Rudolf Bultmann: Removing The False Offense -- By: Alfred A. Glenn
JETS 16:2 (Spring 1973) p. 73
Rudolf Bultmann: Removing The False Offense
Bethel College, St. Patti, Minnesota 55112
Rudolf Bultmann published an essay in 1941 on the demythologization of the New Testament.1 The term dymythologization means the decoding of myth or the reinterpretation of ancient mythical patterns of thought in the Bible into contemporary thought patterns. Bultmann believes that contemporary thought demands a modern scientific view of the universe which interprets reality in terms of a closed cause and effect natural order. Such a view excludes the possibility of miracles defined as supranaturally caused events; every event has a natural cause.2
Yet, while Bultmann does not accept the historic, orthodox interpretation of biblical Christianity, which includes miracles such as the incarnation, to cite one example of what he calls myth, Bultmann does accept myth as a true statement of the way men may understand what it means to experience an authentic life (salvation). According to Bultmann, the myth is important, but in order for modern man to grasp its truth, such ancient thought-forms must be dymythologized or reinterpreted.
It should now be clear that Bultmann does not use “mythical” in the sense of not true. Myth expresses truth, but the truth is clothed in the symbolic language of ancient thought-patterns. He defines myth as “the use of imagery to express the other-worldly in terms of this world and the divine in terms of human life, the other side in terms of this side.”3 Bultmann believes that the meaning of myth lies not in its description about an objectively real, supranatural, other-world; the meaning of myth is to be found in what it is trying to express about human existence in this world. Myth is like an artist’s creative projection upon a cosmic screen of how man, in a certain historical period, under the influence of certain cultural circumstances, interprets his existence. Myth, for Bultmann, supplies us with knowledge of the way in which man understands himself in this world. It is not to be interpreted as having a significance beyond this human-natural world. It is wholly existential or about life here and now.4
Therefore, Bultmann asserts that the biblical myths, such as the three-
JETS 16:2 (Spring 1973) p. 74
level universe, with heaven above, the flat earth with hell below, angels, Satan, incarnation, resurrection, ascension, second coming, judgment, and all miracles, require an existential interpretation to be meaningfu...
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