This was a one page paper for the class Jesus and Hermeneutics at Boston College with Dr. Daniel Harrington S.J. The purpose of the paper was to evaluate the interpretive approach used by Jürgen Moltmann based on Rudolph Bultmann’s existentialist hermeneutic and Dorothee Soelle’s political (read: “social”) hermeneutic.
Thesis: Because of Moltmann’s historical-theological interpretation of Jesus, he is faithful both to existentialist and political hermeneutics.
In Bultmann’s chapter on modern interpretation and existentialism, he first reminds us that presuppositions of interpreters always guide exegesis. Bultmann demonstrates his own metacognitive ability by acknowledging that his exegesis is based on a separate philosophical system. While his existentialist hermeneutic may seem subjective, Bultmann recognizes the need to ground interpretation in good historical investigation (52). What makes Bultmann’s hermeneutic especially appealing is that meaning as existence is imparted to the interpreter (53), “my personal relationship with God can be made real by God only, by the acting God who meets me in his word” (59).
Soelle’s criticism of Bultmann certainly has its merit. She rightly questions whether biblical interpretation can be apolitical, and, while she recognizes that salvation through forgiveness of sins concerns the individual (42) she accuses the existentialist hermeneutic as being reduced to only individual (42, 45). She accuses existentialist philosophy of doing exactly what Bultmann first warns against, not recognizing one’s presuppositions (B, 46; S, 45). While Bultmann may miss social aspects of interpretation, Soelle perhaps over-stresses these social aspects.
There is a key within Jürgen Molmann’s work that can reconcile this conundrum. It lies with his historical-theological Christology, especially seen in light of “pneumatological Christology.” For Moltmann, understanding the Spirit as defining Jesus’ person and the agent of his power is most important. The prominence of Spirit in Moltmann’s Christology is seen in Jesus’ birth and baptism (78-94). While acknowledging his a priori position of faith, he makes an excellent point that we are interpreting the history of living person, since Christ is alive today (75). Comparing Jesus and John the Baptist, he says, “[the] special feature of pneumatological Christology is its openness for the activity of the self-same Spirit beyond the person and history of Jesus Christ.” If we allow the comparison to reach into our present day, we can find the connection with Bultmann, as it is the same Spirit who works through the faithful believer to interpret the scriptures. Moltmann also recognizes the social aspects like Soelle and implications of Jesus’ life. This can be seen through Jesus’ association with the outcasts (112-116), “he is the brother of the poor, the comrade of the people, the friend of the forsaken, the sympathizer with the sick…” (149).
 Rudolph Bultmann, Jesus Christ and Mythology (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1958), 46,48. (In-text citations from this point on).
 Dorthee Soelle, Political Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), 42. (In-text citations from this point on).
 Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 74. (In-text citations from this point on).