Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Luther's Doctrine of Inspiration – Pieper (in English) Part 2

[2018-04-23: appended full text of Pieper's essay at bottom2017-11-29: added direct link to Google Doc below text window.]
This concludes from the previous introductory Part 1 and now presents the actual text of Pieper's essay.

Do you read your Bible?  If so, you should now read this masterful essay by Franz Pieper about Martin Luther and the Doctrine of Inspiration.  Here you will know the true Luther.
  • Have you heard someone say that Luther did not believe the entire Bible was Inspired by God?  Then read this essay by Pieper.
  • Have you heard someone say that Luther did not hold certain books of the Bible to be canonical, e.g. of the book of James?  Then read page 265.
  • Have you heard someone say that Luther admitted contradictions in the Bible?  Read pages 263 - 264.
Although the text version below is also available in Google Books, yet my text version has added several hyperlinks that aid in Bible verse lookups, background information on several theologians, and language translations.  Also Scripture references were updated from Roman numerals.  Further work may be done and will be noted by modifications of the date below.
Last text update: August 13, 2013

Highlighting is mine.  Hyperlinks should be opened in new tab/window. Original page headers retained.

 >> Link direct to Google Doc above here. <<

This essay has refreshed my Christian faith.  If you, dear reader, consider yourself to be a Christian, whether you call yourself a Lutheran or not, you would do well to read this essay and recognize the wisdom of 
Prof. Benjamin B. Warfield (a Princeton Presbyterian) who asked
Prof. Franz Pieper (The Twentieth Century Luther) to expound on
Martin Luther and his
Doctrine of the Inspiration of 
The Holy Scriptures

... the Scriptures of which Christ said
Search the scriptures... which testify of me.  John 5:39
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = 
2018-04-23: appended a "Read more »" section below – inline full text of Pieper's essay:

Published at this blog post by BackToLuther on August 13, 2013; Last edit 2017-11-29.
Text in red added for reference. AE = Am. Edition of Luther’s Works.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
by Francis Pieper
Published by:

IT is treated as a matter of fact with the recent German opposers of "plenary" or "verbal" inspiration of Scripture that Luther, the great Reformer, sided with them in this burning question of our day. That doctrine according to which the Holy Scriptures are held to be the very Word of God, and consequently of absolute infallibility, is ascribed to the "scholastic theologians" of the seventeenth century; while Luther is said to have maintained "a more liberal position" towards Scripture. This statement has, like many other things, crossed the ocean, and is freely repeated by American theologians, in commenting on the historical side of the question of inspiration. The writer of this article also claims not to be without knowledge as to what Luther really held and taught. Being of opinion that the Reformer's writings well deserve the attention of all theologians, he has given in his study of human writings a prominent place to Luther's works. But from all that he knows of Luther, he is constrained to say this: the statement now in vogue that Luther held the more liberal view concerning Holy Scripture, is at variance with historical truth. True, this question of inspiration is not to be decided by human authority: neither by that of Luther or any theologian of old, nor by that of the lower or higher critics of recent date. It is to be decided solely by the testimony of Scripture itself. The article of inspiration is an article of faith, like all the rest. But if human authority is cited wrongly and for error, it may become the duty of those who are aware of the wrong to redress it. In this case a twofold wrong is committed. In the first place against the living generation, inasmuch as some might, by the authority of Luther, be influenced to adopt his alleged liberal position towards Scripture; in the second place, against the blessed memory of Luther. For not all deem it praiseworthy to hold concerning Scripture what Luther is represented to have held of it.
Therefore, being called upon to set forth in this REVIEW, from Luther's writings, Luther's doctrine of inspiration, we at once consented to do so, doubting only as to the possibility of treating the subject adequately within the small compass of an article not to exceed twenty pages. We could, of course, state all the main features

of Luther's doctrine in a few pages. But, then, assertion would be simply made to stand against assertion. In order to enable the reader to form a judgment of his own, we deem it absolutely necessary at several points to quote from Luther at some length. To make room for doing so, we shall confine ourselves to the discussion of three points. First, we shall lay before the reader such declarations of Luther, taken from all periods of his public career, as contain direct statements concerning the inspiration of Holy Scripture. In the second place, we shall represent Luther's way of dealing with the seeming contradictions in Holy Writ, this being the ultimate test as to how one views the Scriptures. Finally, we shall critically examine such passages from Luther as have been commonly cited in proof of the Reformer's alleged liberal position.
I. In commenting on Deuteronomy 4:2 ("Ye shall not add unto the Word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it"), Luther emphasizes the principle that, in spiritual things, man must not presume nor choose what he would do, but stand solely and altogether on the very Word of God; for, acting otherwise, man would, in fact, add to the Word of God or take away from it. "But why then"–Luther himself objects– "were so many books of the prophets added (to Moses)?" He answers by saying that the books of the prophets were in no wise a human addition to Moses, but the Word of God also since they were given by inspiration. Says he: "Those words of Moses, 'Thou shalt not add thereto,' are not spoken concerning God, but concerning the people. For who would doubt that God can, as time may require (pro tempore), both add and take away? For He remaineth, whether He add or whether He take away, ay, the ever-truthful God, who in faithfulness leads and saves us. ........ Thus all the prophets when they taught something else, this God revealed unto them, just as He did unto Moses, or, as St. Peter says, they were inspired by the Holy Ghost that they had to speak (Spiritu S. inspirati sunt, ut loquerentur)."*
Again, in his grand exposition of "The Last Words of David," Luther remarks on 2 Samuel 23:2 ("The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his Word was upon my tongue"): "He (David) makes mention, first, of the Holy Ghost; to Him does he ascribe all that the prophets prophesy. To this and similar passages St. Peter has reference, 2 Peter 1:21: 'The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake by inspiration of the Holy Ghost.'  Hence we chant thus in the articles of faith [in the Nicene Creed] concerning the Holy Ghost: 'Who spake by the prophets.'  Therefore to the Holy Ghost the whole Scripture is
* In Deuteronomion, 1525 ; Opera exeg. lat., Erl., xiii, 130, 131.

ascribed."* "Holy Scripture is spoken by the Holy Ghost, according to the declaration of David, 'The Spirit of the Lord spake by me.' Likewise, He speaks by all the prophets."† According to these declarations, dating from 1525 and 1543 respectively, Luther unreservedly and without any limitation asserts the inspiration of Moses, the prophets, and all Scripture. Hence to Luther the Word of Scripture is the very Word of God.‡ To him Holy Scripture and the Word of God are identical terms. In his annotations on Psalms 22:6 ("I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people "), he says: "Holy Scripture is the Word of God reduced to writing, and, as it were, committed to letters and engraven in letters, even as Christ is the eternal Word of God veiled in humanity; and as Christ was looked upon and treated by the world, even so the written Word of God fares in the world."§  Luther concludes by giving praise to the grace of God bestowed upon those who, with St. Peter, confess that "Christ is the Son of the living God, and that Holy Scripture is written by the Holy Ghost." He calls Holy Scripture, in distinction from all other books, "the Holy Ghost's book,"| " the writings of the Holy Ghost,"¶ "God's writings,"** "the letters of our Lord God,"†† "God's mouth."‡‡ Such and similar expressions are found throughout the writings of Luther.
And that it may be seen that these expressions are not of a hyperbolical nature but, with Luther, are meant to convey the full meaning of the words, a passage containing such an expression may be cited here in extenso. He remarks on Matthew 24:15 ("whoso readeth, let him understand"): "That is, he who would learn the Scriptures must be at pains to understand them. The Hebrew idiom signified 'to mark well.' The German equivalent is: 'Merk auf, was du liesest,' or, 'Willst du lesen, so merke wohl drauf, was du liesest.' For that which you read is not the word of men, but the Word of God most high who will have disciples that diligently mark what He speaks. If it is well said that the letters of princes should be read thrice, because princes have to speak deliberately lest they be deemed unwise, so much the more the letters of God,
The modern theologians are finding fault with the "scholastic theologians of the seventeenth century" for not properly distinguishing between the words of Scripture and the words of God. Luther should be charged with the same fault.
§ Erl. Ed., lii: 298, 299. The words read in German: "Die Heilige Schrift ist Gottes Wort geschrieben, und–dass ich so rede–gebuchstabet and in Buchstaben gebildet."

that is, the Holy Scriptures, should be read not only three, four or five times, but a hundred, a thousand times, aye, a thousand times again. For God speaks deliberately and momentously, yea, He is Himself eternal wisdom. He who so reads the Scriptures is made wiser and better by the Scriptures. But he who does otherwise, learns nothing, and even grows more wicked."
Thus Luther simply identifies the words of Scripture and the words of God. Is he, then, entirely unaware of the "human side" of Scripture?  By no means.  He teaches: As Christ is the Son of the living God veiled in humanity, even so Scripture is the very Word of God, clad in human speech. He noticed also fully the difference of style in the holy writers. He remarks on 1 Peter 2:11: "St. Peter here uses a mode of speaking which is a little different from that of St. Paul. St. Paul would not speak thus, as we shall see. For every apostle has his peculiar way of speaking, as has every prophet also."† But what Isaiah, St. Paul, etc., speak, each in their peculiar style, is not the word of these fallible men, but the Word of God most high. It is on account of " our accursed unbelief and our evil flesh," if we lose sight of this truth. He remarks on Isaiah 55:11 ("My word that goeth forth out of my mouth," etc.): "This text is indeed full of comfort, if we could but believe that it is God who speaks to us and that it is the Word of God that we hear or read in the Bible.  We would then find and experience that it is not read and heard without fruit nor uselessly. But our accursed unbelief and our evil flesh suffer us not to perceive and heed that God speaks unto us in Holy Scripture and that it is the Word of God, but we imagine the speaker to be Isaiah, Paul, or some other mere man who did not make heaven and earth."‡ If any teacher in the Christian Church clearly taught that the holy writers were simple instruments–living instruments, of course–of the Holy Spirit, so did Luther most clearly and forcibly. To him the Scriptures are not the joint product of "a divine factor" and "a human factor," viz., of the Holy Ghost and the human penmen, so that the result would be in part divine and in part human, but with him " the divine factor " is the only factor productive of Holy Scripture, the Holy Ghost using the human penmen as simple instruments. "It is one thing," Luther exclaims, "when man speaks of himself, and another thing when God speaks through men.......  Although the Scriptures are written through men, they are not of men or from men, but from God."§ Luther calls the Papists "blasphemers" when they, in order to get rid of the sole authority of Holy Scripture, objected : "St. Matthew, St. Paul, St. Peter were
§ St Louis Ed., 19: 619-621.

also men; their teachings, then, are the teachings of men also.  But if their teachings are to be accepted, the same is to be done with the teachings of the Pope."* Recent writers are eulogizing Luther for not "confounding inspiration with dictation," as the scholastic theologians did. Even this prerogative, however, is to be denied to him, for he represents the prophets as bringing forward "what they heard from God Himself" (quæ ex ipso deo audierunt).
Hence it is, that Luther draws a sharp line between illumination and inspiration, viz., between the general and common operation of God in all believers and in all believing teachers of the Church, and the peculiar operation of God in the holy penmen through whom He gave the Scriptures, To him the distinction between illumination and inspiration is not one of degree, but of kind. What the inspired teacher taught, is the Word of God, eo ipso, because "the Holy Ghost put the word in their mouths." What the illumined teachers teach is the Word of God so far only as "they repeat" (nachsagen) "and preach what they heard and learned from the prophets and apostles." In regard to David and all the inspired teachers, Luther says: " He who may glory in this that the Lord's Spirit speaks through him, and that his tongue utters the Word of the Holy Ghost, must indeed be most certain of his cause. He who is thus certain is not mere David, Jesse's son, born in sin, but the David who by the promises of God is raised up to be a prophet. Should he not make lovely psalms whose Master is the Holy Spirit who both teaches him and speaks through him? Therefore, he that has ears to hear, let him hear I My words are not mine own, but he that heareth me heareth God, and he that despiseth me despiseth God.........  To such a glory neither I nor any other man who is not a prophet may lay claim.  This we may do, being holy and having the Holy Ghost also–we may glory in being catechumens and disciples of the prophets, who repeat and preach what we heard and learned from the prophets and apostles, and are certain also that it is the doctrine of the apostles. Such men are called in the Old Testament 'sons of the prophets' who do not bring forward what is proper to them or new, as the prophets do, but who teach what they took from the prophets; they are Israel, as David puts it, for whose benefit he makes psalms"‡
But it is conceded by many theologians that Luther in the strongest terms affirmed the divinity of Scripture taken as a whole. It is claimed, however, that the Reformer did not care to define to what extent the Scriptures are the very Word of God and, consequently,
* L. c.
In Joelem Commentarius, 1545, Opera exeg. lat. cur., Linke, xxv, 143.

exempt from error. So we proceed to show that, according to Luther, Scripture is the very Word of God in all its parts, even in those very parts to which the modern critics of Scripture point as an obvious refutation of the doctrine of plenary inspiration.
Dr. Kahnis, for instance, remarks concerning the inspiration of the Psalms: "Are we to believe that the Holy Ghost dictated in the form of a psalm what David felt in his heart?"* What is Luther's opinion of the psalms? "I am of opinion"–he says in his Preface to the Book of Psalms–"that the Holy Ghost has deigned to give Himself the trouble of bringing together a short Bible and book of examples of all Christianity or of all saints."† In his exposition of the Last Words of David he severely rebukes those who question the inspiration of the Psalms on account of their human appearance. "The fleshly heart," he says, "passes them over lightly, or fancies that David, the pious man, or some one else, composed them, which is the idea of the blind Jews. But David does not suffer us to ascribe the words to himself. They are, he says, joyous and lovely psalms of Israel, yet not I have made them, but the Spirit of the Lord hath spoken by me. And, moreover, how could flesh and blood, reason and human wisdom speak of such high, incomprehensible things? They are all foolishness and a stumbling block to her."‡
But how about the records of those "trivial and even offensive things" which constitute part of the Old Testament? Dr. Gess fairly represents the majority of the modern antagonizers of plenary inspiration, when he, kindly undertaking the advocacy of the Holy Ghost, says: "It is even irreverent to burden the Holy Ghost with these things."§ Among the things from which he wishes the Holy Ghost to be excused, he mentions the records of "generations, warriors, officers, journeys, cattle," etc., especially the "scandalous stories" of Judah and Tamar, etc. What is Luther's opinion? His explicit statement that "the whole Scripture is to be ascribed to the Holy Ghost" holds good even at this point. We have his repeated and detailed assertions concerning these "trivial and even scandalous things" in his Enarrationes in Genesin | and in his Sermons on the First Book of Moses Luther most emphatically asserts both that these parts of Scripture are " written by the Holy Ghost," and that there are lessons in them all which the children of God stand in need of. In his sermon on chapter xxxviii of Genesis [Genesis 38] (containing the story of Judah and Tamar),
| Opera exeg. lat., Erl., Vols. i-xi; Walch's and St. Louis Editions, Vols. i, ii.

he says: "I have said before that we are compelled to prepare almost every chapter with a palliation. So sensitive are we that we cannot bear to speak or hear of child-birth, though we have done meanwhile what is horrible beyond mention. True, this is rather a coarse chapter. Still it is a chapter of Holy Scripture and the Holy Ghost has written it, who surely has as clean a mouth and pen as we have; and this is the best I can say in palliation of it. If any one has a purer mouth and ears than the Holy Ghost, let him leave it alone. If the Holy Ghost was not afraid or ashamed to write it, we will not be ashamed to read and hear it... . . . The Holy Spirit well knows what He has made, and speaks of His creatures as they have their natural way"* As to the lessons which are contained in the stories relating gross sins, he adds: "All this was written for our exhortation that we, by such coarse things (groben Stücken), might perceive how pious human nature is, when God withdraws His hand from His great beloved saints."† Concerning those "trifling matters" recorded in Scripture, Luther remarks on Genesis 44:1-2 (Joseph commanding his steward to hide the silver cup in Benjamin's sack): "I have often admonished, and it is ever to be inculcated, that the Holy Ghost writes such jocular and trifling matters concerning the great patriarchs, though He could choose the most grave and sacred things, as He really intermingles matters of that kind in relating the stories of the holy fathers. A rude and fleshly reader who fancies these things to be of no moment at all, soon takes offense, and wonders why such things are read in the Church of God, and why the Holy Ghost deigned to lose time and labor in recording them. . . . But I answer that this was done by Joseph and that it was written by the Holy Ghost for the purpose of our learning the right mode of living before God." In commenting on Genesis 30:2, Luther says that "the Holy Ghost, whose mouth surely is very clean, describes Jacob's household and matrimonial state, therefrom deriving the lesson: "God is pleased to describe such lowly matters (humiles res) to testify that He does not despise nor abhor nor stand aloof from a household, a pious husband, mother, and children."§ Indeed Luther evidently rejoices in asserting that it is the Holy Ghost who describes all these "trifling matters." The expression, "The Holy Spirit writes," etc., recurs, e. g., five times on one single page.| He records a general caution to all readers of Holy Writ against taking offense at "the simple language and stories" of the
L. c., p. 262. $ ‡ Opera ex. lat., Erl., x, 288, 284.
§ Opera exeg. lat.. Erl., vii, 285-287; St. Louis Ed., ii, 538 seq.

Old Testament, and against denying the divine authorship of them. He writes in his Preface to the Old Testament: "I entreat and warn sincerely every pious Christian not to take offense at the simple language and stories he will often meet with, and not to doubt that, however simple they may seem, they are all words and deeds, judgments and stories of the divine majesty and wisdom. For these are the writings that make fools of the wise and the prudent, and are clear and plain only to the simple and the lowly, as Christ says (Matthew 11:25). Part, therefore, with your own opinion and feelings, and regard these Scriptures as the very highest and most precious thing, as the very richest mine never to be exhausted, that you may find the divine wisdom which God here lays before you in so simple a way, in order to repress pride. You have here the swaddling-clothes in which Christ is wrapped, the manger in which Christ is lying, to which also the angel points the shepherds (Luke 2:11). Plain and common are the swaddling-clothes, but precious is the treasure, Christ, who lies therein"*
There is, according to Luther, nothing useless or casual in Holy Scripture.  In his exposition of "The Three Symbols," he exclaims: "Not even one letter in Holy Scripture stands in vain."† This affirmation he bases directly on the fact that Scripture is written by the Holy Ghost. In commenting on the repetition of the word "Lord" in Genesis 19:24 (then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah, brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven), he writes: "The Holy Ghost is not a fool nor an inebriate that He should speak one tittle, much less, one word, in vain."‡
We might proceed to show right here that, according to Luther, inspiration extends also to all chronological, historical and scientific matters that are contained in Scripture. But as we shall have to adduce the pertinent declarations later, in discussing the Reformer's position concerning the infallibility of Scripture, we refrain from quoting them here.
II. The question of the inerrancy of Scripture is the ultimate test as to whether one accepts inspiration in its full sense or not. By conceding that errors occur, or, at least, may occur in Scripture, we concede also that not all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Whoever "has no hesitancy in admitting errors in minor topics" contained in Scripture, has no hesitancy in giving up the inspiration of Scripture in the proper and full meaning of the word. To him the Scriptures are no longer the Word of God. He may still hold that Holy Scripture contains the Word of God, but he denies that Holy Scripture is the Word of God. It is on account of the alleged

errors to be found in Holy Writ that the present and past opponents of " the orthodox theory " declare it to be an utter impossibility any longer to defend that "theory." What, then, is Luther's position concerning the inerrancy of Scripture?
In the first place, Luther, in a general way, most emphatically declared that errors do not occur, and cannot occur in Holy Scripture. It is in this respect that Holy Scripture is distinguished from all other writings. The absolute infallibility of Scripture Luther proclaims both at the beginning and at the end of his public career. In his treatise, Vom Missbrauch der Messe, written at the Wartburg, 1521, he says: "The saints could err in their writing and sin in their life; Holy Scripture cannot err." In asserting the sole authority of Scripture over against the papistical authorities, defended by King Henry VIII, he writes in 1522: "How often have I said that, also according to St. Augustine's opinion, it is to the canonical books alone that there is due the honor that we most firmly believe there is no error in them,† and that other books, no matter how weighty they may be on account of their sanctity and their teachings, are not entitled to equal honor. But even had not Augustine said this, Holy Scripture still demands (exigit) to be alone believed, and no one besides."‡ In his commentary on Genesis, dating from the last period of his life (1536-1545), the statement recurs in various forms, that Holy Scripture cannot err. In commenting on Gen. xi. 11, he says: "Hoc enim certum est Scripturam non mentiri," "for this is certain that Scripture does not lie."§
And this principle Luther follows out in harmonizing those passages of Scripture which seem to imply a contradiction, either with other passages of Scripture, or with the results of human research. Scripture, to him, is absolutely free from error in all chronological, historical and scientific details. He endeavors to solve apparent contradictions in Scripture, but if he does not succeed in doing so, he will not be so bold as to assume that there is an error in Holy Writ, but "takes off his hat" and confesses that the Holy Spirit is wiser than man. Again, whenever there is a conflict between Scripture and the historical or scientific statements of human writers, it is Scripture that is always right.
That this is a correct statement of Luther's position may be seen from the following declarations: In expounding Genesis 11:27-28, he meets with the difficulty that in Abraham's life sixty years are
Opera lat. varii argum. Francofurt ad M, vi, 408; St. Louis Ed., xix, 305.
§ Opera exeg. lat., Erl., iii, 60. St. Louis Ed., i, 714.

wanting ("in ipso Abrahamo nobis intercidunt anni lx"). He tried to find them by diligently "counting up the years of the world," but he did not succeed. Says he: "It is absurd, however, to follow those bold minds who when they come upon such a difficulty at once declare that a palpable error has been committed, and unblushingly (sine pudore) venture to correct another man's books. For my own part, I hardly know as yet what to say in reply to the above question, although I have taken great pains to count up the years of the world. Hence, while humbly and dutifully confessing my ignorance–for the Holy Spirit alone knows and understands all things–I conclude thus: God, for reasons known to Himself, wanted those sixty years of Abraham's life to disappear lest some one should presume from an exact calculation of the years of the world to make positive predictions concerning the world's end. God indeed shows signs of the last day, and it is His will that those signs should be extant and heeded, but He does not want the day or even the year to be known, that the pious may, in constant expectation of that glorious day, exercise their faith and fear of God. And this is about the only reply I have to the above question."* In like manner Luther treats the difficulty as to how Arphaxad could have been born two years after the flood.† Before admitting a chronological error in the original text of Scripture, he assumes that by an inadvertence of the copyist a false historical statement might have crept into the text. In his Chronica (of 1541 and 1545) he remarks on Acts 13:20: "The Greek text is corrupted by a mistake of the copyist. It would easily happen that he (the copyist) should write 450 instead of 350, that is, rerpakoviues instead of rpeacooiots."‡
Luther was a lover of historical studies. In his stirring appeal To the magistrates of all cities of Germany to establish Christian schools (1524) he warmly recommends the study of history.§ He himself was occupied in historical research, and in all his writings we find him quoting from the historians, both secular and ecclesiastical, with the greatest care. But in all cases of conflict between Scripture and the human historical writers, he holds the truth to be on the side of Scripture, because "In Scripture speaks God who is true." Says he in his Chronicon: " As to Eusebius, we have not much cause to complain of him, for he was a most wonderful man and exceedingly careful; but we have much cause of complaint regarding the rest of historians, and they among themselves complain of lacking a reliable computation of the years.  I have therefore in this work let them pass, and have attempted to complete the com-
* Opera. exeg. lat., Erl., iii, 71, 72.
L. c., iii, 60; St. Louis Ed., i, 713, 714.
‡ Walch, xiv, 1178-1180.

putation principally from Holy Scripture. For on the Scriptures we may, nay should, firmly rely in constant faith. . . . . I do not, indeed, despise the historians, but I give to Holy Scripture the preference. I use them so that I am not compelled to be at variance with Scripture. For I believe that in Scripture the Speaker is God, who is the Truth, but concerning other histories I believe that in them excellent men offer their best diligence and faithfulness, nevertheless they are men, and at least, the copyists may have erred." That, according to Luther, all scientific statements of Scripture are to be accepted as absolutely true over against all human science asserting the contrary, may be seen from the' following: "When Moses writes that God in six days made heaven and earth and all that in them is, just leave that statement untouched. It is not necessary to find an explanation how six days could have been one day. And if you cannot understand how it could have been six days, then do the Holy Spirit the honor to admit that He is more learned than yourself. For you are to treat the Holy Scriptures in such a manner that you think it is God who speaks therein. But since it is God who speaks, it does not become you to turn His Word wantonly as it pleases you. We must abide by the literal meaning of a text unless necessity compels us to: depart from the meaning given by the words as they read, i. e., when faith does not allow the literal meaning of the words."†
Moreover, there is, according to Luther, no misquoting of the Old Testament to be found in the New Testament writers. The interpretations of the Old Testament passages given by the New Testament writers are authentic and infallible, for the very reason that they are the interpretation of the Holy Ghost who shows by the apostles the fulfilling of His own Word. This matter Luther treats copiously, for instance, in his On Popery, Against the Most Renowned Romanist of Leipzig (Augustine von Alveld).  Luther here remarks: "That the rock in the wilderness (Exodus 17:6) is a type of Christ, not reason, but St. Paul asserts (1 Corinthians 10:4).  Wherefore let none other interpret the type, save the Holy Spirit Himself, who has both made the type and caused its fulfillment, in order that word and deed, type and fulfillment, and the interpretation of both, may be of God Himself, not of man, so that our faith may be grounded upon divine, not upon human, deeds and words."‡ And again, near the end of his life (1543), he writes: "Numbers 14:22, the Lord says, 'They have tempted me now these ten times.' If it is the Lord, as Moses writes, how can it be Christ, as Paul writes (1 Corinthians 10:9).  Now both must of necessity write the truth, for the Holy Ghost is
* Walch, xiv, 1112, 1117.
‡ St. Louis Ed., xviii, 1028.

not at variance with Himself."* Luther did not fail to notice the changes in form of the passages of the Old Testament quoted in the New Testament, but he concedes no misquotations. He writes in his Church Postil: "Thus we shall often see that the evangelists adduce the prophets a little changed, but this is ever done without changing the import and meaning."†
Finally, all seeming incoherency of speech and disorder of thought met with in Holy Writ, Luther ascribes directly to the Holy Spirit. In his sermons on the Gospel of St. Matthew (a. 1537), he remarks on Matthew 27:3, that the evangelist "mingles and mixes" the description of Jerusalem and the end of the world. But he immediately adds: "It is the Holy Ghost's way in Scripture to speak thus."‡ The same subject is treated at length in his exposition of the prophecy of Habakkuk.§ "Thus far," he says,"many have stumbled in the writings of the prophets, in view of the fact that the prophets in the midst of a discourse upon Jewish affairs stop suddenly and intermix some things concerning Christ, and, whosoever does not know their ways, fancies they have a strange manner of speaking, observing no order but mingling their manifold topics pell-mell, thus rendering it impossible to comprehend them, or to get used to their ways. The task of reading a book in which no sequence of thought is observed and the reader cannot join the several points treated, nor unite them so that there is good consecution of events–which should be the rule of a good and wise speaker–is indeed harassing. Thus the Holy Spirit has been charged with incapacity to speak well, as though He uttered His thoughts incoherently like one drunk or crazed, and as though His words and sentences were irregular and alien. But the fault lies with us, because we have failed to understand the language and did not know the ways of prophecy. The Spirit of God being Himself Wisdom, it cannot but follow that He makes the prophets, too, wise. But he who is wise must needs know how to speak wisely; this is infallibly certain."|
To give a brief summary of what has been stated thus far: Luther most unreservedly asserts the inspiration of all Scripture, the inspiration extending equally to all parts of Scripture, whether they contain articles of faith, or chronological, historical, scientific, etc., matters. The "human element" of Scripture consists in God's speaking through men, in human language, even in the language and peculiar style of the respective writers. All is through man, but not of man. The phraseology, the sequence of thought, the mode of argument, etc., is to be ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Thus Scripture
§ A. 1528, Erl. Ed., xlii, 1-108.

is, in its every word, the Word of God, and, consequently, of absolute infallibility. All contradictions which seem to occur in Scripture are only seeming ones. Man may try to solve them, but if this prove impossible, he must not charge Holy Scripture with error, but himself with ignorance. In all cases of conflict between Scripture and the statements of human research, Scripture is always the party that is right.

III. There have been cited, however, some passages from Luther which seem to imply that the Reformer really held a "more liberal" view concerning Scripture. The catalogue of these "dicta Lutheri" was begun by Dr. Tholuck in the first edition of Herzog's Encyclopedia. And it is from this source, as may be conclusively shown, that very many of the German theologians have derived their knowledge of Luther's doctrine of inspiration. We beg leave to remark that we deem it somewhat unfair to derive Luther's doctrine concerning Scripture from a few passages. If it is evident from a thousand unmistakably clear declarations of Luther's and from his whole manner of treating the Scriptures, that the Scriptures were to him in their every word the infallible word of God, we would not be justified in ascribing to him the contrary meaning because in his voluminous writings a few passages are found which seemingly suggest a more "liberal" position. The scientific proceeding would rather be something like this:–after having carefully examined these few passages in their proper connection, and after having found that they really express a more liberal view of Scripture, we should say: Luther has most emphatically declared Scripture in all its parts to be the infallible Word of God, but in a few passages he was forgetful of his avowed position. This would be the utmost that could be said of Luther, if the much cited passages really expressed the meaning which is attributed to them. But this is not the case, as we now shall briefly show.
All German theologians who ascribe to Luther the more liberal view of Scripture refer, for the sake of proof, to Luther's Preface to Link's Annotationes. Luthardt, in his Compendium der Dogmatik, cites the following from this Preface: "There can be no doubt that the prophets studied in Moses, and the later prophets in the earlier ones, and that they wrote down in a book their good thoughts with which the Holy Spirit inspired them. Though even in the case of these good faithful teachers and searchers of Holy Writ sometimes hay, straw and stubble happened to creep in, and though they did not build only silver, gold and precious stones, yet the foundation remains–the rest is consumed by the fire." These are the words quoted to prove that the Reformer held a liberal view concerning

inspiration. True, if Lather by these words meant to describe the prophets as writing Holy Scripture, he would, of course, by these very words admit the possibility of error in Scripture. Luther, however, does not speak here of the prophets in their vocation of writing Holy Scripture, but of their writing, apart from the state of inspiration, viz., of their making notes in their studies of Scripture, as ordinary teachers. Luther held that the prophets of the Old Testament were not always, but only sometimes and for a definite space of time, under the influence of that peculiar operation of God which St. Paul calls inspiration. He says in his commentary on Genesis: "It is a common proverb with the theologians, 'The Holy Ghost does not touch the hearts of the prophets at all times;' the prophetical illumination was not continuous and permanent, as Isaiah did not receive continuous and lasting revelations concerning the great things, but only from time to time (per vices temporum). This is seen from the example of Elisha when he said concerning the Shunammite: 'Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her; and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.' Here he confesses that God does not touch the hearts of the prophets at all times. Sometimes the Holy Spirit came upon them when they were playing on the harp or psaltery and chanting psalms and spiritual songs."* Thus Luther, in accordance with Holy Scripture (see 1 Peter 1:10), knows of a state of the prophets in which they were placed on an equal footing with all other "good teachers and searchers," making the prophecies of their predecessors and their own an object of study, even "with pen in hand." And it is of these very studies of the prophets that Luther speaks in the words cited, and in this sphere he, of course, admits the possibility of error. This is evident from the context from which these words of Luther's are taken. The words are quoted by Luthardt in a badly mutilated form. Right in the beginning the characteristic words "in this manner," are omitted. Luther does not say, as Luthardt quoted him, "There can be no doubt that the prophets studied in Moses," but, "There can be no doubt that in this manner the prophets studied in Moses," thus referring us to what he had said before. The preceding words are: "There have never been too many good books, nor are there too many now. We are, moreover, commanded by the Lord to search the Scriptures. St. Paul commands Timothy 'to give attendance to reading,' (1 Timothy 4:13). This searching and reading is not, however, truly accomplished unless done with pen in hand, in order that we may write down that with which in the process of searching and reading we are specially inspired."  Here immediately follow the words: "There can be no doubt that in this manner the prophets studied in Moses
* Opera exeg. lat., x, 303, 804.

and the later prophets in the earlier ones, and that they wrote down in a book their good thoughts with which the Holy Spirit inspired them. For they were not of a kind with the enthusiasts and fanatics that they should have placed Moses' books on the shelf, fabricating their own visions and preaching their own dreams; bat they daily and with great care exercised themselves in Moses; even as Moses himself often and sternly commands all, yea the king himself, to read this book (Deuteronomy 17:19; Joshua 1:8)." Only now, after having explained at length that he is speaking of the prophets as occupied with studying Moses like " other good teachers and searchers," Luther goes onto say : "Though even with these good, faithful teachers and searchers of Holy Writ sometimes hay, straw, wood " (not, as Luthardt quoted after Tholuck, " hay, straw, and stubble ") " happened to creep in, and though they did not build only silver, gold and precious stones, yet the foundation remains, the rest is consumed by the fire of the day, as St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 3:12-13)." From this it appears that Luther in this passage does not speak of the prophets as writers of Holy Scripture and that, consequently, this passage is cited wrongly in support of his alleged liberal position towards Scripture. By means of this passage, however, Dr. Tholuck has–sit venia verbo –deceived a whole generation of scientific German theologians. For they have unhesitatingly copied, like Luthardt, from Dr. Tholuck, as is made clearly evident by the fact that they quote Luther's words with the same mutilations, omissions and deviations from the original wording. Dr. Dieckhoff, however, in his latest remarks on Luther's doctrine of inspiration, concedes the impropriety of quoting "these words in immediate proof of Luther's more liberal position concerning the inspiration of Scripture."*
Moreover, those theologians who claim the patronage of Luther for their liberal views refer to some passages where Luther in regard to seeming contradictions says: "However it may be, this in no way derogates from our faith."  Thus in a sermon on John 2:13-16,† he
* Die Inspiration and Irrthumslosigkeit der heiligen Schrift, Leipzig, 1891, p. 38. In the second edition of Herzog's Encyclopedia, sub titulo "Inspiration," Vol. vi, p. 754, Dr. Cremer offers another instance of misquotation. According to Cremer. Luther ascribes to St. Paul "einen unzureichenden Beweis" (an insufficient argument) at Gal. 4:21 sqq., Cremer quoting the words "Zum Stich zu schwach." By looking up the passage in the Latin (the original) text, we find Luther saying that the allegory used by St. Paul (Gal. 4:21 sqq.), "in acie minus valet" (it is of less value in controversy), scil., as is seen from the context, in controversial discussion with the Jews who do not acknowledge the authority of St. Paul (Opera exeg. lat., Erl., iv, 189). On the other hand, Luther says: "Absit, absit, ut ullus apex in toto Paulo sit, quem non debeat imitari et servare tota, universalis ecclesia" (De captiv. Babyl., Opera lat. varii arg., v, 27).
† Preached February 9. 1538.

discusses the question "how the two evangelists, St. Matthew and St. John, agree.  For St. Matthew writes that it happened on palm-day that the Lord entered Jerusalem; but here in St. John it sounds as though it had happened about Easter, after the baptism of Christ." On this difficulty he remarks: "But such things are questions and remain questions, which I will not try to solve; they are also of little moment, except that there are many people who, being very subtile and acute, raise all kinds of questions and demand an accurate answer. But having attained to the right meaning of Scripture and the proper articles of our faith, viz., that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered and died for us, it will do us no great harm, although we were not able to answer all other questions. The evangelists do not follow the same order in narrating the events; what one places before, the other sometimes places after, just as St. Mark writes of this event that it happened the other day after palm-day.  It may also be that the Lord did this thing more than once, St. John describing what happened the first time, St. Matthew what happened the second time. However it may be, may it have happened before or after, once or twice, it does not derogate from our faith."* Such and similar passages might be gathered from Luther's writings by the hundred. But from them it is inferred † that Luther limited the inspiration of Holy Scripture to the "articles of faith," admitting inaccuracies in historical details. How grossly he is misrepresented by this conclusion is clearly seen from the fact that he in many passages containing the very same statement expressly rejects that inference.  For instance, having discussed the question, whether Abraham was the first-born son of Terah, and moreover, what might be held about those sixty years which seem wanting in the life of Abraham, Luther remarks: "If we should go amiss in assuming that Abraham was the first-born, it is such an error as will not derogate from the faith, nor damn us."  But in the very same connection Luther continues to rebuke "those bold minds" who by assuming an error in Holy Scripture deem themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit.‡
Thus, Luther is far from admitting inaccuracies in historical details, when he says that we should not be seriously troubled about their adjustment. It is for reasons far different from those assigned that he calls the attention of all Christians and theologians away from those seeming contradictions to "the articles of faith."  He means to administer the most necessary warning not to make faith in Holy Scripture dependent on the ability to adjust seeming contradictions. Luther demands faith for the Scriptures a priori, that is, on account of their being the infallible Word of God, and be most decidedly
* St. Louis Ed., vii, 1780, 1781.
E. g., by Dieckhoff, 1.c., p. 88.
‡ See the words quoted before, p. 258.

rejects the a posteriori faith, namely, that kind of faith that thinks to trust the Scriptures only so far as they prove their trustworthiness before the tribunal of human research. According to Luther, there is absolutely no standard outside of Scripture by which the statements of Scripture may be judged. It is an ever-recurring principle with him, that the Scriptures are not to be judged by man, and this for the very reason that they are not of man, but of God And this principle he wants to see applied to the interpretation of the whole Scripture and every part of it. Not only in those passages in which articles of faith are revealed, but also in those parts that contain historical details, and, in these, seeming contradictions. If man cannot see how two historical statements of Scripture agree, Luther, as is shown before, bids him "take off his hat" and leave the difficulty unsolved.
But how about Luther's "unguarded judgments as to the Epistle of St. James?" It cannot be denied that Luther held the position of a critic over against this epistle. But he did so on the supposition that this epistle is not to be numbered among the canonical books of the New Testament. For what reasons? It is frequently said that Luther anticipated modern criticism by basing his judgments as to the canonicity and authority of the epistles of James, Jude, etc., merely on internal evidence, i. e., on the material principle of justification by faith. This, however, is not consistent with historical truth.  True, Luther judged of James, Jude, Hebrews and the Apocalypse on internal evidence also, but not without having emphasized beforehand external evidence, that is, the external testimony of the primitive Church. Right in the beginning of his Preface to these books he says: "Till now we have had the right certain main-books ("Hauptbücher") of the New Testament. The four, however, which follow did not possess the same authority in time past."†
And as to the Epistle of James he remarks: "Although this Epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and deem it a good book, for the reason that it does not teach the commandments of men, but sternly inculcates the law of God. If, however, I be allowed to express my opinion of it, still without detriment to others, I deem it not to be the book of an apostle."‡  Luther's "unguarded judgment," therefore, does not bear upon the question of inspiration, but upon the question as to what books constitute the canon of the New Testament. This, indeed, is a question which is to be decided on the basis of historical evidence.§
Finally, when Luther wrote: "That which does not teach Christ
* St. Louis Ed., xiii, 1899, 1900.    
Erl. Ed., lxiii, 154.     
§ In reading the statements concerning Luther's "unguarded judgment" on

is not apostolic, though it be taught even by St. Peter, or St. Paul on the contrary, that which preaches Christ would be apostolic, though it be done even by Judas, Annas, Pilate and Herod,"* we are not permitted to infer, as is frequently done, that Luther admitted errors in the writings of St. Peter or St. Paul. For Luther writes at about the same time (1520) the following words which we cited before: "God forbid, God forbid, that there should be one tittle in all the writings of Paul" (ut ullus apex in toto Paulo sit) "not to be followed and kept by the whole universal Church." Luther speaks conditionally in the above sentences. In like manner, he writes in 1522 against King Henry that Christians are not to ground their faith "on John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or any of the prophets," but "solely on the pure and certain Word of God." In the same connection, however, he most emphatically asserts that there is no error to be found in Holy Scripture.†
But we must stop here. We may be allowed to say once more that from all that we know of Luther, we are compelled to assert that he regards the Scriptures in their every word as the very Word of God. He does not occupy a "free" position over against Scripture, but considers himself bound by every word of it. "Mir ist also, dass mir ein jeglicher Spruch die Welt zu enge macht.‡  By this axiom Luther was governed from the beginning to the end of his public career. If, however, it should ever happen that a passage should be found where Luther, departing from Luther, adopted a more "liberal" view of Scripture, we–the Lutherans of the Synodical Conference of Americawould side with Christ who says: "And the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35).
James, one might be induced to think that Luther, in a ferocious manner, made war on the so-called Deutero-canonical books. This, however, is not the case. Luther remarks concerning Hebrews: "Nevertheless, it is a most excellent ("ausbuendige") and fine epistle, treating in a masterly and thorough manner, from Scripture, the priesthood of Christ, expounding also finely and copiously the Old Testament. From this it appears that it is the epistle of an excellent and learned man who, being a disciple of the apostles, was well instructed by them, most experienced in faith, and well versed in Scripture." He, therefore, admonishes all readers to accept "such fine doctrine" with due honor, "except that this epistle cannot, in every respect, be ranged with the epistles of (undoubted) apostolic origin" (Erl. Ed., lxiii,155). Concerning James he remarks: "I shall, however, prevent no one from assigning as high a place to it as he pleases" (l. c., lxiii, 157). On the Apocalypse he says: "It is on account of its uncertain interpretation and hidden meaning that we have left it alone till now, especially for the reason that also some of the ancient fathers held that it is not the book of St. John the Apostle. As for my own part, I leave it in doubt, too, as yet. Still I shall not hinder any one to hold it to be St. John's book" (l. c., lxiii, 159).
Opera lat. v. a., vi, 407, 408; St. Louis Ed., xix, 304, 305.
‡ St. Louis Ed., xx, 788. [AE, 37 “That These Words of Christ, 'This is My Body' Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics”]

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments only accepted when directly related to the post.