The question whether the event or the kerygma is decisive for the faith of the Biblical witnesses who have given us the Biblical redemptive history may not be answered in the form of an alternative. Instead the process of how the kerygmatic accounts originated must be reckoned with. It follows that, on the one hand, the events of their own present gave the Biblical writers the impulse to faith and reinterpretation, and, on the other hand, a kerygma is already given them concerning other events to which they were not eyewitnesses and were available to them only in kerygmatic form.… If we keep this development in mind, we must say that an exchange takes place between present event and traditional kerygma. Despite this, from the human point of view, we must acknowledge a priority to the event. For on the one hand, to the specific bearers of revelation, the prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New, the first impulse was from the present event of their own time. On the other hand, we dare not forget that events of the past stood behind the kerygma delivered to them which were made present in their kerygmatic interpretation and form in worship and in confession, and still go on having an effect as events. This continuing effect of the event through all the further kerygmata, however, concerns particularly the Christ-event proclaimed in the New Testament as the central occurrence.…

As in the Old Testament, this revelation in the New Testament relates to a meshing of historical fact and interpretation. Here again the revelation consists in both—in the event as such and in its interpretation. The fact that not only the interpretation but also the event itself is regarded as a revelation of a divine saving drama results from the importance attributed to the eyewitnessing of the Biblical writers. This is particularly emphasized at the end of the crucifixion narrative (Mk. 15:40, 41, and par.) in the reference to the women. (Luke 23:49 adds “acquaintances,” and John 19:25 ff. adds the mother of Jesus and the beloved disciple.) The oldest detailed creed of the Church cited by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:3 ff. stresses the eyewitnessing of those having seen Jesus’ appearances and relates them to the saving process. The Gospels stress the women’s eyewitnessing of the empty tomb. (John 20:2 ff. emphasizes that of the two disciples as well.)

Importance Of Eyewitnessing

In the appearances as well as the finding of the empty tomb, it is not told how the resurrection itself happened. This is told for the first time in the apocryphal reports. Instead events are narrated that alone could be the object of eyewitnessing. Both the empty tomb and the appearances in themselves do not prove to the outsider that Jesus arose bodily, just as the events of Israel’s history without the revelation shared by the Old Testament witnesses could hardly signify salvation for others. We know that the empty tomb has been explained quite differently—a theft of the body, for instance. Visions of dead persons were not absolutely unique at the time. Only by the interpretation communicated by the witnesses, “he has arisen bodily,” “he has appeared,” did these events become a revelation of the new aeon that had dawned.

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However, it is indeed significant that a higher witnessing value was attributed to those historical facts as such from the start, and eyewitnessing played an important part, being reckoned along with the saving events (1 Cor. 15:3ff.). This ought not to be forgotten in the present discussion on history and kerygma. The historical facts ought to show that the resurrection has to do with a setting in history.

Furthermore, in the New Testament as in the Old Testament a continual development onward of the kerygma in connection with new events and a continuing connection of present events experienced by the witnesses is involved, along with a kerygma already present, and a reinterpretation given with it. Again, in the New Testament the adaptation of this kerygma as a rule proceeds in a three-fold manner. First, the new event with the new revelation relevant to it is taken up into the old kerygma. Second, on this basis the old kerygma is newly interpreted. Third, the recipient or recipients of the revelation with their function are taken up into the kerygma themselves, as we see in the example of the witnesses to the resurrection.…

Furthermore, the concentration of the new saving events (and consequently of the new interpretations) into a very short space of time is new in contrast to the Old Testament development. Whereas the Old Testament redemptive history, even the part belonging to history rather than primeval history, encompasses centuries, its extension in the New Testament is a matter of a few decades, although they are extraordinarily full in keeping with their crucial character. Here the saving events are, as it were, forced together. We have already spoken of the various new interpretations falling in this short space of time. Apart from later writings, such as a few Catholic Epistles and the Book of Revelation approximately at the end of this space of time, are the written Gospels, although the Gospel tradition itself belongs at the beginning. Recent studies on the redactional stages of the individual Gospels have worked over the kerygmatic theology contained in them. The Gospel writers offer merely a kerygmatic description of the life of Jesus, as form criticism for a long time has taught us. Even their kerygma is influenced by events of their time, occurring in the second half of the first century. The consciousness of the revealer is especially clear in the writer of the Fourth Gospel, but it is also present in the Synoptics. The oral tradition was already available to them which for its own part had interpreted afresh the kerygma going back to Jesus in the light of recent events, above all, the Easter event.

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A Double Link Of Events

It is, however, significant that a double “history of salvation” link of new events takes place each time. On the one hand, it occurs with the event regarded as central together with Jesus’ own kerygma about it; on the other hand, it occurs with the kerygma found back in the Old Testament. The first happens immediately; the second happens more during the course of reflection, especially since the Old Testament redemptive history is already codified as “holy Scripture,” and partly, though not entirely, is accessible only through the medium of the Biblical interpretation of time.

The new interpretation through the Church’s oral tradition of the message preached by the incarnate Jesus himself interests us particularly. Here the first witnesses of the new events related to the resurrection as eyewitnesses of the incarnate Jesus were at the same time guarantors of the kerygma going back to him. They did not need to link the new events they experienced after Jesus’ death with events sometime in the distant past, experienced by earlier witnesses, as the men of the Old Testament did. Instead they linked the present events with ones they themselves were eyewitnesses to—the events of the life of Jesus. Therein lies the unique position of those apostles who were at the same time disciples of the incarnate Jesus over against all other apostles. All apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrection; but beyond that the twelve had to guarantee the continuity between the new events and the kerygma given them concerning events to which they were also witnesses. This means that they had to witness that the incarnate Jesus and the exalted Christ are identical, or that the incarnate Lord continues working on as the exalted Lord. The principle of continuity, characteristic of all redemptive history, is personified here at the high point of the whole process in the person of Jesus Christ. The new events are brought off by one and the same person.

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Those apostles who were at the same time eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life are not related to the past events they experienced a short time ago as they are to the new events which occurred after Jesus’ death. The interpretation of the events transpiring after Jesus’ death was disclosed to them simultaneously with the events. They see Jesus appearing and he is at the same time revealed to them. He has arisen bodily; death is vanquished. In the case of the incarnate Lord, they were, of course, witnesses at the time of the event, and they heard Jesus’ own interpretation of this event. But this interpretation was at best sporadic for them, and more or less encountered difficulty as a revelation then. Now and again an understanding of the knowledge contained in what was seen and heard showed through, only to be lost sight of once more, and often a faint inkling was ensnared in a fatal error that Jesus himself had to thrust aside as “devilish.” For this reason the Gospel of John in particular but the Synoptics as well make a point again and again of the disciples’ failure to understand Jesus. It is the leading thought of John’s Gospel that the revelatory meaning of the life of Jesus made its impact upon the disciples only after his death (the Johannine “remembering”) because of the Paraclete who leads them “into the truth.”

Before the full revelation, the disciples did not understand the whole significance of what had happened in the life of Jesus. This revelation was made manifest to the early Church for the first time in retrospect in the light of the Easter events. Despite this lack of understanding, it was still of greatest importance that at least some of the members of the Church saw the events and heard Jesus’ own interpretation of his revelation. In connection with the new events, the “remembering” gained the highest revelatory significance for its reinterpretation of the kerygma from the fact that its originator was Jesus himself.

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