Today is the anniversary of the birth of one of the most influential Scripture scholars who ever lived: Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann’s impact on the theological world cannot be underestimated; if you pick up just about any scholarly work on Scripture or Christology written in the past fifty years, there is a very good chance that Bultmann’s name will be mentioned.
Bultmann’s greatest influence was in advocating for a complete split between history and faith (see my post yesterday about this subject). He advocated “demythologizing” the New Testament by stripping it of any supernatural content, thus discovering the true history behind it. Actually, he claimed that the Gospels were not even historical documents, but merely the proclamation of the message of the early Christian community. Even though not all the specifics of Bultmann’s teachings are accepted in modern scholarship, his underlying presuppositions and assumptions still rule the world of Scripture scholarship and Christology.
One of the primary purposes of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth series is to combat the work of Bultmann and his followers; in fact, the pope directly addresses Bultmann and his arguments numerous times in the first volume of Jesus of Nazareth. Pope Benedict recognizes that true faith and history are not in opposition, but instead that the Christian faith is founded on real historical events. Another critic of Bultmann’s false separation has been Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. I was humbled when Fr. Benedict considered my book Who is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew, which uses modern scholarship but is not a scholarly work, as one small contribution in combating the false presuppositions and conclusions of Bultmann. Fr. Benedict writes in the Foreword:
Beginning with the pope himself, the effort to present the faithful with an adequate picture of Christ is well underway. It is an effort well supported by Eric Sammons. I hope that in years to come, he will follow this book up with later volumes on the other evangelists. I also hope that we will see more and more books like this, intelligent and erudite, yet accessible, on our Divine Savior and his life and personality. It is time to reject and reverse the influence of writers like Rudolf Bultmann, who dismantled the picture of Christ, leaving us only with remnants. In the place of such destruction we now have books like Who Is Jesus Christ? Unlocking the Mystery in the Gospel of Matthew — books that rebuild or, rather, reveal anew the true picture of Christ.
We must always remember that our Christian Faith is not founded on myths in some pre-historic past, but on the historical and reliable witness of the first followers of Christ.