Finally, from the same Bultmann: “The personality of Jesus has no importance for the kerygma either of Paul or of John . . . Indeed the tradition of the earliest Church did not even unconsciously preserve a picture of his personality. Every attempt to reconstruct one remains a play of subjective imagination” (Theology of the New Testament, 30).
So there is no personality of Our Lord presented in the New Testament. Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see? What evidence have we that he would recognize a personality if it were there? For it is Bultmann contra mundum. If anything whatever is common to all believers, and even to many unbelievers, it is the sense that in the Gospels they have met a personality. There are characters whom we know to be historical but of whom we do not feel that have any personal knowledge—knowledge by acquaintance; such as Alexander, Attila, or William of Orange. There are others who make no claim to historical reality but whom, none the less, we know as we know real people: Falstaff, Uncle Toby, Mr. Pickwick. But there are only three characters who, claiming the first sort of reality, also actually have the second. And surely everyone knows who the are: Plato’s Socrates, the Jesus of the Gospels, and Boswell’s Johnson. Our acquaintance with them shows itself in a dozen ways. When we look into the Apocryphal gospels, we find ourselves constantly saying of this or that logion, “No. It’s a fine saying, but not His. That wasn’t how He talked.”—just as we do with all pseudo-Johnsoniana. We are not in the least perturbed by the contrasts within each character: the union in Socrates of silly and scabrous titters about Greek pederasty with the highest mystical fervour and the homeliest good sense; in Johnson, of profound gravity and melancholy with that love of fun and nonsense which Boswell never understood though Fanny Burney did; in Jesus of peasant shrewdness, intolerable severity, and irresistible tenderness. So strong is the flavour of the personality that, even while He says things which, on any other assumption than that of Divine Incarnation in the fullest sense, would be appallingly arrogant, yet we—and many unbelievers too—accept Him at His own valuation when He says “I am meek and lowly of heart.” Even those passages in the New Testament which superficially, and in intention, are most concerned with the Divine, and least with the Human Nature, bring us face to face with the personality. I am not sure that they don’t do this more than any others. “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of graciousness and reality… which we have looked upon and our hands have handled.” What is gained by trying to evade or dissipate this shattering immediacy of personal contact by talk about “that significance which the early church found that it was impelled to attribute to the Master”? This hits us in the face. Not what they were impelled to do but what impelled them. I begin to fear that by personality Dr. Bultmann means what I should call impersonality: what you’d get in a D.N.B. article or an obituary or a Victorian Life and Letters of Yeshua Bar-Yosef in three volumes with photographs.
C.S. Lewis on Biblical Criticism – Part 6
C.S. Lewis, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (an essay Lewis read at Westcott House, Cambridge, on May 11, 1959). First published in Christian Reflections (1981), later published as Fern-seed and Elephants (1998). This text is taken from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 352-353.