Timeline,  from 1701 until 1800 C.E.

Summary of the period

In keeping with the prevailing world view, the latter nineteenth century saw some scholars challenging orthodoxy and adopting a rational approach to the Gospels. Unfortunately, with this analytical approach, they brought the assumption that the supernatural must be explained in terms of the natural, the unknown in terms of the known. Their approach was ultimately to proved inadequate, for faith is needed in order to interpret faith. However, in the meantime, they actively promoted the idea that Matthew’s Gospel was a purely human artifice, thereby undermine the significance of the Sermon. 

Selection of events


Posthumous publication of parts of the work of the deist German philosopher Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768). Reimarus’ left a four thousand page manuscript in which he undertook a thorough criticism of the traditions which was to prove a formative influence on later critical scholarship. His work is taken by Schweitzer (Schwietzer 1906, 14) as initiating a ‘quest for the historical Jesus,’ a theological movement that sought to uncover the non-supernatural history of Jesus that its proponents assumed must surely lie behind the gospels. 

1784 C.E.

Karl Friedrich Bahrdt (1741-1792) began to publish Briefe fiber die Bibel im Volkston: Eine Wochenschrift von einem Prediger auf dem Lande (Popular Letters about the Bible: A weekly paper by a country clergyman). This series, which ran until 1792, popularized the idea of interpreting the life of Jesus in a way that rejected the supernatural elements. Although this work was clearly fictitious it introduced a number of new ideas for critical scholars to play with, such as the thought that Jesus might have been an Essene and the suggestion that he was heavily influenced by the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.


Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede. Translated by W. Montgomery, with a Preface by F. C. Burkitt. A. & C. Black, Ltd:1910; Translation of Von Reimarus zu Wrede: eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung,1st ed., 1906.