This development in German universities in the 1800s is not to be confused with today’s “Critical Theory” (just in case anyone reading the 1990 quote below thinks they are akin.) This question deals with a new approach to Scripture – examining the text critically, scientifically even, as all other ancient texts should be treated. It was at total odds with the venerable Dean Burgon who declared,

“The Bible is none other than the Word of God: not some part of it, more, some part less; but all alike, the utterance of Him who sits upon the Throne; - absolute, faultless, unerring, supreme.” J.W. Burgon, Inspiration and Interpretation, Seven Sermons before the University of Oxford in 1860-61, p.89

Although today’s “Critical Theory” does impact on the Church, it is political, not theological, being a German idea started in Germany in 1923 that is a mixture of Marxism and postmodernism being fronted as ‘social justice’. Having cleared that up, here now is the quote that my question is based upon:

“In its own eyes, historical-critical theology wants to lend assistance to the proclamation of the gospel through an interpretation of the Bible that is scientifically reliable and objective. There is, however, a monstrous contradiction between what it says it wants to do, on the one hand, and what it actually does, on the other. It does not further the proclamation of the gospel – in fact, it actually prevents it.” Eta Linnemann, 1990

Dr. Linnemann was a ‘follower’ of Rudolph Bultmann and a teacher of higher criticism in the university system of West Germany but I cannot find the book she wrote which this quote apparently comes from (which is in a translation of: Historical Criticism of the Bible)

Can anyone pad this quote out to give reasons for such a drastic reversal? In what ways would Higher Criticism prevent the proclamation of the biblical gospel, as claimed? What is “this monstrous contradiction” Dr. Linnemann hints at?


2 Answers 2


From what I understand about the German school Tubingen of higher criticism, the "monstrous contradiction" refers to the Gospel dating of the death, burial, resurrection of Christ. The Synoptic Gospel puts the crucifixion after Passover. John's Gospel places the crucifixion before Passover.

This contradiction led the school into an infinite regression.

  1. ‘If one assumes, on the basis of the differences between John’s Gospel and the three other Gospels, that the author of John is not John the disciple of Jesus, then a series of inferences naturally flows: In this case the author himself did not personally experience what he asserts about Jesus. He must have modeled his presentation on earlier sources. This raises the questions about the nature of these earlier documents. And this in turn raises the further question of how John’s Gospel is distinct from the sources it is based upon’ (Linnemann 1990:93). Source

The contradiction led to questioning who John is, what did he really say, is he a liar, what are the true source documents?

So, the radical change from believing the Bible as the word of God to a made-up man-made mixture sources to that monstrous contradiction. It is monstrous because the death, burial, resurrection of Christ is the whole of Christianity; it is the gospel (1 Cor 15).

  • 1
    Succinctly put. Linnemann pointed out that saying one was a little bit of a biblical 'higher critic' was like saying one was "a little bit pregnant". Yes, one either rejects the inerrancy of scripture and so pulls the rug from under the entire gospel, or one sticks to the Holy Spirit inspired written record and all of the biblical gospel of Christ. As Iain H. Murray said, "Once it is thought that we are at liberty to modify, or discard Scripture, it will not be Christianity that is left."
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 13:19

Due to the two helpful links provided in the comments, I have been enabled to understand what led Eta Linnemann to speak of a "monstrous contradiction" within historical-critical theology, and how it prevents proclamation of the gospel (as in the partial quote I gave).

The first link, https://www.truthchallenge.one/blog/2012/04/03/what-does-historical-critical-theology-do-to-the-bible/ is to an article by Spencer D. Gear, all about Prof. Linnemann and her inside knowledge of historical-critical theology that eventually led to her renouncing it. The full title of her book, as translated by R.W. Yarborough, is "Historical Criticism of the Bible, Reflections of a Bultmannian turned evangelical" (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991). On page 89 is that partial quote I gave, and on page 18 she had come to believe that the theology she had formerly taught was "a sign of God's judgment".

In Gear's on-line article, he lists 18 points of Linnemann's, quoting her, and it is No. 10 that gives the full quote in question. Then points 12, 13 and 14 give her own examples of what she means. There is just too much in Gear's article to quote here. The whole on-line article would need to be read by anyone wanting to know the whys and wherefores.

So, that is all I can say here. No way am I going to give myself the Green Tick, so if anyone else wants to pad this out with their own answer, please feel free!

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