Until the middle of this century, the Modernist Encyclical of Pius X (1907) made it impossible for Catholic scholars, on pain of excommunication, to practise any kind of free Bible criticism. All their publications in this field were apologetic in character.
Independent scholars have on the other hand been engaged in historical Bible criticism for almost 200 years. With great acumen and percipience, efforts were made to render the teaching of Jesus transparent and determine any changes made in the Gospels in later times. Many authors clearly were fully intending to establish the truth. Elsewhere, however, the discussion is clearly tendentious and polemical. The scholars have rightly shown that there have been subsequent changes to the Gospels, but they have greatly overshot the mark in the eradication of passages not considered genuine, pulling out many a good fruitbearing plant together with the weeds.
Historical criticism taken to extremes failed to recognize its boundaries, and therefore repeatedly had to correct itself. Zahrnt comments that it is diificult "to decide for certain which elements derive from the post-Easter beliefe of the community and which from Jesus himself" 43, and one can only agree. Yet we cannot agree with his view that "only radical criticism will get us to the goal" 44 and that this will "result in a minimum that has been critically sifted." 45
What does remain with this method is a heap of ruins, the blownup foundations of the Christian faith. The concept of "Christianity" has been converted into something that now has little in common with the teaching of Jesus and his person. It seems that man can only live in extremes. On the one hand, a narrow, severe biblicism has until recently prevailed in the church, where nothing was to be known of discrepancies and falsification. On the other, liberal scholars have often outdone Erostratus in the destructive urge, eating into everything like acid, so that in the end the whole of the gospel message dissolves into myth.
There has been failure to realize that the Gospels are a "new literary genre", and that it is senseless to apply the same analytical approach to Jesus as to the biography of a major historical figure such as Alexander the Great or Napoleon.
lt is possible to prove everything and nothing from gospel texts if one makes a one-sided selection, declaring anything that does not fit in with a preconceived hypothesis to be an addition that is not genuine. This arbitrary form of exegesis as practised by some authors was downright sacrilegious, as will be seen in a later chapter. Many things said in the scriptures were considered mere superstition, because the scholars were blind to the metaphysical depths of the message of salvation. At the same time, fanatics were attempting to explain every miracle performed by Jesus as due to natural causes, because that which must not be true could not be true. The point of view taken by extreme critics in the 19th century, that Jesus actually did not exist, is one that would hardly be shared by any scholar today.
In due course, a conglomerate of theories was developed, until - as Albert Schweitzer put it - there were as many opinions as there were professors. Jesus was made a prophet, a good man, a religious teacher, a moral example, an Essene, a Beatnik, a fool, a social reformer and the leader of a revolt against the power of Rome. The one thing they would not accept is what he indeed was: the Son of God and the Redeemer.
Lorber received the following prediction on 30th October 1842: "What have they not made of Me! How often (even in His life-time, author) was I not called a swindler, rabble rouser, layabout, vagabond, outsider, fool, magician, and indeed servant of Beelzebub. Even in these days (19th c. and after) I do no better, not even by an iota." (Hi II p. 137)
Research has brought new knowledge, but also just as many new errors. Today, scholars agree that historical criticism has yielded no useful result. Guenther Bornkamm - and he is not the only one -sums it up as follows: "All that the research into the life of Jesus has finally achieved is the knowledge that it itself has failed." 46
The critics did not take into account that "everything profound is apt to be masked, 47 and that the gospel not only reveals but also veils. "The truth", New Revelation states emphatically, "will only be given to the peoples of this earth in veiled form" (Gr VI 204, 3). Franz Overbeck therefore said that the books of the New Testament were "particularly in need of protection against assassinations of unwashed subjectivity on the part of their exegetists". 48
The texts of Holy Scripture cannot be dissected the way liberal critics have been doing it for a long time. New Revelation contains a very remarkable statement relating to this: "Anyone wishing to reach the inner, true wisdom that comes from God on the basis of pure observation and with the reasoning power of this world, will lose the way, yawning chasms will open up before him and in the darkness of his mind he will all too soon and all too easily fall into them, so that he will wholly go to perdition." (Gr IX 100, 11) lf one thinks of some who represent the "New Theology", acting as true "partisans of atheism" (Kahl), one will find these words of New Revelation confirmed in these alarming developments. It has to be admitted that even Catholic theologians have become infected with the evil spirit of sedition.
One thing would seem to be beyond dispute: Analytical Bible criticism has not strengthened the faith but destroyed it. At the least, countless Christians have over long periods of time been thrown into growing uncertainty. Albert Schweitzer leaves no doubts open as to the negative results of biblical criticism: "People who like to speak of negative theology will have no problem when it comes to the outcome of research into the life of Jesus. It is negative." 49
This development, which has now continued for two centuries, is of such eminent significance in the present situation of dechristianization of the world, that a later chapter will be devoted to more detailed consideration of the various theories, some of them promulgated by the mass media, that have brought such unrest and doubt into the hearts of Christian people.