Written By: Albert Schweitzer
Edited by: Ulrich Neuenschwander
Translated By: L. A. Garrard
Reviewed Edition: The Seabury Press, New York, 1968
Hardcover, 207 pages
No ISBN Shown
Table of Contents
After Albert Schwietzer died in 1965, his daughter Rhena Eckert-Schweitzer discovered the manuscript of The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity among his personal effects in Lambarene. It was written in 1950-51, and appeared to be in final, publishable form. However Schweitzer never published it, apparently because he intended to extend his discussion of eschatology in early Christianity beyond Paul to later books in the New Testament.
As published, The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity covers much of the same material as Schweitzer's earlier books The Mystery of the Kingdom of God and The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle. The key new contribution of this volume is its discussion of the form and impact of eschatology in Jewish prophetic writings, including those of Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah (included in the Book of Isaiah, but written much later), Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Joel, Daniel, Enoch, Baruch, and Ezra. There is also an interesting discussion of the effect of Zarathustra's concept of the Kingdom of God and its subsequent development within Iran on Jewish thinking.
The bulk of this book is given to a synthesis of Schweitzer's work on a historical understanding of the role of eschatology in Jesus' and Paul's ministries. He traces Jesus' evolving understanding of the coming Tribulation and Kingdom of God, and his own role in establishing and then heading the Kingdom. He argues that Jesus expected an imminent, completely supernatural Kingdom of God that he would lead as the Messiah. In this context, events such as Jesus' answer to John the Baptist's question, the sending of the apostles into towns to preach repentance, and Jesus' betrayal and trial become more understandable while Jesus becomes more uncomfortable to a modern perspective. Paul's theology maintains the Kingdom as supernatural, but converts it into an invisible presence facilitated by the Holy Spirit and attested by the resurrection of Jesus.
This is a lot of material, and Schweitzer does not attempt to defend each assertion in detail. Instead he provides an overview of how the end of the world was understood by Jews in general, and Jesus and Paul in particular. Those interested in an introduction to Schweitzer's analysis of the historical Jesus may wish to start with this volume, and then refer to Schweitzer's other works for more detailed discussion of specific issues.
[Regarding the writings of the prophet Amos] "In these tremendous utterances the knowledge of the completely ethical personality of God is for the first time made known, and it follows that ethical thought and action alone give the right to a place in the coming Kingdom of God."
"John [the Baptist] does not concern himself with a description of the final events. He is the traveler who has come to the foot of the mountains. He no longer glimpses the relative positions of the various peaks. All he cares about is being equipped to make the ascent. That is why he demands of his hearers that they repent. When the Greek word metanoeite ([Greek characters], change your thoughts) yields its true meaning, it is a call not only for repentance over past sins, but above all for a new way of thinking in the period of waiting for the Kingdom."
"Like the Baptist, Jesus sees his task as consisting above all in teaching men the outlook required for participation in the Kingdom and instilling it into them. He, too, is not concerned to give a description of the final events. Whereas, however, the Baptist calls for a new outlook in quite general terms, Jesus expounds it nature in detail. The ideal of the pious had always been to become righteous men, well-pleasing to God, and so assured of eventual entry into the Kingdom. The way to achieve this state was to observe not only the Law, but also the rules which, according to the tradition laid down by the elders, were designed to regulate life in every detail in obedience to the Law. Jesus, however, teaches that this righteousness is not enough, but a higher righteousness, consisting in keeping the spirit of the commandments, is required. Accordingly he lays down in the Sermon on the Mount, delivered at the very beginning of his ministry, the principle, 'Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven' (Mt. 5:20)."
"Out of the story of Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit there arose in late Judaism, and passed over into Christianity, the doctrine that this sin continues to be at work in all mankind. So long as the words of scripture still have some validity--and the words which the earliest records of Jesus give us surely stand supreme--no one ought to expect a Christian to regard this doctrine, which was unknown to Jesus, as part of the essence of the Christian faith. Christians must be allowed to think in this matter as Jesus did. Jesus gives us in his speeches an insight into the essential nature of sin which needs no elaboration in the direction of a doctrine of original sin. Belief in this dogmatic view of sin is not the same thing as grasping and experiencing the problem of guilt in all its depth."
"There is no escaping the conclusion from these passages [in Mark and Matthew] that Jesus was expecting a completely super-natural Kingdom of God of the kind described in the prophetic writings of the late post-Exilic period (viz. Malachi, Joel, Is. 24-27, Zech. 9-14, Daniel, Enoch).
It is clear from the fact that as a rule he speaks of the Son of Man rather than of the Messiah that his outlook has its closest affinity with the Book of Daniel and the Book of Enoch. It is closest to that of Enoch. ...
The eschatology of the scribes, as it is preserved for us in the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra, distinguishes two Kingdoms, that of the Messiah, which is limited in duration and takes place before the general resurrection of the dead, and the eternal and completely supernatural Kingdom of God, which appears after the resurrection. Jesus, on the other hand, like the prophetic Enoch, knows only the Kingdom which follows upon the resurrection."
"The expectation of the Kingdom which would come of itself was not to find actual fulfillment. For centuries Christianity looked for it in vain. It could not easily come to terms with the fact. It had to try to understand what could be learned from it. When it applied itself to the interpretation of the signs of the times, it could understand them only as meaning that it was called upon to renounce its old ideas and learn anew. The task was laid upon it of giving up its belief in the Kingdom which would come of itself and giving its devotion to the Kingdom which must be made real.
Paul the thinker recognized as the essence of the Kingdom of God which was coming into existence that it consists in the rule of the Spirit. We learn from this knowledge which comes to us through him that the way in which the coming of the Kingdom will be brought about is by the coming of Jesus Christ to rule in our hearts and through us in the whole world. In the thought of Paul the supernatural Kingdom is beginning to become the ethical and with this to change from the Kingdom to be expected into something which has to be realized. It is for us to take the road which this prospect opens up."
Introduction Translator's Preface
Concluding Thoughts The Expectation and the Realization of the Kingdom of God Index of Passages Index of Proper Names
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