Full Text for History A Proof for the Christian Faith (Text)

History A Proof for the Christian Faith Vice-Pri~zcipnl, %1ttJ7er(t7l Seminary, Adetclidc, Az~sfr.r7Zia ad the Editor of tlzc TA7~t1~~r(~r1 Thcologic~Z Jozi~.~?(ll, zvhcrc this article first tzppcal-cd. I N 111s FORWOIID to Jesus of Nnznveth G~lcntllci: Bornkamnl 111akes 3 number of statements which are thc stiixfi~~g-l)oint for this essay and in a sense the reason for it. Bornkan~m writes: Allany are of the opi~lioi~ that the way of historical critical re- search has provecl a false path for this subject matter 2nd should be given up for good. I do not hold this view and carlnot see at all that it is necessarily a way of unbelief, and that faith should fors.iirc:ir it and is bound to cio so. How could faith of a11 things be content 'ivitll mere tradition, even though it be that contained in the Gospels? It nlust break thtougli it and seek behind it to see the thing itself, and perhaps in this way to understand the tradition afresh and to regain it. In this attempt faith is on common ground n~itll all who are gcn- tlinclrr concerned with historical knowledge. CERTAINLY FAITI-I CANAOT AND SHOULD NOT BE DEPEWDEXT ON 'THE CHANGE AWJI UNCERTriIXTY OF HISTORI- CAL RKSEAIICH. 'ro expect this of it would be presump- tuous and foolish. But no 'one sl~ould despise thc help of his- torical research to illulnintt the truth with which each of us should hc concerned. It is thc en~phasizccl jvords ~iihich l~articul;~rI\' are germane to this in\lcstigation. There arc some very goocl reask ~r~hy faith is or may be affected by tlic changes and uncertaintics of historical research. It is simply the case that the Christian rcligion is inti- mately related, inextricably bound up 'ctritll certain events of the past, so i1.i t11 Ilistory , ivith historical events or occurrences. This state of affairs is given graphic expression in the ApostIcs' and Ni- cene Creeds: ". . . who for us men and for our salvatiorl came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary ancl was nlacle man, and was CI-ucified for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the tllii-d day he rose again . . ." The Christian church from the beginning has clcpended fur- ther, on a reporting of these events, an historical witness to these events, which in its turn has a history liltcwise. To ask for n faith unaffected by history or historical investigation is to ask for ~21at is impossible in the very nature of the case. Since, according to the Christian Gospel, God has chosen to act for the salvation of men in and through history, His action comes under the same laws as history generally; it is subject to the same l7ossibilities of investiga- tion, scrutiny, and criticism; one cannot protect this action from the necessity to meet the doubts which scholars may cast on it or with whicll they may surround it. f9istol.j .A I'~.oof Fol- 1'11~ Christian Faith ... - 201 T11c question to which these obseri atioas on the con1n1ent of Bornkainn~ Icad us nla) bc formulated as follons: Docs faith dc- pfnd upon the truth, the actuality, the incontro.i7crtible accuracy of certain historical f:jcts: ilnd the an\n.cl-, 01. ansn ers, to be clcfcndeti in this cssay, niay be stated thus : 1. I:,-om ~vhat 1 shall call the negative point of view-al- I.~,OLI~~I this phraseology is far from accurate-we nlrist an- s\\ cl- the cpcstion with YES. 2. I.:j-ci~l~ the opposite point of view the answer is XO. ?he two points of view more explicitly stand, with the an- swer inbuilt in ther~, may be for~~lul;lted as follo~vs: 1. 'I'herc can be no Christian faith, if the facts on ~vllich it rests arc no historical facts, or if what is regardecl as ccn- trnl to the faith is actually not a fact at all. 2. Faith cannot be proved, or demonstrated or macle into a logical certainty by the establishing as certain of the facts ccntl-a1 to the Christian faith. \Ire may present the first of these contentions in the words of the Paulinc test: "If Christ has not 11cc11 raised, then our preaclling is in vain and Sour f'tith is in vain." (1 Cor. 15 : 14 RSV). The sec- ond also we can put in words of Paul: "So faith coines from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the yreaching of Christ." (Ram. 10: 17 RSV: cf. the whole section, vv. 5-1 7) In developing the first of the ansi\.ers just supplied to the ques- tian that is our problei?~, .tve nlay con~~eniently begin lvith the re- d~ictio nd rrbsz~rdz~.r-~z advanced by James Peter in his ~r~ork Finding the Historic,al Jeslls. 1-Ie has argued that "some nlinimulll ki~o~vledge of the object is required. The interrelatio~lships of kno~vledge, as- sent and trust, of fides qua and fides qzlne, of event and fact, make that conclusion i~~cscapable." lie goes on to put the vedzsc~.io ad (177- surdu~~z: Lct us suppose that It\. tomb. The importance of the second of these lines of cvidcnoe is not ;\Z\Y~\YS appreciated, but it bcconles clear .ivhcll .tvc put the clucstion: If the tomb n.erc not or had not bccrl cmpt.i7, what then? Ob\.io~~sly, that there would have been no reason \voilth serious consideration for the apostles to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus of Nazarctlh. 'Tile first thing a mociern would do, if 71c were the high-pricst of thc time and the ~nessagc of resurrec- tion came to lli171, YT?OUICI be to go to the Otrrial placc, ant1 if mould- wing corllse or even a pilc of bones were there, he nrould hai~ all thc cvidcnce 11tccl.et1 to dismiss at once as ~vitho~it any foundation \i.-l~;~tc\~cl: thc report that Jcsus had risen. Caiaplins r~s it good Sad- ducee \t.oulcl unclo~~btedly ha~c donc exactly the same himsdlf. 'I'he argunient so far hiis bccn pretty evident and straight- for~vartl. Complications, hon.e\.er, arise when wct t~irn to the whole of thc Gospel tradition ant1 thc considerable body of tnaterial that is set forth there as having historical character. Does the argunlent still hold true: that the doubts as to the historical character of this ~naterial affect faith, call faith into clucstion, antl may even destroy it? If ;i hypotl~ctical eliinination of 'the resurrection as an histori- cal fact can destroy faith, \\.hat of a hypothetical elimination of facts of Jcs~~s' lifc leading up to tllc resurrcction antl affecting it. Does no dan1i9gc to faith result froni scepticisill concernii~g thc witness to Jesus' lifc as a n.holc and in its various reported aspccts, as long as the ~vitncss collcerning the end, His death and resurrcction, is I~istorically sorrl~d? Undo~~btedl~~ some facts reported about Jesus are illore iml>ortant than others in any survey of Ilis life. The e-cran- gclists themselves selected what the!' thouqht im13ortant from the mass of reports a17ailable for inclusion in their Gospels. On the other hand thc ~vitncss concerning the rest of Jesus' life is founcl in the same writings as the witness concerning the cleat11 ancl the resurrec- tion. So ~vhy accept one portion of the lnaterial while discarding the rest? h4ust not the same principle be invoked throughout: an at- tack 011 the historical reliability of the material affects the faith? Some people would probably argue at this point that the apostlc Paul actually does what is suggested in the lost paragraph, that he concentrates his interest on the death and resurrection of Jesus, while remainin4 profoundly indifferent to the rest, and that he actualIy elevates thls procedure into a principle. He is supposed, Histol-11 /2 l'l-oof TJor 'l'hc CI7~istiun Faith ? according to 2 Cor. 5 : 16, to have 110 interest in Christ accorcling to the flesh. Homc.cier, we may dismiss this point of view with the observations, that it is not very lilared rv-ith others within thc same writings.) The cluestion that 11:is bccn aslced is a ccry difficult one to answer, incleed. There is the danger on the one hand of an cscess.i\le sccpti- cisnl, :I danger already touched on. 011 the otllcl- hand, [vhere is one to stop, once one llns set out on the ~:oad of historical sceptic*ism? \&'hv this incident ~1nc1 not t't~;~t? f 11ai.e no answer 3t this point be- yonJ the crencral colnnlent that-, if \?LC lniist CIY, it is better to err >. by an uncritical acccptclnct. of everything than by a critical rejection of! crerything. 'This ~.i:hole ~~roblc'l~l impinges here, obviously, on the mat- te~: of inspiration of tllc Bible and its authority and inerrancy. This is a question for itself and is not within the scope of this article, except in onc particular. Some theologians try n despcr;~te inanoeuvre to avoid the difficulty n-c have encountered. They try to occupy t~vo l~ositions at once: acceptance of all the results of historical criticism inclucling nl~~oh of its radical scepticism, and of the impl.ications of thc inspiration doctrine. "T'his is to acccpt t\.i-o contradictory posi- tions nt one and the sallie timc, one tvith one compartment of the ~nincl, the second with another. As Bcrnliamm puts it: But ~vhen anyone, out of a concern for the understancling of history, has embarked upon these questions, he ~vill hardly kcel, a good conscience, if thereafter he is driven in despera- tion to take refuge froin the problem of illvestigation and its frequently contro~~ersial results in what is considered the safe fold of Church tradition.' 'To hold to the view of form-criticism which makes no st of the Gospel tradition church creation and then to say: "Hon7ever, this Gospel tradition is still God's ~irord and true beca~~sc of its inspiration, and me can rely upon it," is to take a position which is mentally and orally stultifying. One and the same worcl or incident cannot be a creation of the church-the form-critical result-and an au- thcntic tradition going back to Jesus-what the Gospel material in the obvious meaning of its words declares-both at the same time. Nor can both views of the word or incident be true at the same timc. And if the form-critical conclusion is accepted as valid, no truth, in any non-prevaricating use of that term, can be seen in the opposing view. The conscientious line to talte in such a conflict is tj~at of Ethelbert Stauffer and Joachim Jeremias, to work back through the tradition so coloured by concerns and confession of the early church to the original and authentic words and works of Jesus. The position is actually even worse than this, if such n thing is possible. The: l~osition described is to mal>ptic cspcctation. On 111e other hand Jesus is the final revelation of God to the CS~(:II~ that His i~linistrv ancl His history have eschatological c-11 o n~cter. His mjllistry' 11i1d eschatolog$c;il cllal-:icter because I-Ir :lnno~~nccd the coll~ing of Gotl's rc>lgn as the beginning of tl~c: Fnd, ant1 thcrcforc FIe understood 111c'n's attitilde to\v:u(l llis niessage to be a prcdeciding of the final ju(lgrne~~t." 'I'hc. I)istot-ical event of the resurrection is absolutely ~~ecessary for this vicn: of the revelation of God in history and especially in the history of Jcsus. LVitliout His resurrection the only historical judg- ment concerning Jesus that coulti be nlade js that He was a tlrealncr and \iisionnry. Not only that: the resurrection of Jesus itself is an nntici1)ation of the End 2nd of the iniminent rule of God. \\lithout thc resurrection of Jesus His inessage \-lloulcl hale tun~ccl out to be a fanatical audacity, But in a certain sense . . . the resrirrectioli did justify Jesus' expectation of the near End. It was in Him that it was fulfilled. ildn~ittedly, this happened otherwise than Jesus and His disciples probably had illiagincct the a~liloullced future . . . Nevertheless, in view of the resur- rection of Jesus and the eschatological quality of that event, \rc cannot be satisfied with the simple judgnlcnt that Jesus' esivc:;ttion of the umi- Entl 1-eillaiiit.tl unfulfilled. The csclla- tologicrll resurrection of the clcad becanle an event in Tcjlls' cnsc, and thus thc Gorl ~vhose ncarlless Jesus hati pro- clail,-ic:tl ticc.la~.cd itself' for Him.!' 11. is to LC: cspressly noted that T.)anncnberg will ha\.e nothing of a [\istinction brtn-een a sacrctl history !HeiZsgeschicrhtc) as apart prof;ric history. He rv:~nts nothing of "some sheltered area wllcrc fjle (;hristian faith \vould Ilc in~mune from historical criti- cis~~l."'O Further, it is Ileld also bv him and just as st-rongly that tj[le mcaning of I~istory (and the revelation of God in it) is contained \vitllin Ilistory an1c-i is not imported illto it from the outside, say, from all olltside il?terpretation or Tl'orci of God. Thus he rejects tlli> distil>ctiol: 1~;flicJa Richarc1 Rothc nlade "het~vecn the jpznl~i- f o i the external facts of ]listor); :ind the illspi~.citio~~ of tllCs I',iblic;lJ II itness, \\rho teach us thc meaning of the facts and ll,Ilosc tc.;lclji,rfi is ahsol~it~lp necessi~s); if we are to recogilizc the facts as lll;iliifcstatian of God.!"' IS~~il('ling on 13. 6, Colling\vood, ?'he lilcll ut [-{i.sio~?,, 'I)~IIL~C'II~)CI:~ 110lils t(l thc unity of facts ;111d their 111eanillg. ..One may ,lot arbitrarily attach whatever illcaning one -rill to a sir c11 fil~t."'" Now let .us ;lssume that the historical cluestion concerning the res~lrrectioll of Jesus has bcen clecidecl positively, then the nlenning of this event as God's final revelation is not some- thing iliiii lnust bc ;~cldcd to it; rather, this is the original 111e;1nillg inherent in that event nlithin its own contest of- his- tor!. ;~iicl trntl ition. ':' It \\;ill 11t: ~eii(lily seen that this \.ie\.i: of the re\ielation of God in history in\.ol\.c.s immediately the l~~cjaning of faith and the rela- tion of fnitli ;11i(1 1;noivledge. And Pannenbcrg's view here is neccs- sary to 1.o~rncl out this short sketch of his theology niitllin the con- text of our prob1c.m. It is in brief that faitlt is dependent ul~on .tr.ell- basecl l c~ccisions ant1 ultin~atc conln~itnic.nts cannot be tlctel-~niilcd on thc Ixlsis of objective data, and they . . . a.i~oid such statcmen ts as P:~nncnbcrg's that "tl~c.: Jews knew their God, and yet they did not: lmow Hi111 i11.iglit; otherivisc they ~vo~~ld not halie rejectcd Jesus."" Another criticism conics fro111 \Villiam Han~ilton, an attack on the ~nethodology itself of I'annenbcrg : Goc-I, in son~c sense, IS 1listol:y; or at least 1le is by definitiou in history, and Iiistorical method can find Him therc. This rnethod can ncvcr conclude that God is not there; a ~ilethod that conclutiecl thit t nfould be tlismissed as inadequate. " Nolr;, it is true that Pannenberg himself rejects this criticisnl of Hamiltoll in ;I concluding "Response to the Disc~~ssion."'~ But Ile does this, so it sci:111s to II~C, at the price of his whole position. He is ;111s\\.cring the (lllestioll whether historical ltnowledge at best attains probability, so that one has to find solllc other basis for the certainty of faith. In his answer Pannenberg distinguishes between histo~icnl ccrtninty and the certai~zty of faith and between "the eschatological meaning of the history of Jesus" and "historical knowl- edge of the history of Jesus." The certainty of faith and the coin- 117eteness of trust is based 011 the former; our ltnowledge of the lat- ter is only probable. He then declares: In 1-11.incjpl~ ti~c l'osil~ii it: cannot bc excludecl that the 1listol:ical probal>ilit);. of those traits of the history of Jesus in whicl~ its esci~ntologic.;ll nlcan ing is grouiiciecll will sornc (la!., fro113 so~ne points of l7ic\.i., I~ecomc doubtful; to tlie c1cgl:cc that a concep- tion of' tl~c llisl-orical fol-HI of Jesus conlcl or ~\.ou.ld 11a1:c to seclll prol~al>le, ~i-hich \voulti makc the cal-ly Christian faith seem .(,\-ithotlt SLT pport, \vitl~o~~ t b;lsis in the historical form of Jcs~ls. ! see no occ;~sion for al?lx-chcnsiol~ that sucl~ a posi- tion of !-cscarcll sho~lIcl cmcrgc. in t11c forc.sce;~ble futurc. But: in l~~.ill('ipl~ it cnni?ot hc excluclecl. 111 sucll a ci~sc. the fountla- tion for t-l~e certainty of faith, trust in the cschntological power and nieanjr1g of tl~c 11istol.y of Icsus, 1\-oulc1 bc rcmo~~ccl.~~ To lca\rc Panncnberg and to come to the fu~~damcntal Chris- tian facts, the clcittlr of Jesus and His resurrection--it sccms to nle to be aliilost self-evidcnt that conlmon incthods of historical iii\t:sti- gation canl~ot colni: to tl~c coricl~~sjon that "Gotf \\:as in Clilirist ~.c..con- cilillg thc ~vorl<'f unto Flilnself, not imputing their trcspassvs unto them." (:an thc f;?cf-s of the resurrection (granted that the): arc facts, the appei'rmces mci thc empty tomb, force tlic conclusion that thc uevv worlcl of God has been inauguratccl in thc rvsurrection of Jesus? Hardly. Historical facts cortld cicn~onst~ritc, if the c\idcnce were con\!inci~~g, enough, that St;-;)nil-So, I .nz:irus for instance, hati 1)ccn res~iscit;~tct-I, restowd to tki~ lift:. Ii' [his IC.C'~C p~:o\.c(t, jt 11.0~ild 1~ c? fact fol: 1)iologist.s to talic note oi' an- dcmon- strable. 'She esistci~cc of the Christian ch~lscli do~i;i~ the ages to our tiinc is proof cnough. f~ I)~:.ic!flv, the word of the Gosl~el itself, tl~e \\.itncss of tllc apostles, .ivhich is identical ~vitk the n-itncss of the Holy Spirit, js a po.cccl:ili.rl ~vortl, ptvr4-cl-ful to atousc n~id cxcite faith in those \I-ho he:rr i~. So I\ e ha\-e tlnc asscl-tions of tllc X\;e\'c: Tcstn~llcnt: "Faith comcth by hearing, and heal.ing by the wol-ct oi.! God" (lio111. IO: 17); "Yo one call say 'Jesus is l.ord!' except by tllc x-Ioljr Spi~.it" ( 1 Coy. 12 : 3 17SV); "But vou sli;~'tl r:cccive p6n.el- n:I.)cn the Holy Spirit Elas come upon you; jilt1 J'OL~ ~11~11 bc 11))' witllcsses . . .') (jlcts i : 8 J:SIi); "l3ut \!.hen the Counsclo:: cones, ~,vliom .I shall scntl to pou fro111 the Father, e\-en thc Spirit of tl-uth, .tr:ho proceecls from tJ~e F'ittJlcr, 1.1c will bear wit- ness to lne; and you illso are ~ti.ittlesscs . . .)) (John 15 : 26, 27 HSV); "So we :Ire a~~it)assiido~-s for Chris(-, God nlali(l., 127. 13. [I)J~., 128. 11. Ibicl., pp. 130-131.. 15. "Thc hlcnnjng :)f Fiistor!" in TEIEOL.OC;Y :IS FflSTIOIZY, pp. 152-153. 16. '"l'he Character of I'anncnberg's Theolog!." in THEOLOGY AS 1-11s- ?'OllY, 1'1'. 385-186. 17. THEOLOGY AS I-IISI'OI:Y, pp. 221-276. 18. This quotation ;tnci :he prccr:djng material from Pannenberg, "Response to the l)isc~~ssion," p~. 272-271. 19. Sir Edwyn Hosk!:~is and Xoei Ilave!., THI; RIDDLE OF THE iXI'i\V TES'TRMEhT (1,ontlon : 1;nber paper-coverecl Editions, 1958), 13. 18 1. 20. Hosliyns and I)avey, p. I8 1. 71. l'!~ rest of t1.1~ ~j~10t;lti0iis ;~t this point, inc1udj11g thc cztcndccl citation, all ft-om Hoskyns and Dave!., 1713. 18 1-1 82. 22. Scc, for jnst:~ncc, I!ornkr~mi~l, p. 14 : .-\ltho~rgh their ].ciation to I~istol-y is ;i tliffct-cnt onc from that of John, they none thc lcss unitc to a rcmarltablc degree both rccord of Jesus Christ 2nd ~vitncss to Him, testimony of the church's faith in fliln :tnd narration of His his to^:!.. Both shor~ltl be continually distinguished in the understandjng of - tl~e Gospcls . . . ; on the ot-hcr li;tnct, 1)oth arc so closely intcrn-oven that it is oftcn cxccrtljngl!~ hard to say whcrc o11c ends anc1 thc otllcr 1)egins . . . Wc possess no singlc wort1 of Jcsus and no single story of Tcsus, no mat- tc.1. !io\~ incontcstal>ly gcnlline they ma): be, which clo not contain at thc siilllc tilnc the confession of thc bclic.iring congregation or which arc not i~t ltrast cml~cddecl therein. 'This maltcs thc search after the barc facts of Iiistorjl difficult 2nd to a large cxtcnt futile. -- .- . - -. - . -. - - - - - . - -. - -. - . . - . . - - - - BOOKS I3EClIIIVI:D 'l'irc (;li~.i.~litrt~ El-rcolrrrtcrs Org,(l~iized C~~~ILC. By Richard D Klludteli. Coiicordia l'ttblish- ills Ilolisc, St. Louis, 1372. 9.5 pngcs. l'apcr. $1.75. .\l~lo\ I'J.oIJ~J~'~ of Socinl Justice. By Pngc 11. I