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Kittel on the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith

Back in the day, when asked as an undergrad to write an essay on that dichotomy I refused, and wrote one called the Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith and the Risen Lord instead. But if I were to write one, I would start with this quote:
The Jesus of History is valueless and unintelligible unless He be experienced and confessed by faith as the living Christ. But, if we would be true to the New Testament, we must at once reverse this judgment. The Christ of faith has no existence, is mere noise and smoke, apart from the reality of Jesus of History. These two are utterly inseparable in the New Testament. They cannot even be thought of apart … Anyone who attempts first to separate the two and then to describe only one of them, has nothing in common with the New Testament.

Gerhard Kittel, G. K. A. Bell and A. Deissman (eds), Mysterium Christi (London, 1930), 49.  HT


  1. 1930 - pre-Shoa - the edifice of Christendom is already crumbling and will show its most awful sides in the war and in the abuse that came out of church schools who had no idea what Jesus or Christ meant at all. These words and their firm confessional 'logic' are very unappealing without obedience. Throwing the NT at us as a whole book is not helpful. There are many voices in the NT and they are all beautiful aspects of the son, the servant, the elect, and the anointed - including our participation. Without our active faithful participation, we are saying Lord, Lord and not being within his knowledge.

    Thanks for the quote though - it highlights some of the problems I am thinking about

  2. Yes Bob, confession without obedience is worse than no confession at all, but is it not possible to talk about confession in its own right at some points?

  3. Yes - it is possible to talk about confession. It is frightening also. Yesterday we were lost - finding our hotel was next to impossible and we got stuck in a dead end street that turned a sharp corner into an impossible place - so I had to back up - and I nudged a telephone pole or some wooden structure and added a small scratch to the bumper of this already old and scratched car - but I felt angry at my self and frightened in being lost and worried foolishly about bumping someone else's already damaged car - my analogy this morning was that I was questioning too deep or I was in a still serviceable Christendom even though I might drive it more poorly than it deserved :) (I can't recall an accident in 42 years of driving - nor was this one - just a scrape). The mixed analogy doesn't hold very well. We did reach our hotel on foot (not accessible by car but we did not know this). And it was a fascinating night in the midst of the old city of Nazareth.

    Anyway - I am not lost even when I feel that way - my Lord, the Beloved, I know is always with me. Is such faith possible in me, in others, in other traditions, in those who do not know the multi-vocal confessions of the NT, in those that God gives me - who lend a telephone, or feed us, or give us direction but who are not of 'my' confession? It must be that faith is also for them - how I ask? And he says - I have made them even part of your body in their gifts to you. Even the restaurant that gave you in its pride far more food than you could possibly eat in a week - even that was to show you your own pride - and I will not abandon you even in it. So be humbled - but keep following me. We are not lost.

  4. I must confess to feeling somewhat lost right now!

  5. Analogy - a personal one - is what I was intending - and BTW - I really liked that sermon on the landlord - I think it is historically far more likely than the traditional grace business (though I trust in grace and by grace also).

  6. Certainly in its Matthean context I think the parable needs to be understood in relation to the story of the rich young ruler, in which case some sort of grace interpretation is perfectly possible, one of the many problems with the Jesus seminar is that they end up with a number of discrete sayings and parables but little idea of the all important interpretive context.


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