Schleiermacher on scripture and the work of Jesus Christ

Paul T. Nimmo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


There can be little surprise that the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher isseldom considered and rarely exploited as a constructive resource for theo-logical exploration of the doctrine of Scripture. On a superficial reading, histwo most well-known publications—On Religion: Speeches to the Cultured among its Despisers and Christian Faith—may seem to offer little prospect of a meaningful and instructive contribution towards such an enquiry. Take, for example, On Religion: in its first edition, this text contains a whole series of rather reductive comments on sacred writings such as that cited above. Thus Schleiermacher observes in the First Speech that “there certainly stands little in holy books about all that I praise and feel as the work of [religion]”,and comments in the Second Speech that “you are right to despise the pathetic parrots [Nachbeter], who . . . cling on to a dead writing, swear by it, and prove from it”.In the Fourth Speech he posits that “religious communication is not to be sought in books”,and in the Fifth Speech he pleads that “you not consider everything that you find . . . in the holy documents to be religion”.Or take, instead, Christian Faith: in its “Introduction”, Schleiermacher famously appears to undercut the significance of Scripture by eschewing the claim that Scripture is the direct foundation of Christian doctrine. Instead, Schleiermacher declares that “Christian statements of faith [Glaubenssäze] are conceptions [Auffassungen] of the Christianly religious affections [(die) christlich frommen Gemüthzustände] presented in words”.Moreover, he proceeds, these statements “have their final ground so exclusively in the excitations [Erregungen] of the religious self-consciousness, that, where the latter do not exist, the former cannot arise”.It is not for Schleiermacher, then, the text of Scripture that is the touchstone of Christian dogmatics, but this religious self-consciousness, resting on “a feeling of absolute dependence [einschlechthinniges Abhängigkeitsgefühl]”that is—as with everything in Christianity—“related to the redemption accomplished by Jesus of Nazareth”. On the basis of such material, Jeffrey Hensley is right to observe that “this reorientation of Christian theology around the limits of piety, around human experience, became controversial in part for its perceived effect of minimizing the role that Scripture could play as both a source and norm in theology”.The theology of Schleiermacher has regularly been treated with at best suspicion and at worst hostility on account of its purportedly inadequate doctrines of revelation in general and Scripture in particular, such that few contemporary theologians seem to have attended to Schleiermacher’s doctrine of Scripture in any detail.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-90
Number of pages31
JournalModern Theology
Issue number1
Early online date16 Oct 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Schleiermacher
  • Scripture
  • Jesus Christ


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