Romans As The Completion Of Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutics -- By: Timo Laato

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 58:4 (Dec 2015)
Article: Romans As The Completion Of Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutics
Author: Timo Laato

Romans As The Completion
Of Bonhoeffer’s Hermeneutics

Timo Laato*

* Timo Laato is Senior Lecturer at Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg, Ekmansgatan 3, SE-41132 Gothenburg, Sweden.

I. Introduction

In a remarkable way, the Epistle to the Romans has always shown the way forward in the darkest hours of church history, from spiritual depravity to new revival.1 This was true as far back as the days of St. Augustine in his battle with Pelagius. The same happened in the sixteenth century with Martin Luther in his fight for the proper doctrine of justification. This was the case with John Wesley in his spiritual agony. The same happened to Karl Barth at the beginning of the twentieth century as he set out to conquer the nexus of problems of liberal theology.2

Churches today live in a deep crisis. This time around, the crisis is called “Biblical criticism,” which is practiced by theological faculties around the world with the help of the so-called historical-critical method. This is why it is extremely important to probe once again the Epistle to the Romans. As theologians, we have a mission to proclaim its message in a fresh way to grassroots parishioners and others interested in hearing it. May we hope for an ecclesiastical renewal through all this increase!

My purpose in this article is to study the hermeneutical principle of the Epistle to the Romans. Which lines of thought does the apostle Paul follow in his study of the Bible (i.e. the Old Testament)? I will attach special attention to the new perspective that the gospel of Jesus Christ revealed to him. To begin with, this task calls for a brief survey of the development so far. After this, I will give an account of the actual theme under consideration, especially in light of this context.

II. The Hermeneutical Reorientation

Within the scope of a single presentation, it is not possible to sketch a complete line of theological development with the minutest precision, say, starting with the Age of Enlightenment (much less from the beginning). Therefore, it seems appropriate for me to concentrate on the main lines only. In order not to have

to deal with all outdated attempts to solve problems, I will merely quote in the following summary L. Goppelt’s assessment of the so-called “purely historical” method, which roughly dates to the nineteenth century and belongs to the exegetical phraseology extending to the First World War (and certainly also after this). He reasons in the following manner:

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