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Definition: Bultmann, Rudolf Karl from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(bʊlt'män), 1884–1976, German existentialist theologian, educated at the universities of Tübingen, Berlin, and Marburg. He taught at the universities of Breslau and Giessen and from 1921 to 1950 was professor at the Univ. of Marburg. Strongly influenced by the existentialist philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Bultmann is best known for his work on the New Testament, which he reduced—with the exception of the Passion—to basic elements of myth, which then have application to contemporary concerns. His approach is termed “demythologization.” His classic work is Theology of the New Testament (tr. 1951). Other writings in English translation include Essays, Philosophical and Theological (1952, tr. 1955), Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting (1949, tr. 1963), Jesus and the World (1951, tr. 1958), The Gospel of John (1953, tr. 1971), The History of the Synoptic Tradition (1957, 2d ed. tr. 1968); see also his selected shorter writings, Existence and Faith (tr. 1960); studies by E. T. Lang (1968), Walter Schmithals (tr. 1968), and André Malet (tr. 1969).


Summary Article: Bultmann, Rudolf Karl from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German Lutheran theologian and New Testament scholar. He was a professor at Marburg University 1921–51, and during the Third Reich played a leading role in the Confessing Church, a Protestant anti-Nazi movement. A pioneer of form criticism (the analysis of biblical texts in terms of their literary form), he made the controversial claim that the Gospels are largely composed of ‘myths’, which have to be reinterpreted in existentialist terms if they are to be relevant to contemporary needs.

Life Born in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony, the son of a Lutheran pastor, Bultmann taught at Breslau and Giessen before becoming professor of New Testament studies at Marburg.

Demythologizing the Gospels In his two central works, History of the Synoptic Gospels 1921, and Jesus 1926, he argues that the Gospels not a reliable guide to the life or even to teachings of Jesus, being not ‘biographies’, but collections of various 1st-century Christian texts brought together by the evangelists. Many of these texts, he claims, embody mythic forms of thought and expression of the period, which are irrelevant or misleading in a scientific age and hence need to be reinterpreted, or ‘demythologized’, if their essential meaning – Christ's call to the spiritual life – is to be recognized. For this reinterpretation, Bultmann draws heavily on the existentialist approach of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (a colleague at Marburg during the late 1920s), and in effect reaffirms the Lutheran principle of ‘justification by faith’.

Other works His other major works include Kerygma and Myth 1948, Theology of the New Testament 1948–53, and Essays Philosophical and Theological 1955.

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