What is consistent eschatology

Consistent eschatology

The so-called "consequent eschatology", as it was conceived in particular by Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, cannot be understood - despite essential differences - without the preparatory work of theological liberalism, especially in form the> Religious History School and Albrecht Ritschl's ethical idea of ​​the Kingdom of God.

We shall therefore first take a brief look at the School of Religious History.

The School of Religious History experienced its heyday between 1890 and 1920, until it became a powerful opponent in the form of Karl Barth's> Dialectical Theology. Influential representatives included Otto Pfleiderer, Hermann Gunkel, Wilhelm Bousset, Wilhelm Baldensperger and Ernst Troeltsch. The classification of the Old and New Testaments in the general history of religion was characteristic. B. the "proof" of the relationship between biblical texts and Babylonian, Iranian, Egyptian, Hellenistic or Gnostic sources. The individual authors wanted to adhere to the specifics of Judaism and Christianity - to varying degrees. "The absoluteness of Christianity" - the title of one of Ernst Troeltsch's main writings - was clearly called into question. It was only in a provisional - and therefore relative! - Sense recorded in the context of an "evolution of religions".

With regard to eschatology, a church, world and empire historical as well as a salvation and end historical interpretation, which all reckon with real prophecy for the future, were radically rejected. Wilhelm Bousset (1865-1920) in his commentary "The Revelation of St. John" (Göttingen 1896) goes so far as to assert that the world and church-historical (supranaturalistic) interpretation only attracts its followers "under second and third degree interpreters, with English commentators and American treatise writers ". Bousset's own approach, on the other hand, is rationalistic-immanent -istic. He combines the historical interpretation with the religious-historical and hermeneutical views of his time.

His hermeneutic approach is a synthesis of various interpretation methods:

"The traditional-historical and religious-historical approach should not take the place of, but rather complement the contemporary and literary-critical method".

According to Bousset's idea, the author of the Revelation of John processed "older apocalyptic fragments" (literary criticism) and "traditions" (history of tradition). The doctrine of the Thousand Year Reich, for example, penetrated Judaism from Iran. The eschatological dragon fight in Apk 12 comes from Babylonian cosmological mythology, and the Antichrist is a figure from the Babylonian dualistic secret tradition.

Gerhard Maier (The Revelation of John and the Church, 1981, 537) summarizes the similarities and differences between the classical religious history school and consistent eschatology in three points (brackets: L.G.):

"The religious history school wants to introduce a new method into exegesis (namely the traditional historical interpretation and the religious historical comparison). The consequent eschatology is about the consistent implementation of this method (namely the demonstration of the religious historical relativity of early Christian expectations). - The religious history school tries to spare the gospel of Jesus (cf. Hermann Gunkel's assertion: ´Not the gospel of Jesus, as we know it mainly from the synoptics, but the early Christianity of Paul and John is a syncretistic religion`; quoted from Maier, 531) Consistent eschatology throws itself on the gospel of Jesus. - The religious history school regards eschatology as one of several areas of the NT, and also as a strange one. Consistent eschatology sees in eschatology the root ground from which to understand Jesus and his message are "(May he, op. cit., p. 537).

A feeling for the eschatological character of the message of Jesus is definitely present in individual representatives of the school of religious history. Wilhelm Baldensperger (1856-1936), in his book "The Self-Consciousness of Jesus in the Light of the Messianic Hopes of His Time" (1888), argues that Jesus' self-consciousness can only be derived from looking at the messianic world of faith in Judaism (e.g. the apocalyptic expectation of the Son of Man in Daniel and Ethiopian Enoch) and the imperial sermon of Jesus undeniably possessed a messianic eschatological coloring. Nevertheless, Baldensperger does not yet arrive at a "consistent eschatology", but instead mixes, as Albert Schweitzer aptly analyzes, "the eschatological and the spiritualistic element". Baldensperger assumes that Jesus "began to found a spiritual, invisible kingdom, although he expected its completion in a supernatural way ... He assumes that Jesus, by attaching the title Son of Man, not only to them thinks of the transcendental significance which this has in Jewish apocalyptic, but at the same time gives it a general religious and moral coloring "(A. Schweitzer, Geschichte der Leben-Jesu -forschung, 9th edition 1984, 253).

In contrast, Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) sees the eschatological expectation of Jesus consistently realized in the New Testament scholar Johannes Weiss (1863-1914), who is also part of the religious history school but goes far beyond it in questions of eschatology. At Weiss, a "consistent eschatology" emerges for the first time - without mixing with an idea of ​​the Kingdom of God that can be morally or philosophically realized in the present, such as Albrecht Ritschl, Johannes Weiss' father-in-law, had conceived.

Schweitzer thinks of Weiss' book "The Sermon of the Reign of God" (1892) that it has the same meaning in its kind "as the first life of Jesus von Strauss. It represents the third major either-or in the life of Jesus research. Strauss had put the first: either purely historical or supernatural; the Tübingen and Holtzmann fought through the second: either synoptically or Johannine; now the third: either eschatological or uneschatological! " (Schweitzer, 254).

What is the new concept in Weiss? He assumes that Jesus was expecting a future kingdom. It is a purely transcendent quantity that stands in exclusive opposition to this world. Therefore it could not be set up by human means, but only by a supernatural intervention of God. Statements of Jesus about the presence of the kingdom (e.g. in Lk 17.20f.) Are "moments of sublime prophetic enthusiasm where he is overcome by a sense of victory" (quoted from WG Kümmel, Das Neue Testament. History of exploring his problems, 1970, 287) .

Schweitzer sums up Weiss' approach in the following words:

"All modern ideas, even in the most subtle forms, are to be eliminated from it (sc. The kingdom of God idea); then you get a kingdom of God that is purely future, according to the request of the Lord's prayer: your kingdom come. As future it is now purely transcendent. At present it is only like a cloud that throws its shadow on the earth ... He (Jesus) 'does not' found it (the kingdom of God) ', he only preaches it. He does not practice' messianic ' Activity ', but he waits with the others that God will bring it up in a supernatural way. He does not even know the time and hour when this should happen "(Schweitzer, 255).

Despite the last sentence, both Weiss and Schweitzer, who essentially ties in with Weiss, are certain that Jesus expected the coming of the kingdom of God very soon - during the lifetime of his disciples. With this expectation, however, he was - wrong: "... the closeness was further than Jesus thought at the time", Schweitzer can say (loc. Cit.). The parousia delay (delaying the return of Jesus Christ) has become a major problem in theology. Weiss draws the following conclusion from this:

"We are not waiting for a kingdom of God, which is to come down from heaven to earth and destroy this world, but we hope to be gathered together with the community of Jesus Christ in the heavenly basileia."

For this life on earth the "motive of the new morality" remains decisive as the "condition for entry into the kingdom of God". This is where Ritschl's thoughts resonate, but the difference lies in the futuristic orientation of morality: It does not arise as a moral perfection in a current (almost pseudo-messianic) kingdom as in Ritschl, but on the basis of a reversal in the orientation towards the expected eschatological rule of God ( quoted from Maier, 538f.).

Schweitzer draws the following conclusion: "The eschatological insight of Johannes Weiss has destroyed the modern view as if Jesus founded the kingdom of God. It abolished all 'activity' on the kingdom of God, and makes Jesus merely waiting. Now the activity returns, but now, eschatologically conditioned, back to the imperial sermon "(Schweitzer, 415). "The whole history of 'Christianity' up to the present day, the inner, real history of it, is based on the 'parousia delay': that is, on the non-occurrence of the parousia, the abandonment of eschatology, the associated progressive and effective de-chatologization of religion "(loc. cit., 417). "The act of Jesus consists in the fact that his natural and profound morality takes possession of late Jewish eschatology and thus gives expression to the hope and desire of an ethical perfection of the world in the conceptual material of that time" (ibid., 624).

Following on from Weiss, Schweitzer represents an “ethical eschatology” as a consequence of the “consequent eschatology”, based on the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount as an “interim ethic” and the “Jesus mysticism” as a knowledge of common will: “We give history its right and free us from his (Jesus! LG) material of ideas, but we bow to the underlying will and seek to serve him in our time, so that he may be born in ours to new life and work and work on our and the world's perfection . In this we find being one with the infinite moral world will and become children of the kingdom of God "(loc. Cit., 628).

Regarding the assessment of consequent eschatology, as it was developed by Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer, it must be said: It correctly recognizes that, according to the New Testament statement, the kingdom of God is not a present-immanent one to be created by man, but a future-transcendent one, from Is an entity to be brought about by God. She also recognizes that the near expectation of this kingdom is echoed in several Old and New Testament passages (e.g. Isa 13,6; Eze 12,23; Mt 3,2; 4,17; 24,33; Mk 1,15; Lk 10, 11; Rom 13.12; Phil 4.5; 1. Thess 5.2; 1. Petr 4.7; Apk 1.3). But it absolutizes these insights in a one-sided way - and thereby arrives at wrong results. According to the testimony of the New Testament scriptures, the kingdom of God is indeed a future greatness, but it is already beginning to be present in the hearts and in the community of believers. Lk 17.20f., For example, clearly expresses this: "When he (Jesus) was asked by the Pharisees: When will the kingdom of God come?" Neither will one say: Behold, here it is! or: There it is! For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you "(or:" In you "-" entos hymin "). The community of Jesus lives in the tension between the "already now" and the "not yet", the dawning of Christ's reign through Jesus' first coming and the visible completion of his reign at his second coming (cf. Jn 4:23; 5:25; 16 , 32). Horst-Georg Pöhlmann rightly emphasizes: "The eschaton is at its core the communion with Christ that the Christian already experiences and that will once be given to him in an unbroken manner" (Abriss der Dogmatik, 1980, 336).

Furthermore, the New Testament does not emphasize the imminent expectation in the one-sided way that Weiss and Schweitzer interpret. Fundamental to understanding the early Christian expectation is, for example, the saying of Jesus: "But no one knows about the day and hour, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father" (Mt 24:36). The point in time at which the rulership of God is visibly established is and remains a secret hidden in God's Father's will, even for the Son in his earthly existence, for the angels and of course also for the New Testament authors. Therefore any calculation of a date of the second coming of Jesus Christ (whether far or near!) Is vehemently forbidden.

Some statements in the New Testament actually sound as if the establishment of the kingdom of God was expected in the generation of the first disciples or soon after (see above). But they are all statements of hope that have moved every generation since then, and nowhere is dogmatics made of them. Therefore, to claim that Jesus and the apostles were wrong does not do justice to the New Testament testimony. This is completely denied by the statements of Jesus and his disciples, which warn against too early an expectation of the kingdom of God. This other line in the New Testament is largely suppressed by Weiss, Schweitzer and their successors. Just a few examples are given.

In Matthew 24 parr., The so-called "end-time speech", Jesus warns of false Christs and false prophets who will appear and claim that the kingdom of God has already come. One should not believe them (VV. 24-27). In the same chapter, many other signs are listed that must first be fulfilled before Jesus comes again, and which by no means can all be interpreted in terms of contemporary history to the generation of those living in Jesus' time, such as wars, famines and earthquakes: "But all this is the beginning of labor "(v. 7f.). The end will only come when the preaching of the gospel, the mission of all tribes, languages ​​and nations has reached its goal (v. 14; cf. Apk 7: 9).

The statement of Jesus

"This generation will not pass away until all this be done" (Mk 13:30)

however, probably only refers to the more immediate events (destruction of the Jerusalem temple in the year 70 AD and dispersion of the Jews). Expectation near and far penetrate one another in Jesus' eschatological discourse and must be kept apart.

There are also several passages in the letters of the New Testament that clearly contradict the assertion of a one-line expectation in early Christian times. The best known is the following passage in 2 Petr 3, 8 f., Which - assuming the authorship of the apostle Peter, as evidenced in the letter - must by no means be dated too late:

"But one thing should not be hidden from you, dear ones, that one day is like a thousand years from the Lord and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay the promise, as some think it is a delay, but he has patience with you and does not want anyone to be lost, but that everyone should find repentance. But the Lord's day will come like a thief; then the heavens will melt with a great crash; but the elements will melt with heat, and the earth and works, those who are there will find their judgment. " -

See also Act 1,6-8; 2. Thess 2,2ff .; Tit 1.14; 1. Tim 1,3f .; 4.7; 2. Tim 4,4 et al.

The final consequence to which the consistent eschatology leads - at least for some of Schweitzer's students - is the replacement of the Kingdom of God, which is basically no longer expected, by the work of man. This line is already sketched out by Weiss and Schweitzer: The Christ mysticism takes the place of a future expectation of the Kingdom of God. The ethic of "reverence for life" becomes an attempt to create step by step the perfect, peaceful world, which was originally connected with the near expectation of the kingdom of Christ. The danger of a proleptic messianism (utopian striving for an anticipation of the messianic kingdom of peace of Jesus Christ) can be heard here. In this respect, the conception of Weiss and Schweitzer in the end touches more with Ritschl's moral kingdom of God than the advocates of consequent eschatology want to admit. Kant's idea of ​​the moral realm and Schopenhauer's mysticism of the will flow in as philosophical impulses.

The Schweitzer student Fritz Buri radicalized the thoughts of his teacher in his book "The Meaning of the New Testament Eschatology in Modern Protestant Theology" (1935). For him, with the near-end historical expectation of the New Testament due to the failure of the Parousia, faith in Christ in the biblical sense also disappears. In its place comes the "reverence for the mystery of creation as an activity in the sense of reverence for life". For Buri, Christ is only a symbol for the "creation-like possibility of actual realization of meaning in the midst of the senselessness of the world", namely through "active and suffering work in the sense of reverence for life".

"Free of the coming illusions of the New Testament eschatology, the ... formula of the special enabling of meaning by standing in awe of the creation secret fully unfolds the most important concern of the New Testament eschatology" (op. Cit., 170 ff.).

Here eschatology is reduced to ethics and the second article of faith ("From Christ") abandoned in favor of a flattened first one ("From God the Creator"). But with this the New Testament testimony is just missed.Horst-Georg Pöhlmann's statement should be quoted again: Fritz Buri "belongs together with J. Weiss, A. Schweitzer and M. Werner to the group of theologians who ... advocate a consistent eschatology". The consistent eschatology, as encountered in these, is nothing more than a "consistent elimination of eschatology from theology" (Pöhlmann, op. Cit., 313).

S. also: eschatology; Second coming of Jesus Christ; Sign of time.

Lit .: L. Gassmann, What will come. Eschatology in the 3rd Millennium, 2002.

Lothar Gassmann


You can find more articles in printed form on the website of Dr. Lothar Gassmann (Editor).