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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 5: The Procedure 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 Purpose and Problem of a New Quest

A new quest of the historical Jesus cannot be simply a continuation of the original quest. This fact is most apparent with regard to purpose. For the various factors which motivated the original quest have disappeared with it. The secularization of the West has so advanced that anti-clericalism rarely enlists the best talents of the day. Nor are the Church’s opponents likely to be sufficiently embedded in the Christian tradition to be able to participate in biblical scholarship. For specialization has advanced to the degree where membership in the intelligentsia no longer qualifies for participation in the quest of the historical Jesus. Nor can the wish to replace orthodoxy with a more modern theology be a compelling motivation, simply because the hold of orthodoxy upon Western civilization has been so clearly broken that only a Don Quixote would choose to tilt in such a tournament. On the other hand we no longer have an Arthur Drews or P. L. Couchoud compelling the scholarly world to argue Jesus’ historicity. The age of rationalism is past, with its apologetic interest in proving the historicity of the miracle stories by eliminating the miraculous element. For we see that this would merely eliminate the eschatological meaning of Jesus’ life to which they In their way attest. Nor do we think that Jesus’ personality can be reconstructed as a factor of real relevance to theology today. For apart from the difficulties inherent in the sources, modern man is too rudely awakened to his problems to be lulled by the winsomeness of the charming personality which may (or may not) have been Jesus’. Nor do we hold that an accurate reconstruction of Jesus’ teaching can produce an ethical or theological system establishing the validity of Christianity. We recognize as basic, that historiography cannot and should not prove kerygma which proclaims Jesus as escbatological event calling for existential commitment.

The purpose of a new quest must derive from the factors which have made such a quest possible and necessary, a generation after the original purposes had lost their driving force and the original quest had consequently come to an end. A new quest must be undertaken because the kerygma claims to mediate an existential encounter with a historical person, Jesus, who can also be encountered through the mediation of modern historiography. A new quest cannot verify the truth of the kerygma, that this person actually lived out of transcendence and actually makes transcendence available to me in my historical existence. But it can test whether this kerygmatic understanding of Jesus’ existence corresponds to the understanding of existence implicit in Jesus’ history, is encountered through modern historiography. If the kerygma’s identification of its understanding of existence with Jesus’ existence is valid, then this kerygmatic understanding of existence should become apparent as the result of modern historical research upon Jesus. For such research has as a legitimate goal the clarification of an understanding of existence occurring in history, as a possible understanding of my existence. Hence the purpose of a new quest of the historical Jesus would be to test the validity of the kerygma’s identification of its understanding of existence with Jesus’ existence.

As a purposeful undertaking, a new quest of the historical Jesus would revolve around a central problem area determined by its purpose. This is not to say that the innumerable detailed problems involved in research would disappear, or no longer call for solution, but rather that the solution of individual difficulties would be primarily relevant in terms of implementing the solution of a focal problem. In the case of a new quest, this focal problem would consist in using the available source material and current historical method in such a way as to arrive at an understanding of Jesus’ historical action and existential selfhood, in terms which can be compared with the kerygma.

It is out of this focal problem that the distinctive individual problems of a new quest arise. One seeks an encounter with the whole person, comparable to the totality of interpretation one has In the kerygma. Yet the totality of the person is not to be sought in terms of chronological and developmental continuity, which is not only unattainable, but also is a different order of ‘wholeness’ from that needed to draw a comparison with the kerygma. Rather the whole person is reached through encounter with individual sayings and actions in which Jesus’ intention and selfhood are latent. Hence the relation of each saying or scene to the whole would be a problem of constant relevance.

The Gospels have in their way met this problem, not only by placing the kerygma on Jesus’ lips, but also by presenting individual units from the tradition in such a way that the whole gospel becomes visible: At the call of Levi, we hear (Mark 2.17): ‘I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’; at the healing of the deaf-mute, we hear (Mark 7.37): ‘He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak.’ Thus such traditions become kerygmatic, not by appropriating the traditional language of the Church’s kerygma, but in a distinctive way: They retain a concrete story about Jesus, but expand its horizon until the universal saving significance of the heavenly Lord becomes visible in the earthly Jesus.

Although the evangelists have thus in their way achieved an encounter with the total person in the individual scene, their method cannot be that of a new quest. For although the Church’s kerygmatic vocabulary does not necessarily occur in such instances, they are none the less kerygmatized narratives, i.e. they reflect the Easter faith. But the question before us is whether this kerygmatic significance is also visible in an encounter with the total person mediated through modern historiography. Consequently the methods to be followed must be in terms of modern historical methodology.

B. The Continuation of the Historical-Critical Method

In view of the emphasis which has been placed upon distinguishing the new quest from the original quest, it needs to be explicitly stated that a new quest cannot take place without the use of the objective philological, comparative-religious, and social-historical research indispensable for historical knowledge. Contemporary methodology has not discontinued these methods in its new understanding of history, but has merely shifted them more decidedly from ends to means It is true that the ‘explanation’ of an event or viewpoint does not consist merely in showing its external causes or identifying the source from which an idea was borrowed. Much of what was once lauded as the ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ of history is now mocked by insight into the genetic fallacy. Yet despite all this, knowledge of the external cause or the detection of the source idea is often indispensable for understanding what was involved at the deeper level. Contemporary methodology consists precisely in the combination and interaction of objective analysis and existential openness, i.e it seeks historical understanding precisely in the simultaneous interaction of phenomenological objectivity and existential ‘objectivity’

The use of historical-critical method within modern historiography has met with opposition on theological grounds: would not two methods of studying history necessarily involve two classes of historical reality? But this is not the case. The epistemological situation need no more lead to an ontological inference than it does in modern physics, where complementary methods produce either wave characteristics or particle characteristics, without a resultant inference that one has to do with two distinct sub-atomic worlds ‘Every historical phenomenon is directed toward understanding, and belongs together with this [understanding, which is] its future. . . . The noetic possibility of considering the historical phenomenon with or without its future always prevails in principle within the one historical sphere of reality.’ As a matter of fact one can recognize, in the interaction of ‘Jesus in the context of dead-and-gone first-century Judaism’ and ‘Jesus as a possible understanding of my existence’, a formal analogy in terms of modern historiography to the kerygma’s identification of the Jesus of history with the heavenly Lord.

An analogous criticism has been made with regard to the self-hood of the participating historian: would not two methods of studying history necessarily involve two kinds of self-hood? If selfhood is constituted by the ‘world’ to which we give ourselves, and the objectified ‘world’ of critical scholarship is different from the existential ‘world’ of encounter, is not the subject in each case different? Is not the ‘I’ of an ‘I-it’ relationship necessarily different from the ‘I’ of an ‘I-thou’ relationship? To this we can begin by answering ‘Yes’. But these two self hoods do not correspond to the ‘I’ which encounters Jesus through a new quest and the ‘I’ which encounters him through the kerygma. For a new quest would not be confined to purely objective research, but would seek an existential encounter with his person, i.e. an ‘I-thou’ relation. For it is only where his existence speaks to me, i.e. it is only within an ‘I-thou’ relation, that the historical Jesus can be compared with the kerygma. Nor do I automatically exist in an ‘I-thou’ relation to the kerygma. For I must disengage the kerygmatic fragments from the New Testament before I can encounter them existentially. This is even true of human relations, where a certain degree of instinctive ‘historical-critical’ study is involved in becoming sufficiently acquainted with a person to lay hold of what his existence means to him. Hence this shifting selfhood is a dialectic inherent in the historicity of human existence.

Nor is the dialectic permanently resolved in the encounter with God; rather it is accentuated by the addition of a further dimension, in which historical encounter becomes revelation. It would be tbeologia gloriae, a sophisticated form of perfectionism, to assume that the Christian is not called upon continually to confront the offence of Christianity when he encounters God. Grace continues to reside in judgement, life in death, revelation in historical ambiguity. It is in this dialectical movement from the old man to the new that one finds the distinctive characteristic of Christian existence (I Cor. 13.8-13), not in some other-worldly immediacy. One need merely recall Luther’s definition of Christian existence: ‘simul peccator et justus, semper penitens.’

Still another criticism of the continued use of historical-critical method within a theologically relevant quest of the historical Jesus needs to be mentioned. For although it cannot lead to a suspension of that method, it does draw our attention to the basic problem which it presents: ‘According to our historical method employed thus far, we have before us apparently authentic material about Jesus in the tradition of the sayings of the Lord, only when the material can be understood neither [as derived] from primitive Christian preaching nor from Judaism. Accordingly, in the surest current way of getting on the track of Jesus’ preaching, it is elevated to a methodological presupposition that everything which points toward the post-Easter kerygma cannot be considered for Jesus’ preaching. Then what significance should the result of this research have for theology?’

This criticism might lead one to suppose that such a method is valid only in terms of the original quest, which largely rejected the kerygma as a falsification of Jesus, and consequently set Out to distinguish him sharply from that theological perversion. However on closer examination it is apparent that it is not the method, but only the absolutizing of its limited results, which results from the approach of the original quest. The effort to distinguish a historical event from later interpretation is a standard historical procedure, just as it is to question the historicity of such details in the tradition as dearly betray that later interpretation. As a matter of fact it is obvious that at least in some instances -- one need think only of the Gospel of John -- the kerygma was put into the mouth of Jesus by the evangelists. If it is a historical fact that this took place, it is a valid procedure for the historian to attempt to distinguish the ‘authentic’ from the ‘unauthentic’ material.

The use of this method becomes illegitimate only when one fails to recognize its limitation. Although one may well assume that the founder of a sect has something in common with the sect he founds, this method is not able to reach whatever area of overlapping there may have been between Jesus and the Church. The method can affirm the historicity only of that part of Jesus in which he is least ‘Christian’. For its ‘historicity’ depends upon the demonstration that it does not present the Church’s view and consequently could not have originated there since the new quest of the historical Jesus is primarily concerned with investigating the area in which Jesus and the Church’s kerygma overlap, the limitation of current methods for identifying historical material is apparent, and the resultant methodological difficulty must be recognized.

C. The Methodological Impasse

The limitation inherent in traditional method cannot be adequately met by a supreme effort to solve the much-belaboured problems which these methodological considerations have rendered all but insoluble. The kerygma is to be found expressis verbis upon the lips of Jesus in the Gospels. Consequently the most obvious solution as to the relation of Jesus and the kerygma has always been that Jesus himself proclaimed the kerygma: he claimed for himself exalted titles and predicted his death and resurrection, just as the kerygma does. However it is precisely these most obviously kerygmatic sayings of Jesus whose historicity has been put indefinitely in suspension by current methodology. For these are the sayings which could most obviously have arisen within the Church as sayings of the heavenly Lord, and then, because of the unity of the heavenly Lord and the earthly Jesus, been automatically handed down with the ‘rest’ of the sayings of Jesus.

Perhaps the classical instance of such a problem has to do with the title ‘Son of Man’. For it is the title to which Jesus most frequently makes claim in the Gospels, and with which the predictions of the passion are usually connected. Now the debate as to whether Jesus actually claimed this title for himself has been going on for nearly a century, and is still not resolved. The classical presentation of the critical position divides the ‘Son of Man’ sayings into three groups: apocalyptic sayings about the future ‘Son of Man’; sayings in which Jesus’ passion is spoken of as the passion of the ‘Son of Man’; and miscellaneous sayings in which Jesus refers to himself during his public ministry as ‘Son of Man’. The first group of apocalyptic sayings are conceded to be authentic, but in them Jesus does not explicitly identify himself with this future ‘Son of Man’. The sayings in the second group connected with the passion are considered unauthentic vaticinia cx eventu. The sayings of the third group are looked upon as mis-translations of the Aramaic idiom, which means not only ‘Son of Man’, but also simply ‘man’ or ‘a man’ (i.e. ‘I’, as in II Cor. 12.2ff.); as replacements for an original personal pronoun ‘I’. From this analysis of the ‘Son of Man’ sayings the conclusion is obvious: Jesus did not claim to be the ‘Son of Man’. This position has been countered in modern scholarship primarily with the argument that the term ‘Son of Man’ is not a christological title used by the primitive Church, so could not have been attributed to Jesus unless he had used it of himself.’ Now of course there are variations in individual presentations on each side, and occasional concessions of specific points provide a certain fluidity to the debate. Furthermore new insights could conceivably provide new possibilities of solution? Consequently research upon such classical problems as the Son of Man’ can meaningfully be continued. Yet scholarship cannot wait indefinitely on their solution, but must instead seek for completely new ways of bringing Jesus and the kerygma into comparison.

D. Basic Problems of a New Quest

The historicity of those sayings of Jesus which are most like the kerygma has been put indefinitely in suspense by methodological considerations. Yet there is a considerable body of material about Jesus whose historicity tends to be generally accepted, on the basis of these same methods. This is material whose historicity is conceivable in terms of Jesus’ Jewish, Palestinian background, and whose origin in the primitive Church is rendered unlikely by the absence of the distinctive views of the Church, or even by the presence of traits which the Church could tolerate but hardly initiate

Now the historical material which results from the rigorous application of these current methods is at first sight of little relevance to the purpose and problem of a new quest of the historical Jesus. For the tradition of Jesus’ sayings has been purged of all traces of the Church’s kerygma, and therefore could seem of little value in comparing Jesus with the kerygma. However this only appears to be the case; the much more important fact resulting from the application of these methods is that they do succeed in producing a body of material whose historicity seems relatively assured. The very objectivity of the methods used, objective precisely with regard to the kerygma, gives to this non-kerygmatic material an importance for comparing the historical Jesus and the kerygma which the more kerygmatic sayings never achieved, simply because their relation to the historical Jesus was never fully established. The material whose historicity has been established is sufficient in quality and quantity to make a historical encounter with Jesus possible. His action, the intention latent in it, the understanding of existence it implies, and thus his selfhood, can be encountered historically. And this can in turn be compared with the kerygm, once the meaning the kerygma conveys has begun to shine through the language in which it is communicated.

The kind of individual problems which arise from the purpose and focal problem of the new quest can be illustrated by .an examination of some of the comparisons or contrasts which have been made between Jesus and the kerygma. Some of the contrasts which have been drawn are so basic that they would if valid tend to obviate even the possibility of a relevant comparison, and deserve therefore to be considered in first place.

One such contrast has been drawn by Käsemann himself: the historical Jesus belongs to the past; only in the kerygma does Jesus encounter me in the present. ‘In so far as one wishes to speak of a modification of faith before and after Easter, it can only be said that "once" became "once for all", the isolated encounter with Jesus limited by death became that presence of the exalted Lord such as the Fourth Gospel describes.’ Yet, methodologically speaking, the historical Jesus I encounter via historiography is just as really a possible understanding of my present existence as is the kerygma of the New Testament, whose ‘contemporaneity’ is equally problematic. And as a matter of fact this is the problem with which Käsemann is confronted. A new quest of the historical Jesus ‘cannot replace the gospel, since historical remains are not able to assure us that those fragments of Jesus’ message are still relevant to us today and attest to God’s present action upon us. Only faith derived from Christian preaching is able to deduce the certainty of God acting upon us even from those fragments, which otherwise would remain only a small part of the history of ideas, and quite a problematic part at that.’ However all of this is equally true with regard to the New Testament kerygma. This parallel has been obscured by the fact that the term ‘kerygma’ can ambiguously refer both to fragments of primitive Christian preaching embedded in the New Testament text, and to the word of God I encounter from the pulpit or in my neighbour today. But if it is true that the kerygma of the primitive Christians can become contemporaneous with me in my concrete historical encounters, then, in principle at least, this is equally true of the historical Jesus.

Bornkamm has taken over Käsemann’s basic distinction that Jesus’ ‘once’ became at Easter ‘once for all’, but gives it a somewhat different explanation: The ‘once’ of ‘Jesus’ history’ becomes the ‘once for all’ of ‘God’s history with the world’. Yet ‘God’s history with the world’ is not only the interpretation put upon the history of Jesus by the kerygma, but is already the meaning residing in it for Jesus himself. Already for Jesus the ‘once’ of his historicity was the ‘once for all’ of God’s saving event. For Jesus conceived of his transcendent selfhood as constituted by God’s intervention in history. And when one examines the nature of this selfhood, one sees that it was not a selfish selfhood, but by its very constitution a selfhood for others.

It was the content of this eschatological selfhood that Jesus should accept his death to the present evil aeon. This is the meaning of the paradoxical saying of Mark 8.3 5~ ‘For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it.’ In accepting his death he was free from the demonic power of the fear of death, and therein resided his transcendence. Yet the eschatological situation in which he found himself was not yet that of the final blessedness, but rather the ‘last hour’, in which forgiveness was offered to the penitent. This aspect of the situation was also constitutive of Jesus’ selfhood. Hence his selfhood found its positive expression in his role as ‘sign’ of the eschatological situation to the world. He was finally put to death after persisting in this positive expression of his selfhood. Hence his death was seen as the realization of his eschatological selfhood: free from the demonic power of the fear of death, he was free to give his life for his neighbour. His selfhood was interpreted as pro nobis not first by the Church, but already by Jesus himself.

The distinction drawn by Käsemann and Bornkamm is in recognition of the distinctive significance of Easter. And as a matter of fact Easter was the revelation of Jesus’ transcendent selfhood to his disciples. And yet what was revealed at Easter was the transcendent selfhood of Jesus, as the kerygma insists; i.e. the Easter experience, even though separated from Jesus’ lifetime, was the culmination of their historical encounter with him.’ And it was the selfhood of Jesus to which they witnessed in the kerygma. Hence to maintain that Jesus’ transcendent selfhood can be encountered historically is not to minimize Easter, but rather to affirm its indispensable presupposition.

This basic problem as to whether the historical Jesus and the kerygma are sufficiently commensurable to be subject to comparison can be posed in a different way. The kerygma proclaims an eschatological saving event of cosmic proportions. How can Jesus’ understanding of himself, irrespective of what that understanding may have been, be subject to comparison with the kerygma’s understanding of the course of history or the condition of the cosmos? Now this would be a valid argument if one understood the self in terms of individual autonomy, so that one’s understanding of one’s self as subject would be quite distinct from ones understanding of the cosmic or historical situation one confronted as object. When however selfhood is envisaged on the basis of the historicity of the self, i.e. when it is recognized that selfhood is constituted in terms of a ‘world’ or ‘context’ to which one gives oneself, then it is apparent that one’s understanding of one’s self includes an understanding of the ‘world’ in which one exists. In Jesus’ case, his selfhood is eschatological. his life is lived out of transcendence, precisely because he has given himself to the eschatological situation introduced by John the Baptist. In his baptism he ‘repents’ of his former selfhood built upon a non-eschatological ‘world’, and in believing John’s message of the eschatological situation assumes the eschatological selfhood which ultimately found expression in the title ‘Son of Man’.

Yet this same criticism, that Jesus’ understanding of his self-hood is incommensurate with the kerygma’s concept of a dramatic shift in the course of history or the cosmos, has been presented in still more radical fashion. Is not this whole assumption that Jesus was concerned ‘with a new selfhood, irrespective of whether it be conceived individualistically or in terms of the historicity of human existence, based upon a false theologizing of the historical Jesus? Was he not much more like a Jewish prophet or Rabbi, concerned basically with moral reform? Did he not simply say what man should do, rather than presenting dramatic views of what God has done or will do? It is this contrast between Jesus and the Church which characterized scholarship at the turn of the century.

The sharpest formulation was that of William Wrede: ‘The teaching of Jesus is directed entirely to the individual personality. Man is to submit his soul to God and to God’s will wholly and without reserve. Hence his preaching is for the most part imperative in character, if not in form. The central point for Paul is a divine and supernatural action manifested as a historical fact, or a complex of divine actions which open to mankind a salvation prepared for man. He who believes these divine acts -- the incarnation, death, and resurrection of a divine being -- can obtain salvation. This view is the essential point of Paul’s religion, and is the solid framework without which his belief would collapse incontinently; was it a continuation or a further development of Jesus’ gospel? Where, in this theory, can we find the "gospel" which Paul is said to have "understood". The point which was everything to Paul was nothing to Jesus.’

The very radicality of this quotation draws attention to its basic error: the Jesus of this antithesis is the modernized Jesus of the nineteenth-century biographies. He is of course incompatible with the Paul of the first century (whose unmodern credulity is somewhat overdrawn). For a moral reformer of the Victorian era is quite different from the message of divine salvation proclaimed by an eschatological sect of the Hellenistic world. But once one has come to see Jesus in his first-century context of Jewish eschatology, the basic antithesis tends to disappear. His eschatological message that the kingdom of God is already beginning to break into history is, like Paul’s message, ‘a divine and superhuman action manifested as a historical fact, or a complex of divine actions which open to mankind a salvation prepared for man’: ‘If it is by the finger of God that I cast Out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Luke 11:20). ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes’ (Matt. 11.21). It is this eschatological action of God in history which Jesus proclaimed, and which reached its final formulation in the kerygma.

But even if Jesus was, like the kerygma, proclaiming God’s dramatic intervention in history, was not its significance for the hearer merely that of a call to moral reform? Had Jesus recognized it as a basic dilemma that man’s selfhood has been determined by the ‘present evil aeon’, and that he is subsequently unable to free himself? Was for him the inbreaking of the kingdom of God the possibility of a ‘new being’, or was it merely the occasion for a sharpening of one’s conscience in view of the impending judgement? Such a distinction has, as a matter of fact, been drawn by Ernst Fuchs ‘What is still lacking for Jesus is now supplemented as a consequence of Jesus cross: the problem of sin expands to the problem of death as a whole. The question: "What should I do (to become blessed) ?" yields to the question, "How do I overcome the impotence, under death’s sway, of my existence lost before God ?" Rom.7. 24.’ However in this case it is Bultmann who sees no such distinction, but rather understands Jesus to be here existentially as radical as Paul. If for Paul the kerygma means ‘pronouncing upon oneself the sentence of death and placing one’s confidence not in oneself, but in God who raises the dead (II Cor. 1.9)’, then ‘it is clear that these explicit theological trains of thought are not present in Jesus. But it appears to me to be equally clear that they are only explicating Jesus’ thought in definite historical antitheses. . . . What Jesus does not at all express is this, that the only way it is a priori at all possible for the law to encounter the man who desires to secure himself by his own performance, is by becoming for him the To be sure, no matter how foreign this theological idea may be to Jesus’ preaching, factually his message implies it none the less.’ Hence Jesus’ call for obedience in the eschatological situation logically presupposes an eschatological selfhood.

This survey of basic problems for a new quest has not led to the conclusion that Jesus and the kerygma are basically incommensurate, a conclusion which would have made the positive solution of the central problem a priori impossible. Rather it has tended to reaffirm the working hypothesis of the new quest: if an encounter with the kerygma is an encounter with the meaning of Jesus, then an encounter with Jesus should be an encounter with the meaning of the kerygma. However no working hypothesis will long maintain its validity, unless one actually enters with it into the work itself. Therefore at least an initial attempt to work upon the central problem in terms of specific problems should be made.

E. Toward the Solution of Typical Problems

The typical formulation of the antithesis between Jesus and Paul around the turn of the century was to the effect that ‘Jesus preached the kingdom but Paul preached Christ’. ‘The Gospel, as Jesus proclaimed it, has to do with the Father only and not with the Son.’ This distinction has been renewed by Ernst Heitsch as a basic incompatibility between Jesus and the kerygma. However here too we may well inquire as to whether we are not dealing with a misunderstanding of both Jesus and the kerygma. Certainly Jesus did not teach a christology as the Church did. Yet nothing has been mote characteristic of research in the past generation than the growing insight that ‘Jesus’ call to decision implies a christology’. Nor has anything been more characteristic of recent research than the gradual detection of early kerygmatic fragments in the New Testament, in which the original eschatological meaning of the christological titles used in the kerygma is still apparent, and is clearly distinct from their later metaphysical use: Jesus is ‘exalted’ to the rank of cosmocrator with the ‘name that is above every name, . . . Lord Jesus Christ’, in order to subjugate the universe (Phil. 2.9-11); he is made ‘Lord and Christ’ as the inauguration of eschatological existence at Pentecost (Acts 2.36); in this sense he is ‘appointed Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead’ (Rom. 1.4).

Now Heitsch is correct in saying that the Church soon and repeatedly lost sight of the eschatological existence proclaimed originally by the kerjgma. However this in no way affects its original meaning. If the existential decision originally called for by the kerygma corresponds to the existential decision called for by Jesus, then it is apparent that the kerygma continues Jesus’ message; and if the decision called for by Jesus as well as by the kerygma was at the basis of his own selfhood, then it is apparent that his person corresponds to its christology.

This thesis has been carried through by Ernst Fuchs. The existential meaning of the kerygma is still visible in the earliest written source, the Pauline epistles. ‘Life means for [Paul] actually the joy which can unite a man with God (cf. also Rom. 14.17), and by "death" he understands the anxiety which must separate a man from God (cf. Rom. 7.24; 8.15, etc.). The man who believes in Jesus as Lord is free for such joy and free from this anxiety’ (216). ‘Obviously for Paul faith in Jesus comes down to the paradoxical truth that man has found refuge in the very God whom he otherwise flees or would have to flee. . . It is just in the God of wrath that the God of grace purposes to be found -- life in the place where death is, joy in the desert of anxiety. In this sense Paul appealed to the crucified Jesus as the resurrected Lord’ (217). Now the crucial question is: ‘What does all this have to do with the historical Jesus? . . . Is it not easily possible that Paul has placed something quite different or even his own concept of faith in the place of Jesus?’

An answer to this question is sought by Fuchs in a brief study of the historical Jesus: Jesus’ parables of God’s boundless mercy are in defence of Jesus’ own conduct in receiving sinners. ‘It is true, he means to say, that God has to be severe. But nevertheless God purposes to be gracious, when a sinful man flees to the very God from whom he would otherwise have to flee in feat of judgement.’ Now since one’s conduct reflects one’s understanding of existence, and Jesus’ message corresponds to his conduct, it is legitimate to look also in his message for a commentary on his existence. Since Jesus’ message centred in a call for decision, one may assume that this requirement is simply the echo of the decision which Jesus himself made’. ‘So when Jesus directs the sinner through death to the God of grace he knows that he must suffer. Committing himself to God’s grace, he also commits himself to suffering. His threats and woes, as well as the severity of his requirement, all stem from his stern will to suffer. For in all this Jesus exposes himself to his enemies, although he has the violent death of the Baptist before his eyes’ (224).

Once we have grasped the decision in terms of which Jesus’ self-hood is constituted, the repetition of his decision involves the accepting of his selfhood as one’s own. Hence making the decision for which Jesus called, corresponds to accepting him as Lord. Jesus confronted his hearer with the question: ‘Does God intend us to feel so free towards him that we appeal directly to him over against the well-grounded fear of his judgement which we all have long since secretly known? That is exactly what the decision of the historical Jesus affirms? That is why he said to the sinner: "Follow me" (Mark 2.14), and gave sinners precedence over the righteous. Thus for the man who hears and follows, Jesus is indeed the Lord’ (228).

Now since Paul understands the kerygma as calling for basically the same decision as did the historical Jesus, it would seem that faith in the heavenly Lord not only coincides with commitment to the selfhood of the historical Jesus, but also involves a positive response to his message. ‘Certainly (for the Church) repetition of Jesus’ decision was something new to the extent that it automatically involved taking a position toward Jesus. Jesus’ enemies had seen to that. But it none the less remained the old decision, since it had to claim for itself anew God’s will and name. To be sure, Jesus’ person now became the content of faith. But that took place completely in the name of the God who had acted upon and in Jesus, and who in the future was to act with Jesus even more, as is apparent in the confessions, their Pauline interpretation, and later the Gospels’ (227). It is the role of preaching to restore to christology this existential meaning originally inherent in the kerygma.

In this presentation Fuchs has clearly worked out, in terms of the decision constituting selfhood, the basic parallelism between the selfhood of the earthly Jesus and the heavenly Lord, and the correlative parallel between the decision called for by Jesus and the decision called for by the kerygma. Thus he has not only contributed a solution to a typical problem of the new quest, but has also illustrated in exemplary fashion the formal pattern in terms of which a solution to the focal problem can be sought.

In view of the current concept of the historicity of the self, it is not surprising that the most characteristic distinction between Jesus and Paul during recent years has been in terms of the differing situations in which they found themselves. Bultmann has made the shift in aeons the decisive factor distinguishing Jesus from Paul: ‘Jesus looks into the future, toward the coming reign of God, although to be sure toward the reign now corning or dawning. But Paul looks back: The shift of the aeons has already taken place. . . . Paul regards what for Jesus was future as present, i.e. a presence which dawned in the past. . . . Since Jesus only stands in anticipation, his message discloses the situation of man in anticipation, while Paul discloses the situation of man receiving, although to be sure also awaiting; for unless one understands awaiting, one cannot understand receiving." However Bultmann himself has subsequently modified this position to some extent: ‘To be sure it is also true of him, that he knew himself to be between the times. He knows that the power of Satan is at an end, for he saw him fall from heaven like lightning (Luke 10.18); and in the power of God’s Spirit he drives out the demons (Matt. 12.28; Luke 11.20), since the reign of Satan is broken already (Mark 3.27). . . . Thus his present activity stands in an interim".’ This recognition of Jesus’ present as the interim has led Bornkamm to accentuate Jesus’ present as the time of salvation, so that Bornkamm’s presentation of Jesus’ situation comes to equal Bultmann’s original presentation of Paul’s situation: ‘Unmediated presence is always the characteristic of Jesus’ words, appearance and action, within a world which . . . had lost the present, since it lived. . . between past and future, between traditions and promises or threats.’ Thus the basic distinction between Jesus and Paul in terms of their situations would seem to disappear.

Yet Bultmann still remains reluctant to interpret Jesus’ present as based upon historical encounter: ‘This judgement of his about his present comes from his own consciousness of vocation; thus he creates it out of himself; and it is not, as was later the case in his Church, based upon looking back upon an event decisive for him. It is of course possible that the coming of the Baptist and his preaching gave him the initial stimulus as one of the signs of the time which he called upon his hearers to observe (Luke 12.54-56). If Matt. 11.11-14 has at its root a genuine saying of Jesus, and if the passage is not completely created by the Church, then Jesus did in fact see in the coming of the Baptist the shift of the aeons. But he does not look back upon him as the Church later looked back upon Jesus, as the figure through whom the old aeon had been brought to its end and the new aeon had been introduced.’

Here Bultmann attempts to avoid the conclusion that John is the shift of the aeons, by casting doubt upon the authenticity of the relevant sayings. However this position is untenable, both because Bultmann himself has not provided sufficient grounds for considering the sayings unauthentic, and because there stand arrayed against him the outstanding treatments of John the Baptist written in the present century. Consequently one must simply carry through the logic which Bultmann conceded but hesitated to follow. Since Matt. 11.11-14 has at its root a genuine saying of Jesus, and since the passage is not completely created by the Church, then Jesus did in fact see in the coming of the Baptist the shift of the aeons. Hence to this extent Jesus did look back upon him as the Church later looked back upon Jesus, as the figure through whom the old aeon had been brought to its end and the new aeon had been introduced. It is therefore not surprising that Käsemann emphasizes: ‘The Baptist introduced (the kingdom of God), i.e. brought about the shift of aeons.’ Similarly Bornkamm says of the Baptist: ‘He is no longer only the proclaimer of the future, but belongs himself already within the time of fulfilled promise’, ‘the sentinel at the frontier between the acons’. Consequently the existence of a historical event at the shift in the aeons seems not to be a factor distinguishing Jesus’ situation from that of the Church. Both Jesus and the Church look upon their existence in terms of a situation created by divine intervention in the form of historical occurrence.

A further consequence was inherent in Bultmann’s original distinction between Jesus and Paul in terms of the shift of the aeons: ‘It could also be expressed as follows: Jesus preaches law and promise, Paul preaches the gospel in its relation to law.’

However Käsemann1 also drew the inference from his own divergent position: ‘Jesus did not come to proclaim general religious and moral truths, but rather to say how things stand with the kingdom that has dawned, namely that God has drawn near man in grace and requirement. He brought and lived the freedom of the children of God, who remain children and free only so long as they find in the Father their Lord.’ And, as we have already seen, Bultmann has subsequently adopted Fuchs’ insight to the effect that Jesus received all at his table, as an action reflecting God’s grace: ‘The one who proclaims the radical requirement of God at the same time speaks the word of grace.’ Jesus’ calls for decision with regard to his person in Matt. 11.6, Luke 12.8f., are, like the kerygma’s call for decision with regard to his person, ‘at the same time words of promise, of grace: at this very moment the gift of freedom is offered the hearer’. Hence the classical Protestant distinction between law and grace no longer seems necessarily to separate Jesus from the Church’s kerygma.

It has been an integral part of the method employed in all these comparisons of Jesus and the kerygma, that we operate below the terminological level, within the deeper level of meaning. For on the one hand we have recognized that the language of the kerygma must become transparent, if an interpretation of Jesus is to be seen through it. And on the other hand the historical Jesus cannot for methodological reasons be approached in terms of sayings where kerygmatic language occurs, but only in terms of sayings diverging from the language of the kerygma. However we may well wonder how long an agreement on the deeper level of meaning can continue without at some point producing a similarity of terminology. If it cannot be argued that the Church’s kerygma provides such a terminological parallel to Jesus’ message, because of the uncertainty as to whether he used that language, we must then inquire as to whether the terminology which the historical Jesus is known to have used did not at some point at least come to be used by the primitive Church as synonymous with its own kerygma. Hence we wish finally to confront the most typical terminology of Jesus’ message with the most typical formulations of the kerygma, to investigate what underlying unity of meaning may exist, and then to inquire as to whether this meaning ever came to be expressed in a union of the two terminologies. Thus the solution of this typical problem of a new quest of the historical Jesus should consist in a demonstration ad oculos.

The essential content of Jesus’ message was: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.’ The dramatic future coming of the kingdom has drawn so near that its coming already looms over the present, calling for a radical break with the present evil aeon and an equally radical commitment to God’s coming kingdom. Hence Jesus’ thought centres in a call to the present on the basis of the eschatological event of the near future. lie pronounces divine judgement and blessing, and explains God’s other mighty acts which he does (such as exorcism), on the basis of the nearness of the kingdom. This call to the present in terms of the nearness of the kingdom is so central a theme as to produce something approaching a formal pattern, to which many of Jesus’ sayings conform, and of which the following are typical instances: Matt. 4.17; Luke 6.20f.,24f.; Matt.21.31; 18.3; Luke 11.20

Repent,
Blessed are you poor,
Blessed are you that hunger now,
Blessed are you that weep now,
But woe to you that are rich,

Woe to you that are full now,
Woe to you that laugh now,
The Tax collectors and the harlots,

Unless you turn and become like
children,
If it is by the finger of God that I
cast out demons,

for the kingdom of God is near.
for yours is the kingdom of God.
for you shall be satisfied.
for you shall laugh.
for you have received your
consolation.
for you shall hunger.
for you shall mourn and weep.
go into the kingdom of God
before you.
you will never enter the kingdom
of heaven.
then the kingdom of God has
come upon you.

Now the essential content of the kerygma was equally clear, and therefore also tended to give rise to a pattern of death and resurrection, suffering and glory, humiliation and exaltation.

That Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,

And that he was buried,

That the Christ should suffer
these things
The sufferings of Christ
The one come by the seed of
David according to the flesh,


Put to death in the flesh
Who was revealed in the flesh,
Preached in the nations,
Believed on in the world,

And that he was raised on the
third day according to the
Scriptures,
And that he was seen by Cephas,
then by the twelve.
And entered into his glory.

And the subsequent glory.
The one appointed Son of God"
according to the Spirit of holiness" by the resurrection of the
dead.
But made alive in the Spirit.
Vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Taken into glory.

Now when one compares these typical instances of Jesus’ message and the Church’s kerygma, one can readily observe that there is a complete separation in terminology, and even in doctrine: Jesus’ message is eschatological, the Church’s kerygma is christological. Jesus called upon his hearer to break radically with the present evil aeon, and to rebuild his life in commitment to the inbreaking kingdom. Paul called upon his hearer to die and rise with Christ. Yet when one moves beyond such an initial comparison to the deeper level of meaning, the underlying similarity becomes increasingly clear. To break categorically with the present evil aeon is to cut the ground from under one’s feet, to open oneself physically to death by breaking with the power structure of an evil society, and to open oneself spiritually to death by renouncing self-seeking as a motivation and giving oneself radically to the needs of one’s neighbour, as one’s real freedom and love. To do this because of faith in the inbreaking kingdom is to do it in faith that such total death is ultimately meaningful; in it lies transcendence, resurrection. Thus the deeper meaning of Jesus’ message is: in accepting one’s death there is life for others; in suffering, there is glory; in submitting to judgement, one finds grace; in accepting one’s finitude resides the only transcendence. It is this existential meaning latent in Jesus’ message which is constitutive of his selfhood, expresses itself in his action, and is finally codified in the Church’s kerygma.

The extent to which the kerygma continues to reveal the existential meaning of Jesus can be illustrated from an interesting Pauline passage, I Cor. 4.8-13, which describes Christian existence first in eschatological terms such as Jesus used, and then in Paul’s more typical language of union with Christ.

Jesus spoke eschatological ‘woes’ as well as beatitudes, according to the ‘Q’ version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Luke 6.24f.):

Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
Woe you that that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

Clearly these woes are pronounced upon those who are out of step with God. They prosper now, in the present evil aeon; hence they will not prosper then, in the kingdom of God. This same eschatological message, in much the same language, is presented by Paul:

Already you are filled!
Already
you have become rich!
Without us you reign!

Here the Corinthians are reproached not simply for prosperity, but rather for prosperity already now, before God’s reign comes. They are reigning in the present evil aeon, but Paul longs to reign in God’s reign: ‘And would that you did reign, so that we might reign with you I’ But before God’s reign comes, i.e. within the present evil aeon, eschatological existence consists in suffering.

Jesus’ beatitudes in the ‘Q’ version retain also their original eschatological orientation (Luke 6.20-23):

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the ~ of God.
Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you,
and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.

Now Paul describes himself, in contrast to the Corinthians, in terms of this same eschatological understanding of existence:

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are ill-clad and buffeted and homeless, and we labour, working with our own hands. . . . We have become as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things, until now.

Thus Paul has described first non-Christian existence, and then Christian existence, in much the same eschatological language which Jesus used. But in the midst of his eschatological description of Christian existence Paul introduces a few phrases which express the existential meaning of the kerygma. The identity in existential meaning between Jesus’ eschatological message and the Church’s kerygma could not be made more apparent:

When reviled, we bless.
When persecuted, we endure.
When slandered, we try to conciliate.

As Paul says (v. 17), these are his ‘ways in Christ’ which he teaches in every church, so that one should not be surprised to find this pattern recurring frequently, e.g. II Cor. 6.8 -- 10:

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;
as unknown, and yet well known;
as dying, and behold we live;
as punished, and yet not killed;
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
as poor, yet making many rich;
as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Now this message of life in death is clearly intended as the existential appropriation of the kerygma, as becomes increasingly apparent in other instances of this pattern (II Cor. 4.8-12; 1.8f.; 13.4):

We are afflicted in every way,
perplexed,
persecuted,
struck down,
always carrying in the body the
death of Jesus,

For while we live we are always
being given up to death
for Jesus' sake
,
So death is at work in us,
We do not want you to be ignorant,
brethren, of the affliction we
experienced in Asia; for we were
so utterly, unbearably crushed
that we despaired of life itself.
Why, we felt that we had
received the sentence of death.
He was crucified in weakness,
We are weak in him,

but not crushed;
but not driven to despair;
but not forsaken;
but not destroyed;
so that the life of Jesus may also
be manifested in our mortal
flesh.
so that the life of Jesus may be
manifested in our mortal
flesh.
but life in you.
but that was to make us rely not
on ourselves, but on God
who raises the dead.

 


but lives by the power of God.
but shall live with him by the power
of God
toward you.

Thus Paul’s description of his Christian existence is rooted in the kerygma, in which Jesus’ transcendent selfhood is proclaimed. It is no coincidence that it is precisely in this context (I Cor. 4.16) that Paul can call upon the Corinthians to ‘be imitators of me’, for tlw implication is clear: ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (I Cor. 11.1). Paul’s transcendent existence is one with the selfhood of Jesus proclaimed by the kerygma.

It is in this sense that one can detect the existential significance of Paul’s mystic language: ‘Christ is our life’ (Col. 3.4). ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Gal. 2.20). Our ‘life’ which is ‘hid with Christ in God’ (Col. 3.3) is the transcendent selfhood created by Jesus, and made available to us by him. In this way the line of continuity from the historical Jesus to the Second Adam of Pauline speculation is apparent. And, although we today no longer use these speculative categories, the selfhood of Jesus is equally available to us -- apparently both via historical research and via the kerygma -- as a possible understanding of our existence.

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