04 August 2008

Bultmann and the New Perspective

It is against the work of Rudolf Bultmann and his theological offspring that New Perspective advocates have directed their most virulent critiques. Some of the main emphases of those associated with the New Perspective—the ample witness to divine grace evident in Second Temple Judaism, the critical role of history in understanding Paul, Jewish rather than Greek thought as that in which Paul is most deeply saturated in his early years and conversion, the importance of corporate categories in understanding Paul, and above all the gospel not as the antidote to the innate human tendency to proudly boast of one’s moral achievement but rather as the good news that God’s mercy extends freely to all, irrespective of ethnicity—find their exact opposites in Bultmann. For him, second temple Judaism is conspicuously infected with self-earned righteousness; existentialist rather than historical categories most ably clarify Paul’s thought; Hellenistic mystery religions explain large swaths of Pauline terminology and concepts more satisfactorily than Jewish thought; the individual and decision (Entscheidung) is preeminent; and the gospel is not mainly a horizontal barrier-destroyer but a vertical pride-destroyer.

For all the anti-supernatual silliness in Bultmann, I am finding that the more I study the New Perspective the more I appreciate him. I'll take the following statement by Bultmann, for example, which NP advocates vehemently deny, over NP soteriology any day.

The basic ideas in [Paul's] polemic against Judaism and Gnosticism are these: the cross is a ‘stumbling block’ and ‘folly’ because in it judgment is pronounced against all human boasting, whether boasting based on the ‘works of the law’ or on human ‘wisdom.’ Only in the cross could God’s grace be revealed, because the original sin of both Jews and heathen is that they do not glorify God but set up their own ‘boast.’ The problem, says Bultmann, is 'human pride.'

--Faith and Understanding (ed. R. W. Funk; trans. L. P. Smith; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 279.

See also this statement.

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