Born in 1902 in Strasbourg, Oscar Cullmann was reared in the Protestant liberalism of his day. He was educated at the University of Strasbourg from 1920–24, where he had the privilege of sitting in on Albert Schweitzer’s lectures on the history of Jesus research. From there he also went on to study at the University of Paris, where he studied with catholic scholar Alfred Loisy and others. Cullmann served as professor first at Strasbourg and then at the University of Basel, where he finished his career in 1972. Cullmann passed away in 1999.
Oscar Cullmann is most known today as a major proponent of what is called Heilsgeschichte (history of salvation). His first book, Christ in Time, posits that in order to understand the person and work of Christ one must understand the history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte), a history that starts with Abraham and will finally culminate at the return of Christ. Cullmann’s second book, Christology of the New Testament, applies the principles of Heilsgeschichte to the Christ event. In effect, Cullmann argues that instead of focusing on who Christ was, the NT focus on what Christ did. This makes NT Christology functional rather than ontological. Cullmann did not deny that the ontology of Christ was not important to the NT message; he was more concerned with what the message of the NT was in its historical context, uninfluenced by later church councils and there Christological concerns.
I’ll finish with a quote from Christ and Time:
The hope of the final victory is so much the more vivid because of the unshakably firm conviction that the battle that decides the victory has already taken place.
- Christology of the New Testament
- Christ and Time
- Salvation in History
- The Early Church
- Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr
Dorman, Ted M. “Cullmann, Oscar (1902–1999).” Edited by Donald K. McKim. Dictionary of Major Biblical Interpreters. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.
Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time>. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1964: 87.