Why the Bible is subtler than Homer or Plato. I taught ancient political theory for 38 years. More than any single thing I learned, what remains is the insight (hardly mine alone) that Western civilization is the conjunction of Athens and Jerusalem. The way we think even today is a combination of the rationality of the Greeks with the transcendent vision of The Bible.
Now this isn’t quite right, for Plato certainly had a transcendent vision of what he called the forms (eidos). The forms exist in a world beyond time and space; they represent standards of perfection in almost everything and every virtue. Plato has been called a pagan saint, and it’s easy to see why. It was not difficult to Christianize Plato.
On the other hand, there are fundamental differences between the Platonic and Judaeo-Christian worlds. The most important difference is their table of the virtues. For Plato, and the ancient Greeks in general, wisdom, courage, self-discipline, and justice are the highest virtues. Lacking are the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity (caritas). Charity is the unselfish love of others, especially those in need. Plato wrote for fellow aristocrats. The Judeao-Christian tradition speaks for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. Today the stranger is likely to be an immigrant, refugee, or displaced person.
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A Christmas message, or does it matter if the Bible is myth? Ask Rudolf Bultmann.
We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament.
Who wrote this about the wonder world of the New Testament? One of the many aggressive atheists who contend with religion these days? No, one of the most distinguished theologians of the twentieth-century, Rudolf Bultmann (1984, p 4). The mythological world of the New Testament was the everyday world of men and women over two thousand years ago. Demons were everywhere, and heaven and hell were real places. Many Christians no longer believe in this magical world. The result is to question the relevance of the gospel. Needed, says Bultmann (1984), is a demythologizing interpretation that retains the truth of the kerygma.
What sense does it make to confess today ‘he descended into hell’ or ‘he ascended into heaven,’ if the confessor no longer shares the underlying mythical world picture of a three-story world? (p 4)
Kerygma (κῆρυγμα) means preaching, and it refers to the message of the gospels. Whatever that is, it’s not the Apostle’s Creed or Nicene Creed; both refer to the three-story world. For Bultmann (1984, p 12), the kerygma refers to God’s decisive act in Christ, above all his death and resurrection. The question of course is why isn’t this just as mythical as a three-story world filled with angels and demons?
Continue reading A Christmas message, or does it matter if the Bible is myth?