German term meaning “salvation history.” It was coined in the mid-eighteenth century and employed by J.T. Beck* who combined Hegel's philosophy with the notion that God's dealings with mankind required a logical connection between the various events composing that revelation. Heilsgeschichte emphasized the importance of each stage of the process because each became a part of the whole.
As new approaches to history developed, the Lutheran theologian J.C.K. Hofmann* offered some revisions in his use of the term. Against Beck, he noted that in a teleological view of history the earlier elements could not serve the same function as the later ones; nonetheless, Hofmann stopped short of rejecting the OT as inferior to the New. Rather, he maintained that superiority of the New is lost when it is studied in isolation.
More recently the idea of Heilsgeschichte has served to help theologians out of the corner into which historicism had forced them. Refusing to relegate the Bible to a purely human and therefore completely relative phenomenon, theologians such as Oscar Cullmann have once again turned to the Heilsgeschichte approach. According to this view, the events in the biblical narratives point to an increasing awareness of God's saving work in history, and confront the believer in the present with divine challenge.
E.C. Rust, Salvation History: A(1962); idem, Towards a Theological Understanding of History (1967); O. Cullmann, Christ and Time (1964); idem, Salvation in History (1967).