Today’s selection (2d) is a nice passage for two reasons. First, it’s a good passage for language learning. The syntax is not terribly complicated: there are several parallel clauses, and the repetition reinforces the learning. In addition, the vocabulary is fairly basic and includes several important theological terms. Just add die Hoffnung, (hope) to your list and you have faith, hope, and love, as well as wrath and vengeance. So, it is an excellent foundation for beginners in theological German. It is probably worth memorizing for this reason alone.
Second, the theological reflections are interesting and important.
When Martin Luther spoke of Law and Gospel, he did not intend to dismiss the Old Testament Scriptures. In fact, he believed the preaching of the law was necessary to drive us to the grace of God. Still, it was easy for the belief that “the law condemns and the Gospel saves” to lead to a neglect of the Old Testament.
Wellhausen’s reconstruction of the history of Israelite religion reached the conclusion that the once-vital faith of the prophets had deteriorated into a sterile legalism by the end of the Old Testament period. Friedrich Delitzsch, son of the great Old Testament expositor Franz Delitzsch, called for a rejection of the Old Testament for use in the Church. (His famous “Babel und Bibel” is available online–click on the title.)
Bonhoeffer’s teacher Harnack had a lifelong fascination with Marcion, the second-century anti-Jewish heretic who rejected the Old Testament. Harnack wrote his dissertation at the age of 19 on Marcion; and his last book in 1921 was on Marcion. In this he followed Marcion and the younger Delitzsch in calling for the church to dispose of the Old Testament. (For more on Harnack and Marcion, click here.) The negative view of Judaism and the Old Testament, though it may not have caused the rise of the Nazis, certainly did nothing to resist it.
Bonhoeffer’s turning toward the Old Testament as a source of Christian theology, then, is important in his historical setting.