Rudolf Bultmann

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Rudolf Bultmann
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Rudolf Karl Bultmann

(1884-08-20)20 August 1884
Died30 July 1976(1976-07-30) (aged 91)
Helene Feldmann
(m. 1917;died 1973)
Academic background
Alma mater University of Marburg
Thesis Der Stil der paulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe [1]  (1910)
Doctoral advisor Johannes Weiss
Academic work
School or tradition Dialectical theology
Institutions University of Marburg
Doctoral students

Rudolf Karl Bultmann (German: [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.

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first being the Old Testament. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture.

University of Marburg German university

The Philipps University of Marburg was founded in 1527 by Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, which makes it one of Germany's oldest universities and the oldest still operating Protestant university in the world. It is now a public university of the state of Hesse, without religious affiliation. The University of Marburg has about 25,000 students and 7,500 employees and is located in Marburg, a town of 72,000 inhabitants, with university buildings dotted in or around the town centre. About 12 per cent of the students are international, the highest percentage in Hesse. It offers an International summer university programme and offers student exchanges through the Erasmus programme.

Biblical studies academic field

Biblical studies is the academic application of a set of diverse disciplines to the study of the Bible. For its theory and methods, the field draws on disciplines ranging from archaeology, ancient history, cultural backgrounds, textual criticism, literary criticism, historical backgrounds, philology, and social science.


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. [11] Bultmann argued that all that matters is the "thatness", not the "whatness" of Jesus, [lower-alpha 1] i.e. only that Jesus existed, preached, and died by crucifixion matters, not what happened throughout his life. [12]

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. [13]

Demythologization as a hermeneutic approach to religious texts seeks to separate cosmological and historic claims from philosophical, ethical and theological teachings. Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) introduced the term demythologization in this context, but the concept has earlier precedents.

Kerygma is a Greek word used in the New Testament for "proclamation". It is related to the Greek verb κηρύσσω kērússō, literally meaning "to cry or proclaim as a herald" and being used in the sense of "to proclaim, announce, preach". Merriam-Webster defines it as "the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ". Amongst biblical scholars, the term has come to mean the core of the early church's oral tradition about Jesus.

Historical Jesus is the reconstruction of the life and teachings of Jesus by critical historical methods, in contrast to Christological definitions and other Christian accounts of Jesus. It also considers the historical and cultural contexts in which Jesus lived.


Bultmann was born on 20 August 1884 in Wiefelstede, Oldenburg, the son of Arthur Kennedy Bultmann, a Lutheran minister. [14] 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[ citation needed ] from Marburg with a dissertation on the Epistles of St Paul, written under the supervision of Johannes Weiss. [15] After submitting a Habilitation two years later, he became a lecturer on the New Testament at Marburg.

Wiefelstede Place in Lower Saxony, Germany

Wiefelstede is a municipality in the Ammerland district, in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated approximately 15 km northwest of Oldenburg.

Grand Duchy of Oldenburg grand duchy

The Grand Duchy of Oldenburg was a grand duchy within the German Confederation, North German Confederation and German Empire which consisted of three widely separated territories: Oldenburg, Eutin and Birkenfeld. It ranked tenth among the German states and had one vote in the Bundesrat and three members in the Reichstag.

Abitur is a qualification granted by university-preparatory schools in Germany, Lithuania, and Estonia. It is conferred on students who pass their final exams at the end of their secondary education, usually after twelve or thirteen years of schooling. In German, the term Abitur has roots in the archaic word Abiturium, which in turn was derived from the Latin abiturus.

Bultmann married Helene Feldmann on 6 August 1917. [16] The couple had three daughters. [17] Bultmann's wife died in 1973. [16]

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.

Giessen Place in Hesse, Germany

Giessen, spelled Gießen in German (German pronunciation: [ˈɡiːsn̩]], is a town in the German federal state of Hesse, capital of both the district of Giessen and the administrative region of Giessen. The population is approximately 86,000, with roughly 24,000 university students.

Uta Ranke-Heinemann German theologian and author, daughter of Gustav Heinemann

Uta Ranke-Heinemann is a German theologian, academic, and author. She holds the (nondenominational) chair of History of Religion at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Essen, her birthplace.

Bultmann was a student of Hermann Gunkel, Johannes Weiss, and Wilhelm Heitmüller. [18] His doctoral students included Hans Jonas, [19] Ernst Käsemann, [20] Günther Bornkamm, [21] Helmut Koester, [22] and Ernst Fuchs. He also taught Hannah Arendt.

He was a member of the Confessing Church [23] 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]." [24]

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. [25] 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." [26]

He died on 30 July 1976 in Marburg.[ citation needed ]

Theological approaches

Bultmann's History of the Synoptic Tradition (1921) remains highly influential as a tool for biblical research, even among scholars[ which? ] 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 exponet.

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." [27]

In 1941 Bultmann applied form criticism [lower-alpha 2] 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[ when? ] 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. [29] 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. [30]

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". [31] 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." [32] 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." [33]

Bultmann carried Form criticism so far as to call the historical value of the gospels into serious question. [18] Some scholars, such as Craig L. Blomberg, criticized Bultmann and other critics[ which? ] for excessive skepticism regarding the historical reliability of the gospel narratives. [34] The full impact of Bultmann was felt with the English translation of many of his works, notably Kerygma and Mythos (1948).[ citation needed ]

Selected works


  1. For a similar epistemological comparison, see haeccity and quiddity.
  2. "Form criticism" in this instance is a tenet of Hegelian dialectics of which Bultmann applied to theology. The dialectic of Form and Content is explained by Hegel using an example of a book: a book's Form (whether or not it was handwritten, or a hardback copy, etc.), cannot neither determine nor influence its inner Content, yet, at the same time, that Content requires a form to be read. [28]

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New Testament and Mythology: The Problem of Demythologizing the New Testament Message, often shortened to New Testament and Mythology, is an influential and controversial theological essay by Rudolf Bultmann, published in 1941. The essay is generally considered one of the defining theological works of the 20th century. In it, Bultmann stresses the need to understand the New Testament, particularly the Gospels and their account of Christ, as being mythological in nature.

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Ernst Fuchs was a German New Testament theologian and a student of Rudolf Bultmann. With Gerhard Ebeling he was a leading proponent of a New Hermeneutic theology in the 20th century.

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  1. Bultmann 1910; Porter 2016, p. 58.
  2. Congdon 2015b, p. 315; Wildman 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Hobbs 1985, p. 63.
  4. 1 2 Wildman 2018.
  5. Congdon 2015a, p. 89; Dorrien 2003, p. 49; McKnight 2005, p. 271.
  6. Jensen 2014, pp. 136–138.
  7. Hobbs 1985, p. 63; Wildman 2018.
  8. 1 2 3 Pagliarino 2018.
  9. Geering, Lloyd (2013). "Theology before and after Bishop Robinson's Honest to God" (PDF). Sea of Faith Network. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  10. Monk 2011.
  11. Broadhead 2011, pp. 1170–1172.
  12. Borg 1994, p. 187; Broadhead 2011, pp. 1170–1172.
  13. Bultmann 1991, pp. 94–95; Cross & Livingstone 2005, p. 252.
  14. Dennison 2008, pp. 7, 14.
  15. Porter 2016, p. 58; Watson & Hauser 1994, p. 104.
  16. 1 2 Dennison 2008, p. 101.
  17. Meier 2011, p. 3.
  18. 1 2 Cross & Livingstone 2005, p. 252.
  19. Jonas 1982, pp. 1–2; Markschies 2014, p. 23.
  20. Zetterholm 2009, p. 78.
  21. Schild 2016, p. 89.
  22. Busse 2014, p. 44.
  23. Kelley 2002, p. 155.
  24. Kelley 2002, pp. 155–156.
  25. Wood 2005, p. 113.
  26. Labron 2011, pp. 43–44.
  27. Mournet 2005, p. 56.
  28. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1969). Miller, Arthur V. (ed.). The Science of Logic. London: George Allen & Unwin. p. 3 § 989. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  29. Bultmann 2004, p. 328.
  30. Bultmann 1984, p. 3.
  31. Bultmann 1984, p. 28.
  32. Bultmann 1984, p. 26.
  33. Bultmann 1971, p. 155.
  34. Blomberg 1987, pp. 21–25.
  35. "Jesus and the Word - online" . Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  36. "Kerygma and Myth: a theological debate" . Retrieved 11 April 2019.


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Broadhead, Edwin K. (2011). "Implicit Christology and the Historical Jesus". In Holmén, Tom; Porter, Stanley E. (eds.). Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus. 2. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. pp. 1169–1182. ISBN   978-90-04-17092-6.
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 ———  (1971). The Gospel of John: A Commentary.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (1984) [1941]. "New Testament and Mythology". In Ogden, Schubert M. (ed.). New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings. Philadelphia: Fortress Press (published 1989). pp. 1–43. ISBN   978-0-8006-2442-2.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (1991). "Jesus and the Eschatological Kingdom". In Johnson, Roger A. (ed.). Rudolf Bultmann: Interpreting Faith for the Modern Era. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. pp. 91–102. ISBN   978-0-8006-3402-5.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (2004). "New Testament and Mythology: The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament and the Problem of Its Re-Interpretation". In Evans, Craig A. (ed.). The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Volume I: The History of the Quest: Classical Studies and Critical Questions. London: Routledge. pp. 323–358. ISBN   978-0-415-32751-0.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Busse, Roger S. (2014). To Be Near the Fire: Demonic Possession, Risk Analysis, and Jesus' War on Satan. Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications. ISBN   978-1-62564-811-2.
Congdon, David W. (2015a). Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. ISBN   978-1-62564-748-1.
 ———  (2015b). The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN   978-1-4514-8792-3.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
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Kelley, Shawn (2002). Racializing Jesus: Race, Ideology and the Formation of Modern Biblical Scholarship. London: Routledge. ISBN   978-0-415-15402-4.
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Markschies, Christoph (2014). "Individuality in Some Gnostic Authors, with a Few Remarks on the Interpretation of Ptolemy's Epistula ad Florum". In Torrance, Alexis; Zachhuber, Johannes (eds.). Individuality in Late Antiquity. Abingdon, England: Routledge (published 2016). pp. 11–28. ISBN   978-1-315-58841-4.
McKnight, Scot (2005). "Jesus: Who Was He?: Introduction". In Dunn, James D. G.; McKnight, Scot (eds.). The Historical Jesus in Recent Research. Sources for Biblical and Theological Study. 10. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. pp. 271–274. ISBN   978-1-57506-100-9.
Meier, Holger (2011). Rudolf Bultmann und sein hermeneutischer Ansatz der Entmythologisierung als existentiale Interpretation[Rudopf Bultmann and His Hermeneutic Approach to De-Mythologization as Existential Interpretation] (in German). Munich: GRIN Verlag. ISBN   978-3-656-09464-7.[ self-published source ]
Monk, Stephanie D. (2011). "An Examination of the Theology of Bishop John Shelby Spong" (PDF). Global Journal of Classic Theology. 9 (1). ISSN   1521-6055 . Retrieved 4 April 2018.
Mournet, Terence C. (2005). Oral Tradition and Literary Dependency: Variability and Stability in the Synoptic Tradition and Q. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 195. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN   9783161484544. ISSN   0340-9570.
Pagliarino, Guido (2018) [2015]. Diavolo e Demòni (un approccio storico) (in Italian). Tektime. ISBN   978-88-7304-437-6.
Porter, Stanley E. (2016). When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History. New York: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781316422786. ISBN   978-1-107-12796-8.
Raupp, Werner (2003). "Bultmann. Rudolf (Karl): Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL)". 21. Nordhausen: Bautz: 174–233. ISBN   3-88309-110-3.Cite journal requires |journal= (help) - (with compact introduction and detailed bibliography)
Schild, Maurice E. (2016). "Review of Rudolf Bultmann / Günther Bornkamm: Briefwechsel, 1926–1976 Edited by Werner Zager". Lutheran Theological Review. 50 (1): 89–90. ISSN   0024-7553.
Watson, Duane F.; Hauser, Alan J. (1994). Rhetorical Criticism of the Bible: A Comprehensive Bibliography with Notes on History and Method. Biblical Interpretation Series. 4. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. ISBN   978-90-04-09903-6. ISSN   0928-0731.
Wildman, Wesley, ed. (2018). "Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976)". Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology . Boston: Boston University. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
Wood, Lawrence W. (2005). Theology as History and Hermeneutics: A Post-Critical Conversation with Contemporary Theology. Lexington, Kentucky: Emeth Press. ISBN   978-0-9755435-5-9.
Zetterholm, Magnus (2009). Approaches to Paul: A Student's Guide to Recent Scholarship. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN   978-0-8006-6337-7.

Further reading

Bartsch, Hans Werner, ed. (1961). Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate. New York: Harper Torchbooks. Archived from the original on 5 May 2006. Retrieved 3 April 2018 via Religion Online.
Bultmann, Rudolf (1958) [1934]. Jesus and the Word. Translated by Smith, Louise Pettibone; Lantero, Erminie Huntress. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Archived from the original on 2 March 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2018 via Religion Online.
 ———  (1960). Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann . New York: Meridian Books. LCCN   60006774 . Retrieved 3 April 2018.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
 ———  (1962) [1955]. History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity. New York: Harper Torchbooks. Retrieved 3 April 2018 via Gifford Lectures.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Edwards, David L. (1976). "Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of Faith". The Christian Century. Vol. 93 no. 27. Chicago. pp. 728–730. ISSN   0009-5281 . Retrieved 3 April 2018 via Religion Online.
Fergusson, David (1992). Bultmann. London: G. Chapman. ISBN   978-0-225-66626-7.
Fries, Heinrich (1967). Bultmann-Barth and Catholic Theology. Translated by Swidler, Leonard. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press. Archived from the original on 1 January 2006. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
Fuller, Reginald H. (1965). The Foundations of New Testament Christology . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
Hammann, Konrad (2013). Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography. Translated by Devenish, Philip E. Salem, Oregon: Polebridge Press. ISBN   978-1-59815-118-3.
Kselman, John S.; Witherup, Ronald D. (1990). "Modern New Testament Criticism". In Brown, Raymond E.; Fitzmyer, Joseph A.; Murphy, Roland E. (eds.). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary . Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 1130–1145. ISBN   978-0-13-614934-7.
McKnight, Edgar V. (1969). What Is Form Criticism?. Guides to Biblical Scholarship: New Testament Series. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. OCLC   714991891.
Moran, Seán Farrell. "Rudolph Bultmann". The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing. 1.
Smith, Mahlon H. (2018). "Rudolf Karl Bultmann". A Synoptic Gospels Primer: Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke. OCLC   60769417 . Retrieved 3 April 2018.