Reviews - What do customers think about Theology of the New Testament?
A Tiresome Read Oct 29, 2003
Reading this book was not an easy task especially when one has been taught that Bultmann was a seven-headed devil. After reading through this massive monument of erudite scholarship, I am happy to report that old Rudolf is not a seven-headed devil as previously reported but a five-headed devil. It is essential that one establish that Bultmann is an existentialist and that his philosophy colors much of his scholarship. It is because of his existentialism that Bultmann makes the mistake of separating faith from history in favor of God who meets each man in his own little history; his everyday life with its daily gifts and demands. One must appreciate Bultmans existentialism for much of the New Testament involves existential decisions- One must choose to follow Christ; one must make a decision about the cross; but in no way does this invalidate or abase the value of history. Bultmann shows his true existential colors when he claims that the sayings of Paul rest on kergyma alone and are not dependent upon past historical facts. It seems that Bultmann has failed to realize that the kerygma is a product of history- the resurrection is not true because the church says it is; it is true because it is an historical fact.
For being an existentialist, Bultmann relies heavily on empiricism. The constant denial of anything supernatural is indicative of this. He is thoroughly objective, discounting the miraculous, while at the same time he is thoroughly existential, denying objectivity. This is the basic contradiction of Bultmannian theology. This can be demonstrated by his discussion of the Spirit where Bultmann puts revelation within the realm of reason. This is not to say that revelation is not inclusive of reason, but contrary to Bultmann, reason is not inclusive of revelation. He puts revelation within the realm of human understanding (quasi-empiricism) and not in the essence of being (existentialism) thereby violating his own philosophical presuppositions.
It is a tiresome read. I think it is time to put old Rudolf out to pasture. Bultmann too, was a man of his time, influence by the philosophical assumptions of his time. For the evangelical reader, this book is a waste of time.
Reliable for what it is meant to be May 11, 2001
"Few areas of academic endeavor are so in need of public debunking as biblical studies. The physicist Richard Feynman coined the term "Cargo Cult science" to refer to literary speculation that tries to steal the authority of the physical sciences by using some of their vocabulary and format. Much the same relationship holds between such enterprises as the Jesus Seminar and the methods of serious historians." (John J. Reilly) I couldnÕt agree more, but having said this, the question is still legitimate to ask, who this guy might have been, who affected the course of history in so many ways, mostly unintended no doubt, but still as a catalyst and operative agent who set events in motion? Two answers seem possible: the ÒguyÓ was the fellow who invented the tale, and if we take it from there we look perhaps at a person known as St. John (- but I know I am at odds here with the majority of scholars, including Bultmann, who maintain that John was too late for that.) Or there was really a Jesus slouching about in bast sandals. If so, one has to admit it was one of the best kept secrets in the decades after his death. I shall leave it by that and recommend (I, of all people) a book of consummate New Testament scholarship: BultmannÕs classical ÔTheology of the New Testament.Ò BultmannÕs magisterial tome is the academic sum of a lifetime, continually revised and expanded with every new edition. What he was trying to do, was give an exposition of the teachings in the New Testament, according to their chronological order and function in the canon. It would be easy to criticize this as a rather arbitrary arrangement because of the way the ÒcanonÓ originally had been assembled and separated from contemporaneous material that sometimes even had briefly enjoyed a place in the canon itself, before some or other Church council omitted it or condemned it to the limbo of ÒhereticÓ writings. (Such as ÒThe Shepherd of Hermas,Ó or the ÒLetter of Barnabas.Ó) However Bultmann was not oblivious of the problem and quoted extensively from such sources. The premise of his book is of course that the canon took its shape the way it did for a reason and Bultmann has set out to explore and interpret this reason. But in order to do so, he also tries to establish a credible context. And this context means a gradual evolution through different stages of the Òkerygma,Ó the ÒproclamationÓ of Christ. So from a hypothetical inner circle we move on to the earliest community in Jerusalem, then to Paul, to the Hellenistic Churches in the Diasporah, then to John, and the other apostolic letters as far as they influenced ecclesiastic organization and set legal precedents for the early Church(es). Fundamentalists will be in for a disappointment: their favorite read, the Apocalypse, is mentioned only in passing. And historians will be disappointed too. Bultmann gives us a very thorough interpretation of the unfolding teaching in the New Testament, but the attentive reader has to elicit the historical context himself. If that is so Ð what could all this possibly tell us about the historical Jesus? Well, try seeing it in the reverse: if all those developments of the ÒkerygmaÓ had indeed been developments away from an initial message, or at least expanded on it, then we see here a sort of pointing arrow, or conduit, that funnels us back to a not completely invisible point of departure. Bultmann even gleaned a whole set of sayings from the synoptic texts that seem to warrant a special status, because they fit badly into later developments. But the reader attempting to discover the ÒtrueÓ Jesus in this collection better braces himself for yet an other disappointment. Because not only will he find nothing particular divine in these snippets, it will hit him as a wave of hysterical outbursts by a mouth frothing fanatic, which in itself sounds about right, but hardly gives the impression Bultmann may have intended. Thumbs up for honesty. Bultmann is one of those academic events, who like Mommsen for Roman history, or W.E.H. Lecky for religious history, not only laid once and for all the foundation, but almost left nothing more to be done for later generations. The reason, that their names have become less familiar with the wider public has something to do with the fact that subsequent generations of academics try to make a living on thoroughly plowed ground. But only in rare instances, in fact none I am aware of, do they manage to come up with something radically new. Of course there is still plenty of detail to discover, but it really belongs into an appendix to the work of the aforementioned giants. Perhaps I am just getting old, and lose my capacity for being surprised, but for now I must say, I have seen it all. For example the debate over JesusÕ historicity goes back to 1912 and even farther, when a certain Arthur Drews proposed that Christianity as a religion would actually be much better off with a mythical Christ than a disappointingly mundane fellow in the flesh. Bultmann used to evade such debates, but actually never wrote on anything else but the ÒproclaimedÓ Christ, though in a much better informed fashion and thoroughly familiar with every snippet of primary source available, which has earned him his reputation across the creeds. (In fact in his younger, more outspoken days, he was quite capable to deny any knowledge of JesusÕs historicity.) Taken for what the book is meant to be, it is still the most comprehensive gathering of facts on the subject, and recommended for reference.