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The MOST Theological Collection: The Consciousness of Christ

"Appendix: Form Criticism - 1. Presuppositions"


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Our search for the answer to the question of the consciousness of Jesus presupposes the credibility of the Gospels. Their reliability is presented in a positive way, and pertinent objections are answered, in the introduction. However, the greatest challenge to Gospel truth today arises from questionable application of principles proper to form criticism. It is the misuse of form criticism that we must examine-its presuppositions or prejudices along with its immediate bases and its actual techniques.

The credit for the invention of form criticism goes to Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932) who dealt chiefly with the Old Testament. The most important pioneer in applying form criticism to the Gospels was Rudolph Bultmann. Gunkel, however, did not share in most of Bultmann's prejudices which we are about to examine.

First, Bultmann insists that nothing is certain: "Conclusive knowledge is impossible in any science or philosophy."1 Yet, in spite of such an assertion, Bultmann and his followers are quite certain of a number of things.

They are certain that there are and can be no miracles: "It is impossible to use electric light and wireless...and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles."2 And again, "The miracles of the New Testament have ceased to be miraculous...if we are still left with certain physiological and psychological phenomena which we can only assign to mysterious and enigmatic causes, we are still assigning them to causes, and thus far are trying to make them scientifically intelligible."3 In other words: natural science has given a wholly natural explanation for some things that might seem marvelous. There are, he admits, some seeming miracles which science admits it cannot presently explain. But, adds Bultmann, he is confident science will some day be able to explain those too.

Our first comment is that this is not science, it is gullibility. Real scientists are not so sanguine and cocksure about such future prospects. Let us mention just a few out of hundreds of scientifically established miracles.

In November 1970, ecclesiastical authorities gave permission for a complete scientific check to be made on a remarkable phenomenon of twelve centuries standing. Around the year 700 A.D., in the church of St. Legonziano in Lanciano, Italy, a priest was celebrating Mass. He was beset with doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus in the host and the chalice. Suddenly most of the host changed to flesh (the center kept the appearance of bread), while the liquid in the chalice changed into five clots of blood. This treasure was guarded successively by the Basilian monks, the Benedictines, and finally by the Conventual Franciscans. In 1713 the Host-Flesh was put into a silver monstrance, and the blood into a crystal cup at the base of the monstrance. These can still be seen in Lanciano.

Four official investigations were made over the centuries by order of Church authorities. The check made in 1970 was most exacting from the viewpoint of science. A team of research scientists was assembled from several universities. A full battery of scientific tests was made. The commission concluded that the flesh was real human flesh-heart muscle. The blood and the flesh, as shown by blood typing, came from the same individual. The proteins in the blood were in normal ratio, as they are in fresh blood; and the other features of the blood chemistry were all normal. Yet, no trace of any preservative or embalming agent was found. Normally, flesh and blood should have started to decompose in a day or two. Yet after so many centuries, there is no decay.4

Bultmann thinks all miracles can be explained by natural laws. Why did he not try to suggest what kind of natural laws can change bread and wine into human flesh and blood, and keep it intact for twelve centuries with no preservative? Again, we fear he is not so much scientific as gullible.

Further, in Guadalupe, on the edge of Mexico City, one may see a wondrous, continuing miracle. On Dec. 9, 1531,5 an Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. His Bishop, properly, was unconvinced, and demanded proof. On Dec. 12 she appeared again, and Juan, as ordered, asked for a sign. She told him to pick some flowers growing nearby (out of season) and put them into his tilma, a native cloak. He did, picked up the corners of the cloak, and took it all to the Bishop. When Juan opened up the tilma, the flowers fell out. But far more remarkable: on the tilma was a large, full color image of the apparition Juan had seen.

That image has been checked by many scientific tests. It is impossible to determine the process used in putting the colors on the cloak. Clearly, it is not photography, not painting, not any method known to science. Further, a tilma of that sort of material would normally go to pieces in about 25 years. Yet now after four centuries it remains unchanged. Still more; in 1929, while Alfonso Marcue Gonzalez was studying the image, he thought he saw the picture of a man inside the eyes of the image. A commission was appointed in 1951. Dr. Javier Toroello Bueno, an eye specialist, found there was indeed such an image, upside down, in the eyes, which seemed to have depth. In 1956 still another specialist, Dr. Rafael Torija Lavoignet confirmed the discovery.

Now, would Bultmann really expect us to believe there is some natural process that put this image on the tilma, a process known to an ignorant Indian four centuries ago, which our best scientists cannot now decipher? Would he expect us to think the tilma could escape decay, with no preservative, so long after its normal lifespan? Would he ask us to believe some natural process put a picture of Juan Diego (the pictures in the eyes matches an ancient likeness of him) inside the eyes centuries ago?

We could go on and fill an entire volume with meticulously checked cases of cures, such as those at Lourdes.6 The permanent medical bureau at Lourdes will not even consider a case that conceivably could rest on suggestion. Further, each claim of a cure must be supported by careful medical statements of the condition before the cure and a check made by many doctors after it. Any doctor, atheists included, is welcome at that bureau and may examine cases to his heart's content. One such doctor, Alexis Carrel,7 came to scoff, stayed to become a Catholic. He lacked the unsupported cocksureness of a Bultmann-who thinks nothing is certain except that science will explain what it admits it cannot explain.

To compound the confusion, Bultmann says he will accept as miraculous things that science can explain: "A miracle-i.e., an act of God-is not visible or every other eye than the eye of faith the action of God is hidden."8 In other words, on an event science can explain, such as a falling leaf, Bultmann would comment "there is certainly no room for an act of God."9 Nevertheless, for him it could conceal a miracle!

Normal persons, however, think it irrational to believe God has intervened when there is no reason to think He has done so. It is superstitious to attribute things to God without proper evidence. It is much like thinking black cats bring bad luck. To hold that is superstition, because, although God could have made things turn out in such a way that bad luck would follow black cats, yet we lack any evidence that He did. In fact, there is good reason to believe He did not. So, when Bultmann wants us to see the hand of God where there is no reason to do so, and where there is reason to exclude it, we must, regretfully, charge him with undiluted superstition.

Yet, (perhaps by a mechanism psychologists call projection) Bultmann avers: "The conception of miracles as ascertainable processess...makes belief in miracles (or rather superstition) susceptible to the justifiable criticisms of science."10 In other words, where science cannot explain a marvel and admits it, it would be superstitious to attribute the inexplicable to the intervention of God!

Nevertheless, along with the inherent illogic, there exists a certain inner consistency in Bultmann's wish to consider phenomena miracles when there is no reason to support the belief. For he insists: "The man who wishes to believe in God as his God must realize that he has nothing in his hand on which to base his faith. He is suspended in midair and cannot demand a proof of the Word which addresses him."11 So, according to Bultmann, it is wrong-elsewhere he says it is illegitimate and sinful-to seek a rational basis for faith.12 This, as noted, is consistent with his insistence that there are no miracles that can be recognized as such by rational means, and his desire to accept as miraculous things that science can explain. In other words: there must be no rational basis either for faith or for accepting what Bultmann calls miracles (actually, superstitions).

Bultmann next proudly announces that what St. Paul and Luther did in abolishing good works as a means of salvation,13 he has matched in abolishing any rational basis for faith.14 He means his work is parallel: both he and St. Paul have destroyed rational security.

Once he has managed to make faith devoid of rationality, Bultmann is free to show how the Gospels are full of myths. He does not mean mere fairy tales; he means outmoded, ancient ways of expressing things, way that modern sophisticated man cannot and should not accept. Chief among these myths are: original sin, with resultant death; the incarnation of a divine person; the resurrection of Christ; the return of Jesus at the end of time; judgment, followed by an eternal heaven or hell.15

How does Bultmann know that these doctrines are myths? Very simple; they do not fit with the modern world view: "De-mythologizing takes the modern world-view as a criterion."16 Modern man is very smart; having seen an electric light bulb and the wireless, he cannot believe in spirits and miracles.17 Bultmann admits that this "enlightened" modern world view is shifting: " be sure, all the results of science are relative and no world-view of yesterday or today or tomorrow is definitive."18 Yet, he thinks it is better to hold to such an admittedly unstable, unproved hypothesis than to accept the truth of the Gospel miracles and teachings on the spiritual world.

But we still need to discover the kernel of truth, as it were, that lies hidden in the myths. How find it? Very simple, says Bultmann: denude the myth and make the Gospels mean the same as that brand of Existentialism concocted by the modern German Martin Heidegger.19

When we do that, we will have to avoid general truths, for existentialism contradicts itself whenever it assimilates any general truth. For example: "The affirmation that God is creator cannot be a theoretical a general sense, the affirmation can only be a personal confession that I understand myself to be a creature which owes its existence to God."20 So, we cannot say that God is the creator of all; each one is limited to saying: God is my creator.

What does original sin mean when translated into existentialism? There are two kinds of being, they say: inauthentic being (such as most things have) and authentic being-the kind that a man can have if he makes "the resolve to be a human being, a person who accepts responsibility for his own being."21 Norman Perrin clarifies that when he says a man has authentic being if he makes a decision in which he "chooses resolutely to accept the certainty of death and the nothingness of human existence.... he now has no necessity to delude himself about his being-in-the-world.... He comes to know that it is bounded by death. "22 For there is no resurrection, no return of Christ, no judgment at the end, eternal life is what he has here and now. This means we must face a dismal situation. But Perrin adds: "In the resolve to accept this he finds the power to go through with it."23 (Imagine St. Ignatius of Antioch standing before the lions and thinking that way!). He adds: "Bultmann calls this 'a resolution of despair.'"

So, to make it abundantly clear, the "fall" (original sin) is the lack of such an existential resolve. Everybody must make this resolution because "apart from...the resolve to be a human being...not a single word of Scripture is intelligible as word with an existential relevance."24 The evangelists, accordingly, are really Heidegger in disguise.

Faith itself is merely this understanding of existence: "It is my definition of faith as an understanding of existence which has evoked the most opposition."25 So, continues Bultmann, "there is nothing mysterious or supernatural about the Christian life," since philosophy can discover what it is, as Heidegger has done.26 And the supernatural does not exist.

What of the redemption? It gives us no inner power or strength; for among the major myths must be listed "the conception of the intervention of supernatural powers in the inner life of the soul. "27 Modern man "finds what the New Testament has to say about the 'Spirit'...and the sacraments utterly strange and incomprehensible."28

What then does the redemption accomplish? It functions as an example: Jesus made the decision to accept the "nothingness of human existence" and the fact that our existence is "bounded by death." He thought He would return-but in vain. He will not, no more than we will. Any notion of a resurrection is "utterly inconceivable."29 So let us imitate His decision to die, in vain.

Some scholars have asked: If the redemption gives us nothing, why do we need it? Schubert Ogden, a more thorough-going existentialist than Bultmann, is quite logical in saying that the redemption really accomplished nothing more than a nearby carpenter would by driving a nail into a board.30 The answer is clear: Bultmann has emptied the redemption of significance.

After wading through this morass of subjectivity, we can understand how right Bultmann is in confessing at one point: "Naturally enough, our judgment will not be made in terms of objective criteria, but will depend on taste and discrimination."31 But a scholar should be free of prejudices or unproved assumptions. It is evident: the Bultmannian form critics have not really demonstrated anything when they propound without proof, or rather, contrary to proof, that there are no miracles-only phenomena more correctly called superstition; when they reject in advance as illegitimate and sinful any rational foundation for faith; when they insist on forcing the first century Semitic Gospels to mean the same as 20th century German existentialism; when they top it all off by conceding explicitly and openly that they are operating "not in terms of objective criteria" but depending instead on "taste and discrimination."

Some of the pupils of Bultmann have broken company with him on certain points. Of special importance among them are Ernst Fuchs and Gerhard Ebeling, for their development of the "New Hermeneutic". By this they mean a new theory or process of interpreting the Bible.32 In general they agree with Bultmann, whose disciples they are. The chief difference is that while Bultmann's theory of demythologizing depends heavily on Heidegger's work, Being and Time from 1927, Fuchs and Ebeling are influenced by Heidegger's later ideas on language, which appeared in a series of treatises culminating in Toward Language, in 1959.

Most persons, including scholars, think of language as a set of signs used to communicate thought and ideas. The New Hermeneutic explicitly rejects this.33 Fuchs insists it is not true that man has given birth to language: "Rather, man is born out of language. "34 Robinson, a follower of Fuchs and Ebeling, explains: "Man is where the voice of being is heard and given room; man is the loudspeaker for the silent tolling of being. When he fulfills this role, he is truly man."35 Heidegger himself says that "Man is actually this relation of co- 'respond' -ence [to the voice of being] and only this."36 Still further, according to Fuchs, "...both being and man are directed to language. And to this extent we are related to God."37 Perhaps the most sweeping claim is this: "Reality is hence not at all simply what is.... Rather the real is only that which can become present as language."38

Bultmann, as we saw, had spoken of inauthentic and authentic existence. Fuchs, following the later Heidegger, proposes instead, inauthentic versus authentic language.39 Everyday language is largely inauthentic, and a means of "usurped existence."40 It hides rather than reveals meaning (examples sometimes given are from the language of political promises and advertising). In contrast, authentic language is provocative, i.e., it tends to provoke in the hearer the same event that had given rise to it. This calls for decision by man; it is a saving word.41 It mediates eschatological self-understanding.42 It frees man from inauthentic language and the fetters of his past and his environment so as to make him stand out, ex-sist, open to the possibilities of the future. Thus man is the creature of language inasmuch as he receives authentic self through the living word proclaimed in a sermon.43

This saving event of language is called "language event" (Sprachereignis or Wortgeschehen). Fuchs illustrates language event by saying one does not name a person brother just because of a biological relation. Rather, the person becomes a brother by my naming him brother.44

Catholicism insists that Scripture is to be interpreted by the Church. Fuchs and Ebeling, making their position line up with both Heidegger's odd thought and classic Lutheranism, insist that Scripture is its own interpreter.45 Scripture has this in common with authentic language in general: it is not so much that we interpret language. Rather, the text interprets us.46 So: "Indeed it is not man at all who is ex-pressing himself in language. Rather it is language itself that speaks."47 Even the author of the text being read is put into a low second place: "The basic thing about a text is not what the author intended to express.... Rather, basic is what wills fundamentally to show itself."48

What then does the interpreter have to do? Basically, just to remove obstacles to understanding, so that the word can speak of itself.49 Therefore, the New Hermeneutic does not stress getting back to the mentality, culture, and conditions of the time of writing. For, "The short cut of putting myself in the skin of Moses or Paul is popular but no good, for my name is neither Moses nor Paul."50

In spite of claiming that the text speaks for itself, Fuchs will still talk of a "hermeneutical principle" which "is that with which the text is confronted to call forth from it what it has to say."51 That principle is described as our need, which is expressed especially in Rom 7:24, "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Ebeling, however, says that "The hermeneutical principle is man as conscience."52 He then apologizes for having to make that clear, since a principle is something that should be obvious of itself.

Let us consider two examples of the actual application of the New Hermeneutic. Robinson summarizes the work of Fuchs on Jn 1:1, "In the beginning was the word."53 Fuchs starts by recalling the translation of Faust: "In the beginning was the deed." He then corrects it on the basis of Jn 13:34 ("A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.") So now we translate: "In the beginning was love." Then, in view of 1 Jn 4:16 ("God is love"), instead of using love for word, we now use love for God, thus "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with love, and the word was love." Finally, Fuchs reaches this: "In the beginning was the Yes, and the Yes was love, and love was the Yes." Ebeling, speaking of Jn 1:14, comments: "When Jn 1:14 says that the word became flesh, that surely means...that here word became event in a sense so complete that being and being man became one."54

What should we think of the New Hermeneutic? Has it really provided us with a sound, new way to understand Scripture, and has it proved its way is correct? Far from it. Instead of trying to understand the mentality and culture of the ancient authors, it says that is "no good" because "my name is neither Moses nor Paul." And it forces Scripture to mean the same in general as Heidegger and Luther. That is hardly objectivity-it is fleeing at full speed away from it. For the same reason it is obvious that the New Hermeneutic has proved nothing against the reliability of Scripture; instead, it has merely shown the unreliability of its own proponents.

Regarding the interpretation of Jn 1:1 by Fuchs may we point out: (1) using Jn 13:34, the new commandment of love, to interpret Jn 1:1 is quite out of place. Jn 1:1 is not speaking of commands to men, but of the Word within the divinity (the Word is said to be with God or in the presence of God). Only in later verses of chapter one does the author speak of the Word coming among men; (2) then Fuchs abandons his own proposal and uses love as a substitute for God, instead of for word. Now it is true that God is love-but there is no hint in Jn 1:1 that the author has that aspect of God in mind. On the contrary, a word comes more basically from a person's mind or understanding than from his will (in which he loves); (3) the substitution of Yes for word is still more strained.

As to Ebeling's comment on Jn 1:14-how has he established that being and being man become one? Or does he mean to equate being with God, and say God became man? Elsewhere he says that God is not "any separate special Reality."55 His interpretation is more like reading things into the text than reading out what is there already.

Without intending to make a habit of agreeing with R. Brown, I may say that he does provide a classic comment on the methodology of Fuchs and Ebeling: "Catholic biblical scholars who have had to learn to read Scripture without scholastic glasses are going to be somewhat dubious about substituting another pair of spectacles made in Germany."56


1 KM 195.
2 KM5.
3 Ibid.
4 A full account of the scientific investigation, with full details and plates, can be found in: Bruno Sammaciccia, The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, Italy, tr. A. E. Burakowski. Publ. by F. J. Kuba, C.P Trumbull, Conn., 1976.
5 Cf. A Handbook on Guadalupe, Franciscan Marytown Press Kenosha, Wis., 1974; The Dark Virgin (a documentary anthology) ed. C. Demarest and C. Taylor., Cole Taylor, Inc., Freeport, Maine and N.Y., 1956; Simone Watson, O.S.B., Cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe, A Historical Study, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn., 1964 and Hildebrando Garya, O.S.B., Madonna of the Americas, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn., 1954.
6 Ruth Cranston, The Miracle of Lourdes, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1955; Dr. F. de Grandmaison de Bruno, Twenty Cures at Lourdes Medically Discussed, tr. H. Bevenotand & L. Izard, Herder, St Louis, 1912; "The Lourdes Cures", tr. N. C. Reeves, ed. Peter Flood O.S.B., in New Problems in Medical Ethics, Newman, Westminster, Md. 1953k, 171-259.
7 Alexis Carrel, Man the Unknown, Harper, New York, 1935, and idem, The Voyage to Lourdes, tr. V. Peterson, Harper & Bro. New York, 1950.
8 KM 197.
9 KM 199.
10 KM 199 (italics added).
11 KM 211 (italics added).
12 KM 19.
13 KM 210-11.
14 St. Paul insists over and over that we are not under the Law (e.g., Rom. 3:28; 6:14; Gal. 2:16). Yet he also says that if we do not keep the Law we will not inherit the kingdom (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Rom. 3:31; 2:13; 2:6). The key is in Rom 6:23, "The wages of sin is death, but the unearned gift (charisma) of God is eternal life." That is, on the positive side, our good works do not (and can not) earn entrance into the kingdom-that is a gift, unearned, an inheritance from our Father. Yet we can earn to forfeit that gift through the wages of sin.
15 KM 8, 39.
16 JCM 35.
17 KM 5.
18 JCM 37.
19 Bultmann follows the early views of Heidegger; the post-Bultmannians follow the later views of Heidegger. For a lucid analysis of Heidegger, see Francis J. Lescoe, Existentialism With or Without God, Alba House, N.Y. 1974, 173-263.
20 JCM 69 (italics added).
21 KM 194.
22 N. Perrin, The Promise of Bultmann in The Promise of Theology, ed. M. Marty, Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1969, 29 (italics added).
23 Ibid.
24 KM 194.
25 KM 202.
26 KM 27.
27 JCM 15.
28 KM 6.
29 KM 39.
30 Schubert Ogden, Christ Without Myth, Harper and Row, New York, 1961 136. Cf. 144.
31 HST 47.
32 A good general account, by a scholar who is favorable to the ideas of Fuchs and Ebeling, is found in: James M. Robinson, "Hermeneutic since Barth'. in The New Hermeneutic in New Frontiers in Theology II, ed. by James M. Robinson and John B. Cobb Jr., Harper & Row, New York 1964 (hereafter cited as HSB).
33 HSB 47-48.
34 Fuchs, Hermeneutik, 63, cited in HSB 50.
35 HSB 48.
36 M. Heidegger, Identitat und Differenz 22 (italics his). Cited in HSB 47. Heidegger was fascinated by the roots of words, apparently thinking great thinkers enshrined wonderful wisdom in words. A similar notion appears in Plato, Cratylus, 389, Phaedrus 244.
37 Fuchs, Zur Frage nach dem historischen Jesus, 427-29, cited in HSB 55.
38 Fuchs, Hermeneutik, 130, cited in HSB 55, n.157.
39 HSB 49.
40 Fuchs, Hermeneutik 63, cited in HSB 50.
41 HSB 57.
42 HSB 62.
43 HSB 57, 62.
44 HSB 57. Fuchs here misses a distinction, and so generates confusion: a man may be a brother either (1) biologically by birth, or (2) by attachment, leading to his being named brother. Both senses are true.
45 HSB 53, and G. Ebeling, "Word of God and Hermeneutic" in The New Hermeneutic, ed. James M. Robinson and John B. Cobb, Jr. in New Frontiers in Theology II, Harper and Row, New York, 1964, 79-80, 93 (cited hereafter as WGH).
46 Ebeling, Theologie und Verkundigung 14f, cited in HSB 68-69, 52.
47 HSB 46.
48 HSB 46. There is confusion over subject-object. The object of language, they hold, must become the subject—that puts the subject (man) in question: HSB 23-25. This reflects Heidegger's etymologically rooted notion that truth is a-letheia—a Greek word meaning "unhiddenness", or being revealing itself, as he thinks. Cf. Wm. Barrett, Irrational Man, Doubleday, Anchor Books, New York, 1962,
49 WGH 94 seems to enlarge that scope.
50 Manfred Mezger (close friend of Fuchs), "Anleitung zur Predigt" in Z TH K, LVI (1959) 381-87, cited in HSB 59.
51 HSB 53.
52 WGH 110 (italics in original).
53 HSB 60, and 61, note 178.
54 WGH 102.
55 WGH 100, 101.
56 R. Brown, "After Bultmann, What?—An Introduction to the Post-Bultmannians" in CBQ 26 (1964) 30.

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