Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Historical Jesus 2: Bultmann to the Jesus Seminar

posted by xscot mcknight

More people say bad things about Bultmann than who have read him (1884-1976). Bultmann was escorted into the theological world in the day of Schweitzer’s famous Quest. Bultmann, a faithful church-going organist-playing son of the Lutheran church, knew that one could jettison it all or dig under and behind the historical to find the existential and demythologized true faith. Marburg University, so I’ve been told, could not have found lecture halls big enough for Bultmann’s lectures in his glory days. If the days of Reimarus to Schweitzer were the old quest, the period of Bultmann is the “no” quest.
Instead of chucking it all, Bultmann cut the Christian faith off from the results of history. (A major influence on Bultmann was Martin Kaehler who, above all, argued that history only takes us so far; faith goes farther.) And the fundamental insights of Bultmann shaped Jesus studies for the better part of two generations.
1. The Gospels are the products of faith and express the faith of early Christians, whether or not they are historically-reliable texts.
2. Bultmann examined the Gospels according to the “forms” — paragraph level format and intent — that we now find in the Gospels. He argued these forms were shaped by early Church concerns and their concerns overrode any need for reporting what happened for the sake of accurate reporting.
3. In light of this, he concluded that what we really know of Jesus is minimal: “I do indeed think that we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either and are moreover fragmentary and often legendary” (Jesus and the Word, p. 8 ).
4. This quotation is the most-misunderstood statement in the history of Jesus studies. In fact, Bultmann thought we could know some facts about Jesus and the book he wrote after that quote proves it. What he was talking about mostly was the psychologically-shaped narratives that were being produced.
5. What we know are things like this: Jesus was baptized by John, was part of a messianic movement, preached the kingdom of God, and was executed under Pontius Pilate.
6. Big one and write this down: What we can figure out about Jesus through historical methods doesn’t matter for faith. It is theologically perverse to base faith on historical studies since historical studies fluctuate.
Famous statement by Bultmann: “It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles” (New Testament and Mythology, 5).
Bultmann unleashed a movement of those who chased down and reframed his form-critical studies and who also fully developed the so-called “criteria of authenticity.” Bultmann’s famous book on form criticism, called History of the Synoptic Tradition, contained the nucleus of what later was fully worked out by Norman Perrin in his book Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus. Tomorrow we’ll look at these criteria.



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voxstefani

posted August 14, 2007 at 1:01 am


Ah! I can’t find that smiley in the pagination of my copy of Jesus and the Word! Must be because my copy’s kind of old. ;-)
Thanks for this series!
Esteban



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bruce

posted August 14, 2007 at 3:16 am


Scott I would have to disagree with your first comment .
Perhaps amongst Evangelicals , particular of the Right wing view, more folks have said bad things about Bultmann than good things, but I am reminded of Donald Bloesch’s opening comment in his chapter entitled Rudolf Bultmann: An Enduring Presence from his book “Holy Scriptures” in which he says
“ Probably no theologian or biblical scholar has made a more resounding and lasting impact on biblical studies in the twentieth century than Rudolf Bultmann.”
Certainly across the pond here the in the UK, Bultmann is considered to be positively significant. I know that my father-in-law, who is a canon at Tom Wright’s cathedral, has said to me that Bultmann’s ideas have significantly affected his theology.
I personally feel that Rudolf Bultmann views are almost akin to the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens where they are simply trying to debunk the miracles , the resurrection etc as “Enemies of Reason”.
Both the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are seen by many as enemies of the Gospel and one could argue that for a lot of what Rudolf Bultmann had said he could be describe as an enemy within ?
Bruce from across the pond



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Scot McKnight

posted August 14, 2007 at 6:19 am


Bruce,
Good point. Thanks.



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bruce

posted August 14, 2007 at 6:47 am


Cheers



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John Byron

posted August 14, 2007 at 7:23 am


Bruce,
I am not sure that I would describe Bultmann as “an enemy within”. Granted, Bultmann could not tolerate a belief of miracles in a modern, technologically sophisticated world. But he was certainly a man of great faith. In order to appreciate the man of faith you need to read some of his sermons. They reveal a man who loved God and was struggling to make sense of ancient documents in a modern world. In many ways he was a bridge between 19th century liberal theology and 20th century scholarship.
Scot, nice summary so far.
John



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Nathanael

posted August 14, 2007 at 7:27 am


Wow! Another thought-provoking post, my brother!
Keep ‘em comin’
shalom



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bruce

posted August 14, 2007 at 8:27 am


John
I must confess that I haven’t read any of Bultmann’s sermons , however in Stanley Grenz’s book 20th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age which he wrote with Roger Olson, it is suggested that Bultmann was not really committed to any sort of Christain fellowship or church and that his theology was firmly in the liberal camp. Maybe his sermons reveal a man who loved God but I wonder how this was “ fleshed out” in his own life.
Bruce



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Ted

posted August 14, 2007 at 8:59 am


There is no doubt that Bultmann continues to be very influential in the theological world. However, if I understand what little of Bultmann I have studied, he did not believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If I understand the Apostle Paul, belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is essential for salvation.



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bruce

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:04 am


Ted
You have hit the nail on the head with regards to Bultmann’s position in the light of 1 Cor 15
Bruce



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ChrisB

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:40 am


I wonder if Bultmann’s story contains a warning for us today. It is one thing to engage, study, and seek to understand the philosophy of the day. It’s something else to absorb it. Bultmann absorbed modernism and it did great damage to him and to those who came after him.
Postmodernism is just as dangerous.



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Scott M

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:40 am


Bruce and Ted, I believe you are conflating two very different questions as if they were one. First, is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (and resurrection means — then and now — an actual physical body) necessary for Christianity to be true? And the only orthodox answer to that question is yes. But that is a very different question than this: Is belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus necessary for God to judge someone to have been a follower of Jesus in the final judgment?
And that touches on an issue the Church actually faced early on. Even if (emphasis on the if) we can say with certainty that someone who deliberately and willfully teaches heresy and rejects orthodox correction (not that I’m sure the Protestant tradition actually has any mechanism to do that) has apostasized, what about those who have only truly known, up close and personal, a heretical teaching of Christianity? Are they the same as the pagan or the willful and deliberate heretic? And the answer of the church to that question has generally been no. (They even had a council on one aspect of it.) Our God is bigger than that. And the Spirit who works through believers and scripture and worship will still be effective to some degree even in the face of heterodox belief.
Many people tend to make a truth they hold and belief in that truth synonymous and they aren’t. For instance, do you have to believe in justification by faith alone (whatever you may mean by that statement) in order to be justified by faith? Be careful how you answer …. ;)



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T

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:46 am


“It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles”
It seems Bultmann became one of the inevitable mouthpieces for the enlightenment’s take on Jesus. The ideas embodied in that quote have certainly made their rounds throughout the Christian world. I can’t say, though, that I hold any gratitude for it being said, however inevitable it was once the ‘enlightenment’ began. It’s a rather odd statement if you think about it. Why, exactly, is electricity mutually exclusive with miracles? The spoon was an advancement of harnessing the laws of nature as was the light bulb. I fail to see how any particular advancement within the laws of nature makes supernatural power any more or less probable. It’s worth saying that the substance of this quote is both widely believed, even in the Church, and, yet, logically ridiculous.



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Scott M

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:48 am


ChrisB, when the philosophy of the day reflects the culture of the day, there is no way you can help but absorb it. You make the mistake of acting as though culture is something you get to consciously pick and choose. Although it took me a long time to admit to the label (I hate labels and categories), I can no more stop being postmodern than those shaped by modernity (perhaps in its evangelical subculture form?) can stop being modern. It’s the air we breathe. What we can do is try to become a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, which carries with it a culture different than any other human culture, past, present, or future. And if we apply effort and discipline to conform ourselves to his way rather than trying to conform his way to ours (an ever-present temptation), the Spirit will change our culture to that of the Kingdom. It’s not fast and it’s not easy (in the sense of without effort), but we can be reshaped to be more like true human beings than whatever we were before. And if that is indeed our nature, then that is also the path of rest. As we die to ourselves every moment and every day, we wear the easy yoke.



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T

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:50 am


By Bultmann’s logic, I am an ‘impossibility’, as are many others.



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Peggy

posted August 14, 2007 at 10:29 am


This will be a very interesting thread to follow…Scott M’s point about the “air we breathe” culture being impacted and transformed by following Christ is important to remember.
But Scott M, is your point in #11 about the challenge of dealing with limited knowledge of all the truth (which is everyone’s state!), or does it suggest that one can actually reject parts of the truth with no real effect? Using your example about the resurrection: If somehow I have not been taught about or examined the importance of the resurrection of Jesus (it could happen), but am doing the best I can to follow Jesus as I have been taught–will that be sufficient? Well–we leave to God the answer, but some suggest that the best we have to offer in following Jesus can be known and accepted by God as sufficient because the person considers themself as “in Christ” as they know how to be.
This is not the same as someone who has studied widely and deeply and considers themself “in Christ” while knowingly rejecting the centrality of the resurrection of Christ just because it does not seem plausible–is it?



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voxstefani

posted August 14, 2007 at 10:33 am


Bruce> In the “Autobiographical Reflections” published in Existence & Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann (New York:Meridian, 1960), Bultmann states the following:
“Finally, I must mention that my work during the Hitler regime was fructified by the struggle of the church. I have belonged to the Confessing Church since its founding in 1934, and, with my friend Von Soden, have endeavored to see that in it also free scientific work retained its proper place in face of reactionary tendencies.” (p. 288 )
A revealing statement in many ways, indeed; but it directly addresses the question of Bultmann’s “ecclesiastical affiliation.” Of course, this say nothing of his actual participation in a local congregation and so forth, but it does show that Bultmann never ceased to consider himself a man of the church.



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Brian

posted August 14, 2007 at 10:36 am


T,
I agree with you that Bultmann’s logic is not flawless, but there is something to ponder in his statement. How do you think those in the first century culture would have described things like epilepsy, rabies or syphilis?



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steph fisher

posted August 14, 2007 at 10:51 am


The period of no quest produded Jeremias. He contributed to the continuing traditional quest. Then there is the Anglican Bishop A C Hedlam in 1923, the French scholars Guingenebert in 1933 as well as Maurice Goguel. What about the Nazi influence and the Aryan Jesus: Chamberlain, Fiebig and Grundmann? See Casey “Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ?” in Crossley and Karner.



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steph fisher

posted August 14, 2007 at 11:07 am


whoops, produced. And I think its Headlam too.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 14, 2007 at 11:09 am


steph,
We could get into listing name after name, but I’m trying merely to give a major figure, if not the major figure of each period and the basic ideas of that quest.



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bruce

posted August 14, 2007 at 11:33 am


Scott
I take your point and I certainly would expect Jesus to judge us less on dogma but more on the fruits of our temporary stay on this earth
I’m reminded of folks like Andrew Sullivan, having been bared from becoming an US citizen because he has AIDs, is still prepare to contending the Gospel in the US and debate with the likes of Sam Harris in the public arena of the new agora i.e. the web.
Andrew Sullivan has said that ,according to the Pope, his destination is Hell !
Voxstefani
In Grenz & Olson’s book it says about Bultmann
“He placed little emphasis on the outworking of faith in the life of the believer or on the corporate life of believers in community “ They go on to say that his existentialist orientation lead him to over look the social and political implications of the Gospel.
Bruce



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steph fisher

posted August 14, 2007 at 11:44 am


But there was never no quest.



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Scott M

posted August 14, 2007 at 12:12 pm


Peggy, I was merely pointing out what is easily overlooked and was very evident in the statement to which I responded. Something which is may overlap, but is not identical with belief in that thing. To take it even further back, I often hear people say something like, “Belief in Jesus is necessary for salvation.” While there is something to that statement, it is, I think, more accurate to say that Jesus is necessary for salvation — at least salvation as the Christian story tells it: the redemption and restoration of creation, making all things new.
Now, it is true that your “belief” in this Jesus may determine if you as an individual experience and participate in this salvation. But the salvation itself is separate from your belief or Christianity is nothing but lies and deceit. But what do we mean by “belief”? From the illustrations I hear used, I think many people in our culture construe belief to be some sort of intellectual assent and trust in the accuracy of the claims. But that is not what belief in any religion (or non-religion) actually means. They all make central claims about what it means to be a human being. And based on that, they all purport to show us how a truly human person lives or should live.
But let’s look at Christianity explicitly. Its claim is that Jesus of Nazareth embodied the personal God who created everything and who delights in and loves his creation. By becoming human, Jesus also showed and taught us how the true human being should live. Through his death and resurrection, he defeated all rival powers, including the power of death. And in that power, we now have the Spirit to enable us to be a truly human people.
That’s quite a claim and it utterly transcends some collection of beliefs I, as an individual, have about God. That does not mean orthodox belief doesn’t matter. It does. (As an aside, orthodox actually comes from “right worship”.) But I think we place too much emphasis on it at times to the exclusion of the rest. And let’s survey the landscape, shall we? I’m part of the Protestant tradition, which I gather has grown to something like 20,000 denominations and non-denominations. I’m not really sure we have any mechanism to actually declare someone or some teaching heterodox. Witness the inclusion of modalist individuals and denominations in our number — a clearly heterodox teaching if we can say that anything is heterodox. Given that reality, I believe it is safe to say that every single one of those mini-traditions is heterodox in one way or another. Does that make the entire Protestant tradition non-Christian? Of course not!
Or let’s look at the other big two traditions. The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church cannot both be right. So clearly at least one, and possibly both, are heterodox to some extent. But are they Christian? Absolutely!
It is clear to me, at least, that the closer you live in accordance with the truth of Christianity, and the fewer heterodox beliefs you hold and practice, the better off you’ll be. But I don’t think we can as firmly identify the precise point where you have moved so far from the Jesus, the center, that you are completely outside his orbit. And we must remember that our God desires to save all. That statement makes a huge difference. At least, it did for the early church. They had to decide if whole communities which had only ever heard heterodox teachings, perhaps for a generation or more, were Christian, and if the sacraments administered by heretics were valid.
Now, those who willfully reject orthodox beliefs and who knowingly teach heresy are, at least in scripture, held to a different test and a higher standard. I teach 8th grade boys (and other students) about this faith we hold and I am well aware of the warnings of James, Peter, and others. But even here, we must be careful about usurping God’s judgment and we must always remember that we will be judged in the same way that we judge.
I’m sorry Scot, but I couldn’t come up with a way to give a decent answer to her question with fewer words. I’ve read it and trimmed as much as I could figure out to trim. If you think it’s too long, feel free to delete the comment. You won’t hurt my feelings. :)



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John W Frye

posted August 14, 2007 at 12:54 pm


Scott M (#11),
These are some very provocative comments and have set to me thinking: “First, is the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (and resurrection means — then and now — an actual physical body) necessary for Christianity to be true? And the only orthodox answer to that question is yes. But that is a very different question than this: Is *belief* in the bodily resurrection of Jesus necessary for God to judge someone to have been a follower of Jesus in the final judgment?”
In light of your observation in comment #23 about the 20,000 different expressions of “Protestantism,” who’s to know exactly what *content* has to be believed to pass the final judgment? It appears that the final judgment is not a doctrinal exam at all, but a review of how human beings behaved as human beings in the face of human need. The orthodox, yet uncaring ones who say “Lord, Lord, etc.” are dismissed with “Depart from me; I never knew you…”



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Ish Engle

posted August 14, 2007 at 2:06 pm


John #24,
How dare you confuse us with Scripture! :-D



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B-W

posted August 14, 2007 at 4:19 pm


John in #24,
I’ve always wondered about how the teachings from that passage will ultimately be applied come the Final Judgment. I mean, the story sets up two groups: the ones Jesus accepts and the ones he tells to depart. And it’s clear the whether Jesus accepts or rejects is based on our actions. Did we help or didn’t we?
But, for most of us, it’s probably not that simple. We helped some times, but failed to do so (both knowingly AND unwittingly) other times. How does whether we served well enough get to be adjudicated? We helped more than we failed to? I’m not sure that’s viable. Who among us would get IN under such a scale? It is based on intent? Well, we know where the road paved with good intentions leads….
What’s left?



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John Frye

posted August 14, 2007 at 4:40 pm


B-W (#26),
I am not so sure we can beg off with these kinds of comments: “We helped some times, but failed to do so (both knowingly AND unwittingly) other times. How does whether we served well enough get to be adjudicated? We helped more than we failed to? I’m not sure that’s viable.”
Of course we are not perfect, but with the Way of Jesus before us (to which we are called—see 1 John 2:6 = “must walk as he did”), we are called to overwhelmingly care for the needy. And it’s not, as you frame it, a “did I do enough?” thing. It’s did I live a life of love?



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Scott M

posted August 14, 2007 at 4:53 pm


It’s not just that passage which presents a problem to the assertions people make. If there’s any passage that discusses the final judgment which says that we will be judged according to anything other than our whole lives, I’m not familiar with it. Our lives. And the things we did. Scripture is also clear that our faith in Jesus now somehow anticipates a future favorable judgment, but I’m not so sure the sometimes easy ways many seem to connect those dots actually manage to do so with distorting one or the other.



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T

posted August 14, 2007 at 8:36 pm


Brian (#17),
I agree that there are many illnesses that a first century person may put into the “he has a demon” category, in much the same way that a modern materialist will put any phenomenon in a biological or other physical category. That, however, says nothing about the legitimate existence of either category. Ironically, Bultmann’s quote embodies the irrational way that this ‘age of reason’ has declared miracles impossible–by a leap of faith. I honestly don’t see as much value in pondering his quote as I do in pondering why the modern man is so threatened by the supernatural.



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Bill

posted August 14, 2007 at 8:37 pm


Scott M and John,
Concerning our salvation and the relationship between our belief and the events in the life of Jesus (death, burial, resurrection, etc.) Paul seems clearly connect the two in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul says that he preached the good news and they believed it and thus are saved. As for me I cannot imagine how Paul could possibly call a person who denied the good news is a christian. (“Bultmann, famously, critisized Paul for citing witnesses to Jesus resurrection, as though he considered it an actual event . . .” N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, p.317) I also notice that Paul says the Corinthians are saved by the gospel (vs. 2) not by their good deeds. Now if they are saved by the gospel then how can they be saved if they deny the gospel which most Paul says included the proclamation of the risen Jesus?



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Brian

posted August 14, 2007 at 9:08 pm


T (#29),
Thanks for coming back to me on this. The problem I see is with the authority of the NT witnesses if they are unable to distinguish between disease and demonic activity, and I think you would agree with me on that.
Bultmann obviously thought the NT writers misunderstood the world in this regard since they had no adequate framework for understanding disease. I know for a fact that in under developed parts of the world this kind of confusion exists today.
I’ve been aware of this issue for some time, but it never really hit home for me until I saw an epileptic seizure for the first time. It looked like something right out of the gospels.



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Peggy

posted August 14, 2007 at 10:04 pm


Brian,
I would suggest that you don’t have to go to underdeveloped parts of the world to encounter this kind of confusion…and it is not to be wondered at that the disciples had a difficult time discerning the difference.
I won’t even begin to discuss how our modern doctors can’t tell the difference between mental illness and poor nutrition….and those in the church who confuse culture shock with demonic activity.
Everything is more than it appears…maybe that’s where the rationalists get off?



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Ted Gossard

posted August 15, 2007 at 4:51 am


Informative post for me, and interesting discussion here.
We are people of our times and culture, and as you’ve said before- Scot, sometimes I think our biggest battle is to let scripture say what it says, and in the way it says it, instead of insisting it must be seen through a controlling narrative other than itself.



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Brian

posted August 15, 2007 at 5:43 am


Peggy,
For sure, confusion happens in the developed world as well (and in the church), and there is plenty that we don’t know either. It is also true that the more we study the more we figure out.
My concern is with what the disciples’ understanding means for their credibility in conveying a correct view of the world. Were they bound to misreport because of their limited understanding? In some cases they clearly distinguish between disease and demonic activity. Just what they were able to label correctly is unclear to me.



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Julie

posted August 15, 2007 at 9:55 am


Just putting up a hand to say I’ve read him… some. :) Bonhoeffer says in [i]Letters and Papers from Prison[/i] that he felt Bultmann didn’t go far enough in his project of demythologizing Christianity. Bonhoeffer builds on Bultmann’s insight by suggesting that the “God of the gaps” has expired post-enlightenment and that the anxiety to find some space for God in a world that gets along without him causes Christians to relegate God to that space where his primary task is to discover our personal sins and weaknesses. (God is no longer necessary to explain nearly anything else, so what good is God any more? is his reasoning.)
Bonhoeffer asserts that at the end of “God,” we must discover God at our strongest point, in the center of life, and that is found in Christ… (and this isn’t a Bonhoeffer thread so I’ll leave that insight dangling).
For me, Bultmann and the historical Jesus projects have had the effect of helping me speak sanely about the intersection of my time and place with the very different cosmology of the first century… and still discovering the power of Christ and his message without pretending, becoming defensive or attempting to manipulate texts to suit preconceived theological aims.
Thanks for this series Scot.
Julie



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Brian

posted August 15, 2007 at 10:19 am


Scot,
The God of the gaps idea keeps coming around. I would appreciate a discussion on whether or not that idea is a part of the Biblical presentation of God.



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Peggy

posted August 15, 2007 at 10:31 am


Ted (#33),
“…let scripture say what it says, and in the way it says it, instead of insisting it must be seen through a controlling narrative other than itself.” This IS key, Ted. It is finding scripture’s controlling narrative that is the challenge.
For me, over the past 10 years, it has been completely transformative to see covenant and covenant-keeping (hesed) as this controlling narrative. I regularly suggest to my students that we all need “hesed glasses”–in the same way that 3D movie-goers need “3D glasses”–or the reality of the “targeted images” will be distorted enough to confuse and exhaust rather that seem to jump off the screen and land right in front of you.
Brian (#34),
I think it is important to remember (after we put our “hesed glasses” on ;) ) that the disciples, when Jesus was with them and before Pentecost, did not have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to guide and enable their understanding. At Pentecost, we also acquire a new “prescription” for our “hesed glasses” for New Covenant rather than Old Covenant. 8)
And since Julie brings up “God of the gaps” let me suggest, as some prominent missiologists have, that “Devil of the gaps” has stepped in to fill the vacuum for too many.
Very interesting thread discussion….



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T

posted August 15, 2007 at 10:37 am


Brian,
Thanks for the interaction as well. I can’t say that the degree of success that the disciples’ actually had in distinguishing demon from illness really causes me to question “the authority of the NT witnesses.” That seems like something of an ‘innocent’ kind of mistake, if it was ever made. Here’s what I mean: it would be one kind of ‘false report’ to say “Jesus healed that man of a demon” when, in fact, Jesus had healed him of a physical disease the reporter didn’t know about. But it would be another kind of ‘false report’ entirely if ALL the reports about demons and leprosy and everything else were just different versions of the same lie–namely, that Jesus did the miraculous at all. Bultmann, it seems, thinks that all the miracles reported were bogus, so for him the distinction wouldn’t matter either–he thinks the ‘witnesses’ are outright liars and the demons and illnesses are just details of the lie.



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Julie

posted August 15, 2007 at 11:50 am


T, I think you’ve overstated your complaint. Bultmann isn’t calling anyone a liar. He is stating that the cosmology that informed the interpretation of events that the Gospel writers related in their narratives was of such a substantially different nature that in our readings of those same events today, we can’t consider their interpretations of those events to be sufficient or even accurate, if these same events are interpreted according to our current understandings of science, medicine, mental health etc.
The accounts as reported were truly represented for those present and those who wrote them down. That doesn’t mean that the word “miracle” when applied to the healing of a blind man means the same thing it would mean in the scientific post-Enlightenment age.
So the “discounting” of the miraculous is better described as a “discounting” of the relevance of the interpretation given by the first century witnesses to 20th century (and beyond) readers of the same texts.
Now it’s fine to debate just what did happen (what did Jesus do that was extraordinary?) and even Jesus Seminar members give credit to Jesus as having performed noteworthy (miraculous, according to the witnesses) healings. What we can’t know from our 2000 years later vantage point is what the miraculous means for ancients. It does not mean the same thing for us today – can’t. We expect miracles to “defy” science. But science didn’t exist in those kinds of terms in the ancient world.
So really, what I find difficult about this entire discussion is that we sometimes project onto the Gospels our own notions of what miracle, healing, disease, demon, mental illness and so on mean, and then try to defend those interpretations within the texts. It seems better to admit some “not knowing,” some possibility that we might be contorting our modern worldview to fit an ancient one unnecessarily.
And to me, that’s the value of Bultmann, the Jesus Seminar etc. in the discussion of the historical Jesus.
Julie



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Bill

posted August 15, 2007 at 2:58 pm


Julie,
Bultmann isn’t calling anyone a liar. He is stating that the cosmology that informed the interpretation of events that the Gospel writers related in their narratives was of such a substantially different nature that in our readings of those same events today, we can’t consider their interpretations of those events to be sufficient or even accurate, if these same events are interpreted according to our current understandings of science, medicine, mental health etc.
It seems to me that Bultmann is not only pointing to the difference in worldview but also to the superiority of the scientific worldview. The problem, for Bultmann, is not just hermenuetical. This is why he critisizes Paul for citing witnesses to a miracle like the resurection (1 Cor. 15). Bultmann seems to think that Paul knew that he was dealing with myth (non-historical) and yet he still used the historical (witnesses) to ground his claims. For Bultmann Pauls problem was that he got history and myth mixed up because he got the two mixed up.



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Julie

posted August 15, 2007 at 3:22 pm


Bill, I haven’t read enough Bultmann to know if he is pointing out the scientific worldview as superior or not. Do you have references?
I know from studying with a Jesus Seminar professor that that crowd does not view one worldview as superior to the other as much as significantly different and consequently, of critical importance when evaluating interpretations.
My professor, for instance, made it clear that early Christians did believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what that means to us today won’t ever match what it meant to the early church. Why? Because we have other variables that intrude on our understanding of resurrection that didn’t trouble an ancient person.
We ask questions about the body (where is it now, where did it go, when did it become invisible), the location of heaven, the realm of invisibility, the nature of time and so on. Many of these constraints challenge our ability to “believe” the idea of resurrection and as a result, the ancient worldview is one that doesn’t “import” into our time with as much ease as we’d like.
So the question isn’t whether or not Bultmann of the JS scholars are suggesting that our worldview is superior. That’s immaterial really. It may be for some things and it may be severely limiting in others. Yet it *is* our worldview and it impacts everything from faith to reason.
The danger of so much biblical scholarship is that either the apologists want to turn back the clock as though we can ignore the impact of post-Enlightenment science and philosophy, or they want to quantify the ancient worldview in terms of the scientific method as though we can “prove” that what the ancients report fits into our naturalist point of view (and then can affirm supernaturalism when the reports transcend our naturalist values).
Bottom line: we are jut *that* different from the ancients. We can’t start from defending them or translating them into our time. We would do better to look for the insights generated from their testimony than to think we are adopting their beliefs. That’s what I think Bultmann and the JS want to do. Whether they are successful, we are all free to judge.



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T

posted August 15, 2007 at 7:26 pm


Julie,
Thanks to you as well for the dialog. I’m no expert on Bultmann; I, like you would like to see the references to Bill’s summary, especially the part relating to his critique of Paul. That would seem to confirm my limited understanding of Bultmann. But, if you’re summarizing him correctly, I disagree with how much we can know of what actually happened because of the first witnesses’ cosmology. To be frank, what I see in most (not all) of the Jesus Seminar and in the bits Scot has quoted and summarized in Bultmann is an inevitable reaction of ‘enlightenment’ formed scholars to the stories of the New Testament–and little more. There is a deep assumption, a deep faith even that is predictably enlightenment-shaped, that certain things couldn’t have happened, which precedes their work, both in time and importance. While they profess objectivity or disloyalty to any preconceived conclusions, they do it while fitting predictably into the reigning (or ascending) worldview of the day.
Also, I don’t buy that the first century is so foreign to us that we cannot understand the guts of what they mean when one of their members says, “I was blind from birth, but now I can see.” Or, “The storm was raging; Jesus spoke to it, and it stopped.” Yes, there are many important things to learn about their understandings, categories, and grids of interpretation. But, at the end of the day, ‘dead’ likely means ‘dead’, as with ‘blind’, ‘seeing’,’deaf’, ‘hearing’, and many other physical realities. But, if I refuse to accept that certain things could ever happen because of my own conclusions about the world, I might be forced to say back to the New Testament witnesses, “What did you say? You couldn’t have said or meant what I think you said. Maybe you meant this.” While that conversation with the text is inevitable for most of us, I see no value in it when the ones asking those questions of the NT witnesses (and, more importantly, pronouncing their judgments upon them) are the purported religious authorities on the subject of Jesus. That’s what I see in Bultmann and the Jesus Seminar that followed him. It’s a very similar story, actually, to that of the blind man testifying to the leading priests about his own healing. He kept telling the same story and they kept asking him to repeat it–it just couldn’t have happened like he said.



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T

posted August 15, 2007 at 7:35 pm


Julie,
In general, I agree with something N.T. Wright has said, if I recall, that the Jesus Seminar was asking a question that needed to be asked (“What did Jesus actually do?”), but in a wrong way–namely with ‘enlightenment’ assumptions, categories and its own rival eschatology.



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Julie

posted August 15, 2007 at 9:40 pm


To be frank, what I see in most (not all) of the Jesus Seminar and in the bits Scot has quoted and summarized in Bultmann is an inevitable reaction of ‘enlightenment’ formed scholars to the stories of the New Testament–and little more. There is a deep assumption, a deep faith even that is predictably enlightenment-shaped, that certain things couldn’t have happened, which precedes their work, both in time and importance. While they profess objectivity or disloyalty to any preconceived conclusions, they do it while fitting predictably into the reigning (or ascending) worldview of the day.
My contention is that you are reading them with a preconception that says they are coming with suppositions that are an anti-supernatural hermeneutic (a common charge by those who distrust the Jesus Seminar).
One distinction that hasn’t been made here (that I’ve seen – forgive me if I missed it) is that the Jesus Seminar is interested in discussing the Jesus of history. But they make a significant distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Their purpose is to unfold what can be examined historically (miracles don’t fall under the verifiable at this distance).
That does not mean, however, that they are discounting the value of those ideas and events attributed to the Christ of faith. In other words, what they are wanting to do (as far as I understand them) is to look at Jesus in the way you might study Caesar Augustus or Napolean… examining what can be actually known. Yes, they are using an Enlightenment informed methodology called historical-criticism. They are up front about it, they publish their criteria, they vote, the publish multiple perspectives and conclusions, they admit that their ideas will be revised by the next generation.
What hasn’t happened where I’ve spent my 20+ years as a Christian is any attempt to deal with the text on any level except that all of it *really happened* and all of it is *really true* on every level. How did anyone know what Jesus prayed in the garden before his death is the disciples had abandoned him and he died after that? Is it really likely that the stories in the Gospels are word literal (even the Sermon on the Mt.)? Who’s taking verbatim notes?
I think it helps us to scale back from magical thinking when we look at the text on many levels, rather than just assigning the JS treatment as *wrong* and the word literal version as *right.*
I’ve spent a lot of time with JS materials and worked under a JS scholar for the last four years. The primary question: What did Jesus really say and do? is a worthwhile question.
What is the alternative that you’d suggest they ask? and why?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 15, 2007 at 9:53 pm


Julie,
The distinction of Jesus of history from Christ of faith is what drove the first post of this week on this topic. On your questions I wrote a lengthy chp on historiography and what it actually accomplishes, taking into view some postmodernist theories of history-writing, in my book Jesus and his Death. It’s probably at your library and it’s not that long of a chp and, so I’m told, readable for those interested in this question.
Red-letter editions, innocent as they are, give off an incredibly powerful impression of verbatim quotation and that is an issue that needs to be addressed.



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Julie

posted August 15, 2007 at 9:57 pm


Thx Scot. I’ll look for it. I’d enjoy reading what you have to say on the topic. I know you brought up this distinction. It seemed to be getting lost in this discussion so I directed my comments back to T along those lines.
ITA about red letter editions.



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Ted Gossard

posted August 16, 2007 at 12:44 am


Peggy (#37), Thanks for your thoughts. It makes good sense to me, particularly as I reflect a little on the term and use of hesed.



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kurt usar

posted August 16, 2007 at 1:03 am


sirs
I am unsure,wheter my contribution might be of any interest, late as ist comes.
i am a roman catholic from german speaking austria.
during a seminar about the resurrection of jesus
i asked hans kessler, a eminent, rather conervative theologian, who has written “was sucht ihr den lebenden bei den toten”, “why are you searching for the living one amongst the dead”,my translation
-a book, where he is very critical indeed of bultmann,whom he personally knew-
whether bultmann beliefed in the resurrection of the dead
he was completely taken aback by my question
“of course…” he said
greetings
kurt usar,md,graz,austria



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T

posted August 16, 2007 at 12:28 pm


Julie,
I am really grateful for your interactions with me here. They have helped me. I agree with your reactions against the ‘all literal, all the time’ vs. ‘all wrong, all the time’ options that have been forced on so many of us. I don’t think everything ‘in red’ was necessarily perfectly quoted. That, too, seems like an enlightenment assumption forced on the text. My goal is not to defend the kind of literal rigidity you mention. In fact, I really do like the question that the JS is asking as I mentioned in #43, but I agree with Wright’s critique of how they ask it; I wish they’d ask it with all possibilities on the table. The exact process you describe by which the JS says ‘we’re going to seek the (actual) Jesus of history’ but goes on to say, ‘which, *by definition*, will exclude miracles as non-verifiable’ seems intellectually dishonest to me (esp. when one’s subject is Jesus!) and, even more importantly, isn’t necessary for solid historical work.
N.T. Wright (whether one agrees with him or not) has shown that one can do credible, if not excellent, historical work on that very question without making the assumption, a priori, that the miraculous or ‘unique’ phenomenon of the NT (such as rising from the dead) simply cannot be the best or even a viable explanation of all the historical data we have. I’m not saying the JS should approach the subject with the assumption that any or all of the miracles did happen, either. Just don’t assume away most of the question before asking it. My beef with the JS is methodological; scientific, even. The assumptions in their ‘criteria’ make their ‘Jesus of history’ too much a ‘Jesus of faith’, just faith of a different kind.



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James McGrath

posted August 20, 2007 at 7:23 am


I have always found Bultmann’s application of his demythologization program to the New Testament unsatisfying – perhaps it was an Occam’s Razor instinct against ‘multiplying ecclesiastical redactors unnecessarily’. But I find his theological insight to be profound and accurate. His underlying principle is that it cannot be necessary to accept the entire first-century Eastern Mediterranean worldview in order to become a Christian. No one could do it. And so the problem becomes how to translate, interpret and apply the message in our own context. On that issue, one may agree or disagree with Bultmann’s own way of going about it, but they should still value his emphasis on its need to be done.
Anyone who has been critical of Bultmann without reading him should repent of doing so and change their ways! :) It is all the easier in our age of the ‘wireless’. Bultmann’s famous contribution to the volume Kerygma and Myth, as well as the opposing viewpoints, can be read online at http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=431



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