Bornkamm was a student of Rudolf Bultmann with Ernst Käsemann (Tübingen), Ernst Fuchs (Marburg) and Hans Conzelmann (Göttingen). He developed his studies in Tübingen, Marburg and Göttingen. In 1934 he was appointed professor at the University of Königsberg, but in 1937 the Nazis withdrew his venia legendi and he had to stop lecturing. He was a pastor in Münster and Dortmund.
From 1947 to 1949 Bornkamm was a professor at the University of Göttingen from 1949 to 1971 and professor of New Testament at the University of Heidelberg. He was also a member of the Confederation of Köngener (Bund der Köngener), a German youth organization created in 1920 out of groups of Protestant Bible circles and disbanded by the Nazi dictatorship in 1934.
Günther Bornkamm was a proponent of the Second Quest for the Historical Jesus (Albert Schweitzer) and suggested a tighter relationship between Jesus and the theology of the early church (in contrast to the 'First' and 'No Quest' periods ending in 1953). Numbered among his opponents, Rudolf Bultmann argued for a divorce between the two, but their approaches remain similar in many aspects.
In his book Jesus von Nazareth (1956), Bornkamm expressed the profound difficulties of researching the historical Jesus and wished to produce a work that would inform not only professional theologians on the many questions, uncertainties and findings of historical research, but also the laymen who would wish, so far as possible, to arrive at an historical understanding of the tradition about Jesus and should not be content with edifying or romantic portrayals. He also stated that everyone was so familiar with the Nazarene through Christian tradition, and yet at the same time this very tradition had become strange and unintelligible to many. He affirmed:
If the journey into this often misty country is to succeed, then the first requirement is the readiness for free and frank questioning, and the renunciation of an attitude which simply seeks the confirmation of its own judgements arising from a background of belief or of unbelief.
The work by Ernst Käsemann is also valuable for understanding Bornkamm's work.
- Cf. biography on respective Wiki page in German
- See also Wandervogel; Info website; Karla Poewe, Irving Hexham: Jakob Wilhelm Hauer’s New Religion and National Socialism. In: Journal of Contemporary Religion 20 (2005), S. 195–215 online
- Cf. German Wiki article s.v. "Heinrich Bornkamm".
- Bornkamm wrote that Schweitzer, in his classical work, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, had erected its memorial, but at the same time had delivered its funeral oration. Cf. Jesus of Nazareth, Ch.1, p.13.
- Published in the English translation as Jesus of Nazareth in 1960, by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, as prepared by I. & F. McLuskey, with J.M. Robinson.
- G. Bornkamm, Jesus of Nazareth (1960), pp.9-11.
- G. Bornkamm, ibid., p.10.
- Bornkamm, Günther; Klaas, Walter: Mythos und Evangelium. München: Kaiser, 1951
- Jesus of Nazareth. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1960 ISBN 978-0-340-01125-6
- Paul. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995  ISBN 0-8006-2898-5
- The New Testament: A Guide to Its Writings. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1973.
- Wolff, Hans Walter; Bornkamm, Günther: Zugang zur Bibel : eine Einführung in die Schriften des Alten und Neuen Testaments, Stuttgart: Kreuz-Verlag, 1980
- Studien zum Neuen Testament. München: Kaiser, 1985
- (Hrsg. von Werner Zager): Studien zum Matthäus-Evangelium. Neukirchen-Vluyn : Neukirchener Verlag 2009 ISBN 978-3-7887-2365-1