Saturday, 4 October 2008

Understanding Bultmann on Mythology

Bultmann begins his famous essay The New Testament and Mythology by arguing that

the cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three storied structure, with the earth in the centre, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath’.

Bultmann argues that the roots of this mythical world-view lie with Jewish Apocalyptic and Gnosticism. This mythology makes the Christian message

incredible to modern man, for he is convinced that the mythical view of the world is obsolete.

Crucially, Bultmann asks if

when we preach the Gospel to-day, we expect our converts to accept not only the Gospel message, but also the mythical view of the world in which it is set.

Rather, shouldn’t we expect that

the New Testament embody a truth which is quite independent of its mythical setting?


If it does, theology must undertake the task of stripping the Kerygma from its mythical framework, of “demythologizing” it.

This question is crucial to our proclamation of the gospel:

Can Christian preaching expect modern man to accept the mythical view of the world as true. To do so would be both senseless and impossible. It would be senseless, because there is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical view of the world as such. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age. Again, it would be impossible, because no man can adopt a view of the world by his own volition—it is already determined for him by his place in history. Of course such a view is not absolutely unalterable,
It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modem medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. We think we can manage it in our own lives, but to expect others to do so is to make the Christian faith unintelligible and unacceptable to the modern world.

Thus, if
the truth of the New Testament proclamation is to be preserved, the only way is to demythologize it.

But, interestingly Bultmann argus that

our motive in so doing must not be to make the New Testament relevant to the modern world at all costs. The question is simply whether the New Testament message consists exclusively of mythology, or whether it actually demands the elimination of myth if it is to be understood as it is meant to be.

If you have read this far well done! We'll see what Rudi argues about the New Testament's demands next time.

No comments: