Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Taking a Cue from Barrett on Bultmann

For some reason it seems popular in certain circles to bash Rudolf Bultmann, perhaps the most misunderstood figure in the history of New Testament scholarship. It seems that there is a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to Bultmann, thus ignoring his monumental contributions. 

So, it was quite the breath of fresh air to see comments made by C.K. Barrett in the preface of his first edition (1955) classic The Gospel According to St. John (SPCK) regarding Bultmann's monumental  The Gospel of John: A Commentary.

He writes:

Dr. Rudolf Bultmann's commentary is beyond question one of the greatest achievements of biblical scholarship in the present generation. Any one who compares my book with his will see that I have ventured to disagree with him on a number of important issues, but I have never done so without hesitation and doubt. The value of his commentary is almost completely independent of the validity of his literary hypotheses (vii; italics mine).

 These comments remind of the one's recently made by J. Ramsey Michaels in his commentary on John (NICNT):

 To my surprise I found Rudolf Bultmann’s commentary the most useful of all, a work widely admired for all the wrong reasons. Bultmann’s theories of source, redaction, and displacement has  not  survived and should not, yet his eye for detail is unsurpassed  and his close reading of the text as it stands — even when he  discards it — perceptive and  illuminating. It is only a slight oversimplification to say that Bultmann interprets the Gospel correctly (more or less), finds it unacceptable, and then re-writes it. His greatness lies in the first of those three things, not the second or  the third (Preface; xi.).
So if these two great commentators, Barrett and Michaels, find Bultmann's work invaluable, despite the inherent difficulties with his source theories, etc., shouldn't we take a cue and read Bultmann with admiration and appreciation as they have?

1 comment:

Jim said...

the problem is that people, especially fundamentalists, read ABOUT bultmann instead of reading bultmann himself. no one who has actually read bultmann ever finds him the devil the fundamentalists pretend he is.