Rudolph Bultmann focuses on Paul and his theology in the second half of volume 1 in his Theology of the New Testament. He summarizes his understanding of Paul in this manner: “Standing within the frame of Hellenistic Christianity he raised the theological motifs that were at work in the proclamation of the Hellenistic Church to the clarity of theological thinking; he called to attention the problems latent in the Hellenistic proclamation and brought them to a decision; and thus—so far as our sources permit an opinion on the matter—became the founder of Christian theology” (187). In this way, Bultmann sees a distinct separation between Jesus the eschatological prophet and Paul the Hellenizing theologian.
In his analysis of Paul Bultmann’s lense is solely anthropological. He has two main sections in his summary Man Before Faith and Man Under Faith.
Man Before Faith
In this section Bultmann first gives the anthropology of all people. Much of his methodology in this section is based on extended word studies, and reaches fairly traditional conclusions. Speaking of the internal unity of the person, each one does not just have a soma (body) but is a soma. However, he goes on to point out that the psyche, pneuma, nous, and heart reflect the inner self where the seat of choice, intention, and desire acts. He goes on to discuss the moral failings of humanity and how all live under the power and sphere of sin and the flesh. The result is that people experience both the juristic punishment of death, but death is also an organic “fruit” or outcome of sin. That is, the problem is both guilt and mortality, in addition to the inability of the Law to deal with this.
Man Under Faith
For those under faith Bultmann (following in his methodology of doing word studies) begins by discussing “righteousness” as the Jewish eschatological pronouncement of right relationship at the judgment. However, with the advent of Christ, righteousness is now a present reality experienced by believers, and it is in Romans 5-8 that Paul shows the Jews how an eschatological righteousness can be seen as present.
Bultmann then moves on to the concept of grace and the salvation-occurrence of Christ. Just as God’s wrath is active and eschatological, so his grace must also be and it is found in the death-and-resurrection of Christ and our experience of it. He lays out metaphors/explanations of this salvation-event in Paul’s understanding:
- Propitiatory sacrifice – juristic (but meaning of resurrection is not highlighted pg. 300)
- Vicarious sacrifice – instead of us, in place of us – very similar to propitiatory
- Redemption – redeemed, ransomed – freedom from punishment/guilt of sin but also powers of the Age
- Participation into death of divinity through sacraments – like Mystery Religions
- Participation into incarnation-death-resurrection/exaltation – like Gnostics
It is this last category that Bultmann focuses after this point. Since the incarnation and resurrection didn’t historically happen, believers are joining in the cosmic relationship with the cosmic Gnostic Redeemer by faith, which is a self-surrender, an utter reversal of one’s previous self-understanding. This process is appropriated to the individual through the proclamation of the word. Bultmann explains: “The union of believers in one soma with Christ now has its basis not in their sharing the same supernatural substance, but in the fact that the in the word of proclamation of Christ’s death-and-resurrection becomes a possibility of existence in regard to which a decision must be made, in the fact that faith seizes this possibility and appropriates it as the power that determines the existence of the man of faith” (302). By entering into this cosmic union, the eschatological event is replayed in individual lives–it it the eschatological Now found in the proclamation of the word and sacraments.
In regards to being ‘in Christ’ Bultmann goes on to explain: “Christian experience can be called existence ‘in Christ’: ‘for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal. 3.28). To belong to the Christian Church is to be ‘in Christ’ or ‘in the Lord’…. ‘In Christ,’ far from being a formula for mystic union, is primarily an ecclesiological formula” (311). [In my opinion, Bultmann is led to this point because there is no historical reality in Jesus after his death. It is just in the proclamation of the word that a reality of this cosmic-mythical event is realized. So how could he endorse a real union between humanity and Christ other than in name alone?] Being ‘in Christ’ for Bultmann is not just ecclesiological but also eschatological and a life determined by Christ in one’s daily walk. The result of this cosmic union is a freedom from the flesh, the Law, and death and a freedom to walk in the spirit. [The spirit doesn’t seem to be the third person of the Trinity but just a “miraculous power” and “the norm of life”.]
Bultmann builds his theology of Paul based on the idea that the Hellenistic church has incorporated Gnostic ideas and terminology into their theology. However, he also states that Gnosticism was also seen as a competitor of the “most serious and dangerous sort” (165). Why then would they draw so much from something that they so disagreed with? Also, in many instances Bultmann clearly distinguishes the Christian meaning from that of Gnosticism. It seems that since Bultmann doesn’t see the incarnation-death-resurrection event as historical, he must find a way to allow Paul to use this as the basis for his theology. And for that purpose the cosmic Gnostic redeemer works well.
I am a little confused on what Bultmann thinks is the primary salvation metaphor. He begins his discussion of the Man Under Faith with righteousness of the propitiatory type, much in the fashion of Romans. But later, after he lays out the range of metaphors in Paul, Bultmann seems to pick up the participation in the Gnostic death-resurrection metaphor. His system of thought seems to fall more with the latter, but he gave the priority to righteousness in his discussion (by place). I suppose this his part of my question for my thesis as well. How do justification and participation fit together, and is there a priority?
Bultmann follows (what seems to me) a Barthian emphasis on meeting Christ in the preached word. However, this doesn’t seem to be that primary in Paul, but from Bulmann’s need to translate this mythical doctrine. Again since there is no actual historical incarnation or resurrection, the historical becomes proclamation of the cosmic event. This is turn produces an overemphasis on anthropology.
Accordingly, Bultmann makes use of the term/concept of eschatology, but to him it seems almost fully realized and personal versus more of a tension of already/not yet and corporate. He redefines eschatological to be cosmic event in present time—the “eschatological Now”. With each proclamation/faith occurrence in an individual, the eschatological event occurs again. He concedes a future completion/confirmation so it is a matter of emphasis. But possibly I am assuming too much as “not yet”, and that Paul really did think more was realized now than I giving him credit for.