Rudolf Bultmann claims that the New Testament teaches a three-storied universe which modern science has made incredible. Therefore, to preserve Christianity in our day, the New Testament “mythology” must be reinterpreted.

Bultmann writes, “The cosmology of the New Testament is essentially mythical in character. The world is viewed as a three-storied structure, with the earth in the center, the heaven above, and the underworld beneath.… Supernatural forces intervene in the course of nature.… Miracles are by no means rare.”

This introductory statement to his essay New Testament and Mythology, Bultmann expands in considerable detail. The idea of a Holy Spirit, or spirits generally, the mysterious cleansing effect of baptism and the still more mysterious Eucharist, the doctrine that death is a punishment for sin, and the resurrection of Jesus—all these are mythical and incredible. Bultmann locates the source of this mythology in Jewish apocalyptic literature and in the redemptive myths of Gnosticism. Indeed, from Gnosticism came the idea that Jesus was not a mere human being, but a God-man. All in all, Bultmann considers the New Testament to be pervasively mythical.

Therefore, the New Testament as it stands cannot be accepted. Modern science has now discovered the real truth about nature, and the scientific laws of causality prevent modern man from believing in any divine intervention. “All our thinking today is shaped irrevocably by modern science. A blind acceptance of the New Testament mythology would be arbitrary.… It would involve a sacrifice of the intellect which could have only one result—a curious form of schizophrenia and insincerity.”

Fortunately (as Bultmann sees it) “there is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.