A Change of Mind, Faith; Bible Critic May Have 'Repented' before Dying

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 3, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Change of Mind, Faith; Bible Critic May Have 'Repented' before Dying


Byline: John Snyder, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In his new book, "Jesus: The Only Way?" the Rev. John Snyder criticizes universalism and defends the Christian teaching that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone.

The American pastor of Crossroads International Church in Basel, Switzerland, Mr. Snyder's book is based on his research for his doctorate in theology at the University of Basel.

The following is excerpted from "The Repentance of Rudolf Bultmann," an appendix to the book, in which Mr. Snyder describes the funeral - 30 years ago on Aug. 4, 1976, in Marburg, Germany - of a leading liberal theologian:

What the name Charles Darwin is to the field of biological science, the name of Rudolf Bultmann is to the world of New Testament study. Virtually every student of theology worldwide is introduced to the writings of German scholar Rudolf K. Bultmann (1844-1976) and his students.

He is considered by many the grand master of New Testament skepticism. In Germany, he was hailed by many intellectuals as "the greatest event since Luther."

Bultmann is credited with launching the world-famous program of interpreting the "Jesus myths" for modern society by "demythologizing" the primary documents of the Christian faith. He stood like a colossus over academic biblical studies for much of the 20th century.

With variations, Bultmann's program was enthusiastically carried forward by his students, who imagined themselves to be forging ahead with ever-increasing clarity on the ways legends and myths about Jesus entered Christian tradition. His ideas form the underpinning of many who make pronouncements in the media asserting whether a particular story or saying of Jesus is authentic or not.

The movement of radical criticism has taken several different directions since his era, but his is the inspiration behind many of today's most vocal critics of the Bible. Building upon the literary principles of Bultmann, they assume that the vast majority of the recorded sayings and deeds of Jesus, although well-intentioned stories, are in the final analysis merely elaborate inventions of the early church.

So extreme were Bultmann's methods and treatment of biblical texts that he was criticized even by his old schoolmate, Karl Jaspers. But did this giant of doubt have a change of mind and repudiate his entire teaching career before he died in 1976?

Stories have been circulating in and around Germany to the effect that in his closing days, Bultmann "converted," turned entirely against his life's work and even sent a final message to some of his closest students apologizing for all that he had ever taught about the New Testament.

The reports first came to my attention in the spring of 2004 while living in Basel, Switzerland. A theology student and friend of mine, Dietrich Wichmann, heard the account of the change of mind from one of Bultmann's former students and teaching assistants (now an octogenarian), who was passing through Basel. We were immediately intrigued and began to pursue the matter.

The original information we received was apparently a somewhat corrupted version of an account that could be tracked back to a hospital in Tubingen.

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