The idea of demythologization was propagated by New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann (1884—1976) who taught that the New Testament was simply the biblical writers' account of their encounter with God in Christ. According to Bultmann, the writers tried to explain what they experienced using the limited language and concepts available to them at the time, which was inextricably linked to the supernatural and miraculous, which Bultmann saw as myth.
Does the Bible need to be demythologized? What is meant by demythologization?
To "demythologize" the Bible means to take out anything miraculous or unexplainable. This is done, say proponents, to uncover the underlying truths of the stories of Scripture uncluttered by the supernatural in an attempt to make the New Testament relevant to modern thinkers. Bultmann said that underlying truth was that, in Christ, God worked for the good of humanity. He saw the accounts of the virgin birth, walking on water, feeding 5,000, healing the lame and blind, raising people from the dead, and even the resurrection of Jesus as mythical additions to the message.
Bultmann and these concepts are usually dismissed summarily. However, the underlying foundational underpinnings of demythologization has made its way into many churches, some mainline denominations, and the beliefs of many. Here's how it works: pastors start to teach about the goodness of God and leave out His divinity. Bible teachers teach about how Christ was an example we can follow as believers, but don't teach about His miracles and divinity. Churches talk about the goodness of the brotherhood of humans, and don't talk about each person's depravity.
Jesus' divinity and His exposition of His divine power through miracles are central to the gospel. People in the first century who lived and walked with Jesus, those who witnessed these miracles, talked about them, shared the accounts, and wrote them down. When they report that a man who had been blind from birth had a conversation with Jesus, then could see, that's what happened. They didn't need to make that up. In fact, the authorities at the time tried to discount that miracle (see John 9).
Each of the miracles in question were witnessed by at least two people—even the virgin birth. People in the first century were not simply gullible or naïve. Mary knew that suddenly being with child was not normal, and asked the angel Gabriel about it (Luke 1:34). Similarly, Joseph was convinced by a messenger of God that Mary's child was conceived from the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18–21).
Thomas knew that rising from the dead after being crucified was not normal, and he wanted firsthand evidence before believing Jesus had indeed been raised (John 20:24–25).
The Gospels are full of eyewitness accounts, even many crowds, who saw Jesus' miracles. Later, more than 500 people saw Jesus alive after He had died on the cross. In Acts, the miracles that Peter and Paul performed caused many to believe in Jesus—whole towns sometimes, such as Lydda and Sharon (Acts 9:32–35).
Demythologizing the New Testament is not only a bad idea, it is heretical and strips away the essence of the gospel. The miraculous is at the heart of the New Testament. It is not an unnecessary addition, but the truth and part of the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21).
Paul wrote about the power and importance of the resurrection: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep" (1 Corinthians 15:3–6).
Jesus' death and resurrection, verified by witnesses who were alive at the time of Paul's writings and could have easily refuted what he said, is considered by Paul to be of "first importance." There is no gospel apart from Jesus' resurrection.
Paul further wrote, "And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:14–17).
There is no gospel apart from the miraculous. The New Testament does not need to be demythologized to make it relevant. Rather, modern man needs to be reminded of the reality of God's supernatural works and come to a place of awe at His power and love.
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