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What Is the Truth About Jesus Christ?

Problems of Christology

by Friedrich Loofs, Ph.D., Th.D

Truth About Jesus

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What Is the Truth About Jesus Christ?

Problems of Christology

by Friedrich Loofs, Ph.D., Th.D.


Barbara Buzzard

A Review

by Barbara Buzzard

Friedrich Loofs, Professor of Church History at the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, was asked to deliver a series of lectures at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio in 1911. Those six lectures (Haskell Lectures) on the problems of Christology were subsequently published.[1]  In Oberlin’s alumni magazine of the time, this was said of him: “The two out-standing impressions of the spirit of the lecturer were his deep moral earnestness and his absolute scientific candor…[The lectures] were models of condensed information and straight thinking. There was not a superfluous sentence. He attacked his theme in the opening sentences of the first lecture and never swerved from it till he had arrived at what was for him the inevitable conclusion.”[2] The writer in that alumni magazine quotes Professor Loofs as saying: “The idea of a God-man which underlies the Christian thought of Redemption is…historically impossible.”[3]

By today's evangelical standards Loofs is a heretic, but at that time the audience was much more charitable, and as the alumnus noted they felt that “something agreeable, wholesome, and stimulating had been added to their lives.”[4] How times have changed! Today if one but utters some of the sentiments of Loofs or questions who Jesus is, one is immediately marginalized, if not shunned. How have we regressed so seriously that questions of import in the early 1900’s can no longer be asked? Is the religious reign of terror really over or has it just found subtler ways to silence thinkers?

This is a hard-to-read book, witnessing to the deterioration of our language (and our thinking?). Notice throughout how often the word “contradiction” occurs as Loofs analyzes a writer's point of view, pointing of course to a major problem and an impossibility with God.

Professor Loofs begins by introducing the broad scope of the question. Ultimately, he says, there is only one question: What is the truth about Jesus? Loofs introduces two German theologians, Reimarus and Strauss, whose ambition it was to prove that the life of Jesus had been a natural human life and to bring to light the errant traditions which raised Jesus to a super human. He contrasts this with the efforts of the American William Benjamin Smith (Tulane University) who sketched in his book[5] a purely divine Jesus. “The man Jesus, whose life the biographers of Jesus tried to give, according to Smith did not exist. The New Testament, he says, teaches the divinity of Jesus, but also frequently introduces him as a man…The orthodox doctrine, he says, has accepted this twofold scheme and formed the high mystery of the God-man, which people are called upon to believe. But to our intellect, he thinks, the God-man is a contradiction in itself, an absurdity which a reasonable man cannot accept in peace." [6]

Loofs further laments Smith’s theory of this “God Jesus” as not worthwhile even to spend any more time with, were it not for the fact that Smith, at that time, was probably the most important representative of a line of thought which continued to circulate. The Gospel was according to Smith “nothing but the announcement of the God Jesus, clothed in the form of parables and symbolical history.”[7]

Professor Loofs is insightful in his analysis: “Ink is cheap, and the suggestive force of a supposed truth has always been exceedingly productive and misleading. But nobody need check a complicated mathematical sum from beginning to end if he finds a flaw in the first proposition.”[8]

Speaking of propositions and flaws, consider what has happened to our logic and our refusal to study/question/understand in these incredibly technologically savvy days of 2011. These four propositions are standard orthodoxy: 1) Jesus is God; 2) God is our heavenly Father; 3) Jesus is not our heavenly Father; 4) there are not two Gods. Of course you will see that built into the system is that fatal flaw Loofs speaks of: the four propositions say there are not two Gods but enumerate two in points 1) and 2).

One last point about W.B. Smith: Professor Loofs regrets that we must even consider some of Smith’s fantastic ideas but we must be aware of them as they have had such a broad influence in modern thought. For example, Loofs states that these are Smith’s views: “Even St. Paul did not know a man Jesus. The God Jesus who died for all men filled his thoughts.”[9]

Professor Loofs presents the opposing camps. Smith and his camp found in their “Jesus-research” that “a Jesus who appeared as the Messiah, preached the morality of the Kingdom of God, and died in order to sanction his work, never existed.”[10] On the other side is the “purely” human conception of Jesus as represented by German liberal theology, and Loofs cites many historical references to prove Jesus’ historical veracity. The third option would be what Loofs regards as the mythological theory of the God/man. He clearly sees that this is an impossible contradiction.

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[1] Friedrich Loofs, PhD, Th.D., What is the Truth About Jesus Christ? N.Y: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1913. All quotations are from this text unless otherwise indicated.
[2]Kemper Fullerton, Oberlin Alumni Magazine.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5]W.B. Smith, Ecce Deus.
[6]What is the Truth About Jesus Christ? p. 5
[7]Ibid. p. 10
[8] Ibid. p. 15
[9]Ibid. p. 11
[10]Ibid. p. 43


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