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Wright on Bultmann

May 6, 2010

In my courses on the NT and specifically those on the Fourth Gospel, I have often commented to my students that Rudolf Bultmann was a brilliant man who consistently posed the right questions and just as consistently arrived at all the wrong answers. When I have said this among colleagues it has sometimes brought about scornful looks and even protest. It is nice to know that I am not alone in this assessment. I know much has been made of N. T. Wright’s rejection of all-things-Bultmann, but I actually consider his stance quite brave (given the vestige of Bultmannian sycophants in academia) and spot on. Here are two quotes from Wright’s magisterial work, The Resurrection of the Son of God. I couldn’t help but smile when I read them yesterday.

Bultmann, famously, criticized Paul for citing witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection as though he considered it an actual event, instead of being merely a graphic, ‘mythological’ way of referring to the conviction of the early Christians that Jesus’ death had been a good thing, not a bad thing. The inauthenticity of an entire stream of twentieth-century New Testament scholarship is thus laid bare; if Paul really allowed himself, in so serious and sober an introduction to a carefully crafter chapter expressing the central point that underlay an entire letter, to say something as drastically misleading as Bultmann imagined, he is hardly a thinker worth wrestling with in the first place. But in fact Bultmann was simply wrong: the resurrection of Jesus was a real event as far as Paul was concerned, and it underly the future real event of the resurrection of all God’s people (p. 317-18, italics added).


The list of witnesses [to the resurrection in 1 Cor 15], despite the anguished protests of Bultmann and his followers, is a clear indication that Paul does not suppose Jesus’ resurrection to be a metaphorization of an experience of the disciples, or of some ‘ineffable truth beyond history’. What is more, ‘the great variety in times and places of the appearances makes it difficult to hold all the reports of appearances to be legendary.’

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