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Rudolf Bultmann

Rudolf Bultmann German theologian

German theologian
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro German theologian
Known for The New Testament and Mythology
A.K.A. Rudolf Karl Bultmann
Was Religious scholar Theologian Professor Educator Philosopher
From Germany
Type Academia Philosophy Religion
Gender male
Birth 20 August 1884, Wiefelstede, Germany
Death 30 July 1976, Marburg, Germany (aged 92 years)
Star sign LeoLeo
Rudolf Bultmann
The details
Biography

Rudolf Karl Bultmann ([ˈbʊltman]; 20 August 1884 – 30 July 1976) was a German Lutheran theologian and professor of the New Testament at the University of Marburg. He was one of the major figures of early-20th-century biblical studies. A prominent critic of liberal theology, Bultmann instead argued for an existentialist interpretation of the New Testament. His hermeneutical approach to the New Testament led him to be a proponent of dialectical theology.

Bultmann is known for his belief that the historical analysis of the New Testament is both futile and unnecessary, given that the earliest Christian literature showed little interest in specific locations. Bultmann argued that all that matters is the "thatness", not the "whatness" of Jesus, i.e. only that Jesus existed, preached, and died by crucifixion matters, not what happened throughout his life.

Bultmann relied on demythologization, an approach interpreting the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Bultmann contended that only faith in the kerygma, or proclamation, of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus.

Background

Bultmann was born on 20 August 1884 in Wiefelstede, Oldenburg, the son of Arthur Kennedy Bultmann, a Lutheran minister. He did his Abitur at the Altes Gymnasium in the city of Oldenburg, and studied theology at Tübingen. After three terms, Bultmann went to the University of Berlin for two terms, and finally to Marburg for two more terms. He received his degree in 1910 from Marburg with a dissertation on the Epistles of St Paul, written under the supervision of Johannes Weiss. After submitting a Habilitation two years later, he became a lecturer on the New Testament at Marburg.

Bultmann married Helene Feldmann on 6 August 1917. The couple had three daughters. Bultmann's wife died in 1973.

After brief lectureships at Breslau and Giessen, Bultmann returned to Marburg in 1921 as a full professor, and stayed there until his retirement in 1951. From autumn 1944 until the end of the Second World War in 1945 he took into his family Uta Ranke-Heinemann, who had fled the bombs and destruction in Essen.

Bultmann was a student of Hermann Gunkel, Johannes Weiss, and Wilhelm Heitmüller. His doctoral students included Hans Jonas, Ernst Käsemann, Günther Bornkamm, Helmut Koester, and Ernst Fuchs. He also taught Hannah Arendt.

He was a member of the Confessing Church and critical towards Nazism. He spoke out against the mistreatment of Jews, against nationalistic excesses and against the dismissal of non-Aryan Christian ministers. He did not, however, speak out against "the antiSemitic[sic] laws which had already been promulgated" and he was philosophically limited in his ability to "repudiate, in a comprehensive manner, the central tenets of Nazi racism and antiSemitism[sic]."

Bultmann became friends with Martin Heidegger who taught at Marburg for five years, and Heidegger's views on existentialism had an influence on Bultmann's thinking. However, Bultmann himself stated that his views could not simply be reduced to thinking in Heideggerian categories, in that "the New Testament is not a doctrine about our nature, about our authentic existence as human beings, but a proclamation of this liberating act of God."

He died on 30 July 1976 in Marburg.

Theological approaches

Bultmann's History of the Synoptic Tradition (1921) remains highly influential as a tool for biblical research, even among scholars who reject his analyses of the conventional rhetorical pericopes (narrative units) which comprise the gospels, and the historically-oriented principles of "form criticism" of which Bultmann was the most influential exponent.

According to Bultmann's definition, "[t]he aim of form-criticism [sic] is to determine the original form of a piece of narrative, a dominical saying or a parable. In the process we learn to distinguish secondary additions and forms, and these in turn lead to important results for the history of the tradition."

In 1941 Bultmann applied form criticism to the Gospel of John, in which he distinguished the presence of a lost Signs Gospel on which John — alone of the evangelists — depended. His monograph, Das Evangelium des Johannes, highly controversial at the time, became a milestone in research into the historical Jesus. The same year his lecture New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Message called on interpreters to demythologize The New Testament, in particular he argued for replacing supernatural biblical interpretations with temporal and existential categorizations. His argument, in many ways, reflected a hermeneutical adaption of the existentialist thought of his colleague at the time, the philosopher Martin Heidegger. This approach led Bultmann to reject doctrines such as the pre-existence of Christ. Bultmann believed his endeavors in this regard would make accessible to modern audiences — already immersed in science and technology — the significance (or existential quality) of Jesus' teachings. Bultmann thus thought of his endeavor of "demythologizing the New Testament proclamation" as fundamentally an evangelism task, clarifying the kerygma, or gospel proclamation, by stripping it of elements of the first-century "mythical world picture" that had potential to alienate modern people from Christian faith:

It is impossible to repristinate a past world picture by sheer resolve, especially a mythical world picture, now that all of our thinking is irrevocably formed by science. A blind acceptance of New Testament mythology would be simply arbitrariness; to make such acceptance a demand of faith would be to reduce faith to a work.

Bultmann saw theology in existential terms, and maintained that the New Testament was a radical text, worthy of understanding yet questioned in his time because of the prevailing Protestant conviction in a supernatural interpretation. In both the boasting of legalists "who are faithful to the law" and the boasting of the philosophers "who are proud of their wisdom", Bultmann finds a "basic human attitude" of "highhandedness that tries to bring within our own power even the submission that we know to be our authentic being". Standing against all human high-handedness is the New Testament, "which claims that we can in no way free ourselves from our factual fallenness in the world but are freed from it only by an act of God ... the salvation occurrence that is realized in Christ." Bultmann remained convinced that the narratives of the life of Jesus offered theology in story form, teaching lessons in the familiar language of myth. They were not to be excluded, but given explanation so they could be understood for today. Bultmann thought faith should become a present-day reality. To Bultmann, the people of the world appeared to be always in disappointment and turmoil. Faith must be a determined vital act of will, not a culling and extolling of "ancient proofs". Bultmann said about salvation and eternity: "As from now on there are only believers and unbelievers, so there are also now only saved and lost, those who have life and those who are in death."

Bultmann carried Form criticism so far as to call the historical value of the gospels into serious question. Some scholars, such as Craig L. Blomberg, criticized Bultmann and other critics for excessive skepticism regarding the historical reliability of the gospel narratives. The full impact of Bultmann was felt with the English translation of many of his works, notably Kerygma and Mythos (1948).

Selected works

  • Bultmann, Rudolf K. (1921). Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition. - German original
    • ——— (1976). History of the Synoptic Tradition. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco. ISBN 0-06-061172-3. (seminal work on form criticism)
  • ——— (1926). Jesus. - German original
    • ——— (1934). Jesus and the Word. Hudson River editions. New York & London: Scribner. ISBN 9780684175966. OCLC 20362687.
  • ——— (1941). Neues Testament und Mythologie. - German original
    • ——— (1953). Kerygma and Myth: a theological debate. London: SPCK. OCLC 878330612. - (contains the essay "The New Testament and Mythology" with critical analyses and Bultmann's response)
    • ——— (1984). The New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings. Augsburg Fortress Press. ISBN 9780800607272. OCLC 10948632.
  • ——— (1941). Das Evangelium des Johannes. - German original
  • ——— (1948). Theologie des Neuen Testaments. - German original
    • ——— (1961). Theology of the New Testament. London: SCM Press. OCLC 1069331668.
    • ——— (1970). Theology of the New Testament: Complete in One Volume. London: SCM Press. ISBN 9780684411903. OCLC 715928440.
  • ——— (1949). Das Urchristentum im Rahmen der Antiken Religionen. - German original
    • ——— (1956). Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting. New York: Meridian Books. OCLC 280803.
  • ——— (1954). Die Frage der Entmythologisierung. - German original
    • ———; Jaspers, Karl (1958). Myth & Christianity: An Inquiry Into The Possibility Of Religion Without Myth. New York: Noonday Press. OCLC 186641. - In this dialogue with philosopher Jaspers, Jaspers first makes the case that Christianity can not be understood apart from its mythical framework, and that myth is a necessary form of communication through symbol. Bultmann responds that modern scientific analysis of the text is required to separate the genuine from the miraculous claims, thereby revealing the true message.
  • ——— (1957). History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (1954–55 Gifford Lectures). Edinburgh: University Press. ISBN 9780852241035. OCLC 752549.
  • ——— (1958). Jesus Christ and Mythology (Cole lectures, Vanderbilt University, Kent Shaffer memorial lectures). Scribner Library (series) - Lyceum editions. SL73. New York & London: Scribner. ISBN 9780684717272. OCLC 383108.
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Reference sources
References
http://www.sof.org.nz/2013geeringkeynote.pdf
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hl/hl444.htm#HL2_447
https://web.archive.org/web/20070302235855/http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=426
http://www.religion-online.org/book/kerygma-and-myth/
//www.worldcat.org/oclc/20362687
//www.worldcat.org/oclc/878330612
//www.worldcat.org/oclc/10948632
https://archive.org/details/gospelofjohnco00bult
//www.worldcat.org/oclc/136267
//www.worldcat.org/oclc/1069331668
//www.worldcat.org/oclc/715928440
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