Bonhoeffer on the Bible

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian in the early 20th century. He is most remembered for his imprisonment and execution for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Theologically he was an amazingly conservative man considering the environment he studied in.

I am reading the recent biography about Bonhoeffer written by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. By the time Bonhoeffer was 21 years old he had already earned a doctorate in theology. However, it wasn’t until he was 26 that he actually fell in love with the Bible. Before this he approached the Bible as something to be studied for the purpose of understanding God in a logical, organized fashion. However, all that changed when he started reading the Bible for the purpose of letting God’s Word communicate to him and change his life.

Here is what he had to say to his brother-in-law in a letter concerning the Bible:

First of all I will confess quite simply—I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one’s own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us. Of course it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is nothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, “pondering them in our heart,” so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us along with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible.

. . .

And I would like to tell you now quite personally: since I have learnt to read the Bible in this way—and this has not been for so very long—it becomes every day more wonderful to me. I read it in the morning and the evening, often during the day as well, and every day I consider a text which I have chosen for the whole week, and try to sink deeply into it, so as really to hear what it is saying. I know that without this I could not live properly any longer.

I have seen the transition in friends of mine who have previously approached the Bible as a textbook and then later saw the Bible as God communicating with them personally. It changed their life. I am thankful that this approach to the Bible (God’s Word written for man’s understanding) was taught to me from the time I was saved as a young man.

I am only partially through the Bonhoeffer book, but I plan to give a full review when I finish it. I am reading the Kindle version which is a lot lighter than 1.8 pound hardback version.

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2 thoughts on “Bonhoeffer on the Bible”

  1. Ok wow again! This posting puts the reading and studying Gods Word into perspective that I understand. I am a new Christian and its so much and I get overwhelm at times on where to start (like eating at an all you can eat restaurant, lol). All I know is I have a desire to know Jesus for myself and I want to fall in love with Him. So far my daily reading I am reading the book of John. My question, when it comes to studying where do i start or a good place to start? So I can start slowly and build and grow in my new faith. Or what do you suggest? Ty for your time and I look fwd in reading more of your postings :-)

    1. The book of John is considered by many to be a great place to start reading the Bible. It is fairly easy to read and understand. However, it also has some really deep concepts that make people scratch their heads.

      If you really want to get a good understanding of the Bible I would recommend you start in Genesis and read through that great book. Write down major characters and basic story outlines. You aren’t going to understand everything your first time through. But keep plowing through the Bible and you will start to see a beautiful story of God’s planned redemption pointing to Jesus.

      The whole time you are doing that you should be in church and learn from the preacher and other Christians. They will help you see various parts of the Bible in a broad scope while you are working through the details in your personal reading.

      Use something like my Genesis Bible Summary post to help you get an idea of the basic purpose of the book. I have several of those summaries done, but I have not completed the whole Bible yet.

      I trust God will help you grow in His Word.

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