A Reply to Bultmann by Julius Schniewind
Thesis on the Emancipation of the Kerygma from Mythology
Since its first appearance, Bultmann’s essay has evoked a storm of indignant repudiation. He has been accused of eliminating all the facts of salvation. He has left us without a message for our Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter sermons. He has raised doubts about the very kerygma itself.
It would be better to approach the subject in a more restrained tone. To begin with, Bultmann has clearly and explicitly repudiated any intention of dissolving the kerygma. The whole tenor of his essay is enough to show that. And he expressly dissociates himself from the liberalism of the older school such as Harnack’s “God and the soul” as well as from the more mystical approach of Troeltsch and the History of Religions School (see p. 14). Unlike the liberals, Bultmann is not in the least interested in the evolution of religion. What he is interested in is the once-for-allness of the deed, the revelation of God in Christ.
Secondly, Bultmann’s desire to emancipate the gospel message from mythology is something which he shares with every preacher who is worth his salt. Every time we preach a sermon we have to translate the language of the New Testament into the thought and language of the present day. Thielicke (Pfarrerblatt, 1942, No. 30; cp. also his more exhaustive treatment in the essay in this volume [pp. 138 ff.]). is equally concerned with this question, though his terms “permanent and transitory”, “shell and content”, “divine and human”, are not altogether satisfactory. For Thielicke does not seek to differentiate any more than Bultmann does between an “eternal” and purely transitory element in the Bible. That would be only a return to liberalism, which both Thielicke and Bultmann want to avoid.
Here are a few incidents which will show what the problem is really about. The present writer remembers listening about ten years ago to a thoughtful sermon on the opening chapters of Genesis. An educated lady in the congregation happened to take offense at the way the preacher spoke of Adam. “How can he”, she asked, “talk about Adam as if he were an historical person? And what has the sin committed by the first man thousands or even millions of years ago to do with me?” The trouble was that the preacher was right in principle but uncertain in his exposition. When we speak of Adam we are speaking of the collective fall and guilt of man, of his abalienatio a deo, which is the presupposition of every actual sin. The Reformers realized this. There is another incident which the present writer recalls from his student days at Marburg in 1906. On Ascension Day he went to the service on the Christenberg. Great crowds were flocking thither, attracted by the display of traditional costumes in the procession; most of them were people who had little sympathy with the Christian religion. Would the preacher, one wondered, be able to proclaim the message of “Christ the King” in a way which the crowds would understand? Alas, we were given a naïve picture of a literal ascension, such as a non-Christian would dismiss as mere myth. Even Luther poured scorn on such literalism: “Oh, that heaven of the charlatans, with its golden stool and Christ sitting at the Father’s side vested in a choir cope and a golden crown, as the painters love to portray him.” (W.A., XXIII, p. 131. For the reference I am indebted to Herr D. Knolle of Hamburg.) A third incident. As an army chaplain in the first World War the writer remembers preaching to the men of his Bible class an Easter sermon which met with similar criticism. “You don’t really believe that Christ’s bones came up out of the earth, do you, padre?” As a matter of fact, he had not said anything of the kind, but evidently the word “resurrection” conjured up in the minds of the men the stained glass windows in their parish churches back at home, where, in flagrant contradiction to St. Paul (1 Cor 15:36: “Thou fool”), the resurrection of the dead is depicted in ordinary human and terrestrial categories. Again and again I came across competent theologians who were shocked by the sermons they heard from army chaplains. Most of them were well meant and carefully prepared, but they showed little indication that the preachers had been face to face with death in the company of men to whom the Bible was an utterly foreign world. These young padres did not know what a sermon really was, although they might have learned from the New Testament itself. There we learn that a sermon is an attempt to speak the Word of God to the concrete situation of the hearers so that it may readily be understood.
We are already at the heart of the problem. What e.g. is the real meaning of the parallel which Romans 5 draws between Adam and Christ? What was the ascension? Is the resurrection of the dead capable of description? Does preaching simply mean repeating word for word what the Bible says? Or are we allowed to paraphrase, translate, and change the terminology? Such a procedure might well be within the limits of what the Reformers practiced and what the New Testament itself intends and demands. On the other hand, it may be argued that what the New Testament says is pure myth, at least so far as the form in which it is expressed is concerned. In that case the translation of its language and its thought-forms into our own will not be enough. More drastic treatment will be required. And supposing not only the form but also the substance is affected, what then? Let us see.
A. By “mythological” we mean the expression of unobservable realities in terms of observable phenomena. It is doubtful whether the human mind can ever dispense with myth. Every attempt to escape from mythology leads either to nihilism or to the question whether the invisible has in fact become visible, and if so, where? The Christian answer is, in W. Herrmann’s phrase, “God is Jesus” (Col. 1:15; John 14:9). Bultmann would agree in principle.
Bultmann defines “mythological” thus: “Mythology is the mode of representation in which the unworldly, the divine, appears as worldly, human, and the otherworldly as this-worldly.”
This definition requires simplification. It would be better to avoid such terms as “unworldly”, “the divine”, and “the other-worldly”. “Unworldly”, for instance, is an ambiguous expression (see the discussion of “acosmism” in Thesis VII,). The “divine” is the theion of Hellenistic pantheism. “Other-worldly” is the usual word for the invisible world, but difficult to reconcile with New Testament eschatology, which speaks of a future, a goal, and a judgment. As an alternative we would suggest: “By ‘mythological’ we mean the presentation of unobservable realities in terms of observable phenomena.”, The most striking feature of the myths about the pagan gods is the way they speak of persons and events in an invisible world as if they were like those with which we are familiar on earth. Jewish apocalyptic and Gnostic speculation alike describe heaven and its denizens, cosmic catastrophes and the end of the world, with all the paraphernalia and scenery of the earthly stage. Critics have often noted the sobriety and restraint of the New Testament as compared with Judaism in its picture of heaven and the end of the world. How restrainedly do the gospels describe the resurrection of Jesus compared e.g. with the Gospel of Peter. “No man hath seen God at any time.” “He dwelleth in light unapproachable” (1 Tim. 6:16), and by analogy the same applies to the unseen world. The visible is temporal, the invisible eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
But is the human mind really capable of dispensing with myth? After all, we can speak of the invisible only in terms of the visible. When for instance Plato reaches the summit of his thought, he simply says: m u q o V _ e f u . And who would be so rash as to try and demythologize Plato? (I owe this to a suggestion of H. J. Iwand.) Spengler was not the first to observe that all our scientific concepts are really myths; Karl Heim has been saying the same thing ever since 1905. Modern science appears to be increasingly concerned with its presuppositions and assumptions. What remains when we have rigorously eliminated every trace of mythology? (This critique of the conceptions used in natural science in Heim and Spengler is derived from the Empirio-criticism of Mach. The results of recent atomic research have invalidated this critique in the particular form in which it was made. At the same time, however, atomic research has shown us that all visible conceptions of natural and cosmic happenings are per se untenable, Cp. e.g. Ernst Zimmer, Umsturz im Weltbild der Physik, 1942, and Sir James Jeans. The Mysterious Universe, 1930.)
Again, a large part of what Bultmann quotes from Yorck and Kamlah is really mythological. “These symbols are drawn from the very depths of nature, for religion . . . is supernatural, not unnatural.’’ What does “nature” mean in this connection? Phusis, phuein, and nasci are all terrestrial expressions. And what about “supernatural”? Martin Kähler used to insist that we should drop the term “supernatural” altogether. And what are the “depths” of nature? Is it just a naïve application of our ordinary idea of space? And what do “authentic’’ and “symbol” mean? Some sort of comparison, no doubt, is involved, but what is the terdum comparationis? Take again Bultmann’s quotation from Kamlah. (These are not Kamlah’s actual words, but Bultmann’s summary correctly reproduces the substance of Kamlah’s argument) “The attitude of historicity is surrender to the totality of that which is, or to God as the source of Being.” What does he mean by “totality” and “source”? Here is a definite case where our ideas of activity in time and space are transferred to the transcendental sphere. And is the philosopher justified on his own presuppositions in speaking of “God”? Is not that a mythological concept? There is no need to recall Haeckel’s blasphemy about a gaseous vertebrate: suffice it to remind ourselves of the classical tradition of religious philosophy with its insistence that God cannot be defined except in negatives — apoios, without quality, the ontos on, the thelon, (See Philo. Leg. all., sect. 36, C.W.I. 121. 1ff.) the X behind everything that happens, the X, as Kähler formulated it, following the older theology, behind our religiosity and our humanism. We know these things as phenomena, but of the “something or other” which lies behind them we can only speak in negatives. Everything beyond that is apparently mythology.
When we analyze all our thinking in this way, we begin to see how much of it is mythological. Every ultimate question presents us with an either-or. Either nihilism or the als ob (“as if”). There is only one way of escape from this dilemma, and that way is open only to Christian faith. That is to see all the ultimate questions of all men from the viewpoint of Christ. All human thinking leaves us with a question mark. Has the invisible ever been made visible, and if so, where? The inescapable necessity of thinking in picture language derived from the world of space and time leaves us with exactly the same question — has the invisible ever been made visible, and if so, where? And the only answer is the Christian answer — the invisible God has entered into our visible world. Of this act of God the New Testament bears witness: “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see” (Luke 10:22). “He who hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Here is the only solution to the question of God, the question which underlies every thought which enters into the mind of man. It is remarkable how unanimous our teachers were in impressing upon us the importance of John 14:9. g. Kähler, when he waged war on the X, the god of the pantheists and the deists, and Loofs when he quoted Luther’s Ein’ feste Burg:
Ask ye who is this same?
Christ Jesus is His Name:
The Lord Sabaoth’s Son.
And W. Herrmann said something in his seminar in the summer term of 1906 which was quite unforgettable: “It is wrong to say that Jesus is God, for that implies that we already know what God is. It implies that Jesus is merely theios, a divine being. We really ought to say that God is Jesus. Jesus is the very presence of God, the divine Being himself.” Herrmann reminded us of the original meaning of homoousios — of one, not of like, substance. Above all, this is the authentic gospel of Luther. Jesus is deus ad nos, God gracious to us.(cf. Schumann, Deutsche Theologie, 1942, p. 7.) Bultmann accepts this creed in principle.
At the end of his essay he quotes Phil 2:7; 2 Cor. 8:9; Rom. 8:3; 1 Tim. 3:16; John 1:14. But what about his formulae: “God’s eschatological emissary” and “the agent of God’s presence and activity” ? They leave us wondering whether he is really doing justice to the New Testament. John 4:9 goes further than this, and so does I John 5:20 (“true God and eternal life”), John 20:28 (“My Lord and my God”), and John 1:1 (“God was the Logos”). Incidentally Bultmann’s interpretation of this last passage is entirely correct: “God and the Logos are identical.” This is much better than Zahn, who says that the Logos was “a pure spirit-being like God” (!). These Johannine passages are not isolated instances; the kerygma of the synoptic gospels, to say nothing of St. Paul, proclaims the coming of God. In Matt. 11:5ff. the promise of Isa. 35:4ff. is applied directly to Jesus: “God . . . will come and save you.” The messenger who prepares the way for Jahweh goes before Jesus (Mal. 2:1ff.=Matt. 11:10). Jesus forgives sins even as God himself (Mark 2:1ff.: Luke 7:49). His acts are the acts of God (Luke 15). In his coming God is visiting his people. (Such instances could be multiplied. The problem of the authenticity of any given passage is irrelevant for the defining of the kerygma.) “Parousia is metita, adventus, eleusis; cp. Mal. 3:1 Zech. 14:5, and especially Dan. 7:13. Hence Matt. 11:3.” (Wellhousen, Matthäus, 2nd Edition, p. 118) This hope of an advent of God himself is still a vital element in late Judaism. The relative silence of the synoptic gospels on the fulfillment of this hope is after all in line with the principle of the Messianic secret. Bultmann’s formulation of the basic confession therefore requires a greater degree of precision than he has given it. For the phrase: “agent of God’s presence and activity” we should substitute: “He in whom God acts in a unique and final present.” Bultmann’s formula would apply just as well to a prophet (John the Baptist might equally be called an “eschatological emissary”). The formula we propose seeks to do justice to the ephapax of the New Testament.
Now the psychikos anthropos finds it impossible to accept the faith of the Christians. Modern man is by no means the first to feel the difficulty of accepting it. The great majority of mankind have always been ready and willing enough to accept a vague and general belief in God which makes no specific demands upon them, but the more definite Christian belief in Christ they prefer to reject as myth. The cultured scorn of a Celsus and the coarse ribaldry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are at one in this. The deliberate paradoxes of the early Fathers and Luther’s hymn Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ serve to express the incomprehensibility of the mystery of Christ. This is exactly what Bultmann means when he stresses the element of skandalon in the kerygma. This skandalon is so acute that modern man dismisses the basic confessions of the New Testament on the ground that they are mythical. It would be easy to substantiate this point from the literature of the History of Religions school and from the idealism and rationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. After all, is not the Christian claim that the eternal God has come to us in an individual man with all the limitations of time and space essentially mythological in character — i.e., does it not speak of the eternal as if it were involved in time and space, and of the invisible as if it were visible?
B. The Christian confession is myth for man as such, not merely for modern man. Even such language as “act of God” decision, and sin (aversio a deo), inevitably looks like myth. Bultmann agrees in principle with these propositions, but does not express them as precisely as one could wish.
Bultmann is acutely aware of this problem. The offense or skandalon consists in “the paradox of a transcendent God present and active in history: ‘The Word became flesh’ . . . will not be removed by philosophical discussion, but only by faith and obedience”. So far so good, but does not Bultmann make light of the difficulty when he says: “Anyone who asserts that to speak of an act of God at all is mythological language is bound to regard the idea of an act of God in Christ as a myth. But let us ignore this question for the moment. Even Kamlah thinks it philosophically justifiable to use ‘the mythological language of an act of God’ “
Can the problem be shelved like this? Never; it is inescapable. True, when driven by necessity a philosopher may speak of an act of God. But unless he is a Christian he will mean it in a pantheistic sense, the natura naturans behind all observable phenomena. But who dares to speak of an act of God in a strictly personal sense? That the Eternal, the Infinite, the Incomprehensible should make decisions, that he should be confronted by an Either/Or, that he should grant or withhold his presence, that he should show grace or wrath, that in other words God has a history, that there is a story of personal encounter between him and man: these are things a philosopher could never admit. What would he make, for instance, of Bultmann’s statement that “God has given up himself for us”? After all, it is not so long since we theologians have recovered the ability and the courage to say such things!
Bultmann himself is on the point of asking this question when he comes to discuss the understanding of Being with the existentialists. These philosophers are quite right in using these categories, and the discussion is all the more to be welcomed since these same categories are borrowed from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and applied in a sense which approximates to Christian usage.
Bultmann says: (1) Philosophy knows that man has become a prey to alien powers, but believes that he can free himself from them by his own efforts. But the fact is that he can be freed from them only by an act of God. — So far so good. But man is not simply fallen a prey to something: he is fallen away from God. He is, as Bultmann himself says (p. 30f.), in rebellion against God, and therefore under his wrath. But, apart from Christ, apart from the Bible, such a notion cannot but appear to be a contemptible myth.( Kant dirtied his philosopher’s gown with the doctrine of radical evil, says Goethe). How can anyone be cut off from him who embraces and upholds the universe ? How can we use such anthropomorphic language as the “wrath” of God? How can we believe that the incomprehensible, unchanging deity concerns himself about every offense we commit?
(2) Philosophy does not see that this Verfallenheit about which it speaks penetrates to the very core of man’s Being This we are told is due to the arrogance and self-assertion of the philosopher. The Jew and the Gnostic are equally guilty of self-glorying. Yes, but it is only when we are face to face with God that we can see that self-glorying is sin. Greek tragedy knew the sin of hybris, but only in the light of a personal relation with the gods it believed in — and this is something which should put many pseudo-Christians to shame. It is only in the light of the cross that we can see how deep-seated is the corruption of human nature (Rom. 9:30 — 6:4; I Cor.1:18ff.), and the God who acts through the cross is neither Zeus nor Ananke, but the Holy One of Isa. 2 and 6
(3) In fact, however, Bultmann raises these last questions himself : “Is sin a mythological concept or not?” The answer, he tells us, depends on whether the proposition: “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” is universally applicable, or only to Christians. “But”, he continues, “it is man’s radical self-assertion which makes this understanding impossible…. Man’s radical self-assertion blinds him to the fact of sin, and this is the clearest proof that he is a fallen being. Hence it is no good telling him that he is a sinner. He will only dismiss it as mythology. “
But this involves a further point. What is true of sin is equally true of faith in the living God, of faith in God incarnate in Christ. The whole notion of sin is myth for man as such, not only for modern man, for he regards the whole idea of God as myth and the whole idea of God incarnate in Christ as myth.
We asked whether Bultmann does justice to the radical nature of this inquiry. In any case he cannot escape it. And does he do justice to the radical nature of the answer which is given us in the New Testament? Here too we should have to say that he certainly cannot escape it. However, there are still some profound questions which remain to be discussed in sections III and IV. We begin again where we left off, at Bultmann’s discussion with radical philosophy.
In his discussion with radical philosophy, Bultmann defines the forgiveness of sin as the freeing of man from himself — i.e., from his past — and faith as being open for the future. He shows no sign of recognizing the qualitative distinction between past and future. Moreover, his definition of forgiveness as freedom for obedience leaves us wondering whether he does justice to the theonomy of Biblical thought and to the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae.
“Sin ceases to be mythology when the love of God meets man. Such a love treats man as if he were other than he is. By so doing love frees man from himself as he is…. This is precisely the meaning of that which was wrought in Christ”
These statements are all very impressive, but they overlook one essential point. The deliverance from self is not a vague kind of new ego, a notion familiar enough in other religions, both primitive and advanced. The freedom which is the theme of the New Testament is of a wholly different order. It is the facultas standi extra se coram deo, freedom from the curse of the condemnation and the bondage of the law. The latter cuts us off from God and brings us under wrath, condemnation, curse, and death. We might say in Bultmann’s own terminology that this deliverance must be conceived in strictly eschatological terms. It has nothing to do with the “unbecoming” of the mystics or with Goethe’s Stirb und Werde. Our ego is in revolt against God and fallen under judgment, but God declares us free from the sentence of death which he had formerly pronounced against us. Christ pleads on our behalf, he is our new Ego (Gal. 2:20). He is our deliverance from the curse and condemnation.
This freedom Bultmann rightly identifies with the forgiveness of sin, but fails to give that formula the richness of meaning it had for the Reformers. To them it meant access to the presence of God. “The grace of God”, says Bultmann, “means the forgiveness of sins, and brings deliverance from the bondage of the past…. Man is released from the bondage of the past.” This is the meaning of faith — “to be made free for the future” (ibid.). Faith is the “freedom of man from himself … openness for the future…. Such faith is still a subtle form of self-assertion so long as the love of God is merely a piece of wishful thinking. It is only an abstract idea so long as God has not revealed his love”. This is where Christ comes into the picture, and that means “God has given up himself for us.” Bultmann appropriates those great New Testament texts which identify the self-giving and love of Christ with that of God himself (1 John 4:10; 4:19, “He first loved us”; Rom. 8:32; cp. also “the love of God”, “the love of God in Christ Jesus”, John 3:16; Gal. 1: 4; 2:19f.). But surely, in justice to the New Testament, the whole argument ought to be reversed. It is because and in so far as we have become the objects of God’s love that we are freed from our past and open for God’s future. Because we are loved by God, our old man, our “adamite existence” as Schlatter called it, our old life in rebellion against God and cut off from fellowship with him, has been delivered over to death. “The old things are passed away” (2 Cor. 5:17). The “old things” in question are our past qualified as enmity to God, not the past in a merely chronological sense, the structure of our Being in time. It means our bondage to this present evil age, to a period of time which is moving towards the day of judgment. The New Testament is also aware of quite a different past, the time before all worlds, the “pre” of “predestination” which becomes a present reality in our “calling”. Here is a past which is qualified by God, and which eludes all our ordinary categories of time. The same is true of this present, evil age and of the future. The future which is opened up for us is not the future in the ordinary chronological sense of the word. It means that we are assured that neither things present nor things to come, neither the past nor any future condemnation at the bar of God’s judgment, can separate us from his love. The chronological future may hold in store for us temptations which may assault even the very elect. Even the apostle awaits this future, which is the day of judgment, with fear and trembling (2 Cor. 5:10, 11), lest he be found reprobate (1 Cor. 9:27). Yet God’s future is stronger than all these things to come.–.God’s future is his age to come, his ages of ages, his last things, his future period of time, which by virtue of the incarnation and resurrection paradoxically juts out as it were into this present age of ours. Christ alone is the clue to the meaning of past and future, the past wiped out, our rebellion against God, and the future of the new age of God opened up for us.
But the forgiveness of sin has still further implications. Bultmann is right enough when he observes that “it is not a juridical concept. . . it does not mean the remission of punishment”. Yes, we are not concerned with justice in the abstract, but with the living God as Judge. In other words, the mythological pictures of the day of judgment are simply signposts to the truth. God either rejects us (wrath) or accepts us (righteousness). This takes place at the last day — that is, when our present time series and the world in which we are enchained have come to an end. The judgment is eschatological in the strictest sense of the word. It occurs beyond the bounds of time and space. It is wrought out in another world where man, both individually and collectively, finds himself on the other side of time and space as he knows them now. This is why St. Paul’s doctrine of justification is rigorously eschatological. It looks not to a juridical judgment in foro coeli, but to the eschatological day of judgment. Our acquittal is Christ himself. He is the embodiment of the righteousness of God. In him God vindicates his own righteousness (Rom. 3:26). He incorporates his own in himself as a King includes his people. They are in him, they are in him the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Here then is the meaning of the forgiveness of sin (Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:19) — to stand upright in the presence of God, facultas standi extra se coram deo. This brings about a radical change in the life of man. He can now live unto God (Rom. 6:10; Gal. 2:19); he can stand in the gospel, in grace, in the Lord, in the Spirit; he can walk according to the Lord, according to the gospel, to the call of God, to the God who calls us into his kingdom; he need no longer be conformed to this æon, for he can walk in the newness of eternal life.
But in Bultmann’s hands the forgiveness of sins would seem to be endangered at its very heart. “It is”, he tells us, “not a juridical concept. It does not mean the remission of punishment. If that were so, man’s plight would be as bad as ever. Rather, forgiveness conveys freedom from the sin which hitherto had held man in bondage. But this freedom is not a static quality: it is freedom to obey. The indicative implies an imperative…. Thus eschatological existence has become possible. God has acted, and the world — ‘this world’ — has come to an end. Man himself has been made new (2 Cor. 5:17)”.
Once more the argument should surely be reversed. The primary consideration is God and his coming judgment. It is our encounter with that judgment which betokens our sentence of death. But our acquittal is Christ himself. In the passage quoted by Bultmann (2 Cor. 5:17) the emphasis lies on the words “in Christ”. The real meaning of eschatological existence and of the renewal of man is discernible only in the light of the revelation of God in Christ. We have no other means of discovering the meaning of those things. If we had, all God would be doing in revealing himself would be helping us to achieve eschatological existence and the renewal of our being. But the truth is, it is only our encounter with God in Christ which shows us what these things really are. Without that encounter, eschatological existence is misconstrued as the absolute timelessness of the mystics and the renewal of man as moral uplift. And there is a further difficulty. It looks as though for Bultmann the forgiveness of sins does not show its true character until it has produced freedom, from sin and consequent obedience to the imperative. If that were so, the forgiveness of sin would only be a means to an end, and the end would be the ethical renewal of man. This is to place a higher premium on the imperative “thou shalt” than on the indicative “thou art”. Strangely enough it was Bultmann himself who taught us that St. Paul’s ethics are derived from the indicative (Z.N.W., 1924, 123-40). Yet now he regards “become what you are” as a principle on which both the theology of the New Testament and the philosophy of the existentialists are at one.
We are back again at the old question which the Reformers asked of the Church of Rome, and which has cropped up again and again in the discussions within the Protestant church. Is there another element of equal or even greater importance than justification or forgiveness — e.g., sanctification, obedience, or Spirit? Or does the forgiveness of sins adequately describe the whole content of salvation? In the latter case there would be no need to help out the forgiveness of sins by bringing in the new obedience — indeed it would be impossible to help it out. The reason for this is not that forgiveness is far more than the freeing of man from the burden of sin or even from the burden of his existence in time. It is because forgiveness of sin means access, permanent access to the presence of God.
Above and beyond this there is no second element.(Forgiveness of sin is the central theme of the Bible, as the Reformers perceived with unerring insight. In Mark the kerygma opens with the baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins. This is followed up with the episode of the lame man. In Luke the friendship of Jesus for sinners is the keynote of the whole ministry and its characteristic scandal. In Acts 10: 43 all the promises of the Old Testament and their fulfillment in Christ are embraced in the forgiveness of sin. Similarly in the Pauline Epistles the forgiveness of sin embraces faith, grace, peace, and life, to say nothing of the “blood of Jesus” in Hebrews and Revelation. Once more it was Bultmann in his article on Paul in R.G.G. who taught us that justification is the clue to Pauline theology, after St. Paul had been regarded for a generation as a Hellenistic mystic). All that the New Testament says about obedience and hearkening is indissolubly linked to the gospel and faith, to hearing the joyous tidings of God. How a new way of life arises therefrom has been indicated on. This way of life is in practice always subject to the imperative, because the eschatological judgment still lies in the future, and the present age is not yet at an end. Hence the whole revelation and gift of God to man once and for all in Christ must be apprehended ever anew in each successive task and danger which confronts us in this present age. This is our permanent vocation as Christians. It takes the form of an imperative, a command, a demand, and exhortation; (“The new life in faith cannot be expressed in purely indicative terms: it needs an imperative to complete it. In other words, the decision of faith is never final, and needs to be renewed in each successive situation.”) It would require a detailed analysis of the paraenetic sections of the Pauline Epistles to show that they all presuppose the kerygma. The reader is referred to Rom. 6:1-11: Col. 3:1-4 (also 5ff.); 1 Cor.5:7; 6:11.
Bultmann has been accused of substituting anthropology for theology. Our criticisms thus far — about the definition of the Ego, of past and future, and finally of the forgiveness of sin — would seem to substantiate this. But this would be to overlook the stress Bultmann lays on the fact that it is essential to the Being of man that he should search for God, for the God of the Christian revelation. The whole discussion about demythologizing has tended to overlook Bultmann’s first essay on the subject, Die Frage der natürlichen Offenbarung. At the same time, however, it is doubtful if Bultmann is right in adopting the existentialist concepts of the Ego, of time, of guilt and obedience, for his own definition of these things. That is to make the God of Christian revelation the answer to questions which have been raised within the framework of atheism. This is the wrong approach — “anthroponomous” rather than “theonomous”. We should have to show that this approach is wrong and intrinsically impossible, and that what it is really after can be understood only in the light of the Christian revelation.
A final suspicion remains. Do our criticisms apply only to Bultmann’s argument with the existentialists, or do they affect his own attitude to the Christian faith? What has Bultmann to say about the event of Christ? How does he expound the kerygma within purely Christian terms? It is — and here Bultmann agrees with the New Testament–the kerygma of the cross and resurrection. We shall deal with each in turn in two theses, the first of which will be divided into two parts.
Part IV A
Bultmann regards the pictorial language which the New Testament uses about the cross as a mythological expression of the truth that the believer has been delivered from sin. The cross means no more than our being crucified with Christ, which he further defines as the crucifixion of our passions and the conquest of our natural reluctance to endure suffering. Our criticism of Bultmann’s position starts once more from the fundamental article of the Reformation. This gives the whole question a greater degree of precision. The basic theme of the New Testament, no less than that of the Reformation, seems to have gone by the board. We hear nothing of the dereliction of Christ, of his intercession for sinners, or of his exaltation as the crucified yet ever-living Lord. All this, which is the heart of the message of the cross, contains not the slightest trace of mythology. It is simply the expression of a personal relation between the believer and Christ.
The cross of Christ “certainly has a mythical character as far as its objective setting is concerned. The Jesus who was crucified was the pre-existent, incarnate Son of God, and as such he was without sin. He is the victim whose blood atones for our sins. He bears vicariously . . .” This, we are told, is a mythological interpretation of the cross. “It is a mixture of sacrificial and juridical analogies which have ceased to be tenable for us today. And in any case they do not do justice to what the New Testament is trying to say. For the most they can convey is that the punishment (our sins) deserve is remitted. But the New Testament means more than this. The cross releases men not only from the guilt but also from the power of sin. “
The last few words confirm the suspicion we raised at the end of the previous thesis. It was not merely the exigencies of controversy, but his own theology, which made Bultmann bring the obedience to the imperative into the foreground in his discussion of forgiveness. To become free from the power of sin, he tells us, means much more than the forgiveness of sin. Obviously “remission of punishment” means here the same as forgiveness of sin earlier in his essay. Once more Bultmann fails to do justice to the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae. Of course St. Paul, like all the other New Testament writers, has to deal always with the concrete realities of human sentiment and behavior. He cannot avoid ethics or escape from the problem of right and wrong conduct. He must deal with obedience to God, the obedience which breaks our bondage to sin. But how do men attain to this new obedience? The answer is always the same, though it is expressed in many different ways. God turns to us men, who are flesh, cut off from God. This act of God may be expressed as grace, word, sanctification, love, Spirit, peace, life, joy, or fear. It may be that St. Paul drops the terms “forgiveness” and “access to God”, but their essential meaning is always present. St. Paul knows that in the very act of writing his letters he is conferring the grace and peace of God upon the churches. The God who thus turns to man is numquam otiosus — there is no difficulty in using such Reformation language here, for in Luther and the confessional documents the situation is fundamentally similar to that in St. Paul. God does not allow us to remain in our plight of godlessness and wickedness. This, however, can happen only if the self-glorying which is the besetting sin alike of legalists and antinomians is transcended in the koinonia of the crucified and risen Lord, and the full and definitive judgment of the cross perpetually renewed.
And here we are confronted with a further difficulty. Is the notion of the cross as judgment simply mythology? And is the whole idea of sacrifice also mythological? Now, as a matter of fact, there is no religion under the sun in which sacrifice plays no part. The notion that man must surrender his dearest possession on earth to his deity — the supreme instance is that of child sacrifice — is so fundamental that it cannot be dismissed as mythology. The same applies to the idea that man’s life is forfeit in the sight of God, and that he accepts another life in place of our own –which in the last resort is the meaning of sacrifice in the Old Testament. And the same is true of the popular use of the word “sacrifice”, as when a mother dies for her child or a soldier on the field of battle. A life is sacrificed when it is surrendered on behalf of others. If we reject any particular theory of sacrifice it is because we cannot square that theory with the character of God as we know it.( Bultmann does not discuss the idea of atonement, but what we have said about sacrifice applies equally to that also. Every religion and every legal system recognizes the need for atonement. The effects of guilt are far-reaching, and the cry for redress cannot be stifled. The only question is, how far can any particular doctrine of atonement be squared with the character of God. The cry for redress must be satisfied; the question is, how? By our own human efforts, or only by the act of God in sending his Son to be the propitiation, to be sin on our behalf?)
Even the doctrine of satisfaction was originally quite unmythological. As first formulated by St. Anselm, it had a certain grandeur. It expressed an awareness of the majesty of God and of the terrible reality of sin (pondus peccati). Its fault lay in the false antithesis — aut poena aut satisfactio. This, however, was due not to mythology but, paradoxically, to an inadequate conception of the majesty of God. Abstract justice was substituted for a personal Judge. There is, however, no doctrine of satisfaction in the Pauline writings. In Romans 3 and 2 Corinthians it has to be read into it. Such a doctrine cannot be derived from St. Paul’s anti or hyper, at any rate when these are translated “for” and “on behalf of”, which is what they really mean.
Nor is this the only case where Bultmann has somewhat distorted the teaching of St. Paul.( Is Bultmann still under the fatal spell of Wrede’s Paulus? Strangely enough it was Bultmann himself who demolished Wrede on the crucial point of justification.) Is the Son of God “as such” without sin? It is one of the characteristics of the Servant of Jahweh in Isa. 53. Is the Son of God as such pre-existent? It is one of the characteristics of the Son of Man in Dan. 7. (There are parallels to both these figures in the Gnostic myths, but if the latter influenced St. Paul in any way, they did so in a form which was already largely derived from Judaism. In content the difference between the Servant of Isa. 53 and the Son of Man in Dan. 7, on the one hand, and the Gnostic redeemer on the other, lies in the relation of the former to Jahweh and his revelation of himself in history.) As for the preexistence of Christ, it is significant that St. Paul speaks of it most emphatically at the point where he is not speaking of it directly — viz., when he is speaking about the cross, in Rom. 8: 32 — God sacrifices his Son And where does Paul speak of Christ’s enduring punishment in our stead? Our hymns sometimes speak of Christ’s bearing God’s wrath and our punishment, but they do so under Anselm’s rather than Paul’s influence, and their meaning is really quite different. Take for instance
. . . Der du dich für mich gegeben
In die tiefste Seelennot,
In das äusserste Verderben . . .
So reiss mich aus den Ängsten
Kraft deiner Angst und Pein.
There is not a word here about the balancing of an account, or of wrath and punishment as burdens which Jesus took upon himself. The real meaning is that he entered into our deprivation from God, although he was himself the Son of God, the One “in whom God acts in a unique and final present”, “true God and eternal life”.
St. Paul is making exactly the same point when he speaks of the “likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), of the “curse” (Gal. 3:13), and of Christ’s being made “sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). It is also implicit in the Markan version of the Agony in the garden, and becomes explicit in Luke and Hebrews. The same kerygma underlies John 11:33 (D Text); 12:27; 13:21. And what is the meaning of “Let not your heart be troubled” in 14:1 and 27? ( And what is the secret behind John 11:10? The analysis in Bultmann’s commentary on the Fourth Gospel ad loc. shows only the aporia.) The same kerygma is also discernible in Luther’s preaching of the cross, which is based exclusively on the cry from the cross as given by St. Matthew. There is not a trace of mythology in any of these passages. They make no attempt to portray the inner sufferings of Jesus or his dealings with his Father.( The New Testament kerygma [a primitive baptismal confession?] speaks of the “obedience of Jesus”. Unfortunately it is not possible to develop this point further here.) Nor is there any dialogue between God the Father and the pre-existent Son about the work of redemption such as we find in the hymns of Luther and Paul Gerhardt. St. John does indeed say that the death of Jesus was the victory over Satan (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), but again this is quite unmythological. We may not know, we cannot tell what pains he had to bear in entering into our deprivation from God in death. All we can do is to express the fact with all wealth of language at our command. In the last resort this is the meaning of every single pericope in the gospels and epistles.
The whole kerygma, however, is inseparably one with the proclamation of the risen Lord as the Crucified. It is the exalted and ever-present Lord who is the Crucified. It is he who, as the High Priest in Hebrews, shows sympathy with our infirmities. He is the Lamb of the Apocalypse, the One who came with the blood (1 John). The earliest liturgy sings of Christ as the High Priest interceding for us (Rom. 8:34; 1 John 2:1; Heb. 7:25, and the hymns in Revelation). Even Calvin in his commentary on John 16:26 is careful not to take the picture of Christ’s intercession literally, any more than the New Testament does. After all, it is impossible to form any literal picture of the intercession of One who is in his own, and whose own are in him. Nor is there anything mythological in the New Testament picture of Christ’s enthronement. His own are the servants he has bought by his own blood through laying down his life for them. To whom did he pay the price? How is his death the ransom price for the many? The New Testament maintains a discreet silence. If, as is highly probable, there is a background of demonology in such passages, it is significant that it never comes to the forefront, despite the abundant testimony to such beliefs in other places. Instead, the New Testament confines itself to the language of sacrifice in such contexts: he laid down his life to deliver man from the bondage of sin, death and the devil, and now our life is his own.
This brings us apparently by chance to the second article of Luther’s Catechism, and to the first question of that of Heidelberg. But it is really no accident, for it is the simplest possible expression of our personal relation to Christ. I belong to him because he has dethroned the powers which held me in thrall. This is the language of personal relationship, not the concrete pictures of mythology. This is the Gospel reduced to its simplest terms as the Presence of Christ. He who is one with God belongs utterly to us, though we be cut off from God. His sacrifice, though offered once and for all (ephapax), is a perpetual ‘now.’
We have repeatedly asserted that this part of the primitive Christian proclamation is unmythological throughout. We found again and again that, of set purpose it would seem, all pictorial elaboration is lacking and that all mysteries are left discreetly veiled. There is a complete absence of visible imagery, except that the imagery of all four gospels is taken for granted in the epistolary literature, a point to which we shall return later. By ordinary observation and by scientific criticism we have succeeded in demonstrating the complete absence of mythology in the New Testament proclamation of the cross. But we are fully aware that the non-Christian is bound to dismiss it all as mythology. What do we mean when we say that Jesus has entered into our alienation from God? What do we mean by a personal relation to the exalted Christ? Strange things to say “of one Jesus, who was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive” (Acts 25:19)
It is a remarkable fact that, if we have understood him aright, Bultmann never mentions the central aspect of the New Testament preaching of the cross. He sees only two alternatives. Either: “To believe on the cross does not mean to concern ourselves with a mythical process . . . or with an objective event. . . not necessarily a theory of sacrifice or satisfaction. Or “to believe in the cross of Christ . . . means to make the cross . . . our own, to undergo crucifixion with him . . . the cross becomes the judgment of ourselves . . . crucifying the affections and lusts . . . overcoming our natural dread of suffering . . . and the perfection of our detachment from the world . . . the judgment . . . and deliverance of man.”
But what does Bultmann mean when he says that the cross becomes the judgment of ourselves? What he should mean is this: God pronounces the sentence of death against us and condemns us to reprobation. So heinous is our guilt that he delivered up his Son in order to remove it (Gal. 2:21, a very significant passage for Luther). That sentence is intelligible and tolerable only because God has changed it into an acquittal by a unique act of his own. But for that, our plight would be desperate indeed. It is only God’s verdict which makes this judgment a deliverance. Once we disregard that verdict, we are tempted to imagine we can achieve that freedom by acquitting ourselves. St. Paul (1 Cor. 11:31) and the Reformers are emboldened by their trust in Christ’s intercession to say: “Christ, thou art my sin and I thy righteousness.” But once the connection with the unique, yet ever-present act of God in Christ is disregarded, the whole notion is in danger of being reduced to the deliverance offered by the power of the Confessional, an idea as familiar to antiquity as it is to the modern world, even in a secularized form. The “crucifixion of our passions” is then no more than a striking euphemism for self-mastery, which is the quest of all the higher religions and philosophies. Even the willing acceptance of suffering is a universal human characteristic. The false asceticism of the middle ages and later the passion mysticism of the Lutheran hymns reduced the New Testament teaching of our being crucified with Christ to sheer bathos. In the end it meant no more than the ordinary acceptance of suffering.
Part IV B
Bultmann is at pains to emphasize what he calls the historical significance of the cross. But he means, not the historical uniqueness of the revelation of God, but historicity as the pattern of human life. He completely ignores the connection between our life and the cross of Jesus as an event of the past. This has four consequences: (l) The witness of the New Testament to the uniqueness of Jesus, (2) the proclamation of the gospels themselves, (3) the proclamation of the Gospels in the light of the Epistles, and (4) the earliest Christian confession of Kyrios Jesous — are robbed of their full force.
Bultmann uses strong language about the cross as an historical event. It is something that happens in history. But the history he speaks of is not the unique event of Golgotha. It is what he elsewhere calls the eschatological event. “It is something which occurs beyond the bounds of time, it is, at any rate so far as its meaning — i.e., its meaning for faith — is concerned, an ever-present reality.” Bultmann is not speaking of the intercession of the ascended Christ, but of the cross of Christ as a present reality in the everyday life of the Christians. It is at this point that the significance of the cross is to be apprehended — in the concreteness of our human life as historical.( This point will be elaborated when we come to Thesis Vl.) Everything Bultmann says about the cross is located not at Calvary but in our human experience. Of a unique event wrought out in the personal relationship between God and men on the stage of history, of a story of the dealings of God with man, of a unique and final revelation of God in Christ crucified (cp. Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:18), there is never so much as a word.
In fact, Bultmann is at pains to divorce what he calls the historicity of the cross from the crucifixion of Jesus as an event in the past: “The real meaning of the cross is that it has created a new and permanent situation in history. The preaching of the cross as the event of redemption forces all who hear it to ask themselves whether they will appropriate this significance for themselves, whether they are willing to be crucified with Christ.”
But that is not the meaning of the cross considered as an event of the past. Bultmann of course objects that the cross cannot be considered in this way at all. It would mean reproducing an event of the past, which he says is frankly impossible: “The cross is for us an event in the past. We can never recover it as an event in our own lives.”
All this is highly debatable. In the first place, the New Testament always attaches supreme importance to the uniqueness and finality of Jesus. The crucified One is not an X, but Jesus of Nazareth. Even as a matter of terminology, it is remarkable when and where St. Paul uses the name of Jesus absolutely — e.g., 2 Cor. 4:10f., quoted by Bultmann himself. (Cp. also the use of Kyrios Christos.) The implication is always the same. One who bore a human name and died under a particular signature of his own is the Lord whom the Church confesses. Compare also the importance attached to the flesh of Jesus (sarx). It is in our flesh, according to St. Paul, that Jesus is victorious over the powers which cut us off from God (Rom. 8:3; cp. Col. 1:16; Eph. 2:14; also Rom. 1:3).(Similarly John 1:14; 1 John 4:2; 2 John 7). The same point underlies the story of Gethsemane in the Gospels and in Hebrews. But, to put the matter beyond all doubt, we should have to examine all the passages in Hebrews, Revelation, the Acts and the epistles, where the name Jesus is used absolutely, without the addition of any title. The addition of “Christ” and similar titles in the MS tradition only shows how quickly the meaning of the primitive kerygma ceased to be understood.
Secondly, what is at stake is not the so-called Jesus of history, but the primitive kerygma. We are not concerned with a Jesus of history whose authentic portrait we have first to recover by literary and historical criticism, but with a proclamation whose title deeds are the gospels as such. In Bultmann’s essay the synoptic gospels are never so much as mentioned as evidence for the kerygma, and John figures only as the satellite of Paul. Yet it is John in particular who tells us the purpose for which the gospels were written. In opposition to the Gnostics, who were concerned only with the Christos, the Fourth Gospel bears witness to the earthly Jesus as the bearer of the glory of God. The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of the synoptic gospels. The missionary preaching in Mark and in the speeches of Acts tells of him whose death and resurrection is the meaning and purpose of his conflict on earth. The logia tradition (Q, etc.) presents the earthly teaching of Jesus as the standard to which the Church of the exalted Christ is bound. The results of modern New Testament scholarship tend to confirm Kähler’s dictum that the gospels are passion narratives prefixed by a detailed introduction. But it does not follow that the introduction is superfluous, for it tells us who that Jesus was who went to the cross and was raised from the dead. The gospels as the good news are part of the primitive kerygma. Now that we have learnt to regard them as the word of the Church, there is no excuse for failing to recognize the importance attached by the Church to the kerygma of the earthly Jesus.
Thirdly, we must at all costs avoid driving a wedge between the epistles and the gospels. How closely the two halves of the New Testament are interrelated may be learnt from the connection between the Acts and Luke on the one hand and the Johannine Epistles and the Fourth Gospel on the other. Yet neither the Acts nor I John make this connection explicit. May it not therefore be the same with St. Paul? It was Bultmann himself, in his two essays on Jesus and Paul, who established that connection at certain crucial points — viz., in their teaching about the law and in their eschatology. This connection was not just the discovery of modern critics, for it is part of the kerygma itself. The link with the Jesus who was made under the law, who on a certain night was delivered up, and on that night instituted the Eucharist, who rose again the third day and was seen of chosen witnesses — all this is essential to the Pauline kerygma. St. Paul’s conversion on any interpretation means that he came to see that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah.
Fourthly, all this is in line with the earliest Christian confession, Kyros lesous. In the switch from this to Christos lesous, the human name, Jesus, remains unchanged. Both versions, Palestinian and Hellenistic, imply an antithesis — he who was crucified on the accursed tree is nevertheless Messiah: Jesus, a figure of flesh and blood, is nevertheless Lord. This was the element in the kerygma which Jewish controversialists continued to repudiate down to the Dialogue of Justin Martyr, and which the Gnostics are already repudiating in the New Testament with their anathema lesous (1 Cor. 12:3). The scandalon is always the person of Jesus, its uniqueness, its finality, and its lowly form. Bultmann has no intention of mitigating this scandalon, indeed he seeks to accentuate it, to throw it into even sharper relief by removing every trace of mythology which obscured it. But may it not be that, as the Christian Church has always asserted, our salvation is One who was involved in all the relativity of history? It may be true that all past history can be reproduced only by the art of the historian, but the Church has always been content to trust the kerygma or tradition (paradosis) of the Apostolic Church about the uniqueness and finality of the incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord. It is irrelevant to object that the primitive Church could not feel the problem as we are bound to, owing to our distance from the original events and to the development of modern historical criticism. The primitive Church includes the claim of the credibility of the witnesses as part of its kerygma, a point to which we shall return later when we come to the resurrection. And whether historical criticism really presents something quite new vis-a-vis historic being as such, will be discussed under Thesis VI.
Meanwhile, we must deal with the resurrection. Throughout our present thesis it has been apparent that the cross and resurrection form an inseparable unity. Bultmann makes the same point again and again.
Bultmann is right in holding that the resurrection cannot be a miraculous proof. For the resurrection is itself an object of faith, an eschatological event which is actually made present in the preaching of the gospel. The event of Easter Day, however, is for him not the resurrection itself, but the beginning of the disciples’ faith in the resurrection. The question is whether this theory does justice to the uniqueness and finality of the Easter event (1 Cor. 15), and to the relation between the faith of Easter and the uniqueness and finality of Jesus himself.
The cross, Bultmann observes, is identical in meaning with the resurrection. Cross and resurrection form a single, indivisible event. The resurrection is “an attempt to express the meaning of the cross”. It shows that the death of Jesus on the cross is “not just an ordinary death, but the judgment and salvation of the world”, and because it is this, it “deprives death of its power”.
The resurrection is not a “miraculous proof. ” It does not guarantee the saving efficacy of the cross. Bultmann admits that even the New Testament often regards the resurrection as a miraculous proof. But the passages he quotes are open to more than one interpretation, as we shall see when we come to consider 1 Cor. 15. Yet Bultmann is right in principle, for the resurrection is itself an article of faith and an eschatological event; it is the eschatological fact in virtue of which Christ has abolished death and brought light and immortality to light (2 Tim. 1:10).
This truth, we are told, is made manifest in everyday Christian living, in putting off the works of darkness. Hence dying and rising again with Christ are identical (Rom. 6:11ff.; 2 Cor.4:10f., etc.): “Faith in the resurrection is really the same thing as faith in the saving efficacy of the cross.” How do men come to such a faith? Bultmann answers — and here he has the whole New Testament on his side: “Christ meets us in the preaching as One crucified and risen. He meets us in the preaching and nowhere else. The faith of Easter is just this — faith in the word of preaching.”
How is this Easter faith connected with the Easter event? Bultmann has stated elsewhere that “the only historical event which can be established is the faith of the earliest disciples in the resurrection”. Whatever the historical and psychological explanation of that experience, the Easter faith of the earliest disciples is for us as it was for them “the proclamation of himself by the risen Lord, the act of God in which the salvation-event of the cross is completed”. “We are asked”, Bultmann continues in the same article, “whether God acted in and through the visionary experiences of a handful of enthusiasts: that is what they believed themselves and what the proclamation asserts.” This is true, for in the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:13) and in the judgment of Festus (Acts 26:24) the apostles appear as enthusiastic visionaries, and all the resurrection narratives emphasize that the disciples doubted. In 1 Cor. 1:5 the key word in the evidence for the unique unrepeatable event of the resurrection is the word ophthe, which is the normal verb for a vision. The testimony of the New Testament to the resurrection is all along aware of its own inherent paradox. It asks us whether in the Easter event God acted in a unique and final present, whether we choose to mock at these enthusiastic visionaries. Bultmann is quite right. The witness of the original disciples to the resurrection rests upon their own experience. There is no other supporting evidence either before or after it. This testimony lives on in the Church’s preaching and this preaching is the source of her life. It is itself part of the eschatological event. We have repeatedly insisted that within certain limits the interpretation proposed by Bultmann does justice to the claims of the New Testament about the resurrection. We have only one question to put to Bultmann, but that question is the key to the whole subject. What about the uniqueness and finality of the Easter event?
Here we seem at first sight to be on the same ground as we were in Thesis IVA. Is being crucified with Christ no more than a subjective experience in the heart of the believer? Or does everything depend here upon the uniqueness and finality of the event of Jesus Christ? What is true of dying with him is true of rising again with him. “God’s judgment of the world, which is at the same time its salvation, and which therefore deprives death of its power” (vide supra), is in the first instance the judgment of God upon Christ. This judgment vindicates him who was forsaken by God and man (1 Tim. 3:16; John 16:10; Isa. 53:11 LXX). It glorifies him and enthrones him as Lord. The everyday life of Christians (vide supra) means to be in Christ. This is the new existence. For the risen Christ, now exalted as Lord, includes his own in himself.
But Bultmann is clearer about the uniqueness and finality of the resurrection than he is of the cross. For him the faith of the disciples in the resurrection is the decisive fact which confronts us. The preaching of the Church down the ages hands on the testimony of the original disciples to the resurrection. We are forced to make up our minds whether we will accept their testimony or reject it as illusory. Here Bultmann, as it were, involuntarily breaks through the identification of Cross and Resurrection. The Easter faith of the original disciples meant faith in the “self-manifestation of the risen Lord, the act of God in which the redemptive event of the cross is completed”. The events of Good Friday and Easter Day are two separate things, humiliation and exaltation, even though there is identity between the risen Lord and the crucified Jesus. This is the justification for the change in terminology which we have already introduced without explanation. The preaching of the Church gives us not the Easter faith but the Easter testimony of the original disciples. Faith, if it is genuine, never calls attention to itself (see Rom. 4:5; Mark 9:24). The resurrection narratives are true to this. The faith of the disciples is the “faith of unbelievers”.( Bultmann on Mark 9:24) Fear and uncertainty give way to joy and gladness. But the climax of the resurrection story lies not in man’s puny faith, but in the triumphant witness which springs from that faith — and with this St. Paul and the Acts agree.
If this be so, why does Bultmann stigmatize St. Paul’s argument in I Cor. 15:3-8 as “fatal”? There are other similar passages in both the genuinely Pauline and the disputed epistles, so it does not stand alone. It is only one form of the manifold testimony of the apostolate, which is an unrepeatable charisma. Moreover I Cor. 15 does not really go beyond what Bultmann himself has admitted to be important — that is, the witness of the original disciples to the resurrection. It really happened on one unique occasion: men did really see the risen Messiah after his death and burial. To see him was a privilege granted only to the apostles, and is one which we can never share. The preaching of the Church down the ages is simply the unfolding of that “word which constitutes the Church” (so Kähler described the special significance of the New Testament). This is not due to any supposed superiority of the earliest preaching over that of later times, but to the uniqueness and finality of the apostles as duly qualified witnesses.
To accept the word of the apostles and to believe in the risen Lord are one and the same thing. There is no question of any before or after, or of three distinct stages in the growth of faith, as though we were first convinced of the historicity of the resurrection, and then of the witness to its import, and lastly of its redemptive power in our own lives. The word of the testimony stands on its own feet. To take that word to heart means to believe (Rom. 10: 8-10). This testimony tells us that the Christ who rose again the third day is one and the same as he who hung on the cross and lay in the grave.( Bultmann has nothing to say about the Empty Tomb. This, like the resurrection itself, is not a miraculous proof. It produces fear and alarm [Mark 16:9], and can be apprehended only by faith [John 20:8f.]; to unbelief it is a subject for ridicule [Matt. 28:13-15]. Yet the Empty Tomb has already asserted its place in the kerygma in 1 Cor.15, otherwise the presence of “was buried” and “on the third day” is inexplicable. The resurrection is conceived as a physical event; see 1 Cor. 15:44 and compare with 6:14 and implicitly the whole section from verse 12 to verse 20. This implies a high estimation of the body, such as had already occasioned much opposition at Corinth. Unfortunately the whole idea became debased through exigencies of the controversy with Gnosticism, and sarx replaced soma, despite 1 Cor. 15:50. Even Bultmann hints at this perspective in his article in Th.L.Z).
The apostolic witness testifies that Jesus crucified lives and reigns, and that the crucified and risen Lord are identical. It bears witness to the uniqueness and finality of what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth. As with the cross, so with the resurrection the crucial point is the uniqueness and finality of Jesus. Bultmann brings us before the problem in both cases, but each time he removes the uniqueness and finality from its place in our preaching today. But with the resurrection he brings us one stage further than he does with the cross.
For he admits that for the historian “the personal intimacy which the disciples had enjoyed with Jesus goes some way towards explaining their faith in his resurrection.” He is quite right when he says that the Christian belief in the resurrection is faith in the proclamation of himself by the risen Lord. In other words, the resurrection is not an historical event which can be proved or reconstructed to a relative degree of certainty within the framework of cause and effect. But once again we are bound to ask whether the historian’s art is not usurping the place of the primitive kerygma. It is true that the Christian belief in the resurrection does not derive its substance and certainty from the results of historical criticism. Yet that faith is summed up in the fact that a man “whom we cannot draw too closely into our flesh” (Luther) was exalted by God to be Lord and King. The event of Easter is riveted to the Jesus who lived and died on earth. This is too obvious to require proof: it is abundantly testified in the gospels and the speeches in Acts, and also in the epistles. The crucial point about both the cross and the resurrection is the uniqueness and finality of Jesus.
This argument requires expansion along three different lines. First, we must recall what was said above about Bultmann’s essays on Jesus and Paul. “The erstwhile personal association of the disciples with Jesus” is important only because it brought them into touch with his word which includes his deeds. That word is an eschatological one. He proclaimed the kingdom of God. He spoke of the coming of the Son of Man. He interpreted his words and deeds as signs of the irruption of the last things.( We deliberately describe the message of Jesus in these minimizing terms, so as to conform with Bultmann’s own presentation.) All that he said and did is now fulfilled in the resurrection. This is the theme of all the resurrection narratives in the gospels and of the passages in the Acts which bear witness to the resurrection. This Jesus, who once lived in the flesh on earth, is now exalted as the Messiah-King, the Son of Man and the Judge of the world. What he was in a mystery on earth he is now in power. He is the embodiment of the eschatological event, of the eruption of the hidden age to come in this present age. He is deus ad nos, the grace of God to man. But once more we must insist that the connection between the earthly Jesus and the event of Easter is not one which the historian may ignore if he chooses, but the key to the understanding of the primitive kerygma.
There are two further points which serve also to pave the way for the next thesis. First, there is the category of the eschatological. This will be considered here only in so far as it is relevant to the present thesis, and will receive further treatment under Thesis Vl. Does “eschatological event” mean no more than belief in an invisible world? If so, what is the difference between it and any other belief in transcendental reality or immortal life? In that case the question remains why the events of the cross and resurrection were necessary for such an eschatological attitude. Do not Bultmann’s disregard of the uniqueness and finality of Jesus and his interpretation of the event of Christ in terms of “historic-personal existence” betray him into reducing the Christological events to the level of symbols or stimuli? He may pay lip-service to the Church’s kerygma, but that does not get us very far. Certainly we enjoy our historical existence as Christians only as members of the Church. May it be that the meaning of the kerygma, the service of the Church, consists simply in providing such symbols and stimuli? This very point was the subject of a lively controversy during the last century, and the result was that it brought home to us the uniqueness and finality of Jesus and the inadequacy of a vague Christology of the symbol or idea. Was it inevitable that this theology of the Erlangen, Halle, and Ritschlian schools should end as it did in historicism? Could it not be that despite everything the person of Jesus is still the only key which will unlock the secrets of the invisible world, of eschatology, and of resurrection, and that only in the words, deeds, and suffering of Jesus the door of resurrection is opened? In their famous debate, Kähler and Herrmann agreed that the exalted Lord is no phantom but the Jesus of the gospels. Can we hold fast to this kerygma of a unique and final revelation while at the same time avoiding the Scylla of historicism and the Charybdis of a symbolic Christology?
This brings us to the third point. Perhaps Bultmann is aware of the antinomy here, for although he rejects what he calls the past-historical view of the cross, he never tires of speaking of Jesus of Nazareth as an historical figure, of his person and fate, of his crucifixion as an event of the past, of the faith of Easter as an historical event. He is fully aware of the paradox of the Gospel: although, nay rather because, the cross and resurrection are phenomena of past history, they are nevertheless present realities (Pfarrerblatt, 3A. 8).
The points which have been only hinted at here will be dealt with fully in the next thesis.
Part Vl A
The first of Bultmann’s categories which calls for consideration is his conception of eschatological detachment from the world, and of the Being of man as characterized by history and event. In his discussion with Thielicke he repeatedly insists on the vital connection between the Christian understanding of self and the event of Christ. Yet he tends to confuse eschatology with timelessness. Moreover, he lays so much emphasis on the fact that this event of the past can be real only if it is brought into vital connection with our own lives, that he undermines the historical character of the event itself.
We come at last to consider the categories employed by Bultmann. What does he mean by “eschatology” and “history” ?
Eschatological existence is defined as “a new existence in detachment from the world, the attitude implied by hos me in 1 Cor. 7:29-31…. Everything within the world is relegated to the sphere of that which has no intrinsic significance…. To exist means to exist eschatologically, to be a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) . . . to surrender all self-contrived security.” “Historic” existence is contrasted with “nature”. Nature is the sphere of the demonstrable and calculable, the realm of causality. “Historic” being, on the other hand, is realized in decision and resolve. Nature, we may add, is always consistent, and is therefore patient of experimental research. History, on the other hand, is characterized by the Either/Or, and therefore bears the stamp of uniqueness, contingency, and spontaneity.
We may perhaps interpret this somewhat as follows. Life in faith means life based on realities beyond our control. Such a life is realized in decision and resolve, which has to be continually renewed in response to the word or kerygma of the Church. This word is not susceptible to logical proof, but when proclaimed it becomes an event. Is this a fair interpretation of Bultmann’s position? If it is, there is no need for the kerygma to contain anything specifically Christian, no need for it to be riveted firmly to the Man Jesus of Nazareth. Cross and resurrection, in so far as they have a place in the kerygma at all, figure only as symbols of detachment from the world. The suspicions we raised under the two preceding theses would seem to be abundantly justified.
Bultmann, however, has vigorously defended himself against a similar charge in his discussion with Thielicke.( See Thielicke, Pfarrerblatt 1942, No. 30, and Bultmann, ibid. 1943, No. I. (Ed.). Thielicke sees Bultmann’s real error in the fact that he makes the understanding of existence, of self, the crucial question. “The event takes place in the consciousness. The historical facts reported in the New Testament are not themselves the event of redemption, but merely its prolegomenon. The event is the change in my own consciousness.” The truth, however (Thielicke, Pfarrerblatt, p. 130), is that the cross and resurrection are present realities for me only “when I focus my existence upon the historical uniqueness and finality of the years A.D. 1-30. Cross and resurrection make themselves available to me as present realities only in Kierkegaard’s sense of contemporaneity. But this implies that they are events in time, and that the Logos has entered into the time scheme of the sarx.”
To this Bultmann replies: “Understanding of self and understanding of existence do not imply timelessness. Our judgment about an encounter in the present, our meeting with a friend, for instance, may also involve a judgment about past history — e.g., about Henry IV. Hence by analogy faith, or the Christian understanding of self, owes its distinctiveness to its inseparable relation to the act of God in Christ which encounters me in the word . . . for we know that the act of God is what it claims to be only when we realize that it happened pro me.” Thielicke’s objection “only shows that he evacuates the event of redemption of its eschatological significance…. A concrete historical event is the event of salvation . . . not however in the sense of a conclusive and demonstrable event of the past, but as an event which only becomes visible in the word of preaching which is based on that event and which brings it to fruition”. If therefore an event of past history is also an eschatological event (which for Bultmann is synonymous with event of redemption), the event of redemption is not what happened in the years A.D. 1-30 reproduced in memory. For “what happened in those years has, in so far as it is the act of God, no end, but is itself the end of all history, and is therefore eternally present in the word of preaching”. By contrast, “what happened in the years A.D. 1-30, in the sense of mere past history can be present only in the memory, and cannot be said to have existential reality”. Thus “the cross and resurrection are phenomena not only of the past, but also of the present. The paradox of the Christian Gospel is just this — those events are present realities although they belong to past history.”
Now, Thielicke is certainly wrong when he accuses Bultmann of placing the event of redemption exclusively in the realm of individual consciousness. Bultmann never divorces Christian experience from the historical event of redemption. Moreover, Bultmann is quite right in maintaining that the saving efficacy of an historical event can be apprehended only when that event is experienced as something which happened pro me. Notitia, assensus, and fiducia do not follow one another in strict chronological sequence. To take “notice” of Jesus at all is in itself fiducia. For the non-believer the cross is just a brute fact which he can explain according to his own philosophy of history and judge according to his lights — with sympathy, hostility, or indifference, which is simply another form of hostility. But to the believer the cross and resurrection are not anterior facts awaiting subsequent evaluation and interpretation: for him faith is something given “in with and under” the testimony of the cross and resurrection. We have thus conceded what Bultmann calls the eschatological character of the event of redemption. He is right here too. The event of salvation is valid for all time; it is a permanent Now. For here is the unique and final revelation of God.
But at this point our doubts begin to rise. Does Bultmann really do justice to the ephapax of the New Testament? Thielicke also asked the same question, and it cannot be said that Bultmann has given any satisfactory answer. Can one really say that the happenings of the years A.D. 1-30, in so far as they represent the act of God, have no end? The New Testament makes the paradoxical assertion that the acts of God at that time did come to an end. There was an end to those things that were written (Luke 22:37), an end of the law (Rom. 10:4). And the action of the crucified and risen Lord is limited by the “not yet” of eschatological hope (1 Cor. 15:23ff. — “then cometh the end” — cf. Heb. 2:8, etc.). Here we see the awkwardness of Bultmann’s terminology. If eschatological attitude means a life based on invisible, intangible realities, that is much too wide a definition, for it covers the whole range of religion. Eschatology means literally the “last things”. Of course Bultmann is trying to ascertain the existential meaning behind eschatology. But to do that we must begin quite concretely with the idea of judgment. At the last day all that is now hidden will be made manifest, and the sentence of justification will be pronounced. Now Christianity makes the staggering claim that these “last things” have already happened here and now in the word of the living Christ, though in another sense they still await final consummation. To St. Paul the present age is a reality, not an illusion. That is why in Rom. 5 he wrestles so vigorously with the whole problem of death. This is where he parts company with the Gnostics. The Corinthians, on the other hand, suppose that they already see face to face (2 Cor: 5:7); they are already ruling in the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 4:8). Death is for them only illusory (Wisd. 3:2). This is the background of 1 Cor. 15. Similarly, the belief that the resurrection is already past (2 Tim. 2:18) is a piece of incipient Gnosticism.
The “now” of the New Testament is not the “now” of timelessness. The distinction between the two ages differs radically from our popular distinction between time and eternity (=timelessness). It is a distinction between two different but overlapping periods of time. The difference is existential and qualitative (see above, Thesis 111), a difference between this evil age and the age to come. Such a notion takes very seriously the reality of sin and judgment. In this age of tribulation and death, of warfare with Satan, to live in the flesh means to wait, to hope, to believe, to groan. When Christ appears at the last day this age with all its sorrows will come to an end.
All this gives the ephapax of the New Testament its peculiar pungency. The Logos has entered into the time scheme of the sarx, as Thielicke has justly observed. We may perhaps put it still more strongly. It is not simply that at one unique point in the history of the world the eternal God comes to us in the form of Being-in-time; it is that Christ enters our evil age, our alienation from God. Even after his exaltation he is still the crucified, as certainly as this age continues until the parousia. The Corinthians stumbled at the notion of a crucified Messiah just as much as they did at the reality of death, and just as much as they cried anathema lesous.
The pro me is parallel to the ephapax. The basic insights of Bultmann here are right enough, though Thielicke’s criticisms are understandable, especially in view of Bultmann’s unsatisfactory reply. True, pro me does not mean ex me or in me: redemption is not just a conjuring trick performed with the consciousness. But it does mean a relation to the extra me of Christ, and this must never be forgotten, for it is exactly the meaning of the uniqueness and finality of Christ. The unique event in Christ is in some mysterious way both past history and permanent reality. It is part of the history of man, part of the causal series, a memory of the past and a subject for historical research. This of course Bultmann does not deny. The event of redemption, he maintains, is “grounded upon that event of the past, and in it that event is continued down the ages…. Cross and resurrection are present phenomena as historical phenomena.” But does not that event of the past possess eschatological and redemptive significance in its own right? Bultmann does not give us an answer. He is content to assert that it is so, and to assert that there lies its peculiar paradox. But has he not minimized that paradox when he says that what happened in the years A.D. 1-30, when reproduced in memory, cannot be the event of redemption, that those events can be present only in memory and not in existence? Is the antithesis between memory and existence a genuine one ? Memory is an essential element in human existence in history. There can be neither decision nor encounter nor personality without memory. The New Testament is aware of this, for memory plays a vital part in connection with the event of Christ. (See e.g. 1 Cor. 15:1ff.; 11:23ff.; Luke 1:1ff.; Acts 1:21ff.; l0:39ff.; 1 John 1:1ff.; John 15:27; Acts 5:32; John 19:35; 21:24; and compare also the importance of the tradition (paradosis) about Jesus, and the eyewitness character of the oldest tradition about the passion to which Dibelius has called our attention.) It would be wholly erroneous to reject these as secondary features or later accretions to the original kerygma. The tradition is identical with the Gospel and the Word (see 1 Cor. 15:1-3, etc.). Moreover, it is not necessary for an intellectual assent to the tradition to precede the act of faith. For trust in the reliability of the tradition and of its bearer is in itself fiducia and an element in fiducial belief in the pro me. (Documentary evidence and more precise proof of this would take us too far. Just one point: the pro me (hyper hemon) is paradosis (1 Cor.).
Part VI B
There is the further question of Bultmann’s Right from history. It may be considered under four heads: (I) The concept of time and the meaning of “present”. (2) The relation of Historie to Gechichte. (3) The gravity of the scandalon. (4) The impossibility of giving a logical proof of the Christian faith (no minimization of the scandalon).
If Bultmann fails to do justice either to the ephapax or to the pro me, the reason is to be sought in his category of Historie (chronological, past history). Past history is for him something dead and done with, something which does not vitally affect us, something which exists only in the memory, which is dependent on tradition and all its hazards, and which is therefore subject to criticism and essentially relative. The antithesis to Historie is the present, that which affects us vitally, the eschatological, the eternally present, the eternal “now” (see the article on “nun” in the Theologisches Wörterbuch, IV. 1103, by G. Stählin).
This conception is open to criticism on four grounds.
1. The concept of the “present” is a doubtful one. The idea of pure present is a speculation of mysticism. The present is never an object of possession: it is the mathematical point between the past and the future. It is doubtful whether we can speak of “now” in any legitimate sense at all. To say that timelessness is the axiomatic hinterground of time is pure speculation, so is the identification of this timelessness with the present or with eternity. All that the human mind can perceive is the relativity of our concept of time as such.
Nor is it permissible to identify “present” and “eschatological”. The discussion begun above on VI A must now be continued.
Eschatology deals with the telos, with the meaning and the goal of the time process, not with the eternal present. The reason for this is that the world is hastening towards judgment. “Quando Altissimus faciens faciebat saeculum, primum praeparavit judicium et quae sunt judicii,” says 4 Ezra (7:70), rightly. It is wholly erroneous to suppose that the New Testament in general and the Johannine writings in particular transmute eschatology into something which happens in the present. The stock passages quoted in favor of this (John 3:18; 5:24; 12:47, etc.) derive their meaning from the fact that the judgment of God is actually coming upon the world and its ruler in the future. But — and here is the amazing paradox — this cosmic judgment does actually happen when men are confronted with Jesus and his word. The so-called “transmuted eschatology” of the Fourth Gospel has to be viewed in connection with the rigorous cosmic eschatology which is one of the features of its rugged dualism. The grandeur of these Johannine utterances will be appreciated aright only if it is recognized that heaven and earth, the time process and the world as we know it, are passing away. In this respect the Fourth Gospel is at one with the synoptic gospels and the Pauline epistles. Eschatology, in its strictest sense, is paradoxically already present in the words and works of Jesus, in his cross and resurrection.
Finally, there is a tension between the present and the “historic” (geschichtlich). Bultmann’s definition of the “historic” in terms of decision and encounter actually demands a linear conception of time. Every decision means a dividing, a choosing: B follows A. Each event is connected with other events before and after. The moment it has happened it necessitates further decisions. Despite the incalculable and personal (as opposed to mechanical) character of decision, both decision and event imply a time-process rather than an immediate and unconditional present.
2. The relation between Historie and Geschichte.
In German theology we are familiar with the remarkable distinction between Historie and Geschichte. The distinction would appear to go back to Martin Kähler (1892), though this is not absolutely certain. Von Dobschütz pertinently asked whether the distinction were possible in other languages. Be that as it may, it is undoubtedly a real distinction. Geschichte means the mutual encounter of persons, Historie the causal nexus in the affairs of men. The latter is the subject matter of historical science, which seeks to divest itself of all presuppositions and prejudices and to establish objective facts. Geschichte, on the other hand, cannot achieve such impartiality, for the encounter which it implies vitally affects our personal existence: it demands resolve and decision, yes or no, love or hate.( The antithesis to “objective” in this context is not “subjective” but “personal”, and it would he better to speak of “neutral” than of “objective.”)
We can see from this how closely related and yet how distinct are Geschichte and Historie. But the further contrast between past and present is irrelevant and misleading. We have already seen how “historic” Being is involved in the time process and therefore in the transition from past to future. On the other hand, Historie is not concerned exclusively with the past. Bultmann himself maintains in his illustration about Henry IV that events of the distant past may have a vital connection with our historic Being here and now. Life in time of war teaches us how all our present life is conditioned by a chain of historical causes. But the same holds good of all historic existence, of every encounter between persons. In every such encounter we simultaneously become aware of, get to know, and recognize the reality of what we encounter, and this includes our cognizance of the Other whom we encounter as a person. Towards him I try to be as objective as I can. What I desire is to see him as he is, even if he is my enemy. I want to avoid all illusion, to eliminate all false assumptions and prejudices. Indeed, all the virtues of the historian are needed in every “historic” encounter between persons. It often becomes explicit too: the Other whom I encounter may belong to a different social class or to another nation. If so, I must learn all the peculiarities of his life, his family background and so on. In so doing I am behaving very much as an historian would, except that the historian is concerned specifically with causation, including philology, psychology and the most rigorous logical deduction. How close the connection is between historic encounter and the science of history may be learnt from the work of the biographer. If he was personally associated with his subject he must be particularly careful to see him as he really was and let him be his real self. In fact, he needs all the accuracy and meticulousness of the historian.
If this be so, it is impossible to run away from Historie to Geschichte. We cannot reject Historie because it is not vitally present for us and accept Geschichte because it is. It is impossible to escape from the relativity of past history. That relativity is not simply due to the limitations which affect history like any other science, nor yet to our dependence on the art of the historian and his capabilities for the reproduction of the past; it is the necessary consequence of man’s creatureliness. We are all inescapably enmeshed in the toils of causality. Our personal relationship with our fellow men involves us also in the relativity of-each successive moment. Every personal encounter is open to ambiguity and misconstruction, yet this very relativity provides the material for the uniquenesses, the events and decisions of Geschichte. This inseparability of the historic-contingent and the historical-relative reappears in historical research on the level of scientific thought. The mainspring of historical research is historic encounter, and the uniqueness of events, whether singly or collectively. On the other hand, all historical research worth the name leads simply in the pursuit of its precision work to the question of decision,( I deliberately avoid such formulations as “the question of truth” or “the question of valuation”.) to the historic encounter.
3. It is only when these considerations are applied to the event of redemption that the full paradoxical character of that event becomes apparent. Bultmann shows that he is aware of this, but surely his final remarks require more precise formulation. He says: ” The agent of God’s presence and activity, the mediator of God’s reconciliation of the world unto himself, is a real figure of history. The word of God is not a mysterious oracle, but a sober, factual account of a human life, and this word, it is claimed, possesses saving efficacy for man.” Now, this sober, factual account of a human life includes the gospels themselves (which are never so much as mentioned by Bultmann) and the testimony provided by the personal association of the first preachers with the Jesus of history, as well as the list of eyewitnesses adduced to establish the miracle of the resurrection as an historical event. For the Jesus of history is crucial in this context, the Jesus who is deeply compromised in the relativity of history, where “martyria” always means eyewitness. In other words, the martyria of God is subject to the relativity of all human martyria and is therefore exposed to the doubt and scorn of men. These martyres may prove to be pseudo-martyres or even mainomenoi. Accordingly we must make one addition to Bultmann’s array of paradoxes. (“The apostles who proclaim the word may be regarded merely as figures of past history, and the Church as a sociological phenomenon, whose history forms part of the history of religion. Yet both are eschatological phenomena and eschatological events.”) To these as their consequence and ground we must add. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man subject to all the relativity of history, and yet the agent of a unique, ever-present act of God.” It is just here that the skandalon lies — one who is a legitimate subject for historical research, with all its uncertainties and inferences, is nevertheless the unique and ultimate revelation of God. The careful historian, we would maintain, is bound to come up against the traces of this revelation, and where they are obscured it is a sign that there is something wrong with his historical methods. We might, for instance, take Bultmann’s own Jesus as an example, and show how, despite the avowed intention of the author, the uniqueness and finality of the here and now of Jesus means the uniqueness and finality of the advent of God. Such are the real implications of the kingdom of God and the forgiveness of sins, which according to Bultmann are central to the message of Jesus.( This is the real meaning of the Messiahship of Jesus. Is the Bultmann of 1926 the same as the Bultmann of 1941? Would he have expressed the conclusion of his Jesus differently today? It would be interesting to show how the more conservative interpretations of Jesus, such as those of Edward Meyer, R. Otto, and H. Lietzmann, tend to do less than justice to the mystery of the presence of God in Christ. Why is this so? It is otherwise with Hoskyus and Dibelius. But if the purpose of the last two scholars is to be carried to its conclusion, we shall have to take Bultmann’s interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount very seriously.) Historical research may well lead to historic encounter. But the historian can never prove that this is the unique and ultimate encounter with God, even though he cannot ignore the possibility that it is so.
This still leaves us with Bultmann’s treatment of the skandalon. Does he maintain its full force undiminished? One cannot avoid the impression that he places the event of redemption in some transcendental sphere far beyond the relativities of history. It cannot be too strongly asserted that the skandalon lies “in, with and under” a series of events embedded in history with all its relativity.
4. It is Bultmann’s deliberate intention to maintain the skandalon unimpaired, and in fact this is the real purpose of demythologization. The skandalon is just this: Jesus, his witnesses and the Church are outwardly “phenomena which are subject to historical, sociological and psychological observation, yet for faith they are all of them eschatological phenomena”. Myth, on the other hand, seeks to make things demonstrable: “From the mythological standpoint, the event of redemption must be made as evident and demonstrable as anything else in the visible world” (Pfarrerblatt, 1943, p. 4). It is, however, by no means certain that this is the essential character of myth. In Gnosticism, for instance, the Redeemer is always a hidden, unknown, mysterious figure. In Jewish apocalyptic there is always a secret tradition which is accessible only to the predestined. All such esoteric traditions pride themselves on their lack of demonstrability. All the same, Bultmann is quite right in insisting that this lack of demonstrability is part of the skandalon of the kerygma. This is well brought out by the demand for a sign in the synoptic gospels, by the question “What makest thou thyself?” in the Fourth Gospel, and later by the scorn of Celsus and Porphyry.
Now there are two problems here. First, is this aspect of Jesus a skandalon to mythical thought only, or to all purely human thought down to the present day? Secondly, is not this aspect of Jesus — viz., the lack of demonstrable proof — the reason why the opponents of Christianity reject it as mythology? The closed world view of modern science, both in physics and in psychology, leaves no room for a unique historical event with an eschatological — i.e. final and absolute — significance. (“Idealism shrinks from attributing the absolute to an individual person, and accidental facts of history cannot bear the whole weight of eternal truth.”) Bultmann says somewhere, (Where? [Bultmann adds a footnote that he thinks he said so verbally]. Is he right in view of the situation presupposed in the [antignostic] Pastoral Epistles?) commenting on the mythoi of the Pastoral Epistles, that every religion rejects the claims of its opposite numbers as myths, and claims absolute truth for itself. So instead of saying “The transcendence of God is not as in myth reduced to immanence. Instead we have the paradox of a transcendent God present and active in history John 1:14)”, Bultmann ought to have said: “The proclamation of the Word made flesh means the presence of the transcendent God in history. But to those who reject Christianity this appears to reduce the transcendent God to immanence.” We may even ask whether this lack of demonstration and proof does belong to the cross itself — whether skandalon is in fact the cross itself, not the form in which it is proclaimed. Most people are ready to accept something which cannot be proved so long as it does not make any concrete demands on them. They will even accept myths, as the expression of eternal truths that cannot be uttered (e.g., the myths of Plato and the Stoics), and so long as they magnify the Emperor’s divinity (Vergil, Horace, and the Giessen Papyrus). But to claim that a man who was forsaken of God and reviled of men (See the Jewish and Hellenistic evidence cited by Lietzmann at 1 Cor. 1:18ff.) is salvation defies all tangible proof. It cannot be proved by signs or wisdom, not even the wisdom which unfathoms the secrets of mythology.
To sum up then: Bultmann’s demythologizing will not automatically bring out the skandalon as clearly and acutely as it ought to be. There is still a chance that the gospel message, just because it cannot be proved, may be misunderstood, and once more this misunderstanding is a manifestation of the skandalon. At the same time we agree with Bultmann that the kerygma must always be interpreted in contemporary language, and that means in terms of contemporary thought. Questions which came up as early as Thesis I and later in the course of our work must now be pursued to a conclusion and clarified in the light of similar problems.
Bultmann’s challenge still stands. The world view and language of the Bible must be translated into our own. Examples: the last things as event, the intercession of Christ for us, the belief in spirits and demons, the various conceptions of the Spirit. These Biblical ideas must not be caricatured beyond recognition, but neither must they be taken over as they stand. The right imagery is to be won from the narratives of the gospels.
The reader is now full aware of the nature of Bultmann’s challenge. Belief in the Word made flesh does not oblige us to accept everything the New Testament says whether it be intelligible or not. The kerygma does not require that; in fact, everything it says about understanding, apprehension, truth, and teaching implies the contrary. It is of the essence of the Word of Christ that it seeks expression in the contemporary world; in fact, this is implied by the whole principle of the incarnation. “The last twenty years have witnessed a movement away from criticism, and a return to a naive acceptance of the kerygma. The danger both for theological scholarship and for the Church is that this uncritical resuscitation of the New Testament mythology may make the Gospel message unintelligible to the modern world.” There is a good deal of truth in this, but in the course of this essay we have seen reason to doubt whether the trouble really lies in the mythology at all. May it not be that “critical” and uncritical” means the “krinein” which the kerygma itself demands. If so, this is always the service performed by systematic theology. At the same time, the last twenty years have taught us that there is not and cannot be an “historical” theology which provides the data for systematics. The question is simply whether any given systematics does justice to the data.
Let us first consider eschatology and the heavenly intercession.
It has been argued that detachment from the world and timelessness are not adequate categories for the understanding of eschatology. The eschatology of the early Church is not just a vague belief in the transcendent or in immortality. It is orientated towards a future day of judgment, which is held to be the goal towards which the whole time-process is moving. The New Testament knows nothing of an ascent of the soul, whether of the individual or of mankind as a whole, into some invisible world. Each individual is involved with the rest of mankind in the stream of human history, in the time-process, and in this present age. For the New Testament this age is evil, and mankind and all its history stands under a common sentence of inevitable judgment. This judgment, however, is not wrought out immanently in and through the time-process (” Weltgeschichte ist Weltgericht;”), but by the manifestation of the “hidden things of the heart” in the presence of the hidden God. The goal of history and of the time-process in which we are involved arrives when we meet the living God, who transcends all our categories of time and space. The day of judgment comes when the veil is lifted which conceals the Invisible from our eyes. The recent dogmatic theology of Stange, Althaus, and Holmstrom, has followed up the suggestions of Luther and worked out an eschatology on genuine New Testament lines. Such an eschatology begins with resurrection rather than with transcendence, with the day of judgment rather than with immortality. The changes made by Althaus in the successive editions of his Dogmatics indicate the progress which has been made in this subject, as also do the questions which Holmstrom has addressed (without being able to answer them himself) to the New Testament and systematic theologians. In any case we have here a genuine antinomy. Just as the time-process is a reality and not an illusion, just as historicity (Geschichtlichkeit),( We still do not know how far the idea of historicity, when rightly understood, is part of our common involvement in history. Let it suffice to recall such New Testament words as Adam [anthropos], sarx, and kosmos, on the one hand, and ekklesia and koinonia on the other. Bultmann, I think, would agree with this.) guilt, and judgment are inseparably woven together, so too we are bound to believe that the time-process will come to an end one day. It is of course absurd to think of an end of time in time, but it is impossible to dispense with such a notion. And so we are faced here with a genuine antinomy.
Hence the New Testament is right and Bultmann wrong: eschatology is ultimate history. There is a synteleia, a completion of this aeon. The hostility of the world to God reaches a climax, and the Church is gathered together. And there really is another aeon, a new time-process and a new spatial order (a new heaven and a new earth), in which there will be “no more death, neither mourning, nor crying, nor any more pain”. But this future hope is already realized in part. That is why the New Testament speaks of “now” (nyn). The eschatological wrath of God is at work already here and now. The kingdom of God has already dawned in Christ. At death each individual encounters the world to come. In Phil. 1:21 and 2 Cor. 5:1ff. this present realization is placed quite naturally by the side of the expectation of future judgment (Phil. 1:6; 10ff; 2 Cor.5:10). Here we have a profound critique of our popular ideas about time, as Luther saw when he said that in the sight of God the whole history of man from Adam down to the present moment happened “as it were but yesterday”.( WA IO III, 194; WA III, 525, 5f. 21ff.; Althaus 4151.) But the early Christians made no attempt to work out a philosophy of time. It was simply a naïve conviction resulting from their overwhelming experience of the reality of Christ.( A vivid eschatological expectation may have a similar effect, as may be seen e.g. in 4 Ezra — I know that several books have recently appeared on the influence of Luther on Kant.) The early Christians did not believe in an eternal timelessness or that time as we know it is an illusion. They believed that the two ages overlapped one another in some mysterious way. This too was the outcome of their experience of Christ, and again it is reproduced in Luther.
If all this be true, we must tread very warily in attempting to recover the existential meaning behind the eschatology of the New Testament. Its naiveté may arise not so much from an obsolete view of the world as from an experience of Christ. Consider for example the important part played by music in the pictures of the End e.g., the last trump, the harp, and the songs of the redeemed. There may actually be something eschatological about music. I do not mean that music represents timeless reality. I mean that a new language is an essential element in the new life in fellowship, the life which is defined in such eschatological words as peace, righteousness, and redemption.
All this of course cuts right across the world view which is usually held to be derived from modern science. But that need not trouble us unduly, for there is just as sharp a cleavage between modern science and personal existential Being. We have been trying to see the eschatology of the early Church as a serious attempt to apprehend the meaning of historic Being.( The light which existentialism has thrown on the meaning of history (Geschichte), personality, and existence is due entirely to Christian influence. Of course these phenomena are constituents of all human Being, but it was Christianity which first discovered them.) Yet the paradox and skandalon remain. The unchanging God enters the time-process, its relativity, and even its alienation from God. At the same time it must be remembered that modern science is perhaps not so confident as it was at the turn of the century that time and space are infinite.
We turn now to Christology. We have seen that the dereliction of Jesus as presented in the New Testament and the doctrine of Christ’s heavenly intercession do not contain a trace of mythology, though they will certainly appear entirely mythological in the eyes of the non-Christian. Nevertheless, it is always the task of the dogmatic theologian and the preacher to translate the language of the New Testament into that of the contemporary world. The idea of sacrifice, for instance, is completely foreign to the modern mind. We have to explain what we mean by Christ’s “pleading” for us. The “blood” of Christ means the surrender of his life. “In Christ” means that Christ includes his own in himself. Then there is the perplexing language about the Body of Christ and the doctrine of his Kingship. Are these in the same category? If one remembers that St. Pau1 uses both ideas to combat the attacks of Gnosticism, the uniqueness and finality of Christ are only thrown into still sharper relief.( Cp. e.g. H. Schlier, Theol. Wörterbuch s.v. kephale.)
The same considerations apply to the later phases of Judaism.( O. Schmitz, Die Opferanschauung des Spätjudentums, 1910.) Only now are we beginning to realize the true nature of the skandalon. The stumbling-block is never, as Bultmann rightly maintains, the unintelligibility of any given concept: it lies in the revelation itself. Are we doing sufficient justice to the skandalon when we speak of Christ’s dereliction or of our personal relationship with him? Here the whole material of the gospels must be presumed. From the days of the primitive kerygma which lies behind the speeches in Acts, behind the oral tradition which was eventually crystallized in Mark and Q, the primary source of the theology of the cross is the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus who was crucified was the same Jesus who overcame the power of Satan and the evil spirits, who was the friend of publicans and sinners, who was condemned to death by the “righteous”, who preached the Sermon on the Mount, who disputed with the Pharisees and denounced them, who was always an enigma to his disciples and in the end was rejected by them, who was reviled by Jews and Gentiles. His life was a continuous temptation and conflict with Satan. Every pericope of the gospels is thus a preaching of the cross. This is what makes the doctrines of Christ’s dereliction and heavenly intercession not vague abstractions, but the quintessence of the Logos of Jesus, as it was expressed in the Gospel-preaching of the Church, since the days of the oral preaching which lies behind our gospels.
The question whether there is an intrinsic incompatability of Christology with the world view of modern science must be taken very seriously. The life work of Karl Heim has been largely devoted to this subject. It seems absurd to assert the unique and ultimate presence of God in one Man in face of an infinite universe. Yet the incidence of the skandalon has shifted somewhat since the days of the Enlightenment and Idealism (Lessing and Strauss). Today it is much more like what it was in New Testament times. For the skandalon then was not so much the historical uniqueness and finality of Christ, but the alternative “Christ or Caesar”. Either Caesar in all his glory is Lord and Savior, God or the Son of God, or else Jesus of Nazareth is. But if Jesus, then his glory lies in the cross and resurrection.
The difficulties in Christology are similar to those occasioned by demonology and the idea of the Spirit. Here are two instances which provide useful tests for Bultmann’s proposed restatement of the kerygma.
Can the belief in evil spirits be dismissed so casually as Bultmann does? The real issue is the trans-subjective reality of evil. The “Adam” theory is true as far as it goes, but it does not bring out this trans-subjective reality sufficiently. It indicates the solidarity of man in his alienation from God, but the opposition of the whole universe to the will of God is so deliberate and so well organized that it is more than the product of the human will. Hence the New Testament is obliged to bring in the figure of Satan, though it does so with remarkable reserve. This has often been noticed in connection with St. Paul, though at the same time it must be remembered that he tends (Rom. 5-8) to personify sin (hamartia), and this concept plays rather a similar role to the personal devil elsewhere in the New Testament. The reason for this reserve lies in the complete absence of dualism (Manicheeism). Nor is there any mythological elaboration of the story of the fall of Satan and his angels. Yet Satan himself is a very real figure, and he is the measure of that insight into our human plight which is afforded by the conflict of Christ with the powers of evil. The trans-subjective reality of the evil one is inseparable from that of evil itself. Evil is a cosmic reality, not a notion of man imposed upon the universe. Death, mourning, crying, and pain (Rev. 21: 4) ought not to be. They are “powers” which have enslaved man and cut him off from communion with God. When they are doing their worst with us there is no comfort in being told that they are figments of our imagination, and that they must be accepted as part of the world we live in. Such suggestions can console us only if we are prepared to believe that the external world is less real than the inner world — which leads to “acosmism”, a theory which assumed a variety of forms in the later phases of antiquity. Acosmism is utterly irreconcilable with the Biblical faith in a Creator. Hence the New Testament never tries to answer the problem of suffering after the manner of Gnosticism or Stoico-cynicism, though it does face up to questions which those philosophies ask. For the New Testament invariably regards daemonic possession in the light of Christ’s victory over it.( The Gnostics evolved an elaborate demonology, but since they regarded the powers of evil as ultimately unreal, they were not afraid to dabble in the “deep things of Satan”.) The synoptic gospels (Mark, Matt. 12_28=Luke 12:20), St. Paul (Rom. 8), the Fourth Gospel (John 16:11, etc.), and the Revelation (chap. 1), are unanimous on this point. Hence we should be wary of dismissing the revival of such New Testament convictions as superstition. We speak of superstition where phenomena susceptible of a naturalistic explanation are attributed to invisible powers. But belief in such powers per se is no more affected by scientific knowledge than belief in God himself. Belief in God enables the physician to see disease in a totally new light, and gives him quite a fresh attitude to his patients — and this is particularly so when he works with all the precision of scientific method. Similarly, belief in God fosters insight into the nature of apoleia, the combating of which is the physician’s special charisma. (Bultmann also tries to play off “electric light and wireless, modern medical and clinical methods . . . press, radio, cinema”, etc., against the Christian faith in God. But belief in God is more than a convenient way of accounting for the First Cause; it reckons with the intervention of God in all these phenomena of the visible world.) But once again we would do well to emulate the reserve of the New Testament. Much patient investigation was needed before the underlying meaning of the New Testament daemonology was discovered. That meaning is not immediately apparent, for it is not due to cosmological speculation or to Manicheeism: it neither provides man with an excuse nor does it make him the victim of irrational fears and anxieties. Nevertheless it recurs in one way or another in all that the New Testament has to say about Christology or salvation. Our contemporary preaching and dogmatics would appear to be recovering an understanding of the New Testament here. And this recovery is all the more profound since our view of man and the world is less optimistic than it was.
The doctrine of the Spirit is closely akin to the belief in evil spirits. Both are encountered by man as another ego. In St. Paul the double ego occurs both with sin (Rom. 7:I7, 20) and with Christ (Gal. 2:20). Modern man, however, as Bultrnann assures us, regards himself as a unity, whether he be a naturalist or an idealist. But the problem of the Ego is not only psychiatric, but psychological and metaphysical. Indian philosophy has known this from its beginning, and it has been a vital issue in Western philosophy since the time of Fichte. Contemporary theology has been largely concerned with the nature of authentic Being, which it defines as eschatological existence as contrasted with death, to which our life in this present age is a prey. This existence can be attained only by rebirth: “Ye must be born again from above.” This rebirth, as we have learnt from the History of Religions, is the universal longing of man, and the New Testament satisfies that longing by pointing to him who is exalted on the cross and to heaven (John 3). Through him men are reborn in the Spirit.
Bultmann maintains that St. Paul shared the popular notion of the Spirit as “an agency which works like any other natural force . . . as if it were a kind of supernatural material”. But St. Paul, he tells us, transcended this popular view: “The ‘Spirit’ does not work like a natural force…. Rather, it is the possibility of a new life, which has to be appropriated by a deliberate resolve (Gal. 5:25)…. Being led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14) is not an automatic process of nature, but the fulfilment of an imperative: ‘live after the Spirit, and not after the flesh’.” Bultmann is here following Gunkel, whose work, though half a century old, is in its approach to the problem by no means out of date. Gunkel’s thesis, briefly, is this. The Old Testament, later Judaism and popular Christianity equate the “Spirit” with a supernatural power to whose agency they attribute such phenomena as are not patent of a natural explanation. St. Paul gave this popular conception a new ethical note by tracing the Christian life as a whole to the operation of the Spirit.( We may note in passing that (I) We know far more today than Gunkel did about the place of the Spirit in Hellenistic Gnosticism. (2) Bultmann’s fundamental approach to the problem is far more profound than Gunkel’s). But Gunkel’s approach to these questions is really alien both to the old Testament and to the New. Kähler’s bold definition that the Spirit means God present gives a better explanation of the historical phenomena. Wherever the Old Testament speaks of the Spirit, whether it be in connection with warfare and art, or with the renewal of the human heart, it always implies an immediate presence of the God of revelation. This, and not the supernatural per se, is the essence of the Biblical doctrine of the Spirit. The common distinction between the personal and the natural is to be applied with caution, for the activity of God embraces what we call the sphere of nature. Even ecstasy and miracle may be signs of the new age. What St. Paul is combating at Corinth is a false spiritualism which regards the pneuma as a sort of divine fluid whose injection imparts divinity to man. This belief is the source of that selfglorying which depreciates love and undermines the Church of God. We may say, if we like, that St. Paul transcends the naturalism of the Corinthians. But we must remember that St. Paul uses quite different language, and that he has his own special reasons for doing so. St. Paul is not concerned with the difference between nature and decision, but between a right decision and a wrong one. The Corinthians, carried away by their enthusiasm, had drifted into a decision against God. Bultmann observes, rightly enough, that the Spirit can never become a permanent possession of the believer. But the real antithesis lies elsewhere. The Spirit is the gift of God, and the man who has it becomes God-controlled instead of self-controlled. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have from God, and ye are not your own”, (I Cor. 6:19). Bultmann prefers to say that the Spirit “is the possibility of a new life which has to be appropriated by a deliberate resolve”. We must remember, however, that Gal. 5:25 is the conclusion of the whole section 5:16ff., and that it takes for granted the trans-subjective antithesis of flesh and Spirit. As Bousset comments on 5:17: “The will of man is impotent in the grim conflict with these supernatural powers.” The same is true of Rom. 8:14 to be led by the Spirit means to be called sons of God. This is the point at which, according to St. Paul, the deeds of the body are mortified. Bultmann is right in saying that the possession of the Spirit never renders decision superfluous, but the decision is God’s rather than man’s. God has delivered man from the flesh — that is, from his own human existence — and given him his Spirit. But until the last day there is always the possibility of apostasy and perdition. This brings us back again to the old question of Bultmann’s categories — the relation between the indicative and the imperative, between forgiveness and ethics.
But here we must break off. Bultmann’s problem has been transposed to a different key. Demythologizing raises the much wider problem of our theology as a whole. Dare we apply the categories of personal life (“the living God”) to our relation with him? That is the root of the matter. Have we made too little of the question of mythology? At all events, our essay will have made clear that when we come to ask what the New Testament really means we cease to be worried by mythology. It tends to take second place. The thought and language of the New Testament often strike us as alien to our way of thinking; it is often incurably paradoxical. But after all what else could we expect when we remember the limitations of the human mind? The paradox and skandalon of the revelation of God in Christ are the only key to its understanding.
Are we still left with a hard core of mythology? Bultmann asked the same question at the end of his own essay. However that may be, we should have to test our conclusions at every point and see whether we have been caricaturing the New Testament, and all we could do was to offer a few illustrations taken at random. The History of Religions did us a great service by opening our eyes to the strangeness of the New Testament world, and that was far better than the credulity which was blind to the gulf between modern thought and the New Tcstament. But did the History of Religions altogether escape caricature ? We asked similar questions in connection with the doctrine of satisfaction, eschatology, demonology, and the Spirit. But it is even doubtful whether the Bible believes in a three-storied universe. Even the Old Testament wavers at times: “. . . the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee” (1 Kings 8:27); “Do not I fill heaven and earth” (Jer. 23:24). And the New Testament has completely abandoned the three-storied universe. See e.g. Heb. 4:14: “Who hath passed through the heavens”, and Heb. 7:26: “made higher than the heavens”. These and the “en Christo” are illustrations of the way in which the concept of space breaks down in the light of the revelation of God in Christ. And the concept of time breaks down for the same reason. Of course that does not mean that the whole world view of antiquity is suddenly shown to be false, but it does mean that the reality of God’s revelation proves the inadequacy of the pattern of thought. We found the same naïve critique of our popular notions of time and space in Luther and Calvin. A sirnilar case could be made out for Apocalyptic and Gnosticism.(Even the concept of the pleroma transcends the popular conception of space; cf. e.g. Eph. 4:10: “He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things.”)
At the same time the problem of mythology per se is left open. It cannot be mitigated by rejecting those elements alien to our way of thinking on the ground that they are simply picture language, and by replacing them with a different picture language of our own. The idea of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven is not just picture language, any more than the doctrine of Christ’s pre-existence. At the same time we may justly speak of the pictorial character of the New Testament imagery, for after all the invisible can only be expressed in terms of the visible. In each case the meaning is obvious. The Son of Man, for instance, means the Judge of the world, and the decisive question is not about this image as such, but whether Jesus really is the Judge of the world. If under the influence of Rudolf Otto modern scholars are once more ready to agree that Jesus regarded himself as the Son of man, this would drive him into a mythological twilight: the interpretation of all he said did not make clear that it is the Judge of the world who is speaking. Similarly the pre-existence of Christ means that in the words and deeds of Jesus God himself is uniquely and finally present. Thus Odeberg, in his book The Fourth Gospel,( Uppsala, 1929.) in commenting on John 8:58, “before Abraham was, I am”, aptly coins the term “over- existence”. But once more this claim can be made intelligible only if it can be shown that the whole gospel material is a theologein Christon: “Brethren, we ought so to think of Jesus Christ as of God, as of the Judge of quick and dead” (2 Clem. 1:1)
Here we must take up and pursue to the end a line of thought which we suggested in Thesis II. The starting-point for a right understanding of eschatology is the words and deeds of Jesus. Eschatology is neither a mythological picture of the end of the world nor a mythological expression of the idea of timelessness, but the message of the age to come. In the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth that age has become a present reality. What eschatological existence and authentic Being really are can only be interpreted aright in the light of Jesus of Nazareth. Only in him, in his cross, is the wretchedness of man made fully apparent. Only in him, in his victory, are Satan and the evil spirits really intelligible and not just an obscure piece of mythology. The signature of Jesus is the cross, and the cross is totalis derelictio, his complete desertion by God. The Gospels themselves are meant to be read as a preaching of the cross. He, the embodiment of the unique and final presence of God among men, plumbs to its depths the distress of our human life. This is the only proper theme for our Good Friday sermons, and it is the burden of every pericope in the Gospels. This is the only way to preach Christ and him crucified without making him an unintelligible piece of mythology or a mere symbol of an abstract truth. The signature of Jesus is the unique and final presence of God. (Bultmann, Johannes, p. 327, on 12:28: “In John — and here he part company with the Gnostic myths — the Father is glorified through the Son, by his taking upon himself the very depths of earthly existence.” In the text we have preferred to speak of “human existence”. Bultmann’s “earthly existence” is somewhat dangerous, for it could be taken in a Gnostic sense. Perhaps it would bc better to speak with the New Testament of Jesus’ taking the curse upon himself, adding what was said on p. 60ff. The idea of the curse is not mythological; it is the curse of the law. Gal. 3: 13 is the link between the Pauline doctrine of the law and the tree [xylon] of the apostolic kerygma.) He who hath seen him hath seen the Father. In him the invisible God has become visible. The primitive Church knows that the glory of God is made visible in the word of preaching. This was the way in which St. Paul and Luther preached Christ crucified. And the rugged paradoxes of patristic dogma — “very God and very man” — make explicit what the whole New Testament says indirectly. The New Testament speaks indirectly like this because what it says will only be understood aright on the other side of the day of judgment. Jesus’ signature is the resurrection and the life. In him as the risen Lord the whole meaning of his words and deeds is fulfilled. He, the ever-present, is the same who called sinners and rejected the righteous. He is the fulfilment of his own eschatological word. He is in person present with his own as Lord. He is in person for ever the Crucified who makes intercession for his own. He is (Matt: 28:18, 20) the Ruler of heaven and earth, and who is with his own until the end of the age. But this too (N.B. — “heaven and earth; invisible and visible) is only rightly proclaimed when he who utters these words is for ever the same who (Matt. 28:20) taught on earth and issued his commands, whose words remain though heaven and earth pass away (Mark 13:31 ). Proclaimed otherwise, the proclamation of the risen Lord becomes a piece of mythology or a symbol of an abstract truth.
The proclamation will never escape the charge of myth. This possibility is part of its skandalon. But where it is rightly understood it is seen at once to be the answer to thc question posed by myth. When late Jewish eschatology asked about the future judgment and the world to come, its question was a legitimate one. The answer is the crucified and risen Lord, an answer vvhich at the same time means the judgment of the Jewish hope, which sought to evade the judgment by pictorial elaboration and by rites of consecration. The same holds good, mutatis mutandis, of the Gnostic myths. All the questions they ask about light, life, the way to heaven, the agent of redemption, are answered in the person of Jesus. But at the same time he is in all that he says and does and suffers, the judgment upon the Gnostic hope, which sought mastery over the invisible.
Does this dialectical judgment apply equally to modern man? Bultmann has been accused in different ways of ignoring the fact that modern man is tending to return to mythology. Myth, it is held, is an indispensable element in all religion. Have we here a possible point of contact between Christianity and modern man? To suppose that we have is to overlook the fact that wherever the New Testament speaks of the invisible in terms of the visible, its assertions can be understood only in the light of its central message — i.e. the cross and resurrection. Apart from these, for instance, the eschatology and the daemonology of the New Testament will always be misconstrued. They will lose their skandalon because they are not understood in the light of the skandalon of the cross. On the other hand, there is little substance in Bultmann’s contention that modern science and mythology are intrinsically incompatible. Modern man is no longer scientific man. Either science has become the handmaid of technical progress — that is what it means to most people, even the educated; medicine, law, and history are then merely departments of technology. Or, alternatively, with the indefatigable pursuit of the separate sciences, science is becoming philosophy again. And this means that, whether it is aware of it or not, science cannot ignore the problems of God, of the invisible, and of existence, as these wcre treated in Theses II and III. But that only makes the task of the Christian preacher today more serious. He must not in deference to modern man make light of those elements in the kerygma which modern man is likely to regard as myth, for the simple reason that every attempt to preach Christ God is bound to seem myth to him. Now that modern man is prepared to take the question of God seriously, there is no need for the preacher to begin by trying to give an existential explanation of the Christian disposition and to disregard everything that might look like myth. The moral of Bultmann’s argument with Kamlah is that the theologian must take the offensive, and that the point of attack is the question of sin. Maybe the attack should have been still more radical. All the more so since Kamlah’s attitude is defined in the light of the Biblical faith in God, and despite all his disagreement with that faith he is full of respect for it. If Kamlah is really right in affirming that there is no ontological statement which is not at the same time an affirmation about God, (Christentum und Selbstbehauptung, p. 328ff., etc.) ought he not to put the question of hybris much more seriously than he has done?( And does not Kamlah’s God bear the marks of a deus absconditus? He is the X behind our self-commitment to the community or fatherland, and yet such a God permits the extinction of the individual at death. Although he is the affirmation of all that is, yet the terror of the infinite and mysterious, and the grim realities of evil, guilt, and death are camouflaged by the formula me on, but never really overcome. Even the Attic tragedians knew better than this. So did Nietzsche the atheist, whom Bultmann never mentions. What is Kamlah’s glib self-commitment to the “All-One” compared with the profundity of the Attic tragedians and Nietzsche? So the real point at issue between Christianity and modern man is not mythology but the Krisis: it is man’s rebellion against God.
There is one last possibility to be considered. Is modern man perchance Nihilist Man? This perhaps is a truer diagnosis than any other. Yet in practice nihilism is an impossible philosophy of life, for it is itself the unanswered problem of God. It is really a striking confirmation and indeed an accurate description of what the Bible calls the wrath of God. (I owe this to a suggestion of H. Iwand.) Will the modern man believe us when we tell him that the Christian revelation gives us a better understanding of his own predicament than he has himself? To convince him lies not in our own power. But in any case the real difficulty lies not in myth but in the profoundest of all problems, the ultimate problem, the problem of God.
If this be so, then the central theme of this essay as worked out in theses I-VII is by no means irrelevant. Each particular inquiry has forced us back upon the ultimate question, and in every case it is we Christians who ask that question. The terms of the discussion among Christians do not differ in principle from those of the discussion with non-Christians. Its starting-point will always be a deep awareness that we only know in part. For our observations about the scandal of the gospel and the impossibility of proving it arise from this partial character of our knowledge. Our exposition of the cross and resurrection is the knowledge of the love of Christ which passeth all understanding. We have been concerned with the task of the Christian preacher in the modern world as that task is conditioned by the problem of myth. But from start to finish we have found ourselves forced back upon another problem. Can we accept the kerygma of the New Testament as good news for our generation? This much at least is true: that kerygma alone possesses the intrinsic power of awakening the conviction of its truth in the hearts of men.
(Concluded on 27 October 1943.)