Chapter 4: The Church Seeking to Know Itself

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
by Dallas M. Roark

Chapter 4: The Church Seeking to Know Itself

We turn now to Bonhoeffer’s work, Christ, the Center. The choice is an arbitrary one, but perhaps not without justification. The lectures entitled Creation and Fall could well be considered next, because the questions raised in Creation and Fall brought Bonhoeffer to consider the place of Christ.

Christology is fundamental to Bonhoeffer’s thought, yet in turning to the Christology we have an unusual problem. The Christology lectures are reconstructions of notes taken by students. Eberhard Bethge, the man who knows Bonhoeffer most intimately, reconstructed them, and their accuracy is enhanced by his position and understanding of Bonhoeffer. The lectures were delivered in the summer semester of 1933 at the University of Berlin. Intended to be complete in three parts, Bonhoeffer only finished two of them.


The introduction places the question of Christology in its setting. Christology must be studied by the worshiping community. The Word of God, the Logos, is not an idea which cannot be worshiped, but a person. How does one understand a person? The meaningful question is: Who are you? The wrong questions are: What are you? or How can you be what you are?

Bonhoeffer rejects two questions in Christology. The first is: How should the Incarnation be conceived? The early church foundered on this one. The second is: What is this being? Modern liberal theology foundered on this question. The New Testament and, of course, Bonhoeffer’s inspiration, Luther, followed the middle path. The central question is: Who is this Person?

Bonhoeffer questions the traditional rubric of theology, "the person and work of Christ."1 The question was asked: "Does the work interpret the person or the person the work?" Bonhoeffer agrees with Luther that the person determines the meaning of the work, not the other way around. The work may appear good, but it could have been done by the devil. If the person is primary, then an "example-type" religion is out, because Jesus is the Son of God. A merely idealistic founder can be imitated, but the Son of God does a work which I am not capable of imitating. All avenues to God are excluded through the self-revelation in Christ wherein is learned his work. "If I know who the person is who does this, I will also know what he does." But the separation of person and work is artificial. We have to do with the "whole Christ, the one Christ . . . [who] is the historical (geschictliche) Jesus. . .2

Christ, the Center is divided into two parts. The first is "The Present Christ — The ‘Pro Me’." It emphasizes the contemporaneity of Christ and what he is for me. Two theological statements serve as the basis of Bonhoeffer’s views. First, "Jesus is the Christ present as the Crucified and Risen One." Second, "Christ is present in the church as a person."3 In clarifying his position Bonhoeffer rejects any understanding of Christ as an influence, a force, or anything short of being a person. Further, Christ must not be viewed as something outside history. Rather, Christ is a historical person who, because of the resurrection, still confronts men in history on a personal basis. Perhaps a third statement summarizes his position on Christology: Jesus Christ is all of this — for me.

Granting these assertions, Christ is said to confront men in three ways. (1) In the Word. The Word is not met as an idea, which is abstract and timeless, but as person. An idea demands no commitment, but a person-to-person communication demands a response. In being confronted with the Word, man is "put in the truth." Thus Christ does not declare a way to God, but is the way. Ideas are held by man, but the Logos holds man.4

(2) In the sacrament. Bonhoeffer presents a Lutheran view of Christ as sacrament. "The Word in the sacrament is an embodied Word." Not all of nature is a sacrament, only the creaturely elements which "God addresses, names and hallows with his special Word," that is, with Jesus Christ. "This Word Jesus Christ is wholly present in the sacrament, not only his Godhead, and not only his manhood."5 Symbolic interpretations of the sacrament are rejected: the sacraments "do not mean something, they are something."6

Bonhoeffer attempts to resolve the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists by denying the validity of the questions they raised. The "how" of the sacrament brought up the Calvinist question of how Christ’s bodily limitations in heaven could be present in the sacrament. The Lutherans answered with their communication of attributes of the divine nature, or the doctrine of the ubiquity of his flesh. This question is rejected. One may only ask, "Who is present in the sacrament?" The answer is: "The whole person of the God-man is present in his exaltation and his humiliation; Christ exists in such a way that he is existentially present in the sacrament."7

(3) In the community. Christ as community speaks of the presence of Christ in the church. This means "that the Logos of God has extension in space and time in and as the community."8 "The Word is in the community in so far as the community is a recipient of revelation."9 To say that the community is the Body of Christ is not a metaphor, it is his body.

The contemporaneity of Christ is viewed from three perspectives: (1) Christ is the center of human existence. Although this cannot be demonstrated, the center of Christ is seen where man fails to fulfill the law and Christ is the fulfillment of it for man. (2) Christ is the center of history. Man’s history holds forth promise and fulfillment. The promise of history, being corrupted by sin, has experienced only corrupt messiahs, apart from that one in Israel in whom God fulfilled his promise.10 Like the first, this is proclaimed, not demonstrated. (3) Christ is "the Mediator between God and Nature."11 Nature, not being free and thereby not having guilt, cannot be reconciled, only redeemed. The sacrament, speaking of an old thing become a new creature, proclaims a word for nature. Christ is the liberator of creation.12


In the second half of his work, Bonhoeffer speaks of the history of doctrines concerning Christ. The familiar distinction made by modern liberalism — the historical Jesus versus the Christ of faith — is rejected by Bonhoeffer. There is only one historical Jesus Christ.13 In this Bonhoeffer follows the conclusions of Martin Kahler.14 The Logos, who is personal, who is incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, is confronted through the historical scriptural narratives and is known in no other way or form.

The history of Christology shows that the wrong questions have been asked: how rather than who? Bonhoeffer deals with the early heresies of doceticism, Ebionism, monophysitism, Nestorianism,15 and others, and concludes that the Council of

Chalcedon in A.D. 451 rightly condemned these early attempts to deal with an invalid question. He rejects the charge that Chalcedon was a compromise solution. Actually it safeguarded the real question: Who is incarnate in Jesus Christ?

Chalcedon’s conclusion gave impetus to theological development in Protestantism. Much of the development followed the "how" pattern. How can one relate the power of God to the powerlessness of man? How can God be tired, hungry, and thirsty? These questions cropped up in the Reformation. Luther gave the answer of the communicatio idiomatum, or the interpenetration of attributes of each nature.16 On the basis of the communicatio idiomatum, the Lutherans could say that the body of Jesus Christ is omnipresent and thereby affirm a real presence in the sacraments.

The Calvinistic tradition dissented by saying that Lutheran Christology is no longer talking about the Savior of the New Testament. The Lutheran view says that a change in God takes place, and that the real humanity of Christ is illusory.17 The human nature of Christ is taken up in the attributes of deity. Thereby Luther could be charged with reviving the ancient heresy of monophysitism.

The solutions of post-Lutheran orthodoxy developed a Christology around the humiliations of Christ. Two types arose: the Kenoticists, who spoke of Christ renouncing the use of his divine nature, and the Cryptics, who spoke of the powers of deity being concealed during the Incarnation. Bonhoeffer rejected these because neither the divinity nor the humanity of Jesus were made comprehensible. The touchstone for his Christology is Chalcedon. To this he returns repeatedly.

Although a section on the "Eternal Christ" was proposed, it was never completed, or did not survive. We can make some evaluations on what remains of his lectures. Very significant is the question of who, rather than how, in the Incarnation. The merit of establishing different ground rules in the Christological discussion is noteworthy. The avoidance of speculative questions which cannot be answered would have saved the early church much heartache. Bonhoeffer does appear arbitrary in some of his positions, however. A question in passing relates to his attitude toward "the hypothesis of the Virgin Birth."18 He regards the biblical evidence for it as indecisive and uncertain. One can justly wonder what hermeneutical principle Bonhoeffer employs to determine for himself that certain things are "biblical" and others are "not biblical." He accepts the miracles of Jesus as being genuine, although performed incognito. This appears to be an arbitrary distinction.

In another example he describes the sacrament as a stumbling block. In his attempt to rid Christianity of "religious elements" is arbitrariness not at work? Is not Bonhoeffer subject to the same criticism as many theologians? I may jettison as "religion" those items which are scandals to me, while those items I keep are the essential nature of Christianity. But in reality, what I keep may be a binding tradition which someone else is eager to cut out as being a "burden" to modern man. Is not the real scandal or stumbling block the fact that I choose to make it that? Is not the whole ecumenical movement stopped here? What is a scandal — verbal inspiration, for instance — to one may be the very nature of authority to another. In spite of these criticisms, Christ, the Center is a fruitful book for its emphasis on religious knowledge. If God is not incarnate in Jesus Christ, we have no knowledge of him that is worth knowing.


In the winter semester of 1932-33, Bonhoeffer gave a series of lectures on the first three chapters of Genesis. They were well received by his students, who persuaded him to publish them. They appeared in 1937 under the title Schopfung und Fall (Creation and Fall) 19 The lectures present a theological rather than exegetical exposition of the Genesis chapters. Bonhoeffer’s interest in Christo-ecclesiology still prevails in these lectures. Particular attention is directed toward the Bible as the book of the church.

The chapters reflect the outline of Genesis. The beginning is treated not as a point in time which man cannot know, but is referred to the One who was there — God. It is impossible to search behind God’s creative act. Creation is a free act without cause or necessity. The God who creates is linked by Bonhoeffer to the God of the resurrection. No Marcionite 20 gnosticism is permitted. The resurrection of Christ is essentially a creation out of nothing and by it we know of the original creation. God the beginning is at the same time the end of man.

God the Creator stands over the waters in creation. No ancient cosmogonic identification of God and the world is permitted. God gives it form and direction, but he himself is glorified in the creation. In fact, Bonhoeffer declares that "God is worshiped first by the earth,"21 which might raise questions about worship as an act of free creatures toward a Creator.

God creates by his Word. Speaking is akin to freedom. Because God works in the world as transcendent, we know him only by means of the Word. The ways of knowing God by natural theology (eminence, negation, and causality) are rejected because of the revelatory Word.22 Indeed, it is not true to speak of the creation as an "effect" of the Creator. To reason from effect to cause means that God "had" to create. More correctly God created in freedom without necessity. The world God created is "good," but this does not mean that this is the best of all possible worlds. Its goodness "consists in its being under the dominion of God."23 God continues to uphold the creation (the doctrine of preservation).

In writing of the second day of creation, Bonhoeffer rejects its "ancient world picture in all its scientific naivete."24 The question arises as to why he should be so rigid in his rejection of this account, when earlier the point is labored that we cannot know anything of the beginnings.25 In spite of this problem, he introduces the concept of fixedness in which the laws of days, years, and seasons are understood.

With the appearance of various forms of living beings, God gives this kind of being the power to continue life. God is Lord of the living, not the dead. Yet the living is nothing divine, only creaturely. Without the sustaining power of God the universe would "sink back into nothingness."26 God’s real creativity is reflected only in man. The previous works assume the form of his command. In man God began a new creation. God’s image in man means that man is free, but it is a freedom "for" something. Men are free "for" God and for one another. The freedom of man and God’s image are the same thing. Bonhoeffer rejects the analogy of being (analogia entis) for an analogy of relation (analogia relationis). The analogy of relationship is not a likeness of being, but a relation in which freedom is given. 27 Man in freedom was to rule the earth, but man’s sin has made him the ruled. Paradoxically, man could only rule when he was under the dominion of God.

Chapter two of Genesis is treated in the same manner. Genesis 2 is regarded as an older account than Genesis 1, perhaps from a different source. Genesis 1 gives an account of the transcendent God, while Genesis 2 speaks of his nearness to man. The garden story (2:8-17) is regarded by the world as a fantastic myth, while the church looks upon the story as "our pre-history, truly our own." 28 The imagery must be translated into "the new picture language of the technical world," 29 but it is a story that is to be taken seriously. The anthropomorphisms of the chapter may be offensive to modern thinking, but the picture of Yahweh’s creative activity in forming man is important. First, it points up who made me: God’s closeness indicates concern and nearness. Second, it shows whose I am. Regardless of how far I may run from him, I am yet his. The ultimate concern for man is seen in the closeness of God to man in the Incarnation. 30

Man’s origin merges two entities: spirit and matter. In common with other creatures of the earth, man has a body of substances. But only into man did God breathe the breath of life. Only then was man alive. Thus man is a living body, not a body who has a soul or a soul which has a body.

The second picture of chapter two is the garden. Two trees stand out — the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life is in the middle, and Bonhoeffer speaks of our lives coming from the middle — God. Man’s life circles the middle but never grasps it. Life is a gift. But man’s life is real only as long as it exists in unbroken obedience. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is set off-limits by a special word to Adam. The threat of death is joined to the command. How can Adam know the meaning of good and evil? What does this mean? To the free Adam, Bonhoeffer says, God is charting off his limitations. God is, in essence, saying, "You are a creature, Adam, be what you are." 31 Adam is limited and must live by God’s grace.

Bonhoeffer states that Adam could not know, before his disobedience, the meaning of good or evil. He says that Adam was beyond good and evil. 32 But is Bonhoeffer’s interpretation the correct one? Could not Adam know the meaning of good without the polarity of evil? Must we always experience evil before we know good? Did not Adam know good in knowing God? There is not a little of this in popular thinking — "you can’t know the good without the evil." Why not? Evil need not be justified solely for the sake of a definition. This would require some form of eternal dualism, for God could not know evil without its existence and the experience of it. Surely Bonhoeffer is weak at this point. Bonhoeffer raises the question of how Adam could do his monstrous deed, but he cannot give an answer to this unanswerable question.

According to Bonhoeffer, the marriage statement that the husband leaves father and mother to be with his wife reflects the application of the story by the writer. But the story has meaning beyond Adam, for we are that Adam, and marriage entails the leaving of the father and mother to become one. The profundity of this union — man and woman in the community of love — is related to the church, which shows its original form in Adam and Eve. 33 Where love exists there is no shame. Where shame prevails it is because one person cannot accept another as the gift of God.

Genesis 3 centers on the temptation, fall, and judgment of man. Bonhoeffer forbids the attempted identification of the serpent with the devil. To do so is to misplace the guilt which properly belongs only to man. This stresses also the "inconceivable, inexplicable, and inexcusable" nature of the event. However, it is not Adam alone who is guilty, for "I have committed evil in the midst of the primeval state of creation." 34 How this is done Bonhoeffer does not say.

The serpent’s approach is to question God’s word: "Did God say . . . ?" It is assumed that evil already exists in the world in some enigmatic form, although the creation is still "good." The serpent asks the first religious question which wraps evil in the garment of good. This question has contemporary significance: Did God really say that I should not steal, commit adultery, bear false witness? Will not my case be different from the others?

The second question undergirds the first and also contains some truth and some falsity. God did not restrict all the fruit of the garden, just some. But doubt was cast upon God’s goodness, which helped Eve come to the point of making judgments about God’s Word. Man’s resistance to the adversary’s question can only be met by saying "Begone, Satan" (Matt. 4:10).

The conversation progresses from statements concerning the correctness of God’s utterances to the question of why God uttered them. The integrity of God comes under attack: God is selfish about his existence and does not wish for you to share it. You will not die. You will become like him. What does it mean to become like God? It means casting off the desire to be a creature; it means freedom, the power to create, and placing oneself in the middle, "ordaining a new way of ‘being for God’." 35

Paradoxically, in wanting to be like God and gaining much of this, man loses God, life, and harmony. The fall, or man’s disobedience, results in man’s rejecting limitations on himself. Sin violates the tree, the other person, and humanity in general.

Three things are to be understood about the fall, says Bonhoeffer. First, the act in the first sin is inconceivable and without excuse. Rational explanations are merely accusations that try to place the blame on the Creator. Second, once in sin, man cannot go back to unsin. Third, Adam’s act is interrelated to Eve and vice versa. Thus "each man is guilty of the deed of the other." 36

Bonhoeffer makes a startling statement about the effects of the act of disobedience: "‘The end of the ways of God is bodiliness’." 37 The man and the woman realized, not good and evil, but their nakedness. Man’s existence is ruptured to the extent that he stands ashamed before the other. No longer accepting the other person in love is shame. Bodiliness relates to sexuality also. Up to this point sexuality was not divorced from the purpose of belonging to another. 38 But now the paradox of being both an individual as well as one with another is split. "Man and woman are divided," which means that each "puts forward his claim to the possession of the other. . . This avid passion of man for the other person first comes to expression in sexuality." 39 That is, man refuses to accept the limits of the other person. At the same time he covers himself, because nakedness is unity with the other, which is now lost. 40

It is possible to interpret Bonhoeffer as saying that sexuality arises from the fall of man, although he does speak of it in connection with Adam and Eve in their innocence. However, he also speaks of life created through unrestrained sexuality, because man is a dying creature-man is creative in his destruction of another person. To interpret nakedness in a sexual way probably raises more questions than it answers. Was procreation possible before the fall? Bonhoeffer at one point tends to imply that sex is evil. 41

The act of disobedience was followed by a flight into hiddenness. It is ludicrous to think that man can hide from God, but sin is never rational. Bonhoeffer calls this flight, conscience. Conscience speaks of a division in man, and conscience always puts man on the run from God. At the same time, conscience is deceptive in letting man think he can flee from God. Bonhoeffer does not equate conscience with the voice of God, but rather sees it serving as a defense against God’s Word. 42 The call of God to Adam, "Where are you?" is interpreted as God’s mercy attempting to keep man from hiding, from entering into self-reproach, self-torment, and religious despair. The command is for Adam to stand before God as he really is — a creature. Adam’s rationalizations of his actions are reflected before God in the actions of the woman, who in turn blames the serpent.

The fall brings both a curse and a promise. 43 The opposites of pain and pleasure both become alive for Adam and Eve. This is true for their relationship with one another, in their disharmonic world, and within themselves. Man is cursed in being cut off from the tree of life. He is promised new life in Christ. This parallel of curse and promise is also seen in Eve and Mary: the first and second beginnings.

Although man is naked before God, God made for him garments. There is no exposing of man to man by God. Bonhoeffer would not have accepted the current tendencies in religious psychology to strip away all masks and forms. Some masks are necessary, and God gives the example for it in making garments for Adam and Eve. At this point, Bonhoeffer shifts from speaking of God as creator to God as preserver. Henceforth God directs the world by means of ordinances. An ordinance is a directive designed to preserve life in the sinful world.

Following the clothing of man — God’s new action — man is driven out of the garden lest he eat of the tree of life and live forever. Ironically, man’s desire to live forever independently of God brought his death. In his desire to be like God, man now is like him — alone. God cuts off man’s access to him — sin naturally does this — and man assumes the lordship of a world that is mute and death-producing.

The story of Adam is the story of man’s history. Adam and Eve created life — Cain, who became the first murderer. The story repeats itself with greater intensity, for men have a greater desire to live and hence they destroy to do it. Only in Christ is there an end of the story in which man desires not his own life but commits it to Christ — whose cross becomes a tree of life — and thereby in dying to himself comes to live forever.

Bonhoeffer’s book is a profound attempt to interpret the Genesis narrative. It must not be mistaken for a critical, exegetical attempt. It is a theological interpretation that reads more into the accounts than is warranted. Thus the lectures are more devotional and sermonic than theological.

Bonhoeffer raises questions which traditional theology has answered, but which he finally skirts. The problem of the nature of man in Eden and the interrelatedness of Adam to mankind needs further explication. The question of the identification of the serpent, or who speaks through the serpent, and the questions of nakedness and sexuality need further explanation. One might question whether pain itself is evil and is a result of the fall, or whether the pain was more mental and psychological than physical? Regardless of its weaknesses, however, the book possesses dynamic insights into the meaning of the first three chapters of Genesis.


A work quite similar to Creation and Fall is the shorter work Versuchung (Temptation) . 44 It repeats some of the themes found in the former, but its occasion and setting were quite different. The former was a series of lectures in a university setting. Temptation was given over a five-day period in April 1937 to a group of clergymen of the Confessing Church to whom Bonhoeffer had been the chief mentor in the Finkenwalde seminary. The challenge to Christian living of the possibility of martyrdom — for any Christian — is posed as the ultimate threat.

The preliminary statement centers on the Lord’s Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation." This plea is set over against the natural inclination of the non-Christian to assert his own strength and be victor over the enemy. The Christian realizes the real truth that in temptation one is robbed of his own staying powers. Temptation implies an abandonment — by men, by God. Man is no match for the devil. For this reason he prays, "Lead us not into temptation." Temptation is experienced on occasions. It comes like the seasons. All of life is not a temptation; the Christian also knows seasons of joy and rest in the living God.

Adam’s temptation can instruct us in three things: (1) where there is innocence, there the tempter will come; (2) the tempter comes denying his origin by concealment; and (3) access to the innocent is gained by denial until the tempter has succeeded in turning the heart from God. 45 The innocence Bonhoeffer describes is "clinging to the Word of God with pure, undivided hearts." 46 The universal question that brings all men to sin is: "Has God said?"

Christ’s temptation was different from Adam’s — and harder. Christ assumed the burden of Adam’s flesh which was under condemnation. "Even Jesus Christ . . . was born with the question: ‘Has God really said?’ — yet without sin." 47

Alone in the wilderness, hungry and tired, Jesus was in a sense abandoned by God, and the tempter himself — without disguise — came to assault him. The first temptation was directed to the weakness of manhood — his flesh. To satisfy the needs of hunger is legitimate, but not at the expense of losing the redemption of mankind. Jesus’ reply was that he would depend upon the Word of God. The second temptation was spiritual. It was to "demand a sign from God," to charge God with guilt, to tempt God rather than lay claim to his promise and walk by faith. The third temptation Bonhoeffer designates as the "complete temptation." Jesus’ allegiance to God was at stake. Satan opposed his power and rule against God’s, and asked for deliberate apostasy from God.

The defense of Jesus in all three temptations was the "saving, supporting, enduring Word of God." 48 Because Jesus was tempted — and is the risen Savior — our temptation is no longer specifically our own. "Lead us not into temptation" has meaning because Christ was victor over temptation in our flesh. Because we are linked to Christ, Bonhoeffer declares that "we are not tempted, Jesus Christ is tempted in us. " 49 To share in his atoning life is also to share his triumph. Knowing that he has won the victory, that we are not tempted alone, gives us the help we need.

Bonhoeffer is quite to the point on the sources of temptation. The devil is the author of temptation, and his illusory claim to man is: You "can live without God’s word." 50 He offers to men peace, happiness, and power — none of which he has. The devil’s temptation involves separating man from God and accusing man in his sin to God. Job’s temptation serves as an example of the latter. To separate man from God the devil uses robbery, sickness, and rejection. The tempted must recognize his enemy, for he can be overcome. This is done — in part — by unmasking Satan’s lies.

The second source of temptation is man’s lust. When the adversary is recognized, man cannot blame him for sin. Man’s evil desires must be accorded the most significant role in temptation. Mine is the guilt when I say "I will."

The third source is God himself. Bonhoeffer approves of St. James’s statement that God tempts no one (James 1:12, 13), but there was a real testing of men in the Old Testament. The temptation of God is his abandonment for a time of his servant. Even Satan who is in God’s power is used against his will to God’s service. Satan works in three ways: (1) in temptation he leads men to see their own weaknesses; (2) he brings suffering to the tempted; and (3) at Satan’s hand the sinner dies. 51 But when Satan works and obtains his "rights," he is destroyed. And, more important, when man comes to a knowledge of sin and is deserving of death, he has a greater understanding of the meaning of salvation in Jesus Christ.

"Resistance to the devil is only possible in the fullest submission to the hand of God." 52 The Christian must accept the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:13 that God will not let him be subjected to temptations above his strength but will make a way of escape. Thus the Christian need have no fear of temptation as long as he knows that in Christ it can be conquered.

The temptations we face parallel those of Jesus. Desire of any kind — power, sex, fame, money — turns off joy in God for enjoyment of creaturehood. Bonhoeffer’s analysis of smoldering desire, forgetfulness of God, and man’s self-vindication are incisive. Against desire one must hold to the image of the Savior and his power. Resistance in temptation is out of the question; fleeing is the answer. The flight to the Crucified gives help.

The second temptation of the flesh is suffering. General suffering is in some way connected with the devil. 53 God does not will suffering of any kind. This is linked with sin and man’s rebellion against God — not necessarily specific sins, but sin in general. The Christian should receive suffering in protest against the work of the devil but at the same time use it to strengthen faith rather than to defect from it. When Job was deprived of everything, he rested solely in God.

Unlike general suffering, which may come to anyone, the Christian may suffer for Christ’s sake. This too is a temptation. Suffering for Christ’s sake may mean one of several things: (1) it may drive one to apostasy which would be tragic; (2) it may drive one deeper into the arms of Christ; (3) it may mean that one suffers the judgment of God upon the household of faith (1 Pet. 4:18); (4) one is allowed the joy of suffering for Christ in a meaningful, purposeful way.

Man’s temptations of the spirit parallel the second temptation of Jesus. Two temptations are mentioned. Securitas (spiritual pride) is the temptation to sin that God’s grace may abound. With this is connected the hardening of the heart and a provocation of the wrath of God. Desperatio (despair) is the fruit of wanting to put God to the test. Inability to rest in God’s promises leads to despair. Bonhoeffer’s advice is practical: (1) don’t argue about your sins with anyone but God; (2) remind the devil that Jesus called the sinners, not the righteous, to repentance. This last temptation is the complete one. To give in to this temptation is to make an alliance with Satan for which there is no forgiveness.

To the departing pastors, Bonhoeffer gave a final word that the defense against temptation is the armor of God described in Ephesians 6. It is God who gives, clothes, arms, and shields us. And so, Bonhoeffer says, we pray, "Lead us not into temptation" knowing that Jesus has conquered temptation for all time.

Temptation reveals the pastoral insight and concern of Bonhoeffer. This quality, expressed also in the next work, Life Together, serves to make Bonhoeffer attractive not only to Protestant but also to Roman Catholic readers.



1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christ, the Center, trans. John Bowden (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 37.

2. Ibid., p. 40.

3. Ibid., p. 43.

4. Ibid., pp. 49-52.

5. Ibid., p. 54.

6. Ibid., p. 55. 7. Ibid., p. 58.

8. Ibid., p. 60.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p. 64.

11. Ibid., p. 66.

12. Ibid., p. 67.

13. Ibid., pp. 71-72.

14. Martin Kahler, The So-Called Historical Jesus and the Historic Biblical Christ, trans. Carl Braaten (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964).

15. Doceticism denied the real manhood of Jesus while the Ebionites denied his divinity. The monophysites regarded the divine and human as merged into a third entity, while the Nestorians hardly admitted a union of the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ.

16. Christ the Center, p. 93. Thus one could say that "the man (Jesus) is God and that God is man" (pp. 94-95).

17. Ibid., p. 95.

18. Ibid., p. 109.

19. Creation and Fall, trans. John C. Fletcher (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1959). (In same volume with Temptation.)

20. Marcion was one of the first to draw up a list of accepted Scriptures of the New Testament. He rejected the Old Testament and regarded the God of the Old Testament as different from the God of the New Testament.

21. Creation and Fall, p. 20.

22. Ibid., p. 23.

23. Ibid., p. 25.

24. Ibid., p. 29.

25. Ibid., p. 17.

26. Ibid., p. 34.

27. Ibid., p. 39.

28. Ibid., p. 50.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid., p.48.

31. Ibid., p. 52.

32. Ibid., p. 53.

33. Ibid., p. 62.

34. Ibid., p. 65.

35. Ibid., p. 73.

36. Ibid., p. 76.37. Ibid., p. 77.

38. Ibid., p. 62.

39. Ibid., p. 78.

40. Ibid., pp. 78-79.

41. Ibid., p. 79.

42. Ibid., p. 81.43. Ibid., pp. 83ff.

44. Temptation, trans. Kathleen Downham (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1959). (In same volume with Creation and Fall.)

45. Ibid., pp. 101-102.

46. Ibid., p. 102.

47. Ibid., p. 103.

48.Ibid., p. 106.

49. Ibid., p. 107 (italics his).

50. Ibid., p. 109.

51. Ibid., pp. 112-13.

52. Ibid., p. 115.

53. Ibid., pp. 118-19.