Webster on Bonhoeffer and Reading Scripture

John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 81-2.

[Bonhoeffer possesses in his middle period] a distinctive conception of the nature of Holy Scripture, one which has already been moved beyond that presupposed in the exegetical work of Creation and Fall, above all because Bonhoeffer now assumes the perspicuity of Scripture. Scripture’s perspicuity renders redundant the somewhat cumbersome technicalities of the philosophy of existence which burden the exposition of the early chapters of Genesis. What Bonhoeffer contests is the assumption that Holy Scripture is inert until realised by interpretive acts of ‘making present’. ‘True making present’ requires no ‘act of making present’; rather, it is a matter of ‘the question of the Sache’, of the text itself. Issues of interpretation are subservient to issues of the matter of the text, namely Jesus Christ who here announces his presence. ‘When Christ comes to speech in the word of the New Testament, there is “making present”. Not where the present puts forward its claim before Christ but where the present stands before Christ’s claim, there is “making present”.’ …Bonhoeffer argues that the human present is not determined by ‘a definition of time’ but by ‘the word of Christ as the Word of God’. ‘The concretissimum of the Christian message and of the exposition of texts is not a human act of “making present”, but is always God himself, in the Holy Spirit.’

There is a direct consequence here for the task of interpretation which shapes very profoundly the biblical writings of this period of Bonhoeffer’s life. Christian proclamation becomes relevant through Sachlichkeit, that is, through being ‘bound to Scripture’. The ‘matter’ of the New Testament is Christ present in the word; he, not I, is the proper logical subject of Vergegenwärtigung, and so the making present of the text is nothing other than Auslegung des Wortes. Crucially, this means that the task of establishing relevance is not pre- or post-exegetical; on the contrary, exegesis itself performs this task, and does so because the textual word which is the concern of exegesis is Christ’s address to church and world in the potency of the Spirit. That word is not as it were waiting on the fringes of the human present, hoping somehow to be made real; it announces itself in its own proper communicative vigor.


Phil Sumpter said…
This question is going to display my ignorance: does this mean that regardless of interepretative method (allegorical, histocial critical, literary, canonical), the mere fact that one is engaging the text is enough to create the conditions for Christ to communicate? Or does Bonhoeffer assume that there has to be an adequate hermeneutical method?
Phil Sumpter said…
This comment is just so that I can tick the "Email follow-up comments" box ...
chris said…
Glad to see you getting into Bonhoeffer now!


I have no idea. My knowledge of Bonhoeffer is woefully inadequate, and all I can do is recommend that you check out the rest of Webster's discussion of Bonhoeffer in Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch. I'm not sure but I think Webster also discusses Bonhoeffer along these lines in Word and Church.


Saying that I'm getting into Bonhoeffer is - unfortunately - and overstatement. I was actually offered the chance to TA for a Bonhoeffer course here at PTS in the Spring semester, but I had to turn it down due to other commitments. It is a shame, though, because I have been needing an excuse to give Bonhoeffer some careful attention.

Thanks to you both for stopping by.

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