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Rudolf Karl Bultmann

Rudolf Karl Bultmann

The German theologian Rudolf Karl Bultmann (1884-1976) altered the direction of biblical studies by his work in the interpretation of the New Testament.

Rudolf Bultmann was born August 20, 1884, in Wiefelstede, the eldest son of an Evangelical Lutheran pastor. He attended the humanistic gymnasium in Oldenburg and in 1903 began to study theology at Tübingen. In the manner of German university students, he spent several semesters at Berlin and later at Marburg and thus studied with most of the leading German scholars of biblical and dogmatic theology. His degree was awarded in 1910, and after submitting a qualifying essay two years later, he was admitted at Marburg as a lecturer on the New Testament. After brief lectureships at Breslau and Giessen, he returned to Marburg in 1921 as a full professor. He retained this position until his retirement in 1951.

Bultmann applied to his exegesis of Scripture certain key ideas borrowed from the "existential analysis" of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger attempted to discover the fundamental concepts which must be used in any understanding of human existence. Thus, for example, his treatment of "authentic" existence was adopted by Bultmann to illuminate the biblical conception of the life of faith. Bultmann also used Heidegger's treatment of alienation and anxiety to clarify the biblical notions of sin and guilt, and the philosopher's emphasis of human mortality influenced Bultmann's ideas of dying to the world and to oneself.

Another important aspect of Bultmann's biblical interpretation was his effort to separate the essential gospel message from the 1st-century world view. This "demythologizing" did not mean the elimination of the miracle stories or the account of demonic powers. Rather, it meant their reinterpretation "existentially" in terms of man's understanding of his own situation and its fundamental possibilities. To Bultmann the story of the Resurrection is not an account of the reanimation of a corpse; instead, it expresses the possibility of man's entrance into a new dimension of existence, free from guilt and anxiety and open to all people in love. Less plausibly, Bultmann argued that Paul began this process of demythologizing by giving an existential interpretation to the Gnostic mythology of demons. The most complete statement of Bultmann's biblical exegesis is found in his Theology of the New Testament (trans. 1951).

In his later writings Bultmann continued with his form-critical analysis of New Testament sources. The History of the Synoptic Tradition (1968) was an influential examination of the compositions of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The Gospel of John: A Commentary (1971) was considered a significant new interpretation of the difficult fourth Gospel. One of Bultmann's last works, Jesus and the Word (1975), was an investigation of the teachings of Jesus that provides readers a glimpse of the theologian's theory of history, as well as Biblical interpretation.

During the Nazi regime Bultmann was one of the most outspoken members of the "Confessing Church," which refused to follow the "German Christian" clergy in supporting Hitler's non-Aryan exclusion policies. Throughout his career Bultmann continued to preach as well as teach. Bultmann married and became the father of three daughters. He died on July 30, 1976, in Marburg, (then West) Germany.

Further Reading

The literature on Bultmann's work has grown enormously since the end of World War II. Charles Kegley, ed., The Theology of Rudolf Bultmann (1966), contains a brief autobiographical sketch by Bultmann, important essays of interpretation, and criticism of his major ideas, together with Bultmann's replies. It also contains an exhaustive bibliography of his works to 1965. André Malet, The Thought of Rudolf Bultmann (trans. 1971), is comprehensive and very readable. More recent studies include Gareth Jones, Bultmann: Towards a Critical Theology (1991) and Schubert M. Ogden, Christ Without Myth: A Study Based on the Theology of Rudolf Bultmann (1991). □

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Bultmann, Rudolf Karl

Rudolf Karl Bultmann (bŏŏlt´män), 1884–1976, German existentialist theologian, educated at the universities of Tübingen, Berlin, and Marburg. He taught at the universities of Breslau and Giessen and from 1921 to 1950 was professor at the Univ. of Marburg. Strongly influenced by the existentialist philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Bultmann is best known for his work on the New Testament, which he reduced—with the exception of the Passion—to basic elements of myth, which then have application to contemporary concerns. His approach is termed "demythologization." His classic work is Theology of the New Testament (tr. 1951). Other writings in English translation include Essays, Philosophical and Theological (1952, tr. 1955), Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting (1949, tr. 1963), Jesus and the World (1951, tr. 1958), The Gospel of John (1953, tr. 1971), The History of the Synoptic Tradition (1957, 2d ed. tr. 1968); see also his selected shorter writings, Existence and Faith (tr. 1960); studies by E. T. Lang (1968), Walter Schmithals (tr. 1968), and André Malet (tr. 1969).

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"Bultmann, Rudolf Karl." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bultmann, Rudolf Karl." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bultmann-rudolf-karl

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Bultmann, Rudolf

Bultmann, Rudolf (1884–1976). Christian interpreter of the New Testament and its environment, associated especially with the programme of demythologization. He pioneered the study of form-criticism, developing scepticism about the possibility of recovering much, if any, historical detail about Jesus, beyond his summons to decision. His commentary on John argued for dependence on gnostic ideas, and in an essay on NT and mythology (circulated from 1941, but published in H. W. Bartsch, Kerygm and Myth, Eng. tr. 1953) he claimed that the pre-scientific world view of the Gospels and NT needed to be demythologized (decoded, so that its essential message could be extracted from the accidents of its environment).

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"Bultmann, Rudolf." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Bultmann, Rudolf." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 25, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bultmann-rudolf

"Bultmann, Rudolf." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved May 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/bultmann-rudolf