The Search for the Historical Jesus: The Period of No Quest

by Max Andrews

After the first search for the historical Jesus ended in 1906 the next search, or better said, the period of no quest, began and lasted until 1953.  At this point there was little optimism for finding the “historical Jesus.” Karl Barth (1886-1968) was the key figure during this time.  He claimed that the Jesus of history has little to do with theology–the Christ of faith is more important.  Barth ushered in Neo-Orthodoxy–an emphasis on sin, sovereignty, grace, and faith.  This was a de-emphasis on what actually happened.

This led to form criticism: An analysis of the forms in which the narratives of the gospels come down to us. Not literary, but their pre-literary oral forms. The idea was that different kinds of stories have distinctive kinds of forms that effect how they should be interpreted: miracle stories, healing stories, apothegms, etc. These forms developed within particular communities that had specific needs met by this form.  Oral tradition distorted the original stories. The goal was to determine the form and meaning of the forms in isolation from the whole and then to determine the life situation that caused the form: snapshot hypothesis.The result was that Gospel accounts are a mixture of fabrication and history based on a distorted oral tradition.

Mark’s reliability began to be questioned and was inevitably displaced.  It was previously thought that Mark was the least “theologically embedded” Gospel–bare history with little theology.  In sync with the thought Bruno Bauer, William Wrede wrote Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien. Zugleich ein Beitrag zum Verstandnis des Markusevangelinms (1901, The Messianic Secret in the Gospels. Forming a contribution also to the understanding of the Gospel of Mark).Wrede showed that Mark had a more mature Christology than previously thought. There is no bare history of Jesus.

In 1941 Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) wrote New Testament and Mythology. He argued that all we can know of Jesus  is that he lived and was crucified. He sought the need to “demythologize” the Gospels-to remove supernatural elements and get to the kerygma (kehr-igma, not pronounced as kerigma with one syllable). Bultmann believed the quest was methodologically impossible and theologically illegitimate.  He believed we should live “authentically” through radical decisions. Bultmann was the end of the period of no quest.


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