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Theological Publications







Taking up Schleiermacher’s Challenge to the Canon


In many ways it seems justified to think of Friedrich Schleiermacher as a second Martin Luther, personifying a watershed in the history of Christian faith. James Barr suggests that canon formation is uniquely part and parcel of the foundational stage of a religion,1 but Luther and Schleiermacher were “second founder” figures, refashioning Christianity in comprehensive ways. Thus it seems not only appropriate but even inevitable that both should have raised anew the problem of the canon of scripture, as did another “second founder,” Marcion of Sinope. But usually such a revolutionary, no matter how many disciples he may attract, manages to get much farther out ahead of them than they will ever be willing to follow him. We may think of the Redeemer, who set his face resolutely for Jerusalem, carrying his anxious disciples in tow, knowing that when push came to shove, he would find himself alone. Even so, Luther had few takers when he suggested that the New Testament canon ought to be thinned down, relegating James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation to the status of appendices, if not to the River Elbe. Luther did manage to work his will when it came to the Old Testament Apocrypha, though even it managed to hang on in printings of the King James Version till 1823. Schleiermacher, too, questioned the boundaries of the canon, only it was the entirety of the Old Testament that he wanted displaced and demoted to an appendix. Schleiermacher, pursuing consistently Martin Luther’s program of the grammatico-historical interpretation of Scripture, recognized the futility of any appeal to Messianic proof texts in the Hebrew Scriptures, a phantom with which Luther himself was still haunted. Thus Schleiermacher, unlike Luther, could afford to envision the Marcionite trimming of the canon. But Schleiermacher’s canon proposals, like Luther’s, largely fell on deaf ears, even among theological liberals, Harnack being one of the only ones to agree that the Old Testament was not properly part of the Christian Bible.2 But if his heirs did not go quite as far as their master, the master himself went farther still, declaring that the process of canon criticism, of sorting out the apocryphal tares from among the (properly) canonical wheat, ought to continue both between the covers of the canon and long after the supposed completion of the canon. Of subsequent theologians, who but Willi Marxsen even seconded the motion?3 In the present paper, I will attempt to extrapolate how we as “Schleiermacher’s modern sons” (and daughters) in Kenneth Hamilton’s phrase,4 might follow the trajectory set by the father of liberal theology, reopening and pursuing the question of canon criticism and (re)formation today, especially in view of scholarly developments since Schleiermacher’s day.


Positive versus Natural Religion

Schleiermacher sought to protect liberal Christianity from evaporating into abstract Deism a la Kant in at least two ways. First, he insisted that there is a uniquely religious experience, that of God-consciousness, a sense and taste for the Infinite, the feeling of absolute dependence, and that moralism alone cannot capture or produce this. Second, he warned that, as soon as one seeks to take refuge from the parochialisms and corruptions of specific, historic religions by retreating into the abstraction of “natural religion” or religion in general, one will find oneself retreating into thin air. One must stand on a specific piece of ground, not just somewhere in general. As the incarnation of the Redeemer entails a “scandal of particularity,” so does anyone’s and everyone’s life of faith. I believe Schleiermacher recalls the ghost of this issue when he redefines the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. For him inspiration implies no special mode of production of texts, no magical immunity to errors either mundane or spiritual, and no permission to interpret bad passages as good ones for apologetics’ sake. Inspiration is instead tantamount to that extent to which any canonical writing is informed by and expressive of the contagious God-consciousness stemming from the Redeemer. Insofar as it flows through the pages of a writing that writing is inspired. We think at once of Luther’s dictum that the genuinely canonical is that which “bears Christ” to the reader.  We think even of that rare piece of subjectivity in Barthian theology, that Scripture can and may “become the Word of God” to the reader insofar as it awakens him to the grace of Jesus Christ. Some conservative Protestant theologians (G.C. Berkouwer, George Eldon Ladd, Jack Rogers)5 have sought to incorporate such an understanding of what makes the Bible special into a traditional doctrine of plenary inspiration, but Schleiermacher understood that such attempted mixtures of oil and water can never succeed. “Such authority we do not ascribe uniformly to every part of our Holy Scriptures, but only in proportion as the writers attained to the condition just described, so that casual expressions and what are merely side-thoughts do not possess the same degree of normativeness as belongs to whatever may at each point be the main subject.”6 If, as the conservatives, one seeks for an intrinsic warrant for scriptural authority (the Bible partakes in Heilsgeschichte) instead of an extrinsic one (God dictated the Bible),7  one is still hoping to retain a complete and completely authoritative canon. By elevating  above the text a standard to which some texts attain and others do not, Schleiermacher has robbed all New Testament texts of an automatic tenure in the canon.

But then we may ask, why have a canon of scripture at all? Why a list of actual books, and not just a message of salvation, something to function as the rule of faith, a proto-creed, did for second-century apologists? If, with Ernst Käsemann, we distill a canon within the canon,8 why insist on penning it within the canon, like a genie inside a lamp? It is just here that the danger, if it is a danger, of a docetic theology, one not incarnated in written texts arises. It is the prospect of what we might call “natural scripture” instead of “positive scripture.” We would be like Paul’s righteous Gentiles who lack the Torah but manage to follow a law written upon our hearts. Rationalists embraced precisely this understanding. For Rationalist and Deistical theologians, the only scripture was nature, and one needed only the spectacles of reason in order to read its pages. And this Schleiermacher did not want. Why not? And what was his alternative?

We find the answer when we recall how Schleiermacher made the God-consciousness of the Redeemer the touchstone for inspiration or canonicity. And such a picture of Jesus as the God-conscious man is painted from the pallet of historical reports about him. As Ritschl would subsequently argue against the subjectivity of Pietism, a “Jesus” fabricated of the cloudy devotional projections of pietists, the imaginary playmate who acts as the mouthpiece for one’s own neuroses and opinions, quickly becomes “another Jesus” when we grant him precedence over the historical Jesus to whom the gospels attest. “But every form of influence exerted by Christ must find its criterion in the historical figure presented by his life…Unless the conception of his present lordship receives its content from the definite characteristics of His historical activity, then it is either a meaningless formula or the occasion for all kinds of extravagance.”9 The living picture of Jesus Christ which regenerates and refreshes the soul is that in the gospels, held clearly and firmly before the mind’s eye, not some figment of faith who “walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own” or who tells one to appeal to one’s television audience to send in money to pay for one’s superfluous hospital.10

So Schleiermacher needs historical sources for a historical Jesus who may provide the template and the conduit (as he is preached) for the contagion of God-consciousness. But these he claims to derive from the very texts (some of them) under consideration as to whether they shall prove themselves worthy of canonical status or not. Depending upon what one judges consistent with authentic Christ-consciousness in the gospel glimpses of Jesus, the contours of that consciousness itself may differ. Shall we, for example, conclude that Jesus, given his belief in God’s fatherly compassion, would never condemn any to Hell (Matthew 23:33)? And on what basis should we excise such texts as reeking of residual Jewishness? (“Jewish and pagan views and maxims were still uneradicated, and their antagonism to the Christian spirit could only be recognized gradually.”)11 Or shall we decide (as most orthodox traditionalists have) that God’s love, as Jesus sees it, is not incompatible with so stern a justice? Such a decision is not a light one but rather governs the whole of one’s whole approach to religion, to people of one’s own religion, of other faiths, and of none, as well as to the concept of God and our own relation to him: is God intolerant? A torturer? If so, may we emulate him?

It is a delicate and imposing task, but not an unusual one for the historian, for what we have here is but a cameo of the challenge of hermeneutics generally.12  Schleiermacher recognizes the play of the hermeneutical circle in the interpretation of every recorded utterance of any figure of the past. We must approach a text which is to some degree alien to us, equipped with what Bultmann13 calls a preunderstanding of its substance, and equally with the open willingness to have it correct our preunderstanding. We and the text circle one another like combatants, each seeking an opening. The part is a tool for understanding the whole, but we have a preliminary grasp of the whole, and we must allow it to make us take a second look at the piece of the puzzle upon which we are concentrating at the moment. And each piece, each shard of the shattered past we examine, may revolutionize our understanding of the whole and cause us to reject our initial paradigm.


The Canon within the Gospels

And the goal of all such activity is to divine the mind, to tap into the thought, the consciousness, of the ancient speaker or writer.14 Hence the aptness of the whole approach for the study of the gospels. What other avenue can there be into the consciousness, especially the God-consciousness, of the Redeemer? It is not hard to recognize here the germ of the program of the New Quest for the historical Jesus in the 1960s, where the Jesus tradition was scrutinized for evidence that Jesus himself had experienced that radical openness to God as the owner of his future that Bultmann had said Jesus inculcated among his hearers.15 The New Questers had taken up Schleiermacher’s challenge, at least in some measure. Today their work has been self-consciously revived by the Jesus Seminar with their aggressive sifting of every bit of the Jesus tradition. And yet the work of the Jesus Seminar has resulted in findings16 (common, really, to most contemporary gospel criticism) that Schleiermacher would have found astonishing. The Jesus Seminar ends up with only about 18 per cent either of the sayings or of the reported acts of the gospel Jesus as likely being historically authentic. Schleiermacher had no idea that such ruthless and radical surgery on the gospel tradition would ever be necessary. Of course he believed that John’s gospel was the faithful transcript of an apostolic eyewitness, and that Luke’s, though written at second hand, was scarcely inferior.17 Matthew and Mark he deemed less sound, though still largely reliable in general terms (just the opposite of Albert Schweitzer,18 who took Matthew and Mark to be most reliable though he did not hesitate to mine gems from Luke as well). He laid great store by the historical accuracy of the gospel material. “But the reproduction of memories, be it oral or written, can never quite be separated from historical composition, as may be seen from the narration even of one isolated fact; and the effort to exhibit the Redeemer in His habit as He lived is also the work of the Spirit of truth, and only so far as it is so can such narrative have a place in Holy Scripture. If, on the other hand, we consider that what happened first was the communication of such isolated narratives, their collection in wholes like our Gospels following later, we must concede both possibilities – that the narrator presents only what he himself had experienced in this or that connexion, and that with his personal experiences he mingles what he has heard credibly from others; nay more, that one who himself had no experience in the matter might yet, moved by the same impulse and the same Spirit, put together material which he had derived from the pure and original knowledge of others as fruitfully as an original witness could have done. If what was principally needed was the right selection and arrangement of historical facts already to hand, the influence of the Holy Spirit in and throughout such work is entirely analogous to His influence in the selection of individual books for the Canon.”19

The analogy between the compilation of the gospels and that of the canon is important for more reasons than Schleiermacher envisioned. It implies that the same sort of ongoing, searching scrutiny he advocated in the case of the canon must be applied to the gospel tradition itself, in minute and exacting detail. Obviously, Schleiermacher himself felt entitled to choose among and to rank the canonical gospels, but he seems not to have foreseen the magnitude of the process in their case. The work of the Jesus Seminar is precisely that of reexamining each and every gospel pericope as if it were a book seeking admission to the New Testament. But what of the criteria employed to this end by the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar, as by critical scholars generally? Not that the validity of them hangs upon the degree to which Schleiermacher had anticipated them, but it is striking the degree to which he had anticipated many of the techniques used after his time. For one thing, in the extended quote reproduced just above, it is plain that Schleiermacher was already making allowance for the fragmentary character, as well as the multiple and unknown origins, of many of the gospel pericopes.

Gospel critics have long relied upon the criterion of multiple attestation as making it more likely that this or that pericope should be authentic.20 If, on the other hand, a saying appears in only one source, and especially if it partakes of a style or idiom unparalleled in other sources, it is likely to be the idiosyncratic coinage of some prophet, redactor, or trident, not a real saying of the historical Jesus. The historian feels on firmer ground assigning the saying to Jesus if it occurs, or is closely paralleled, in other sources. Schleiermacher had already observed the importance of parallelism and redundancy along these very lines: “Scripture does contain much that is little more than repetition, indeed, frequent repetition, of what is said elsewhere… [but] repetitions in the historical books are all the better guarantee of the authenticity of tradition, while quite possibly they may supplement each other.”21

Schleiermacher anticipates the criterion of dissimilarity, too.22 This principle is based on the assumption that, if we are to isolate the uniqueness of Jesus and his teaching (which is certainly what Schleiermacher wants to do!), we must trim away all the material attributed to Jesus which could plausibly have been added to the gospel tradition from Judaism, as Christians with one foot in each faith, the old and the new, perhaps unwittingly mingled them, thinking to draw the new back into more convenient conformity with the old. Such a phenomenon is just what one might expect to have occurred simply by the analogy already drawn with the radical advances of Martin Luther and Schleiermacher himself, compared with the faint-heartedness of their contemporaries and heirs, reluctant to follow them into blue sky, eager instead to accommodate new wine to old wineskins. While Jesus must have had at least something in common with his Jewish contemporaries, and thus may have said many things familiar and amenable to Jewish hearers, else he could hardly have communicated with them at all, gospel critics feel sure little of importance will be lost even if we wind up trimming such sayings that are actually authentic, since the goal is to discover just where Jesus was distinctive, not where he reiterated common opinions. “If we consider the Church during the Apostolic Age as a unity, its thinking as a whole cannot supply a norm for that of later ages. For owing to its naturally most unequal distribution of the divine Spirit, as well as to the further fact that not everyone was equally productive in religious ideas even in the measure of his participation in the common spirit, it was very easily possible (since Jewish and pagan views and maxims were still uneradicated and their antagonism to the Christian spirit could only be recognized gradually) that expositions of religion might be produced which, strictly speaking, were rather Judaism or paganism coloured by Christianity rather than Christianity itself, i.e., were, if considered Christian, in the highest degree impure. Contemporary with all this very imperfect material, however, were the presentations given in preaching by the immediate disciples of Christ. In their case, the danger of an unconsciously debasing influence from their previous Jewish forms of thought and life on the presentation of Christianity by word and deed was averted, in proportion as they had stood near to Christ, by the purifying influence of their living memory of Christ as a whole… This holds good, in the first place, of their narratives of Christ’s words and deeds, which fixed the standard that was to have the widest purifying influence.”23

These words will offend the ecumenical sensitivities of the present day, when we rightly esteem Judaism the equal of Christianity, but one may easily bracket the sense of superiority which Schleiermacher, as a son of his time, could not easily have transcended. It is true that even the post-World War Two historical Jesus critics shared Schleiermacher’s patronizing view of Judaism, but the criterion of dissimilarity does not depend upon it. All we need do is to ask after the distinctive voice of Jesus, for no one will deny that Jesus set in motion forces that eventually led to the emergence of Christianity as a separate faith, whether or not a better one. And yet, even here we may run contrary to the currents of today’s “ecumenical correctness,” since there is a great desire on the part of Jews and Christians to construct a “historical Jesus” who will be a good Jew. Jesus thus becomes a Christ of ecumenical faith. The criterion of dissimilarity thus seeks to disclose something inconvenient to twenty-first century ecumenical theology, since the latter prizes, or imagines, a Jesus who is anything but unique and stands comfortably among the sages of Israel. One wonders if this endeavor disregards the warning of Paul Tillich that inter-religious dialogue will get nowhere if each party to the dialogue does not actually espouse its own historic faith.24 Subtle syncretism is a cheap pseudo-solution, to be swiftly repudiated by the very faith communities the compromising parties pretend to represent. Only Nixon could go to China. Only Begin could make peace with Sadat. Thus in our day New Testament criticism may not abandon the criterion of dissimilarity, and it will only carry Schleiermacher’s agenda further in the direction of separating the apocryphal “afterbirth” of the new faith from its newborn distinctiveness in the words attributed to its creator. We will recognize the words on Matthew 5:17-19 as a product of the Galatian-style Judaizing for which Paul rebukes Cephas and for which Marcion condemned the nascent Catholicism of his day.

Though scarcely new to us, redaction criticism has disclosed things about the gospels that would have surprised Schleiermacher very much. But I think he would have found the arguments of Conzelmann, Marxsen, Bornkamm,25 and the others convincing. And I think we know how he would have, or at least could have, accommodated these new factors in his familiar paradigm. He would have grasped what we do, that redaction criticism reveals how little the evangelists were even trying simply to pass along accurate memories of Jesus, how much instead they were trying to adapt the gospel tradition to new circumstances and to reinterpret it as they thought best. This means that what is not genuine reminiscence is neither “apocryphal” error nor corruption, no mere heresy. It may yet be “canonical” insofar as the theology of the redactors is seen as consistent with the God-consciousness of the Redeemer to whom they witness in their various ways: “all His actions were presentations of Himself, and as such were fruitful for his Proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Yet these incidents could be interpreted in very different ways.”26 Schleiermacher goes on to explain that he refers to the correct interpretations of the immediate disciples versus the invidious distortions of the hostile and the obtuse, but he does admit of degrees of propriety in the interpretation of Jesus when he subordinates Matthew and Mark to Luke and John. No doubt he would consistently rank their redactional theologies as closer or more distant to true inspiration, just as he ranked the various world religions as to how well they did their common job: inculcating pure God-consciousness. There would be degrees, including acceptable degrees, of canonical as well as apocryphal (recalling Barth’s bottom-line assessment of Schleiermacher: even he was a Christian theologian!).27

All Schleiermacher need do is to redraw the lines between what he called the “historical” and the “doctrinal” books of the New Testament. He already recognized the difference as secondary anyway: “nor can we in this respect make any distinction between the apostolic teachings and the evangelical narratives.”28 Redaction criticism performed precisely this Derridean upending of hierarchies and interpenetration of categories by revealing that what had seemed to be straight reporting of evangelical events was very often narratized “apostolic,” “doctrinal” teaching. Schleiermacher saw it as a matter of the apostles teaching doctrines derived from memories of Jesus, whereas we would see the relationship of derivation being more the reverse.

The Jesus Seminar, under the guidance of Robert W. Funk, John Dominic Crossan, Bernard Brandon Scott,29 and others, has sought, in the tradition of Schleiermacher, to locate the center of gravity in the gospel sayings, the place where the self-consciousness and the God-consciousness of Jesus was most clearly conveyed, and this they found in the parables. The criterion thus produced was brought to bear (among many other factors) to help determine which other sayings ascribed to Jesus might be historically authentic. Anything that smacked of traditional apocalyptic was immediately suspect, since the Jesus of the Seminar did not defer the Parousia of God till an imaginary cosmic denouement; rather, he preached the unsuspected presence of God among the poor, the outcast, the profane of this world. He sought, much like a Zen master,30  to shove the consciousnesses of his hearers into a new manner of perception so that they would come to see this world differently, as already bearing the oceanic grace of the Reign of God. Bultmann’s efforts had been much in the same direction, in that he, too, sought to establish a preunderstanding of Jesus’ stance of being in the world, modeled after Heideggerian categories, and then to bring it to bear on various gospel texts Any that did not partake of the sense of urgency, of novelty, and of radical obedience to the God in whose hands one’s future lies, would not make the grade.31 In Schleiermacher’s terms, such sayings would be apocryphal. While neither Bultmann’s sketch of Jesus’ stance nor that of the Jesus Seminar matches precisely that of Schleiermacher, it is nonetheless evident that both are adopting Schleiermacher’s method of reading Jesus’ unique consciousness from his authentic utterances, then measuring the authenticity of these and other utterances ascribed to him by measuring them against this “canon within the canon.” Again, it is the hermeneutical circle.  

So, although Schleiermacher bequeathed us sturdy and flexible theological categories for such a minute and extensive sifting between canonical and apocryphal within the gospels as has since become commonplace, he may not have seriously envisioned the repercussions, at least in detail. But he saw where the winds were blowing: “The same influence reveals itself even yet in the Church’s careful estimate of the different grades of normative authority to be conceded to particular portions of Scripture, as also in decisions regarding all sorts of lacunae and interpolations; so that the judgment of the Church is only approximating ever more closely to a complete expulsion of the apocryphal and the pure preservation of the canonical.”32 The Jesus Seminar undertook exactly the sort of sifting Schleiermacher enjoined, seeking to weed out genuine (and therefore normative) memories of Jesus from subsequent accretions recognizable as such not only by occasional anachronisms but paramountly by their inconsistency with the fundamental picture of Jesus and his unique consciousness and view of the world evident in the core sayings. The assembled scholars voted, rating every saying and story in the gospels as almost certainly authentic (red), very likely authentic (pink), most likely inauthentic (gray), and certainly inauthentic (black). In this they simply adapted the procedure of the text critics whose deliberations produced the United Bible Societies critical Greek New Testament. These “lower critics” employed the same four categories to rate various readings, passages contained in some but not all manuscripts, by letters: A for strongly attested, B for well-attested, C for rather weakly attested, and D for poorly attested. Both groups of scholars were carrying forward Schleiermacher’s project of separating the apocryphal from the canonical within the canon. Both produced printed texts that used sigils (colors or letters) to establish a hierarchy of what Schleiermacher would have called apocryphal and canonical.


Epistles and Apostles

Schleiermacher speaks as if the epistles owe their place in the canon to their privileged position as conduits for the teaching of the eyewitnesses of Jesus, those uniquely suited to convey his God-consciousness at second hand: shake the hand that shook the hand. “[J]ust as their faith sprang from Christ’s preaching of Himself [and here Schleiermacher must be thinking of the Gospel of John, which he took to be eyewitness reporting], so in the case of others faith sprang from the preaching of Christ by the Apostles and many more. The New Testament writings are such a preaching come down to us, hence faith springs from them, too.”33 And yet he knew it was not so simple, if only for the reason that the major New Testament epistolarian, Paul, was not an apostle of the same kind as the twelve. “Paul does not belong to this circle [of the eyewitnesses], and if the Church has never regarded him as the inferior of the other Apostles in respect of inspiration, it thereby ascribes to him the same prerogatives as to them, although in a sense he had required them in a different way.”34 What way was that? Schleiermacher cannot consistently have imagined that any blinding vision, as that composed by Luke (based no doubt on the unwilling conversions of Pentheus in Euripides’ Bacchae and of Heliodorus in 2 Maccabees 3), could have communicated to Paul/Saul Jesus’ God-consciousness by personal acquaintance, as months or years with the twelve had done. Perhaps he took Ananias to be the conduit who, by sharing stories of the historical Jesus, had kindled Christ-consciousness in the newly converted Saul. Or perhaps Schleiermacher intended nothing in particular. But at any rate, he has opened up an important possibility for considering non-apostolic works to be inspired, or genuinely Christ-bearing, hence properly canonical.

Schleiermacher was the first to explode the Pauline authorship of 1 Timothy, regarding it a half-successful pastiche of the genuine (as he thought) Pauline letters to Timothy (2 Timothy) and Titus.35 He must already have reckoned with the improbability of the traditional ascriptions of the Catholic Epistles to James the Just, Simon Peter, and Jude, the brother of Jesus, not to mention the Revelation of John. Technically, according to the deliberations of the ancient councils, these writings all owed their presence in the canon to their ostensible apostolic authorship. But Schleiermacher did not think canonicity depended upon apostolic authorship so much as the writings’ participation in and ability to catalyze in their readers the Christ-consciousness that did ultimately stem from the apostles’ direct experience of Christ: “it follows that the authoritative character of Scripture does not in the least depend on each book having been written by the particular person to whom it is ascribed. A book might, owing to a later judgment, be wrongly attributed to a certain author in all the surviving MSS., and in this sense be inauthentic, and yet it might belong to the circle where alone we can expect to find canonical writings and hence would none the less remain an integral part of Holy Scripture… Hence even if many of the doubts that have been raised as to the correct statement of authors’ names should be confirmed, we should have no right, much less would it be our duty, to expel those books from the canon.”36 What circle does Schleiermacher have in mind? He might possibly mean associates of the apostles, though this seems unlikely, given his dim view of Irenaeus’ canon apologetics: “The accounts given by Irenaeus, H.E. ii. 15, iii. 24, 39, v. 8, and elsewhere, are bound, as time goes on, to be less and less regarded as based on trustworthy information.”37 And of course, Irenaeus was trying to vindicate the ascription of the four gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, with Mark as Peter’s secretary and Luke as Paul’s. It seems odd Schleiermacher would repair to the same far-fetched expedient of building a tenuous rope-bridge from the unavailable apostles to the unknown evangelists. It seems more likely he means that even pseudepigrapha that have Christ-consciousness to pass on to us must ipso facto have received it, by hook or by crook, from some predecessor who must have been in a position to have it, since he did in fact have it. The thought would be much like that of Paul Tillich, who argued that there must have been a historical anchor for the New Being, since the fact is that it has escaped into the Church and must have come from somewhere, even if we cannot, theoretically, guarantee the name Jesus to its first historical bearer.38 And, again, here we are getting very close to Martin Luther, who judged a book canonical as long as it preached the gospel whether it be written by Paul or Peter, or by Annas, Herod and Judas!39

In terms of the early church’s criteria for canonicity, Schleiermacher would have combined apostolicity with orthodoxy. A book need be “apostolic” only in the sense that it contained proper “apostolic” doctrine. But of course it was already implicitly so in the earliest deliberations themselves, since claims to apostolic authorship were decided on the basis of the content of the book anyway. Why was Hebrews judged Pauline? Because many liked what it had to say, despite its anonymity.40 Why was the anonymous Matthew taken accepted as apostolic? Same reason. Why was the Gospel of Peter rejected as a heretical forgery? The term was redundant; if judged heretical in content, it must be spurious in authorship. Hence, the Gospels of Thomas and Philip, though a case may be made for a first century date for each,41 were condemned as forgeries. So, implicitly, for Schleiermacher the canon critic, “apostolicity,” “canonicity,” and “inspiration” all mean the same thing: the quality of conveying Christ’s God-consciousness to the reader.

Schleiermacher allows that, if a particular writing were judged by honest criticism to be a forgery, a pious fraud, it would lose its position, like an effective employee who nonetheless turned out to have faked his credentials. “It is only if such a self-description were positively intended to mislead that the book could not be recognized as fitted to supplement the normative presentation of Christianity.”42 Schleiermacher’s words raise, for a moment, the ghost of Reimarus,43 one of the few critics whose hostility enabled them to recognize signs of blatant imposture in the New Testament, such as Mark’s statement that Mary Magdalene and the others had disobeyed the angel, neglecting to convey the news of the empty tomb, a clear indication that the story is self-consciously late and fictive, or the fact that the resurrection appearances are confined to small groups of friendly witnesses behind locked doors. Should we excise such passages as noncanonical?

If imposture counts against a book, we would seem here to have permission and even the obligation to cast out 2 Peter, which certainly appears to want to be read as genuinely Petrine, a sequel to 1 Peter, as well as 2 Thessalonians, which seeks to supplant 1 Thessalonians which it deems a piece of Millerite fanaticism.44 May not Schleiermacher even have in mind 1 Timothy, the lameness of whose attempt to sound Pauline Schleiermacher himself demonstrated? I do not think so. And here we may have the real reason that even faithful disciples of Schleiermacher did not press on to cut items from the canon. Schleiermacher, in the very next breath, makes “fraud” a meaningless term when it comes to the Bible. If the great religious virtue is piety, then a pious fraud can never really be a fraud. “Nay more, at its very first appearance a writing (owing to a fiction permitted by the author’s moral sense and sanctioned by the feeling of his contemporaries) might have born in its title the name of someone other than its real author, and yet a book of this character might be an authentic part of the Bible.”45  He hints here at the liberal apologetic of pseudonymity as a widespread and acknowledged convention among the ancients, as if the spurious epistles attributed to Plato, Socrates, Diogenes, and others were all offered and received with a knowing and appreciative wink, as in our day when Norman Mailer writes The Gospel According to the Son. It seems more likely, in my judgment, that the utility of pseudepigrapha would be reduced to nil if ancient readers were not (intended to be) taken in and deceived. Surely the scribe who penned the Apocalypse of Baruch, or of Elijah, or of Ezra, or of Enoch, sought to exploit the venerable credibility attaching to such an ancient name, or what’s the point?46 And yet all such authors, like Joseph Smith or the Deuteronomic writers, certainly had it in mind to edify readers as well. For instance, in his preface to The Archko Volume, a collection of patently spurious “ancient” documents (including “Jonathan’s Interview with the Bethlehem Shepherds,” the “Report of Caiaphas to the Sanhedrim concerning the Resurrection of Jesus,” and “Herod Antipater’s Defence before the Roman Senate in regard to his Conduct at Bethlehem”), the Rev. W.D. Mahan piously writes, “I offer this book to the public feeling assured it… will convince the infidel of the truth of the Scriptures.”47 Actually, the public had had the chance to read most of it already, since, as Edgar Goodspeed and Per Beskow demonstrated, most of it was lifted verbatim from Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur.48 It is apparent that the Reverend Mahan’s deceit was “a fiction permitted by the author’s moral sense.” And the same must be acknowledged for any religious forger.

So Schleiermacher’s canon criticism furnishes little basis for dropping books from the canon. We might eject the Catholic Epistles and not feel we were missing much, since, despite their excellence in offering practical wisdom or documenting early Christian life and thought, they are a bit “strawy” (as Luther said) when it comes to conveying Christlike God-consciousness. The Book of Revelation, too, might be judged deficient on this score, partaking so much, as it does, of that very apocalyptic extravagance Schleiermacher elsewhere judges negligible and expendable from the standpoint of Christian piety since it does nothing to inculcate Christ-consciousness in the Christian: “Strictly speaking, therefore, from our point of view we can have no doctrine of the consummation of the Church, for our Christian consciousness has absolutely nothing to say regarding a condition so entirely outside our ken.” Again, “these propositions are not doctrines of faith, since their content (as transcending our faculties of apprehension) is not a description of our actual consciousness.”49

Would the Epistle of James make the cut? While it contains little explicitly promoting piety in the theocentric, almost mystical, sense of Schleiermacher, no other New Testament book sounds so much like the wisdom of Jesus as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Q). Bultmann classified the Catholic Epistles, the Pastorals, and the Acts of the Apostles as symptomatic of a general post-apostolic declension, what his student Ernst Käsemann called “nascent Catholicism.”50 For Schleiermacher such a judgment would spell the loss of canonicity. But I am not so sure Schleiermacher would agree, at least not in the case of the Pastorals and Acts. Bultmann and Käsemann were fiercely individualist Protestants, Bultmann an existentialist to boot. So neither had much use for the Church as a self-appointed mediator of salvation, an institutional machine administering the sacraments to dues-paying members. But, if I may be permitted something of a left-field analogy, Schleiermacher’s understanding of the Church was more sympathetic, somewhat resembling that of the charismatic Irvingite Movement, the Catholic Apostolic Church.51 Here the church was a carefully constructed elaborate institution which did, however, convey Christ-consciousness to every one seeking it. For Schleiermacher, the Church as the embodiment of the Christian Community formed the matrix in which the Spirit of Christ could remain alive and available. Thus I think Schleiermacher would have found the increasingly tame and bourgeois piety of Acts and the Pastorals just to his liking. I know I do.


New Arrivals

Almost by accident Schleiermacher raises the hypothetical prospect of new manuscript discoveries. His point is that the mere fact, if we knew it, of genuine apostolic authorship would not necessarily count for canonicity, since even apostles might, on a bad day, have written something uninspired and uninspiring. Discovering Peter’s grocery list or James’ laundry list would not automatically provide new canonical material. “On the contrary, even if new writings should be discovered which were attributable with the highest degree of human certainty to an immediate disciple of Christ or even to an Apostle, we should not without more ado incorporate them in the New Testament, but at most attach them to it as an appendix.”52 But what if new writings were to be discovered which, while of dubious authorship (something Schleiermacher can forgive, all else being equal), did seem to be inspired in the crucial sense of conveying Christ-consciousness to the reader? Might we not add these to the canon itself? Many would nominate the Gospel according to Thomas, discovered in 1945, for inclusion, and we cannot help thinking Schleiermacher would agree. Consider these sayings:  

If those who lead you say to you, “Behold! The Kingdom is in the sky!”, then the birds will arrive ahead of you. If they say to you, “The Kingdom is in the sea!”, then the fish will arrive ahead of you. But the Kingdom is within you, and it is without you. If you will know yourselves, you will know that you are sons of the Living Father. If you will not know yourselves, you remain in poverty, and you are poverty. (3) As per Schleiermacher, consciousness of the overarching presence of God, God’s kingdom, cannot be restricted to any particular place, nor is it far off and hard to find. It is instead all around everyone, and the pious person has eyes to see it. And such constitutes the great fortune of the pious, though the insensitive worldling may deem him a pauper.

I shall give you what eye has not seen and what ear has not heard and what hand has not touched and what has not arisen in the human heart. (17) This saying views the Redeemer in Schleiermacher’s favorite terms as the unique revealer of God-conscious piety, the sense and taste for the Infinite. It is not what the eye sees or the ear hears, for it is nothing objectified. The believer experiences the very consciousness of Jesus, that none other could impart, that “all things have been delivered unto me by my Father,” i.e., a comprehensive and synoptic insight into the totality of all finite things in the universal whole that is God.

His disciples say to him, “Show us the place where you are, for it is needful for us to seek it.” He says to them, “Whoever has ears, let him hear. Within a man of light there is light, and he illuminates the whole world. When he does not shine, darkness prevails.” (24) Where is the living Christ, the light of the world? Now it, he, is within the very hearts, the pious consciousnesses, of the disciples themselves. We must seek Christ within, where the heart sees God in all things without. What is the light with which the pious Christian illumines the world? Simply the recognition of his absolute dependence upon the Whole that embraces him as it does the rest of the world. As the pious sees the kingdom of God, he sees that the knowledge of God washes over the earth as the waters cover the sea.

Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or even one, I am with him. (30) Jesus Christ was so fully conscious of God in all things that this awareness amounted to a virtual existence of God within him. The same has to be true for any and all who have contracted the blessed contagion of the Redeemer’s own God-consciousness in the fellowship of the Christian Community. Thus imbibing the Spirit of the Christian Community, the believer is himself or herself something after the manner of a God, as Jesus says in John 10:34-36.

Blessed are the solitary and the elect, for you shall attain unto the Kingdom. Because you came from it, you shall return there. (49) Here is the cardinal doctrine of Schleiermacher, the absolute receptivity the believer feels upon the divine Source. All things have come from the matrix of the Infinite, but only those who have attuned themselves to it, by the grace of the Redeemer, can return to it, attain unto it by means of blessed awareness of that dependence which all share but few feel. These last are the true elect.

If they say to you, “Whence did you originate?” tell them, “We have come from the Light, where the Light has originated from itself. For he stood and he revealed himself in their image.” Should they say to you, “Who are you?” say, “We are his sons”, and, “We are the elect of the Living Father.” Should they ask you, “What is the token of your Father’s presence in you?” say to them, “It is a movement and a rest.” (50) Who are “they”? We will never know what the evangelist intended, whether the looming archons who seek to bar the ascent of the pneumatikoi to the Pleroma, or the skeptical interrogation of the pious by the obtuse ecclesiarchs of their day. But Schleiermacher might prefer the latter interpretation. In this case, the saying advises the pietist to provide an answer to those who call him to account for one’s quiet fervor, an eye of the soul’s stillness at the center of life’s storm, the anchor afforded by the sense of absolute dependence.

His disciples say to him, “When will the repose of the dead begin? And when will the new world arrive?” He says to them, “What you expect has come, but you do not recognize it.” (51)  But the one who sees the world through the diamond lens of God-consciousness such as the Redeemer bequeathed us sees the outspread kingdom in its radiant glory. It is the resurrection and new life of those formerly dead in the sin of God-forgetfulness. It is a new world in that the old one is seen in a new way. The Zen masters would identify with the saying quite as easily as Schleiermacher.

His disciples say to him, “Twenty-four prophets prophesied in Israel, and every one of them predicted you!” He says to them, “But you have ignored the Living One who stands before you, and you have prated about the dead!” (52) The saying is in perfect, prescient accord with Schleiermacher’s disdain for the antiquated and Judaizing attempts to provide worldly credentials for the Redeemer by way of clairvoyant predictions. “Further, the history of Christian theology shows only too clearly… how gravely this effort to find our Christian faith in the Old Testament has injured our practice of the exegetical art… Thus a thoroughgoing improvement is only to be looked for when we utterly discard Old Testament proofs for specifically Christian doctrines, preferring to put aside what chiefly rests on such support.”53 Indeed, does not Schleiermacher precisely echo the sentiment of Thomas, saying 52 when he says, “it does not in the least follow that for our faith we still need these earlier premonitions, since we have actual experience.”54 “If we were to ask: Does everything that Christ relates to himself as messianic prophecies and regards as passages that represent him as the one foreseen by the prophets mean that he was convinced that the prophets had him in mind as he actually was when he appeared? We should have to answer that we have no right to make such a claim.”55

His disciples say to him, “Is there any value to circumcision, or not?” He says to them, “If there were any point to it, men’s fathers would beget them without the foreskin right from the womb. But the true circumcision, that of the spirit, has replaced it in importance.” (53) “In their case, the danger of an unconsciously debasing influence from their previous Jewish forms of thought and life on the presentation of Christianity by word and act was averted, in proportion as they had stood near to Christ, by the purifying influence of their living memory of Christ as a whole.”56

Look upon the Living One as long as you live, otherwise, you may die and look for him in vain. (59) How may we “look upon the Living One”? Who has explained it better than Schleiermacher, the latter-day prophet of God-consciousness, of beholding God in all things and all things in God? And in this saying, the legacy of such consciousness stems from the same source Schleiermacher named: Christ the Redeemer.

Salome asks, “Who are you, man, and whose son, you who have accepted my shelter and food?” Jesus answers her, “I am he who originated from himself. To me was given a share of my Father’s divinity.” Salome says, “Behold your disciple!” Jesus answers her, “Accordingly, I tell you, if a disciple is at one with his Lord, he will be full of light. But if his heart is divided, he will instead be filled with confusion.” (61b)

The division warned of here would be the merely intermittent contemplation of God, a state that is mostly profane God-forgetfulness, the state of sin from which Jesus came to rescue us. Jesus received a share of the Father’s divinity in the only relevant sense: the virtual incarnation of God in him by virtue of his single-minded God-awareness. Like Salome, every Christian may follow him on this path into the adytum of divine fellowship with his or her Lord. The light that Christ has kindled will blaze forth from us as well, and thus will the fire that Christ has tended (Thomas, saying 10) blaze forth into a light that cannot be hidden.

Whoever knows all things yet fails to know himself lacks everything. (67) For Schleiermacher, to know oneself truly is to recognize and to make ever conscious one’s absolute dependence upon God. Lacking that awareness, the impious person, no matter how richly cultured, is at an utter loss, for he lacks the sense and taste for the Infinite.

When you bring forth that which you have inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you lack what is inside, what you lack will kill you. (70) Let every soul make explicit what is implicit within every human breast: the fact of entire dependence upon the God in whom we live and move and have our being. All theological statements for Schleiermacher are extrapolations of the religious consciousness, an interior state of affairs. The task of the theologian, then, is to bring to bear upon the consciousness of piety the tool of phenomenological analysis (as we should say today) and to map out the empty, yearning hand of faith, and the implied contours of that hand which clasps it back in prayer and meditation. If one should lack that experience of God, there cannot be one word of theology, for no objective revelation such as the pre-Kantians boasted lies ready to hand for us.

I am the Light that is above all things. I am the All! All that exists came forth from me, and all things attained unto me again. Chop the wood; I am there. Raise the stone, and you will find me there! (77) One sees all things, as a Christian, through the Christ-consciousness of the Redeemer, that awareness of God in all things that constituted Jesus as the Christ and in which we participate through his Spirit. Jesus is the light of the world for us in that his perspective on the world causes us to see it altogether anew (2 Corinthians 5:17, “Behold, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Old things have passed away; the new has come”). The Christian will see the face of Christ in all things, as a great mirror in which one struggles for an ever more perfect vision of Christ’s glory until one reflects it as a mirror oneself (2 Corinthians 3:18). Rapt in God-consciousness, one beholds a Christomorphic world in which even the least of the brethren is one with the Son of Man and all things find in him their homecoming.

“Now, when the fact of Jesus’ personal influence upon us has led us to recognize that God reveals Himself to us and pours out His love upon us, the whole world is transformed for us. For the world wherein this has befallen us is no longer to our eyes a weary stretch of numberless and perplexing events…. The whole world appears to us now to be a well-ordered system whose culminating point is the Person of Jesus and His work upon us” (Wilhelm Hermann).57

The Kingdom of the Father is like a woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was yet a long way from home, the handle of the jar cracked. The meal streamed out in her wake onto the road without her being aware of it, since she had not noticed any problem. Once she arrived home again, she opened the jar—to find it empty! (97) How perfect a depiction of the danger of sin in the unique idiom of Schleiermacher! How subtle is the loss of God-awareness amid a world that tempts our gaze to all manner of both urgencies and trivia! We have lost all divine preoccupation before we are even aware of the danger! God-forgetfulness is an emptiness filled by other, lesser things, like the swept and aired-out room that soon plays host to a gang of stifling demons.

The Kingdom is like a shepherd who tended a hundred sheep. One of them wandered off, the largest. Abandoning the rest of the ninety-nine, he searched for the one, unwilling to stop till he found it. Exhausted, he said to the sheep, “You are more precious to me than the other ninety-nine put together!” (107) Those eager to see Gnosticism in every line of Thomas understand this saying to depict the Gnostic Redeemer as aloof to the plight of the sarkic ones, the irredeemable, delighting only in his pneumatic kindred spirits, for whose sake alone he descended into this veil of tears. And that may be. Certainly many ancient readers, Manicheans and Valentinians, read it that way. But with equal justification Schleiermacher would see in the parable the wise choice of any individual between a life full of ninety-nine distractions versus the surpassing treasure of God-consciousness. It is a hard choice to make, especially since it must be a choice renewed every day, even every moment. One’s attention strays, and one must disengage from the distractions (so much harder to set aside than God!) to go in search of a lost mindset, a lost mood, a lost peace.

Whoever drinks from my mouth shall become as I am; and I myself shall become he; thus shall the arcana be revealed to him. (108) This is surely the most perfect statement of the communication of Christ’s God-consciousness to the believer! And what are the hidden things that suddenly come into focus? They are all the things one sees everyday, now revealed as inhering together in the oneness of existence in God on whom all things depend absolutely.

The Kingdom is like a man who owned a field with a buried treasure unbeknownst to him. When he died, the field passed to his son, who did not know about it either. Once it was his, he sold it. The purchaser went to plough the field and came upon the treasure. He began doling out the money to anyone he wished. (109) The field is the world, and the treasure hidden in it is the right view of it, the relief into which things fall once viewed in their proper context of meaning, the ultimate horizon of God who embraces and upholds them all. Note how in the parable the previous owners remained oblivious of the treasure they owned because they had never taken the elementary trouble to plow the field! That is what we must do, and before long what had seemed a barren stretch of dry ground will yield the lush fruit of God, who is all and is in all. 

Jesus says, “The heavens and the earth shall be rolled up as you watch, but no one who lives in the Living One need fear death.” For Jesus says, “Whoever finds himself, the world is unworthy of him.” (111) This fragment of apocalyptic would not fall beneath the dogma-critical scythe of Schleiermacher because it is expressive of the consciousness of piety. It parallels 1 John 4:16-17, “So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of Judgment, because as he is so are we in this world.” By sharing in the love of the Redeemer, one already participates in the eternal, and this relation will transcend the passage of life and death. With Schleiermacher, we cannot imagine what an afterlife will be like, but our experienced fellowship with the divine here and now persuades us we shall not be orphaned. We can know nothing of eschatology beyond this, but what more do we need to know?

His disciples ask him, “When will the Kingdom come?” Jesus says, “It will not come in response to expectation. They will not say, ‘Behold, here it is!’ Or, ‘There!’ Instead, the Father’s kingdom is spread over the earth without anyone recognizing it.” (113) It is, once again, the open secret of God-consciousness. The one who looks high up or far away for God is looking for him where he may never be found, for he is behind the very eye that scans the heavens. There is no place where his presence does not extend, for nothing can exist except as a chick beneath his all-encompassing wings. Piety knows this; to know this is piety itself. Hence it is a new commandment, yet also one all souls have known from the beginning: to behold the new amid the old, Nirvana amid Samsara, the only place it could be. 

It is not too much to suggest that, if anything, the Gospel of Thomas is more full, more redolent, more revealing of God-consciousness as Schleiermacher describes and prescribes it than some of the gospels traditionally received as canonical. If Schleiermacher really did not feel constrained to abide by the ancient decisions on the boundaries of the canon, certainly here is a change he would have made (or that, as his followers, we ought to make). I cannot believe he would have relegated Thomas to a mere appendix. It would take its place beside the other four, at the heart of the canon, and of the apostolic testimony.


Everything Old is New Again

Would Schleiermacher’s judgment on the Old Testament stand today? His words may make us wince in a climate of super-ecumenical sensitivity, but in fact I think his decision more appropriate than ever, precisely given our place in history. If Schleiermacher’s view of the Old Testament be viewed as Marcionite, that is no shame. It now appears, thanks to the work of R. Joseph Hoffman,58 that Marcionite Christianity was neither anti-Semitic nor even theologically anti-Jewish. It would be nearer the truth to say that he saw the two religions as independent, each possessing its own validity and each with its own agenda. He granted that the Hebrew God had every right to do all that he did. He granted that the messianic prophecies had nothing to do with Jesus but would some day be fulfilled as Jews believed they would: with the coming of a nationalistic deliverer. It is just that none of this had aught to do with the faith or the revelation of Jesus Christ, which was a brand new thing. What Marcion sought to do by cutting loose the Old Testament was to repudiate the current Christian attempt to hijack and co-opt the Jewish Scriptures by making them into an exegetical ventriloquist dummy for Christian theology. Would this approach not have saved the Christian Church a great deal both of intellectual dishonesty and of strife with a sister faith? It is no slight to Hinduism to recognize that the Rig Veda is not a Christian book. Nor need one include in the Christian canon every book Christians may profit from reading.   


Schleiermacher could peer only so far into the future, though what he glimpsed has set us a substantial agenda. We may tackle this or that aspect of the continuing task of canonization, but just because Christianity must ever pursue a course of self-renewing evolution, the canon question can never be closed without Scripture again becoming, as Schleiermacher warned religion’s cultured despisers, a dead letter.59 So the last thing I want to do here is to pretend to have settled this issue, even provisionally. If anything, I hope to have demonstrated in a small way the value of the exercise, if only for the theologian himself, of taking up anew Schleiermacher’s challenge to the canon.


  1. James Barr, The Bible in the Modern World (NY: Harper & Row, 1973) p. 154.
  1. Adolf von Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God. Trans. John E. Steely and Lyle D. Bierma (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1990; German original 1924), pp. 136-138.
  1. Willi Marxsen, The New Testament as the Church’s Book. Trans. James E. Mignard (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972; German original 1966), pp. 15-21, 25, 54-56, 61.
  1. I believe this phrase was a chapter title in Kenneth Hamilton’s Revolt Against Heaven: An Inquiry into Anti-Supernaturalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965).
  1. G.C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 89. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 32. Jack Rogers, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1974), p. 62.
  1. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith. Ed. Hugh Ross MacKintosh and J.S. Stewart. Par, 129. Trans. H.R. MacKintosh (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark,1928. trans. of second German ed.), p. 596.
  1. David H. Kelsey, The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), p. 30. James Barr, The Bible in the Modern World , pp. 27-34.
  1. Ernst Käsemann, “The Canon of the New Testament and the Unity of the Church” in Essays on New Testament Themes. Trans. W.J. Montague. Studies in Biblical Theology 41 (London: SCM Press, 1964), pp. 95-107.
  1. Albrecht Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation. Trans. A.B. MacAulay, A.R. Gordon, R.A. Lendrum, James Strachan, Hugh Ross MacKintosh. Ed. Hugh Ross MacKintosh and A. B. MacAulay. (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1900), pp. 406.
  1. Wilhelm Hermann, The Communion of the Christian with God, Described on the Basis of Luther’s Statements. Trans. J. Sandys Stanton, rev. R.W. Stewart from fourth German ed. of 1903. (NY: Putnam’s, 1906), pp. 281-283.
  1. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 595.
  1. R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (NY: Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 244-245.
  1. Rudolf Bultmann, “Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?” in Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann. Trans. And ed. Schubert M. Ogden (NY: Meridian Books/World Publishing Company, 1964), pp. 290-296.
  1. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics: The Handwritten Manuscripts. Trans. James Duke and Jack Forstman. Ed. Heinz Kimmerle. American Academy of Religion Texts and Translations 1 (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977), pp. 97, 150, 185: The goal must be “a divinatory certainty which arises when an interpreter delves as deeply as possible into an author’s state of mind.”
  1. James M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus. Studies in Biblical Theology 25 (London: SCM Press, 1959). For a damning critique of the movement see Van A. Harvey, The Historian and the Believer: The Morality of Historical Knowledge and Christian Belief (NY: Macmillan, 1969), chapter VI, “The Morality of Historical Knowledge and the New Quest of the Historical Jesus,” pp. 164-203.
  1. Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say? The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (NY: Macmillan, 1997). Robert W. Funk and the Jesus Seminar, The Acts of Jesus: What Did Jesus Really Do? (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco [sic], 1998).
  2.   Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Life of Jesus. Trans. S. MacLean Gilmour. Ed. Jack C. Verheyden. Lives of Jesus Series (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975): “We find the same difference here that exists elsewhere between John’s Gospel and the other three Gospels. I know no rule to set up except this: The Gospel of John is an account by an eyewitness, and the whole gospel was written by one man. The first three Gospels are compilations of many accounts that earlier stood by themselves” (pp. 432-433). “Luke presents a strikingly different account of what happened. In this Gospel we see a purely historical tendency at work… [I]n both the Gospel and the book of the Acts of the Apostles Luke presents a contrast to the other two synoptic accounts” (pp. 434-435). Schleiermacher, Luke: A Critical Study. Trans. Connop Thirlwall. Add. material by Terrence N. Tice. Schleiermacher: Studies and Translation 13 (Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1993): “the narratives of Matthew and Mark were either originally more hastily taken down, or were obscured by passing through a great number of hands” (p. 77). “In fact if we compare Matthew and Luke, here too I at least find more signs of a well informed eye-witness in Luke’s narrative” (p. 97).  
  3. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: From Reimarus to Wrede. Trans. W. Montgomery (NY: Macmillan, 1961): “A simple introduction from the ‘facts’ takes us beyond Mark. In the discourse-material of Matthew, which the modern-historical school thought they could sift in here and there, wherever there seemed to be room for it, there lie certain hidden facts--fact that never happened, but are all the more important for all that” (p. 360). “Mark, Matthew, and Paul are the best sources for the Jewish eschatology of the time of Jesus” (p. 368). Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God. Trans. Walter Lowrie (NY: Schocken Books, 1964): “The Sermon on the Mount, the commission to the Twelve, and the eulogy of the Baptist are not ‘composite speeches,’ but were for the most part delivered as they have been handed down to us” (pp. 7-8). Basically, it appears that Schweitzer’s high estimate of the value of Matthew and Mark is another way of saying that he needed material from them to build his theory.

  4.  Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, pp. 601-602.

  5.  Norman Perrin, Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus (NY: Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 45-47

  6.  Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, pp. 607.

  7.  Perrin, pp. 39-43.

  8.   Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, pp. 595.

  9.  Paul Tillich, Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions (NY: Columbia University Press, 1964), p. 62.

  10. Hans Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke. Trans. Geoffrey Buswell (NY: Harper & Row, 1961); Willi Marxsen, Mark the Evangelist: Studies on the Redaction History of the Gospel. Trans. Roy A. Harrisville (NY: Abingdon Press, 1969); Günther Bornkamm, Gerhard Barth, and Heinz Joachim Held, Tradition and Redaction in Matthew’s Gospel. Trans. Percy Scott. New Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976); Joachim Rohde, Rediscovering the Teaching of the Evangelists. Trans. Dorothea M. Barton. New Testament Library (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968); Norman Perrin, What Is Redaction Criticism? Guides to New Testament Scholarship, New Testament Series (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969).

  11.  Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, pp. 600.

  12.  Karl Barth, Protestant Thought from Rousseau to Ritschl. Trans. Brian Cozens (NY: Harper & Row, 1959), pp. 310, 313.

  13.  Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 601.

  14. Robert W. Funk, Parables and Presence: Forms of the New Testament Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982); John Dominic Crossan, In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (NY: Harper & Row, 1973); Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989); Charles W. Hedrick, Parables as Poetic Fictions: The Creative Voice of Jesus (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994); James Breech, The Silence of Jesus: The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).

  15. Crossan, pp. 76-77.

  16.  Rudolf Bultmann, History of the Synoptic Tradition. Trans. John Marsh (NY: Harper & Row, rev. ed., 1972), p. 105: “It will only be in very few cases that one of the logia can be ascribed to Jesus with any measure of confidence: such sayings as arise from the exaltation of an eschatological mood…; further sayings which are the product of an energetic summons to repentance…. And finally we may include sayings which demand a new disposition of mind…. All these sayings… contain something characteristic, new, reaching out beyond popular wisdom and piety and yet are in no sense scribal or rabbinic nor yet Jewish apocalyptic. So here if anywhere we can find what is characteristic of the preaching of Jesus.”  

  17. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 603. 

  18. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 593.

  19. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 599 n.

  20. Friedrich Schleiermacher, On the So-called First Epistle of Paul to Timothy: A Critical Open Letter to Joachim Christian Gass, Consistorial Assessor and Army Chaplain at Stettin, 1807. Trans. Robert M. Price (forthcoming).

  21. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 604.

  22. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 605 n.

  23. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology II: Existence and the Christ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 114.

  24. Martin Luther, Preface to James and Jude: “What does not teach Christ is not apostolic, not even if taught by Peter or Paul. On the other hand, what does preach Christ is apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate or Herod does it.”

  25. Hans von Campenhausen, The Formation of the Christian Bible. Trans. J.A. Baker (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), pp. 232-233.

  26. Stevan L. Davies, The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom (NY: Seabury Press, 1983). Barbara Thiering, “The Date and Unity of the Gospel of Philip” Journal of Higher Criticism 2/1 (Spring 1995), pp. 102-111.

  27. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 604.

  28. Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Reimarus: Fragments. Trans. Ralph S. Fraser. Ed. Charles H. Talbert. Lives of Jesus Series (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970).

  29. F.C. Baur properly dismissed both Thessalonian epistles as forgeries: “But how could the apostle himself have thought it necessary formally to adjure the Church to which his Epistles were addressed, not to leave them unread? That could be done only by an author who was not writing in the living pressure of the circumstances which he treated, but transporting himself while writing into an imagined situation, and who wished to vindicate for his own pretended apostolic Epistles the consideration with which the original apostolic Epistles had become invested by the growth of custom.” Ferdinand Christian Baur, Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ: His Life and Work, his Epistles and his Doctrine, a Contribution to the Critical History of Primitive Christianity Vol. II. Trans. Alexander Menzies. Ed. Edward Zeller (London: Williams and Norgate, 1875), p. 96.

  30. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 604.

  31. J.A. Farrer, Literary Forgeries (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907), chapter VII, “Forgery in the Church,” pp. 126-144. “The motives of the writers may be fairly well divined” (p. 131).

  32. [W.D. Mahan,] The Archko Volume or, The Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrim and Talmuds of the Jews. Trans. Drs. MacIntosh and Twyman (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1929, (p. 42).  

  33. Edgar J. Goodspeed, Famous Biblical Hoaxes: Or, Modern Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 44. Per Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus: A Survey of Unfamiliar Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), p. 55.

  34. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 697.

  35. Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament. Two Volumes in One. (NY: Scribner’s, 1951, 1955), Part Five, “The Development toward the Ancient Church,” Vol. 2, pp. 95-251. Ernst Käsemann, “Paul and Early Catholicism,” in New Testament Questions of Today. Trans. W.J. Montague (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), pp. 236-251.

  36. P.E. Shaw, The Catholic Apostolic Church, Sometimes Called Irvingite: A Historical Study (Morningside Heights, NY: King’s Crown Press, 1946).

  37. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 605.

  38. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 610. 

  39. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 611.

  40. Schleiermacher, Life of Jesus, p. 253.

  41. Schleiermacher, Christian Faith, p. 595.  

  42. Hermann, pp. 123-124

  43. . Joseph Hoffmann, Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity: An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century. AAR Academy Series 46 (Chico: Scholars Press, 1984), pp. 226-234.

  44. Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. Trans. John Oman (NY: Harper & Row, 1958): “You are right in despising the wretched echoes who derive their religion entirely from another, or depend on a dead writing, swearing by it and proving out of it” (p. 91).


 Robert M. Price



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