1.  The Original Quest - 1778-1908.

2.  From the history of religious schools to the New Quest.

3.  Five quests of the Historical Jesus:

a. Harnack’s Jesus

b. Schweitzer’s Jesus

c. Bultman’s New Quest

d. The Jewish Jesus

e. Pluralism of Christologies (Black, Feminist, Liberation, New Age (see Leonardo Boff,

Jesus Christ, Liberator (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1972).


IDEA OF THE QUEST - historically from Schweitzer’s Quest for The Historical Jesus (From Reimarus to Wrede, 1910)

a. Biographical research.

b.  Impression - scientific research showed that the Jesus of History was different from the Christ of Faith: Scripture - Creeds - Orthodox Theology (see Kaehler, Geschicte Historie (Existential and Factual History)   


Christian Piety: Quest of the Historical Jesus

Rise of Form Criticism Popularity of Neo-Orthodoxy


c.   In the 1950’s followers of Bultman initiated what was called New Quest for The Historical Jesus.


Third Quest - renewed interest in Jesus in His historical context/pluralism of hermeneutical horizons




G.E. Lessing (1729-1781) published Reimarus’ works entitled Fragments, but did not give his name. They contained dangerous themes in the German Lutheran context. The book is in the library of the Duke of Brunswick.


1.  Fragments contained an attack on the Resurrection.

2.  Intentions of Jesus and His disciples--Jew/Jewish - called Israel to repentance to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.

3. Christianity might have ended then but for the ingenuity of the disciples.

4. Jesus returned to establish the promised kingdom.

5. Eschatology was the key to understanding

6. J.S. Semiers (1725-1791) gave an answer to Fragments written from the standpoint of a moderate orthodoxy

7. His views expressed the Enlightenment Age.

8. Reimarus sought to detach religion from history. If no historical truth can be demonstrated, then nothing in history could be demonstrated beyond doubt; nothing can be demonstrated by means of historical truth. That is, accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason (cf. H. Chadwick, ed. Lessing’s Theological Writings, 1956, p. 53; J. Hess’s 3 vols., History of The Last Three Years of Jesus was set to music by J.S. Bach in his work Passions according to Matthew and John.

9.  The first professor to lecture on the life of Christ was Frederick D.E. Schleiermacher


a. The Life of Jesus was published posthumously.

b. John’s Gospel was the historical outline of the Life of Jesus (1864).

c. Essence of religion was “religious experience.” His experience of God could be the existence of God in human nature.

d. Jesus’ unique awareness replaced the classical doctrine of Christ’s divine and human nature.




Strauss denounced Schleiermacher as a supernaturalist in his Christology but in his criticism and exegesis, a rationalist. Strauss later published another work called Jesus, which was prompted by the popularity of J.E. Renan’s Life of Jesus (1863). Strauss later dropped his Hegelian influence but maintained his earlier “mythical explanation.” The desupernaturalized Jesus depicted by Strauss emerged as one of the great improvers of the ideal of humanity. His method pioneered the use of “the role of myth in religion,” anticipated The History of Religion School and his view of preliterary formation of the Gospel material anticipated Form Criticism. Strauss rejected the historicity of the events that the rationalists before him sought rational explanation.


A. The Synoptics vs. John: The term Synoptic Gospel goes back to J.J. Griesbach’s Synopsis of The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (1776) which set out the text of the three gospels in parallel columns, thus facilitating comparative, critical study of the first three gospels (classical Augustine’s view after Griesbach).


B. The British Response: F.W. Farrar’s work (1876) The Holy Land Trip and The Orthodox Jesus; Alfred Edersheim (he was a converted Jew from Vienna and he studied in Berlin). He wrote The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah (1883). Jewish data (archaeology, geography, the Talmud) and he knew the Rabbinic tradition. (Paul, Josephus, Apocryphal and Pseudopigraphic literature).


The Cambridge trio: B.F. Westcott (1825-1901); J.B. Lightfoot (1828-1889); and F.J.A. Hort (1828-1892). These men helped to vindicate “The Age” against the continental radicals.


The next generation of British New Testament scholars were F.C. Burkett (1864-1935) Cambridge; William Sanday (1843-1920) at Oxford wrote Christologies Ancient and Modern in 1910; Christology and Personality in 1911, influenced by William James’ theories about the “unconsciousness” of Jesus’ deep feeling about God; source of Messianic consciousness.


III. RITSCHLIN SCHOOL: This was a major influence in the second half of the 19th century. A.B. Ritschl (1822-1889) His mentor was F.C. Baur. He later rejected his theory of the Christian origins. His method was the empirically observable experience of the Church. The person of Jesus was not a fit study for scientific investigation. Jesus was the vocation bearer of God’s ethical lordship over human beings. He wrote The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, 3 vols. (1870-1874) English translation in 1900). He identified four points:


1.  Redemption - freedom from guilt and freedom over the world through realizing God’s fatherhood.

2.  The Kingdom of God: Ethically based on God’s ethical Lordship over the world through the redeemed.

3.  Ethical Side Stressed by great Church historian Adolf Harnack (1851-1930); suspicion of adverse affects of metaphysics on theology.

4.  Harnack sought to separate the kernel from the husk via The Essence of Christianity (1899-1901), English translation.

a.  Only teaching of Christ practical consequences of knowing God, the Son of God.

b.  Eight headings: The Kingdom of God and Its Coming; God the Father; Ultimate/

     Infinite Value of the Human Soul; The Higher Consciousness.

c.  The Commandment of God in the Sayings of Jesus (E.T., 1908); (Q - the unavailable literary source in the synoptic discussion between Mark and Matthew) expressed clearest teaching of Jesus and essence of Christianity.

d.  Q provided refutation of those who exaggerated the apocalyptic/eschatological elements in Jesus’ teaching.

e. Alfred Loisy, French Roman Catholic moderate, affirmed George Tyrell when he said that the Christ that Harnack sees is only the reflection of a liberal protestant face seen at the bottom of a deep well. Loisy identified Christ and the idea of Christ in Roman Catholic Christianity.


Modernism was condemned by the Decree of Lamentabi and the Encyclical of Pasendi in 1907; and an oath against modernism was imposed as the Sacrorey Antistation in 1910.




The Ritchlian theological ediface showed several signs of decay--Ritschl’s son-in-law, Johannes Weiss (1863-1914) published Jesus’ Proclamation of The Kingdom of God (2nd edition 1900/E.T. 1970).


1.  Eschatology was unacceptable to the modern mind. Jesus’ teaching was eschatological--six characteristics:

a. The Kingdom was transcendent and belonged to the future.

b. Jesus was not the founder of the Kingdom but wanted God to bring it.

c. The Kingdom was identified with the circle of Jesus’ Disciples.

d. It did not come gradually by growth and development.

e. Ethics were negative and world denying--Jesus was only a rabbi who believed the Kingdom would come after his death.

2.  A further blow to the liberal life of the historical Jesus was delivered by William Wrede in the Messianic Secret in The Gospels (1901, E.T. 1971).

a. Demand that Mark was not an objective observer but a messianic contained secret.

b. Wrede: Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah but the Church thought Jesus wasMessiah after the resurrection faith (not fact).

c.  Jesus had secretly revealed His Messiahship to the Disciples and had forbidden them to broadcast it.

d. The Gospels were not primary sources for the life of Christ but for belief of Disciples/ communities of faith.


On the same day that Wrede published his work, Albert Schweitzer published a two-volume dissertation which set forth an alternative view:


(1) Volume 1 - The Problem of The Lord’s Table According to 19th Century Search (E.T., 1932).

(2) Volume 2 - The Mystery of The Kingdom of God” Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship (E.T., 1914).


          e.  Schweitzer declared his thorough-going eschatology to be an extension of Weiss.

              (1) Weiss’ Eschatology - the key to Jesus’ teaching.

(2) Schweitzer’ Eschatology - the key to Jesus’ life. (He had a doctorate in music, theology and medicine and did mission work in Africa.

(3) All searches for the Historical Jesus were dead-ended but Schweitzer’s.

(4) Three alternatives: Crisis was provoked by Strauss; purely historical and supernatural Tubingen and his teacher Holzmann chose the Synoptic Gospels over John; the choice between Wrede and Schweitzer - either an Eschatological or non-Eschatological Jesus; consistent Eschatology unified the story’s credibility, though not as something to be believed in the 20th century (Eros culture, communication, evangelism, missions, radical contextualization). 

f. Schweitzer did not accept Jesus’ view of Eschatology any more than Weiss or Liberals who treated them as trash to be discarded. The true historical Jesus should overthrow the modern Jesus.


Jesus, as one unknown calls, sets tasks in each generation. Those who follow shall   learn an “ineffable mystery” (Schweitzer’s life in Africa) Schweitzer/Nietzsche - Superman; Christ’s mysticism applied to Paul (Paul and His Interpretation (1930, E.T., 1931) Medical thesis, The Psychiatric Study of Jesus (1913, E.T. 1948); sought to vindicate Jesus’ apparent charges of paranoia. The Kingdom of God and Christian Origins (E.T. 1968) - summarized Schweitzer’s final position.


The real search did not begin with Reimarus but with English deists, whose writings he had in his library (Toland, Shafesbury, Collins, Tyndall, Morban, Middletown, Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume). He wrote Doubts About The Historical Reliability of The New Testament Picture of Jesus.


Compare Schweitzer’s thesis on The Philosophy of Religion From The Critique of Religion and Kant’s Religion Within Limits of Reason Alone (1899) (Critical/Historical; Historical/ Supernatural)


Compare Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments (1844) to the counterpart of Reimarus’ Fragments. Asked what condition would have to be fulfilled if God intended to save human beings. Response: God became man and became like them; God in history--renounce incognito in Christ.




The effort was condemned by Martin Kaehler (1835-1912). In The So-Called Historical Jesus and The Historic Biblical Christ (1896, E.T. 1964), Kaehler repudiated the attempt to make faith dependent upon the historical research. He also argued that it is impossible to separate the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. The Christ who changed the course of history is the Christ that is preached, the Christ of faith. This appealed to orthodox theologians who believed that their faith was historically grounded by radicals, like Kaehler’s pupil, Paul Tillich, who interpreted the Gospel stories as symbols mediating the depth of existence.




The History of Religion School flourished between 1886 to 1920. In seeking to understand the Bible in the context of broader religious and cultural setting of Egyptian, Babylonian and Hellenistic religion emphasized the continuity between the Bible and the ancient Near East. Wilhelm Bousset traced the title “Lord” (Greek “kurios”) to the Hellenistic religion and saw the ascription of the deity of Christ as the result of alien influences. Bousset believed that the earliest traditions of the life of Christ were free from the miraculous (Gnostic Divine Man). Bousset made us attempt to show how these stories came to be applied to Jesus. It was enough to note alleged parallels, no matter how remote the sources might be.


The methodology of the School was set out by the former Ritschlian, Ernst Troeltsch (1865-1923). Troeltsch’s paper “On The Historical and Dogmatic Method in Theology” (1888) laid down principles for approaching history. Every tradition and interpretation must be sifted by an unending process of criticism. The principle of analogy serves as the criterion by which events are identified and their historicity assessed. Present experience and knowledge must be used to interpret the past. The critical historian accepts only those events that bear analogy with present experience and understanding of the world. The principle of correlation asserts that every historical event is correlated with others in the same series. Since all events are of the same order, no particular event can be final or absolute (cf. Christ, Canon, Tradition, Creeds, etc., cannot be both historical events and final). Since Christianity belongs to the sphere of religious and human history as a whole, no absolute claims may be made on behalf of it or on behalf of the historic Jesus. Christianity may be the absolute religion for man, but only because there is nothing else (The Absoluteness of Christianity and The History of Religions (1901, E.T. 1971; Christian Thought; Its History and Application (1912).


A. New Orthodoxy’s Revolt Against Liberalism: In reacting to Liberalism with its emphasis on humanity, religious experience and scientific study, the neo-orthodoxy of Emil Brunner (1889-1966) and Karl Barth (1886-1968) stressed the sovereignty of the transcendent God’s human need of redemption and revelation, and the centrality of Jesus Christ (Brunner’s, The Mediator (1927, E.T. 1934) rejected attempts to interpret Jesus as a religious hero, genius or moral personality. Brunner insisted on the reality of the humanity of Christ, and his lack of interest in history led to charges of doceticism. Barth’s emphasis on revelation brought him into sharp conflict with his former teacher, Harnack (cf. Revelation and Theology: An Analysis of The Barth/Harnack Correspondence of 1928 (1972).


Barth’s Christocentric theology developed in his Church Dogmatics (1933-1981) was based in the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. Barth stressed the historical reality of this event, but showed little interest in the historical Jesus as such (cf. Barth accepted the assured result of Biblical Criticism).


B. Bultmann, Form Criticism and Demythologization: Form Criticism was pioneered by K.L. Schmidt (Der Rahmen der Geschichte Jesus, 1919). Martin Dibelius and Rudolf Bultmann, Form Criticism claimed that the framework of the Gospel stories were created by the Evangelists for their own purposes, and was thus historically valueless. Dibelius adopted a more constructive approach in his book, From Tradition to Gospel (E.T. 1934). His work, Jesus (1939) E.T. 1949) showed how the Gospel tradition is related to the historical Jesus. However, Bultmann (1884-1976) of Marburg, who was the most influential New Testament scholar of his generation, was more skeptical. Bultmann’s theology combined neo-orthodoxy, neo-Kantianism and Heideggerian existentialism with the traditions of liberal theology and the History of Religion School.


Bultmann’s major work, The History of The Synoptic Tradition (1921, E.T. 1963) gave an analysis of this form of the tradition behind the Gospels as shaped by the Christian community. He concluded that the material threw more light on the Sitz im Leben, the life situation of the traditions in the early Church then they do on the life of Jesus. The Christ that was preached in the early Church was not the historical Jesus, but the Christ of faith and the cultus (community). Teaching which applied to the Church situations could not be attributed to the historic Jesus (cf. Bultmann’s celebrated demythologization program was outlined in his paper on “The New Testament and Mythology”, E.T. in Kergyma and Myth, 1972, pp. 1-44; also his work Theology of the New Testament, The Gospel of John (1941, E.T. 1971); and Jesus Christ and Mythology (1958).


Bultmann contended that the thought world of the New Testament was essentially mythological, being shaped by myths drawn from Jewish apocalyptic and gnosticism (cf. C.H. Dodd’s, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Development, 1936; Colin Brown, “The Structure and Content of The Early Kergyma.” NTDNTT 3.35-67).




In 1959, James M. Robinson published a book, A New Quest of The Historical Jesus. This work was an extension of the work in the Bultmann school (cf. Ernst Kasemann, “The Problem of the Historical Jesus” (E.T. in Essays On New Testament Themes, 1964, pp. 15-47).


Kasemann protested his fidelity to Bultmann’s methodology and proclaimed the impossibility of writing a biography of Jesus. He sought in vain not to lapse into Doeceticism (cf. Ernst Fuch’s successor to Bultmann and his Studies in The Historical Jesus (E.T., 1964).


Gunter Bornkamm’s Jesus of Nazareth (1956, E.T. 1960) stressed the note of authority in Jesus’ teaching. Bornkamm underscored the present element of the new age. He followed in the footsteps of Martin Dibelius rather than Bultmann. Bornkamm’s Jesus was probably the earthly figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The method and conclusion of The New Quest were summarized in an encyclopedia article Hans Conzelmann wrote for Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (published later as Jesus (E.T., 1973). Bultmann responded to The New Quest in a paper in “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and The Historical Christ” (E.T. in Historical Jesus and The Kerygmatic Christ (1964, pp. 15-42). He denied that he had destroyed the continuity between the historical Jesus and the kerygma, insisting that the kerygma presupposed the historical Jesus; however much it may have mythologized him. The kerygma is an eschatological event and expresses the fact that Jesus is present in it.


The End of The New Quest: If Harnack’s Jesus had the face of liberal Protestantism, and Schweitzer’s the heroic demeanor of Nietzsche’s Superman, the Jesus of the New Quest was an existential philosopher whose presence in history was barely discernable behind the kerygma. The New Quest ended scarcely two decades after it started. Its demise coincides with the end of the Bultmannian era and the passage of existential philosophy.


VIII. THE THIRD QUEST? (This represents the post Bultmannian developments in Jesus research. If there exists a unifying theme in this new project, it lies in the belief that Jesus was not the Jesus of liberal Protestantism or of the New Quest, but an historical figure whose life and actions were rooted in first century Judaism with its particular religious, social, economic and political conditions.


There are three lines of approach: (1) Radical Tradition, (2) The Conservative Tradition and (3) Attempts to see Jesus in a new perspective (eg. New Age Guru).


1. Radical Tradition: e.g. The Jesus Seminar’s Radical Redaction Critical tradition. The Seminar meets twice yearly to discuss research papers and vote on the authenticity of the materials. Using a color system of balloting, the Seminar is producing a series of Red Letter Editions (The Parables of Jesus, 1988; Burton L. Mack’s A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins, 1988; or Jesus and The Cynics, see F. Gerald Downing, Christ and The Cynics, 1988.


2. Conservative Tradition: Pre-war British scholarship is maintained in C.E. D. Moule, The Origin of Christology, 1977. He rejects The History of Religion School thesis that the historical Jesus has been transformed into another species through the influence of Hellenistic savior cults (e.g. I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, 1978; Jesus The Savior, 1990; G.R. Beasley-Murray’s Jesus and The Kingdom of God, 1986. This tradition seeks to vindicate and refine our understanding of the history behind the text.


IX. FOURTH QUEST: Jewish Hermeneutical Horizons.


The Only Expected Man in History: The Messiah of the Prophets. New questions are raised by these new approaches: (1) Why did Jesus come into conflict with Jewish authorities? (2) Why was he handed over to the Romans and put to death in a manner normally reserved for political revolutionaries? (Cf. Concern of Jewish scholarship--Klausner, Buber, Montefiore, Fluser, Hagner, Chilton, Charlesworth, Riesner, Meyer, Moule, Hegel, Harvey, Brandon, S.G.F. Branson, Fall of Jerusalem and Jesus and The Zealots and Sociological Analysis (cf. Gerard Theissen, Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity, 1978)


X. THE FIFTH QUEST: Other continued searches within the cultural relativism maze--that is, every cultural experience produces a criticism of “Jesus” in Postmodern categories of Christology: The following are direct rejections of the Biblical perspective of Jesus as God Incarnate in historical context--


1. Spirit Christology

2. Jesus and The Holy Spirit (J.D.G. Dunn, Jesus and The Spirit, 1975.

3. Liberation Christology

4.  Latin American Hermeneutics (Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (1985) responses to negative and fanciful claims made on television series and the book by Ian Wilson which accompanied the series, Jesus: The Evidence, 1984; see response by Colin Brown, Miracles and The Critical Mind, 1984; Synoptic Miracle Stories: A Jewish Religious and Social Setting: Foundations and Facts Forum 2 (1986), pp. 55-76.

5. Feminist Christology, contra gender bias.

6. Black Christology (cf. Black Messiah).





Norman Anderson, The Mystery of The Incarnation (InterVarsity Press, 1978).

Kasper, Walter.  Jesus The Christ (London: Burns and Oates, 1976).

Levie, Jean. The Bible, The Word of God in Words of Man (NY: Kennedy, reprint, 1964).

Schokel, Luis Alonso. The Inspired Word: Scripture in Light of Language and Literature (Burns and Oates, 1965/1967).

Warfield, B.B. The Lord of Glory (Joplin, MO: College Press, reprinted; it includes my essay, “Trends and Issues in Postmodern Christology.”)

Strauss, J.D. -- “Jesus Christ: Incarnation of The Promise” “Jesus in The Qumran” “Postmodern Sceince: Foundation of Postmodern Christologies” “Jesus Under Fire” “We Have Found The Messiah” “Christ in The Secular City” “Search for The Wrong Jesus”


Dr. James Strauss, Emeritus, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL 62656