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Ebeling was born in Berlin-Steglitz, where he attended the gymnasium and began his university study. Ebeling was later a student of Rudolf Bultmann and Wilhelm Maurer in Marburg and of Emil Brunner at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. The years of his study in Berlin, Marburg and Zürich fell in the period of National Socialism in Germany, and his contact with Dietrich Bonhoeffer as well as his work in the Confessing Church had an enduring influence on his thought. He completed his Doctor of Theology degree in 1938 at the University of Zürich under the guidance of Fritz Blanke; his dissertation was entitled "Evangelical Interpretation of the Gospels: An Investigation of Luther's Hermeneutic".
Already in this early work, Ebeling's interest in systematic as well as historical questions was very apparent. At the end of the Second World War, he completed in 1947 his habilitation at the University of Tübingen, Germany and assumed the chair for church history in Tübingen. In 1954 Ebeling changed his focus of study from church history to systematic theology and became Professor for Systematic Theologie in Tübingen. Two years later, he was called to the University of Zürich in systematic. With the exception of the period from 1965–1968, when he was once again in Tübingen, Ebeling remained in Zürich, where he was the founder and, until his retirement in 1979, the director of the Institute for Hermeneutics.
From 1950 to 1977, Ebeling was the chief editor of the publication Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, and for several decades he presided over the Commission for the Publication of the Works of Martin Luther. Gerhard Ebeling held honorary doctorates from the universities of Bonn (1952), Uppsala (1970), St. Louis (1971), Edinburgh (1981), Neuchâtel (1993) and Tübingen (1997). Ebeling’s primary academic interests lay in the area of hermeneutics and the theology of Luther, and both of these areas were combined in his focus on the proclamation of the gospel in the Christian Church. In connection with hermeneutics and the New Testament, he came in close contact with Ernst Fuchs, with whom he shared his interest in proclamation; in the early 1960s, Ebeling and Fuchs were guest lecturers at Claremont in Southern California where they presented their vision of a new hermeneutic (see James M. Robinson and John B. Cobb, Jr., eds., The New Hermeneutic, 1964). Both Ebeling and Fuchs stressed the character and power of language, the role of the Bible in the pulpit (Wesley O. Allen, Determining the Form, Structures for Preaching, 2008).
From a systematic perspective, Ebeling’s thought focused on the relationship between law and gospel, and one of his most original contributions was to interpret this relationship within the context of a relational ontology based on the situation of human beings coram Deo and coram hominibus. In researching Luther’s interpretation of the Psalms, Ebeling discovered the central role of the coram-relation and developed the idea in the context of an ontology.
- Evangelische Evangelienauslegung. Eine Untersuchung zu Luthers Hermeneutik. 1942 (= Ebelings Dissertation)
- Das Wesen des christlichen Glaubens. 1959
- Wort und Glaube, 4 Bände. 1960–1995
- Wort Gottes und Tradition. Studien zu einer Hermeneutik der Konfessionen. 1964
- Luther. Einführung in sein Denken. 1964; ISBN 3-16-143581-8 (Tb.)
- Lutherstudien, 3 Bände (in 5 Teilbänden). 1971–1989.
- Einführung in theologische Sprachlehre. 1971; ISBN 3-16-132511-7
- Dogmatik des christlichen Glaubens, 3 Bände. 1979, 4. Auflage 2012; ISBN 978-3-16-151028-1
- Predigten eines „Illegalen“ aus den Jahren 1939–1945. 1995; ISBN 3-16-146371-4
- Luthers Seelsorge. Theologie in der Vielfalt der Lebenssituationen an seinen Briefen dargestellt. 1997; ISBN 3-16-146712-4
- Pierre Bühler, Philipp Stoellger, Andreas Mauz (Red.): Gerhard Ebeling. Mein theologischer Weg, Zürich: Institut für Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie 2006 (Hermeneutische Blätter, Sonderheft 2006).
- Philipp Stoellger, Andreas Mauz (Red.): Gerhard Ebeling. Zürich: Institut für Hermeneutik und Religionsphilosophie 2003 (Hermeneutische Blätter, Sonderheft) Onlineressource (pdf; 988 kB)
- Franz Gmainer-Pranzl: Glaube und Geschichte bei Karl Rahner und Gerhard Ebeling: ein Vergleich transzendentaler und hermeneutischer Theologie. Innsbruck; Wien: Tyrolia 1996 ISBN 3-7022-2044-5
- Albrecht Beutel: Gerhard Ebeling. Eine Biographie. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2012, ISBN 978-3-16-150447-1.
- Hans Christian Knuth, Winfrid Krause: Dank und bleibende Verpflichtung - eine kurze Würdigung des Lutherforschers und ehemaligen wissenschaftlichen Leiters der Luther-Akademie. In: Rainer Rausch (Hrsg.): Glaube und Vernunft. Wie vernünftig ist die Vernunft? (= Dokumentationen der Luther-Akademie, Tagungsband 11). Lutherisches Verlagshaus, Hannover 2014, S. 167-170, ISBN 978-3-7859-1167-9
- Jack E. Brush: „Gerhard Ebeling“, in: Donald W. Musser & Joseph L. Price (eds.), A New Handbook of Christian Theologians, 1996.