Timeline,  from 1901 until 2000 C.E.

Summary of the period

Scholars continue to focus on the rediscovery of the historical Jesus (i.e. Jesus as his disciples knew him). However, the birth of the modern evangelical movement saw an increasing emphasis on traditional values, together with an increase in scholarship that accepted the supernatural, or at least accepted that the gospels could not be understood outside that context.

Selection of events


Oskar Holtzman (1859–1932), Professor of Theology at Giessen, published Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus). Assuming the priority of Mark and that the additional material in Matthew constituted collections of sayings, Holtzman took the framework of Mark’s chronology and attempted to disperse the additional material in Matthew (including the Sermon’s individual sayings) to those periods which he felt most appropriate (Schweitzer 1906, 298)

In this same year Hermann Gunkel (1862–1932) published his groundbreaking work on Genesis, in which he attempted to apply the principles of “formgeschichte” (form-criticism) to a biblical text. Form-criticism seeks to use the analysis of genre as a tool to decompose a text it into individual pericopes (units of thought), and then to assign to each a “sitz im leben” (setting in life). The method suggests that only by assigning a pericope to its original social setting can its true meaning be understood. Form-criticism would attract many advocates throughout the century, before beginning to fall from favour.


Theologian and medical-missionary Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) published Von Reimarus zu Wrede (later translated to English under the title The Quest of the Historical Jesus). In this he comprehensively reviewed and buried a host of earlier theories, whilst presenting his own vision of Jesus as a misguided prophet preparing for an apocalypse that never happened (Wright 2001, 19-21). For him, the Sermon represented an interim set of regulations, rendered pointless by the failure of the apocalypse to appear. In his recognition of Jesus’ emphasis on eschatology (i.e. the end times) he was correct, but he failed to understand the nature of the apocalypse Jesus expected. 

First World War (1914-1918)


Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) published Jesus and the Word, in which he argued that examining the gospel records would not provide an understanding of the historical Jesus, nor would it be useful if they could, for, in his view, the gospels were all statements of faith, projected back upon Jesus by later generations (Wright 2001, 22).


Rudulf Bultmann published History of the Synoptic Tradition, in which he deployed the techniques of historical criticism to the interpretation of the synoptic gospels, thereby establishing Gunkel’s technique of form-criticism as an approach for New Testament studies. Under this analysis, Bultmann found that, beyond Jesus’ existence, probable crucifixion and a few of his sayings, little of the historical Jesus survives. However,in his quest for rigour, Bultmann weighted his criteria so heavily against authenticity that some became almost impossible to pass. Thus, Bultmann’s bleak conclusion must be seen as the almost inevitable outcome of his method (Vermes 2004, 372-374), yet his was not the final word and Form Criticism would be revisited with a very different outcome.


The evangelical Lutheran professor Hans Windisch (1881-1935), in his book Der Sinn der Bergpredigt (The Meaning of the Sermon on the Mount), promoted the concept that the Sermon was a perfectionist ideal.


The absence of a clear sense of Jesus’ historicity gave ground for Nazi theologians to construct a picture of Jesus that largely ignored of his Jewish origins (Wright 2001, 23). Not everyone in the German church approved of the attemps to establish a re-defined build a 'reich' religion, and the evangelical denominations provided a strong dissenting voice. Thus, swimming fervently against the Nazi tide, Dietrich Bonhoeffer produced his classic book, Nachfolge (Discipleship), with its message of costly grace and its application of the Sermon on the Mount. 

Start of Second World War (1939)


Delivery of Rudolf Bultmann’s influential lecture New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Message, in which he suggested that stripping the gospels of first-century mythology was an evangelical imperative. For Bultmann, the gospels were comprised of kerygma, or gospel proclamation, but heavily overlaid with a first-century mythical world-view that would prove off-putting to modern audiences.

End of Second World War (1945)

Oct 29, 1953 

Ernst Käsemann gave his lecture, ‘The Problem of the Historical Jesus’. Addressing former Bultmann students, he argued that our view of Jesus must be earthed in history if it is not to be open to manipulation for political ends (Wright 2001, 23).


Martyn Lloyd-Jones published transcripts of a series of addresses under the title Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. These have subsequently become popular amongst evangelicals (a personal observation)


Rudolph Bultmann proposed an approach to the synoptic gospels that disassembled them into component sayings and assigned to each a ‘Sitz im Leben’.

2000, March 24 

Pope John Paul II officiated at a mass on the Mount of the Beatitudes. The Vatican has published a transcript of his homily.


Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. 2001. The Cost of Discipleship. London: SCM.

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. and C. Black, 1910; Translation of Von Reimarus zu Wrede: eine Geschichte der Leben-Jesu-Forschung,1st ed., 1906.

Vermes, Geza. 2004. The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. London: Penguin, 2004.

Wright, N. T. 2001. Jesus and the Victory of God. Volume 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.