Multiplying Meaning, Becoming an Individual: Kierkegaard’s Upbuilding Hermeneutic of Scripture in the Discourses

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Kevin Storer


This thesis provides the first extensive analysis of Kierkegaard’s use and interpretation of Scripture in his religious discourses. The project argues that Kierkegaard follows a “metaphorical” model of Scriptural language, and that Kierkegaard utilizes Scriptural language to create Scriptural metaphor and thereby move his readers to upbuilding. Through an analysis of the various hermeneutical assumptions and techniques observed in Kierkegaard’s discourses, the project shows the progression of Kierkegaard’s discourses as religious communication, and characterizes Kierkegaard’s hermeneutical project as a form of spiritual interpretation of Scripture in the service of upbuilding. Analysis has been focused on three areas. First, Kierkegaard’s Scriptural allusions have been categorized into a catalogue of hermeneutical assumptions and techniques in order to identify various patterns of Scriptural use running through Kierkegaard’s creative project. This analysis shows that context plays only a secondary importance in developing upbuilding meaning in a particular text, and therefore that theological, rather than textual, considerations govern Kierkegaard’s use and interpretation of Scripture. Second, the project focuses on shifts in Scriptural use between Kierkegaard’s discourses in order to specify the way in which Kierkegaard’s rhetorical aims influence his use of Scripture. This analysis shows that individual discourse sets utilize Scripture differently to make different kinds of upbuilding arguments. Further, the analysis shows that the Christian discourses can be separated into sets of “challenge” discourses (those which focus on challenging readers to live consistently with the Christian faith they claim to hold), and sets of “exploration” discourses (those which focus on exploring Christian concepts from the perspective of paradox). This split in the Christian discourses suggests that during their composition Kierkegaard had in mind both an evangelistic aim (to lead the esthetic reader to a resolution about the God relationship) and instructional aim (to lead the religious reader toward further depth in the God relationship), and it is argued that by identifying these aims readers are able to understand better the role each individual discourse set plays in Kierkegaard’s religious authorship. It is concluded that Kierkegaard’s discourses should be read as situational religious communication rather than through the “theory of stages.” Third, the project focuses on the most important differences between the Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses and the Christian discourses (the shift in Scriptural content from general religious concepts to Christian concepts, and the shift in emphasis on Scriptural authority), in order to determine more precisely the relationship between these two genres of discourses. The analysis shows a deep continuity of theological perspective running through the discourses as a whole. Further, the analysis shows that when Kierkegaard emphasizes the authority of Scripture he is really emphasizing the authority of Christian concepts, and only because these Christian concepts have an already stable meaning can Kierkegaard so freely rewrite and reinterpret Scriptural language. It is concluded that that Kierkegaard is practicing a form of spiritual interpretation called tropology, in which Kierkegaard utilizes Scriptural language to challenge readers to appropriate religious truth.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2019