Bultmann’s New Clothes

Students of New Testament 101 will have come across the German Biblical scholar Rudolph Bultmann. One in a long line of modernist, Protestant theologians, Bultmann is famous for his attempt to ‘de-mythologize’ the New Testament. What this means is that he wanted to get rid of the troublesome and ‘incredible’ supernatural elements of the gospels.

It is from his way of thinking that we get the now famous interpretation of the feeding of the 5,000 that “the real miracle was that everyone shared their lunch with one another.” Anyone with a little bit of imagination can get involved in the ‘de-mytholization’ game. The Virgin Birth? A beautiful and innocent girl became pregnant and gave birth to a great teacher. He was so great that pagan myths of the god/man being born of a virgin were later ascribed to her. We now know this could not have happened, and we learn that innocence and beauty are always to be valued.” The Ascension? “It’s a construction of the early church. As the disciples worked through their grief and came to accept the tragic death of their leader they came to realize a wonderful truth: that the noble and beautiful teachings of Jesus Christ have a new, and transcendent quality…” Blah blah blah and so forth.

The modernist re-interpreters of the gospel were seemingly well intended. They wanted to rid the New Testament of it’s primitive, first century supernaturalism–believing that this would make the gospel accessible for modern people. What the goof balls didn’t understand is that modern people–just like people in the first century–actually want their religion to be supernatural. That’s what religion is all about. Taking the supernatural out of religion is like playing tennis without the net. ‘Modern’ has nothing to do with it. With supreme arrogance they seemed to think that ancient people found miracles far easier to believe than modern people. This is dumb. Ancient people were smart too. They knew miracles were difficult just like modern people. The people of the first century understood that virgins don’t get pregnant, and walking on water doesns’t usually happen, and that feeding 5,000 people with one lunch is not an everyday occurrence. Err. That’s why they recorded the miracles in the first place–because they were extraordinary. In other words, because they were miracles.

Why were so many seemingly smart people taken in by this naked emporer? Just because the guy was German and had a name that had two ‘n’s at the end and smoked a pipe and looked smart? Maybe. Of course it has all to do with the philosophical trends that had been going on in the West since the ‘enlightenment’, but that’s another topic.

Back to Bultmannnn. Why didn’t anyone see the most glaring error of all? Bultmann and his gang of intellecutal bullies were all for ‘de-mythologizing’ the New Testament. But the whole obvious point is that the New Testament, and the documents of the early church do not present the gospel stories as ‘myth’ at all. They present them as history. To be sure, the stories work on us as myth, but as J.R.R.Tolkien said to C.S.Lewis, “They work on us like all the other myths, except they really happened.”

What Bultmann wanted to do was to steer around the historical accounts of the miraculous–to leave them in place as ‘marvelous stories’ but assuming that the supernatural simply couldn’t have happened like that, they wanted to draw people to the ‘real meaning’ of the stories. The implication, of course, is that the events didn’t really happen at all, or if they happened they were ordinary events that the ‘aw gawrsh!’ stupid early church members interpreted as miraculous (like everybody sharing their lunch becoming a miraculous multiplication of food) What Bultmann the de-mythologizer actually did therefore, was to turn what was reported as real events and historical accounts into–hey presto!–myths. A myth being a beautiful (but fictional) story with transcendent meaning to guide us through life.

Bultmann’s ‘great accomplishment’ therefore was to turn historical events into myth while claiming to “de-mythologize” them.

If this subterfuge, double talk, intellectual obfuscation and deception isn’t direct from the pit I don’t know what is.

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