The Mystery of the Kingdom of God.

Under the primary usage of Mark, Schweitzer observes the constant secrecy of Jesus, the inability of the disciple’s comprehension of the Kingdom, and the “now/not yet” nature of the Kingdom with various implications. Albert Schweitzer’s Mystery of Kingdom is a book to be answered, both with a presuppositional and theological response. He provided a number of valid questions and a number of valid theological thoughts to validate the reading of this book. The structure of this review will be two-fold: an articulation of his presuppositions and an analysis of his theological positions in order to understand his thesis.

Schweitzer’s Presuppositions

Schweitzer’s first presupposition is Markan primacy for theological construction. This manifests itself through his lack of any Lukan references. Luke uses the word Kingdom 46 times in 44 verses, Luke has 25 “Son of Man” references, and three references to the “Son of David”, yet not a single Lukan verse was mentioned Schweitzer’s book

His Markan primacy is made apparent also by attributing secondary literary status for unique Matthean material. In this Markan primacy, Mark is used as a theological and historical anchor for the other gospels. During the Transfiguration, Mark’s version says “Blessed be ‘the Coming One’”; whereas Matthew has Son of David, with kingdom implications. According to Schweitzer, Matthew does not contain the historical account.

Matthew in his account interprets the Coming One as the Son of David. We possess no direct proof that this expression (the Coming One), which is derived from Ps 118.25ff., was employed in Jesus’ time for the Messiah…It is therefore unhistorical when Matthew represents the people as acclaiming in the same breath both the Coming One and the Son of David. (157–58)

Consequently, unhistorical material prohibits construction of theology.

Furthermore, Schweitzer’s rejection of Jesus being the Son of Man during his ministry is attributed to the unhistorical nature of Matthew. There are many parallels in Matthew where Schweitzer affirms Jesus, in some fashion, saying “I” when discussing Son of Man/Son of David-like language. However, it is due to Matthew’s secondary, unhistorical status prohibiting such conclusions. “This erroneous use was due therefore to a literary development of markedly secondary character. In this respect it was like the unhistorical use of the expression ‘Son of David’ by Matthew. It agrees thereto that the ‘Son of Man’ passages here in question belong likewise to a secondary stratum of St. Matthew’s Gospel.” (197)

Schweitzer’s second presupposition stems from his first in that there is a separation of theology and history. That is, material failing to be historically valid most likely will not used to reconstruct theology. “Let us not forget that we are dealing here with an antinomy from which only one conclusion can be drawn, namely, that what has hitherto been accounted the ‘historical’ conception of the messianic consciousness of Jesus is false, because it does not explain the history.” (6)

An example that further demonstrates this separation of theology and history is the single Markan use of “ransom” (Mk. 10.45). Because “ransom” is only found in this Markan pericope, Schweitzer attributes this as having Pauline influence. Under the frame-work of form-critical influence, ransom language is primarily Pauline and uncharacteristic of the Synoptic tradition that this “Pauline theory likewise has nothing to do with history.” (59) Therefore, this Pauline-interpolation cannot, necessarily, be used to reconstruct what historically happened.

With these two presuppositions, it will most likely produce different results if the entire synoptic tradition can speak into the Kingdom idea. From the start, I would suggest that Schweitzer’s evidence and “pool” of data is limited. Even though the “secrecy” or mystery of the Kingdom is not primarily a Markan tradition, affirming the Matthean tradition could have enhanced Schweitzer’s conclusions.

Reaction to the primarily “Now” ethical demands of the Kingdom: Seminal Form of Now/Not Yet Language?

Schweitzer’s primary motivation in his first chapter is to uncover four primary presuppositions concerning the Kingdom of God. His reaction to a primarily “Now” concept of the Kingdom is coupled with Schweitzer’s response of future dimensions. When responding to Mt. 18.4, he observes three elements: ethics of the kingdom, timing of the kingdom, and reign, instead of realm, of the kingdom. He presents an affirmation of a present ethic of the kingdom, but critiques a “Now” only model.

The fact is ignored that the Kingdom in which one reigns is thought of as a future thing, whereas the serving applies to the present! In our ethical fashion of viewing the matter, serving and reigning coincide logically and chronologically. With Jesus, however, it is not at all a question of a purely ethical exchange of the notions of serving and ruling; rather it is a contrast which develops in a chronological sequence. There is a sharp distinction made between the present and the future aeon. (74)

Schweitzer, subsequently, revisits this idea of a present ethic and future kingdom. The “hyper ethical” notion of the Kingdom is questioned, not a present ethic. That is, he critiques a “present ethical kingdom” yet affirms some present kingdom ethic. “Not the ethical but the hyper-ethical, the eschatological, notion of the Kingdom dominates the Passion of Jesus conceived it.” (81–82) This is a helpful now/not-yet distinction of the Kingdom.

Surrounding the idea of the Passion is an eschatological kingdom. Schweitzer’s critique of the modern (i.e., his modern) historical solution is primarily a “coming again”. During his era, some called it the “apotheosis”, though Schweitzer provides no advocates to pursue. Apotheosis carries the notion of becoming deity through means of glorification. However, Schweitzer seeks to expand this apotheosis as the death of Jesus and the return of a Son of Man by concluding how Jesus becomes the Son of Man through his return. This idea is very reminiscent of Paul (Rom 1.4). Yet Paul offers Messiahship alongside resurrection, not the parousia.

Nevertheless, Schweitzer connects the Passion idea, not to the “coming again” like his contemporaries, but to return of the Son of Man. This Son of Man language is directly attributed to a future Kingdom. Commenting on Mark 8.38, the Son of Man concept is related to a future coming. This future coming is, according to Schweitzer, the kingdom. “Jesus therefore sets his death in temporal-causal connection with the eschatological dawning of the Kingdom. The eschatological notion of the Kingdom, not the modern-ethical notion, dominates his idea of the Passion

The Present Ethic of the Kingdom is Repentance

I found Schweitzer’s balanced critique of a “Now-only” kingdom refreshing. Not in how he dismantled the view, but in how he reconstructed a balanced view affirming present elements of the kingdom. The primary present element of the kingdom is that of repentance. “His [Jesus] whole theory of ethics must come under the conception of repentance as a preparation for the coming of the kingdom.” (94)

I, however, noticed an interesting correlation between Schweitzer’s connection of the kingdom and the Old Testament concept of the Day of the Lord. I’d like to find other writings of Schweitzer that provide further expansion of his thinking. How does he relate the Day of the Lord with the Kingdom? Is the Day of the Lord Old Testament language, whereas the Kingdom is Gospel language depicting the same idea or does one precede the other? (95) “Both have a forward vision, both are dominated by the thought of a condition of perfection which God will bring to pass through the Judgment. This, in the Prophetic view, is the Day of the Lord; in the Synoptic it is the dawn of the Kingdom.” (95) What are the differences? Finally, what does the Old Testament Day of the Lord imply for Schweitzer’s/our understanding of the Kingdom?

Repentance seems to be the linking element, at least, between the Day of the Lord and the Kingdom. The major and minor prophets portrayal of repentance in the Day of the Lord is a “lively echo” (95) for the Kingdom. “For what Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah mean by repentance is moral renovation in prospect of the Day of the Lord.” (95) I’m unsure what Schweitzer implies by “moral renovation” but, nonetheless, it is repentance that links the two together.

According to Schweitzer, the Kingdom is what?

According to Schweitzer’s depiction of the Kingdom, it contains a list of the following elements (though containing more than what I provided). The kingdom contains a “Now and Then” tension. There are present kingdom implications awaiting a full consummation[1]. Schweitzer, if I understand the history of “Kingdom of God” Interpretation[2] correction, may be paving the way for what is now termed the “Already/Not Yet” eschatology. There is a close connection to the ethics of the people (individual and corporate) and the futurity of messianic implications. “Like his secret, so also is his whole ethical outlook ruled by the contrast of ‘Now and Then.’ It is a question of repentance unto the kingdom which renders one fit for it,—for only the righteous inherit the Kingdom.” (255) The ethic displayed individually and corporately secures the passageway for a future kingdom.

As already discussed, at greater length above, the kingdom contains a present day ethic. In sending out the Disciples to proclaim the kingdom, Schweitzer affirms the content being the Kingdom, Repentance, and judgment (90)

Furthermore, intricately linked to the kingdom is the Elijah-like figure, Son of Man language, and the Passion. It was interesting how Schweitzer develops this throughout the book. Jesus’ ministry did not display the works of the Messiah; instead, his return will demonstrate him as the Messiah. The transfiguration is not an ovation for the Messiah; instead it displays Jesus as the “forerunner” to the Messiah. (158) Until the council, Jesus was not publically known as the Messiah (nor totally consciously for that matter) because he constantly talked of the Son of Man in the 3rd person instead of using “I” statements. (163) “When Jesus revealed to them the secret of his messiahship, that did not mean to them that he is the Messiah, as we moderns must understand it; rather it signified for them that their Lord and Master was the one who in the messianic age would be revealed as Messiah.” (187) The Son of Man language was not fully attributed to the life of Jesus because, according to Schweitzer, the Son of Man is frequently discussed with the return of the Messiah. Therefore, the Son of Man is primarily a future reality, not a present reality.

The Kingdom will, however, consist of the Son of Man involving judgment. It was clear that Schweitzer wanted to keep the Son of Man title for a future event. “The messianic title ‘Son of Man’ is futuristic in character. It refers to the moment in which the Messiah shall come upon the clouds of heaven for judgment.” (191) I do want to pursue more how Schweitzer views the timing of judgment, kingdom, and Son of Man language. Can inter-relationship of judgment and kingdom ever happen in the present era? Or is it strictly a future event?

Tentative Critique: The emphasis upon the “Secrecy” of Messiahship depends upon his Markan Primacy

Schweitzer offers a compelling case for Jesus’ secrecy in Mark. It is a real tension that deserves better and more expansive answers than I provide. Yet, it presupposes the critical thinking of his day. Why is Jesus silent regarding his “Messiahship.” He lists a few Markan passages but multiple Matthean passages that anticipate Son of Man/Son of David language from Jesus, from His disciples, and people attributing him such titles. However, Schweitzer’s critical thinking is exposed when making Matthean testimony secondary.[3] “All of these passages [i.e. list of Matthean passages] are peculiar to Matthew and belong to a secondary literary stratum. For the history of Jesus they have no importance, but a great deal for the history of the history of Jesus.” (129) Therefore, unique Matthean material is secondary to that of history. History is found in Mark.

Moreover, Schweitzer finds Jesus’ self-attestation of Messiahship problematic. Why did Jesus not attribute this title to himself? “How was it possible that Jesus knew himself as the Messiah from the beginning, and yet to the very last moment did not give in his public preaching any intimation of his messiahship?” (134) Jesus’ Messiahship, according to Schweitzer, is a self-conscious reality, not an actual reality.

I find Schweitzer’s logic over simplistic and not fully representative of the entire evidence. Let’s stand upon his critical presuppositions of Markan supremacy and not consider Matthew or Luke. In Mark, Jesus claims to be the Son of Man/Son of David/Christ to a group of people (Mk 2.10–11), to his disciples (Mk 8.31–38; 9.12; 10.33, 45; 13.26; 14.21, 41), to authorities or religious leaders (Mk 2.28; 12.35; 14.61–62), people attribute him to be Son of Man/Son of David/Christ (Mk 14.47–48; 15.39), the disciples attribute him to be Son of Man/Son of David/Christ (Mk. 8.29), but yet, the religious leaders did not attribute this title to him. I don’t find this aspect Schweitzer’s argument compelling. The “Messianic Secret”, though common with Wrede, is a side issue and is not fully explained in Schweitzer’s book. However, a quick and over simplistic solution to Jesus’ multiple commands for the disciple’s silence is connected to the disciple’s inability to understand (Mk. 9.30–32) not necessarily Jesus’ desire for this idea not to spread.

Final Thoughts

Schweitzer’s book was altogether helpful and will be consulted again. I am anxious to see, having a better historical development of the Kingdom, how much Schweitzer is appealed to and how much of his writings will be dismissed. Though there were a number of times I found myself disagreeing with some of his presuppositions and theological formulations, I found myself at a number of times in debt to the amount of clarity and redirecting thoughts about the Kingdom.


[1]I’m unsure if this is the correct term to use.

[2]This history of interpretation was presented in the books Dr. Seifrid assigned for reading prior to the first day of class.

[3]The critical thinking during Schweitzer’s era, in an attempt to not over simplify, is Markan priority as the earliest document of our canonical text. Through means of source criticism, Matthew and Luke were too theological and dependant upon Mark to have equal status and Mark is therefore the historical anchor of the Life of Jesus. Wrede, a contemporary of Schweitzer, began to discredit some historical validity of the Gospel of Mark, possibly introducing form criticism in seminal form.

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One thought on “The Mystery of the Kingdom of God.

  1. Pingback: Forthcoming Book Review: Jesus the Messiah « Doctrinaeue Coram Deo

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