54 Soren Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling

by Sören Kierkegaard

Sören Kierkegaard is one of the towering Christian existential thinkers of the mid-nineteenth century. While his literary style was experimental, his writings call for Christian morality; a defense of faith and religion. Among his many books are Training in Christianity, Sickness Unto Death, and Fear and Trembling.

Translated by Walter Lowrie. Published by Princeton University Press, 1941. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) The great mid-nineteenth century Danish poet-philosopher, in this classic philosophical text, explores, through the story of Abraham and his willing sacrifice of his son Issac, the nature of belief. It is in this text that Kierkegaard most clearly reveals his philosophical “leap of faith.”


  • PrefaceKierkegaard, writing under a pseudonym (Johannes De Silentio), aims ironic criticism his own work. He claims the “writer” is nothing of a philosopher, has not understood “the System,” and does not know whether it actually exists.
  • PreludeThe story of Abraham is given a Kierkegaardian turn, full of paradoxes and inconsistencies. Abraham could not comprehend that it was a sin to be willing to offer to God the best thing he possessed — his own son Isaac.
  • Chapter 1: A Panegyric Upon AbrahamThe beginnings of a reverie – sermon on the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham.
  • Chapter 2: Preliminary ExpectorationThe story of Abraham has the remarkable property that it is always glorious, however poorly one may understand it. The ethical expression for what Abraham did is that he would murder Isaac, and the religious expression is that he would sacrifice Isaac. Abraham had to live with this contradiction which could make a man sleepless. But Abraham is not what he is without this dread.
  • Chapter 3: Problem One: Is There Such a Thing as a Teleological Suspension of the Ethical?The dialectical consequences in the story of Abraham are expressed here in the form of problemata in order to see what a tremendous paradox faith is, for this story presents the paradox which gives Isaac back to Abraham, which no thought can master, because faith begins precisely there where thinking leaves off.
  • Chapter 4: Problem Two: Is There Such a Thing as an Absolute Duty Toward God?The knight of faith is obliged to rely upon himself alone, he feels the pain of not being able to make himself intelligible to others, but he feels no vain desire to guide others.
  • Chapter 5: Problem Three: Was Abraham Ethically Defensible in Keeping Silent About His Purpose?Abraham’s conduct is indefensible for he paid no heed to the intermediate ethical determinants. But in the face of his concealment, we are in the presence of a paradox which cannot be mediated, for it rests on the fact that the individual is higher than the universal.
  • EpilogueFaith is the highest passion in a man. There are perhaps many in every generation who do not even reach it, but no one gets further. But for the man also who does not so much as reach faith, life has tasks enough, and if one loves them sincerely, life will by no means be wasted.


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