First of Three Parts

In studying the views of the Bible advocated by modern critical theology, one immediatedly faces the difficulty that there are many different kinds of critics. They range from almost conservative to ultra-radical. As an example of a conservative critic we can take Karl Barth. Barth accepts criticism of the Bible as a legitimate aspect of theology: “There cannot be any question of sealing off or abandoning so-called ‘criticism’.… All relevant historical questions must be put to the biblical texts” (Church Dogmatics, I, 2, 294). He can say this because he believes that the Bible is not only a human but also a fallible book:

A little later he says clearly:

Yet we must point out that Barth hardly ever says of a particular passage: I cannot accept this or that statement as true. In all the eleven volumes of his Church Dogmatics, covering thousands of pages, one can find only a few isolated instances of such a direct criticism.

At the other end of the critical line we find the extreme position of Rudolf Bultmann and his school. They go very far indeed. Bultmann himself leaves hardly anything untouched in the Bible. According to him, the Gospels, for example, are so overgrown with legends and myths that we know hardly anything about the real history behind them. In 1926 he published his book Jesus and the Word, in which he declared:

Bultmann wrote this in 1926. Since then forty years have passed, but his views have not essentially changed. He does admit now that we can know a little about the real Jesus through critical inquiry. But it is really not more than a little.

But this is really all we know, says Bultmann. We do not know, for example, how Jesus interpreted his own death. “All we know is that Jesus was executed ...

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