Monday 3 October 2005

Angels and demons, Barth and Bultmann

I asked yesterday whether there is “a real spirit world.” Jim West adds a very nice summary of the differences between Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann on this question.

Personally, I would tend here (as elsewhere) to agree formally with Bultmann but materially with Barth. Formally, I think Bultmann is right: our task is not to reproduce the biblical writers’ apocalyptic worldview, but to interpret it. And materially, I think Barth’s theological interpretation of the demons has never been surpassed: the demons are personifications of the threatening, chaotic power of the Nothingness (das Nichtige).


Anonymous said...

I don't think you can dismiss all the statements about demons and spirits just by appeal to the author's worldview.

Ben Myers said...

But (for me at least) there's no question of "dismissing" anything. Rather it's simply a question of interpretation. Even a literalistic conception of a "spirit world" is also a theological interpretation, i.e., an attempt to make theological sense of what the biblical writers meant.

Anonymous said...

This is, of course, what I meant though. You are "dismissing" the spirits as a representation of something other than beings with a real existence and my point is that I don't think that's possible in all the cases. In other words, I think your interpretation does not adequately reflect what the biblical writers meant. It seems to me that the writers genuinely meant to convey that demons and spirits exist, that they are part of the created universe. I'd further argue that given the anecdotal evidence I have from people I trust that they were very much right.

Anonymous said...

One of the New Testament professors at Regent College remarked, during an advanced exegsis class on Mark, that he was very much with Bultmann on this question... until he experienced a demon first hand.

Anonymous said...

Barth's Das Nichtige can only be fully grasped as "real evil, sin, and death" (KD III/3). Any conception of demons / demonology can only be understood as that which is "real evil, sin, and death." Perhaps demons are only real so far as God has conquered nothingness (or chaos) in His creative power. Of what power can demons have?

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