Bonhoeffer on the Bible

‎’The Bible remains a book like other books. One must be ready to accept the concealment within history and therefore let historical criticism run its course. But it is through the Bible, with all its flaws, that the risen one encounters us. We must get into the troubled waters of historical criticism. Its importance is not absolute, but neither is it unimportant. Certainly it will not lead to a weakening, but rather to a strengthening of faith because the concealment within the historical belongs to the humiliation of Jesus Christ.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Christ the Center’, p. 73-74)

It is interesting how such a astute theological mind had such a non-fundamentalist view of Scripture. So far as I can tell, this viewpoint did not prevent Bonhoeffer from being a thoroughly Christ-centered thinker, which I also find interesting. Perhaps a traditional view of Scripture (inerrancy being among the big pillars of such a view) is not as essential to Christianity as many have assumed.

2 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer on the Bible

  1. David May 22, 2012 / 9:49 pm

    Mm, can’t agree there. I have yet to read Bonhoeffer, and I really want to, because I admire him, but if he truly meant what it sounds like he means here, then his position is absolutely wrong and spiritually dangerous. What flaws does he refer to, I wonder? What is this “concealment within history”? I can’t really judge him out of context like this, but a position that says the Bible is flawed (therefore, either God let it be flawed and thus lied to us in His own Scriptures, or is Himself flawed) and that our faith can be stronger because of this is tantamount to insanity, not to mention heresy. I hope that’s not what Bonhoeffer meant! Also, there’s a distinct difference between “textual criticism” (which, as I understand it, seeks fidelity to the original texts), and a criticism that seeks to reconcile God’s Word with man’s limited understanding. Man’s understanding of history/science/etc. is not the absolute framework by which God’s revelation is to be judged — rather, it’s the other way around!


  2. whitefrozen May 22, 2012 / 10:04 pm

    Part of the reason Bonhoeffer can make these statements is that he’s approaching Scripture in the more Barthian (loosely) sense: Scripture is a witness to the Word of God, not the Word of God itself. This allows him to get around issues that tend to trouble more traditional ideas of Scripture. Basically, Bonhoeffer is not working under the idea that Scripture is a divine data dump that *has* to be infallible (to speak a little crudely) and that allows him to get around some of the problems you mentioned.

    Some of the errors he refers to (I didn’t type out the entire text I quoted from, it was too long) are historical in nature – say, texts that we know weren’t spoken by Jesus, added later on, have lest historical weight, etc, etc. Part of it also has to do with his (as well as Barth’s) disdain for historical apologetics regarding the faith, which is a pretty big topic to delve into. But for now I’ll just say that Bonhoeffer is not worried about preserving the inerrancy of the Bible at all costs because those categories don’t apply to his methodology. There’s a lot to be said on this issue which we can get into, and it’s certainly not a silver-bullet viewpoint. But it is a powerful and interesting one.


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