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God Speaks to Us

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Biblical Hermeneutics


Edited By Ralf K. Wüstenberg and Jens Zimmermann

Bonhoeffer was convinced that God spoke to his people through the Bible. How did a theologian of his caliber, who was well acquainted with the historical-critical interpretation of the scriptures, justify such a claim, and how did he apply this conviction to his daily challenges as theologian, pastor and political dissident during the Nazi regime? This book presents the attempts by a group of international Bonhoeffer scholars to answer some of these questions. By approaching Bonhoeffer’s theology from a number of different hermeneutical angles, the contributions in this volume cast new light both on his more general hermeneutical framework and on specific theological and political issues concerning his reading of the Bible. The essays underline Bonhoeffer’s contemporary relevance for the current resurgence of theological interpretation and for postmodern discussions about the interpretive nature of truth.


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Hermeneutics examines the principles of reading and understanding texts, especially texts originating in times and cultures different from our own. Biblical hermeneutics investigates more specifically how we read, under- stand and respond to biblical texts. Yet biblical interpretation has always been influenced and shaped by knowledge gained from other disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, literary criticism, political theory and history. As a rule, these other disciplines have greatly enriched biblical hermeneutics, but their influence has not always been beneficial. Perhaps the greatest hermeneutical turning point in the history of biblical exegesis was the gradual emancipation of the Scriptures from the context of be- lieving communities, and the consequent relocation of biblical criticism from the church into the secular academy. Recent scholarship has docu- mented the central role of German academics and the German university in transposing the Bible from “the book of the church”, to use Bonhoeffer’s phrase, into a cultural and literary artifact examined in the newly founded discipline of biblical studies.1 Laudible efforts by 18th and 19th century scholars to revive the Bible as an important document only legitimated and institutionalized this basic paradigm shift. Philologists and biblical scholars focussed increasingly on the meaning of the Bible in its historical context but they no longer sought to look through the biblical text in order to un- derstand the world in its light.2 In our day, biblical interpretation is undergoing the reversal of the at- titudes we have just described. Theological interpretation of the Bible and its role...

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