The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament.

September 4, 2007 8:18am CST
Are you familiar with the writings of Rudolf Bultmann? He was one of the great scholars in the field of New Testament study. He was born in Germany in 1884, studied at Tubingen, Berlin and Marburg. During the time of the Nazi domination, he took active part in the strong opposition which the churches built up. After World War II he spent much time lecturing in the United States, He wrote extensively about the need to see beyond the myth of the New Testament. What follows is a small part of a larger work. What do you think after reading it. It can be found in it's entiriety here; "It is impossible to use electric light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles. 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 center, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath. Heaven is the abode of God and of celestial beings -- the angels. The underworld is hell, the place of torment. Even the earth is more than the scene of natural, everyday events, of the trivial round and common task. It is the scene of the supernatural activity of God and his angels on the one hand, and of Satan and his demons on the other. These supernatural forces intervene in the course of nature and in all that men think and will and do. Miracles are by no means rare. Man is not in control of his own life. Evil spirits may take possession of him. Satan may inspire him with evil thoughts. Alternatively, God may inspire his thought and guide his purposes. He may grant him heavenly visions. He may allow him to hear his word of succor or demand. He may give him the supernatural power of his Spirit. History does not follow a smooth unbroken course; it is set in motion and controlled by these supernatural powers. This ├Žon is held in bondage by Satan, sin, and death (for "powers" is precisely what they are), and hastens towards its end. That end will come very soon, and will take the form of a cosmic catastrophe. It will be inaugurated by the "woes" of the last time. Then the Judge will come from heaven, the dead will rise, the last judgment will take place, and men will enter into eternal salvation or damnation. 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, and the individual may even contribute to its change. But he can do so only when he is faced by a new set of facts so compelling as to make his previous view of the world untenable. He has then no alternative but to modify his view of the world or produce a new one. The discoveries of Copernicus and the atomic theory are instances of this, and so was romanticism, with its discovery that the human subject is richer and more complex than enlightenment or idealism had allowed, and nationalism, with its new realization of the importance of history and the tradition of peoples. It may equally well happen that truths which a shallow enlightenment had failed to perceive are later rediscovered in ancient myths. Theologians are perfectly justified in asking whether this is not exactly what has happened with the New Testament. At the same time it is impossible to revive an obsolete view of the world by a mere fiat, and certainly not a mythical view. For all our thinking today is shaped irrevocably by modern science. A blind acceptance of the New Testament mythology would be arbitrary, and to press for its acceptance as an article of faith would be to reduce faith to works. Wilhelm Herrmann pointed this out, and one would have thought that his demonstration was conclusive. It would involve a sacrifice of the intellect which could have only one result-a curious form of schizophrenia and insincerity. It would mean accepting a view of the world in our faith and religion which we should deny in our everyday life. Modern thought as we have inherited it brings with it criticism of the New Testament view of the world."
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2 responses
• India
5 Sep 07
I wish you would be more explicit in your message. I just could not figure out your intention when you posted this. Bultmann has been a theologian of previous generation and I think many things have changed now.
• United States
4 Sep 07
"Can Christian preaching expect modern man to accept the mythical view of the world as true?" This quote is the essence of the question you are asking so that is what I'll answer. Yes. Christian preaching can expect modern man to accept the mythical view because they do. As an example, I can not remember a President of the USA who did not profess openly and unashamedly faith in Jesus. These men did this because either they really believed or they felt their constituents really believe. All our modern Presidents have made a point to consult leaders among the Christian clergy. As of right now, Christianity still has a strangle hold on reason. Slowly that grip is loosening, but it has not yet slackened.