Theological Fragments: Bonhoeffer on Genesis 1:6-10

“Here the ancient image of the world confronts us in all its scientific naïveté. …in this passage the biblical author is exposed as one whose knowledge is bound by all the limitations of the author’s own time. Heaven and the sea were in any event not formed in the way the author says, and there is no way we could escape having a very bad conscience if we let ourselves be tied to assertions of that kind. The theory of verbal inspiration will not do. The writer of the first chapter of Genesis sees things here in a very human way. This state of affairs makes it seem then that there is very little to say about this passage. Yet on this next day of creation something completely new takes place. The world of what is fixed, or solid, the changeless, the inert, begins to exist. That is what is peculiar: that in the beginning just those works of creation are created which in their fixedness, their immutability, their repose, are to us the most distant, the most strange. Completely unaffected by human life, that which is fixed stands before God in undisturbed repose. An eternal law holds it fast. This law is nothing other than the command of the word of God itself” (Creation and Fall, 47-48).

4 thoughts on “Theological Fragments: Bonhoeffer on Genesis 1:6-10

  1. Bucky Hellwig

    “Heaven and the sea were in any event not formed in the way the author says,” according to Bonheoffer.

    The Nicene Creed says the author is the Holy Ghost who spake by the prophets.

    Bonheoffer declares, “The theory of verbal inspiration will not do.”

    St. Peter tells us, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

    Moses, under inspiration of the Holy Ghost tells us that “God said” let there be, etc. That is quite clear.

    It is also clear that Bonheoffer had problems with verbal inspiration, inerrancy, and historical Christianity.

    Let us pray that our clergy and laity never fall into the same snare of Satan which was first sprung in the Garden of Eden when he said to Eve, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Genesis 3:1.

    Thanks so much for posting and exposing Bonheoffer’s low view of the Holy Scriptures for your readers.

  2. Bryce Wandrey

    I very rarely consider deleting comments made on this site. But I am left with a bit of a quandary now with your comments. I simply wish that you take the time to engage with the authors you are reacting against (at this point, Piepkorn and Bonhoeffer). Piotr made a similar request a couple of days ago.

    What I am not saying is that you are not allowed to disagree with the posts on this site. But what I would prefer is that instead of pitting quotations against each other, you take the time to engage the author at hand more intuitively. (Something along the lines of ‘Here I think Bonhoeffer goes wrong because he doesn’t … This is shown by his improper undertanding of …’ Etc.) There are a couple of good examples on this site where people who disagree/have different understandings engage in a substantive dialogue without resorting to prayers that certain people aren’t ensnared by Satan or an ‘inquisition’ (as you have now began in another post).

    If you simply want to say you don’t like the post (without engaging substantively with the post) then please feel free to take advantage of the ‘star’ system at the top of each post.

    Thank you.

  3. Daniel

    I would still prefer the truth of the scriptures, in their “scientific naïveté,” rather than that “truthfulness” which is proposed by the “objectifying tendency of modern society.” Those who believe that knowledge of the human life can be deduced to biological calculations and/or analytical psychology, will of course not be fed by the truth which scripture presents. According to the standards by which our post-industrial society “measures” truth, the gospel of Mark’s description of “a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds” will be decried as inaccurate, ever the more ignoring that a _weak and flimsy weed_ has somehow became a place where, “the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This “strength in weakness,” that St. Paul further further expounds upon, is not even related to some grossly materialistic quality which can be measured by the modern engineer in a “stress test.”

    “Why has vulgarity replaced poetry?” -Pastor David Petersen

  4. Karl Kuehner

    This post intrigued me enough to go out and get Creation and Fall.

    What strikes me most about Bonhoeffer in this excerpt is that, while he is willing to hold human reason and the possibility of an incorrect Biblical understanding over the literal words of the Bible, in all things he is willing to be subordinate to God himself. To me this is clear from the previous chapter, “The Day”:

    “Where the Bible speaks of the “day,” it is not at all the physical problem that it is discussing. Whether the creation occurred in rhythms of million or years or in single days, this does no damage to biblical thinking. We have no reason to assert the latter or to doubt the former; the question as such does not concern us. That the biblical author, to the extent that the author’s word is a human word, was bound by the author’s own time, knowledge, and limits is as little disputed as the fact that though this word God, and God alone, tells us about God’s creation.”

    I read Bonhoeffer as saying that though we assume the “scientific naivete” of the authors, the bottom line is that it is God’s tells us about creation, and that he has chosen to do so through human authors in the Bible. So, while I agree that the end to any question is submission to God, why would that not include deference to His word, as it is written, as well? Bonhoeffer states that “we have no reason to assert the latter (literal 6-day creation) or to doubt the former (evolution)”. If it is in the Bible (the word of God), what justification do we have to doubt the latter or assert the former? If Christ is the word made flesh it seems dangerous to place our reason over and against Him.

    On the other hand I hear Bonhoeffer’s argument about accommodation. There are plenty of examples where the Biblical story does not mesh with scientific truth. So, to conclude that the purpose of the account of creation is not to give scientific principles, but to explain the rhythm of “…God’s giving and taking, to God’s freedom beyond rest and movement…” makes sense. But this only makes sense through the eyes of faith. It only makes sense to me because I am not looking to discredit God as creator, but know Him as father. Not everyone who hears this idea hears it in faith. In our culture, does this understand only server to strengthen people in their unbelief? Bonhoeffer himself says “the question as such does not concern us.”

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