- Bultmann, Rudolf
- (1884-1976 )German theologian and biblical scholarRudolf Karl Bultmann was born on August 20, 1884, in Wiefelstede, Oldenburg, Germany, the son of a Lutheran pastor. He attended the Universities of Tübingen, Berlin, and Marburg, where he absorbed the liberal German theology that dominated higher education at the beginning of the 20th century. He received his doctorate in 1910 at Marburg and taught there briefly before moving to Breslau in 1916. He returned to Breslau a year later to occupy the chair in New Testament, where he remained for the rest of his career.Bultmann began to move beyond the liberalism of his teachers soon after receiving his doctorate. He believed their theology treated Christianity as simply one religion among many, and made one's knowledge of and relationship to God a matter of an internal search. To Bultmann, such an approach left God out of the picture and made religion a merely human affair.From his colleague Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), Bultmann took the term Wholly Other to describe God. Bultmann argued that because of sin, humankind is unable to relate to God. Any God that sinful humanity could relate to would be a mere idol. God reveals "Godself" only on God's own terms, not on human ones. That is, the encounter with God is a justification by faith, without regard for any accomplishments (works) of humankind.Bultmann also came to draw a sharp distinction between faith and theology. Faith referred to the individual's decision at any moment to accept a new self-understanding. By contrast, theology was the attempt to reflect upon and understand the meaning of faith. Theology, however, requires an appropriate framework for reflection; Bultmann used an existentialist model dependent somewhat on the thinking of philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). That philosophy played so crucial a role in his theology led to his eventual break with Karl BARTH.Although active for several decades in the world of theological Neo-Orthodoxy, Bultmann is best remembered for his work on biblical interpretation and his introduction of the term demythologizing. The term itself was offensive to many who refused to consider the idea that the Bible contained mythology, even in the rather limited and technical sense implied by Bultmann. To him, demythologizing was simply the removal of the more transient elements of the narrative (mythology) from the text so one could find the Christian kerygma or proclamation. New Testament mythology included, for example, the particular worldview of first-century Christians and their manner of objectifying concepts and images in order to understand the transcendent. Demythologization thus attempts to remove thinking about God as object or for that matter any interpretation that would not begin with God as Wholly Other. It rejects any attempt to ascribe ultimate significance to images of God.Bultmann also emphasized, though on this point he was often ignored, that demythologizing was only the first half of the interpretive process. The more positive half, exposition, begins once the kerygma is recognized.Among the tools Bultmann developed for his biblical interpretation was form CRiTiciSM.He noticed that certain types of material in the first three Gospels of the New Testament followed a formula in their telling. The existence of such "forms" implied their use in ritualized activity, hence their later date of composition. Form criticism led to the development of redaction criticism, which assumes that different editors altered the biblical texts to make them conform to the editor's idea of true religion.Bultmann died on July 30, 1976.See also biblical criticism.Further reading:■ Rudolf Bultmann, Faith and Understanding, trans. by Louise Pettibone Smith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987)■ ----, Jesus and the Word, trans. by Louise Pettibone Smith and Erminie Lantero (New York: Scribner, 1958); , Theology of the New Testament, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1955)■ David Fergusson, Bultmann (London: George chapman, 1992)■ Roger A. Johnson, Introduction to Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1991).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.