Saturday, February 11, 2012

More demythologising please!

Here’s a proposition for you to ponder: Demythologising is an activity of godly wisdom. Further, I think it is one which most Christians do without even realising it. Really? Well, think about the Apostle’s Creed, and the “ascent” and “descent” language. So, "He descended into hell". What kind of cosmology does this reflect, do you think? I'd be interested to know if anyone thinks they don't demythologise this.


At 2/11/2012 6:37 PM, Blogger Terry Wright said...

'He descended into hell' is quite obviously a reference to Jesus boarding a Northern Line train during a Monday morning rush hour.

At 2/12/2012 9:27 AM, Blogger Emerson Fast said...

To a certain extent, maybe. It seems to me that Luke wasn't speaking mythologically when he related Jesus being taken up before the disciples (Ac.1:9). Doesn't the subsequent verse demonstrate this when it relates the disciples looking into the sky as he was going? However, do most traditionalists figure that at a certain point this literal ascent transferred into something like what Eph. 4:10 speaks of? Probably. Maybe there are loony bins who believe Jesus kept travelling into space until He hit some co-extensive place called Heaven. I don't know of any. And I question whether the creed, or even Luke, ever meant such things in the first place. But if they didn't, what is there to demythologise? Is it an offense to modern consciousness that God incarnate quite possibly could manifest enough power to raise Himself beyond the clouds? How small minded are these moderns we speak of anyway?

At 2/12/2012 9:29 AM, Blogger Emerson Fast said...

I mean shit, we've been shooting men uppast the clouds for a few decades now. Which is more ridiculous?

At 2/12/2012 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might be on to something. It doesn't pay to be too knee-jerked about Bultmann without understamding his project from the inside out. Calvin himself engages in some demythologizing in the Institutes when he says Christ's dscent into hell refers to the suffering he endured for sin on the cross. John McNassor

At 2/14/2012 8:22 AM, Blogger James Goetz said...

I like the view of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and multitudes of others in the ancient church who believed according to 1 Peter that Christ descended to Hades/hell while preaching the gospel.

At 2/14/2012 3:56 PM, Blogger James Goetz said...

All in all, I hold to the notion that Christ descended to the lost dead and preached the gospel to them according to their given dispensation. However, I am unsure about what to do with the competing imageries of Hades and hell in the New Testament. For example, I doubt that there was an apostolic consensus for many of the specifics in Hades and hell. So this leaves me with a conundrum. I have no idea if anything about Christ's descent to hell needs demythologization.

At 2/18/2012 6:02 PM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Jefferson Bible to "demythologize" the New Testament. He stripped out miracles and as much supernatural stuff as he could without losing the plotline of the action. In the end, there was still too much in Jesus' own words -- the ones that couldn't be cut out because the action depended on them -- that talked about the supernatural. So Jefferson ended up judging Jesus as "too much of a supernaturalist".

He didn't seem to understand why people find Jesus more credible than himself when speaking about the nature of the universe. (And that's not a blind-spot limited to politicians, I might add.)

Take care & God bless

At 2/20/2012 11:59 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

These will helpful comments, guys, thanks. (and some amusing!)

James, the passage from first Peter that you mention is particularly interesting. I don't think it says that Jesus descends to hell the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Rather, it seems to assume that Christ does this by the spirit, in his resurrection life. What do you think?

At 2/21/2012 3:40 AM, Blogger James Goetz said...


Oh, no. Questions from a Greek scholar. : -)

Here are some of my thoughts on 1 Peter 3:18-22 in the RSV:

[18] For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; [19] in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, [20] who formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. [21] Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, [22] who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

The questions include:
1. Does "made alive in the spirit" mean (1) the "bodiless" spirit of Jesus during his physical death or (2) the post-resurrection life of Jesus?
2. Interpreting the chronology of "being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison" and "who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him."

I suppose that the Greek for "he went and preached to the spirits in prison" is specifically in the past tense and not an ongoing activity while the Greek for "is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him" is an ongoing activity. Is that correct? Also, ancient church tradition in both the east and west saw these verses as a reference to Christ descending to hell during his physical death. For example, Augustine's dissent never swayed Rome.

I see no compelling reason for saying that "being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" refers to the resurrected life of Jesus while the context of this quote refers to a past event.

I suppose that if the traditional interpretation required a literal interpretation of 1 Enoch, then that would be a compelling reason to consider rejecting the traditional interpretation. But we do not need a literal interpretation of 1 Enoch for the traditional interpretation.

Do you still think that those verses refer to his resurrected life? If yes, then why?


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