Thursday, July 30, 2015

Bultmann- On the Anniversary of His Death

A rare-ish picture of middle-aged Bultmann.
Karl Barth once said of John Calvin,
“Calvin is a cataract, a primeval forest, a demonic power, something directly down from Himalaya, absolutely Chinese, strange, mythological; I lack completely the means, the suction cups, even to assimilate this phenomenon, not to speak of presenting it adequately. What I receive is only a thin little stream and what I can then give out again is only a yet thinner extract of this little stream. I could gladly and profitably set myself down and spend all the rest of my life just with Calvin.”
I could say the same of Rudolf Bultmann.  He is a giant. A mountain that all theologians will one day have to ascend. Whether we make it will depend on our willingness to climb. But what we find when we arrive at the pinnacle is a German, wrongly demonized by those who have not scaled the whole mountain and, commonly, those who have not even come close to it.

I could continue to lay my praise at Bultmann's feet, but it's only a little over an hour away from midnight as I write this and so I have little time to discuss the great Marburger's life and legacy. But I do have time to discuss what I've read (briefly) and give my recommendations on where to start with Bultmann as all of my readers should, even if it's just a little.

Jesus Christ and Mythology is where I started with Bultmann. It was recommended by my friend Vincent while we were both in Israel and so I ordered it and began reading it immediately when I arrived home. This book helped me through a difficult time in locating the value of Scripture and the Gospel in the face of historical-criticism (along with Peter Enns) while coming from the general evangelical understanding of the Bible. Bultmann's book here is essentially an expanded version of his essay The New Testament & Mythology, which is why I'm glad I started here rather than with the essay itself. He explores many of the questions I (would have) had with the essay alone. In fact, unless I'm mistaken, I think that the lectures contained in this volume were composed in order to answer many of those questions. His purpose is simple: to clarify the Christian message for the world of today. That means, for Bultmann, demythologizing the text. This doesn't mean getting rid of the text that contains myth, rather interpreting it. If you can, start here.

This next volume, New Testament & Mythology and Other Basic Writings, is by far the best collection of Bultmann's most basic and most important theological insights. If you want to understand basic Bultmannism, go here. Read it in order. Take notes. Read for understanding, not to argue with Bultmann and show why he was such a God hating liberal (which he wasn't). Many a quotation from this essay have been ripped right out of their context and done great damage to Bultmann's reputation. This is  a valuable volume and one I have returned to frequently.

Bultmann's TNT is arguably the most important work of NT theology of the twentieth century, and one of the most important works of NT theology for all time. What Bultmann did in this work is remarkable. Vincent (the same one mentioned above) and I worked our way through a fair bit of this last semester in our small (it was just us, haha) Bultmann reading group. I worked my way through the rest of it on my own time later, and I'm so glad I did. It's a treasure. This book, beside Beale and Goppelt, marks the most important bookshelf in my library. Crazy useful. No one who is a serious scholar has avoided this work. 

I've included these two together because I don't have enough time to speak of both on each's own. These books are essential reading for students of the NT and the history of NT criticism. In HST, Bultmann, along with Dibelius, helps pioneer the use of form criticism in the study of the NT. He views the NT documents as documents recounting the person of Jesus from the perspective of faith. That much cannot be denied, that the writers of the NT were writing from the perspective of faith. But Bultmann is saying that they viewed Jesus consciously from the perspective of faith and so that is brush with which they are painting. This is why the historical Jesus is irrelevant, even apart from the mythological language with which he is coated in the NT. The Jesus of history has nothing to do with the Christ of faith, Bultmann says, because it is not κατα σαρκα (according to the flesh) that we believe but κατα πνευμα (according to the spirit). We do not believe in Jesus kata sarka because the NT speaks nothing of him. We believe in the risen Christ who encounters us in the now. These works do not so much build up that idea, but rather build upon it. JW is a historical study of the life and preaching of Jesus, although far less a study of his life than his preaching. He draws upon existentialist philosophy to interpret the value of his preaching today. In HST, Bultmann delivers one of the most influential books in all NT study. Dealing with almost every single passage in the Synoptic Gospels, Bultmann aims at determining the original form and the community behind such a form. It's required reading. Incredibly dry at times but always informative, even if a bit over the top and dated at times.

Finally. FaU is the first volume in a four volume series by Bultmann which contains a series of theological articles which helps to understand Bultmann's theology per se. The chapters/articles on liberal theology, the problem of hermeneutics, theological exegesis, the use of the OT for Christians (though it is best to read Primitive Christianity in Its Contemporary Setting on this topic, I think), dialectical theology, and Christology are among the most important ones. The things he said in these have genuinely surprised me at times and at (most) others they illumined what he had said in another place. I think my favorite of those, however, is his essay on liberal theology and why he had to depart from it. It accounts for his rejection of the historical Jesus and it is all but perfectly persuasive. Definitely get ahold of this volume, after, of course, you have read the others. 

That's all the time I have for the late, great theologian Rudolf Bultmann. Here are some pictures of him so you all can recognize him on the great day of resurrection and thank him for being such a beast.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Recommending Vincent's "How To Read the Bible- Part 2" and Adding Some Thoughts

Vincent is a great guy, a bright thinker, and (most importantly) my friend. He's going to make a great theologian one day so all my readers need to keep an eye and an ear out for him. Recently he's put up a couple of posts on how to read the Bible, one on the OT and one on the NT. This post is directed at the second post concerning the NT. There's not much to disagree with in his post. I'd like to note that the post is less a "how-to" kind of post as a "be aware of these problems as you read" kind of post. I like to see others grappling with problems inherent in the text without dismissing the text–misery loves company I suppose. Of course I've posted on these kinds of issues before (here, here, and here). In fact, I'd like to recommend Vincent's post to my readers. It's a pretty concise introduction to issues in biblical studies that a popular audience could understand well. Then he's got a reading list at the end that I highly recommend as well.

The only real problem (if one can speak of it as a problem) is his assumption that since the Bible contains error or is not exactly the original (that is what Paul, Matthew, Mark, etc. wrote in the autographs) then it cannot be inspired or used as "a constitution for your life." Well, I'd disagree.

Unlike many Evangelicals (and Vincent, apparently) I locate a difference between inspiration and inerrancy and/or infallibility. I have spoken about my views on inerrancy before and you can locate them in the links provided above. I won't regurgitate too much of what I've said there here. I will give a brief overview of what I believe inerrancy to mean, and so tie in what I think the Bible itself claims with regard to inspiration. Of course there are numerous hermeneutical issues but, to be frank, I don't care nor do I have time to go into any of that here.

Inerrancy for me does not mean that all historical details are accurate in a post-enlightenment sense and we should not impose post-enlightenment ideals on the text. It only implies that the Bible is inerrant (that is, to be precise, without error) with regard to what it teaches concerning proper faith and practice. In other words, it is inerrant with regard to the picture of God and the picture of the Christian life that it paints. This is supported by what the Bible claims for itself in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 in which it claims inspiration. What this inspiration is characterized is its perfection in doctrine, teaching, and living. As I've said before, God's proclamation of salvation (the Gospel, the belief the Bible proclaims, and the life God enables through it) is perfect because God is perfect. So even it's not accurate in all of its historical claims (e.g., who killed Goliath, David or Elhanan?), it's still perfect in what it claims about God and what it claims about humankind. I suppose one could speak of the Bible being perfect in what it teaches about God's nature and our nature. But this is the claim for inspiration. And I think one could make the text "a constitution for your life,"depending of course on how we understand constitution. It cannot mean that we decontextualize scripture. In other words, don't go out and stone your neighbor for committing adultery! And don't try to cite John 8 as your reasoning for not doing so (since that text is not something "John" wrote). Don't do it because it's absurd. This isn't ancient Israel. But you can make the Bible the constitution of your life by following the trajectory of morality and justice that it develops, though it does so contextually(!).

Still, I get what he means and generally agree with his sentiments and think that what he is saying is very valid, especially among the average Christian today.

I would recommend all of the books he recommended, and I would certainly add Peter Enns' Inspiration & Incarnation. Fantastic book. It helped me through a really rough time despite its simplicity. But that's what's so wonderful about it. I'd also like to recommend the now dated, though great classic Bavinck. Specifically, read his Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 1 and his section(s) on The Inspiration of Scripture and his own constructive "Organic Inspiration," which seems to me to anticipate what Enns would say in I&I about 100 years later.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Twentieth vs. Twenty-First Century Biblical Scholarship

My readers should know by now that I abhor transliterations. They are dumb and all but useless. I read an article a few months ago in defense of transliterations, which basically asked whether it was better to learn every ancient language even if it be obscure and only tangentially concerned with one's own particular area of study (e.g., should NT scholars learn Ugaritic) or are transliterations better to accomplish the task? I think that's a case that is special and should be considered specially and I don't think it applies to my hatred of transliterations. Most NT scholars will have almost no knowledge of Ugaritic, but they will appreciate the lexical and semantic similarities between that and a cognate language they do know, namely Hebrew. More specialized languages (Akkadian, Ugaritic, Syriac, etc.) perhaps should be transliterated for a wider audience, but more than likely this audience will be specialists and scholars in that or a related field. But transliterations for Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic? No. Absolutely not. All specialists should know how to read all three of those languages, no excuses. It doesn't matter if the general public isn't able to read them. They won't understand the transliterated words' meanings any better even if they can pronounce them. Perhaps they'll say, "Oh! δύναμις (dynamis) is sort of like dynamite because both represent power." But δύναμις still doesn't mean dynamite. It doesn't even mean power. Δύναμις means δύναμις.

My point here is to say that those who are reading books for specialists should probably be specialists. If they aren't and they want to read specialists' literature, go for it! I encourage it. They might not get all out of it that they could, but they'll likely get something important. But that doesn't mean that specialists need to accommodate them by using transliterations. Translations are convenient, especially for words that have multiple or nuanced meanings and the writer is trying to make clear how she understands the particular word(s). That's the big difference, generally speaking, between scholarship of the twentieth century and scholarship today. I've been reading some of the more famous German Bible scholars (Bultmann, Kasemann, Conzelmann, Goppelt, etc.), who are mostly from the twentieth century although a few have lived long enough to see the twentieth, and these guys seem to be much more intelligent, more insightful, and more unaccommodating. They knew their stuff and they expected their readers to as well. In all of their books (even after being translated into English!!–that seems hypocritical, I'm sure) they throw around tons of Greek words, many hapax legomena and some others obscure, and often with no translation. They expected their reader to be competent enough to know the words or at least to be able to look the words up in her lexicon. (This is the case with all the books of theirs that I have read so far except Goppelt's Theology of the New Testament, although his groundbreaking Typos was filled with Greek and no transliterations. His Theology is extremely annoying, but Goppelt is so good it's hard not to forgive him. Also, the font of even the English text is strange and so I wonder if the transliteration is not an editorial problem.) Scholars today, even those who are generally very well informed about their field and know the languages inside and out (Beale, I am looking at you!!) often use transliterations (and I mean absurd BLOCKS of transliterations-- see below). Those twentieth century German scholars would have no patience for that. I certainly don't have any patience for that.

In any case I wrote this post to comment how twentieth century scholarship didn't sacrifice anything that we are often forced to sacrifice. And yes, I realize how it's kind of a bastardization of the word "sacrifice" to use it in such a way. Even so, I think it's a worthy note to comment on how great the men and women on whose shoulders we stand were. They not only knew their Bibles inside and out (in the original languages!) but they knew the scholarship with which they conversed inside and out. I think that's a model to follow.

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