our day, comparable with those which characterized the original quest and its abrupt discontinuation.

The original quest cannot be explained merely in terms of the availability of modern historiography since the eighteenth century. The historical-critical method supplied the means, but not the driving power. An initial impetus had come from the anticlericalism inherent in much of the enlightenment.’ But the bulk of the lives of Jesus in the nineteenth century were motivated on the one hand by a desire to overcome the mythological interpretation of David Friedrich Strauss, and on the other hand by the attempt to replace orthodoxy with the Ritschlian system.

Similarly the discontinuation of the quest was not due simply to the historical difficulties involved, but rather in great measure to certain theological considerations. It is sometimes assumed that Bultmann’s theological position is primarily due to his negative historical conclusions, from which impasse he then retreated into Barthianism. however Bultmann has explicitly denied that his move towards Barthianism was due to the negative results of his form criticism. As we have seen, it was Barth himself who called attention to the positive theological significance of radical criticism in eliminating worldly proof as a false support to faith, a position which Bultmann only echoed. Now this positive evaluation of radical criticism in terms of the nature of faith has deep roots in the Marburg tradition out of which both Barth and Bultmann came, but had been radicalized by the discovery of Kierkegaard.

In the case of Bultmann, this theological background was strengthened by his training in the comparative religious school. Here Christianity centres in the cult symbol ‘Christ the Lord’, whose relation to Jesus of Nazareth was both historically questionable and theologically irrelevant. This position had found its classic expression in Wilhelm Bousset’s Kyrios Christos of 1913. And Bultmann was sufficiently rooted in this tradition to be entrusted with the editing of the second, posthumous edition, which appeared in the same year as Bultmann’s own Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition, 1921. Consequently it would be erroneous to see Bultmann’s theological position with regard to Jesus as a belated appendix to his historical position; if one were unwilling to concede that the theological and historical factors are inextricably intertwined, then one could equally well argue the priority of the theological. Bultmann himself likes to present his position in terms of Pauline and Johannine theology.

If a new quest of the historical Jesus is to become a significant aspect of theological scholarship during the coming generation, the role which this research will play in the theological thought of our day must be made equally clear. Man’s quest for meaningful existence is his highest stimulus to scholarly enquiry; consequently a serious quest of the historical Jesus must have meaning in terms of man’s quest for meaningful existence. This does not mean that such a quest should presuppose a given christology, or that it should be oblivious of the peril of modernizing Jesus, this time perhaps in terms of existentialism. It merely means that we must be quite realistic about the day and age in which we live, and its likelihood of producing a new quest. Unless the trend toward regarding the quest of the historical Jesus as theologically irrelevant or even illegitimate is reversed, i.e. unless a new quest becomes for us theologically legitimate and even indispensable, it probably will not enlist the active participation of the strongest intellects and best-equipped specialists, upon whom its success is completely dependent.

B. The Permissiveness of a New Quest

The discussion of the theological propriety of a new quest must naturally begin with the point at which the original quest was seen to be illegitimate. It is illegitimate to dodge the call of the kerygma for existential faith in the saving event, by an attempt to provide an objectively verified proof of its historicity. To require an objective legitimization of the saving event prior to faith is to take offence at the offence of Christianity and to perpetuate the unbelieving flight to security. This would signify the reverse of faith, since faith involves the rejection of worldly security as righteousness by works. This line of criticism is a valid identification of the worldliness latent in the ‘historicism’ and ‘psychologism’ of the original quest, and must therefore be recognized as a valid theological objection to it.

However it should be equally apparent that this veto upon the original quest does not apply to the modern view of history and historiography which would be presupposed in a new quest. For the objectivity of modern historiography consists precisely in one’s openness for the encounter, one’s willingness to place one’s intentions and views of existence in question, i.e. to learn something basically new about existence and thus to have one’s own existence modified or radically altered. Nor can the end result of such historical research be a proven kerygma dispensing with the necessity for existential commitment. E.g. from the treatments of Bultmann, Käsemann, Fuchs and Bornkamm it has not become a proved fact that God acted in Jesus’ intentions or that Jesus is saviour. At most it has been established that Jesus intended to confront the hearer inescapably with the God who is near when he proclaimed ‘Repent, for God’s reign is near’, i.e. that he intended a historical encounter with himself to be an eschatological encounter with God, and that he consequently understood his existence as that of bringer of eschatological salvation. The historical Jesus does not legitimize the kerygma with a proven divine fact, but instead confronts us with action and a self which, like the exorcisms, may be understood either as God’s Spirit (Mark 3.29; Mart. 12.28), or Beclzebub (Mark 3.22), or insanity (Mark 3.21). The historical Jesus confronts us with existential decision, just as the kerygma does. Consequently it is anachronistic to oppose the quest today on the assumption that such a quest is designed to avoid the commitment of faith. That may have been the existential significance of the original quest, but can hardly be the meaning of the quest today for a person aware of what is currently known about historiography and the historical Jesus.

Throughout the generation which emphasized the antithesis between faith in the kerygma and interest in the historical Jesus, it seems to have been the fact of the Gospels which kept alive some awareness of the parallelism between the two. For the initial discussion concerning the theological relevance of a new quest has taken place to a large extent in terms of an exegesis of the evangelists’ intention: the evangelists undoubtedly insisted upon the relevance of history for faith. This relevance resided in the identification in the kerygma of the humiliated Jesus and the exalted Lord. Now it is characteristic of twentieth-century theology to emphasize one aspect of this identification: the historical Jesus cannot be isolated from the Christ of faith, as the original quest attempted to do. Yet, as the evangelists point out, the other aspect of the identification is equally important: the Christ of faith cannot be separated from the historical Jesus, if we do not wish to find ‘a myth in the place of history, a heavenly being in the place of the Nazarene’.

This emphasis upon the humiliation, i.e. the historical in the kerygma, is in turn rooted in the eschatological orientation of primitive Christianity. Here again we are accustomed to a one-sided view, in this case with regard to the relation of eschatology and history: the eschatological interpretation placed upon Jesus is largely responsible for the introduction of non-historical material into the Gospels. Yet it is equally true that the eschatological interpretation placed upon Jesus gave to the historical its theological relevance for the evangelists, and thus prevented the disappearance of Jesus into mythology. It is this theological relevance of the historical Jesus for the eschatology of the evangelists which has been examined in some detail:

1. Primitive Christianity experienced Jesus as a unique action of God, creating a situation in which man has an unique opportunity to lay hold of eschatological existence. Revelation was not for them an idea always available to rational reflection, nor was salvation a permanent potentiality of the human spirit. Rather in the last hour God encounters man with a free and gracious opportunity of eschatological existence, a chance which man neglects at his own peril and which therefore places him in ultimate decision. This is what Jesus’ earthly life had meant to his followers, and Easter only confirmed this significance. It was this dramatic contingency of the revelation, which found expression in the recording of the concrete history of Jesus in the Gospels.

2. The Fourth Gospel especially is concerned to preserve this awareness of the historicity of revelation, in an environment sufficiently gnostic in its view of religious experience to dissolve Jesus into docetism. In order to dramatize earthly, corporeal existence as the realm of revelation, in order to emphasize the divine condescension of revelation, the Fourth Gospel portrays present religious experience in terms of Jesus’ life. The evangelist implements this purpose by drawing attention to the ambiguity, the offence, the hiddenness, which characterized the revelation even in Jesus’ life, as if to say: Today it is the same. The Church still remains exposed to the ambiguity of history, the possibility of offence, in spite of having risen with Christ; for the resurrection glory is really the transcendence of his historical existence.

3. By way of contrast the Synoptics betray more of the ‘pastness’ of Jesus. This may not be due merely to their weaker theological talents, but may indicate a positive insight: although history is determined by present possibilities and decisions, it cannot be dissolved into a series of present situations. Our present possibilities and decisions are determined to a large extent by events of the past, which opened or closed doors for the present. Thus our present situation is part of a larger kairos, dating from a past in which the present situation is, so to speak, predestined. Inthis sense the Christian kairos is rooted in the historical Jesus, who is extra nos, given prior to faith and determining our present, as the history upon which our existence is constituted.

This clarification of the theological meaning involved in emphasizing Jesus’ historicity by writing Gospels does not automatically provide a compelling motivation for a new quest of the historical Jesus. For this meaning expressed in the writing of Gospels was already inherent in the kerygma, e.g. in its emphasis upon the humiliation, and can find expression in various forms of Christian experience, e.g. in the experience of Francis of Assisi. Nor does the writing of Gospels form an exact precedent to a quest of the historical Jesus. A quest of the historical Jesus involves an attempt to disengage information about the historical Jesus from its kerygmatic colouring, and thus to mediate an encounter with the historical Jesus distinct from the encounter with the kerygma. The Gospels however do not present the historical Jesus in distinction fr9m the kerygma, but rather present a kerygmatized history of Jesus

At the most the discussion of the writing of Gospels presents a parallel in terms of New Testament ‘historiography’ to the view discussed above, that modern historiography is not in principle a contradiction of faith, but could be used to implement faith’s openness to historical encounter. Although the methods of New Testament ‘historiography’ and modern historiography are quite different, the same or similar kerygmatic motives which produced the one could lead us to a legitimate use of the other. Thus the discussion of the theological meaning of writing Gospels explicates the theological permissiveness of a new quest. But the actual impetus leading scholarship to make use of this permission resides elsewhere.

C. The Impetus Provided by Demythologizing

The debate on demythologizing has been under way since 1941, and it is this movement which is to a large extent responsible for the impetus leading to a new quest of the historical Jesus. As we have seen, it was from among the advocates of demythologizing that the initial proposals of a new quest have come. For the demythologizing of the kerygma has drawn attention to a clear alternative inherent in Christian theology: in the process of demythologizing, the objectified language of the kerygma loses its own concreteness, and becomes, so to speak, transparent, so that its existential meaning may be grasped. But when the kerygma is thus rendered transparent, what is it which then becomes visible through it? Does one encounter in the kerygma a symbolized principle, or interpreted history?

The first alternative conceives of the kerygma much as did the comparative-religious school, i.e. as a symbol objectifying a given type of piety, which in turn is the principle or essence of the religion.’ To be sure this Christian principle would no longer consist in a variant upon Hellenistic mysticism, but would rather be in terms of the historicity of human existence. Hut in any case the kerygma is the objectivation of a truth, not of an event. Or, if one concedes that the witness to an event is essential to the kerygma, one must then classify the kerygma as essentially mythological, so that ‘demythologizing’ involves ‘dekerygmatizing’.

Now the concept of the kerygma as a religious symbol was familiar to Bultmann from his background in the comparative-religious school. Yet it was precisely within his comparative-religious research that he moved away from that basic position. Primitive Christianity is rooted in Jewish eschatology, rather than in Hellenistic mysticism. Consequently it conceives of salvation m terms of the meaning of history, rather than in terms of escape from history. As a result, the myths of the mystery religions were irrelevant for such a Jew as Paul, until he encountered the view that the myth had happened in history. Although Bultmann agrees fully with Bousset that the concepts Paul used in his christology were taken over from the mystery religions rather than handed down from Jesus, he is not misled by this fact into ignoring the decisive role Jesus’ historicity plays in the theology of Paul: ‘The historical person of Jesus makes Paul’s preaching gospel.’

Not only did the coming of the Messiah mean that the eschatological age had dawned, i.e. that eschatological existence was possible within history. It also meant that the Pharisaic ‘plan of salvation’ had simply been by-passed by God, i.e. it meant the replacement of man’s presumptive potentiality of self-salvation by the gift of salvation. The Judaism of which Paul had been so proud gave way to his discovery of the present evil aeon, where the egocentric dilemma is such that even the holy law is used self-centredly and only increases man’s sin. Thus the eschatological event was God’s judgement upon human pride, as well as God’s grace giving meaning to human life. Consequently the eschatological event revealed the absence of man’s natural possibility of salvation, and thereby only accentuated the indispensability of God’s saving intervention. The myth of a mystery religion (or the symbol of the comparative-religious school) could only point Out what ought to be; as the ‘law’ of the Hellenistic world it would simply be a new legalism ending like the Jewish law in despair (Rom. 7). Only as witness to God’s intervention in history could the myth or symbol be the good news that eschatological existence is possible within history. In this way Bultmann’s study of the New Testament kerygma compelled him to move beyond the view of it as the objectification of a religious idea, and come to recognize in its ‘happened-ness’ its essence.

This role in which the kerygma played in the thought of Paul finds a parallel in the dilemma confronting modern man, and this parallel has doubtlessly facilitated the appropriation of the Pauline position by the Bultmannian group. This is particularly apparent in the case of Ernst Fuchs: ‘We could object that such encounters (horribile dictu even with ourselves!) are after all inherent in the meaning of history in general! Why is a Jesus necessary, then, if historical decisions are possible at any time? But how do things stand today (1944) for instance, with the European cultural synthesis demanded by Troeltsch? After all, even in the existence of a single individual, there are often enough decisions which make history. But how do we know that we have thereby achieved the existence that comes from God? And when man becomes conscious of his guilt towards his neighbour, what right has he to take himself seriously in what he still has?’ ‘We are sinners, if we think we are in a position to cope with the guilt of our existence. That is the meaning of the talk about righteousness by works."

This same sentiment is characteristic enough of our day to have found eloquent expression in W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio.

Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to End its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.

Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

Thus the first assumption as to the purpose of demythologizing, namely that the kerygma is a religious symbol objectifying a human potentiality for authentic existence, fails precisely because of what the kerygma symbolizes. An unhistorical symbol can hardly symbolize transcendence within history. And the objectification of a human capacity can hardly symbolize man’s incapacity before God. Bun is quite correct in recognizing that his alternative is not a demythologization of the kerygma, but an elimination of the kerygma. But what he has not adequately recognized is that it is not merely an elimination of the ‘happened-ness’ of the kerygma, but thereby also of the existential meaning of the kerygma.

Now Bultmann has recognized that the kerygma is not a symbol in the same sense as other religious symbols, precisely because of what it symbolizes: as the symbol for transcendence within history it cannot be an unhistorical symbol. Consequently Bultmann emphasizes -- in this context at least -- that the kerygma is a witness to the meaning of Jesus. Thus the other answer to the question ‘what the kerygma dissolves into’ when it is demythologized, is: into the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth. What is encountered when the objectified language of the kerygma becomes transparent is Jesus of Nazareth, as the act of God in which transcendence is made a possibility of human existence. The kerygma is not the objectification of a new, ‘Christian’ religious principle, but rather the objectification of a historical encounter with God.

From this position at which Bultmann has arrived it is only one step to the ‘post-Bultmannian’ recognition that the actual demythologizing which went on within the primitive Church was the ‘historicizing’ process taking place within the kerygma and leading to the writing of Gospels, as has been discussed above. It is simply because Germany’s leading exegetes have correctly understood the demythologized meaning of the New Testament kerygma, that they have looked through the kerygma not directly to a principle inherent in human nature, but rather to Jesus as the event in which transcendence becomes possible.

D. The Necessity of a New Quest

The theological necessity of a new quest resides in the resultant situation in which theology finds itself today. It is committed to a kerygma which locates its saving event in a historical person to whom we have a second avenue of access provided by the rise of scientific historiography since the enlightenment. Apart from this concrete situation, there is no theological necessity for a quest of the historical Jesus, since Jesus can be encountered in the kerygma. In this sense faith is not dependent on historiography, which as a matter of fact has been all but non-existent with regard to Jesus during most of the centuries of Christian faith. Yet theological responsibility is in terms of the situation in which we find ourselves placed, and it is an inescapable part of the situation in which we exist that the quest of the historical Jesus has taken place, and in fact has neither proved historically fruitless, nor been brought completely to a halt even among those most opposed to it as an ideological orientation. Thus the problem of the two avenues of encounter with Jesus must be faced, if we are to theologize realistically in the situation in which we find ourselves.

These two avenues of access to the same person create a situation which has not existed in the Church since the time of the original disciples, who had both their Easter faith and their factual memory of Jesus. They responded to this situation by intuitively explicating their memory until they found in it the kerygma, i.e. by ‘kerygmatizing’ their memory. Thus they largely precluded their situation for the following generations, until we today attempt to disengage their historical information about Jesus from the kerygma in terms of which they remembered him. At least to some extent we are thereby returning ourselves to their original situation, which they met by writing the Gospels. It is not their precedent which compels us to express our faith as did they, which in any case would be in many regards impossible. Rather there is an inner logic in the common situation, in which the necessity for a new quest resides. It is this inner logic to which we therefore turn.

The current limitation of New Testament research to the kerygma has a significant formal deficiency: it sees Jesus only in terms determined by the Christian encounter, and thus obscures formally the concreteness of his historical reality. If current research upon the New Testament kerygma serves to draw attention to the historicity of the proclaimed word of God, as treasure in such earthen vessels as Jewish or Hellenistic thought patterns, research upon Jesus’ message would serve formally to draw attention to the flesh of the incarnation. The shock of seeing the all-too-familiar Christ of the traditional gospel within the context of Jewish eschatological sects is comparable to that experienced in portraits, e.g. by Picasso, where half the face is the normal full-face mask, while the other half is cut away, providing insight into what is going on within the head; when one returns to the traditional half of the portrait, one must recall that this conventional view and that ‘subliminal’ view are together the reality of the person. The formal error of the nineteenth-century quest was to assume that in the Jesus ‘according to the flesh’ one could see undialectically, unparadoxically, unoffensively Jesus as Lord, whereas one can only see Jesus ‘born of a woman, born under the law’. But the formal error of the last generation in eliminating the quest has been to ignore the relevance for the Christian dialectic, paradox, and offence, of seeing Jesus causally bound within the historical reconstruction of first-century Judaism, and yet encountering in him transcendence: ‘born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.’

The kerygma, no matter how many mythological concepts it may have made use of in getting its message across, is not proclaiming mythological ideas, but rather the existential meaningfulness of a historical person. Although one may concede that the kerygma is not concerned with a Jesus ‘according to the flesh’, if by this one means a historically proven Lord,’ it is equally apparent that the kerygma is centrally concerned with a Jesus ‘in the flesh’, in the sense that the heavenly Lord was ‘born of a woman, born under the law’, a historical person. This emphasis in the kerygma upon the historicity of Jesus is existentially indispensable, precisely because the kerygma, while freeing us from a life ‘according to the flesh’, proclaims the meaningfulness of life ‘in the flesh’.

It is this concern of the kerygma for the historicity of Jesus which necessitates a new quest. For how can the indispensable historicity of Jesus be affirmed, while at the same time maintaining the irrelevance of what a historical encounter with him would mean, once this has become a real possibility due to the rise of modern historiography? Such a position cannot fail to lead to the conclusion that the Jesus of the kerygma could equally well be only a myth, for one has in fact declared the meaning of his historical person irrelevant. Nor can the requirement of the kerygma be met by the observation that Jesus’ historicity is beyond question, since one no longer needs to take seriously the unrealistic attacks on his historicity by Bruno Bauer, Albert Kalthoff, Peter Jensen, W. B. Smith, Arthur Drews, P. L. Couchoud, and, most recently, Communist propaganda. For a myth does not become historical simply by appropriating the name of a historical personage.

This can be illustrated with regard to the ‘cross’, whose historicity in the normal sense of the word is not doubted. For in spite of this factuality of the cross, it would none the less be a purely mythological kerygma -- i.e. a kerygma speaking of a selfhood which never existed -- if the ‘cross’ were looked upon only as a physical, biological occurrence, as accidental or involuntary, i.e. as completely distinct from his existential selfhood. Only when preaching the ‘cross’ means proclaiming Jesus’ daily existence as accepting his death and living out of transcendence is it the proclamation of a really historical event. Hence the cross would be misunderstood if its chronological distinctness from the public ministry were looked upon as a basic theological separation from the public ministry, as is all too easy in reaction against Ritschlianism. For example the ‘cross’ must be interpreted as asserting Jesus’ actualization of his message, ‘Repent, for God’s reign is near’. For this message means a radical break with the present evil aeon, which in turn involves the acceptance of one’s own death to and in this world. The revelation that transcendence resides in such a death as this, would be the eschatological saving event in history, just as the Easter kerygma claims to be. Yet how can this relation of the ‘cross’ to his existential self hood be investigated other than in terms of a new quest of the historical Jesus?

Hence the decisive point with regard to the kerygma and history is not whether the kerygma preserves detailed historical memories about Jesus, but rather that the kerygma is decidedly an evaluation of the historical person. The kerygma does not commit one to assume the historicity of this or that scene in Jesus’ life, but it does commit one to a specific understanding of his life. Thus the kerygma is largely uninterested in historiography of the nineteenth-century kind, for the kerygma does not lie on the level of objectively verifiable fact. But it is decisively interested in historiography of the twentieth-century kind, for the kerygma consists in the meaning of a certain historical event, and thus coincides with the goal of modern historiography.

It is because modern historiography mediates an existential encounter with Jesus, an encounter also mediated by the kerygma, that modern historiography is of great importance to Christian faith. Käsemann’ s essay reopening the question of the historical Jesus was instigated by Bultmann’s procedure of placing Jesus’ message outside primitive Christianity and putting it back into Judaism, as only a presupposition of New Testament theology. Although this classification may be justified and of no great import when limited to the level of the history of ideas, it becomes the crucial issue of the person of Jesus when one recognizes, as does Bultmann in the preface to his Jesus and the Word, that it is in the Paessage that one encounters existentially the intention, the understanding of existence constituting the self, and thus the person. If such encounter is not (like the encounter with the kerygma) the eschatological event, i.e. ‘Christian’, then one must conclude that the message, intention, self, i.e. person, of the historical Jesus is different from what the kerygma says his reality is.

This would open the Jesus of the kerygma to the same destructive criticism which Bultmann levelled against Barth’s ‘believer’ who does not even know he believes: ‘Isn’t the paradox overstretched? If faith is separated from every psychic occurrence, if it is beyond the consciousness, is it still anything real at all? Is not all the talk about such faith just speculation, and absurd speculation at that? What is the point of talking about my ‘self’ which is never my self? What is the point of this faith of which I am not aware, of which I can at most believe that I have it? Is this identity which is claimed between my visible self and my invisible self not in fact a speculation as in gnosticism or anthroposophism, which also speak of relations of my self to higher worlds, relations which are real beyond my consciousness and which are in reality highly indifferent to me? . . . A faith beyond consciousness is after all not the ‘impossible possibility’, but in every sense an ‘absurdity’. Is not an incarnation beyond Jesus’ historical existence equally an absurdity? Bultmann’s procedure of eliminating Jesus’ message from primitive Christianity means ultimately that ‘Christian faith is understood as faith in the exalted Lord for whom the historical Jesus as such no longer possesses constitutive significance’.

This is not to say that faith hangs upon the question in the history of ideas as to whether Jesus appropriated any specific title available in his culture, or whether he ever spoke as does the kerygma in terms of his death and resurrection. But it does mean to say that when the evangelists attribute both to him, they are not merely harmonizing, or changing the kerygma into a system invented by Jesus, or betraying their lack of historical ability, but are also stating -- admittedly on the externalized level of the history of ideas, and therefore in inadequate form, but nonetheless stating -- that the kerygma is talking not about a myth, but about the historical existence presupposed in the message of Jesus of Nazareth.

Although this historical existence could not be proved objectively by any quantity of authentic sayings of Jesus, were they ever so orthodox, yet that historical existence can be encountered historically and understood existentially. And if in the encounter with Jesus one is confronted with the skandalon of recognizing in this all-too-human Jewish eschatological message the eternal word of God, and consequently of breaking with the present evil aeon so as to live now Out of the grace of God, i.e. if in encountering Jesus one is confronted with the same existential decision as that posed by the kerygma, one has proved all that can be proved by a new quest of the historical Jesus: not that the kerygma is true, but rather that the existential decision with regard to the kerygma is an existential decision with regard to Jesus.

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