Reading Scripture with Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Hermeneutic of Scripture in the Discourses

by Kevin Storer (Author)
©2022 Monographs X, 200 Pages


Kierkegaard’s religious discourses provide extended reflections on the Biblical text, and this book explores Kierkegaard’s hermeneutical project as a form of theological interpretation in the service of religious upbuilding. Comparing Kierkegaard’s metaphorical view of Scriptural language with Ricoeur’s theory of metaphor and second-order reference, and comparing Kierkegaard’s movement from "ordinary" to "actual" reading with the Medieval movement from literal to spiritual reading of Scripture, Storer argues that Kierkegaard’s project of upbuilding may be best classified as a form of tropological reading of Scripture in which appropriation opens the meaning of the text as the reader is remade into the image of God.
Through the lens of Kierkegaard’s use of Scripture, the book further explores theological and rhetorical development of the discourses, focusing on Kierkegaard’s move from general religious upbuilding to specifically Christian upbuilding, Kierkegaard’s construction of new rhetorical strategies in the pursuit of a distinctly Christian communication, and Kierkegaard’s increasing focus on Scriptural authority in the later discourses. The discourses, it is shown, exhibit a plurality of instructional and evangelistic aims, and these shape, and are shaped by, Kierkegaard’s use of Scripture. Storer concludes that Scripture is used so freely and imaginatively because Kierkegaard assumes the framework of historic creedal Christianity as his foundation for upbuilding, and then utilizes Scriptural texts to enable readers to imagine, and thereby to appropriate Christian truth.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Introduction
  • I. Discourses as a Constructive Response to Scriptural Misuse
  • A. The Blocked Path of the Historical Critical Method
  • B. The Blocked Path of “Orthodoxy” and the Danish State Church
  • C. Kierkegaard’s Constructive Response: Upbuilding Discourses
  • II. Purpose and Structure of the Book
  • Chapter One: From Ordinary to Actual Reading: Metaphor and Tropology in Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Scriptural Hermeneutic
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Actual Reading and Scriptural Language as Metaphor
  • A. Illustrating the Movement from “Ordinary” to “Actual” Reading 33
  • B. Implications
  • III. Kierkegaard and Ricoeur: Metaphor and the Surplus of Meaning
  • IV. Kierkegaard and de Lubac: Spiritual Reading and Tropology
  • A. De Lubac and Tropological Reading
  • B. Kierkegaard as Modern Tropologist
  • V. Conclusion
  • Chapter Two: Hermeneutical Assumptions and Techniques of the Discourses
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Hermeneutical Assumption 1: Meaning is Generated at the Level of the Whole Canonical Context Rather than at the Level of the Immediate Context
  • A. Technique 1: The Development of an Upbuilding Argument Arises from the Creation of a Dialogue between Two Scriptural Texts from Different Contexts
  • B. Technique 2: Word Association: Interpreting a Particular Word through the Use of the Same Word in Another Passage
  • III. Hermeneutical Assumption 2: Meaning Occurs at the Level of the Word or Phrase Rather than at the Level of the Sentence or Paragraph
  • A. Technique 1: Technical Phrases which Carry an Established Meaning
  • B. Technique 2: A Scriptural Image, Phrase, or Statement is Used to Drive the Logic of the Discourse
  • C. Technique 3: Grammar of the Phrase is more Important than the Immediate Context for Generating an Upbuilding Meaning
  • D. Technique 4: Switching the Referent of a Phrase to Multiply the Meaning of the Phrase
  • IV. Hermeneutical Assumption 3: Universalizing the Text Makes the Reader Contemporary with the Subject Matter
  • A. Technique 1: Universalizing a Phrase Originally Given in a Particular Context to Make It a Norm for Salvation
  • B. Technique 2: Everything Written by an Apostle or Spoken by Jesus Can be Appropriated by the Individual for Upbuilding
  • V. Hermeneutical Assumption 4: Changing the Text Enables Readers to Envision Appropriation
  • A. Technique 1: Mistranslation and Incorrect Citations
  • B. Technique 2: Conflating or Recreating Biblical Narrative for a Contemporary Audience
  • VI. Hermeneutical Assumption 5: Spiritualizing a Narrative Detail Provides Deeper Meaning for Contemporary Readers
  • A. Technique 1: Reinterpreting a Narrative Detail to Communicate a Spiritual Truth
  • VII. Techniques that Add to the Text for Emphasis
  • A. Technique 1: Adding an Argument from Silence
  • B. Technique 2: Disagreeing with a Scriptural Statement for Further Emphasis
  • C. Technique 3: Changing, Intensifying or Explaining a Scriptural Command by Focusing on the Purpose of the Command
  • VIII. Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: Development of Rhetoric and Use of Scripture in Upbuilding and Christian Discourses
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Rhetoric and Scripture in the Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses
  • A. Introduction
  • B. Structure and Development of the Argument
  • C. Universal Upbuilding Meaning
  • D. Conclusion
  • III. Rhetoric and Scripture in the Christian Discourses
  • A. Introduction
  • B. “The Gospel of Sufferings”
  • C. “The Cares of the Pagans”
  • D. “States of Mind in the Strife of Suffering”
  • E. “Thoughts That Wound from Behind—For Upbuilding”
  • F. “Discourses at the Communion on Fridays”
  • IV. Conclusion and Assessment
  • Chapter Four: Assessing the Relationship Between Upbuilding and Christian Discourses
  • I. Introduction
  • II. Distinctive Feature 1: Shifts in Scriptural Content
  • A. Areas of Change in Scriptural Content
  • B. Continuity in Scriptural Use: Doctrinal Principle Texts
  • C. Conclusions about Continuity and Change in Scriptural Content
  • III. Distinctive Feature 2: Change in Presentation of Scriptural Authority
  • A. Inherent Authority in the Upbuilding Discourses
  • B. Presented Authority in the Christian Discourses
  • IV. Conclusions about the Relationship between Discourses
  • Conclusion
  • I. Achievements and Remaining Questions
  • II. Reading the Discourses as Situational Religious Communication
  • A. The Theory of Stages and Its Problems
  • B. Discourses as Situational Religious Communication
  • C. Implications
  • III. Kierkegaard as Tropologist: His Hermeneutic in the Present Age
  • A. Resolving the Tensions in Authority: Metaphorical Reading in the Service of Christian Concepts
  • B. Kierkegaard as Tropologist: Articulating Criteria of Interpretive Adequacy for Regulating Interpretation
  • Bibliography
  • Index

←viii | ix→

List of Abbreviations

BAThe Book on Adler, KW XXIV
CAThe Concept of Anxiety, trans. by Reidar Thomte in collaboration with Albert B. Anderson, KW VII
CDChristian Discourses, KW XVII
CIThe Concept of Irony, KW II
CUP1Concluding Unscientific Postscript, KW XII,1
CUP2Concluding Unscientific Postscript, KW XII,2
EO1Either/Or, Part I, KW III
EO2Either/Or, Part II, KW IV
EUDEighteen Upbuilding Discourses, KW V
FSEFor Self-Examination, KW XXI
FTFear and Trembling, KW VI
JCJohannes Climacus, or or De omnibus dubitandum est, KW VII
JPSøren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, assisted by Gregor Malantschuk, vols. 1–6, vol. 7. Index and Composite Collation, Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1967–78.
KJNKierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks, vols. 1–11, ed. by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Alastair Hannay, David Kangas, Bruce H. Kirmmse, ←ix | x→George Pattison, Vanessa Rumble, and K. Brian Söderquist, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2007 ff.
KWKierkegaard’s Writings, trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, vols. I–XXVI, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978–98.
PPrefaces/Writing Sampler, trans. by Todd W. Nichol, KW IX
PCPractice in Christianity, KW XX
PFPhilosophical Fragments, KW VII
PVThe Point of View including On My Work as an Author and The Point or View for My Work as an Author, KW XXII
SUDThe Sickness Unto Death, KW XIX
TDIOThree Discourses on Imagined Occasions, KW X
UDVSUpbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, KW XV
WAWithout Authority including The Lily in the Field and the Bird of the Air, Two Ethical-Religious Essays, Three Discourses at the Communion on Fridays, An Upbuilding Discourse, Two Discourses at the Communion on Fridays, KW XVIII
WLWorks of Love, KW XVI

←x | 1→


This book is a study of Kierkegaard’s use of Scripture in his discourses, and consequently it is a study of the structure, arguments, and rhetoric of the discourses themselves. While Kierkegaard is better known for his pseudonymous works, over the course of his authorship he published a series of signed writings called “discourses” [Taler] (perhaps better translated “talks”) simultaneously with the publication of his pseudonymous works. These discourses function as a form of religious communication, with their arguments being advanced primarily as reflections upon Scripture, and they are intended to be “upbuilding” as they aim to turn the reader inward in appropriation of Scriptural truth to become rightly related to God.1←1 | 2→

In 1953 Paul Minear and Paul Morimoto wrote that “coming generations will increasingly reckon [Kierkegaard] not so much as a philosopher, as a poet, as a theologian, or as a rebel against Christendom, but as an expositor of Scripture.”2 Indeed, Kierkegaard at times seems to have thought of himself as primarily an interpreter of Scripture, noting both in 1847 and in 1851 that his whole authorship is unified by the desire “once again to read through, if possible in a more inward way, the original text of individual human existence-relationships, the old familiar text handed down from the fathers” (WA, 165, referring back to CUP1,: 629–30). Recently a number of authors have recognized the central place of Scripture in Kierkegaard’s work, yet although “discourses” are a genre of Kierkegaard’s writing dedicated specifically to reflection on the Scriptures, no full study has examined Kierkegaard’s use of Scripture in them. This project will show that much can be learned about Kierkegaard’s understanding of the Bible, as well as his strategies for religious communication, by studying Scriptural use in the discourses.

I. Discourses as a Constructive Response to Scriptural Misuse

Kierkegaard’s discourses are, in many ways, a constructive response to what Kierkegaard saw as errors in Scriptural reading both in historical critical scholarship and in the Danish state church. In the discourses, Kierkegaard provides an interpretive practice which seeks to move beyond the dominant methods of Scriptural reading in his day in order to encourage upbuilding in the reader. To understand the hermeneutical presuppositions and techniques which Kierkegaard employs as a biblical expositor, it is important to examine briefly the context in which Kierkegaard wrote his discourses. In 1835, still early in his student years, Kierkegaard wrote in his journal,

It appears to me that on the whole the great mass of interpreters damage the understanding of the New Testament more than they benefit an understanding of it. It becomes necessary to do as one does at a play, where a profusion of spectators and spotlights seeks to prevent, as it were, our enjoyment of the play—one has to overlook them, if possible, or manage to enter by a passage which is not yet blocked (JP1, 202).

Kierkegaard appears to believe that fruitful reading of Scripture had been “blocked” both by historical critics and by “orthodox” defenders of Christianity, ←2 | 3→as both reduce the existential requirements of Scripture to academic knowledge. It is as Kierkegaard tries to move through a “passage […] not yet blocked” that he develops a distinctive method of Scriptural use which requires readers to exercise “personal, infinite, impassioned interestedness” (CUP1:27), by making a resolution in faith to appropriate Scripture. Below, we will explore the reasons why Kierkegaard thought both historical critical reading and “orthodox” Lutheran reading proved reductionistic, and we will see why Kierkegaard develops his religious discourses as an alternative approach.

A. The Blocked Path of the Historical Critical Method

Kierkegaard’s deep concern about the historical critical method can be seen by observing that it forms the first topic of discussion in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript. The main argument against such reading in the Postscript is that when scientific inquiry (a study of natural objects) is granted the authority to provide religious conclusions about religious texts (which make claims about the supernatural), a category error has been introduced into biblical studies. As Paul Holmer writes, Kierkegaard is “contending that the sources of religious beliefs, whether these beliefs are about Scripture, the figure of Jesus, or God, do not lie in the discernment of the facts as defined by historical study.”3 Consequently, the approach of the historical critical scholar is both inadequate for and detrimental to the study of Scripture.


X, 200
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (June)
Scripture Hermeneutics Discourses Theological Interpretation Tropology Ricoeur de Lubac Upbuilding Metaphor
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2022. X, 200 pp.

Biographical notes

Kevin Storer (Author)

Kevin Storer (Ph.D., Duquesne University; Ph.D., University of Manchester) is visiting professor of systematic theology at Evangelical Theological Seminary, Hosur, India. His previous book, Reading Scripture to Hear God, focused on ecumenical dialogue between Protestant and Catholic theological interpretation of Scripture.


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212 pages