How Bultmann Set His Course

History of the Synoptic Tradition, by Rudolf Bultmann, translated by John Marsh (Harper & Row, 1963, 456 pp., $8.50), is reviewed by Lorman M. Petersen, professor of New Testament, Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois.

Several years ago, while preparing a doctoral dissertation on Bultmann, we plowed through this long volume on form criticism in the original German (Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition). The idea of “plowing” is quite fitting because the book, besides being encased in heavy “Bultmann German,” proved to be one of the most tedious and comprehensive works we had read in a long time. Now the English version is here, and we discovered that Bultmann is slow reading in any language. There is no doubt about its being a thorough, scholarly work. Bultmann knows the New Testament. It is also completely devastating. Speaking of “plowing,” Bultmann literally plows through the Gospels (and he plows deep), uprooting all the old familiar ground and leaving things in a terribly chaotic state, fully expecting the reader to smooth things out again. It is amazing that one man could impound so much negative criticism into a single volume.

Of course, New Testament study has moved on to other matters since Bultmann wrote this significant volume on form criticism in 1931; even Bultmann himself soon moved on to myth and demythologization. But Formgeschichte, now popularized, has penetrated to some degree almost all exegesis today, and this volume is still basic for the understanding of the method; as Robert Grant says on the jacket: “Form Criticism is evidently here to stay, and in this book it is encountered in the work of a master.” John Marsh of Mansfield College, Oxford, who was a student of Bultmann at Marburg back in the thirties, is to be commended for his excellent job of translating Bultmann’s difficult German. To render a work so heavily weighted with all sorts of footnotes, statistics, and unheard-of references had to be “a labor of love,” as he says in the preface.

Bultmann divides the volume into three major parts: The Tradition of the Sayings of Jesus, The Tradition of the Narrative Material. The Editing of the Traditional Material. Under these three headings he delineates what he assumes to be the various “forms” (apophthegms, sayings, miracle stories, legends, etc.) in which the gospel material circulated before it was committed to writing. His method is to divide the synoptic material (some of which does not fit his molds) into these categories and then proceed to analyze them piece by piece and thus to trace their history to the ultimate source. Such breaking up of the framework of the Gospels not only settles the Synoptic problem for Bultmann but also gives each unit its “proper interpretation.” In stating his task in the important introductory chapter he says that he leans on the previous work of Wellhausen and Gunkel in the Old Testament, and that of Wrede, Schmidt, Dibelius, and others in the New Testament, and that form criticism grew out of the inadequacy of the old documentary theories (p. 2). It is interesting to note, however, that Bultmann continues to build upon the documentary hypotheses. He works with Q, for example, as if it were an actual document like Mark. This leads him into the study of the life of the Christian community to see what influences shaped the forms (Sitz im Leben). At this point literary criticism becomes historical criticism, and Bultmann, a conscientious and honest scholar, admits a pronounced weakness of all form criticism—the argumentum in circulo:

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It is essential to realize that form-criticism is fundamentally indistinguishable from all historical work in this, that it has to move in a circle. The forms of the literary tradition must be used to establish the influences operating in the life of the community, and the life of the community must be used to render the forms themselves intelligible [p. 5]

Then Bultmann takes the radical step for which he has been severely criticized, namely, passing value judgment on the historicity of the forms:

In distinction from Dibelius I am indeed convinced that form-criticism, just because literary forms are related to the life and history of the primitive Church not only pre-suppose judgments of facts alongside judgments of literary criticism, but also lead to judgments about the facts (the genuineness of the saying, the historicity of the report and the like).

He begins with the apophthegm, a term he borrowed from Greek literature. He says it is a saying of Jesus set in a brief context or story. The redactor often simply created a story or setting for these sayings in the interest of apologetics, polemics, teaching, or missionary preaching.

The sayings have produced the situation or context, not the reverse (p. 21). For example, regarding the inhospitable Samaritans (Luke 9:5 ff.), “the journey through Samaria is Luke’s construction” (p. 26). Not even all the dominical sayings (proverbs, wisdom-words, and the like) are genuine. “It is also possible for secular proverbs,” he says, “to have been turned into sayings of Jesus by the Church when it set them into the context of its tradition” (p. 101). Sometimes His prophetic words become a vaticinium ex eventu (a prophecy written after the event) (pp. 113, 122). Likewise, the miracle stories are not all historical, and it becomes a problem for Bultmann how they found their way into the tradition.

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Perhaps the reader may understand Bultmann’s technique from a sample of the thorough and involved manner in which he dissects a text, of which there are many examples throughout the book. In the chapter entitled “Biographical Apophthegms” he treats “Jesus blesses the children” as follows:

Mk. 10:13–16 par: Jesus blesses the children. Here for the first time Dibelius’ theory of ‘sermonic sayings’ finds some support, for the logion in v. 15 could well be a secondary piece inside vv. 13–16. But whether it can be taken as an edifying expansion of v. 14 is in my view nevertheless very doubtful. The point of v. 14 is quite different from that of v. 15: v. 14 simply states that children have a share in the Kingdom of God, and the toon toioutoon in v. 14 ought not to be interpreted, as has been customary ever since Origen, in the light of v. 15. That means treating v. 15 as an originally independent dominical saying, inserted into the situation of vv. 13–16. It is certainly no use referring to Matt. 18 for this verse is clearly not an independent tradition, but is the Matthean form of Mk. 10:15 in another context. The other possibility is also improbable, that the setting in vv. 13–16 is made up on the basis of the saying in v. 15. For vv. 13–16 are a complete apophthegm without v. 15, and its point is stated in v. 14. The original unit, vv. 13, 14, 16 may well be an ideal construction, with its basis in the Jewish practice of blessing, and some sort of prototype in the story of Elisha and Gehazi (2 Kings 4:27) and an analogy in a Rabbinic story. But if so, the insertion of v. 15 only makes the ideal character of the scene quite unambiguous: the truth of v. 15 finds symbolic expression in the setting of the story.

Preachers and Bible teachers will be interested in learning that Bultmann designates the familiar narrative material of the Gospels as legendary. He defines a legend as those parts of the tradition which are not miracle stories in the proper sense, and instead of being historical are religious and edifying (p. 244). The Last Supper is a cult legend. The baptism of Jesus may be historical, “but the story as we have it must be classified as legend” (p. 246). The Temptation is a legend which perhaps goes back to the nature myths of the kind that tell of Marduk’s fight with the dragon of Chaos or to the tales of the “Temptation of Holy Men” like those told of Buddha (p. 253). (However, Bultmann shows his exegetical genius by the valuable insights he gives one of the temptations of Jesus.) The Transfiguration was once a resurrection story. The Triumphal Entry and most of the Passion history is legendary. He considers the death of Jesus as probably historical but says “it is strongly disfigured by legend.” The same is true of the Easter narratives (especially the story of the empty tomb) and the infancy narratives.

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The reader should pay particular attention to Bultmann’s summary chapter, “Conclusion” (pp. 368 ff.) in which he says that while the gospel tradition had its origin in the primitive Palestinian church, it was shaped by the Hellenistic church. The tradition, in turn, can only be understood in terms of the Christian kerygma, which the Gospels merely illustrated and expanded. He epitomizes his views in the following paragraph, which should be read carefully for all of its implications:

The Christ who is preached is not the historical Jesus, but the Christ of faith and the cult. Hence in the foreground of the preaching of Christ stands the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the saving acts which are known by faith and become effective for the believer in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Thus the kerygma of Christ is cultic legend and the Gospels are expanded cult legends [p. 370].

Our assessment of Bultmann’s form criticism is mainly negative. One has to be frightfully uncritical to accept what Bultmann offers with so little evidence. It seems to be the old historical criticism in new dress. It is not only a solution of the Synoptic problem but also the dissolution of the Gospels themselves. It is true that we must face the fact that the first Gospel was oral, and form criticism may throw light on the oral period of the Gospel. If there were these pericopes perhaps they take us to the very headwaters of our Gospels; but these findings are prostituted by the radical example of Bultmann. For instance, the form of a story does not tell us whether it is true or false. Bultmann’s method is much more radical than any harmonizations of the Gospels have ever been. He wishes to rewrite the New Testament according to his own assumptions, and the Gospels become a patchwork. He assumes the role of a ghost writer redoing a posthumous novel. His method is not exegesis but geology of the text. Thus we believe that most of the criticism aimed at Bultmann has been justified. It is a very arbitrary method. Those who use form criticism to interpret Scripture should realize this. But perhaps our greatest disappointment in Bultmann is that the origin of the Christian religion takes place on a horizontal plane—never do we hear him speak of the influence of God’s Holy Spirit on the writers of the Gospels. The blessed Gospel is cut off from the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. We must ask, if faith created the Gospels, what created the faith? Thus it was but a stone’s throw for Bultmann to go from radical form criticism to demythologization. But that is another story. We would, however, appeal to pastors and teachers to study this volume and see for themselves. Fortunately, the barrier of the German is now gone, and many more will be able to do this.

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Good On England

Anatomy of Britain, by Anthony Sampson (Harper & Row, 1962, 662 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by J. D. Douglas, British editorial director, CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

The publishers state that this book will give American readers a clear and penetrating picture of British leaders and institutions. Mr. Sampson, who calls himself “an enquiring journalist,” contradicts his title at the outset when he disclaims any intention of dealing with “the life of the ordinary people.” He is concerned only with the managers. With assurance and professional expertise he runs through such divergent subjects as royalty, advertising, the press, the law, insurance companies, and the much maligned honors system, which underlines that we are not all equal after all. He has one tremendous swipe at Harold Macmillan, who, he asserts, “looks down on people (like Hugh Gaitskell) who have never led a platoon of men into battle …” (p. 324).

American readers of Scottish or Welsh ancestry will quickly discover that, again despite the title, this volume is concerned almost exclusively with England, and that the writer has a quite inordinate preoccupation with Oxford and Cambridge, which seem to worm their way into chapters where they have no right to be. Only once is the English monopoly broken: in the somewhat gossipy chapter on churches, where twenty-eight lines are devoted to the Church of Scotland (nine pages to the Church of England). This is no unmixed blessing, for into this niggardly allocation Mr. Sampson has contrived to cram four major and five minor mistakes.

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With true Anglican arrogance he calls the nonconformist churches “sects,” and for some reason finds it necessary to state that “there is no real Methodist aristocracy.” It would have been better had he defined his terms also in describing the present Archbishop of York as an “evangelical”—a designation sure to raise a few quizzical eyebrows. Welshmen will be delighted to learn from the index that universities have somehow sprouted up at Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, and Swansea. The reviewer wishes to complain that the name of his own university is spelled wrong every time, and to refute the canard that its students wear “multi-coloured gowns.”

Handled carefully, this could be a useful compendium, but he who seeks objectivity here will look in vain; at the end of the day the reader is left in no doubt about Mr. Sampson’s own interests and prejudices.


Light On Apostasy

The Disappearance of God, by J. Hillis Miller (Harvard, 1963, 359 pp., $7.50), is reviewed by Stanley Wiersma, associate professor of English, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Since the Renaissance, God has been disappearing from the corporate consciousness of Western Man. Professor Miller limits his study to the nineteenth-century phase of God’s disappearance, tracing that phenomenon through the works of five English writers: De Quincey, R. Browning, E. Brontë, Arnold, and Hopkins.

Each of these writers believes in the existence of God, each is impressed with how far away God seems, and each is desperate to establish contact again. De Quincey attempts to establish contact with God’s infinity through total-recall opium experiences, through experience of the predetermined perfection of great musical forms, and through development of a writing style that is intended to be a human equivalent for God’s existence; but memory of lost joy by opium turns out to be painful, music is bound to time and space, and a prose style that reflects eternity becomes simply vapid. Browning keeps shifting his identity from dramatic monologue to dramatic monologue in a desperate attempt to be all mankind, to approach God’s infinity; but becoming all, Browning only becomes less himself. Emily Brontë sees her world as a kennel, for God has left man and man has reverted to bestiality; but even if a person’s union with another person, or with nature, or with God, can temporarily restore his humanity, such unions are not common. The loss of humanity (and divinity) is attributed to specific causes by M. Arnold: industrialism, science, and urbanization. While E. Brontë becomes dramatically violent, Arnold becomes passively despairing; himself a victim of modernity, he demands new, virile poetry but cannot produce it. Of the writers treated only Hopkins comes to be happily familiar with God, immediately after his conversion to Catholicism, but even he falls into the time’s despair in later poems—impatient with his own imperfections, impatient with his isolation from God, and impatient for the final judgment.

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Literary students will admire the book’s careful, balanced approach. Dr. Miller avoids the one-sidedness of explicating works out of context on the one hand, and of providing historical background at the expense of explicating works on the other. Allowing that each literary piece has integrity by itself, Professor Miller nevertheless addresses himself primarily in this book to a consistent interpretation of each writer’s whole corpus. Only in terms of a writer’s whole lifetime of development are individual works given intensive explication. By this method Professor Miller again and again illuminates works that “everybody knows.” This reviewer, for instance, will return often to the careful analyses of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and of Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty.” Professor Miller’s method deserves imitation.

A major value of the book to Christians will be its concrete demonstration that God’s disappearance is accompanied by man’s ignorance or willfulness in looking. God’s disappearance is inevitably man’s failure or refusal to see Him as he has revealed himself.

Clergymen will find the book useful because of its abundant supply of illustrations for various kinds and degrees of apostasy. One does so weary of Henley’s “Invictus.”


Sane And Useful

Three Crucial Decades: Studies in the Book of Acts, by Floyd V. Filson (John Knox, 1963, 118 pp., $3), is reviewed by James P. Martin, associate professor of New Testament, Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, Richmond.

This work by the professor of New Testament at McCormick Seminary, representing the Smyth lectures delivered at Columbia Theological Seminary, is a sane and useful guide to the study of the theology and historical understanding of Luke in the Book of Acts.

The author believes that Acts is indispensable to any consistent and convincing account of the emergence and expansion of apostolic Christianity and is, on the whole, a reliable guide to the history of the primitive Church. The title, Three Crucial Decades, provides a broad framework of a thirty-year period, but it does not describe the essential contents of the book, since the decades are not developed individually or together in any detail. This scheme appears to rest upon Gregory Dix’s use of three decades in his excellent work, Jew and Greek, but the similarity is purely formal.

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In the material content of his studies, Dr. Filson treats first the scope, purpose, and impact of the Book of Acts. He is aware of the views of critical scholarship on Acts but does not spend his time debating directly with others; rather, his own purpose is to provide a synthetic result embodying his own critical opinions at many points. The theology of Luke is centered on Resurrection, Ascension (exaltation), and the Spirit. The speeches in Acts are not taped reproductions of what was said but summaries or frameworks of what was generally said. As an outline of Acts, Filson prefers C. H. Turner’s six-fold panel outline, with each panel concluding with a summary of the progress of the Gospel. He does not feel that Acts 1:8 or the Peter-Paul dichotomy provides the key to the structure of the book. He cautions us wisely that outlines do not give proper expression to the important role of the sermon summaries and speeches in the total book. After pointing out the curious amount of space (9½ chapters) given to Paul’s final journey to Rome, Filson concludes (in chapter 5) that this is in the nature of an apology. He emphasizes, furthermore, his opinion that for Luke it was Paul’s preaching, not Peter’s, that effectively established and directly attested the apostolic preaching in Rome. This may be an overdrawn conclusion not easily harmonized with the historical fact that the church at Rome is pre-Pauline (or non-Pauline) in origin.

C. H. Dodd’s work on the apostolic preaching, which has had such an influence in New Testament studies by showing that from the first the Church preached a Gospel of salvation that embodied a high Christology, is discussed at some length in chapter 2. Filson, on the whole, agrees with Dodd, but he disagrees at points. He thinks that Dodd’s distinction of preaching and teaching is not supported by Acts. Acts shows that the apostles taught, argued, disputed, discussed, and so on, and Filson uses this information to correct the Bultmannian over-emphasis on preaching as pure announcement that calls for a decision only and no questions!

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Other chapters are devoted to Peter and the Twelve, James and Jewish Christianity, Paul and the Gentile mission. Filson finds no support at all in Acts for any practice of apostolic succession from the Twelve. Paul himself shatters any neat pattern of succession. There is no fixed polity laid down by the Twelve and so planned as to establish a “regular” ministry. “The theme of Acts is that the Spirit guided the church and its existing leaders to take the steps which enabled the church to express its witness and live a life of loyalty to Christ.”

Jewish Christianity is described in a way that does justice to only part of the “Jewishness” of the primitive Church. By restriction of the term to those Christians who included the keeping of the Mosaic law, the theological and historical significance of the origins of the Christian Church within Israel is somewhat reduced, so that traditional Protestant patterns of James vs. Paul are perpetuated. The suggestion (p. 83) that James’s real concern was the protection of Jewish Christians and not the coercion of Gentile Christians deserves to be elaborated. By assuming that James was consistently faithful to the ceremonial law, Filson concludes that, since this faithfulness is not reflected in the Letter of James, this letter is not from James and is therefore of no help in interpreting James. This conclusion will probably be contested. For, assuming that the letter reflects James’s true spiritual concern, one could use it to “correct” an interpretation that does not do justice to James’s interest for the true unity of the Church composed of Jew and Greek. Readers should consult Adolf Schlatter’s The Church in the New Testament Period for another view of James and Jewish Christianity.

This book is a worthwhile addition to literature on Acts and the apostolic Church. It should open up Luke’s historical work for many.


Book Briefs

Free in Obedience, by William Stringfellow (Seabury, 1964, 128 pp., $2.75). In essays that strike sparks, a layman theologizes about the demonic tyrannies in human life and institutions and about the freedom that comes in the Gospel.

The Bible Story Book, by Bethann Van Ness (Broadman, 1963, 672 pp., $4.95). A retelling of the whole biblical narrative in language the eight to twelve-year-old can read, and younger children can understand, marked by fidelity to the Scriptures. Large legible print, with art work and a valuable supplement explaining life in Bible times.

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Justus Jonas, Loyal Reformer, by Martin E. Lehmann (Augsburg, 1963, 208 pp., $4). The story of the life and work of a collaborator of Luther who energetically helped shape and extend the cause of the Reformation.

Personalities around Jesus, by William P. Barker (Revell, 1963, 156 pp., $2.95). Fresh thought in sparkling style.

The Infertile Period, by John Marshall (Helicon, 1963, 118 pp., $2.95). All about how a woman can take her temperature, have sexual relations but not pregnancies. Beside the thermometer, she will need the mind of a mathematician and the memory of a computer. Success would seem contingent on a rare combination.

A Reader for Parents: A Selection of Creative Literature about Childhood, selected and edited by the Child Study Association of America, introduction and comment by Anna W. M. Wolf (W. W. Norton, 1963, 463 pp., $8.95).

Personalities around the Cross, by H. H. Hargrove (Baker, 1963, 138 pp., $2.50). Evangelical essays, theologically and organizationally careless.

Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, by Edward Schillebeeckx (Sheed & Ward, 1963, 222 pp., $4.50). A Roman Catholic presents a personalistic interpretation of the sacraments. A translation from the original Dutch, Christus, Sacrament van de Godsontmoeting. For the professional scholar.

The Speaker’s Treasury of 400 Quotable Quotes, compiled by Croft M. Pentz (Zondervan, 1963, 159 pp., $2.95). Just what the title claims; the church school teacher and the man of the pulpit will often find it useful.

The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians (from “The Tyndale Bible Commentaries”), introduction and commentary by Francis Foulkes (Eerdmans, 1963, 182 pp., $3). A concise, workable tool for laymen, teachers, and ministers.

The Miracles of Golgotha, by Homer H. Boese (Baker, 1963, 143 pp., $2.95). Informative, biblical essays that probe the religious meaning of the miracles surrounding the Cross and the Resurrection.

Christian Faith and Greek Philosophy, by A. H. Armstrong and R. A. Markus (Sheed & Ward, 1960, 162 pp., $3.50). Authors compare, contrast and evaluate those ideas where Christianity and Greek thought confront each other, such as eros, time, knowledge, and the like. Good reading for the student with philosophical curiosity.

Faith Is a Star, by Roland Gammon (E. P. Dutton, 1963, 243 pp., $3.95). The personal religious philosophies and contemporary achievements of prominent Americans of our day—originally expressed on the international radio broadcast, “Master Control.”

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Over-Shadowed Journey, by Kazuo Kaneda (Hope Press [Tokyo, Japan], 1964, 159 pp., $2.50). Story of the wartime experiences of a Japanese minister.


The Social Humanism of Calvin, by André Biéler (John Knox, 1964, 80 pp., $1.50). A short summary of the social ethics of Calvin by a lecturer at the University of Geneva. The reader will see faces of Calvin that sometimes differ from the inherited image.

The Death Penalty in America, edited by Hugo Adam Bedau (Doubleday, 1964, 586 pp., $1.95). Several essays by the author, who opposes the death penalty, plus several by authorities who favor it. A valuable study.

Mental Health and Segregation, by Martin M. Grossack (Springer, 1963, 247 pp., $4). An extensive collection of studies and writings on the effects of racial segregation on Negro mental health.

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, by the Second Vatican Council (Liturgical Press, 1963, 64 pp., $.50). A bilingual edition (Latin and English); highly informative for Protestants interested in the liturgical matters brought before the Second Vatican Council.

Persons and Places: The Background of My Life, by George Santayana (Scribner’s, 1964, 262 pp., $1.45).

Moll Ta-iu: “Man of Great Plans,” by Eva M. Moseley (Christian Publications, 1963, 224 pp., $1.50). The biography of Dr. Thomas Moseley, missionary-educator.

Facing Facts in Modern Missions, a symposium (Moody, 1963, 141 pp., $1.75). A discussion of missions in which answers are given to many of the questions currently under discussion within the ecumenical movement and mainline denominations. Profitable reading.

Roman Catholicism and the Bible, by Olivier Beguin (Association, 1963, 95 pp., $1.50). A factual survey of the Bible movement in Roman Catholicism, with detailed information about how the Bible is used in that church in many parts of the world. A valuable study. The author is general secretary of the United Bible Societies.

The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to St. Mark, edited by C. F. D. Moule, commentary by C. E. B. Cranfield (Cambridge, 1963, 494 pp., $2.95). First published in 1959.

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