Rudolf Bultmann

1884-1976. German theologian. After studying at the universities of Marburg, Tübingen, and Berlin, he was professor of NT at Marburg (1921-51). One of the major NT scholars of the century, he was during the first twenty years of his professorship known mainly for his pioneering work on the form-criticism of the gospels. Starting at almost the same time as K.L. Schmidt and M. Dibelius, he argued that the gospels could be broken down into smaller units which had grown up in the oral stage of the tradition. He took a largely skeptical view of the authenticity of these units, whether reported sayings or deeds of Jesus. His book Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition was first published in Germany in 1921 and made an immediate impact, though there was no English translation until 1963. His next major work was simply called Jesus (1926; ET 1934). In this there is little emphasis on the deeds and teaching of Jesus apart from His call to decision. This is interpreted by Bultmann in terms closely akin to those of existentialist philosophy, and he has been strongly criticized for failing to give enough objective content to the grounds upon which a decision is to be based. Bultmann contributed a number of major articles to Kittel's Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament but the next landmark among his publications came in 1941 with publication of his commentary on John's gospel. He suggested in this the dependence of the evangelist upon Gnostic* ideas. In the same year there was published in duplicated form his essay “Neues Testament und Mythologie” (ET in H.W. Bartsch, Kerygma and Myth, 1953). His advocacy here of the need to “demythologize” all the concepts of the NT has had a powerful influence upon theological thought since World War II. Having shown himself skeptical of the historical content of the gospels, and having emphasized the need for decision, here he showed that this decision was to be based upon the kerygma, which was not tobe abandoned (as it had been by the liberals) but reinterpreted with its mythological elements expressed in existential terms. His last great work was New Testament Theology (1948-53; ET 1952- 55).

Festschriften in honor of his 65th birthday (ed. E. Wolf, 1949) and his 70th birthday (ed. W. Eltester, 1954); G. Miegge, Gospel and Myth in the Thought of Rudolf Bultmann (ET 1959); R.H. Fuller, The New Testament in Current Study (1962).