Creation and Fall, 1932-1933.
This is DB’s exposition of Genesis 1-3 delivered as lectures at the University of Berlin in 1932-1933. It’s a difficult read, yet many of the points are powerful.
This is from the Editor’s Introduction, which I found both fascinating as well as encouraging:
Despite the impact Bonhoeffer’s lectures had on his students, systematic theologians at the time ignored their publication, and most biblical scholars scorned Bonhoeffer’s Barthian method of “theological exegesis.” Nevertheless this indifferent and critical reception, Creation and Fall provided “a first small literary success for Bonhoeffer.” One of the book’s readers was Karl Barth; indeed it was the only work by Bonhoeffer on which Barth was to express an opinion during the author’s lifetime. Barth’s influence on Bonhoeffer is clear in Creation and Fall, and Barth found it congenial and helpful for his own work (pp. 5-6).
In Creation and Fall, DB tells us that Genesis lets us know that everything has been created by God and is preserved by Him. This means that there are no purely “secular” or “natural” realities out there. Everything constantly depends on God for its existence.
In the midst of our existence there are the two trees. We were created to live our lives on the basis of knowing everything only in God. There are not two possibilities offered to Adam to live by. There is only God and not the possibility of good versus the possibility of evil.
When Adam chooses to know good and evil, he chooses to understand his life in terms of the two possibilities that he bears in himself rather than in terms of God. This sort of goodness is as far from God as evil. It is only in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins, that we can be brought back to living our lives on the basis of the one Reality of God in Christ rather than in terms our human potential for good and evil.
I expand on this very issue in a more accessible way in the chapter I wrote on living by the Tree of Life in Jesus Manifesto. DB’s treatment is very dense and academic.
According to DB, Christians know the Truth in terms of knowing the end which has dawned in Christ. This means that the beginning cannot be understood apart from the end. And the end is Christ. We therefore must understand Genesis in terms of Jesus Christ. DB’s exegesis of this book is intensely Christological. Following Barth, he uses theological interpretation to grasp the Old Testament.
For DB, the Bible is the book of the Church, and the Old Testament is the book of Christ at all times. He is correct on both points. As the Editor’s Introduction states, “For Bonhoeffer, the Old Testament was certainly the Hebrew Bible, but it was also part of the Christian canon. Therefore it had to be read in light of God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ” (p. 9).
Here’s a choice passage from the book:
Therefore it [the Church] reads the whole of Holy Scripture as the book of the end, of the new [vom Neuen], of Christ. Where Holy Scripture, upon which the church of Christ stands, speaks of creation, of the beginning, what else can it say other than that it is only from Christ that we can know what the beginning is? The Bible is after all nothing other than the book of the church. It is it this in its very essence, or it is nothing . . . In the church, therefore, the story of creation must be read in a way that begins with Christ and only then moves on toward him as its goal; indeed one can read it as a book that moves toward Christ only when one knows that Christ is the beginning, the new, the end of our whole world. Theological exposition takes the Bible as the book of the church and interprets it as such (p. 22).