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By Jonathan D. Sorum, Greenfield Lutheran Church, Harmony, Minnesota

Luther was foundational for Bonhoeffer. When he met incomprehension abroad, it was because he was speaking from within his vision of Luther, a theological framework alien to most of his ecumenical colleagues. When he met bitter opposition at home, it was because his opponents believed that Bonhoeffer's vision of Luther betrayed Luther's central concerns. When, after his death, his interpreters have claimed him for the most varied theological movements and trends, 1 it is because they have mostly failed to comprehend his vision of Luther, the theological paradigm that was integral to him as a theologian and Christian. THE MISSING CENTER Justification of the ungodly by faith alone in Christ alone is central to Bonhoeffer. Virtually all responsible interpreters have noted the importance of Bonhoeffer's christology and the close connection between christology and ethics in his theology. But what they have often failed to see is that christology and ethics are integral to each other within the framework of justification by faith alone, as Bonhoeffer learned that doctrine from Luther.2 ^or example, Bonhoeffer has been characterized as a Bultmannian by Ronald Gregor Smith, Secular Christianity (New York: Harper & Row, 1966); as a pioneer of the exit from the bourgeois church into a new socialist world by Hanfried Müller, Von der Kirche zur Welt (HamburgBergstedt: H. Reich Evang., 1961); as a (failed) Kierkegaardian by Klaus M. Kodalle, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Zur Kritik seiner Theologie (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1991); as a prophet for conservative evangelicals against "modernism" by Georg Huntemann, The Other Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Re-assessment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, trans. Todd Huizinga (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993); as a forerunner of liberation theology by G. Clarke Chapman, Jr.; "Bonhoeffer: Resource for Liberation Theology," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 36:4 (Summer 1981) 225-42; and, most infamously, as a herald of the so-called "Death of God" by Thomas J. J. Altizer and Willian Hamilton, Radical Theology and the Death of God (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1966). 2 Some interpreters have seen this clearly. In "Dietrich Bonhoeffer Luther-Rezeption und seine Stellung zum Luthertum," in Die lutherischen Kirchen und die Bekenntnissynode von Barmen: Referate des Internationalen Symposions auf der Reisenburg 1984, eds. W. D. Hausschild, Georg Kretschmar and others (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1984) 210, HansWalter Krumwiede writes: "The Pauline-Reformation doctrine of justification is not merely a traditional monument of the faith for Bonhoeffer; he adopts it substantially and it is a

however. as is much of Bonhoeffer's work itself Moreover. 286. Bonhoeffer went his own way. Holl. the view from below. and ultimately irrelevant Bonhoeffer was completely captivated by God's act of justifying the ungodly in Jesus Christ Bonhoeffer developed the themes that have excited so many of his interpreters—themes such as the sociality of Chnst. a Christ who remains absent.Jonathan D . untranslated. did not wish to make claims about God that would somehow devalue the reality of the empirical That one must always have one's feet ftrmly planted on the earth was always basic 4 for Bonhoeffer fundamental element—in my view. η 2 3 . liberationism existentialist. the mythical giant who lost his power when his feet were not on the earth See DB W 10. a standard that we must actively strive to attain In the last resort. like them. Sorum Without justification by faith alone. Reinhold Seeberg wrote. many of the present English translations of Bonhoeffer's works are clearly inadequate The forthcoming English translation of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke should remedy this situation ) DBW 9. 1955-74). whether Marxist. the fundamental element—of his theology" (Note In this and all subsequent quotes from German originals. 175 In this article. 1986) 4 Bonhoeffer adopted the expression "ground under one's feet" as a basic ethical theme from Harnack and combined it with the figure of Antaeus. and of Karl Barth on the other BONHOEFFER'S WAY BETWEEN HIS TEACHERS AND BARTH In his evaluation of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's doctoral dissertation. DB W for Dietrich Bonhoeffer Werke. "He is striving to stake out his positions independently " 3 While gratefully borrowing from both the liberal tradition of his Berlin teachers and Karl Barth's revolt against that tradition. Sanctorum Communio. impotent. the world come of age. and Seeberg He. a way that he believed encompassed the main concerns of both and at the same time avoided their senous deficiencies Bonhoeffer conceived of this third way as an attempt to recover Luther What Bonhoeffer affirms in the liberal tradition is its loyalty to the world and respect for what exists He shares the Ritschhan rejection of metaphysics taken over by his teachers. the ultimate and the penultimate. ed Eberhard Bethge. the following abbreviations are used for works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer GS for Gesammelte Schriften. traditionalist. and rehgionless Christianity—precisely on the basis of his understanding of Luther's doctrine of justification The foundation of any adequate understanding of Bonhoeffer is therefore a thorough grasp of his interpretation of Luther And Bonhoeffer found his way to Luther very early as he absorbed the lessons of his Berlin teachers on the one hand. the translations are mine Much of the Bonhoeffer scholarship in German is. this new existence presents itself as law. chnstology and ethics are mediated by an active imitatio Christ is at most the pattern or example to which those who follow Christ are to strive to conform their lives One gets the impression from many Bonhoeffer interpreters that the Christ they find in Bonhoeffer is one who led the way into a new kind of existence "for others" and merely invites us to do the same Not surprisingly. such as Harnack. 6 vols (Munich Christian Kaiser Verlag. of course. this "new existence" usually turns out to more or less reproduce the interpreter's own political views. such interpreters leave us on our own to attempt to live u p to their vision of Christ. costly grace. or liberal In whatever terms it is described. 16 vols (Munich Christian Kaiser Verlag.

It means a self-empowered co-opting of God's act of grace.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER But Bonhoeffer came to believe that his teachers could only affirm the world by. 7 Seeberg. his paper at Union Seminary "Charakter und ethische Konsequenzen des religiösen Determinismus. though a "conscious Lutheran" who asserted that religions cannot be explained rationally. by Eberhard Bethge (Munich: Christian Kaiser Verlag. 7 GS III. 203. 10 Bonhoeffer thought that Holl and Tillich shared this position." (181) The following paragraphs are largely based on these lectures. The boundary in Tillich's "boundary situation" is defined by the limit of human possibilities. See. 8 Holl asserted that the new thing in Christianity is the God sinner relation.g. 5 The result was the eclipse of the doctrine of justification by faith among them.. e. 1958-1972) vol. in effect. The only unity is in the individual Christian. But according to him. such as religion." (1931-32) in Gesammelte Schriften (hereafter GS) ed. 5 Bonhoeffer's evaluates the work of his teachers in his lectures entitled. but is defined." DBW 10. reconstructed from student notes. but only in connection with revelation. 6 Bonhoeffer correlates the Alleinwirksamkeit of God (God acting alone without human cooperation) and justification by faith. 9 GS V. In his case. is the best attested of all the Berlin lectures: "One may assume with some certainty that here one encounters the authentic voice of Bonhoeffer. Jesus is merely the one who teaches the justification of the ungodly. thought that faith has to be shown as fulfilling a need of the human spirit. by the concrete presence of God in Jesus Christ. 223) For Bonhoeffer the boundary between God and humans is never the limit of human possibilities. 8 GS III. But where does the human goal end and the Christian one begin? The ultimate basis of the premature solutions of this dichotomy is the contradiction between human individual autonomy and the heteronomy of Christianity. so that God is completely dissolved into humanity's claims about itself. how can human beings be truly autonomous and free without annihilating God's freedom? The likely solution is that God finally becomes nothing more than the fulfiller of human needs. 181-227. 9 And for Holl. or the moral life. On the one hand. "Die Geschichte der systematischen Theologie des 20." (GS V. The editor states that the text of these lectures. that is. an extension of the human self. Those who take upon themselves the radical "No" to their existence at this boundary find themselves simultaneously in the "Yes. denying God.10 All of these shared the basic conviction that Christianity supplies the completion or fulfillment of something given in human existence. Christianity is merely a teaching. 197-201. So even Holl did not give u p the liberal image of Jesus as at bottom merely a teacher of truths about God. 411. 201. a concept of God that eventually falls prey to the Feuerbachian claim that God is nothing but a projection of the ideal human. The result of this conception was a dual ethic which could never in principle be resolved into a unified one. V. Each individual is in control of deciding when to follow the dictates of culture and when to follow the new ethic offered by Christianity. 6 Harnack had reduced Christianity to a kind of nomism." "This identity—it can also be found in Karl Holl—must be shattered. the knowledge of sin was essentially the same as knowledge of grace. personality. without the necessity of the presence of God. Jahrhunderts. . how can there be a God who is truly God and yet does not annihilate human freedom? On the other hand. with Barth.

he means something entirely concrete. Barth's whole theological program aims precisely to guard against this danger. and therein also follows it. 225-26.12 The Barthian revolution is truly theological. On the contrary. "Here we are dealing with a theology that wants to thoroughly understand the sola fide again. A human being cannot be in control over God. In Tillich and in the Youth Movement transcendence is an enlarging of perspectives. not from the trenches. with the result that his theology is a last effort to secure himself against God and God's entry into human life. 217. Barth is unable to bring Christian existence down to earth. [nlamely the humbling of the human being who must speak God's Word and yet only speaks about God. whose utter actuality humans could never hope to usurp.' " 13 And to speak rightly of God means to stand back and let God speak God's justifying Word. which therefore is based on predestination. he is the one who comes.Jonathan D. Barth knows that only the Holy Spirit can speak the concretissimum and that every concretum of human words remains abstractum if it is not spoken by the Holy Spirit himself. V. Barth's understanding of ethics as demonstration guards the divine transcendence: he refuses to let God be subsumed into human religious and moral striving." 14 Barth aims to recover the Pauline and Reformation theme of justification by faith alone. but instead occurs within theology as such: one wishes once again really 'to speak rightly of God.m. 21617. V. But in doing so. Bonhoeffer pointed out that Barth's beginning point was neither the World War nor the cultural crisis. . From the beginning Bonhoeffer is also critical of Barth. but from a village pulpit. from the struggle to hear the Word between God and the devil. made God the central theme of theology. Heim had accused Barth of trying to make God an object of thought. Bonhoeffer wrote. Bonhoeffer writes of Barth. Bonhoeffer stood side by side with Barth reckoning on a God who is truly God. sharply distinguishing God from humanity and the world so that God in God's freedom becomes the real theme of theology again. "The turning point is therefore not an event of history in general. 156. Bonhoeffer reveals the extent of his agreement with Barth. In a review of Karl Heim's book. God is neither far nor near. taking Feuerbach to heart. and which therefore makes use of a dialectical form of speech. When Barth speaks of transcendence. in Barth it is the God who brings to decision. Instead. Glaube und Denken (1932). V.11 In his evaluation of Barth's theology in his Berlin lecture on the history of systematic theology in the twentieth century. the God who comes as opposed to the God who merely exists. but rather a new coming to the Word. So although Barth has restored God and God's actual Word to the center of GS GS i3 GS U GS U U III. though they sinfully try. Sorum Barth. His theology arose. Only on that basis can one then consider what the world and human existence are all about. God himself must speak on Sunday morning at 10 a. a human being's word is bound to an act of God that precedes it. His extreme actualism cannot articulate a being of God that would be the basis of the earthly existence of God's people.

Consequently. hence. His early understanding of Luther is evident in a paper he wrote in Karl Holl's Luther seminar in 1926 entitled "Luthers Anschauungen vom Heiligen GS III. the word of justification. but a third way. 18 In 1933 Bonhoeffer recommended that the young theologian should go back to the sources. But Luther was not caught in such a bind. for Bonhoeffer's task was nothing else than to "show us Luther. 227. 247)." a world in which God is truly present.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER theology. the church's message is essentially other-worldly and therefore ineffectual. Bonhoeffer states what could be taken as a definition of his theological task: "It is to the shame of presentday Lutherans that it simply does not occur to them to define the Lutheran understanding of revelation in opposition to the Catholic notion of substance on the one side. Jacobs and Walther I. the gift that also gives the foundation of the whole world's reality. 226. its own grasping for divinity in actual opposition to God. For Luther.293-313. "to the real Bible. Any understanding of the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer must begin with an understanding of his understanding of the theology of Martin Luther. Bonhoeffer seeks to follow Luther. So dogmatics and ethics are one. ET: 'Trade and Usury/' ed. Charles M. perhaps virtually equivalent. The church's life is truly God's life by virtue of the imputation."15 The church's life in the world is not its efforts to imitate God and somehow attain to the character of God's life." WA 15. Still thinking in the categories of Akt und Sein in this lecture in 1932. i7 GS V. God and humans are not in the same world." GS V. The liberals have only ethics (the world) and cannot make dogmatics (God) intelligible and Barth has only dogmatics (God) and cannot make ethics (the world) intelligible. trans. The Word and Sacraments set Christians in a "Christmas world. 1962) 233-72. Brandt. Precisely God's being God (and it is deeply in the flesh on the cross that God achieves being God to his fallen creatures) is what gives to believers the gift of concrete. Walther I. So both fail to adequately elucidate the place where God and the world are both real. revealing that the "real Bible" and the "real Luther" were closely related in his mind."18 THE "HOLY CIRCLE": BONHOEFFER'S EARLY UNDERSTANDING OF LUTHER Bonhoeffer staked out his basic position as an interpreter of Luther while still a student. Bonhoeffer concludes his lecture on systematic theology in the twentieth century as follows. and the actualism of the Reformed on the other. in Luther's WorL·. he has done so at the expense of not taking the world as seriously as the liberals did. to the real Luther" (GS III. which is the gift to it of God's earthly existence in Jesus Christ. God is truly God. present in the church itself: "The congregation is the present Christ himself. Brandt. 16 Bonhoeffer evidently means Luther's "Von Kaufshandlung und Wuchen. the way of Martin Luther. the year before The Bondage of the Will. not by being made distinct from the world but by going deeply and unreservedly into the world. there is a chasm between dogmatics and ethics. vol. Ì5 . bodily existence in this world. 45 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press. Bonhoeffer's way between his teachers and Barth is not some compromise between the two. Why can't we do that anymore? Who shows us Luther?" 17 Luther could do both dogmatics and ethics at the same time. that is. 226. This pamphlet was written in 1524. "Luther could write The Bondage of the Will and the pamphlet on usury 16 at the same time.

Wietzke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Mohr [Paul Siebeck]. (Tübingen: J.21 The very fact that God does not withdraw the commandment from the guilty sinner reveals that God still wishes to be in relationship to the sinner. 355-410.C."19 A close reading of this paper reveals Bonhoeffer in the process of formulating the nucleus of his own theological position as he found his way between Barth and his teachers—in this case. trans. Sorum Geist nach den Disputationen von 1535-1545 herausgegeben von Drews. 20 . the church had understood the moral life as that which established one's relationship with God. and the sinner under judgment lays hold of the commandment itself as the implicit forgiveness of sins. in a real sense wielding God against God. Luther discerned the basic immorality of the Roman Catholic conception of morality. One is freed from individualistic self-seeking in the moral life to a life of service within the community. Thus. There. The original German versions are in Karl Holl. which must be offered with a will wholly oriented toward God in love and faith. either for salvation itself or else for a higher level of salvation. Luther made the great discovery that morality is not the basis of religion (right relationship to God) but rather that religion is the basis of true morality. ET: The Reconstruction of Morality. Bense. Meuser and Walter R. the message of justification is the only basis of true morality. Holl's interpretation of Luther aimed to be profoundly theocentric. "If it [the gospel J did not lay hold of him as a divine imperative. Holl—to an understanding of Luther that undergirded all his subsequent theological work. Fred W. without any i9 DBW 9. The Reconstruction of Morality and What Did Luther Understand by Religion?70 Holl interpreted Luther in terms of a religion of conscience. in part. the assurance that one is truly dealing with God. Wietzke (Minneapolis: Augsburg. 11-20. Meuser and Walter R. Bense.Jonathan D. Luther would be suspicious of himself lest his whole faith in the forgiveness of sins should have originated merely in his own will to live rather than to perish" (114). ed. But Luther's conscience would not let him believe that he could ever make any claim on God through his own miserable works. and that the forgiveness of sins is not a mere wishfulfillment of the ego. without any selfish motives at all. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Kirchengeschichte I: Luther. What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 49. Fred W. Since Augustine. According to Holl. 21 This comes out particularly clearly in Holl's reply to Gogarten's critique of his Luther interpretation. 1977). In the midst of his despair. not with a projection of oneself. See also Holl. Bonhoeffer based his essay. The commandment—particularly the First Commandment—as the demand for a total submission to God out of a pure duty to God that is free of all self-seeking is the foundation of transcendence. James Luther Adams and Walter F. 1923) 1110. 1979) and What Did Luther Understand by Religion? ed. The purpose for doing good was to acquire merit.B.155-287. The certainty that one is forgiven by God creates a new feeling within one that leads to freely and joyfully loving God and the neighbor without any selfish ulterior motives at all. Precisely in thus giving all glory to God in Anfechtungen (spiritual trial). trans. holding God to God's own primal will for communion with the creature for God's sake. on two of Holl's essays. He experienced the claim of God on him as sheer duty. 2d and 3d expanded and improved ed. James Luther Adams and Walter F. printed in translation as an appendix to What Did Luther Understand by Religion. Holl writes.

On the other hand.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER benefit in sight for the self. is how the Father is disposed" (53). n. His main point is that Christ's main function is to reveal the Father's will. Bonhoeffer later judged that in Holl's version of Luther Christ is at bottom merely a teacher. whose teachings can be detached without harm from his person. Despite his intentions. where Bonhoeffer makes this point. The will suffers a complete transformation with the reception of the gospel. then it is hard to see how Christ is finally more than a teacher. which is founded on the consciousness of one's duty to fear and love God completely free of any thought of seeking after one's own blessedness. So Holl has not really advanced fundamentally beyond the liberal theology from which he sprang. but it is a transformation that is completely intelligible in immanent terms and can be fully described psychologically. See "Gogarten's Understanding of Luther. ." DBW 10. one has to go beyond Christ to the primal God-relationship given in the First Commandment. which becomes the new will that responds to God's grace in joy and gratitude. Luther's merit. The human self retains its continuity throughout and Christianity is explicated in terms of its needs and aspirations. a revealer in his human life of the will of God. and from which he was consciously trying to distance himself after World War I. The knowledge of the forgiveness of sins places religion on its true basis by transforming the despairing conscience into the joyful conscience. however. So despite his more radical understanding of sin. See What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 78. As we have seen. according to Holl. Holl's position is still essentially anthropocentric. Christ recedes far into the background in Holl's conception of Luther. 51-53. which seems to accord with a view of Christ as merely a teacher or. 23 Holl's conception of Christ in Luther is quite confusing and contradictory. 28. since in Anfechtungen. which is not surprising given the extreme christocentrism that most interpreters now find in Luther. is to have shown the true earnestness of human religion in general. therefore. On the one hand. "What ultimately matters. and whose person is therefore ultimately unimportant to faith. however. Holl has not really moved beyond the liberal conception of Christ as essentially a teacher. If this is true. in his reply to Gogarten Holl vehemently rejects the accusation that he equated the divinity of Christ with Christ's perfect human compliance with the divine imperative—without." in What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 116. when Christ appears as judging law-giver. both the depths of the moral demand and the radicality of the offer of forgiveness. Holl is not unhappy to report that Luther often verges on the heresies of subordinationism and monophysitism (of the human nature). "Die Frage nach dem Menschen in der Gegenwärtigen Philosophie und Theologie. Holl responded to Gogarten's similar critique of his position in a lengthy footnote in What Did Luther Understand by Religion.23 By the time the young Bonhoeffer wrote his paper for Holl's seminar he had come under the influence of Barth and these last two points—Holl's anthropocentric reliance on human religion as the foundation for understanding Christianity and his devaluing of Christ—would surely have become objectionable to him. and there lay hold of God as gracious. explaining what he does believe about the divinity of Christ in Luther. at best. n. the self gives God his right and becomes conformed to Christ in the true God-relationship. The continuity between the old and new existence is in the inward experience of believers. 49. the one who reveals that God wills to be gracious to sinners. 22 Indeed. Bonhoeffer 22 See the 1930 Berlin lecture. 371. Christ seems almost superfluous in Holl's schema.

"Gogarten's Understanding of Luther. 1978) 196. but not Luther "The very names Kierkegaard. of course. Sorum could not be satisfied with Holl's "psychologism " For Bonhoeffer. The Epistle to the Romans." in What Did Luther Understand by Religion7115 27 Holl. the conscience could not possibly be the bridge to the transcendent. the human religious impulse would be entirely in control But it is this very impulse. most especially in his interpretation of Luther "Theological logic has the intention of freeing itself from psychologism. upon which we may reverently cross " This may go back to Melanchthon." in What Did Luther Understand by Religion7 117 25 24 24 . 324). the law of consciousness that is actually expressed in religious life which provides the basis for determining the truth of religion. the whole moral and religious self—including even the conscience that perceives the sinfulness of human striving after blessedness—that must come to an end with the actual coming of God ^ Some of Holl's critiques of the nascent dialectical theology nevertheless would always find echoes m Bonhoeffer In his reply to Gogarten's attack on his Luther interpretation. MA Peter Smith. he remarks. must also be believed Bonhoeffer is here rejecting the Troeltschian religious apnon. a fatal move that a decade later would lead many leading German Protestants. and also for the purification and development of naturally occurring psychological religion See DBW 9. Calvin. Paul. underscores Bonhoeffer's rejection of psychologism. Gogarten among them. but as what is given in revelation recognizing that which is spoken in revelation and the authorities " Sin. trans Edwyn Hoskyns (London Oxford University Press. Holl asks how a gospel that is totally alien to human moral and religious experience can reach people m their concrete lives "How do we get from the testimony of theology (and preaching) to conviction 7 " 2 6 Bonhoeffer will never ask the question in terms of the famous "point of contact. it does not speak of sin and revelation as the content of consciousness.Jonathan D. which most likely stems from his time as a student. 1933) 44. but he will never be content to say that one must preach the Word of God in defiance of earthly reality and simply wait for God to unilaterally work the miracle of faith Holl further accuses Gogarten of subscribing to the old Melanchthoman Lutheran Orthodoxy. much less its guarantor In that case. trans Douglas Horton (Gloucester. and Jeremiah suggest what Schleiermacher never possessed.48-49. in which Christ is merely the one who covers the believer's sin as faith lays hold of his atoning work Holl insists that Luther believes that Christ is also "alive and at work in the hearts of believers" so that the "one with whom God—out of free grace—has entered into relationship will actually become righteous in this relationship " 2 7 He goes on almost prophetically to attack Gogarten's virtual detachment of "secular matters" from any moral standards given in revelation. did not fall into this trap His refusal to separate faith in Christ from obedience to Chnst made him the theological leader of the resistance to the Naziftcation of the church and a bitter opponent of Gogarten and his kind Bonhoeffer stood firmly with Barth in the church struggle Yet he would always until the end of his life have reservations The "Notiz zu Luthers Romerbriefvorlesung" (DBW 9. Luther. 324." as Holl does here. "Gogarten's Understanding of Luther. η 3 See Barth's critique of religion. Barth expresses this most pungently "There are those to whom Schleiermacher's peculiar excellence lies in his having discovered a conception of religion by which he overcame Luther's socalled dualism and connected earth and heaven by a much needed bridge. 67 and throughout In The Word of God and the Word of Man. into the arms of the Nazis Barth. a clear and direct apprehension of the truth that man is made to serve God and not God to serve man " 26 Holl.

as certainly as the Spirit is in him. the true God. gives the realization that the commandments are to be followed out of the will of the one commanding." working through the preaching of the law. and as such. Apart from this certainty. Bonhoeffer's original position does emerge with some clarity. . The Spirit in majesty is the Holy Spirit. however. As one would expect in such an immature work. and a mighty battle rages between the two colossal powers. the way is open to their consolation. is righteous and holy precisely as sinner. He reports that Luther teaches that the Holy Spirit "in majesty. and grasp in faith the forgiveness of sins by the working of the Holy Spirit. just as certainly is he also in the flesh. they must repeatedly turn from despair and give God the glory as children." 29 The more the Spirit's power grows in the believer. Bonhoeffer. the deeper the knowledge of sin. had to find his own way to Luther. 388. just as certainly is he still a sinner in this world. indeed. When those undergoing Anfechtung (spiritual trial) come to believe that it is the true God who is after them. the whole weight of sinfulness falls upon a person and one realizes for the first time what conscience is. cannot let the person be destroyed."28 Since even Christians remain in the power of sin and cannot not sin. This is not a merely subjective psychological experience. that is. not as slaves. and this student essay reveals how he combined Holl's interpretation with basic insights from Barth in order to do just that. preventing him from ever becoming a true Barthian (to say nothing of falling in with Gogarten's brand of Neo-Lutheranism) even as he deeply identified himself with Barth's protest against liberal theology. With this realization. Those with a secure conscience cannot hate and blaspheme God. a person cannot even admit to being a sinner. Yet. the combination of the two positions is sometimes crude. The person believes in the fact that this burden is removed and gains the evangelica desperatio. This new self. the struggle against sin is not even joined. then. the Holy Spirit removes it again. [A]nd as certainly as he [the believer] is righteous before God.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER about Barth's ability to articulate a concrete ethic on the basis of his fundamental theological position. 385. DBW 9. The foundation of this struggle and repentance is the certainty that Jesus has won the victory. The greatest danger to the 28 29 DBW 9. but humans can only follow them out of their own will. only to fall into sin again. much less hate his or her sin. but as the burden of sin is laid upon the person. but a truly objective collision between God as God and the human. in some places amounting to little more than a juxtaposition of the two. since they only have their own false god. Bonhoeffer follows Holl's conception quite closely in much of his exposition of Luther. Hatred for God becomes love for God and the person attains to the fulfillment of the law and is righteous and holy before God. "For Luther it is precisely sinful human beings in their sinfulness who are in a state of grace. in which Christians continually only make a beginning at living in faith. and it was this position that formed the foundation of all his future work. Clearly Holl's protests are a consistent theme in Bonhoeffer's career. This is evangelical repentance.

etc. in me "He [Luther] could equally well say I believe. I possess Christ as gift In fact. a "holy circle" comes into being Bonhoeffer borrows this concept of a "holy circle" from Barth and his colleagues 31 In his student paper. dies. I have Christ '. when mathematical axioms are held to be self-evident In that case an a prion spmtual structure of human beings is assumed that in spintual understanding is first created by God For God can only be grasped out of God's Spirit Spintual understanding is therefore experience of the most remarkable kind. for example. doubt is the work of the law The whole ministry of the Spirit leads to a yearning for the Last Day. however. virtually the essence of sin The work of the gospel is certainty with regard to God's will for one. in Luther. and not a pnon Only here does enlightenment occur.Jonathan D. and Christ lives. it is the Word alone that mediates the Spirit " But Holl does not develop this systematically. as Christ In the faith worked by the Holy Spirit. God only by God Spiritual understanding is not to be identified with a prion insight. 33 DBW 9. not merely objective historical events As such. breaks with Holl at the crucial point by introducing Barth's eschatological discontinuity between the old self and the new self But for Bonhoeffer the discontinuity is not based on the abstract otherness of Barth's God. Bonhoeffer's Luther interpretation is chnstocentnc (and. 567. as. Christ is in me as faith is m me. Sorum believer is to be overwhelmed by sadness over one's sin. the discontinuity is based on the substitution of a totally new self for the old sinful self. alsofindsa hermeneu heal "circle" in Luther "One must have the Spint in order to understand the Word. therefore truly theocentnc ) It is not the self's perception of the awesomeness of the moral demand before God but rather Chnst—God deep in the flesh under the cross—that secures transcendence The self dies and is replaced by Christ In this early writing. not in his absolute essence. in which he cannot be grasped. when faith will be seeing and when believers will be able to bear the vision of the Spirit in glory because their hearts are entirely cleansed Bonhoeffer. as Christ The Holy Spirit as gift produces faith Like can only be grasped by like Faith grasps God. I have the Holy Spirit. 314 31 30 . "Referat über historische und pneumatische Schriftauslegung. but as gift. I grasp subjectively that Chnst's death and resurrection are for me. but conversely. Bonhoeffer expresses his christology in terms of the Holy Spirit as gift."32 Bonhoeffer describes the circle m "spiritual" interpretation If it really is God who speaks m the Bible. and this new self is none other than Christ himself. but again God who hears The object of knowledge must make the knowing subject as the organ of knowing in the act of knowing In this way. for such sadness is itself sin. for the conscience cannot be the organ that apprehends revelation The conscience must DBW 9. that is. God "becomes" Holy Spirit Like can only be known by like. without which everything amounts to nothing ^ The holy circle undermines the religion of conscience Holl finds m Luther.30 In this way. one might add. God who is pro me In contrast to Holl. 309-314. and instead explains it in terms of Dilthey's hermenéutica] circle (See below ) 32 DBW 9. then it cannot be humans who hear. 373 Holl.

DBW 9. then Christ is not lord. 397. Bonhoeffer interprets eschatologically The Holy Spirit is not to be identified with a feeling in response to God's forgiveness "that springs u p out of the innermost depths of personal being." DBW 9. But Bonhoeffer parts company with Barth by grounding transcendence. while at the same time asserting its radical discontinuity with the old (which was impossible for Holl but absolutely necessary for Barth). In that case. the Holy Spirit comes through the Word. with regard to Luther's view of the Holy Spirit under consideration here. but its power to relate its content to me is hidden from m e . the young Bonhoeffer could describe the concrete existence of the new self in the world (which was difficult for Barth but not for Holl). 36 DBW 9. which then critiques it. as the Word of the crucified Christ. As Bonhoeffer writes. Holl wrote in the margin at this point. 395-6. The self dies. Bonhoeffer therefore concludes that Luther's view of spiritual understanding has nothing to do with Dilthey's (and Holl's) psychological interpretation. the self would be intact and have the Word at its disposal. the need to satisfy the law. thereby in effect ratifying it as still binding and securing the continuity of the legal self. The gospel is not the mere satisfying of the legal demand. But the Holy Spirit is not simply to be identified with the Word." 396." DBW 9. What Did Luther Understand by Religion? 53. the Word. Bonhoeffer can take over Holl's description of Luther's concept of the new self. Faith. reception of the Word of justification. which posits a different kind of "circle. which then critiques it further. the self whose needs Christ serves—in this case. the Word is accessible to me and its content can be grasped intellectually. My new existence is Christ's existence in the world. "but instead is purely the work of the Spirit (passio). Instead. 396. If that is so. it is without interest. One then brings this modified consciousness to the text. The Spirit working in the Word must become the receptor of the Word as well as the proclaimer. is in no sense one's own work.28." 34 The Holy Spirit takes the place of that "personal being" in the coming of the Word of justification. relationship to the conscience. n. "To be sure. In order for this to happen. 181." from creation. ."36 The self contributes nothing at all."37 In Dilthey's hermeneutical circle. n. 37 "Dilthey expounded the psychological interpretation of the general phenomenon of spiritual understanding. one ^Holl. "What is spiritual understanding? Personal relationship. but what Holl interprets psychologically. not in the abstract distinction of Creator." 35 . and takes its place. . Cf. but in the Creator's unreservedly going into creation to take the place of sinners. the "Wholly Other. not even its own deepest and purest apprehension of the legal demand. In this way. must go into the sinner and take the sinner's place as the one who is for the sinner. one brings one's own consciousness to a text." 35 To apprehend the Word as "for me"—what Bonhoeffer calls "spiritual understanding"—is the sovereign work of the Spirit. In order to acquire faith from the Word. I need spiritual understanding. and not my own at all. But Christ abolishes the whole legal schema. "Referat über historische und pneumatische Schriftauslegung. Therefore. In this way. the self remains lord.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER come to an end with the coming of God's Spirit. including the legal self. as if one could possess the Spirit by possessing the Word. 315: "It belongs to the essence of the Word that is expresses a relation to its content. but its relation to the Spirit is not one of necessity.

faith is not the self extending beyond itself—and behind the Word—to gain the experience of certainty. God is not just the object of faith. Faith believes that the one who is working in one is the very Spirit of Christ. This is the foundation upon which Bonhoeffer will later build with such imagination 38 39 40 DBW 9. and therefore they become certain through their works. Here we stand at a crucial place in Luther's concept of the Christian life for Bonhoeffer. I believe in him. In his earlier essay on spiritual interpretation. 313-14. . and gratitude that is supposedly the true meaning of the message of the gospel. Faith can only become certain out of faith. "God is because I believe him and I believe him because he is. both to oneself and to others. Luther directs people to look outside themselves to their works. in Christ. which is God's will itself. there is no room for any independent human subject." 40 If the Holy Spirit is always subject. the whole moral and religious self. even a Christian's good conscience. But it is insofar as they believe that they become certain through their works. Sorum hopes eventually to share at least approximately in the same experience that the author had." faith. the self comes to an end in "spiritual understanding.]"38 But in Luther. understands out of the content [of the text itself. DBW 9. how can they be the basis of certainty that one has the Holy Spirit? Bonhoeffer answers: [TJhose who truly believe have the strength to believe that even their impure and imperfect works please God and are pure and perfect in his sight. joy. like can only grasp like. Bonhoeffer points out that a good conscience. Bonhoeffer had pointed out that in Dilthey's hermeneutic the interpreting "I" can never quite come to the content of the text. it cannot supply the "proof" of faith. and something entirely new comes on the scene. Bonhoeffer discovers that instead of directing people to look within themselves to their consciences for certainty.Jonathan D. but always remains essentially alone—and in control: "Even the most sympathetic interpreter understands out of his or her own "I. Far from being the locus of the union of divine and human freedom in the transformed will. If the self dies. is thoroughly ambiguous. which will testify to the authenticity of one's faith.) DBW 9. Instead. The conscience. the Word that takes the place of the sinner." so to speak. is "out of the loop. 393. We are back to the holy circle. the coming of the Holy Spirit means the death of the self. Faith will produce acts of love. 393. I have the Spirit because I believe that I do and because I have the Holy Spirit. In what is surely a critique of Holl. but also the subject. So what can supply the proof of faith? Where is this union of divine and human freedom outside the self that grounds the certainty of faith? The answer is surprising. the certainty of having the Holy Spirit. But since these works remain marred by sin. the place that explicates the concrete nature of the Christian life. (Bonhoeffer's emphasis. through which faith is first to be made certain?9 So one becomes certain through one's works in that one regards them in faith as Christ's works." It dies. according to Bonhoeffer. then the certainty of faith. must find its ground outside the self. the self is at an end.

then. being accounted a sinner for the sake of humanity. The locus of the union of human and divine freedom is not in the transformed will. as saint and as sinner. but in one's actions. for the sinful human must always have some hope that somehow the law can be fulfilled. Their whole identity is to be sinners borne by Christ. the believer grasps his or her sinfulness—the law purely as accusing voice—in grasping Christ as the one who became a sinner for the believer.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER and insight. This faith is what. not as mediated by one's own conscience. precisely as existence under the cross that does not any more seek to climb out of the place that Christ took for sinful humanity. When they claim their works in all their sinfulness and impurity. no matter how refined. This is so because faith is the laying hold of the concrete. In claiming one's self as sinful. One's whole identity. is given in the imputation. are deeds done without any hope of merit at all. is essentially egoistic. Acceding to the law as pure accusing voice is precisely what the sinful human can never do. Deeds done in faith. in the movement into one's own sinful existence. In effect. earthly life of Jesus. yet believe that these works are pleasing to God. In terms of law and gospel. Therefore. Bonhoeffer's christocentric view leads him to see both law and gospel revealed in Christ. in grasping one's works in faith as utterly sinful one grasps Christ who became utterly sinful for humanity's sake. could not completely excise self-seeking from it. not a continuously existing self appropriating for itself the "knowledge" of the forgiveness of sins and thereby acquiring new affections of certainty and gratitude (a so-called "new self") that become the motives for true good works. trusting in him as the one who alone is righteous. if only through having the accounts squared by being forgiven by God so that this forgiveness can be the basis of a "reconstruction of morality. in finally going into the actuality of their sinful lives. But for Bonhoeffer. as long as he held onto the legal schema. gives one one's reality as a sinner without any hope at all of rescuing oneself from sin within the framework of the legal schema. with its downward movement toward the cross. one loses oneself and has only Christ. The life of the Christian is truly new. They lose all claim on their works. for one could only give all glory to God for God's sake alone for one's own sake alone. humans go into God's life. The death of the self in faith is an entirely concrete happening. not an inward experience that transforms one's dispositions. as it would seem to be for Holl. an alien existence. but because faith refers them entirely to Christ. What comes to expression in the world in the Christian's works is Christ's own life. for the first time. To grasp Christ in faith is to grasp one's sinfulness as mediated by Christ. so that it can no longer be confused with the gospel." We see here that Holl himself. with its upward movement toward glory. Faith is therefore a concrete action in the world. not because they are done out of a joyous and thankful conscience. an eschatological existence. in place of the life of the moral and religious person. for it is only in Christ that the law becomes pure accusing voice. even the claim that might accrue to their credit for agonizing over their sins to the point of paralysis. where one is borne by Christ. God has led and still leads a concrete life in the world defined once and for all by Jesus' going under sin. they are claiming their identity as sinners. yet believing that they are pleasing to the God who justifies the ungodly. The old self is dead. To go into one's sinful existence as that sinfulness is mediated to one by . The legal schema.

in Christian faith there is no interpretation of the world ahead of time according to an idea of God. The boundary between the old and the new does not appear where the inadequacy of the old comes into view and the self must turn to God for divine help. or even transforming the self so that it can reach its goal of righteousness and communion with God. "No other current ethical concept goes as far as Bonhoeffer's ethics in trying to avoid any trace of synergism. Bonhoeffer states that the Pharisees forgot that God is God and humans are humans and God stands over and against the whole human. 1981) 15. but waits for an answer from God himself. they are identical to God's unilateral act for the world at the cross of Jesus Christ. The boundary between the old and the new appears in this world where one claims one's sinfulness in its totality as it is given in Christ and thereby exhibits the bodily. 413-14. writes. Christianity is about the substitution of Christ for the totally sinful self. he remarks that both Paul and John teach the total inability of human beings to save themselves. completely free from the law. appears entirely within this world and within history in the works of believers entered into in faith. ed. in his article "The Forms of Justification: On the Question of the Structure in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theology. Hans Pfeifer. 423-33. the boundary between the old and the new. Christianity is not about supplementing. THE ESCHATOLOGICAL BOUNDARY In this way. body and spirit. In a paper he wrote for Deißmann. the eschatological boundary." DBW 10. "Charakter und Ethische Konsequenzen des Religiösen Determinismus/' (1931) (DBW 10. in which good and evil are always already subsumed in an a priori synthesis within the idea of God. for the first time brings the individual human being into existence before God as a will opposed to God 41 Bonhoeffer repeatedly returns to this theme. The Christian life is therefore both entirely concrete and entirely new. concrete life of Christ within the world. Bonhoeffer maintains in DBW 10. So at the very beginning of his theological development. This is true of the later Bonhoeffer as well. 485-91). The eschatological boundary appears in the world where human beings. is the main point of Luther's Bondage of the Will. He was especially at pains to stress this point with Americans. The human does not know the answer ahead of time. 411) Bonhoeffer asserted that belief that God works alone to save humanity. Bonhoeffer defines the boundary between God and the world as a monergism of the Spirit as understood within the context of Luther's doctrine of justification. He goes on to say that in contrast to religious determinism. Klassen (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. but rather a questioning of the human and his or her situation before God. are completely emptied and die to themselves and the world in their works. The believer leaves behind the norms of this world entirely and lives Christ's own life in this world." . as the one who acts alone in his creating and redeeming Word. God alone works in freedom. These works of the believer are therefore not at all works of the self. God and human being stand as person and person over and against one another. strengthening. and God as truly God. coming in the Word. In a very early sermon (DBW 9. J. The human remains fully in the almighty power of God. and belief in justification by faith are the same. in which Bonhoeffer makes this point in a presentation of the Barthian position to his American fellow students.41 The Spirit of God. In the lecture. Sorum Christ is to live Christ's own life on earth. See also "Concerning the Christian Idea of God." in A Bonhoeffer Legacy: Essays in Understanding.Jonathan D. first and foremost. without human cooperation. A. the life of the one who went under sin for our sake. Believers are not left to wonder where the norms of this world leave off and the norms introduced by Christianity begin. in faith in Christ. between this age and the age to come. This. God is his theme.

The concept of Stellvertretung ("substitution") stands at the very center of Bonhoeffer's theology because his understanding of Luther's teaching on justification by faith always stands at the center of his theology. The Christian life is (at least ideally) a process of the defect gradually diminishing in a person (or a community of persons) the more the remedy is allowed to work. but the death of the self.. which we may summarize in general terms as follows: 1. who was born. "Christ existing . is basic for all his writings. who suffered. but also of much of presentday Christianity in all its variety. even if closely identified with it. which he expounds at length in his 1933 christology lectures. the salvation of the soul) or primarily social terms (e. a certainty based on the fact that the Holy Spirit alone is at work in justification. God is God by virtue of an a priori distinction between God and creation. So the conflict between God's freedom and ours remains an unsolvable puzzle that can finally only be finessed or ignored. that the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ is the new self. however feeble. This healing may be understood in primarily individualistic terms (e. Any God that theology posits is a threat to human freedom. The true boundary between the old and the new is drawn as God gives himself over as invincible gift to be the believer's own identity. It differs fundamentally from the basic paradigm underlying most theology. It is evident that this paradigm describes the basic outline. Bonhoeffer's basic paradigm. 2. not only of the medieval Christianity criticized by the Reformation. the establishment of the kingdom of God). that can respond to the remedy that God offers and make it effective in the life of the self. 5.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER but who is a new self in the certainty of Christ's death and resurrection for me. It is the key to Bonhoeffer's ground-breaking work on ecclesiology and theological anthropology in Sanctorum Communio and Act and Being. The "holy circle" indicates that Christ takes the place of the believer. on the other hand. parallels Luther's in protest against both medieval and modern Christianity. The human will is free with regard to its relationship with God. The only God we know is the human being Jesus. his two dissertations. 4. Faith is a complete orientation of the self toward Christ. God is posited as in some way other than that world. God is not defined abstractly in distinction from the world. This christology. 2. The theme of theology is not the healing of the self. There always remains some substrate of good within the self. but concretely as fully in the world without remainder in the life and death of the human being Jesus Christ. The beginning point of theology is some understanding of the world. so that Christ is the believer's true self.. 3. indeed. In either case theology describes some defect in human selves and how that defect is to be remedied. His paradigm is as follows: 1.g. God's work in some way effects the healing of a fallen creation.g. BONHOEFFER'S BASIC PARADIGM This understanding of the cross as the eschatological boundary is the basic paradigm of all of Bonhoeffer's later theology. and who died for us. the very freedom that posits this God in the first place.

Jonathan D . but is bound to refuse it. The doctrine of human free will with regard to salvation necessarily reduces Christianity to an active imitatio. finally forcing Christianity to abandon the religious guise it has worn for so long and reclaim its identity at the cross of Jesus. Bonhoeffer understood predestination in the spirit of Luther's Bondage of the Will: as the final nail in the coffin of the sinful self anxiously trying to secure its own election." The critique of "religion" and the attempt at a non-religious interpretation of Biblical concepts in Letters and Papers from Prison is Bonhoeffer's final and sharpest critique of the Christianity that tries to palm itself off as the answer to the various "religious needs" that human beings supposedly have. Bonhoeffer's most extensive reflections on the death of the self are in The Cost of Discipleship. The self is Christ. The predestining God has revealed his decision for the believer in the proclamation of the cross as invincibly for the believer. 5. and not to itself at all. The moment of human freedom . The Christian life is a repeated giving up of the idea of advancing in righteousness understood as a quality of the self in order instead to grasp Christ in faith as one's only righteousness. the one who works all in all. Faith as non-reflexive regard for Christ is truly the death of the self and all claims the self makes for itself. 3. which clings to Christ alone. The human will is not free to accede to what God has done in Christ. where all religious claims die and believers are forced down into the world. not the mere humbling of the self or the death of the self in some other merely metaphorical sense—is at the core of Bonhoeffer's theology. Sorum as congregation" is Bonhoeffer's way of describing the justified community whose person is the Christ-person. Bonhoeffer's doctrine of predestination never lapses into a fatalism. Life Together reports Bonhoeffer's experience of life together in a community of the Word that understood itself as "Christ existing as congregation. The confession that one will inevitably and incorrigibly refuse Christ is integral to faith. Even the slightest concession to "free will" at this point gives up everything. there to watch with him and share in his bearing of the sufferings of the world. Therefore. It is precisely in weakness at the cross that God is truly God. without (the religious) "God. Bonhoeffer claims that the "world come of age" can get along very well without this Christianity's nostrums. The death of the self with Jesus—the actual death of the self. God's freedom and human freedom co-inhere. That God works all in all without human cooperation is always fundamental to Bonhoeffer. where he struggles to break free entirely from the "psychologism" of his teachers by means of his concept of "following" (Nachfolge). God's unilateral decision puts an end to living out of one's possibilities and marks the beginning of living out of the actuality of the present and living God. even if the extent of the imitatio is merely to "accept" the offer of God's grace. 4. It is not an abstract doctrine that obviates the need for any others (you are either predestined or not and there is nothing you can do about it either way)." but with Jesus. the only one who works in the believer from beginning to end. The conflict between the two disappears because true human freedom only appears with the believer's new identity as Christ given in the Word of justification. The believer for the first time has the freedom to enter into his or her actuality as sinner even as Christ must be all in all for the believer in the Word of justification.

42 In his biography of Bonhoeffer. 1970) 153-56. It is the coming to expression in the life of believers of the very life of Christ himself. But what others observe and experience in them is the very love of Christ. not just through theological reflection. It is the passive suffering of grace. but a passive imitatio whose content is precisely the giving u p of such striving. that christology and ethics are mediated only through justification by faith. living his life instead of a life one manufactures for oneself with works of the law. The Christian life is being borne by him. If any good is to happen through me. They never truly know what God is doing in them. in which the very resurrection life of God becomes evident in the life of believers under the cross. instead of being that which constitutes their identity. Bethge speaks of Bonhoeffer "becoming a Christian" about this time. Their works. At the same time. then we can avoid the many false starts and dead-ends that have marred Bonhoeffer interpretation and begin to understand and appropriate his witness to Jesus Christ in our own context. being persecuted by an evil world for his sake. but through following the way of Christ himself. and being preserved in hope of a resurrection like his. With the five points of this paradigm firmly in mind. are lost to them. even the most obscure and fragmentary of Bonhoeffer's writings become clear. His whole theological production reflects his efforts to elucidate this God's coming and presence as it had to be expressed differently in different contexts. Eric Mosbacher and others (New York: Harper & Row. It is not an active imitatio that strives to attain a standard set before it. trans. Believers lose themselves in looking to Christ alone and in this way they are the very body of Christ. Bonhoeffer's most extensive completed work. Following Jesus is entering into Jesus' own existence in this world. his understanding of the issues involved deepened. is his explication of this new imitatio to a church for which the Christian life had become little more than assent to the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins. . Bonhoeffer took seriously God's actual presence in the world in Jesus Christ as the one who justifies the ungodly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. being justified by faith in him alone. God will have to do it! Note carefully the fundamentally different imitatio that comes into view here. From an early age.42 If we do not fail to remember the essential structure of Bonhoeffer's theology. especially after about 1932. See Eberhard Bethge. The Cost of Discipleship.BONHOEFFER'S EARLY INTERPRETATION OF LUTHER in the word of justification is to claim one's works as utterly sinful and yet to dare them in the faith that the Holy Spirit is working in them.

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