The work done to translate the gospel texts into the language of our age is referred to as hermeneutics in science. The most outstanding representative of this is the Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann. His name and his theories have also become widely known through the mass media. Work in this field started after the First World War, continued after the Second World War, and then became increasingly more known.
To help modern man to understand the way the Gospels were originally presented, Bultmann used a bridge which he termed "Kerygma", a word that literally means "proclamation." Bultmann believed he could reach modern man with the message given by Jesus by declaring most of the contents of the Gospels to be myth, i.e., not historical reality, but invented by the early church. According to him, the Gospels needed to be demythologized by rational analysis.
In 1943, Bultmann published Offenbarung und Heilsgeschichte (Revelation and God's Plan of Salvation), a book that led to endless discussion on the subject of demythologizing the gospel. Bultmann uses a radical method. He puts the axe to the roots of Christian teaching by denying the divinity of Jesus, virgin birth, the resurrection, the miracles and other things, as Strauss, Harnack and others before him.
The resurrection according to him took place only in the disciple's minds. He does not deny the historicity of Jesus, but this is irrelevant to him, of no significance for the faith. His Jesus exists only in faith. And it is not only the person of Jesus that is practically done away with, for his teaching, too, becomes almost nothing. Bultmann wrote: "So it is finally obvious that Jesus as the one to reveal God revealed nothing but that he is the one to reveal God." 59 It is not surprising perhaps that one author made the comment that Bultmann's book on Jesus "in a certain sense is a book on Jesus without Jesus." 60 And another wrote: "According to the New Testament the Word became Flesh.... in Kerygma theology, the Word has become Kerygma." 61
The divine nature of Jesus, salvation, and therefore many other fundamental Christian issues are sacrificed in the bare earth policy of Bultmann and his school demythologizing the gospel. Revelation is to him no passing on of supernatural knowledge, but "early church beliefe". "But", Zahrnt was to ask, "if we only have Jesus in the Kerygma, what in fact do we still have of him?"
Even the atheist philosopher Ernst Bloch considers the demythologizers' interpretation to be entirely beside the point. These theologians are in Bloch's opinion attempting to dissolve the gospel "into nothing but legend, like Moses or William Tell." 62 Bloch astutely argues: "People pray to a child born in a stable ... immediately - the stable is real. Such humble origins of the founder clearly are not invented. Legend does not paint pictures of misery, and certainly not of misery continuing for the whole of a life. The stable, the carpenter's son, the dreamer among simple people, the gallows at the end - that is historical stuff, not the golden fabric legend likes to weave." 63
The methods Bultmann used to get rid of passages that were in the way of his interpretation, often strike one as peculiar. St. Paul refers to eye-witnesses still living who knew Jesus and his fate. (1 Cor 15, 3-8) They could be questioned at the time, and this empirical proof seriously impeded Bultmann's efforts to declare everything to be myth. He therefore simply stated that Paul's line of argument was theologically "unsound". Such peculiar casuistry is sarcastically and most aptly stigmatized by Joachim Kahl, a theologian who left the Protestant church: "This is unsound not where the apostle is concerned, but rather with regard to Bultmann's interpretation. The persistent outrage committed on the texts cannot be laid at Bultmann's door alone. lt is the common business of theologians" 64
Bultmann has already been challenged by a number of former students. Ernst Kaesemann, for instance, said straight out that form criticism "leaves us completely in the lurch when we look for formal characteristics of the authentic Jesus." 65 Another, Gerhard Ebeling, has said: "If there were no resurrection, then there would be nothing to Jesus, and he would be without significance." 66
Demythologizing the gospel leads to grotesque results, as shown by the view expressed by Edouard Dujardin who wrote Jesus was really Nun, the God of Fishes (or, more exactly) the Water Serpent. 67
What poverty of thought shows itself in this reinterpretation of the Gospel, compared to the grand design of salvation revealed in New Revelation in its profound, comprehensive elucidation of the gospel.
In Bible criticism, a strange mixture of science and fantasy has yielded the oddest results. Mommsen's words that "Fantasy is the mother of all history as much as of all poetry", attain to their full meaning in the case of the Bible critics. The intellect is clearly unable to stay clear of phantasms. The intelligence is all the time subject to the temptation to dissolve everything that has such metaphysical depth as to make it incomprehensible to it. Dostoievsky saw the situation clearly when he wrote: "Much that seems primitive to the educated is not primitive, but primary."
New Revelation says, and this should give food for thought to many a demythologizer: "There is more than the spoken or written word is able to convey." (Gr XI p. 135)
God's Word is often deliberately obscured in the Bible. Anyone attempting to unveil the secret by applying analytical methods will have it come apart in his hands. Human imagination will not help us to understand the mystery. New Revelation clearly says where that road leads to: "Anyone judging on an external, purely historical basis, using his intellect, what will he of necessity find when he sets to work with all acuity on these very different statements (in the Gospels)? I tell you: Either death of his intellect or the death of his faith." (Hi 11 p. 139)
In the introductory part of this chapter it was pointed out that the roots of the rationalist thinking applied to the contents of Jesus' message may be found in philosophy. That also applies in the case of Rudolf Bultmann. lt is well known, as Dietrich von Hildebrand has written, that Bultmann was influenced by Heidegger's philosophy. 68 Yet truth is not a matter of philosophical speculation.
Gollwitzer showed that the demythologizing approach to theology is not limited to just a few theologians, but has in fact spread to much wider circles of Protestant and in part also Catholic theologians. Truly an oppressive fact. Gollwitzer has written: "The whole of Protestant theology today bears the stamp of the problems posed and answers given by Rudolf Bultmann and his students, so one might be speaking of a post Bultmann generation." 69
The 'new' knowledge offered by the demythologizing theologians today is in fact nothing new. Marcion did it all in the 2nd century. He rejected the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John and eliminated from Luke's Gospel everything that did not fit in with his own views. Jean Guitton therefore wrote quit rightly: "Anyone wishing to 'demythologize' the gospel as Bultmann did, is twisted by the spirit of Marcion." 70
Practically the whole of historical criticism has been anticipated by pagan opponents of Christianity like Porphyrius (3r c.) and Celsus (2nd c.). As early as the 5th century, the Nestorians maintained that it was not the Son of God who died on th cross, but another person. The Gnostic Valentine considered Jesus the "Redeemer" in the sense of an enlightened and exemplary teacher, and that is the view taken by most liberal authors today.
Modern research finds itself facing the same mystery as the Gnostics and pagan critics did in the past.
Anyone denying the resurrection and the act of salvation takes away the ground from under the feet of the Christian faith, and all preaching will then be in vain: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain and your faith an empty one." (1 Cor 15, 14)
"Anyone denying the Son, also does not have the Father." (1 John 2, 23)
The divinity of Jesus is a mystery that is beyond human comprehension. A suffering god was as unfathomable to the Romans as it is to those wanting to demythologize the Gospels today. This leaves a continuous historical guessing game, and changing methods of research producing untenable hypotheses and sometimes absurd results, the original basis being the same. The words written in John's Gospel, "The light has entered into the darkness, and the darkness does not comprehend it" (John 1, 5) has remained valid to this day.
Confusion has grown among Christians over the centuries. Puzzled, they ask themselves if everything the churches are teaching is myth, i.e., invention. It is incomprehensible how some theologians can have the nerve to maintain that the findings of historical criticism (including the demythologized gospel) are able "to make the Christian faith real and relevant to ,modern man." 71
Guenther Bornkamm has pointed out that hand in hand with radical Bible criticism, atheism has spread like an avalanche, 72, and this clearly shows the causal relation. Papini was no doubt right in saying: "No age has been further away from Christ and at the same time shown greater Ionging for him." "The philological finitions, the exegetic commentaries, the variations shown in original manuscripts - all that is little help. The heart need something different. 73 People whose eyes are not blinded to metaphysical profundity have a Ionging for genuine revelation even in this day and age. New Revelation says of them: "I shall put the souls that are ready in your (the disseminators of New revelation) way." (Pr 163) "They are ready", the theme is continued, "because a desire for higher goals has come awake and alive within them." (Gr V 128, 3)
"For as long as a person does not feel any such desire within him, but pursues his life, like an animal, unconcerned as to his sphere of life, whatever it may continue into, feeding like a polyp at the bottom of the sea, there is no readiness as yet in him for a higher revelation." (Gr V 128, 4)
"Therefore also, only those shall be given the light to awaken their mind and spirit from the heavens who are seeking it, and also love and esteem it as the highest there is in life." (Gr IX 180, 6)