Chapter 9: Baptism

Matthew 11:25-30

At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’


For a book on the nature of discipleship, it might be surprising that Bonhoeffer has not brought up baptism until this point. Here he attempts to address that by connecting his understanding of discipleship, an understanding deeply rooted in the Synoptic Gospels, with the teachings about baptism as found in Paul’s writings in the Epistles. Bonhoeffer believes that these two ideas, discipleship and baptism, are ultimately the same thing.

He makes this argument by first refuting the idea that there was a distinction between the Jesus recorded in the scriptures—the historical Jesus—and the Jesus that is known to us through revelation and taught as religious truth. The idea that the two are separate is one that has emerged at various points in Christian history, including from leading theologians in Bonhoeffer’s time and immediately preceding his life.

Therefore, the Christ in whose death we are baptized is one and the same as the Christ who bid the disciples to follow him, even unto the cross. The path of discipleship always leads to the cross, and the death we find there is the same death in which we have a share through our baptism.

What’s more, just as our discipleship is visible to the world, shining light a city on the hill (while paradoxically remaining hidden from our own selves), so too is our baptism necessarily visible. Our baptism into the Body of Christ sets us apart from the world and our participation in that same Body must shine brightly. We cannot be secret Christians.

Crash Course: Kerygma and Ontology

Two dense theological terms make an appearance in this chapter, if only in Bonhoeffer’s footnotes. Kerygma, from the Greek κήρυγμα, literally means “proclamation” and is sometimes used to refer to the entirety of the message of Jesus’ ministry and other times to refer to the central and essential teachings about Jesus dating back to the first apostles and the early church. Ontology, literally “discourse on that which is,” is the branch of philosophy and theology that deals with the nature of reality. Ontological statements can be thought of as truths that stand independently in reality. Bonhoeffer cautions that it is a mistake to understand kerygmatic statements and teachings as being ontological in nature as we know about Jesus and the message of his ministry exists entirely in relationship to scripture and what is revealed to us in the Word.

Contextual Clues

Bonhoeffer writes, “The break with the world which has taken place in Christ can no longer remain hidden; it must become externally visible through active participation in the life and worship of the church-community.” The editors note that during the Third Reich, the simple act of attending church had become a political one as the Nazi party frowned on church attendance.


Reflection Questions

If you were baptized as a child, when did you come to understand what your baptism meant?
If you were baptized as an adult, what did it mean to you when you received the sacrament?

In what ways does living out your baptism cause you to be visible to the world around you?