Rudolf Bultmann

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Rudolf Bultmann
Rudolf Bultmann Portrait.jpg
Rudolf Karl Bultmann

(1884-08-20)20 August 1884
Died30 July 1976(1976-07-30) (aged 91)
Helene Feldmann
m. 1917; died 1973)
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Marburg
ThesisDer Stil der paulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe[7] (1910)
Doctoral advisorJohannes Weiss
Academic work
School or traditionDialectical theology
InstitutionsUniversity of Marburg
Doctoral students

Rudolf Karl Bultmann (German: [ˈbʊltman]; 20 August 1884 – 30 July 1976) was a German Lutheran theologian and professor of the New Testament at the University of Marburg. He was one of the major figures of early-20th-century biblical studies. A prominent critic of liberal theology, Bultmann instead argued for an existentialist interpretation of the New Testament. His hermeneutical approach to the New Testament led him to be a proponent of dialectical theology.

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]


Bultmann was born on 20 August 1884 in Wiefelstede, Oldenburg, the son of Arthur Kennedy Bultmann, a Lutheran minister.[14] He did his Abitur at the Altes Gymnasium in the city of Oldenburg, and studied theology at Tübingen. After three terms, Bultmann went to the University of Berlin for two terms, and finally to Marburg for two more terms. He received his degree in 1910[citation needed] from Marburg with a dissertation on the Epistles of St Paul, written under the supervision of Johannes Weiss.[15] After submitting a Habilitation two years later, he became a lecturer on the New Testament at Marburg.

Bultmann married Helene Feldmann on 6 August 1917.[16] The couple had three daughters.[17] Bultmann's wife died in 1973.[16]

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.

Bultmann was a student of Hermann Gunkel, Johannes Weiss, and Wilhelm Heitmüller.[18] His doctoral students included Hans Jonas,[19] Ernst Käsemann,[20] Günther Bornkamm,[21] Helmut Koester,[22] and Ernst Fuchs. He also taught Hannah Arendt.

He was a member of the Confessing Church[23] 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]."[24]

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.[25] What arose from this friendship was a "sort of comradery" grounded on an active and open dialogue between Bultmann and Heidegger from 1923-1928.[26] 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."[27]

He died on 30 July 1976 in Marburg.[citation needed]

Theological approaches[edit]

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 exponent.

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."[28]

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.[30] 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.[31]

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".[32] 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."[33] 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."[34]

Bultmann carried Form criticism so far as to call the historical value of the gospels into serious question.[18] Some scholars, such as Craig L. Blomberg, criticized Bultmann and other critics[which?] for excessive skepticism regarding the historical reliability of the gospel narratives.[35] The full impact of Bultmann was felt with the English translation of many of his works, notably Kerygma and Mythos (1948).[citation needed]

Selected works[edit]

  • Bultmann, Rudolf K. (1921). Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition. - German original
    • ——— (1976). History of the Synoptic Tradition. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco. ISBN 0-06-061172-3. (seminal work on form criticism)
  • ——— (1926). Jesus. - German original
  • ——— (1941). Neues Testament und Mythologie. - German original
  • ——— (1941). Das Evangelium des Johannes. - German original
  • ——— (1948). Theologie des Neuen Testaments. - German original
  • ——— (1949). Das Urchristentum im Rahmen der Antiken Religionen. - German original
  • ——— (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. OCLC 186641. - 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 a 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.
  • ——— (1957). History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (1954–55 Gifford Lectures). Edinburgh: University Press. ISBN 9780852241035. OCLC 752549.
  • ——— (1958). Jesus Christ and Mythology (Cole lectures, Vanderbilt University, Kent Shaffer memorial lectures). Scribner Library (series) - Lyceum editions. SL73. New York & London: Scribner. ISBN 9780684717272. OCLC 383108.


  1. ^ For a similar epistemological comparison, see haeccity and quiddity.
  2. ^ "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.[29]



  1. ^ Congdon 2015b, p. 315; Wildman 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Hobbs 1985, p. 63.
  3. ^ a b Wildman 2018.
  4. ^ Congdon 2015a, p. 89; Dorrien 2003, p. 49; McKnight 2005, p. 271.
  5. ^ Jensen 2014, pp. 136–138.
  6. ^ Hobbs 1985, p. 63; Wildman 2018.
  7. ^ Bultmann 1910; Porter 2016, p. 58.
  8. ^ a b c Pagliarino 2018.
  9. ^ Geering, Lloyd (2013). "Theology before and after Bishop Robinson's Honest to God" (PDF). Sea of Faith Network. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  10. ^ Monk 2011.
  11. ^ Broadhead 2011, pp. 1170–1172.
  12. ^ Borg 1994, p. 187; Broadhead 2011, pp. 1170–1172.
  13. ^ Bultmann 1991, pp. 94–95; Cross & Livingstone 2005, p. 252.
  14. ^ Dennison 2008, pp. 7, 14.
  15. ^ Porter 2016, p. 58; Watson & Hauser 1994, p. 104.
  16. ^ a b Dennison 2008, p. 101.
  17. ^ Meier 2011, p. 3.
  18. ^ a b Cross & Livingstone 2005, p. 252.
  19. ^ Jonas 1982, pp. 1–2; Markschies 2014, p. 23.
  20. ^ Zetterholm 2009, p. 78.
  21. ^ Schild 2016, p. 89.
  22. ^ Busse 2014, p. 44.
  23. ^ Kelley 2002, p. 155.
  24. ^ Kelley 2002, pp. 155–156.
  25. ^ Wood 2005, p. 113.
  26. ^ Woodson 2018, p. 61.
  27. ^ Labron 2011, pp. 43–44.
  28. ^ Mournet 2005, p. 56.
  29. ^ Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1969). Miller, Arthur V. (ed.). The Science of Logic. London: George Allen & Unwin. p. 3 § 989. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  30. ^ Bultmann 2004, p. 328.
  31. ^ Bultmann 1984, p. 3.
  32. ^ Bultmann 1984, p. 28.
  33. ^ Bultmann 1984, p. 26.
  34. ^ Bultmann 1971, p. 155.
  35. ^ Blomberg 1987, pp. 21–25.
  36. ^ "Jesus and the Word - online". Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  37. ^ "Kerygma and Myth: a theological debate". Retrieved 11 April 2019.


Blomberg, Craig L. (1987). The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press. ISBN 978-0-87784-992-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Borg, Marcus J. (1994). Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship. ISBN 978-1-56338-094-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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. ISBN 978-90-04-17092-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Bultmann, Rudolf (1910). Der Stil der paulinischen Predigt und die kynisch-stoische Diatribe (in German). Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Retrieved 3 April 2018.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
 ———  (1971). The Gospel of John: A Commentary.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
 ———  (1984) [1941]. "New Testament and Mythology". In Ogden, Schubert M. (ed.). New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings. Philadelphia: Fortress Press (published 1989). pp. 1–43. ISBN 978-0-8006-2442-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
 ———  (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. ISBN 978-0-8006-3402-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (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. ISBN 978-0-415-32751-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Busse, Roger S. (2014). To Be Near the Fire: Demonic Possession, Risk Analysis, and Jesus' War on Satan. Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications. ISBN 978-1-62564-811-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Congdon, David W. (2015a). Rudolf Bultmann: A Companion to His Theology. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books. ISBN 978-1-62564-748-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
 ———  (2015b). The Mission of Demythologizing: Rudolf Bultmann's Dialectical Theology. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN 978-1-4514-8792-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Cross, F. L.; Livingstone, E. A., eds. (2005). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (rev. 3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (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. ISBN 978-0-8204-8113-5. ISSN 0740-0446.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Dorrien, Gary (2003). The Making of American Liberal Theology: Idealism, Realism, and Modernity, 1900–1950. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 978-0-664-22355-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Hobbs, Edward C., ed. (1985). Bultmann, Retrospect and Prospect: The Centenary Symposium at Wellesley. Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0-8006-7075-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Jensen, Alexander S. (2014). Divine Providence and Human Agency: Trinity, Creation and Freedom. Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4094-3530-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Jonas, Hans (1982). "Is Faith Still Possible? Memories of Rudolf Bultmann and Reflections on the Philosophical Aspects of His Work". Harvard Theological Review. 75 (1): 1–23. doi:10.1017/S0017816000018186. ISSN 1475-4517. JSTOR 1509661.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Kelley, Shawn (2002). Racializing Jesus: Race, Ideology and the Formation of Modern Biblical Scholarship. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-15402-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Labron, Tim (2011). Bultmann Unlocked. London: T&T Clark. ISBN 978-0-567-03153-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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. ISBN 978-1-315-58841-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
McKnight, Scot (2005). "Jesus: Who Was He?: Introduction". In Dunn, James D. G.; McKnight, Scot (eds.). The Historical Jesus in Recent Research. Sources for Biblical and Theological Study. 10. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. pp. 271–274. ISBN 978-1-57506-100-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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. ISBN 978-3-656-09464-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)[self-published source]
Monk, Stephanie D. (2011). "An Examination of the Theology of Bishop John Shelby Spong" (PDF). Global Journal of Classic Theology. 9 (1). ISSN 1521-6055. Retrieved 4 April 2018.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Mournet, Terence C. (2005). Oral Tradition and Literary Dependency: Variability and Stability in the Synoptic Tradition and Q. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 195. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN 9783161484544. ISSN 0340-9570.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Pagliarino, Guido (2018) [2015]. Diavolo e Demòni (un approccio storico) (in Italian). Tektime. ISBN 978-88-7304-437-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Porter, Stanley E. (2016). When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History. New York: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781316422786. ISBN 978-1-107-12796-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Raupp, Werner (2003). Bultmann. Rudolf (Karl): Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). 21. Nordhausen: Bautz. pp. 174–233. ISBN 3-88309-110-3. - (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. ISSN 0024-7553.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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. ISBN 978-90-04-09903-6. ISSN 0928-0731.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Wildman, Wesley, ed. (2018). "Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1976)". Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology. Boston: Boston University. Retrieved 3 April 2018.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Wood, Lawrence W. (2005). Theology as History and Hermeneutics: A Post-Critical Conversation with Contemporary Theology. Lexington, Kentucky: Emeth Press. ISBN 978-0-9755435-5-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Woodson, Hue (2018). Heideggerian Theologies: The Pathmarks of John Macquarrie, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich, and Karl Rahner. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 978-1-5326-4775-8.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Zetterholm, Magnus (2009). Approaches to Paul: A Student's Guide to Recent Scholarship. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press. ISBN 978-0-8006-6337-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further reading[edit]

Bartsch, Hans Werner, ed. (1961). Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate. New York: Harper Torchbooks. Archived from the original on 5 May 2006. Retrieved 3 April 2018 – via Religion Online.
Bultmann, Rudolf (1958) [1934]. Jesus and the Word. Translated by Smith, Louise Pettibone; Lantero, Erminie Huntress. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Archived from the original on 2 March 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2018 – via Religion Online.
 ———  (1960). Existence and Faith: Shorter Writings of Rudolf Bultmann. New York: Meridian Books. LCCN 60006774. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
 ———  (1962) [1955]. History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity. New York: Harper Torchbooks. Retrieved 3 April 2018 – via Gifford Lectures.
Edwards, David L. (1976). "Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of Faith". The Christian Century. Vol. 93 no. 27. Chicago. pp. 728–730. ISSN 0009-5281. Retrieved 3 April 2018 – via Religion Online.
Fergusson, David (1992). Bultmann. London: G. Chapman. ISBN 978-0-225-66626-7.
Fries, Heinrich (1967). Bultmann-Barth and Catholic Theology. Translated by Swidler, Leonard. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press. Archived from the original on 1 January 2006. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
Fuller, Reginald H. (1965). The Foundations of New Testament Christology. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
Hammann, Konrad (2013). Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography. Translated by Devenish, Philip E. Salem, Oregon: Polebridge Press. ISBN 978-1-59815-118-3.
Kselman, John S.; Witherup, Ronald D. (1990). "Modern New Testament Criticism". In Brown, Raymond E.; Fitzmyer, Joseph A.; Murphy, Roland E. (eds.). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. pp. 1130–1145. ISBN 978-0-13-614934-7.
McKnight, Edgar V. (1969). What Is Form Criticism?. Guides to Biblical Scholarship: New Testament Series. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. OCLC 714991891.
Moran, Seán Farrell. "Rudolph Bultmann". The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing. 1.
Smith, Mahlon H. (2018). "Rudolf Karl Bultmann". A Synoptic Gospels Primer: Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke. OCLC 60769417. Retrieved 3 April 2018.