Theodor Zahn, Adolf Harnack, and Adolf Schlatter

Theodor Ridder von Zahn, Karl Gustav Adolf von Harnack, and Adolf Schlatter lived in the engulfing shadows of the Enlightenment. This movement, with its quest for scientific objectivity and its confidence in human reason, affected every scholarly discipline, including biblical studies. One of the products of the Enlightenment was the historical-critical method pioneered by Johann Salomo Semler (1725–91) and Johann David Michaelis (1717–91). This approach reached a peak in Harnack, with Zahn and Schlatter representing a conservative counterpoint to the prevailing scholarly climate. These three scholars not only lived in the heyday of historical criticism, they also did their work at the onset of a new movement, the return to a theological interpretation of the Bible. Stephen Neill and Tom Wright call this the “Re-entry of Theology,” with the best-known representative of this movement being Karl Barth (1886–1968). Harnack, Zahn, and Schlatter, then, lived at a time when historical criticism was a formidable dam concealing increasing cracks that were gradually to give way to the “new” theological methods.


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