Demythologization

The English translation of the German entmythologisierung, used originally by R. Bultmann* to describe a particular aspect of his hermeneutic. In 1941 he circulated an essay in duplicated form called Neues Testament und Mythologie. In this he argues that the whole thought-world of the NT is mythological. Previous critics had argued for the presence of myth in the NT, as in the OT. “Myth” was taken to mean the pictorial expression in narrative form of some great philosophical or theological truth. Bultmann's argument was that the “three-decker universe,” together with the pre-existence, virgin birth, deity, resurrection and ascension, and parousia of Jesus, and also the doctrines of the Trinity, sin, and the atonement, needed to be translated out of the mythical form in which they were cast. He believed that modern man found the kerygma incredible because he was convinced the mythical view of the world was obsolete.

Bultmann also stated that the mythology of the NT contained contradictions. His direct onslaught upon the historicity of the gospel narratives, while having skeptical features similar to those of the older liberalism, was distinct from it in trying still to see a meaning for everything. This meaning was found in terms of existentialist philosophy. Bultmann laid great stress on the kerygma as a proclamation calling men to authentic decision, but this could only be meaningful when it had been demythologized. Many other leading scholars, including K. Barth* and E. Brunner,* have worked in a more moderate way on the same lines.

Bultmann's essay is included in H.W. Bartsch, Kerygma and Myth (ET 1953).

See also

  • Biblical Criticism