(1884–1976)

German NT scholar. Professor at Marburg University and generally regarded as the foremost NT scholar of the 20th cent. His commentary on the gospel of John has been fundamental for all subsequent study of it. He was a leading exponent of Form Criticism and proposed a minimizing view of the value of the synoptic gospels as historical records. Indeed as a Lutheran theologian Bultmann maintained that Christian belief should not be dependant on, nor needed to be confirmed by historical research, which would be an offence against the principle of justification by faith. He held that John's gospel had been compiled from several sources, and was influenced by Gnosticism. Bultmann associated the NT with Hellenistic culture and religions (he wrote his major works before the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls) and argued that just as this environment became a vehicle for the gospel in the 1st cent., so contemporary thought could be used by theologians in the 20th cent. For us the supernatural elements in the gospels are no longer credible as described. But as a theologian Bultmann maintained that instead of being discarded they could be acceptably reinterpreted by preachers in the philosophical terms of Martin Heidegger (1889–1976). The speculative mythological language of the NT could be re-expressed so that Christ reveals to us a new and authentic mode of existence. Bultmann's programme of demythologization became the main issue debated in NT studies from about 1945 to 1965. It was repudiated by Catholics and others who argued that myth and poetry continue to be a way of speaking, by analogy, of God, and that Bultmann's version of the Christian faith was so impoverished as to falsify it.