Marius Reiser: Explain the secret correctly

With his incarnation, the Son of God entered his history and destiny on earth. Since then, the eternal fate of man at all times was determined by his attitude to this event. This is why the question of the truth content of the New Testament testimonies is of central importance to faith. In the volume “And He Has Changed Before Their Eyes,” New Testament scholar Marius Reiser examines selected New Testament historical accounts for their true historical content.

Unnecessary questions

Chapters III-V, which have already been published elsewhere, ask about the historical reliability of the Christmas story in Luke and Matthew, the Transfiguration of Jesus and the Apostle Paul’s journey from Caesarea to the shipwreck off Malta, which are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. In chapters one and two, which are first publications, the problem of the historical event and its possibility of representation as well as the relationship between fiction and reality are mainly discussed.

In the author’s opinion, historical representations cannot do without “creative reconstructions” and “imaginary elements”. Once these illusory parts are identified, their truth content can be raised “in symbolic, allegorical or allegorical form”. However, this procedure presupposes the systematic effort of asking first about historical facts. In contrast, today’s interpreters consider all biblical accounts to be purely fictional “regardless of possible or actual historical elements in them”. In this way they all become “a kind of independent parable”, which one then deals with with explanatory tools. Inquiries about the possible date are redundant.

historical core

For example, the author demonstrates his approach to the solution using the two stories of Jesus’ birth in the New Testament. For Raiser, they are “strongly symbolic narratives with a historical core”. While the majority of interpreters today deny the date of Jesus’ transfiguration any date, Reiser proves that it is entirely true. As far as Paul’s voyage is concerned, Reiser manages to prove that it is by no means a fictitious description of the voyage, but rather a “masterpiece of historical correctness,” as historian Edward Meyer once put it. On the basis of these three results, which differ greatly, it becomes clear that it is necessary to examine each historical account of the New Testament separately: that is, to raise the question of the relationship between fiction and authenticity anew in each case.

The author concludes that there are a variety of New Testament histories: with birth stories with strong allegory about a historical core on the one hand, and the barely stylized narrative of Paul’s journey in the Acts of the Apostles on the other. Every story should be categorized into this literary spectrum. According to Reiser, every exegete must reveal the prior understanding with which he approaches the texts. This also includes answering the question whether or not it “depends on a supernatural tendency and the interference of that direction in world events.”

There is no source for Nazareth

Reiser’s visions of fiction and truth in the Christmas stories in the Bibles are appropriate for the Christmas season. Raiser sticks to the date of the journey to Bethlehem and the City of David as the place of birth: The Evangelist Luke’s account is “quite realistic, even if some things are unclear regarding the exact date of Jesus’ birth and birth. The exact tax collection that led Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem must remain “. Furthermore, no historical source mentions Nazareth as the place of birth. Through the paradoxical juxtaposition of Christ and Emperor Augustus, Luke clearly places the birth story in a universal historical context.

In the controversy surrounding Gloria’s script, Reiser spoke in favor of “pleasure.” His translation reads: “God is glorified on high and on earth, / Peace reigns among men in his happiness.” Because the allegorical explanation is far from illusory, his conclusion regarding the Lucanian birth story is that it is very true. Like what the angels proclaim in it. Looking at the Christmas Eve nativity plays, which are often reduced to pure humanity, one can only partially agree with the author’s statement that “updated nativity scenes, which boldly translated events into their own time and world,” would. Justice for symbolic truth. The famous literary masterpieces of the Church Fathers, of Romanos the Organ, Dorothy Sayers, and Chesterton, which he cited, hardly stuck with them.

Worship not salutation

What unites them is the paradox “Little Child, Eternal God”. But it is precisely this fact that the baby in the manger is a deity of existence and essence is constantly avoided today. According to Reiser, all attempts to interpret the Star of Bethlehem from the Gospel of Matthew would strip it of “its symbolic character and thus its theological content” in astrological terms.

In general, the author remains somewhat ambiguous about the historical substance of the report: “No one can deny our history some historical realism, especially cultural-historical.” The fact that the new standard translation replaces the worship of astrologers is merely a salutation is rejected with good reason: “The mention of loyalty is intended to exclude the possibility that it is a matter of worship.” In interpreting the Gifts of the Wise Men, Reiser directs himself to the Fathers of the Church: “Gold as an indication of Jesus’ property, frankincense as an indication of his divinity, and myrrh as an indication of his death as a human being, and especially the atonement of death.”

innocent children

It should be agreed to update the early Christian interpretation of murdered innocent children, and one could also “think about the frighteningly high number of abortions carried out in Western countries”. Both Reiser’s theoretical interpretations and his interpretation of the Bible provide numerous arguments for the ability to question the prohibition of interpretive reasoning on a large scale.

On the basis of the preserved historical truth of God’s incarnation, its symbolic interpretation also enables the creative appropriation of the truth of faith to the present.


Marius Reiser
“And change before their eyes.”
Fiction and Truth in New Testament Stories.
Verlag Herder, Freiburg, 2021, 254 pages,
ISBN 978-3-451-39160-628, EUR 28, –

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