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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. Bultmann argued that all that matters is the "thatness", not the "whatness" of Jesus,[a] i.e. only that Jesus existed, preached, and died by crucifixion matters, not what happened throughout his life.
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.
Bultmann married Helene Feldmann on 6 August 1917. The couple had three daughters. Bultmann's wife died in 1973.
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.
He was a member of the Confessing Church 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]."
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. 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."
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."
In 1941 Bultmann applied form criticism[b] 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. 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.
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". 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." 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."
Bultmann carried Form criticism so far as to call the historical value of the gospels into serious question. Some scholars, such as Craig L. Blomberg, criticized Bultmann and other critics[which?] for excessive skepticism regarding the historical reliability of the gospel narratives. The full impact of Bultmann was felt with the English translation of many of his works, notably Kerygma and Mythos (1948).
Bultmann, Rudolf K. (1921). Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition. - German original
——— (1976). History of the Synoptic Tradition. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco. ISBN0-06-061172-3. (seminal work on form criticism)
——— (1949). Das Urchristentum im Rahmen der Antiken Religionen. - German original
——— (1956). Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting. New York: Meridian Books. OCLC280803.
——— (1954). Die Frage der Entmythologisierung. - German original
———; Jaspers, Karl (1958). Myth & Christianity: An Inquiry Into The Possibility Of Religion Without Myth. New York: Noonday Press. OCLC186641. - In this dialogue with philosopher Jaspers, Jaspers first makes the case that Christianity can not be understood apart from its mythical framework, and that myth is necessary form of communication through symbol. Bultmann responds that modern scientific analysis of the text is required to separate the genuine from the miraculous claims, thereby revealing the true message.
^"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.
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. ISBN978-90-04-17092-6.
------ (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. ISBN978-0-8006-3402-5.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. ISBN978-0-415-32751-0.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. ISBN978-1-62564-811-2.
Congdon, David W. (2015a). Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. ISBN978-1-62564-748-1.
------ (2015b). The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN978-1-4514-8792-3.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Dennison, William D. (2008). The Young Bultmann: Context for His Understanding of God, 1884-1925. American University Studies VII: Theology and Religion. 241. New York: Peter Lang. ISBN978-0-8204-8113-5. ISSN0740-0446.
Dorrien, Gary (2003). The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900-1950. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN978-0-664-22355-7.
Hobbs, Edward C., ed. (1985). Bultmann, Retrospect and Prospect: The Centenary Symposium at Wellesley. Fortress Press. ISBN978-0-8006-7075-7.
Jensen, Alexander S. (2014). Divine Providence and Human Agency: Trinity, Creation and Freedom. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN978-1-4094-3530-3.
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. ISBN978-1-315-58841-4.
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. ISBN978-3-656-09464-7.[self-published source]
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. ISBN9783161484544. ISSN0340-9570.
Pagliarino, Guido (2018) . Diavolo e Demòni (un approccio storico) (in Italian). Tektime. ISBN978-88-7304-437-6.
Raupp, Werner (2003). "Bultmann. Rudolf (Karl): Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL)". 21. Nordhausen: Bautz: 174-233. ISBN3-88309-110-3. 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. ISSN0024-7553.
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. ISBN978-90-04-09903-6. ISSN0928-0731.