Wednesday, December 22, 2010
(notice the Cranach painting in the background)
painting:The Trinity by Jusepe de Ribera 1591-1652
(I am thankful that Rev. Dr. Richard Stuckwisch granted me permission to post his presentation on the Fatherhood of God - given at the Concordia Catechetical Academy's Annual Symposia 2010).
The Fatherhood of God is not simply an attribute of God, nor only a metaphor, nor even first of all an action or attitude of God, but His Fatherhood belongs to the essential identity of who and what God is; so also the Sonship of God. For the one true God is the Father from all eternity, as one and the same true God is the Son from all eternity. The relation of the Father and the Son within the Godhead, in the love of the Holy Spirit, comprises both the distinction and the unity and harmony of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
The Father is the Father of the Son, and the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, and this intra-Trinitarian relationship is the essential and eternal being of God. It is the “necessity” of His divine being, of who and what He is, and so also the fountain and source of His perfect freedom. God does not become a father because He creates and gives life, but He creates and gives life because He is the Father.
He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son, and it is from and with and in that Fatherhood of God that He freely and graciously chooses to become our Father in Christ. For no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. No one comes to the Father but by Him.
He who is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, has also become true Man, our brother in the flesh, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that we might be “conceived” and “born again” by His Word and thereby receive the adoption of sons by His grace. What Christ is by nature, from all eternity, we become by such gracious adoption, unto the life everlasting.
We receive the adoption of sons, so that God becomes our Father, and so that Christ the beloved Son become the firstborn of many brethren. Our adoption is therefore rooted in Christ, both in His eternal Sonship and in His Incarnation by the Blessed Virgin Mary. His Sonship becomes ours by His grace through the Gospel, through the catechesis of His Word, by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of our sins in His Name, and by our Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection. Such is our new birth of water, Word and Spirit.
So do we pray, as Christ has taught us and invited us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and so do we cry out to Him in faith, “Abba! Father!”
These gracious good gifts of God are the fulfillment of His creation of man in His own Image and Likeness, even as we are recreated and made brand new, conformed to the Image of His Son by the way of the Lord’s Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection for us.
Earthly fatherhood is likewise rooted in that divine work of creation by our Father in heaven, as being a husband is rooted in the divine work of redemption by our heavenly Bridegroom, Christ Jesus. The fact that man is made in the Image of God, both male and female, the woman for the man, and the wife given to her husband to be united to him as one flesh, reflects the loving unity of the three Persons within the one Godhead. It is the Father’s love for the Son, and the Son’s love for the Father, which moves God in His perfect freedom to create man and call Him to Himself, to be His holy Bride, the Church.
As husbands and wives are fruitful and multiply by the gracious Word and work of God, so do Christ and His Church give birth to the children of God by His Word and Holy Spirit. It is for these reasons that a man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife and cleave to her in love, and for these reasons that fathers give their daughters in marriage. Accordingly, the first and foremost thing that fathers are given to do for their children, is to love and serve and care for their wives.
So marriage and family are rooted in the gracious freedom and love of husbands and fathers, who receive their calling from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This grace of God, in turn, is the inheritance that husbands share with their wives and fathers bestow upon their children.
Thus does Christ, the eternal Son, become the “everlasting Father,” not in His divine personhood in relation to God the Father, but in His redemption and reconciliation of the Church to God. As the Image of the Father, He is also like His Father in begetting children by His Bride, the Church. He cares for them and provides for them, serves them and protects them, teaches them and feeds them, gives them His name and bestows all His gifts and benefits upon them. For He is the new and greater Adam, the Head of a new humanity, and He is the One in whom all the promises of God to Father Abraham are realized, as a blessing to all nations, to all who are the children of Abraham by faith.
In Christ, therefore, is found the freedom and responsibility of fatherhood — in contrast to the different character and quality of motherhood. Mothers become such by receiving what is given to them, but fathers are such by the choice of love; not the "choice" of conception of new life, which remains the prerogative and work of God, but the willing choice and commitment to love and care for those children who are thus conceived. In that respect, every father chooses to “adopt” his children, whether they are his biologically or not, as St. Joseph chose to adopt the Son of Mary, who is the very Son of God.
In fact, there are many different kinds and types of earthly “fatherhood,” both large and small, which are granted in various ways by the vocation of God through His Word, and which are governed by His Word.
“Call no man father,” Jesus says, “for One is your Father, even God.” But He does not thereby prohibit a man from being called a father, for it is by God the Father that every fatherhood on earth is called and named.
Thus do Christian men adopt and care for widows and orphans in their distress, and in this way they exemplify, express and extend the Fatherhood of God on earth as it is in heaven, especially in and through and with His Church. Men receive this calling from God, and they take it up in faith and love, by His Word and Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus.
What it means, therefore, to be a man, is to be a husband and a father after God’s own heart — whether in relation to one’s own earthly wife and biological children, or by way of adoption, or by caring for widows and orphans in their distress, or by caring for the Lord’s Church, the Bride of Christ and the Mother of God’s children, by the spiritual fatherhood of the pastoral office. What it means to be a man is found in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who is the perfect Image of the Father. What it means to be a man is defined and determined by His Word.
Fathers, name your children, then, as God the Father names you in Christ with His own name. Love your wives, and love the Bride of Christ, and love the children entrusted to your care with the love that Christ has for you and for His Church. In such love, give and nurture life, guard and protect it. Feed and teach your children. Prepare them for marriage, or help them to discern the divine gift and calling of celibacy in service to the household and family of God. Teach your sons how to become men after God’s own heart, to become husbands and fathers like Christ. And likewise teach your daughters, by word and example, what a good and faithful man is like, and show them how a man is to care for a woman with gentle integrity and the strength of mercy and peace.
Catechize your children; pray and confess the Word of Christ with them. Lead them and guide them, again, by your words and by your own godly example. Discipline them in love, that they might learn the life of love. Do so with mercy, compassion, forgiveness and self-sacrifice, that they might learn to live by faith in the Gospel. Demonstrate the humility of repentance and the confidence of faith.
In all of this, the grace and strength of human fatherhood is the Fatherhood of God in Christ Jesus. He calls you and names you, sustains you and upholds you, by His own Fatherhood, which is steadfast and eternal in the relationship of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
"Celebrating the Lord's Supper is officiating at a wedding. And when God takes His Bride to bed to bring forth children to Himself, He does not want the whole world staring into the bedroom"
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Korby
"The use of John 6 in Lutheran Sacramental Piety"
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
(painting: Saint John the Baptist in Prison (1565-70), Juan Fernandez de Navarrette, Oil on canvas, The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg)
“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
Third Sunday in Advent
John, being locked in Herod’s rotting dungeon, sent word to Jesus asking if He was the one to come and redeem Israel – “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
As John was chained up and locked down in Herod’s cold jail – he needed the help and comfort of the Christ. He needed a sweet release – a rescue mission – from on high. He needed an advent – a coming of Jesus to set him free. Not to protect his neck from Herod’s cold sword but to preserve and keep his whole body and soul – to redeem Israel and forgive sin.
Jesus said that among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet here, the greatest of all men born of a woman, is locked up, likely tired and beaten. Here the greatest of all men sends a message to Jesus, asking “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Even the greatest of all men, the fiery preacher from the river Jordan needed his doubts to be expelled. Things were far from clear at the bottom of Herod’s damp dungeon. Death loomed over him, and what frantic fears must have taken hold of him. Surely he was not a reed shaken by the wind – to be sure – but he was a man, - a flesh and blood man – like us. Like us, John had to do battle against the sinful flesh that clung to him.
He was likely afraid of death, fearful over sin, and looking for comfort. Do not be offended by John’s question, “Are you the one, or shall we look for another.” It is a faithful question. John needed to know if Jesus was the one who would free the church from all her sins. The patriarchs of the church are invited by their Lord to inquire of Him.
Like a child asking his mother if she loves him, John asks, "Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?" He knows the answer but wants reassurance, wants comfort.
This is the language of faith and it is a sort of love language. Faith seeks reassurance and comfort. Faith seeks an answer where doubts spring up. And this is good. Faith goes to where God promises to be. Are you the one to come?
John is like a bride asking her husband if he truly loves her. The answer of course is “yes.” No matter how many times it is asked – it remains true. But with John we ask because we love to hear the answer. It is why we gather here, week in and week out. Lord are you the one? Where else shall we go? You have the word of eternal life? Do you love me? Do you care for me? Do you forgive me?
And this is the great surprise of being a Christian that is always new to us. To be taken back. Continually. Yes, I love you He says. I forgive you all your sins, He says. Do not be afraid. I am with you – He says.
You probably will not meet martyrdom in the fashion of John. But you will face crushing disappointments and trials along your way. And your time of waiting, of suffering, and persisting is worth it. Your trials are not insignificant – for your bear the marks of Jesus on your forehead – in your heart. In your wrinkles – in your bones.
You will not receive the cold blade of Herod’s sword but you will feel the cutting betrayal of a friend or the stabbing insult of a neighbor. Many will feel the crushing blow of loneliness in these cold dark weeks.
Like John’s musty, cold, and dark jail cell it is very messy down here – even amidst the joy the coming holy day. Our lives often feel like a dark prison – where no light shines.
There will be voids and patches of darkness this Christmas time. As you gather around the turkey, pie, and tom and jerry’s – there will be family missing this year from divorce – a son will be missing – another family member will be crippled by depression - parents will show new signs of Alzheimer’s.
Like John the Baptist – your pain and agony is temporary – and it all will soon pass. John’s question becomes our own. “Jesus are you the one who will come down and save us or shall we look for another?” The question is a good one. And Jesus is your “Yes.” He is your amen. He is your “Yes, I believe – help my unbelief!” Jesus is your man. He is your God who comes down to you. And you need not look any further. For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
John the Baptist was called the greatest among all born of woman, because he pointed to Jesus, and said “Behold the Lamb of God.” He was great because he waited for Jesus and believed in Him. And Jesus loved John, before He leaped in the womb.
You are called great in heaven because Jesus has made you His own. You wait for Jesus – like a child waits for his father to lift him up and into his lap.
Come Lord Jesus.
Unlike, Santa Clause, Jesus does not just come once a year to give you things to cover up the pain. He comes today. Drink this cup – it is me who is with you – He says.
There is a real mess down here. But He is down here among us. In the muck and sin of our lives He is with us. In your own prison – like John – He is with you. In your ears, in your heart. In your bones, and on your lips. Jesus has scrubbed you down – washed you clean from all sin – and has made living saints out of you. Waiting – persisting – and standing strong for his coming.
This is why Isaiah preaches to us, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, Be strong; fear not!”
The Lord is compassionate and merciful to you. He has gone before you to prepare the way – the way of the bitter cross – a cross that has become so sweet for you. And when the time is right He will exalt you – and lift you up. And you will behold His face – and He will shine like the Sun and so shall you.
There is no depression at His coming. There is no darkness and anxiety. We have a heavenly Father, whose heart we clearly see in Jesus – in his lowly birth, suffering, and cruxifixion. There is only Joy – for the kingdom of heaven has come near – that is to say – Jesus is coming to you.
The advent candles are being lit. And no light is comparable to the light of Christ – who will scatter all the darkness – He will bring you into his marvelous light. The dark gloom in which we fumble around – will dissipate – and this veil of tears will be lifted. That which you have lost will be doubled in heaven – and your sufferings will be jewels in your crown.
Jesus shall be born in Bethlehem to young Mother Mary. And soon we will have to endure and wait no longer. The singing of angels can gently be heard in the distance. He who has ears let him hear.
Blessed are you who hear the words of Jesus. And blessed are you who suffer and rejoice and wait for Him. Pretty soon now, you’re waiting will all be over.
In that day you will ask nothing of him.
Come Lord Jesus. Amen.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly" (Luke 31:34)
From the blessed Dr. Luther...
"God in his great mercy does not will that the day of judgment should suddenly overtake us, and so, out of grace, he honors us with a merciful warning. God causes his Word to be preached to us, call us to repentance, and offers us in Christ forgiveness of all ours sins. God gives a sure promise that pain and guilt shall be abolished if we believe in his Son. He commands us to continue in our calling and to do our work well. If we obey him in doing so, he in no way grudges us food and drink or that we are happy and of good cheer. For eat and drink we must if we are to live on this earth. But we must not be forgetful of God and the life to come. Is not this a good and holy God, in that he looks on us with so fatherly a love? He ever speaks to us like a father to his children, and he says, 'Dear children, repent; believe in my Son whom I have sent to you. Be holy and obedient, and faithful servants in your work; then eat and drink and use the earthly good with which I have blessed you. But take care that you use the world and its passing goods like a man who is awaiting the last trumpet; so that when it peals and when the last thunders resound you are prepared and ready, walking in holy ways and with a godly spirit. If you live like that, you are in no danger" (sermon of Martin Luther from the year 1545)
Purchase this little book of meditation HERE.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
"The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear" Psalm 27:1
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” It is easy to pass over these words as if they were nothing special. But here God gives us a prayer and a song that gives our heart true courage and strength.
In these gray and latter days there is plenty to fear. Our families have been ravaged by conflict and despair. Our friendships and marriages are always in need of repair. There is little hope in the nighttime news as wars rage on – even against children in the womb.
In many ways we live in utter darkness. The Christian church is still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving. All our undertakings are filled with trouble and heart breaks. We pray to God, “Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me!”
Dear Christian, take heart and stand strong. Jesus is coming. He is the light shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. He does answer your prayers. In Him there is nothing to fear. Wait for the Lord. For soon, the busy world will be hushed and your work will be done.
So also you have sorrow now, but your Lord is coming to meet you. He loves you and when you see Him your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of Him.
(painting by Annibale Carracci "Baptism of Jesus" 1584)
Our Baptism abides forever. Even though someone should fall from Baptism and sin, still we always have access to it. So we may subdue the old man again. But we do not need to be sprinkled with water again...Even if we were put under the water a hundred times, it would still be only one Baptism, even though the work and sign continue and remain. Repentance, therefore, is nothing other than a return and approach to Baptism. We repeat and do what we began before, but abandoned.
I say this lest we fall into the opinion in which we were stuck for a long time. We were imagining that our Baptism is something past, we we can no longer use after we have fallen into sin. The reason for this is that Baptism is regarded as only based on the outward act once performed and completed. This arose from the fact that St. Jerome wrote that "repentance is the second plank by which we must swim forth and cross over the water after the ship is broken, on which we step and are carried across when we come into the Christian Church." By this teaching Baptism's use has been abolished so that it can no longer profit us. Therefore, Jerome's statement is not correct, or at any rate is not rightly understood. For the ship of Baptism never breaks, because...It is God's ordinance and not our work (1 Peter 3:20-22). But it does happen, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if anyone falls out, let him see to it that he swims up and clings to the ship until he comes into it again and lives in it, as he had done before.
In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It deliver us from the devil's jaws and makes us God's own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.
Large Catechism IV 77-83
Friday, November 19, 2010
Luther maintains in his writings that the Scriptures are both clear (claritas Scripturae), accessible and intelligible. The goal of this paper is not to present a comprehensive compilation of what Luther said regarding the clarity of Scripture, but rather to show through a few systematic passages, particularly in his writings concerning the Lord’s Supper and Bondage of the Will, what Luther meant and confessed by the assertion that Scripture is indeed clear. It is difficult to take this on without saying anything of Luther’s understanding of epistemology and his hermeneutic in dealing with the Scriptures. It of course was Luther’s firm belief that theology was wholly biblical, and that to encounter the Scriptures was to encounter the God who speaks and creates faith. Theology is a matter of meditation, literally an “intercourse” with the text in a lifetime of suffering and prayer.
It is my understanding that Luther’s faith and confession of Christ and Him crucified is inextricably linked with his view on the clarity of Scripture “There is no doubt that all the Scripture points to Christ alone.” The view that Holy Scripture interprets itself is presupposed by a confession that Christ is the content of the Scriptures – the sum and substance of divine revelation. For the Christian, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament have been flung open by the person and work of Christ “The New Testament is nothing but a revelation of the Old; it is as if somebody had a sealed letter and later on broke it open.” Scripture possesses a unity similar to the two natures in Christ; that is, as Christ came to earth to become flesh for us, so he comes to us in the language of men revealing Himself in his written word. Highlighting the sublime clarity and simplicity of the Scriptures, Luther writes in his preface to the Old Testament:
“Dismiss your own opinions and feelings, and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines which can never be sufficiently explored, in order that you may find that divine wisdom which God here lays before you in such simple guise to quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling clothes and the manger in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simply and lowly are these swaddling clothes (of the Scriptures), but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them”.
Luther therefore does not relegate the Holy Scriptures to obscurity, but likens them to the swaddling clothes that were wrapped around the Christ child. This view is in keeping with the Confessions, “These testimonies are so manifest that, to use the words of Augustine…they do not need an acute understanding, but only an attentive hearer.”
It is especially in his polemical attacks on the methodology of his opponents that we see a highly crafted view on the clarity of the scripture. Against Rome, he attacks the notion that Scripture is obscure, and can only be rightly penetrated by an allegorical or analogical interpretation. This interpretive work is the work of the external church, the trained clergy, and the pope himself. Only the papal church may establish canon and therefore the church stands above the Scripture as one who authenticates, validates, and interprets. For Luther, the relationship must be reversed and Holy Scripture validates the church rather than the other way around. He writes, “This queen must rule, and everyone must obey, and be subject to her. The Pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or even an angel from heaven – these should not be masters, judges, or arbiters but only witnesses, disciples, and confessors of Scripture.” Therefore Scripture itself is the highest authority and judge. It must be said, however that Luther never advocates an individualistic isolation in Scriptural interpretation. More so than Rome he believed that Scripture and church exist together in harmony.
More than Rome, Luther is incredibly disturbed by the notion of the radical reformers, that whenever Scripture presents a doctrine at odds with empirical reality that another interpretation ought to be sought. For the fanatics it was a peculiar gift of the Spirit to individuals apart from the external Word that was so infuriating for Luther. Whereas Rome asserted that only Mother church could navigate the obscurity of Scripture, the radical reformers privatized their interpretation apart from the consensus of the church, good grammer, and logic (most importantly Scripture itself). In this way, the Spirit apart from the external and perspicuous text, held an authority above Scripture. For Luther, it is in fact the Spirit that allows for clear interpretation of the Scriptures, and that it is the Spirit, bound up with the external Word of God that brings about its reception. In Bondage of the Will the bold claim is made that the Scriptures have a clarity that cannot be denied. This stands in direct conflict to Rome and the fanatics understanding that the Scriptures are themselves obscure.
In “Against Latomus” (1521) Luther responds to the teachers at Louvain concerning good works, free will, and penance. In it we see Luther developing an explanation of the clarity of Scripture against Latomus’ view that Scripture is ambiguous and unclear, needing an illumination by the interpretation of men:
“Shall we be perpetually enslaved and never breathe in Christian liberty, nor sigh from out of this Babylon for our Scriptures and our home? Yet you say they were saints and illuminated the Scripture. Who has shown that they made the Scriptures clearer – what if they obscured them?...But doesn’t obscure Scripture require an explanation? Set aside the obscure and cling to the clear. Further, who has proved that the fathers are not obscure?...The Scriptures are common to all, and are clear enough in respect to what is necessary for salvation, and are also obscure enough for inquiring minds.”
For Luther the Christian life is shaped by the Word of God that comes in promises. Faith receives those promises and we recognize His presence where He desires to be found. For Luther there is a perversity in seeking God outside of this Word (Scripture) and promise. He insists, “God does not deal, nor has he ever dealt, with man otherwise than through a word of promise, as I have said. We in turn cannot deal with God otherwise than through faith in the Word of his promise.” This Word and promise in the Scriptures are indispensible in the Christian life, so that we hear and receive from the God preached and revealed, rather than the hidden God, in all his terrifying indecipherability. The advent of Jesus in the New Testament has blown the doors off any last locked or inaccessible clarity for Luther. After all, the Word has been made flesh to be among us as Lord and God. Faith in the clear promise of God is rooted in the self-giving of Christ, whose Words do in fact call forth life and bring it into existence. Receiving the gifts of God is based upon His clear Words rather than human reason alone. He writes:
“When we are dealing with the works and words of God, reason and all human wisdom must submit to being taken captive, as St. Paul teaches in II Corinthians 10:5, must allow themselves to be blinded and led, directed, taught, and instructed lest we presume to be God’s judges in his words, for we shall surely lose out when we try to judge him in his words as Psalm 50 testifies.”
It must be noted that Luther in no way slights reason in Biblical interpretation, but highly esteems it as the handmaiden of faith. Reason attends to the clarity of God’s word in a ministerial way, with humility and faith, being led by the Word. Those who challenged the clarity of Scripture were not simply playing with a secondary order of doctrine for Luther but assaulting the Gospel itself.
In Luther’s treatises on the Lord’s Supper, he associates the clarity of the Scripture with the concrete form of the biblical text. Placed in a given context, words have a definite meaning which can be discerned and appropriated. Luther writes in 1520 regarding the Roman practice of withholding the cup:
“But there are good grounds for my view, and this above all – no violence is to be done to the words of God, whether by man or angel. They are to be retained in their simplest meaning as far as possible. Unless the context manifestly compels it, they are not to be understood apart from their grammatical and proper sense, lest we give our adversaries occasion to make a mockery of the Scriptures.”
Therefore, unless the context compels an interpretation outside the sensus literalis, the text must stand in its clear meaning. When Luther writes against Zwingli regarding the Lord’s Supper he insists that the text must stand, “For the text must be quite unambiguous and plain, and must have one single, definite interpretation if it is to form the basis of a clear and definite article of faith.” If an alternative interpretation outside the literal sense is to be taken, it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore the onus of proof must lie with the him who produces the new interpretation:
“Not only are they under obligation to prove from Scripture that “body” is the same as “sign of the body,” and that “is” is the same as “represent or signify,” but one thing more: even though they should produce such an example in one passage of Scripture (which, however, is impossible), they are still under obligation to prove that it is necessarily so here in the Supper as well, that “body” is “sign of the body”…Our present quarrel is not primarily whether somewhere in the Scriptures “body” means “sign of the body,” but whether in this text of the Super it has this meaning.”
Luther requires that Zwingli not only prove that a metaphorical use is used elsewhere in the Scriptures, but that it is also employed here in the Supper. This is especially difficult given that Luther had also debunked Zwingli’s use of metaphor concerning the “I am” saying of Jesus, being expressed in terms of being or “essence” rather than mere representation.
Luther also observes that God deals with his people moving from type to anti-type, from sign to reality. This movement never moves backward. Therefore, to go from the Lord’s Supper back to its sign is preposterous. For this reason Luther rejects Oecolampadius’ spiritual interpretation as “a backward-pointing, inverted trope.”
In De Servo Arbitro, Luther deals in greater detail with the question of Scriptures’ clarity. In Erasmus’ diatribe his arguments are quite enticing. He is interested in humanism, education, peace throughout the land, and Christian love. Precise conformity on various doctrines is not a matter of life and death for Erasmus and obscure parts of Scripture need not be poked at and investigated. Some things in Scripture simply need not be discussed for the sake of peace and harmony, “How many questions, or rather squabbles, have arisen over the distinction of person, the mode of generation, the distinction between filiation and procession; what a fuss has been raised in the world by the wrangle about the conception of the virgin as Theotokos! I ask what profit has there been so far from these laborious inquiries, except that with the loss of harmony we love one another the less, while seeking to be wiser than we need.” Erasmus does in fact attribute to scripture a clarity when Scripture “simply confesses” certain matters of dogma, but does not seek to explicate how such doctrines can be. His diatribe begins with this rather shadowy commentary on the obscurity of Scripture:
“For there are some secret places in the Holy Scriptures into which God has not wished us to penetrate more deeply and, if we try to do so, then the deeper we go, the darker and darker it becomes, by which means we are led to acknowledge the unsearchable majesty of the divine wisdom, and the weakness of the human mind. It is like that cavern near Corycos of which Pomponius Mela tells, which begins by attracting and drawing the visitor by its pleasing aspect, and then as one goes deeper, a certain horror and majesty of the divine presence that inhabits the places makes one draw back”
This must be contrasted with Luther’s view cited earlier where he likens the Scriptures to the “swaddling clothes of Jesus.” This view that the Scripture is murky and unintelligible, more than anything, seems to move Luther into his more furious polemical chastisement of Erasmus, whom as far as Luther is concerned, is only increasing the power and authority of the papacy. Luther chides Erasmus for seeking a cardinals hate from the Pope. It is due to the erroneous assumption of obscurity that Rome finds it necessary to appeal to the fathers, the council, and the pope and final arbiter of Scripture:
“It is on this account also that I have hitherto attacked the pope, in whose kingdom nothing is more commonly stated or more generally accepted than the idea that the Scriptures are obscure and ambiguous, so that the spirit to interpret them must be sought from the Apostolic See of Rome. Nothing more pernicious could be said that this, for it has led ungodly men to set themselves above the Scriptures and to fabricate whatever they pleased, until the Scriptures have been completely trampled down and we have been believing and teaching nothing but the dreams of madmen. In a word, that saying is no human invention, but a virus sent into the world by the incredible malice of the prince of all demons himself.”
Luther goes on to suggest the entire work of the diatribe is to cast doubt upon the clarity of the Scriptures and to frighten people away from reliance upon the Scriptures and to rather rely wholly on Rome. Luther vehemently attacks and dismantles the idea that much of Scripture is indeed obscure.
After Luther goes to task on the hiddenness of the church, he approaches a central argument on the internal and external clarity of the text. If popes, the councils, and the fathers cannot be believed, wherein does the Christian find any certainty? All spirits are to be tested and proved by two judgments – one an internal clarity and the other an external clarity. Internal clarity is found “whereby through the Holy Spirit or a special gift of God, anyone who is enlightened concerning himself and his own salvation, judges and discerns with the greatest certainty the dogmas and opinions of all men.” This inner clarity takes place solely by the Holy Spirit who in His activity makes use of Scripture and reveals the true meaning of a text. Concerning this inner clarity “no man perceives one iota of what is in the Scripture unless he has the Spirit of God. All men have a darkened heart, so that even if they can recite everything in Scripture, and know how to quote it, yet they apprehend and truly understand nothing of it. They neither believe in God, nor that they themselves are creatures of God.” In this way, a blind sinner is encountered by the Word of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Although this grace comes extra nos, it nevertheless enters man and converts him to a saving faith. In this way, a man is awakened individually and comes to believe internally that the external Word and promises of God are for him. This conversion and internal clarity of course is never a mere episodic event but one that takes place during a lifetime of prayer, meditation, and suffering. Luther writes to Erasmus: “For it is not due to the weakness of the human mind (as you make out) that the words of God are not understood, but, on the contrary, nothing is more fitted for understanding the words of God than such weakness; for it was for the sake of the weak and to the weak that Christ both came and sends his word. It is due to the malice of Satan, who sits enthroned in our weakness, resisting the Word of God. If Satan were not at work, the whole world of men would be converted by a single word of God once heard, and there would be no need of more.”
Luther speaks of the external clarity synonymously with an “external judgment” that in turn, “belongs to the public ministry of the Word and to the outward office, and is chiefly the concern of leaders and preachers of the Word.” The questions then arises, where do leaders and preachers of the Word find this clarity? They return back to the Scriptures themselves, for the confession (for Luther) is that the Holy Scriptures are “a spiritual light far brighter than the sun itself, especially in things that are necessary for salvation.” Luther points out that this appeal to the “outward office” as an arena for external clarity is not a novel idea, pointing to Deuteronomy 17:8 “If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose.” This outer clarity eliminates the need for other factors (pope, councils, etc.) to understand Scriptures literal sense. His understanding of the public ministry of the Word presupposes that the Scriptures are clear. Luther can even make the bold claim that with respect to the whole of Scripture, “I will not have any part of it called obscure.” Scripture does not need the light that comes from the interpreters. It shines in its own light. For this reason any pagan may understand the clear external Word, “For even if I were a Turk, Jew, or heathen, who held nothing of the Christian faith and yet heard or read such Scripture concerning the Sacrament, I would have to say: ‘I indeed do not believe in the Christian doctrine, but this I must say: If they want to be Christians and adhere to their doctrine, then they must believe that Christ’s body and blood are eaten and drunk bodily in the bread and wine.”
Though Luther does point to the consensus of the church and the “outward office” of the Word, I would hesitate to assert that he weaves external clarity solely to the pastoral office of minister. His understanding of the office of the Word is broader and more universal in scope, inviting all Christians into its activity, “If you are speaking of the external clarity, nothing at all is left dark or doubtful, but everything contained in the Scriptures is brought out by the word into the clear light of day and explained to all the world.”
The distinction Luther gives to the clarity of Scripture does not make him insensitive or ignorant of the wide range of ways that words can be used. He was well aware of the debates relating to signification, and the legitimate use of allegory and metaphor and he makes plenty of allowance for it when the context permits it. It seems that Luther’s discipline and restraint in the use of metaphor and allegory is his great strength, being set against a backdrop of mystic and highly allegorized spiritual interpretation. The obligation of proof lies with those who claim that a spiritual interpretation is necessary, not with those who are content with the words as they read.
Luther also takes careful consideration of the context of Scriptural passages. It is true that he believed in the clear and lucid words of the biblical text, yet he never insisted that the words exist by themselves, for they occur within the larger body of Scripture itself. The grammar, syntax, and context all matter. In fact isolating the words of Scripture from the context was precisely was Luther identified as a stratagem of his opponents:
“But our fanatics proceed the other way around: they tear out of a text an obscure ambiguous word which pleases their fancy, ignore the context, and then run around trying to use it to make a lucid, clear text obscure and ambiguous, and then claim that is it the pure truth. This is the method of the devil, who is lord of darkness and tries with darkness to extinguish the light…Not that the Scriptures are obscure; but their imagination is blind and lazy, so that it cannot view the clear words correctly, just as a lazy man does not open his eyes to see the real light but takes a glimmer to be the light.”
All of Scripture, therefore has a unity that cannot be compromised or compartmentalized. If individual passages need clarity, the corpus of Holy Scripture will shed light for the individual passage within it. As has already been noted, this unity was possible because Christ, for Luther was the very heart and center of the Scriptures. The Scriptures ultimately hold one author, the Holy Spirit.
In Bondage of the Will Luther also asserts that the clarity of the Scriptures is also disturbed by a refusal to properly distinguish between the Law and Gospel. These two fundamental ways that God encounters his people is essential to rightly understanding Scripture. Luther observes that Erasmus in his Diatribe “makes no distinction whatever between expressions of the Law and of the Gospel; for she is so blind and ignorant that she does not know what law and gospel are.” In Erasmus’ attempt to support the free will, Luther accuses him of making the Law out of the Gospel and the Gospel out of the Law, “Such a person is bound to confound everything – heaven and hell, life and death – and he will take no pains to know anything at all about Christ.” Therefore, the mark a discerning hearer of Scripture must see that there are words of law and words of grace that cannot be fuddled up. Luther warns that the result of Diatribe failing to observe the distinction between words of promise and of law: “If that is how in our blindness we wish to read and understand the Scriptures, what wonder is it if they are obscure and ambiguous?
Concerning the clarity of Scripture and its authority, a word must be said about Luther’s view of the oral word. The clarity of the Scriptures and Gospel were first and foremost to be preached. He emphasized the priority of the oral proclamation of preaching and teaching in the life of the church. God encounters His people in a living Word of promise:
“So it is not all in keeping with the New Testament to write books on Christian doctrine. Rather in all places there should be fine, goodly, learned, spiritual, diligent preachers without books, who extract the living Word from the old Scripture and unceasingly inculcate it into the people, just as the apostles did. For before they wrote, they first of all preached to the people by word of mouth and converted them.”
We see that in these writings Luther is absolutely convinced that without constraint by the ordinary rules of grammar there could be no certainty for interpretation. It is evident that he regarded the very words of the text themselves, understood naturally and in terms of their context, as clear and lucid. He never tries to prove this clarity in a purely empirical way or through experience. There is for Luther, a great chasm at times between the preached and written Word of God and the daily experience of the Christian. The clear Word and promise of God is often in fact at odds with daily experience and life under the cross. Therefore, like all other aspects of Luther’s theology, even a confession of the clarity of the Scriptures fits under a “theology of the cross,” and is thereby lived out in tension until the Resurrection.
 LW 35:132.
 LW 52:41
 LW 35:236
 Apology, Trigl., p. 129,133.
 AE 26:58
 LW, 32, p. 217
 LW 36:42
 LW 37:296
 LW 37: 162
 LW 36:30
 LW 37:34-35
 Ibid., p. 255-257
 LW 37:253
 Rupp., p. 40.
 Rupp., p. 38.
 Rupp,Gordon. Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation. Library of Christian Classics. Philadephia: The Westminster Press, 1995.
 Rupp., p. 168.
 Rupp., p. 159.
 Rupp., p. 167.
 Rupp., p. 163.
 Ibid., p. 164
 LW 37:253
 Ibid., p. 209
 LW 37:96
 Rupp., p. 194
 Ibid., p. 197
 Ibid., p. 198
 AE 33:26