Oscar Cullmann

French theologian (1902-1999)

Oscar Cullmann (25 February 1902, Strasbourg - 16 January 1999, Chamonix) was a Lutheran theologian. He is best known for his work in the ecumenical movement and was partly responsible for the establishment of dialogue between the Lutheran and Roman Catholic traditions. He was invited to be an observer at the Second Vatican Council.


  • For the Greeks who believed in the immortality of the soul it may have been harder to accept the Christian preaching of the resurrection than it was for others. . . . The teaching of the great philosophers Socrates and Plato can in no way be brought into consonance [agreement] with that of the New Testament.
    • Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?, p. 59
  • Plato shows us how Socrates goes to his death in complete peace and composure. The death of Socrates is a beautiful death. Nothing is seen here of death’s terror. Socrates cannot fear death, since indeed it sets us free from the body. . . . Death is the soul’s great friend. So he teaches; and so, in wonderful harmony with his teaching, he dies.
    • A Better Hope for the Soul, The Watchtower magazine, 8/1 1996.
  • Because Jesus came, died, and was resurrected, O[ld] T[estament] festivals have now been fulfilled, and to maintain them ‘means reverting back to the old covenant, as if Christ had never come.
    • In the contemporary Vocabulaire biblique, Protestant theologian Oscar Cullmann is quoted as admitting that.
  • There is a radical difference between the Christian expectation of the resurrection of the dead and the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul. . . . Although Christianity later established a link between these two beliefs, and today the average Christian confuses them completely, I see no reason to hide what I and the majority of scholars consider to be the truth. . . . The life and thought of the New Testament are entirely dominated by faith in the resurrection. . . . The whole man, who is really dead, is brought back to life by a new creative act of God.
    • In the book Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?

The State in the New Testament (1956)

Der Staat im Neuen Testament, 1956
  • The complex notion of the ‘provisional’ character of the State is the reason why the attitude of the first Christians toward the State is not unitary, but rather appears to be contradictory. I emphasize, that it appears to be so. We need only mention Romans 13:1, ‘Let every man be subject to the powers that be . . . ,’ alongside Revelation 13: the State as the beast from the abyss. In both instances, the same Roman state is spoken of.
    • p. 3
  • To superficial consideration, it might appear that in its relationship to the State Christianity simply took over the heritage of Judaism, and that the problem poses itself in exactly the same way here as there. Actually, however, the Jewish theocratic ideal is expressly rejected by Christianity as satanic—we need only recall the temptation stories in the Gospel. Satan offers to Christ the kingdoms of the world.
    • p. 9
  • The Gospel knows nothing of that confusion of the Kingdom of God with the State which is characteristic of the theocratic ideal of Judaism. On the contrary, it opposed the theocratic ideal of Judaism with the same sharpness with which it resisted the totalitarian claims of the Roman State.
    • p. 9
  • The Zealots ... want to initiate a holy war and to establish within a human framework a Kingdom of God which is an earthly kingdom and which at the same time takes the place of the Roman Empire. Jesus sees that use of this method places one on exactly the same plane as every other totalitarian State. This is also an abandonment of the New Testament expectation of a kingdom which is really God's, and not a human kingdom. If the Zealots succeed in realising their ideal, it will be a totalitarian State of the most extreme form; one making divine claims.
    • p. 52
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