Chapter 3: The Possibility of a New Quest
[Editor's Note: The extensive footnotes for these chapters are omitted. They are available only in the printed copy.]
If the rise of the kerygma meant that we cannot and ought not continue the quest of the historical Jesus, any reappraisal of the problem must concentrate upon these two aspects. Therefore we first inquire as to whether we can renew the quest of the historical Jesus.
A. The ‘Historical Section" of the Kerygma?
The more one catches sight of the decisive role the kerygma played in bringing the quest to an end, the more one recognizes the relevance of C. H. Dodd’s attempt to show that the kerygma contained something corresponding to a life of Jesus, namely a sketch of the public ministry? However his competent presentation only served to show the difficulties inherent in such an avenue toward reconciling the kerygma and the quest of the historical Jesus.
First of all, he neglected the fact that the kerygma receives its tremendous authority in theology today not simply from its position in the history of ideas, i.e. not simply as precedent, but rather from its existential function as a call to faith, in which God calls upon me to accept his judgement upon me in Jesus’ death, and to live from his grace in Jesus’ resurrection. Even if the kerygma as historical precedent contained details of Jesus’ biography, just as it contained at times mythological motifs from Hellenistic svncretism, the kerygma as eschatological event does not impose upon me the thought patterns with which it originally operated. For Dodd’s approach to succeed, it would be necessary to show that the inclusion of details from Jesus’ life is not part of the adiaphora, i.e. not just one means among others of emphasizing the incarnation, but rather that it is indispensable for conveying the existential meaning of the kerygma, i.e. is constitutive of the kerygma as eschatological event. This is difficult in view of the fact that apart from Acts the kerygma is almost totally lacking in biographical facts, and that in Acts the facts listed vary from sermon to sermon.
The way in which Dodd attempts to reconcile the kerygma and the quest is in the second place misleading, since it interprets the ‘historical section of the kerygma’ (42) in terms of a positivistic view of history, rather than in terms of the theological approach to history which actually characterized primitive Christianity. For Dodd characterizes this ‘historical section’ as presenting the ‘historical facts of the life of Jesus’ (31), a ‘comprehensive summary of the facts of the ministry of Jesus’ (28), so that the average reader would be misled into the assumption that the kerygma was concerned with the objectively verifiable ‘data’ (29) of the historian. To begin with, this language suggests considerably more ‘data’ than are actually to be found in the rather meagre factual detail of the sermons in Acts, not to speak of the almost complete absence of such detail in kerygmatic texts outside Acts. But even more Important, the direction in which this ‘historical section’ is interpreted is in terms of the Sitz im Leben of the historian, rather thanin terms of the Sitz im Leben of the primitive Christian. It may be that kerygmatic allusions to Jesus’ humility, meekness, gentleness, love, forgiveness and obedience derive from historical memory of Jesus; but the ‘historical value’ which such material may have is far from its kerygmatic meaning, which is more accurately stated by Bultmann, in language actually intended to state the significance of the pre-existence in the karygma: ‘That Jesus, the historical person, did this service for us, and that he did it not out of personal sympathy and loveableness, but rather by God acting in him, in that God established his love for us through Jesus dying for us sinners (Rom. 5.6-8)
One need only read the kerygmatic hymn in Phil. 2.6-11 to see the role this ‘historical section of the kerygma’ originally played:
6 Who being in the form of God
Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped
7 But emptied himseW
Taking the form of a servant.
Being born in the likeness of man
And being found in human form
8 He humbled himself
Becoming obedient unto death (i.e. the death of the cross).
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him
And bestowed on him the name which is above every name,
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
(in heaven and on earth and under the earth)
11 And every tongue confess: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD (to the glory of God the Father).3
Although no facts from Jesus’ life are reported, his humiliation is emphasized as the indispensable presupposition of his exaltation. It is this meaning of humiliation which keeps the ‘historical section of the kerygma from attempting to legitimize the kerygma with objectively demonstrable ‘signs’. For not only did Jesus reject such an insistence upon legitimizing signs, but Paul explicitly recognized the rejection of such signs as inherent in the existential meaning of the kerygma (I Cor. 1.17-25).’ Consequently when details do on occasion come to be introduced into the ‘historical section of the kerygma’, the normative significance of their introduction should not be seen in terms of positivistic historiography. Rather is it necessary to seek to trace the original kerygmatic meaning at work in this procedure, in order to reach a valid kerygmatic approach to the Gospels and a normative basis for a modern quest of the historical Jesus.
The central strophe in the hymn of Phil. 2.6-11 presents Jesus’ earthly life in the lowest possible terms, precisely because the first strophe about the Pre-existent and the third strophe about the Exalted point to the meaningfulness of his (and therefore our) very ambiguous historical existence. Although pre-existence and exaltation are, so to speak, chronologically separate from the life, they reveal the life’s whence and whither, and are thus a way of expressing its meaning. This method is quite common in kerygmatic texts of the briefer ‘humiliation -- exaltation’ type (Rom. 1.3-4; I Tim. 3.16; I Peter 3.18b), as well as in kerygmatic texts with much the same ‘pre-existence -- humiliation- -- exaltation’ pattern as Phil. 2.6-11,, (e.g. Col. 1.15-20; Heb. 1.2ff.; II Cor. 8.9; Rom. 10.6-9; I Cor. 8.6). Even though the ‘historical section’ or humiliation seems even to disappear from some of these kerygmatic texts, their original intention was to emphasize the meaningfulness of Jesus’ historicity or humiliation, and only with gnosticism was this original meaning lost.
Consequently the introduction of details into the ‘historical section of the kerygma’ is valid only as an impressive way of witnessing to this kerygmatic message, that in suffering lies glory, in death resides life, in judgement is to be found grace. Whereas the kerygma customarily describes this ‘exaltation to be found in humiliation’ by stating the exaltation outside the ‘historical section’, sometimes the kerygyza superimposes the exaltation upon the humiliation, so that life becomes visible in death, glory in suffering, grace in judgement, the exaltation in the humiliation, the resurrection glory in the ‘historical section’. The statements about Jesus ‘in the flesh’, originally intended to designate only the humiliation half of the paradox, come to express both sides of it. ‘Put to death in the flesh’ (I Peter 3.18) becomes ‘Revealed in the flesh’ (I Tim. 3.16). And the statement of Jesus’ this-worldly origin ‘according to the flesh’ is not only followed by a statement about his other-worldly origin ‘according to the Spirit’, but also includes within the this-worldly side an allusion to the messianic lineage (Rom. 1.3; 9.5; Ignatius, Smyrn. 1.1), so that both sides of the paradox are present within the ‘historical section’. Another expression for Jesus’ this-worldly origin is ‘born of a woman’ (Gal. 4.4), and this too comes to express both sides of the paradox, in the expression ‘born of a virgin’ (Ignatius, Smyrn. 1.1; Justin, Dial. 85.2; Apol. 31.7; 32.14).
Now this trend within the kerygmatic tradition is the movement which logically leads to the writing of Gospels. This is most apparent in the case of the Gospel of John. For this Gospel, more self-consciously and explicitly than the others, speaks of Jesus in terms of the kerygma. Therefore we should not be surprised to see the Gospel of John consciously superimposing the glory of pre-existence and exaltation upon the ‘historical section’. The pre-existent glory ‘still’ shines in the earthly life: ‘The word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory’ (1.14). And the glory of exaltation is ‘already’ in the earthly life:
The cross is ‘already’ Jesus’ ‘glorification’ (7.39; 12.16; 13.31; 17.1, 5) and ‘exaltation’ (3.14; 8.28; 12.32-34). Similarly the synoptic tradition embedded the exaltation within the humiliation, most clearly in the transfiguration scene, but also in Jesus’ miracles, brilliant teachings, and victorious debates. And here too, just as in the case of the sermons in Acts (2.22; 10.38), the use of various Jewish and Hellenistic styles of narrating the divine in history’ should not mislead us as to the normative kerygmatic significance which is to be maintained throughout this transition from ‘kerygma’ to ‘narrative’. In the narrative, just as in the kerygma, we are confronted with paradox: exaltation in humiliation, life in death, the kingdom of God in the present evil aeon, the eschatological in history. This kerygmatic meaning of the ‘historical section’ is constitutive of the Gospel as a literary form. This is apparent in Mark’s ‘messianic secret’ and finds expression in the modern definition of the Gospels as ‘passion narratives with long introductions’.
The paradox inherent in the kerygma and the Gospels is beyond objective verification by the historian. Neither the kerygma, nor the kerygmatic Gospels, can legitimately be used to lead us into a positivistic approach to the quest of the historical Jesus.
When the emphasis laid by the kerygma upon the historicity or humiliation of Jesus has been misunderstood in terms of nineteenth-century historiography, it is almost inevitable that one would search in the kerygma for the implementation of that kind of historiography. Dodd is only carrying out this logical consequence when he seeks to find a chronology of the public ministry in the kerygma; and the failure of this attempt should confirm the thesis that the basic meaning of Jesus’ historicity for the kerygma has been misunderstood. Outside Acts, the kerygmatic texts contain no factual details from the public ministry. In the sermons of Acts, the few details from the public ministry provide no chronological information. We can infer from Acts 10.37; 13.24f. that the public ministry’s beginning at John the Baptist preceded its end on the cross; but since one knows a priori that the beginning precedes the end, this element reflects no more chronological information or interests than does the hymn of Phil. 2.6-11, where we can infer that the incarnation preceded the death. In two sermons of Acts various elements of the public ministry are mentioned, but without chronological order the ‘mighty works and wonders and signs’ of 2.22 are not different facts occurring in that order in the public ministry; the only ‘order’ one might sense is a certain parallel to the order in the immediately preceding prophecy from Joel 2.28-32. Acts 10.38 says that Jesus ‘went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him’. This Lucan formulation includes no chronological sequence; or should we assume that ‘doing good’ refers to one phase of the public ministry, which was then followed by another, in which ‘doing good’ was superseded by exorcisms? If so, one would then arrive at the reverse of the Marcan order!
The complete absence from the kerygma of a chronology for the public ministry should have been sufficient evidence to indicate that the kind of historicity in which the kerygma was interested differed basically from that with which Dodd was occupied. But it is indicative of Dodd’s intellectual stature that he nonetheless carried through the logic of his position, and does actually present us with a kerygmatic chronology of the public ministry. This is worked out in an essay on ‘The Framework of the Gospel Narrative’, which is one of the rare serious attempts to refute Karl Ludwig Schmidt’s argument that the Marcan order is not chronological. Schmidt and others had called attention to the generalizing summaries (‘Sammelberichte’) introduced into the Gospel by Mark to hold the narrative together. Dodd now unites all these ‘Samnmelberichte’ into a continuous text, and defines this as a kerygmatic chronology of the public ministry. Now ingenious though this solution is, it fails, by being a pure conjecture composed of a series of less likely alternatives.
One must first assume that the various ‘Sammelberichte’ belonged together as a continuous outline, in the order in which they occur in Mark. But no evidence for this ‘original’ form in which they circulated is given, and one of the ‘Sammelberichte’ is omitted by Dodd himself as unfit for this construction. One must then assume that the order of the reconstructed unit is chronological. But for this assumption one has neither the support of any other kerygmatic text, nor the support of the Gospels. For Dodd is attempting to refute the dominant view since Schmidt of the non-chronological order of the Gospels, and it would clearly be an argument in a circle to assume the chronological order of the Gospels in the argument. Dodd must next maintain that the ‘Sammelberichte’ are not, as has been generally supposed, Marcan creations, but rather comprise a pre-Marcan kerygmatic tradition.
Dodd’s argument here is to the effect that Mark does not actually follow this reconstructed outline; it is assumed that he attempted to do so, and consequently that his failure indicates that the outline was not his own, but came to him from the tradition. However the case for the existence of the conjectured ‘outline’ really requires for its proof some such objective indication of its existence as would be provided by Mark following it in his narrative. The fact that Mark does not follow the order of the hypothetical outline certainly points to a more obvious inference than the preMarcan origin of the hypothetical document: namely, its nonexistence. Mark did not follow the outline of the collected ‘Sammelbericht’ simply because he was unaware of them as assembled into a chronological outline by Dodd, but knew of them only as he himself presents them: a series of independent generalizing summaries, probably, like the kerygma and the Gospels, primarily topical in nature. Dodd’s whole thesis with regard to a kerygmatic chronology fails for lack of the confirming evidence required to establish a position which would reverse the course of scholarship, and thus must move against the stream of current views as to the probabilities in the case.
B. ‘New Sources’?
The original quest had been brought to an end by the rise of the kerygma to the centre of twentieth-century theology. Credit for the centrality of the kerygma is largely due, at least in the English-speaking world, to C. H. Dodd. Yet the new spirit, once conjured up, was no longer at the service of the master, and failed to provide him with a new basis for the old quest. Perhaps sensing this situation, the most forthright German attempt to revive the positivistic kind of quest, although carried through by a strong sup. porter of the kerygma, has sought its basis elsewhere. This is the significance of the life of Jesus by Ethelbert Stauffer, which has appeared in English as Jesus and His Story, 1960.
Initially impressed by the current consensus as to the kerygmatic nature of the Gospels (7), Stauffer bases the possibility of a positivistic quest upon the existence of new sources (8). These are of three kinds.
First are ‘indirect’ sources: increased knowledge of Palestinian conditions. However this is not basically a new kind of source, but is actually what Ernst Renan a century ago entitled ‘the fifth gospel’. And the bulk of this information was collected by Gustav Dalman and Joachim Jeremias toward the opening of the present century, before the modernization of Palestine obscured the tradition of the past. Thus we are not dealing with a new source which has arisen during the last generation, outdating the current position that the quest is impossible, but rather with an old source used by the original quest; and, although one may speak of a quantitative increase of accumulated research, the source itself is less intact now than when the quest came to an end.
Nor is the way in which Stauffer uses this source basically new. He speaks (8) of ‘synchronizing’ this material with the Gospels to achieve a chronology. But the indirect sources have no chronology of Jesus’ life to be synchronized with the Gospels; information about Palestine is merely used (16-18) to identify the season or year fitting Gospel allusions (e.g. harvest in the spring; 5th year of Tiberius as A.D. 28). Given the order of the Gospels as chronological, one’s knowledge of Palestine could help to set up dates or seasons? But what is here presupposed is precisely what today cannot be presupposed, that the Gospels are in chronological order. What is really synchronized is the Fourth Gospel with the synoptics, much as in the lives of Christ of the nineteenth century. One must conclude that the first ‘new source’ has not helped Stauffer to disprove the present consensus; instead the consensus has been ignored, and the traditional sources, i.e. the Gospels, used in a pre-Schmidt fashion.
The second kind of ‘new source’ is found in the Jewish (i.e. Rabbinic) polemics against Jesus, which again can hardly be called a ‘new source’. Since the Jewish sources have the reverse prejudice to that of the Christian sources, Stauffer assumes (9-10) that one has historical fact when the two agree. The Achilles’ heel of this argument is the dependence of Rabbinic allusions to Jesus upon the Christian witness. Stauffer seeks to avoid this difficulty by arguing that if the Jews took over a Christian view, the view must be historically accurate. However this argument would be valid only if one assumed that the Jews were historical critics, rather than polemicists. Where the facts were damaging, they had to deny their historicity or hide them; but where they could easily be given an anti-Christian meaning (as in the case of the virgin birth), they could be left standing. Thus the omission or adoption of Christian views about Jesus in the Rabbinic tradition has no direct bearing upon their historicity.
Stauffer’s third ‘new source’ is the literature of Jewish apocalypticism (10f.). However this too is no ‘new source’, but rather a source which played a major role in the last phase of the original quest, culminating in the work of Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer. One might assume that Stauffer had in mind the newly discovered Qumran texts. However these have for him only a negative significance (11). The legalism of Qumran identifies Jesus’ legalistic sayings as inauthentic, introduced into the tradition in the re-Judaizing process carried on by Baptist and Palestinian Christian forces.
None of Stauffer’s ‘new sources’ actually adds new information specifically about Jesus. They are merely used to argue for the historicity of the Christian sources. In this sense they ate not so much new sources for the life of Jesus as new arguments; except that the arguments are not new. For the ‘new sources’ are not used to disprove the kerygmatic nature of the New Testament sources and their resultant partiality, which Stauffer began (7f.) by fully conceding, and then as fully ignores. What is new in Stauffer is the programmatic revival of the positivistic understanding of history. He says the Verbum Dei incarnatum is a nudum factum, and the quaestio prima of all theological research is the reconstruction of the history of Jesus, which can solve among other things the problem of the absoluteness of Jesus. In his view of history, as well as in his view of the sources, Stauffer shares the outlook of nineteenth-century liberalism, except that he replaces the critical approach with the conservative principle:
in dubio pro tradito. His basic weakness is that he has ignored the intervening fifty years, whereas real progress in scholarship, precisely when progress means a shift in direction, comes by means of profound understanding of the valid reasons behind the current position, including the valid reasons it had for rejecting an older view to which we must now in some legitimate sense return. For a return must always be a transformation, accepting the valid arguments levelled against the original position, and accepting the valid achievements of the intervening period.
Whereas Stauffer made much of ‘new sources’ which are hardly new, there is a source which he does not mention which is quite new. Among the Coptic gnostic manuscripts discovered in Egypt at Nag Hammadi ln 1945 was a copy of the Gospel of Thomas. This apocryphal gospel is mentioned in patristic allusions, and has been more or less identified with a late and purely fanciful infancy narrative known for some time. However, according to preliminary reports, the Gospel of Thomas from Nag Hammadi actually contains a considerable body of sayings of Jesus, some of which are not purely of gnostic invention, but are of a type similar to those in the Synoptics. Thus an increase in the quantity of authentic sayings of Jesus may be reasonably anticipated. Yet the nature of the collection does not seem to be such as to alter basically the kind of history or biography of Jesus which is possible. For we apparently have to do with a collection of individual, unrelated sayings apart from their historical setting or chronological order, and reflecting the gnostic tendencies and outlook of the Jewish Christian Church venerating James. Thus the Gospel of Thomas only adds to the type of material already available from Oxyrhynchus Papyri 1 and 654.
C. A New View of the Gospels?
Neither the kerygma nor new source material has provided the possibility of a return to the type of quest attempted by the nineteenth century. Nor does such a possibility reside in any general shift in scholarly evaluation of the Gospels. If form criticism served to draw attention to the theology of the Church in the formative period of the oral tradition, scholarship today is concentrating upon the influence of the evangelists’ theologies upon the Gospels. And one of the outstanding conclusions of this recent research is that ‘Luke the historian’ is not a positivistic historian supplying us with the kind of objectively verified chronological, geographical, psychological, developmental information previously assumed, but rather is a theologian of history, presenting us with the construction of history which is meaningful to him. There has been a gradual trend toward recognizing historical aspects of the Fourth Gospel; yet this trend has not led to the conclusion that the Fourth Gospel provides a degree of historical objectivity not found in the synoptics, but at most that it falls within the same general category of ‘theology of history’ as do the Synoptics. It must also be recognized that we have to do with an inverse ratio: the increase in the degree of historicity attributed to specific points in John has been accompanied by a diminution in the degree of historicity which could be attributed to the divergent view of the Synoptics.
We do find in current discussion various positive statements as to the historical reliability of factual material in the Gospels, not only on the part of writers from whom such might be anticipated, but also from among the Bultmannian group itself. Although this is a new emphasis, coinciding with the proposal that the quest be reopened, it is actually not a basic reassessment of the situation with regard to the sources. For even a generation ago, when the emphasis was upon the impossibility of the older kind of quest, the existence of some historical information about Jesus was conceded by Bultmann. And on the other hand the modern Bultmannians reopening the quest have not rejected the Bultmannian view of the sources as primarily kerygmatic and only secondarily custodians of factual detail for historians of posterity. The mid-century has brought no basic revolution in our view of the sources, such as characterized the turn of the century. The cause for the reawakened interest in the quest of the historical Jesus lies elsewhere.
D. A New Concept of History and the Self
If the possibility of resuming the quest lies neither in the kerygma, nor In new sources, nor in a new view of the Gospels, such a possibility has been latent in the radically different understanding of history and of human existence which distinguishes the present from the quest which ended in failure. ‘Historicism’ is gone as the ideological core of historiography, and with it is gone the centrality of the chronicle. ‘Psychologism’ is gone as the ideological core of biography, and with it is gone the centrality of the curriculum vitae. Consequently the kind of history and biography attempted unsuccessfully for Jesus by the nineteenth century is now seen to be based upon a false understanding of the nature of history and the self. As a result it has become a completely open question, as to whether a kind of history or biography of Jesus, consistent with the contemporary view of history and human existence, is possible.
This open question has been obscured during the past generation by the necessary polemics against the impossible and misguided kind of quest. But these polemics have been successful enough for the urgent task of our day no longer to be their mechanical perpetuation, but rather the investigation of the possibility of writing the kind of history or biography of Jesus consistent with our modern understanding of history and human existence.
Nineteenth-century historiography and biography were modelled after the natural sciences, e.g. in their effort to establish causal relationships and to classify the particular in terms of the general. Today it is widely recognized that this method placed a premium upon the admixture of nature in history and man, while largely bypassing the distinctively historical and human, where transcendence, if at all, is to be found It was primarily Wilhelm Dilthey who introduced the modern period by posing for historiography the ‘question about the scientific knowledge of individual persons, the great forms of singular human existence’. Today history is increasingly understood as essentially the unique and creative, whose reality would not be apart from the event in which it becomes, and whose truth could not be known by Platonic recollection or inference from a rational principle, but only through historical encounter. History is the act of intention, the commitment, the meaning for the participants, behind the external occurrence. In such intention and commitment the self of the participant actualizes itself, and in this act of self-actualization the self is revealed. Hence it is the task of modern historiography to grasp such acts of intention, such commitments, such meaning, such self-actualization; and it is the task of modern biography to lay hold of the selfhood which is therein revealed.
This implication of the modern view of history for biography is only strengthened when one turns to the modern concept of selfhood, and its more direct implications for biography. The self is not simply one’s personality, resultant upon (and to be explained by) the various influences and ingredients present in one’s heritage and development. Rather selfhood is constituted by commitment to a context, from which commitment one’s existence arises. One’s empirical habitus is the inescapable medium through which the self expresses itself, but is not identical with the self, even when one seems to make it so. For even if one avoids commitment and merely drifts with life’s tide, or even if the commitment is merely to hold to one’s own past or absolutize one’s personality, the resultant selfhood is decisively qualified by the mood of inauthenticity in the one case, or by one or the other form of doctrinaire self-assertion in the other. Consequently it would be a basic misunderstanding of selfhood, to describe the causal relationships and cultural ingredients composing the personality, and assume one had understood the self. Selfhood results from implicit or explicit commitment to a kind of existence, and is to be understood only in terms of that commitment, i.e by laying hold of the understanding of existence in terms of which the self is constituted.
To be sure, neither the modern view of history nor the modern view of existence involves necessarily a dimension of transcendence. To this extent the classical philologian Ernst Heitsch’ is correct in sensing that the historian’s awareness ‘tua res agitur is ‘nuanced in a particular way’ by the New Testament scholar: ‘It is a matter of thy blessedness, however one may understand this.’ The secular historian does not have this particular and narrow concentration of interest, but thinks of ‘tua res agitur’ in the comprehensive sense that ‘nothing human is foreign to thee’. Yet it is precisely because of this complete openness to all that is human, that the historian must open himself to encounter with humans who understand their existence as lived out of transcendence.
The first effect of the modern view of history and human existence upon New Testament study was, as we have seen, to focus attention upon the kerygma as the New Testament statement of Jesus’ history and selfhood. This involved also a positive appraisal of the kerygmatic nature of the Gospels, so that one came to recognize the legitimacy in their procedure of transforming the ipsissima verba and brute facts into kerygmatic meaning. Thus the modern approach to history and the self made it easy to emphasize the rarity of unaltered sayings and scenes.
There is however another aspect which is equally true, and yet has not been equally emphasized. If the Church’s kerygma reduced the quantity of unaltered material, it deserves credit for the quality of the unaltered material. The kind of material which the ‘kerygmatizing’ process would leave unaltered is the kind of material which fits best the needs of research based upon the modern view of history and the self. For the kervgmatic interest of the primitive Church would leave unaltered precisely those sayings and scenes in which Jesus made his intention and understanding of existence most apparent to them. Of course the very fact that the earliest Church could on occasion go on saying it in Jesus’ way makes it difficult to be certain that any given saying originated with Jesus rather than in this earliest phase of the Church. And areas where Jesus differed from his first disciples would tend to have disappeared from the tradition. Yet in spite of such difficulties, the ‘kerygmatic’ quality of the material the primitive Church preserved unaltered means that this material is especially suitable for modern research concerned with encountering the meaning of history and the existential selfhood of persons.
Now that the modern view of history and the self has become formally more analogous to the approach of the kerygma, we need no longer consider it disastrous that the chronology and causalities of the public ministry are gone. For we have, for example, in the parables, in the beatitudes and woes, and in the sayings on the kingdom, exorcism, John the Baptist and the law, sufficient insight into Jesus’ intention to encounter his historical action, and enough insight into the understanding of existence presupposed in his intention to encounter his selfhood. ‘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). ‘From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force’ (Matt. 11.12). Such authentic sayings, whose exact wording cannot well be reconstructed, whose translation is uncertain, whose out-of-date thought patterns are obvious, are none the less more important historical sources for encountering Jesus’ history and person than would be the chronological and psychological material the original quest sought in vain. Consequently Jesus’ history and selfhood are accessible to modern historiography and biography. And that is the crucial significance of Käsemann’s remark: ‘There are after all pieces in the synoptic tradition which the historian must simply acknowledge as authentic, if he wishes to remain a historian’ This kind of quest of the historical Jesus is possible
The positive relevance of the modern view of history and the self to the problem of Jesus has not gone completely undetected. As a matter of fact, Bultmann’s Jesus and the Word of 1926 was prefaced with a classic statement of the modern view of history, and on this basis he states that his book reflects his own encounter with the historical Jesus, and may mediate an encounter with the historical Jesus on the part of the reader. And Käsemann’s brief analysis of the authentic sayings of Jesus concludes that, in spite of the absence of messianic titles, Jesus’ understanding of his existence can be deduced from his intentions revealed in his sayings. We have already noted how Fuchs derives his understanding of Jesus’ work and person from his conduct and its interpretation in the parables. Similarly Bornkamm recognizes that the possibility of his Jesus of Nazareth resides in a new view of history. ‘If the Gospels do not speak of the history of Jesus in the sense of a reproducible curriculum vitae with its experiences and stages, its outward and inward development, yet they none the less speak of history as occurrence and event. Of such history the Gospels provide information which is more than abundant.’ And his presentation of ‘The messianic question’ is permeated by the new view of existence, when he explains that Jesus presented no independent doctrine of his person precisely because ‘the "messianic" aspect of his being is enclosed in his word and act, and in the immediateness of his historical appearance’. It is consequently not surprising that Peter Biehl has introduced into the discussion of a new quest a thematic discussion of the interpretation of history in terms of the historicity of the self, as found in Martin Heidegger and R. G. Collingwood.
It is apparent that a new quest of the historical Jesus cannot be built upon the effort to deny the impossibilities inherent in the original quest; rather a new quest must be built upon the fact that the sources do make possible a new kind of quest working in terms of the modern view of history and the self. Whether one wishes to designate this possible task of historical research a history or life of Jesus, or whether one prefers to reserve these terms for the kind of history or life envisaged by the nineteenth century, is not of crucial importance. The German ability to distinguish between Historie and Geschichte has made it possible, from Bultmann’s Jesus and the Word on, to look upon oneself as presenting the history (Geschichte) of Jesus. Such has not been the case with the terms ‘life’, ‘biography’, and ‘bios’, which continue to be avoided, for the reason Käisemann gives:’ ‘In a life of Jesus one simply cannot give up outer and inner development.’ Since usage determines meaning, it may be that such a nineteenth-century definition of biography is still accurate. But this should not obscure the crucial fact that Jesus’ understanding of his existence, his selfhood, and thus in the higher sense his life, is a possible subject of historical research.