Dietrich Bonhoeffer On Canonical Reading

As a devotional practice I have been reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters & Papers From Prison. It has been my experience that preachers today, and for some time, have tended to preach almost entirely from the New Testament leaving the Old Testament to collect dust. In a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge, which had to be smuggled out of the prison, Bonhoeffer speaks toward a more canonical reading of scripture [both Old and New Testaments]:


To Eberhard Bethge (Advent 2) December 5th 1943 from Tegel

My thoughts and feelings seem to be getting more and more like those of the Old Testament, and in recent months I have been reading the Old Testament much more than the New.

It is only when one knows the unutterability of the name of God that one can utter the name of Jesus Christ;

it is only when on loves life and the earth so much that without them everything seems to be over that one may believe in the resurrection and a new world;

it is only when one submits to God’s law that one may speak of grace;

and it is only when God’s wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one’s enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts.

In my opinion it is not Christian to want to take out thoughts and feelings too quickly and too directly from the New Testament.



Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters & Papers From Prison (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1972), 156-157.

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