MARTIN DIBELIUS WAS BORN the son of a Lutheran pastor September 14, 1883 in Dresden, Germany, a year before his colleague, Rudolf Bultmann (1884–1969), with whom he shared many influences and many interests. The year 1883 was notable also as the year that Krakatoa exploded; Italy signed a military pact with Austria-Hungary and Germany; Dvorák, Strindberg, and Brahms all debuted major works; the Orient Express began railroad service between Paris and Istanbul; and Adolf von Harnack published Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristliche Literatur.
Dibelius studied theology and philosophy in Neuchâtel, Leipzig, Tübingen, and Berlin. He took his first theological exams in Leipzig in 1905. His two dissertations (for the PhD and the ThD) were both history-of-religion works—on the ark of the covenant (Die Lade Jahves, 1906) at Tubingen, and the spiritworld in Paul (Die Geisterwelt im Glauben des Paules, 1910) at Berlin. He also received his licentiate in theology in 1908 in Berlin. He was Privatdozent in Berlin during the years 1910–1915. And in 1915 he became Professor of New Testament in Heidelberg, where he taught for thirty-two years until his untimely death at the age of sixty-four.
Along with Bultmann, Dibelius was heavily influenced by three of the giants in biblical and theological studies at the beginning of the twentieth century: Hermann Gunkel, Adolf von Harnack, and Johannes Weiss. Studying the form-critical method with Gunkel, Dibelius and Bultmann adapted it to the study of the Gospels, and they each published a major work on the method: Dibelius, From Tradition to Gospel; and Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition. Following Gunkel, both of them were interested in the oral tradition and its development into the Gospels; and they also followed Gunkel in his association with the History-of-Religion School (Die Religionsgeschichtliche Schule). This shows in their broad-ranging use of especially Greco-Roman traditions in the interpretation of the New Testament. But