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JESUS AND THE WORD (1958) by Rudolf Bultmann. Translated by L. P. Smith & Erminie H. Lantero.
Rudolf Bultmann in Jesus and the Word focuses on the problem of historiography and historicism. Historiography is defined as “the writing of history based on the critical examination of sources” and “historicism is a name given to that view which regards any person, event, culture, institution. . . as capable of being explained solely in terms of its historical antecedents.” Bultmann’s main purpose is that, with his “weapon” of demythologization, he would get to the exact words and authentic message of Jesus by his rigorous “water-down” of the three synoptic gospels. Pitching his tent with Albert Schweitzer, Bultmann categorically asserts that no one can get to the real, historical Jesus because all accounts and stories ascertaining the life and personality of Jesus “are moreover fragmentary and legendary” (p.14).
Martin Kaehler’s The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic biblical Christ greatly influenced Bultmann’s program of demythologization. Kaehler, in his book, debunked the whole notion that we can know the inner life of Jesus through the Gospels. He averred that the Gospels are not biographical accounts of Jesus. Thus Kaehler’s book emboldened Bultmann into a radical surgery of the three synoptic gospels, rejecting the Johanine Gospel as an unreliable source.
Bultmann’s approach is both exegetical and hermeneutical. As an existentialist theologian, he exegetes the three gospels from the focal point of Martin Heidegger’s existential philosophy. And his hermeneutical stance is embedded with suspicion.
This book is an independent study in the area of New Testament scholarship. The author’s critical presuppositions are, first, that most of the words and sayings of Jesus are a projections of the early Christian community as well as a caricature of Hellenistic Christianity; second, that these “exact words” must be interpreted existentially, and, third, that Jesus did not think of himself as the Messiah, or the fact that the messianic title was accepted by him is not a historical fact but “a prophecy after the fac.”
In writing the book, Bultmann employs both Form and Redaction critical methods. Briefly stated, form criticism is a method of biblical study that seeks to interpret the Bible in the context of the life and culture of the people who did the writings, while redaction criticism, in a nutshell, compares a periscope with its parallels in the other Gospels in order to have a better assessment of the message. These are the premises in which the book was written. (Bultmann was a student of Johannes Weiss, a pioneer of from criticism.)
Bultmann, in Jesus and the Word, interpreted the three synoptic gospels in existential terms. He regards the teaching and message of Jesus in these gospels as kerygmatic, which is “a call to decision” (p. 31). According to Bultmann, the kingdom of God is “eschatological deliverance which ends everything earthly” (p. 33). It is not the “highest value” since it is incomparable with anything of human value. Bultmann tells us that Jesus never calls humanity to “inner life” but a life of radical obedience, total submission to the will of God.
Bultmann maintains that the world is not evil but human beings are evil. He also notes that since the kingdom of God determines the present reality therefore God’s kingdom is genuinely future. However, it is present only when human beings acknowledge the claim made upon human existence by God. Bultmann asserts that humanity is in “a crisis of decision before God” (p. 44) and people can only overcome the evil situation the moment they fulfil the requirements of God. It is either humankind decides to do the will of God or continue in disobedience. It is “Either-Or between two possibilities” (p. 96). There is no neutral stance.
The author also acknowledges the fact that Jesus never taught asceticism as a way of fulfilling the
Viewpoint and Method
The Historical Background for the Minis
the Coming of
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