A triperspectival analysis of Rudolf Bultmann’s existential interpretation of John 20

In one of Rudolf Bultmann’s programmatic works, Theology of the New Testament (Volume II, Part III), he expounds what he assumed as the theology of the Fourth Gospel (FG) and Johannine Epistles. Central to his work is the “coming-and-going” of Jesus whose ultimate task is to proclaim himself as the “revealer” sent by God. Bultmann’s thesis is that Jesus’ words and work are assertions about himself as the “revealer.” As the “revealer,” Jesus’ primary mission is to confront men in their own existential condition for an existential decision to believe in God (or to remain in the world.) This low view of the person and work of Christ has led Bultmann to consider the resurrection, which is the cornerstone of the Christian faith, as mythical. Bultmann understood the resurrection narrative in John 20 as nothing else than the rise of faith in the kerygma.
This paper articulates and analyzes Rudolf Bultmann’s program of demythologizing and its use in the interpretation of the resurrection account of the FG (John 20). Here, I will argue that Bultmann’s existential approach to John 20 is problematic because it distorts the “stable” meaning of the text. Demythologization diverts one’s attention from the primary intention of the biblical text and it draws the readers to the controversies that Bultmann asserts about the passage and not to the life-giving message of the FG. Several Johannine scholars have addressed glaring issues related to Bultmann’s hermeneutical approach and its continued influence in the interpretation of the FG. However, scholars have yet to adequately highlight not just the complications, but also the plausibility of Bultmann’s interpretive method from an existential perspective. One of the ways to bring these “problems and plausibility” to the fore is by using John Frame’s and Vern Poythress’s “triperspectivalism.” Triperspectivalism is used here for the internal critique of Bultmann’s methodology because of the formal similarity of his existential analysis with Frame’s and Poythress’s. The ensuing discussion though of the “normative” and “situational” elements of triperspectival approach will reveal the weaknesses of Bultmann’s interpretation of John 20.
The paper begins with a concise presentation of Bultmann’s contextual thought and hermeneutical program. This lays down the foundation and the rationale for Bultmann’s existential approach to the FG. Also in this paper, I will expound the characteristics of Bultmann’s demythologizing hermeneutic and its application on John 20. The paper will end with an assessment of Bultmann’s existential interpretation of John 20, highlighting both its subjective and reductive understanding of Christ’s resurrection.

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