Article

Sachkritik in Reception History

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Abstract

Sachkritik, or critical assessment of what a biblical text says in the light of the gospel that the author intended to communicate, became an issue in modern theology and scriptural interpretation in 1922—26 with Bultmann’s discussions of Barth’s theological exegesis of Romans and 1 Corinthians. Since the gospel is itself heard in and through the witness of scripture this implies a dialectic between them. Bultmann could override some of Paul’s formulations in the light of the apostle’s basic intention, and so find a contemporary Christian meaning in texts from a distant culture. His later demythologizing the New Testament applied the same principle to large swathes of the biblical language without calling it Sachkritik, but some of his followers used the word for their critical assessment of one biblical writer in the light of the gospel as understood from another. Finally, a few liberal theologians now use the word to express their rejection of parts of scripture in the light of their modern understandings of the gospel, which they admit are remote from those of any New Testament witness. Reception historians can see from these three strategies how all historically critical theologians claim either more or less continuity with their scriptures while recognizing that much in them is incredible, and inapplicable to modern Christian identity.

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