James P. Mackey confirms Schweitzer. “It was just about two centuries ago,” he says, “that people began to pride themselves on the bringing at last to academic Christology the scientific methods of the historian. Previous to the eighteenth century, it was felt, people had built their portraits of Jesus from all kinds of unscientific assumptions. Small wonder if false Christs had appeared in Christian devotion and Christian literature. Small wonder if different Christs had appeared at different times and places or in different Christian traditions. The modern quarters set out with the calm confidence that by the use of the trusty methods of scientific history the real Jesus could at last be made to stand up. And with the same calm confidence they produced first one portrait of Jesus… and then another… and then another, each disturbingly different from the one before… Pessimism spread far beyond the confines of professional scholarship: the ‘real Jesus’ could not really be found…”54
Pope Leo X had confessed in the early sixteenth century that “It has served us well, this myth of Christ”.55 Now that the myth was getting exploded, Pope Pius X condemned in 1907 the Modernists who “were working within the framework of the Church” and “an anti-Modernist oath was introduced in 1910”.56
But that did not stop the Modernists. The last nail in the coffin which carried the Jesus of history was hammered home by Rudolf Bultmann, Professor in the Marburg University of Germany and acknowledged as the greatest New Testament theologian of the twentieth century. “I do indeed think,” he concluded in 1958, “that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and legendary.”57
Bultmann was only endorsing what another German theologian, Bruno Bauer, had said a hundred years earlier. According to Albert Schweitzer, Bauer had concluded in 1850-51: “The question which has so much exercised the minds of men — whether Jesus was the historic Christ (= Messiah) — is answered in the sense that everything that is said of Him, everything that is known of Him, belongs to the world of imagination, that is, of the imagination of the Christian community, and therefore has nothing to do with any man who belongs to the real world.”58
The story has not changed in the years since Bultmann gave his verdict. Pastor J. Kahl pronounced in 1967 that “nothing at all is known of Jesus beyond the bare fact that ‘he existed at a date and place which can be established approximately’ and that both his teaching and manner of death remain unknown so that ‘the name of Jesus is bound to remain cryptic and meaningless, indistinguishable from a myth’.”59
Professor W. Trilling came to the conclusion in 1969 that “not a single date in his life can be determined with certainty” and wondered why “with modern scientific methods and enormous labour and ingenuity, so little has been established”.60
Summarizing the surveys of Christology since Bultmann G.A. Wells observed in 1986: “During the past thirty years theologian have come increasingly to admit that it is no longer possible to write a biography of him, since documents earlier than the gospels tell us next to nothing of his life, while the gospels present the ‘kerygma’ or proclamation of faith not the Jesus of history. Many contemporary theologians therefore regard the quest of the historical Jesus as both hopeless and religiously irrelevant — in that the few things which can, allegedly, be known of his life are unedifying and do not make him an appropriate object of worship.”61
There is now no dearth of scholars who think that the Jesus of the gospels never existed in history. H. Raschke wrote quite some time ago that “the historical existence of Jesus need not be denied as it has never been affirmed”.62 G.A. Wells has continued to examine the arguments of those who are still out to prop up a Jesus of history. He has written three challenging books in 1971, 1982 and 1986. In his latest book he concludes that “The existence of strongly divergent Christologies in early Christian times is a strong argument against Jesus’ historicity”, and that “if he had really lived, early Christian literature would not ‘show nearly everywhere churchly and theological conflicts and fierce quarrels between opponents’ nor disagree so radically as to what kind of person he was”.