Rudolf Bultmann’s Letter to Jeffrey B. Gibson (Oct. 27, 1972)

On facebook, Jeffrey B. Gibson recently posted a letter that Rudolf Bultmann sent him, and he has kindly given me permission to provide a translation of this letter here.

As usual, I will alternate between the German text and the English translation:

Sehr geehrter Herr Gibson!

Dear Mr. Gibson (or: Very honored/esteemed Mr. Gibson)!

Für Ihren freundlichen Brief von vom 2.10. danke ich ich Ihnen bestens.

I thank you you most sincerely (or: very much) for your friendly letter from October 2 (1972).

Ich kann ihn nur kurz beantworten, denn ich bin alt und leidend und meine Augen sind schwach, so daß ich nicht mehr lesen und arbeiten kann.

I can answer it only briefly since I am old and suffering (or: ailing) and my eyes are weak, so that I can no longer read and work.

Ich kann nur mit Mühe wenig schreiben.

I can only with difficulty (or: toil) write a little.

Ich freue mich, daß meine theologische Arbeit für Sie fruchtbar geworden ist.

I am glad (or: I rejoice) that my theological work has become fruitful for you.

Zu Ihren Fragen kann ich nur kurz antworten.

Your questions I can answer only briefly (or: I can only respond briefly to your questions).

1. In den biblischen Schriften müssen alle mythologischen Sätze und Begriffe entmythologisiert werden.

1. In the biblical writings all mythological sentences and terms (or: concepts) must be demythologized.

2. Alle biblische Texte müssen existential interpretiert werden.

2. All biblical texts must be interpreted existentialistically.1

Die Interpretation hat zu fragen, welches Verständnis der menschlichen Existenz sich in den Texten ausspricht.

Interpretation must ask (or: The task of interpretation is to ask) which understanding of human existence is expressed in the texts.

Der Leser ist dann vor die Entscheidung gestellt, ob er die in den Texten zu Wort kommende Möglichkeit menschlichen Existenzverständnisses bejahen oder verneinen soll.

The reader is then placed before the decision of whether he (or: s/he) will (or should) affirm or reject the possibility for understanding human existence that comes to expression in the texts.2

Mit den besten Wünschen für Ihre Arbeit und freundlichen Grüßen

With best wishes for your work and friendly greetings

Ihr sehr ergebener,

Yours sincerely (or: Your very devoted),

Rudolf Bultmann

Note 1: For the translation of “existential,” cf. David Congdon, The Mission of Demythologizing, p. xv: “The terms existential and existentiell are consistently translated as “existentialist” and “existential,” respectively, according to the convention of earlier Bultmann scholars, even though the distinction is largely ignored today.” I owe my own knowledge of this distinction to Michael Wolter.

Note 2: I am not sure if “the possibility for understanding human existence” is the correct translation of die … Möglichkeit menschlichen Existenzverständnisses, but this seems to be what is being said.

For a complete list of my blog posts, please see here.

For a list of my Bultmann posts, see here.

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German Mondays: Thank you for making it to the end of this blog post! I hope to be able to write at least one Monday blog post each month. Best, Wayne

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