NT scholar who was one of the leaders in the movement of Biblical form criticism; b. Dresden, Germany, Sept. 14, 1883; d. Heidelberg, Nov. 11, 1947. He studied at Neuchâtel, Leipzig, Berlin, and Tübingen and taught at Berlin (1910–15) and Heidelberg (1915–47). As a student of A. von harnack and H. gunkel, he applied to the NT the principles of the history-of-religions school and the investigation of Gattungen (literary genres) for the formation of the Formgeschichte (form criticism) school (together with K. L. Schmidt, R. Bultmann, M. Albertz, and G. Bertram). He approached the critical investigation of the evolution of oral tradition in the primitive Christian community by a study of the history of the forms in the Gospels and the Acts. The main categories that he established were paradigm, Novelle (short story), exhortation, legend, and myth. By a determination of these categories he sought to attain to their Sitz im Leben (life situation). [See Die Formgeschichte des Evangeliun (Tübingen 1919), Eng. tr. From Tradition to Gospel (London 1934); and Botschaft und Geschichte (2 v. 1952–53), a posthumous collection of special studies on form criticism.] The theory of the undeniable influence of the needs of the community on the development of the Gospels was vitiated by rationalistic principles and conclusions. However, the valid conclusions of this school have given a vigorous impulse to modern Gospel criticism in both Protestant and Catholic circles. In his numerous commentaries, which have passed through many editions, Dibelius stressed the origin and history of the ethical statements of the NT. He also endeavored to resolve the tension between the eschatological hopes and the permanent validity of NT ethics.
See Also: form criticism, biblical
Bibliography: w. g. kÜmmel, Theologische Literaturzeitung 74 (1949) 129–140; Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 2:181. a. fridrichsen, ed., "Bibliographia Dibeliana atque Bultmaniana" in Coniectanea neotestamentica 8 (1944) 1–22. r. rusche, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 3:350.
[l. a. bushinski]