Friday, September 07, 2018

Bultmann, "Exegesis without Presuppositions?"

One assignment for the second day of hermeneutics class was to read Rudolf Bultmann's classic article, "Is Exegesis without Presuppositions Possible?" It was first published in 1957 in Theologische Zeitschrift and then later in Existence and Faith in English in 1965.

1. Bultmann's answer, in the sense that he means "presuppositions," is no. No one is a blank slate. There is another sense of presupposition, meaning prejudging what the text means, is yes. As a good modernist, he rejects allegorical interpretation. But that is not what he is really writing about.

2. Prejudgments are often involved even when one intends to do exegesis. He mentions the assumption that Matthew and John were written by the disciples Matthew and John. He says the same for the assumption that Jesus thought he was the Messiah. "Every exegesis that is guided by dogmatic prejudices does not hear what the text says, but only lets the latter say what it wants to hear."

1. Such prejudgments are not however the interest of the article.

The historical method is an essential presupposition, from his perspective. There seem to be overtones of Ernst Troeltsch here. The exegete must presuppose the continuity of cause and effect. Bultmann might reminds you here of David Hume in presupposing that miracles are not allowed to be part of exegesis or what he calls "historical method." This may also hint at Troeltsch's principle of analogy. If we don't see miracles today, we should not assume there were miracles then.

He does not deny anyone the right to believe in miracles, however, He simply denies that their allowance can be part of historical method. I also heard overtones at the beginning of the article of Troeltsch's other principle--the idea that historical conclusions are always revisable. This concept appears later in the chapter as well.

2. "In every effort to achieve a unified view the individual historian is guided by some specific way of raising questions, some specific perspective."

Bultmann did not believe that this dynamic falsified the historical picture, but it was a factor of which the historian should be self-aware. "Historical phenomena are many-sided."

Bultmann seems confident in human understanding of ideas like "man and his possibilities for action" or "what economy and society in general mean."

An interpreter must have some relation to the subject matter. "Only he who has a relation to music can understand a text that deals with music." A "life-relation" to the text is necessary for understanding, an appropriate "pre-understanding."

"The historical picture is falsified only when the exegete takes his pre-understanding as a definitive understanding." "To understand history is possible only for one who does not stand over against it as a neutral non-participating spectator, but himself stands in history and shares in responsibility for it." This is what he calls an existentiell encounter with history.

"This existentiell relation to history is the fundamental presupposition for understanding history." "Historical knowledge is never a closed or definitive knowledge." In its existential aspects, the meaning of an event belongs to the future. "What a historical event means always first becomes clear in the future."

3. "The understanding of the text is never a definitive one, but rather remains open because the meaning of the Scriptures discloses itself anew in every future."
This chapter is not what I expected. It is a mixture of the historical and the existential. It seems to me that he speaks of two different kinds of understanding. There is historical understanding. Then there is existential appreciation or "understanding."

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