Saturday, November 01, 2008

Once again: Bultmann’s incarnation problem

Bultmann wrote: 'The only way of presenting revelation is as the annihilation of everything human, the refusal of all human questions, the rejection of all human answers – in short, as the putting of man into question' (cited in John Ashton's brilliant work: Understanding the Fourth Gospel, p.58)

Ashton comments:

'There is no getting round the Incarnation, and Bultmann set his face resolutely against any attempt to water it down: 'The Revealer appears not as man-in-general, i.e. not simply as a bearer of human nature, but as a definite human being in history: Jesus of Nazareth. His humanity is genuine humanity: "the word became flesh".' But for all his vaunted anti-docetism, Bultmann presents a Christ in whom all salient individual characteristics have been flattened out: the splendid 'I am' sayings in which so much of his revelation is contained have but a single message: 'All that I say is I.' The incarnate Christ is no more than a voice, his particular and contingent human qualities all drawn off, volatilized, until there is nothing left but a smear on a slide--the ultimate essence of a Word' (Understanding the Fourth Gospel, p.65, italics mine)

Ashton's book, by the way, is one of those special volumes that is simultaneously academically heavyweight at the same time as being a delight to read, difficult to put down.

But less you think Ashton's criticisms imply disrespect for Bultmann (or mine in citing them), he still speaks of him as 'unmatched in learning, breadth, and understanding [... towering] like a colossus' (45).


At 11/01/2008 5:42 PM, Anonymous Jim Gordon said...

I agree about Ashton's book being an example of readable erudition and accessible expertise. It's also an exemplar of a monograph which enages with a giant like Bultmann and is respectfully critical and openly appreciative. About ten years ago I bought Ashton in hardback as a gift from obviously generous friends! Along with Robinson's Priority of John, Barrett's John and and Brown's Anchor Commentary,these have been pillars in my Johannine peregrinations. I know there's a raft of more up to date stuff, but these volumes have a richness of judgement, and an independence of thought worthy of the Evangelist.

At 11/02/2008 4:14 AM, Anonymous Grandmère Mimi said...

Chris, I enjoy reading your posts and comments, although I'm pretty thoroughly intimidated from leaving comments, because I don't know enough. But I read in hopes of learning.

I was astonished to see my blog listed in your theology blogroll, because a theologian I am not.

I remember one speaker I heard many years ago showing us a New Testament according to Bultmann, with many parts cut out, literally cut out with a scissors. All the miracle stories were gone, and I believe that it was the Gospel of John that had almost nothing left to it but the borders of the pages. I think he did not approve of Bultmann.

At 11/02/2008 11:23 AM, Anonymous steph said...

Mimi - nobody knows 'enough'. Maybe you don't think you are a theologian but then neither are half the others at least on that list. You are astute, wise, compassionate and witty.

Did that speaker many years ago have red eyes? I think he must have. Bultmann certainly didn't and Chris Tilling is totally depraved for the distortion of his image. :-)

At 11/02/2008 2:30 PM, Anonymous Grandmère Mimi said...

Steph, thanks. I'm trying to think of the man's name, but I can't. No, he did not have red eyes, but he was a transplant from England. It could have been Revelation that was so very mutilated, or perhaps both.

At 11/02/2008 9:30 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Jim, I must say, your comment was beautifully put! I am rathe jealous I didn't find your words for my post, actually!

Grandmere mimi, Thanks for your comment!

"it was the Gospel of John that had almost nothing left to it but the borders of the pages."

Nice anecdote, and I second Steph's comment about you (though she knows "enough"!).

Bultmann did chop parts of John around, attaching verses in our canonical copy to later or earlier chapters to make the argument run smoother. He did this to get a sense for the shape of the sources that mde the Gospel up. But John's Gospel was Bultmann's favourite. He thought exemplified exactly what he attempted in his own work: dymthologisation of myths in the service of the revelation of the Word, bringing existential encounter. Most think Bultmann was wrong about this, however!

"Chris Tilling is totally depraved for the distortion of his image"
I deny everything, the red eyes must have been caused by camrera flash .... or perhaps somehting more sinister!

Thanks for the link, John, that is one seriously sad but at least honest sight!


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