Fortress Press

Faith in a Hidden God: Luther, Kierkegaard, and the Binding of Isaac

Faith in a Hidden God

Luther, Kierkegaard, and the Binding of Isaac

Elizabeth Palmer (Author)


  • In stock
  • eBook coming soon

The story of the binding of Isaac presents problems and opportunities for people who seek to live faithfully in relationship with a God who surpasses our understanding. This book examines how Luther and Kierkegaard read Genesis 22 in lively ways that both challenge and edify the life of faith. Luther uses the concept of resurrection to sanitize the story of its horror, portraying God as a loving (albeit testing) father and Abraham as a model of trust. Kierkegaard emphasizes the unintelligibility of both God and Abraham, showing that faith—whatever it is—is not easily spoken of. Yet, both interpretations are anagogical: they move their readers in the faith of which they speak. Luther’s exegesis helps readers flee from the horror of a hidden God toward the comfort of trusting in the mercy of God, promised and revealed through Christ. Kierkegaard’s interpretation drives readers toward the abyss and leaves them hovering there, on the cusp of faith active in love. At once a history of exegesis and a theological exploration of the meaning of faith in the face of suffering, this book demonstrates how the way we read the Bible is crucial to the life of faith. 

  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506432731
  • eBook ISBN 9781506432748
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 344
  • Publication Date December 1, 2017



1. Pedagogy and Anagogy in Twentieth-Century Readings of Genesis 22

2. Luther’s Reading of Genesis 22: The Lectures on Genesis in Historical and Theological Perspective

3. Faith as Movement in Relation to the Lectures on Genesis

4. Kierkegaard’s Reading of Genesis 22: Fear and Trembling in Historical and Theological Perspective

5. Faith as Movement in Relation to Fear and Trembling

6. The Value of Anagogical Exegesis for Faith




A demanding exposition on the interpretation of a demanding text.

“Elizabeth Palmer has written a demanding exposition on the interpretation of a demanding text. She considers the “Binding of Isaac” (Genesis 22) through the thick interpretations of Luther and Kierkegaard, both of whom see the narrative as an ordeal of faith that defies any intellectual or theological reduction. Luther takes faith in the resurrection to resolve the contradiction between divine command and divine promise. Kierkegaard refuses any solution at all but lets faith dwell in the abyss of the hidden God. Palmer’s large project is to show that a “performative” rendering of texts is more compelling than a “normative/ theological” effort to find the right and true reading. Performative reading, as undertaken by both Luther and Kierkegaard, invites the reader/believer to movement toward a new vision of God, rather than seeking closure. This book is not for the faint-hearted. It is, however, for those who have lost patience with so much theology of pornographic intimacy with God. It is a healthy offer of serious gospel faith that refuses any easy accommodation. Palmer sees, via Luther and Kierkegaard, that faith is a deep risk beyond easy outcomes, a risk that entails venturesome engagement, not arriving at certitudes.” 

Walter Brueggemann | Columbia Theological Seminary

Palmer reminds readers of the power of words to create a world, but also that the power and mystery of God is found in the silences in between them.

5. “Admit it, like Isaac on Mt. Moriah, life with God can sometimes leave us asking “What the @#$?!” As with all our relationships—if we’re honest—our relationship with God can sometimes feel like it’s going to kill us. Those who suffer often long for someone to call BS on the cotton candy clichés disguised as Christianity and the plastic platitudes passed off as piety. The God who has a reason for everything is a God the desperate and doubting have every reason to reject.  

In Faith in a Hidden God, Elizabeth Palmer mines the rich readings of Luther and Kierkegaard to show that what we find in the binding of Isaac is not only a horror religiosis but also hope and, even, humor. Palmer reminds readers of the power of words to create a world, but also that the power and mystery of God is found in the silences in between them."

Jason Micheli | Author of "Cancer Is Funny" (Fortress Press, 2016)

A highly astute and religiously sensitive book.

“This is a first-rate study of the different ways that Luther and Kierkegaard interpret Genesis 22 so as to draw their readers into the movement of faith. Anyone who wrestles, as Luther and Kierkegaard did, with the question of how to trust a hidden and quite possibly horrible God will come away changed by Palmer’s own highly astute and religiously sensitive book."  

Kathryn Tanner | Yale Divinity School

A highly learned and helpfully lucid study.

“Luther and Kierkegaard (a Lutheran) share a deep mistrust of unaided human reason, and each launches a powerful attack upon the Christendom of his time. This highly learned and helpfully lucid study of their interpretations of the Binding of Isaac focuses on a third convergence. Biblical interpretation has both a theoretical and a practical mission; it is meant both to inform and transform the reader. Palmer develops this second task as it emerges in their wrestling with the frightening story of Genesis 22.”

Merold Westphal | Fordham University

There is much to learn from this study.

"Throughout the Christian tradition, the story of Abraham and Isaac has raised important and often troubling questions. Nonetheless, two major thinkers tackled this text: Martin Luther and Søren Kierkegaard. In this important study, Elizabeth Palmer has analyzed the ways in which they struggled to understand this passage and how Abraham and Isaac functioned in their theologies. She demonstrates how the themes so important to both thinkers emerged from their use of the binding of Isaac. There is much to learn from this study.” 

Susan Schreiner | University of Chicago Divinity School