Term adopted by Rudolf Bultmann to describe the means by which the essential truth of the gospel could be made acceptable to modern people. The world of the NT is alien to us; we cannot believe in the interventions of God or supernatural beings in the affairs of our lives, and we have long ago discarded the cosmic framework of heaven, earth, and hell which was assumed in the 1st cent., and for long after. Of necessity, the NT writers were bound to use a cultural framework that made sense in their generation: the question is whether the gospel is still intelligible when that world‐view is superseded.
Bultmann's work in the historical criticism of the gospels had led him to take a fairly sceptical view of what may be regarded with any confidence as authentic, but as a Christian apologist he sees this as a positive advantage; faith should not rest on provable facts. Faith is the decision to choose the new life in Christ; the choice confronts us when the preacher proclaims Christ crucified. This new life is described by Bultmann in terms of the philosophy of existentialism; the old life of fallenness and alienation is exchanged for the possibility of total integrity and authenticity.
‘Myth’ means the description in terms of this world of alleged supernatural events, such as the virgin birth and the resurrection. These stories are not history; they are the means by which facets of the meaning of the Cross can be disclosed.
The gospel may still be a ‘scandal’, causing offence to modern people, as it did in Corinth (1 Cor. 1: 23), but, according to Bultmann, his demythologized gospel at least puts the ‘scandal’ in the right place.
Critics of Bultmann maintain that he has been over‐zealous in rejecting almost the entire world‐view of the NT by relegating it to the mythical, and too enthusiastic in embracing the existentialist philosophy of his one‐time colleague Martin Heidegger.