Jesus sinners does receive… (LSB 609)

„Can You get us a copy?” That´s how this story started. A colleague from St. Louis was looking for the second volume of Bizer´s: “Light on my path”. It´s got daily lessons from the Old and New Testament in Hebrew and Greek with some lexical & grammatical help. It´s out of print, but German secondhand shops still carry it. So, in next to no time Klaus Busenius got the little booklet to me. It was just 3,90€ to Luthercity Wittenberg all the way from Lüdenscheid.

At the Post Office a friendly official informed me at the first counter that parcels to the United States cost 55€. It´s a uniform price for parcels – irrespective of size and weight. It´s got something to do with Corona too. That´s hefty compared with the book´s price tag of just over 10€. So, I returned and checked with FedEx (48€) and DSL (52€) before I got clearance from St. Louis: “Do it!”

Back at the Post Office I landed at the next counter. An old man (my age!), who just moved to Wittenberg served me. After listening to my Litany on exorbitant postage, he asked, what I was sending. “A book!” “So, that´s paper, isn´t it?” “Yes.” “Well, let´s send it as a letter. You´ll have to write the address on the box. That sticker won´t do. And don´t write Your return address down below. Write it in the top left corner. Computers are stupid. They will take the address at the very bottom as the mailing goal. Then You might have Your parcel back tomorrow already.” Said and done. Nothing extraordinary. “That costs 3,70€!” Mailage was 3,70€. That´s 20cents less than to Lüdenscheid out in Germany´s West, but who was I to complain. The guys in St.Louis wouldn´t mind either. Greeting the friendly official at the first counter on the way out, I felt great, but she could not see my big smile – after all it was covered by the mask still required in public places.

This reminds me of a story years back in Piet Retief, (LSB 609) I got to pick up postage. That day I received a notification in my post box 758, that there was a parcel of books to be picked up at the counter. The official informed me, that I owed R2,750.00 in taxes for the imported books. That too was way more than the books were worth and so I refused to take the parcel. The official didn´t argue but put the parcel up on the shelf and I left for home. Pretty down in the dumps. Some weeks later, I was at the post office once again. Again, I had to pick something up at the counter. I saw that my parcel was still up on the shelf. I asked the official behind the counter about it. He took it down, saw my name and address and handed it to me for nothing. This time I left with a broad smile for all to see. It was still the time before masks and other plagues.

When I told my mother, she replied: “That´s why we talk about tax-collectors and sinners in one breath!” Well, the bells of St. Mary are tolling and it´s time for the morning prayers.

The peace of the Lord be with You + Let us sing and pray as we ponder the Gospel:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.

Romans 5,6

1 Jesus sinners doth receive;
Oh, may all this saying ponder
Who in sin’s delusions live
And from God and heaven wander!
Here is hope for all who grieve:
Jesus sinners doth receive.

2 We deserve but grief and shame,
Yet His words, rich grace revealing,
Pardon, peace, and life proclaim;
Here our ills have perfect healing.
Firmly in these words believe:
Jesus sinners doth receive.

3 Sheep that from the fold did stray
No true shepherd e’er forsaketh;
Weary souls that lost their way
Christ, the Shepherd, gently taketh
In His arms that they may live:
Jesus sinners doth receive.

4 I, a sinner, come to Thee
With a penitent confession.
Savior, mercy show to me;
Grant for all my sins remission.
Let these words my soul relieve:
Jesus sinners doth receive.

5 Oh, how blest it is to know:
Were as scarlet my transgression,
It shall be as white as snow
By Thy blood and bitter passion:
For these words I now believe:
Jesus sinners doth receive.

6 Now my conscience is at peace;
From the Law I stand acquitted.
Christ hath purchased my release
And my ev’ry sin remitted.
Naught remains my soul to grieve:
Jesus sinners doth receive.

7 Jesus sinners doth receive;
Also I have been forgiven;
And when I this earth must leave,
I shall find an open heaven.
Dying, still to Him I cleave:
Jesus sinners doth receive.

Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756)

Posted in Bagster's Daily Light, Gedankensplitter, Inside Germany, Morning Prayer, Sights and pictures, You comfort me + | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just another Friday

Some days are just special – even more than others. Today was such a day. I got up full of last night´s good meeting with those young English teachers from the States (Ohio, Carolina & Nebraska – if I remember correctly). We guys from Wittenberg: Micheline, Thomas and Vaclav were thrilled to have native speakers amongst us for a change. And to top things off, we were at the new venue for “English Stammtisch” in our Old Latin School. A perfect round number one. Looking forward to the next one next week.

So, when I got off to my running start, it was as if there was some bounce in my step. The cold didn´t matter. It was just 5° and the little moon that was left, threw only sparse light on our “Swan lake” (Schwanenteich), where Vietnamese do aerobics in the early hours. This time around, there were no vicious dogs, barking hoarsely and pulling at their short chains. That was another reason to the thankful but it didn´t add more bounce. I was already going as fast as I could.

Back in the Old Latin School and after cleaning up, going through meditations and chapel liturgies, I opened the big doors. I was out to see old St. Marys, greet the rising sun and rejoicing in another new day. This time around, there was a lone man reading our signpost. He´s a member of “SELK: Berlin Central”. His pastor (Rev. Johann Hillermann) had told him about our place and impressed on him, that he should check us out, when in the Luther city. So, there he was. I didn´t know his story yet, but invited him in. St. Mary´s only opens at 10h00, sometimes only at 11h00 in these days of Corona. So, there was plenty time. It was only just itching towards 8h00. Coffee would do perfectly in that cold and a little bit of milk too please if I may. Quickly we got talking and, in the end, – some two hours later and in good time for St. Marys – I had won a friend, made a few book sales, and heard some of the best news this week.

He sang the praises of their independent Lutheran congregation in the middle of Berlin – right where the wall used to divide East and West. He was a convert – and had joined the SELK once he moved from W. Germany to the capital. He spoke so highly of this Lutheran congregation and of his faithful pastor, that I recognized it as a good option if looking for a confessional church home in those secular parts. Even as the papers are full of declining churches in most places and we hear of dwindling congregations too often and far too much of less and less pastors – it was a tonic to hear of this faithful church in the middle of Berlin, where I already know the hotspots for Lutherans: Zehlendorf (P.Büttner) and Steglitz (P. Martens).  Now, I´ve got even more reason to believe there´s truth in the local saying: “Aller guten Dinge sind drei!” (All good things are three!)

Well, my guest enjoyed his short visit in the Old Latin School and not just in the chapel. He looked all around and has promised to return with his family to stay over longer and visit our Sunday church service too. That was a wonderful start to the day and now looking back it just got better but that´s another story. So – be our guest – and pop in at the Old Latin School. There´s always something to cheer You up and calling You to join in our good God´s praises like Isaac Watts does for some time already:   

  1. Come, let us join our cheerful songs
    with angels round the throne;
    ten thousand thousand are their tongues,
    but all their joys are one.

2 ‘Worthy the Lamb that died,’ they cry,
‘to be exalted thus’;
‘Worthy the Lamb,’ our lips reply,
‘for He was slain for us.’

3 Jesus is worthy to receive
honour and power divine;
and blessings, more than we can give,
be, Lord, for ever Thine.

4 Let all that dwell above the sky,
and air, and earth, and seas,
conspire to lift Thy glories high,
and speak Thine endless praise.

5 The whole creation joins in one
to bless the sacred name
of Him that sits upon the throne,
and to adore the Lamb.

Posted in Feierabend, Gedankensplitter, Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Saxony-Anhalt, Sights and pictures, You comfort me + | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis Lectures.

“Luther´s exegesis over more than a decade.” Part 7 of “Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther.”

Genesis Lectures (8 volumes in Luther´s Works – and over 11 yrs)[1]

John Maxfield finds this evangelical understanding in the lectures (Pg.9), which answer the question on how to perceive and hear the Bible as the Word of God.

  • Christian holiness and life as defined by God´s justification & sanctification of sinners exemplified in the patriarchal stories.
  • The reconstruction of the Church´s history since Adam
  • How to live faithfully to the Gospel whilst under constant satanic attack.

How to read Holy Scriptures and/or what makes a theologian?[2]  

There is no doubt in Luther´s mind, that the Holy Scriptures of the OT/NT are to be held in highest reference – and far above all others – as he learnt from St. Augustine – and in conflict with his detractors.[3] The only trouble Luther had, was that his and other writings would distract from this vital study and mislead to trivial pursuit. 

It was also our intention and hope, when we ourselves began to translate the Bible into German, that there should be less writing, and instead more studying and reading of the Scriptures. For all other writing is to lead the way into and point toward the Scriptures, as John the Baptist did toward Christ, saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease” [John 3:30], in order that each person may drink of the fresh spring himself, as all those fathers who wanted to accomplish something good had to do.

Preface to German writings, Pg.283f

ML finds the way to study Holy Scriptures at King David´s feet and shows this with the trilogy “oratio, meditation, tentatio” in the framework of Psalm 119. The three steps concentrate on “ongoing, faithful attention to God´s word.” (Kleinig 258) So, to read God´s Word – start off to pray to God for humility, earnestness, enlightenment, guidance & understanding:

1. Oratio!  

Thus you see how David keeps praying in the above-mentioned Psalm, “Teach me, Lord, instruct me, lead me, show me,” and many more words like these. Although he well knew and daily heard and read the text of Moses and other books besides, still he wants to lay hold of the real teacher of the Scriptures himself, so that he may not seize upon them pell-mell with his reason and become his own teacher. For such practice gives rise to factious spirits who allow themselves to nurture the delusion that the Scriptures are subject to them and can be easily grasped with their reason, as if they were Markolf or Aesop’s Fables, for which no Holy Spirit and no prayers are needed.[4]

Ebd 286

Meditation in the mind and in practice (äußerlich) – repetitive, reading, rereading, comparing, with diligent attention and reflection…

2. Meditatio![5]

Thus, you see in this same Psalm how David constantly boasts that he will talk, meditate, speak, sing, hear, read, by day and night and always, about nothing except God’s Word and commandments. For God will not give you his Spirit without the external Word; so, take your cue from that. His command to write, preach, read, hear, sing, speak, etc., outwardly was not given in vain.[6]

Ebd.

3. Tentatio[7]

This is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s Word is, wisdom beyond all wisdom. Thus, you see how David, in the Psalm mentioned, complains so often about all kinds of enemies, arrogant princes or tyrants, false spirits and factions, whom he must tolerate because he meditates, that is, because he is occupied with God’s Word (as has been said) in all manner of ways. For as soon as God’s Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you, and will make a real doctor of you, and by his assaults will teach you to seek and love God’s Word.[8]

Ebd. 286f

Consider the following in conclussion:

God reveals himself and his dealings with people from beginning to end and in all calamaties and the suffering of the innocent: Abel, Isaak, Joseph… Theodizee: The great deluge; Sodom & Gomorrah; Tower of Siloah; Moses and the murmuring Israelites: Can´t complain! You have no reason to boast. You have no demands to make. Guilty as charged: Lex semper accusat!  Sin boldly – pastoral guidance or reckless precedent? Philip of Hesse God calls his people to fear, love and trust him above all else, but only His Testament and Promise are the firm foundation of life and salvation.

The following are matters, which we learn from the OT:

  • Creator, preserver, and coming savior: He holds all in his Hands…
  • God´s faithfulness persists despite sinfulness snowballing:
  • The true church and it´s elect in this world perditionis
  • Cain & Abel; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Lot),
  • Joseph and his brothers plus all the wives too…
  • Sara & Hagar; Rebecca, Rachel & Lea;
  • Exodus: Liberation from Egypt – through Moses, the murderer/ursurper etc
  • Blessings in the desert
  • The promised land ahead
  • Complicated relations
  • Moses & Aaron; Joshua & Kaleb. Miriam & Zippora etc. Egypt/Israel; Israel and the inhabitants of the land…

His enduring love (Grace: Chesed/Gnade) is better than life:[9] If I have but You, I don´t ask for heaven or earth!

God calls sinners to forgiveness, life and salvation: Abraham – the idolator; Lot – incest (David Ps.51); Jakob – the sly trickster; Noah – the drunkard etc.  Justification of sinners by faith alone. St. Paul: Worst of them all… Luther´s echo: “Nun freut Euch lieben Christen gmein...“ “What I on earth have done and taught guide all Your life and teaching…” (ML LSB 556 Stanza 10)[10]. Luther´s Explanation of the 3rd Article of the Apostolic Creed[11]

1.     Luther´s last words

Nobody can understand Vergil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has first been a shepherd or a farmer for five years.

Nobody understands Cicero in his letters unless he has been engaged in public affairs of some consequence for twenty years.

Let nobody suppose that he has tasted (No longer just intellectual understanding, but inclusive “gustare”. (Bayer Pg.286) This in the sense of “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” cf. Ps.34,8 NET i.e.verse 9 in Luther´s translation) the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years (Hyperbole!). Therefore, there is something wonderful, first, about John the Baptist; second, about Christ; third, about the apostles. ‘Lay not your hand on this divine Aeneid, but bow before it, adore its every trace.’

“We are beggars. That is true.” (Wir sind Bettler. Hoc est verum)[3]

Luther Works Vol.54: „Table Talk“ (Pg.476)

And here in the original

Das letzte Wort: Die göttliche Aeneis: Virgil in den Bucolia und Georgica kann keiner verstehen, der nicht fünf Jahre lang Hirte oder Bauer war. Cicero in seien Briefen (so sehe ich es) versteht keiner, der nicht zwanzig Jahre lang in einem bedeutenden Staatswesen tätig war. Die heiligen Schriften meine keiner genug geschmeckt zu haben, der nicht hundert Jahre lang mit den Propheten die Gemeinden geleitet hat. Diese göttliche Aeneis suche nicht zu meistern sondern bete demütig ihre Spuren an. Wir sind Bettler: hoc est verum.“ (Bayer 1999, 280)

Bayer 1999, 280

Bayer notes:

Das ist in sich selbst schon ein Bekenntnis. Gleichwohl wird es nochmals bekräftigt und in seinem Charakter ausdrücklich hervorgehoben durch das >Amen<, lateinisch umschrieben: >hoc est verum< – in der bekannten Formulierung des KK: >Das ist gewißlich wahr!<“

Ebd. 287

He comments further that the last paragraph is anti-climactic. The beggar is poor in understanding. He is plainly unqualified for this high calling to understand holy Scriptures. Compared with the first two – farming/jurisprudence (economics and politics) – he has no call due to some habitus/aptitude, which grows with own experience and practice.

Yet, a child can understand the Bible, because it “hears the voice of the good Shepherd” (cf. Smalcald Articles BSLK 459, 20-22). This hearing is a “passive suffering (Widerfahrnis) of God´s grace – a miracle and wonder! That´s different to planned programing and even scheduled learning. It is not something we just do, grasping God´s Word. It remains a gift.


[1] Deuteronomy constitutes but one volume. ML reads it in 1523 at home in front of colleagues as he was still banished and out of consideration for his guardian the elector duke Frederick III, the Wise. He dedicates the book to Georg von Polenz (1525), so that together with other bishops and lords, he might reject “Satzungen und menschliche Meinungen …“ and receive, honor and spread „das reine Wort Gottes, wie es ihr Beruf und Amt erfordert...“ (W. von Meding, Luthers Lehre I 2012, 362). He concludes: Moses in Deuteronomy shows the goal for this true bishop and the people blessed with a good lord.

[2]  On reading, learning and living Holy Scriptures… (Luther, Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of Luther´s German Writings 1960) John Kleinig takes this up in his delightful paper (J. W. Kleinig 2002) http://ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/kleinigoratio.pdf

[3] Kleinig elaborates in his commentary: “Learning theology (God´s Word as “way of life”) … was a matter of experience and wisdom gained from experience… the right practice of evangelical spirituality in the church, the practice of the vita passive, the receptive life of faith, makes a theologian. In theology, as in life, we have nothing that we have not received and continue to receive (1.Co.4,7). A theologian is not made by living, no rather by dying and being damned… The devil turns students of theology into proper theologians by giving them a hard time in the church. Theological training therefore involves spiritual warfare, the battle between Christ and Satan in the church. Conflict in the church is the context for learning theology. (J. W. Kleinig, Oratio, meditatio, tentatio 2002, 256) This is in contrast to the monastic way aimed at “contemplation, the experience of ecstasy, bliss, rapture and illumination through union with the glorified Lord Jesus” and is grounded in “reception rather than self-promotion” (ebd. 258) 

[4] Kleinig comments: “Luther presupposes that God the Father grants His life-giving, enlightening Holy Spirit through His word. So, the student of theology prays for the enlightenment, guidance, and understanding that the Holy Spirit alone can give through the Scriptures. He prays that the Holy Spirit will use the Scriptures to interpret him and his experience so that he sees himself and others as God does. In this way he trusts in God´s word as a means of grace, the channel of the Holy Spirit…The Holy Spirit makes a theologian and this is a life-long undertaking. (ebd. 260)

[5] „Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments…” (Luther´s Small Catechism 2017, 25)

[6] Kleinig continues: “God will not give you His Spirit without the external word. The Scriptures are the God-breathed inspired word of God… No word; no Spirit… In meditation we hear inwardly what is spoken to us outwardly… This is a verbal activity… and (as the Hebrew Psalms teach us!) has to do with forms of vocalization and sub-vocalization, ranging from speaking to murmuring, chattering to musing, singing to humming, muttering to groaning. A person who meditates therefore listens attentively to God´s word as it is spoken personally to him. He concentrates exclusively on it; he speaks it to himself again and again; he reads and rereads it; he compares what it says with what is said elsewhere in the Bible; he chews at it, like a cow with its cud; he rubs at it, like a herb that releases its fragrance and healing powers by being crushed; he concentrates on it, physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that it reaches his heart, his core, the very center of his being. He receives what God says to him and gives to him in His word” (ebd. 260ff)

[7] “We have now heard enough what toil and labor is required to retain all that for which we pray, and to persevere therein, which, however, is not achieved without infirmities and stumbling. Besides, although we have received forgiveness and a good conscience and are entirely acquitted, yet is our life of such a nature that one stands to-day and to-morrow falls. Therefore, even though we be godly now and stand before God with a good conscience, we must pray again that He would not suffer us to relapse and yield to trials and temptations.” https://bookofconcord.org/large-catechism/part-iii/petition-6/

[8] Kleinig sums up: “Thus the attack of the devil on the student of theology serves to strengthen his faith because it drives him back to God´s word as the only basis for his work in the church… The better we do our work as students of God´s word the greater the opposition will be. That is not a bad thing, provided that we deal with the conflicts in our community and in the lives of our students spiritually as attacks by the devil rather than merely as personal, doctrinal or psychological problems.” (Ebd. 265f)

[9]Because experiencing your loyal love is better than life itself…” (NET Psalm 63,3)

[10]Was ich getan hab und gelehrt, das sollst du tun und lehren, damit das Reich Gotts werd gemehrt zu Lob und seinen Ehren; und hüt dich vor der Menschen Satz, davon verdirbt der edle Schatz: das lass ich dir zur Letze.

http://www.l4a.org/cgi-bin/4lieder?lookupMode=liedaufschlagen&lookup=Evangelisches%20Gesangbuch+341

[11] „I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.“ https://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html

Posted in Gedankensplitter, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Theologie, You comfort me + | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So, how should Christians regard Moses?

Part 6: Guidance in the Pentateuch: Re-reading Moses with Luther.

ML answers this question summarily in a sermon dated 27th August 1525, which was the 29th in a string of seventy-seven sermons on Exodus (Bachmann, Pg.159): Eyn Unterrichtung wie sich die Christen ynn Mosen sollen schicken WA 16, Pg.363-393)

Luther differentiates two divine sermons – one at Sinai and the other on Pentecost in Jerusalem.[1].

Now the first sermon, and doctrine, is the law of God. The second is the gospel. These two sermons are not the same. Therefore we must have a good grasp of the matter in order to know how to differentiate between them. We must know what the law is, and what the gospel is. The law commands and requires us to do certain things. The law is thus directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, “Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you.” The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, “This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake.” So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two kinds of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are separated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not—as in the case of the law—what we are to do and give to God.

Luther Works 35,162

ML goes on to differentiate God´s two kingdoms plus a third one in between, and he differentiates between Moses the “teacher” and “law-giver”. The first we aught carefully to consider but should not get caught up with the second for God did not lead us out of Egypt, only Israel. 

The temporal, which governs with the sword and is visible; and the spiritual, which governs solely with grace and with the forgiveness of sins. Between these two kingdoms still another has been placed in the middle, half spiritual and half temporal. It is constituted by the Jews, with commandments and outward ceremonies which prescribe their conduct toward God and men. Here the law of Moses has its place. It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel. And Israel accepted this law for itself and its descendants, while the Gentiles were excluded. To be sure, the Gentiles have certain laws in common with the Jews, such as these: there is one God, no one is to do wrong to another, no one is to commit adultery or murder or steal, and others like them. This is written by nature into their hearts; they did not hear it straight from heaven as the Jews did. This is why this entire text does not pertain to the Gentiles. I say this on account of the enthusiasts. For you see and hear how they read Moses, extol him, and bring up the way he ruled the people with commandments. They try to be clever, and think they know something more than is presented in the gospel; so they minimize faith, contrive something new, and boastfully claim that it comes from the Old Testament. They desire to govern people according to the letter of the law of Moses, as if no one had ever read it before.

But we will not have this sort of thing. We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer. Indeed God himself will not have it either. Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, “Thus says Moses,” etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service.

That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved from Exodus 20[:1], where God himself speaks, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews. The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver—unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law. Therefore, it is clear enough that Moses is the lawgiver of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. 

Ebd. 164f

The old Law of the Sabbath also proves that Moses´s law, which bound up the Jews in knots is now abolished for the Gentiles i.e. Christian church:

For Paul [Col. 2:16] and the New Testament [Matt. 12:1–12; John 5:16; 7:22–23; 9:14–16] abolish the sabbath, to show us that the sabbath was given to the Jews alone, for whom it is a stern commandment. The prophets referred to it too, that the sabbath of the Jews would be abolished. For Isaiah says in the last chapter, “When the Savior comes, then such will be the time, one sabbath after the other, one month after the other,” etc. This is as though he were trying to say, “It will be the sabbath every day, and the people will be such that they make no distinction between days. For in the New Testament the sabbath is annihilated as regards the crude external observance, for every day is a holy day,” etc. Now if anyone confronts you with Moses and his commandments, and wants to compel you to keep them, simply answer, “Go to the Jews with your Moses; I am no Jew. Do not entangle me with Moses. If I accept Moses in one respect (Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 5[:3]), then I am obligated to keep the entire law.” For not one little period in Moses pertains to us. [2]  

Ebd. 165f

Why preach Moses if he does not pertain to us?

Answer: Three things are to be noted in Moses. (Pg. 166)

1. Firstly, ML dismisses Mosaic law, but follows rules which fit:

  • Tithing (Ebd. 166);
  • Jubilee year (Ebd. 167);
  • Levirate (Dt.25,5f: Ebd) 

The Gentiles are not obligated to obey Moses. Moses is the Sachsenspiegel for the Jews. But if an example of good government were to be taken from Moses, one could adhere to it without obligation as long as one pleased, etc.

He acknowledges “natural law” in some of them, which bind both Jews and Gentiles – predating Moses and embedded in creation:  

The Gentiles have it written in their heart, and there is no distinction [Rom. 3:22]. As St. Paul also shows in Romans 2[:14–15], the Gentiles, who have no law, have the law written in their heart. But just as the Jews fail, so also do the Gentiles. Therefore, it is natural to honor God, not steal, not commit adultery, not bear false witness, not murder; and what Moses commands is nothing new. For what God has given the Jews from heaven, he has also written in the hearts of all men. Thus, I keep the commandments which Moses has given, not because Moses gave commandment, but because they have been implanted in me by nature, and Moses agrees exactly with nature, etc. But the other commandments of Moses, which are not [implanted in all men] by nature, the Gentiles do not hold. Nor do these pertain to the Gentiles, such as the tithe and others equally fine which I wish we had too. Now this is the first thing that I ought to see in Moses, namely, the commandments to which I am not bound except insofar as they are [implanted in everyone] by nature [and written in everyone’s heart].

2. Secondly, ML hears Moses preaching Christ i.e. Gospel.

In the second place I find something in Moses that I do not have from nature: the promises and pledges of God about Christ. This is the best thing. It is something that is not written naturally into the heart, but comes from heaven. God has promised, for example, that his Son should be born in the flesh. This is what the gospel proclaims. It is not commandments. And it is the most important thing in Moses which pertains to us. The first thing, namely, the commandments, does not pertain to us. I read Moses because such excellent and comforting promises are there recorded, by which I can find strength for my weak faith. For things take place in the kingdom of Christ just as I read in Moses that they will; therein I find also my sure foundation.

Ebd 168f
  • Genesis 3,15 Protevangelium to Eve:“Your seed…”
  • Genesis 12,3 Promise to Abraham “Blessing to all people…”
  • Genesis 22,18 Promise to Abraham “Your descendants…”
  • Deuteronomy 18,15-16 Promise to Moses “A prophet like me…”
  • Godless readings e.g. Gn.22,2; Ex.17,8-16; Dt.25,17-19;

One must deal cleanly with the Scriptures. From the very beginning the word has come to us in various ways. It is not enough simply to look and see whether this is God’s word, whether God has said it; rather we must look and see to whom it has been spoken, whether it fits us. That makes all the difference between night and day. God said to David, “Out of you shall come the king,” etc. [2 Sam. 7:13]. But this does not pertain to me, nor has it been spoken to me. He can indeed speak to me if he chooses to do so. You must keep your eye on the word that applies to you, that is spoken to you. The word in Scripture is of two kinds: the first does not pertain or apply to me, the other kind does. And upon that word which does pertain to me I can boldly trust and rely, as upon a strong rock. But if it does not pertain to me, then I should stand still.

Ebd. 170

3. Moses preaches most beautifully about faith, love & the cross

…In Moses we read most beautiful examples of faith, of love, and of the cross, as shown in the fathers, Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and all the rest. From them we should learn to trust in God and love him. In turn there are also examples of the godless, how God does not pardon the unfaith of the unbelieving; how he can punish Cain, Ishmael, Esau, the whole world in the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Examples like these are necessary. For although I am not Cain, yet if I should act like Cain, I will receive the same punishment as Cain. Nowhere else do we find such fine examples of both faith and unfaith. Therefore, we should not sweep Moses under the rug.

Thus, in summary ML holds of Moses and the OT:

The OT is thus properly understood when we retain from the prophets the beautiful texts about Christ, when we take note of and thoroughly grasp the fine examples[3], and when we use the laws as we please to our advantage.

Ebd. 173

[1] E. Theodore Bachmann summarizes: “Luther´s opposition to both Karlstadt and Münzer derived from his theological convictions – stated in this treatise – concerning the relationship between law and gospel and the related problem of the relationship between the OT and the NT. Law and gospel are chosen ways through which God addresses his word to men. In the law God says No to man, the sinner; in the gospel he says Yes to man, the righteous – that man who has repented and believes his promise in Jesus Christ. Law and gospel are both present in both of the Testaments. They must always be distinguished but never identified or confused.” (LW 35, Pg. 157) Schramm contextualizes: “Luther viewed Karlstadt and Müntzer (sic) as cut from the same cloth, and thus his arguments against the former regarding images and against the latter regarding the cause of the peasants are strikingly similar. For him, both share the error of attempting to impose Mosaic law on contemporary German church and society, and both, through their failure to understand Moses correctly, threaten the peace and well-being of the land.” (Schramm 2015, 130)

[2] Stolle takes exception to this explanation of Luther´s, because the Law of the Sabbath derives from before the Fall – and is part of the creational setup as illustrated in the first chapters of Moses i.e. holds true to all of creation, not just the Jews. (Stolle 2021, 43)

[3] „Die Frommen des Alten Bundes werden den „Heiligen“ (sancti) und damit der Kirche (sanctorum communio) zurgerechtnet, deren Gedächtnis den Christen anempfohlen wird.“ (Stolle, Biblische Orientierung in der Begegnung von Christen und Juden. Die Abkehr vom Judenbild Luthers in der lutherischen Theologie 2021) S. 53.

Read more here: Genesis lectures etc. Part 7 of “Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther”

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So, what does Luther look for in Moses?

Part 5: Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther.

The provocative “Judensau is displayed outside on St.Mary´s. It too is very much in the lime-light and contemporary controversies – way beyond the limits of old Wittenberg.[1] Luther as translator of the bible, worked in a team of specialists and experts. They were following the “Wittenberg way” (Kolb 2008) of doing theology – very much in line with “mutuum colloquium et consolatio fratrum” (Dingel 2014, 766).  The hermeneutic drive involved linguistic finesse, translation skills, encyclopedic detail, theological expertise and also a touch of editorial and artistic genius – never mind consistency, musicality, grammar and being in touch with local society and way beyond.[2]  For Luther the Christological cornerstone has highest priority – and that as formulated in the first and foremost article of our faith in the “Justification by faith alone”. This held sway way beyond grammar, language, historical critique and contextual criteria etc. Looking at Holy Writ without this Christological bias was bound to end in the sticks[3].  Whoever read the Bible with other glasses (“looking eyes”) – e.g. as a secret code (“The Tetragram”/Holy Name) for some occult message like the Jewish Cabbala did, was going to end up blank as if looking up a pig´s annus.  That´s no way to go.

Luther´s introduction to the OT in his bible translation of 1545 (1523)[4]. This is basically a guide on “Why read the OT?” and what to expect in it.

First of all, ML emphasizes the need to read it diligently for not only have we our Lord´s command[5] and clear apostolic instructions[6] to do so, but “it is a public preaching and proclamation of Christ, set forth through the sayings of the OT and fulfilled through Christ.” (Luther, Prefaces to the OT. 1961, 236).

Here You will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds in Lk.2,12. (i.e. the Christmas narrative ebd)

ML then marks the entire OT emphasis on the divine Law – and that in the theological use of revealing sin and accusing the perpetrators (usus elenchticus):

(The OT is) a book of laws, which teaches what men are to do and not to do – and in addition gives examples and stories of how these laws are kept or broken – just as the NT is gospel or book of grace and teaches where one is to get the power to fulfil the law. Now in the NT there are also given, along with the teaching about grace, many other teachings that are laws and commandments for the control of the flesh – since in this life the Spirit is not perfected, and grace alone cannot rule. Similarly in the OT too there are, beside the laws, certain promises, and words of grace, by which the holy fathers and prophets under the law were kept, like us, in the faith of Christ. Nevertheless, just as the chief teaching of the NT is really the proclamation of grace and peace through the forgiveness of sins in Christ, so the chief teaching of the OT is really the teaching of laws, the showing up of sin, and the demanding of good. You should expect this in the OT. (ebd. 236f)

Subsequently he takes us through book by book – starting off with Moses: “Genesis … is made up almost entirely of illustrations of faith and unbelief, and of the fruits that faith and unbelief bear. It is an exceedingly evangelical book.” (Ebd. 237)[7]“In … Exodus… when the world was now full and sunk in blindness so that men scarcely knew any longer what sin was or where death came from, God brings Moses forward with the law and selects a special people, in order to enlighten the world again through them, and by the law to reveal sin anew.”[8] (Ebd). “The special topic of the third book [Leviticus] is the appointment of the priesthood, with the statutes and laws according to which the priests are to act and to teach the people. There we see that a priestly office is instituted only because of sin, to disclose sin to the people and to make atonement before God, so that its entire function is to deal with sin and sinners.”[9] (Ebd. 237f)The 4th book of Moses (Numbers) proves the worth of the pudding in the eating: “This book is a notable example of how vacuous it is to make people righteous with laws; rather, as St. Paul says, laws cause only sin and wrath.”[10] (Ebd. 238) “In the fifth book [Deuteronomy], after the people have been punished because of their disobedience, and God has enticed them a little with grace, in order that by his kindness in giving them the two kingdoms they might be moved to keep his law gladly and willingly, then Moses repeats the whole law. He repeats the story of all that has happened to the people (except for that which concerns the priesthood) and explains anew everything that belongs either to the bodily or to the spiritual governing of a people. Thus Moses, as a perfect lawgiver, fulfilled all the duties of his office. He not only gave the law, but was there when men were to fulfil it. When things went wrong, he explained the law and re-established it. Yet this explanation in the fifth book really contains nothing else than faith toward God and love toward one’s neighbor, for all God’s laws come to that. Therefore, down to the twentieth chapter, Moses, in his explanation of the law, guards against everything that might destroy faith in God; and from there to the end of the book he guards against everything that hinders love.”

God through Moses gives so many laws “as to leave human reason no room to choose a single work of its own or to invent its own form of worship. For Moses not only teaches fear, love, and trust toward God, but he also provides so many ways of outward worship… that no one needs to choose anything else… Why?… that all their doings may surely be right in his eyes. For if anyone does anything for which God´s word has not first given warrant, it counts for nothing before God and is labor lost…. For obedience, which depends on God´s word, is of all works the noblest and best.” (Ebd.239)[11]

The divine laws are of 3 kinds:

  • Temporal things (like imperial law): for the wicked… prevention rather than instruction.
  • Laws about faith & love, which rule supreme, so that “kings, priests and heads of the people often transgressed the laws boldly, at the demand of faith and love” (Ebd. 240)[12]  
  • Dynamics of obedience to God´s all encompassing law: “A man must at every hour be ready for anything and do whatever the situation requires.” (Ebd.241)

We heard above Moses is the perfect lawgiver.

There is reason in that:

That Moses is so insistent and often repeats the same thing shows also the nature of his office. For one who is to rule a people-with-laws [Gesetzvolk] must constantly admonish, constantly drive, and knock himself out struggling with the people as [he would] with asses. For no work of law is done gladly and willingly; it is all forced and compelled. Now since Moses is a lawgiver, he has to show by his insistence that the work of the law is a forced work. He has to wear the people down, until this insistence makes them not only recognize their illness and their dislike for God’s law, but also long for grace, as we shall show.

“The true intention of Moses is through the law to reveal sin and put to shame all presumption as to human ability” (Ebd. 242)[13]… “He forces and presses sins upon them (the people) in heaps.” (Ebd.243)[14] “These laws of Moses were given not only to prevent anyone from choosing ways of his own for doing good and living aright…but rather that sins might simply become numerous and be heaped up beyond measure.” (Ebd. 244)

This is good and necessary (“meet, right & salutary!”), because it drives away our “blindness and hardened presumption” (that we can fulfil God´s law!) Human nature is terrified, finds neither trust/faith, fear/love to God nor love or purity towards its neighbor – instead unbelief, doubt, contempt and hatred to God… evil and evil desire: “Death is instantly before its eyes, ready to devour such a sinner and to swallow him up in hell… I am rejected by God…The devil has me; I can never be saved. This is to be really cast into hell (1.Co15,56) ” (Ebd.243)

“The good law of God thus makes us recognize and feel our wickedness, and sigh and long for the aid of divine grace in IX” (Ebd. 244). When IX comes the law ceases, especially the Levitical law which, as has been said, makes sins of things that in their nature are not sins. The Ten Commandments also cease, not in the sense that they are no longer to be kept or fulfilled, but in the sense that the office of Moses in them ceases; it no longer increases sin [Rom. 5:20] by the Ten Commandments, and sin is no longer the sting of death [1 Cor. 15:56]. For through Christ sin is forgiven, God is reconciled, and man’s heart has begun to feel kindly toward the law. The office of Moses can no longer rebuke the heart and make it to be sin for not having kept the commandments and for being guilty of death, as it did prior to grace, before Christ came. (Ebd.)[15]

The Law has 3 kinds of pupils. Those, who:

  • Hear & despise it (cf. Ex.32,19: Dancing around golden calf)
  • keep it without grace (Ex.34,34f: Can´t see Moses; Hypocrites)
  • Understand the intention of the law & it´s impossible claim

There sin comes to power, there death is mighty, there Goliath’s spear is like a weaver’s beam and its point weighs six hundred shekels of brass, so that all the children of Israel flee before him unless the one and only David—Christ our Lord—saves us from all this [1 Sam. 17:7, 24, 32]. For if Christ’s glory did not come alongside this splendor of Moses, no one could bear the brightness of the law, the terror of sin and death. These pupils fall away from all works and presumption and learn from the law nothing else except to recognize sin and to yearn for Christ. This is the true office of Moses and the very nature of the law. (Ebd.245f)

God promises another prophet – like Moses (Dt.18,15-19)

  • The noblest saying & heart of all in Moses: Points us all to IX/grace
  • Old Testament (2.Co.3,14) versus New Testament (1.Co.11,25)
  • And the other books of the OT? ML answers: “They are nothing else than what Moses is. For they all propagate the office of Moses; they guard against the false prophets, that they many not lead to works, but allow them to remain in the true office of Moses, the knowledge of the law…” He continues:

They hold fast to this purpose of keeping the people conscious of their own impotence through a right understanding of the law, and thus driving them to Christ, as Moses does. For this reason they also explicate further what Moses says of Christ, and furnish two kinds of examples, of those who have Moses right and of those who do not, and also of the punishments and rewards that come to both. Thus the prophets are nothing else than administrators and witnesses of Moses and his office, bringing everyone to Christ through the law. (Ebd 246)  

Luther concludes by pointing briefly to the spiritual meaning of the Levitical Law and the priesthood of Moses (Ebd. 247) Due to time and space constraints – and because it should be expounded by a living voice – ML restricts himself to pointers only but emphasizes again that “Moses is a well of all wisdom and understanding, out of which has sprung all that the prophets knew and said. Moreover even the NT flows out of it and is grounded in it…” (Ebd).


[1] The federal high court in Magdeburg has just recently referred the matter back to the regional court in Halle in their ping-pong game of avoiding controversial verdicts. I wonder too, whether this matter has pushed P. Block to more peaceful quarters surrounding the Women´s Minster in Zürich, CH:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraum%C3%BCnster   

[2] Cf. Von Meding Pg. 362f;

[3] Auf dem Holzweg vgl. Heidegger.

[4] https://kwaweber.org/2021/05/11/search-the-scriptures-john-539/

[5] John 5,39

[6] 1Ti.4,13; Ro1,2f; 1Cor15,3-4;  2.Ti.2,8;

[7] “In his first book [Genesis] Moses teaches how all creatures were created, and (as the chief cause for his writing) whence sin and death came, namely by Adam’s fall, through the devil’s wickedness. But immediately thereafter, before the coming of the law of Moses, he teaches whence help is to come for the driving out of sin and death, namely, not by the law or men’s own works (since there was no law as yet), but by “the seed of the woman,” Christ, promised to Adam and Abraham, in order that throughout the Scriptures from the beginning faith may be praised above all works and laws and merits.“ (Ebd) 

[8] “He therefore organizes this people with all kinds of laws and separates it from all other peoples. He has them build a tent, and begins a form of worship. He appoints princes and officials, and provides his people splendidly with both laws and men, to rule them both in the body before the world and in the spirit before God.” (Ebd)

[9] “For this reason too no temporal wealth is given to the priests; neither are they commanded or permitted to rule men’s bodies. Rather the only work assigned to them is to care for the people who are in sin.” (Ebd)

[10] “a test is made as to how well the arrangement operates and how satisfactory it is. This is why this very book says so much about the disobedience of the people and the plagues that came upon them. And some of the laws are explained and the number of the laws increased. Indeed, this is the way it always goes; laws are quickly given, but when they are to go into effect and become operative, they meet with nothing but hindrance; nothing goes as the law demands.” (Ebd)

[11]Every law of God is good and right [Rom. 7:7–16], even if it only bids men to carry dung or to gather straw. Accordingly, whoever does not keep this good law—or keeps it unwillingly—cannot be righteous or good in his heart. But human nature cannot keep it otherwise than unwillingly. It must therefore, through this good law of God, recognize and feel its wickedness, and sigh and long for the aid of divine grace in Christ.“ (Ebd.244)

[12] cf. Jesus in Mt.12,11; Mk.2,25f

[13] Gal.2,17; 2Co3,7; Ro3,20: “By law no one is justified”; 7,7: “Through the law comes nothing more than knowledge of sin”; 1Co15,56: Law is the sting of death; 2Co3,7: Office of Moses is a dispensation of sin and death. 

[14] “For unbelief and evil desire are in their nature sins, and worthy of death. But to eat leavened bread at the Passover [Exodus 12–13] and to eat an unclean animal [Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14] or make a mark on the body [Lev. 19:28; Deut. 14:1], and all those things that the Levitical priesthood deals with as sin—these are not in their nature sinful and evil. Rather they became sins only because they are forbidden by the law. This law can be done away.“ (Ebd.243)

[15] Cf 2.Co3,7-14.

Read more here: So, what should Christians look for in Moses? (Part 6 Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther)

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Can we give up the OT?

(Part 4 Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther.)

Professor Notger Slenczka (Alexander von Humboldt University, Berlin) provokes with his statements concerning the relation of Old and New Testament (2015). This fundamental theological debate sparked fireworks even in the public square. Provocare! The public broadcaster takes up the debate a year later with the question in the “Deutschlandfunk”: „How much Old Testament does the Christian church need?“  This does not only irritate Evangelicals, but Roman Catholics too. Another Sasse than Hermann, we know, puts it into theological and ecclesial perspective for his colleagues amongst the “Pfarrerschaft” Finally the controversial Professor offers a detailed review of his own book (Slenczka 2017) and resume of the profound discussion.

Once the preliminary excitement cooled off, the Professor explained himself most eloquently: “Vom alten Testament und vom Neuen. Beiträge zur Neuvermessung ihres Verhältnisses“ (Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, Leipzig. 2017) His study provides a contentious setting for our theme. He asserts an ambiguity (duplicity/multiplicity?) of the Old Testament displaying “viele Aspekte” (Ebd. 29), which are not just complementary, but even contradictory. With this position he reflects common sense in contemporary critical exegesis. Thereby the principally different, sometimes even opposing and mutually exclusive positions, faiths, sects, and religions (Jews & Christians) are explained and excused, intentionally at least – similar to Ernst Käsemann´s thesis, that various denominations are a natural given due to the diversity inherent in the NT canon.

The astute Professor vies, that the OT has for the most part been given up in practice by the protestant church, which no longer holds that the OT has its center in Jesus Christ as the NT (and the Lutheran Church!) still does. He contends, that the OT does not point directly and unambiguously to Jesus Christ, nor does it find its only fulfillment in him either. It does not solely proclaim him even if it might do so mysteriously (sacramentally?). This admittedly has changed remarkably from previous outlooks – Martin Luther and the confessional Lutheran church begs to differ – as will be shown below… Slenczka knows this full well and writes:

Für die meisten Theologen bis ins 20.Jahrhundert (bezeugte) das Alte Testament Jesus Christus bzw. den dreieinigen Gott, und zwar nicht erst in einer >geistlichen< Auslegung, die sich vom wörtlichen Sinn des Textes weiterverweisen ließe auf eine übertragene Bedeutung der Worte oder der bezeichneten >Sachen<; vielmehr ist die kirchliche Tradition weit überwiegend der Überzeugung, dass das Alte Testament wo nicht in seinem Literalsinn, so doch jedenfalls in seinem unbeliebig und alternativlos gewonnenen, die ursprüngliche Intention des Textes zur Sprache bringenden geistlichen Sinn ein Zeugnis für Jesus Christus ist. 

Vom Alten Testament und vom Neuen 2017, 21

Slenczka explains this change in perspective, which results in the loss of the OT as clear Christological witness with reference to the historical-critical approach dominant in main-line church circles and the prevailing Christian-Jewish dialogue there. This is common sense amongst critical scholars on both sides of the Atlantic as just the following exponents show: Walter Brueggeman: “Theology of the Old Testament. Testimony, dispute, advocacy.” Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1997 and Achim Behrens: “Das Alte Testament verstehen. Die Hermeneutik des ersten Teils der christlichen Bibel.“ Göttingen, Edition Ruprecht. 2013.

Here are some points in Slenczka´s argument:

  • He credits Adolf von Harnack as having been right all along, however different to common sense.
  • He emphatically denies that this position disqualifies the OT from playing a significant role in the church, its sermons, and its divine service. 
  • He strongly promotes a confession of NT predominance over the OT – somewhat along the lines of Luther´s distinction between canonical and apocryphal.
  • He advocates, that the church should publicly acknowledge (hold, teach and confess) that it reads the OT from a NT (i.e. Christological, evangelical (“evangelisch”) bias and principally, basically as gospel “justified by faith”.
  • To clarify, he differentiates, distinguishes, and separates the relationship of the Christ confrontation (“Begegnung mit Christus”) and the presupposition of God talk (“Rede von Gott”) in the OT by both early Christians and contemporary Jews.

We conclude, if the OT does not preach IX, then that answers the question of unity and center of the OT with a non-Christian-bias, leaving us with a map without a marked center or goal. Sounding much like the “New Perspectives on Paul” leaving us with a legalistic reading contrary to our confession of “Justification by faith alone”. This is brought to the fore in Slenczka´s controversy with Krüssemann. More than this, however, we need “new perspectives on reading Martin Luther” as Ulrich Asendorf suggests: “Luther neu gelesen. Modernität und ökumenische Aktualität in seiner letzten Vorlesung.“ Neuendettelsau, Freimund-Verlag. 2005.

Although Slenczka contends to be in a Lutheran drift and even in some kind of agreement with our confessions, this still sounds far off from Luther´s conception of what to look for in Moses (“How Christians should regard Moses” 1960) and in the rest of the OT (“Preface to the Old Testament” 1960).

So, the suggestion, to look yet again, how the venerable Bible-Doctor and professor of Biblical Theology holds, reads, and teaches the great and holy prophet Moses in line with all true prophets. A timely exercise as Volker Stolle just offers a revision of Luther´s reading of the Jews as re-orientation in Lutheran theology: “Biblische Orientierung in der Begegnung von Christen und Juden. Die Abkehr vom Judenbild Luthers in der lutherischen Theologie.” (Leipzig, Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. 2021.) 

For our re-reading of Moses with Luther we follow beaten tracks (Asendorf, von Meding, Maxfield etc) in pursuit of a Lutheran way to read Moses. I suggest five steps as we pursue our question: What would ML have us look for in the Pentateuch?

  • Start with Luther in controversy: “Judensau
  • Look at Luther as Bible translator (Heinz Bluhm, 1965: „Martin Luther. Creative translator.”)
  • Luther as biblical preacher: “Was ein Christ in Moses finden soll?”
  • Luther as biblical teacher: Genesis lectures.
  • Luther´s final Testament: Wir sind Bettler. Hoc verum est

We close this excursion with three quotes.

These lectures on Genesis… are worthy of serving as an introduction to Luther´s world of faith.

Maxfield 2008, 1 quoting Obermann

Der Professor reflektierte Bibeltexte so gründlich gesamtbiblisch… als schriftgewordene Lehre des aktuell redenden Heiligen Geistes… bleibt ein Heiliger in meinem Herzen, so ist Christus verloren. Denn jeder bedarf genauso des Herrn Christi wie ich. Entweder Christus allein oder keiner.

Wichmann von Meding, Pg. 365f on these lectures from Moses

Luthers Spätwerk, so die Grundthese A.s, ist die Krönung seines gesamten Schaffens. Mehr noch als dasjenige des jungen sei das Denken des späten Luther geeignet, dem heutigen Christen Glaubensorientierung zu verschaffen und für Theologie, Kirche und Ökumene Wege in die Zukunft zu erschließen.

Gunter Wenz notes on Ulrich Asendorf´s conclusion

Read more here: “So, what does Martin Luther want us look for in the Pentateuch?” Part 5 of “Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther.”

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The Gospel way: Sola fide

Part 3 of “Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther”

In stark contrast to the determinative and fatal law is the Gospel as new way (Acts 9,2), which is the triune God´s only route to salvation from the very beginning in Paradise. Just as our good Lord converts Saul to the truth of the saving gospel – to become St.Paul and proclaimer of the only saving Gospel. So too, he converts Luder to Luther (Eleutheros):

It was as if paradise opened. I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point on the phrase, ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakable sweet by virtue of a great love.”

Martin Luther – looking back.

Wichmann Meding comments:

Er (ML) hatte begriffen, Christi verschenkte Gerechtigkeit ziele nicht auf Vorschriftenfolgsamkeit oder das Abbüßen eigener Übertretungen.

So hob er (ML) an:

Es ist eine Frage, die alle Menschen bewegt, wie sie selig werden können, und keiner lebt, der nicht wünschte, es möge ihm wohl gehen, keiner, der nicht hassen müßte, wenn es ihm übel geht. Aber alle Menschen, so viel ihrer sind, haben Erkenntnis der rechten Seligkeit verloren, am meisten, die am meisten nach ihr geforscht haben, nämlich die Philosophen, unter denen die trefflichsten gesagt haben, sie bestehe in Tugend oder in Ausübung der Tugend. Dadurch sind sie unglückseliger geworden als andre und haben sich gleichermaßen der Güter dieses und des künftigen Lebens beraubt. Denn obwohl der Pöbel grob irrt in der Meinung, durch Lüste des Fleisches Seligkeit zu erlangen, hat er doch wenigstens die Güter dieses Lebens an sich gebracht. Der Gott aber, der in diesem Psalm… redet, verwirft mit Abscheu aller Menschen Vorhaben und gibt eine einzigartige Beschreibung der Seligkeit, die allen bekannt ist: der sei selig, der das Gesetz Gottes liebt.“ (AWA 2.II,28)

Liebe zum Gesetz, nicht Tugend will er, viel mehr. Die bringt niemand auf. Es fordert, was Menschenwillen durchkreuzt. Sie wollen sich verwirklichen, nie Gottes Gesetz lieben. Es wecke wirklich keine Liebe. Die entsteht als Frucht des Glaubens an Jesus Christus, der das Gesetz erfüllt hat. Nur das erfüllte, auf Gottes Willen lediglich weisende Gesetz sei liebenswert. Liebe wird Lieblosen geschenkt, damit sie dem Gesetz frei folgen können.

W. von Meding, Luthers Lehre I 2012, 360-361

So far the citation. This is not new really, but has been the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the very start – even if it was shining dimly and in only some hidden outposts. Clement wrote:

Brethren, it is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God!

2.Clement chapter 1

Our Lord Jesus Christ (IX) is the only true God, who grants life and salvation freely to sinners lost under the Law: sola gratia, sola fide!  Not a new lawgiver, but the one to seek and to save the lost – the Lamb of God, who bears the sins of the world! It is He alone, who grants life and salvation to lost sinners through the forgiveness of all their sins + Francis Pieper sums this up for us in the Christian Dogmatics 1953:

That is why, in the Christian language, religion has an altogether different meaning. The Christian religion is but faith in the Gospel, that is, faith in the divine judgment proclaiming the substitutionary satisfaction of Christ (satisfactio vicaria), which the triune God upholds and whereby He has reconciled all men to himself.

The holy apostle St. Paul declares this in the name of his Lord and everybody´s savior: “Knowing [εἰδότες] that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ that we might be justified by the faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16).

Apology: “By faith we obtain remission of sins for Christ’s sake, and not for the sake of our works that precede or follow” (Trigl. 287, 19)

It is our Lord Jesus Christ, who points us to Moses & the prophets, because they point to Him as creator of life, the savior and Lord of lords:  

You search the Scriptures because You think that in them You have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.

John 5,39

Pieper continues:

Therefore, such religious bodies within external Christendom as teach that man is reconciled to God, wholly or in part, through his own works have reverted to the pagan conception of religion and are, as to their teaching, outside Christendom.

Christ is become of no effect unto you whosoever of you are justified by the Law; ye are fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4).

The Large Catechism: “Therefore all who seek and wish to merit holiness [sanctification], not through the Gospel and forgiveness of sin, but by their works, have expelled and separated themselves [from this Church]” (Trigl. 693, 56).

Meyer on Gal. 5:4: “Justification by the Law and justification for Christ’s sake are opposita (works—faith), so that one excludes the other.” (ebd)

These (things) are written so that You may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing You may have life in His name.

John 20,31 also John 5,24; 14,6; Hebrews 1,1-2 and Acts 10,42f

Dr. John Kleinig brings it to the point:

If we have problems in living the life of faith, if we have challenges in the practice of prayer, the solution is not to be found in what we do, our self-appraisal, or our performance. The solution to our problem is found in what we receive from God Himself, in His appraisal of us, and in His gifts to us. Like our physical life and health, our spiritual life is something that is given to us, something that is to be received and enjoyed and celebrated. Our piety is all a matter of receiving grace upon grace from the fulness of God the Father. 

Grace upon Grace. Spirituality for today, 2008

So, how do we read the Pentateuch?

God is the same today as yesterday and as he will be tomorrow (Ex.3). He reveals himself, his law and promises, his dealings with people, their creation, preservation, providence, gubernation, guidance and ultimate salvation through Moses & his prophets. However, all this is not just like a recipe to be easily adopted for DIY.

Rather, as ML quips: “The ways of God are like any Hebrew book. It is only to be read from the end!” In hindsight – and in retrospect of what He did, what He wants and promises. That means – not step-by-step in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (nor Joseph, Judges and Kings either…). This is crucial for our discussion.

We learn that God is faithful and does, what He says: Covenant, testament, and gracious institution. Creation, preservation, and guidance due sola gratia. It´s undeserved, very good and the very best for You and me: And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! (Luther 2000)

However, the divine “Torah” is very much in dispute: “I walk in danger all the way...” (LSB 716) Not only because of our inherent hardness of heart (calloused eyes/hearts), lack of understanding and poor insight and weak comprehension, but also because “nobody can see God as He is!” He reveals himself only partly, gradually at best, sometimes from afar and from behind, and only in due course wherever and whenever it pleases Him – even as he continues to hide other aspects from view. Serious questions remain unanswered. We remain in the dark – even on the best of days. Or who has the answers to such basic issues: Why only some are saved? When is Judgement Day? Where does evil come from? Why good people suffer? etc.

Furthermore, there is a fundamental dystrophy in all of God´s good creation since the fall. The evil Spirit promotes confusion, contention, disruption, and chaos. He is still the propagator of lies and lord of flies. Our enemy – even if clothed in brightest of light and spreading sweet words just barely hiding malice and deceit.

We ourselves remain prone to rebel against God, doubting His fatherly goodness and disbelieving His enduring providence. Therefore, the study of the Scriptures is not just a straightforward endeavor of progressive enlightenment, but a thorny track of uphill struggles plagued by loss of memory, misunderstanding, doubt, disbelief, infidelity, idolatry and other shameful sins and vices – dependent entirely on God´s grace and mercy to believe and trust His enduring faithfulness, forgiveness, and love revealed to us in the fullness of time in Jesus Christ our only Lord and Savior – true man & God.  

On a superficial level understanding the Torah depends very much on who reads it and how. It has been contentious for ages and not just between Pharisees and Sadducees or Jews and Christians. Understanding divine Law by some syncretistic adept of Shembian couleur has little in common with that of a historic critic like Walter Brueggemann or novelist Thomas Mann. They are about as far apart as Martin Luther was from Zwinglian conceptions of OT origins of our good Lord´s sacramental institutions – or from a Kabbalistic interpretation of Holy Writ.

Torah: תּוֹרָה‎, “Instruction”, “Teaching” or “Law”, “Weisung” (Seebaß) & “Willensoffenbarung” (von Rad)

It relates both the impossible demand of God upon fallen man as well as the good news of God´s own meeting of His demand in the covenant – and in the promises attached to it. 

Engelbrecht 2009, 9

These posits (“Setzungen”) include directives for God´s people but describe divine creativity and prophetic promises too. So, according to Seebaß (Pg.205), it is more of an ethos than an ethic. An ethos determined by God´s contingent affection and wrath, which is handed down to us in five fifths of synchronic depictions with numerous textual interconnections.

Tora hieß in vorexilischer Zeit die priesterliche Weisung zur Unterscheidung von Heilig und profan, rein und unrein… Meist fordert sie im Imperativ zu kultisch heilsamen Tun auf und fährt mit einer Begründung fort… Kultfunktional auf heilsame Beziehungen ausgerichtet, wird zwischenmenschliches Verhalten nur am Rande berücksichtigt. Erst die Propheten betonen die verunreinigende Wirkung jeder Sünde und stellen sittliche Urteile unter den Begriff Tora.

Koch, Pg. 44f

Some of us know the Pentateuch as Moses/the 5. Books of Moses from childhood. Many of us know the first eleven chapters verbatim – if not in Hebrew, then possibly in our mother tongue – and perhaps in a paraphrase like that of Anne de Vries or at least in some verses as the explanatory versions of Luther´s Catechism and some Bible translations have popularized.

Der Catechismus ist die rechte Leienbibel, darinne der gantze inhalt der Christlichen Lere begriffen ist, so einem iden Christen zu der Seligkeit zu wissen von nöten. Wie das Hohelied Salomonis ein Gesang uber alle Geseng, Canticum Canticorum, genant wird, also sind die zehen Gebot Gottes, Doctrina Doctrinarum eine Lere uber alle Leren, daraus Gottes wille erkant wird, was Gott von uns haben will und was uns mangelt.

Aurifaber 2014, 903

From more or less artistic impressions we even know what Eden looks like, Cain & Abel are familiar, Noah and his arc are favorite motives and not only in Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld – never mind the rainbow, which only lately has become a somewhat dubious shibboleth. Most of us have been up and down the tower of Babel – just as we´ve been on tour with the patriarchs as they transverse the holy lands of “Middle Earth”. These childhood memories have been quite relativized, contextualized and possibly focused and specialized as we grew up – and went through OT Studies at seminary & university, reading the Hebrew original and possibly the Septuagint/LXX translation too. I wonder, who of us has studied the third (Leviticus) and fourth (Numbers) book of Moses in detail and follows that scriptural guidance regularly? Daily? The 5th book Moses was stressed by Horst-Dietrich Preuss (1982), but mostly as academic affair.

So, the 5 books are to be differentiated carefully as it is not just a simple story, but complex composition much like a musical symphony or oratorio (or the entire). Preuss quotes this explanation by Koch:

The Torah can also mean the continued narrative from all the 24 books, from the Book of Genesis to the end of the Tanakh (Chronicles). If in bound book form, it is called Chumash, and is usually printed with the rabbinic commentaries (perushim). If meant for liturgic purposes, it takes the form of a Torah scroll (Sefer Torah), which contains strictly the five books of Moses

It can even mean the totality of Jewish teaching, culture, and practice, whether derived from biblical texts or later rabbinic writings. This is often known as the Oral Torah. Common to all these meanings, Torah consists of the origin of Jewish peoplehood: their call into being by God, their trials and tribulations, and their covenant with their God, which involves following a way of life embodied in a set of moral and religious obligations and civil laws (halakha).

Read more here: “Can we give up the OT? Part 4 of Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther”

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Religion: Reconnecting with God (Laws of life)

(2. Guidance in the Pentateuch: Rereading Moses with Luther)

Judaism, which understand itself as God´s distinct people and their “constitution as God´s own people” (Seebaß 1996), has as one of its central precepts the Halakha, meaning the walk, way, route, or path sometimes translated as law, which guides religious practice and belief and many (if not most) aspects of daily life.

St. Augustine (Neo-Platonism) confesses about reconnecting (re-ligare) with God:

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

Confessions Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5

Francis Pieper points out that this interpretation remains open:

The derivation of the Latin word religio (whether from relegere or religare) has always been a debatable question.

Christian Dogmatics” Volume 1, Pg. 7

Thomas a Kempis: Imitatio Christiis a very influential guide in this regard – even if he leads into the wrong direction and not only those from the Roman Catholic realm. Even Luther´s Small Catechism & the Large Catechism can be misread as all of Christian teaching, whereas it remains a basically legalistic („gesetzliche“) Introduction (Prolegomena) to the Christian faith as Wichmann von Meding points out rather convincingly of what we are supposed to do, hold and believe:  

Ein jeder lern sein Lektion, dann wird es wohl im Hause stohn!

Kleine Katechismus 2014,898

A blind man can´t guide another, otherwise both with fall into the pit & sinners can´t save themselves and the Law doesn´t save, but only reveals our sinfulness. This revelation of the Law – finally through His Son IX – who did not come to abolish, but to fulfill, teaches the Law in all its severity: “Listen to Him!” Doers of the Word will live… That holds true to the ends of the world – for Jews and gentiles: “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Mt.28,20) Do this – and You will live! Corollary: Don´t do this – and You will surely die and perish forever!

Therefore, religion in the sense of “reconnecting with God” seeks a way to heaven by prayer, meditation, fasting, pilgrimages i.e. by doing “according to the book/Law”. However, this does not bring sinners to heaven, because they can´t keep the law. They fail and the law continues to accuse them (rightly and justifiably so!) of their failure to abide b it: Lex semper accusat!

A spiritual practice moves a person along a certain path towards a goal – narrow, steep, dangerous, daunting, and obviously only a few make it… The goal is variously referred to as salvationliberation or union (with God). A person who walks such a path is sometimes referred to as a wayfarer or a pilgrim

Religions have sacred histories and narratives, which may be preserved in sacred scriptures, and symbols and holy places, that aim mostly to give a meaning to life. Religions may contain symbolic stories… that have the side purpose of explaining the origin of life, the universe, and other phenomena… (providing) norms and power for the rest of life… Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience—varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture.

Different religions … contain … elements ranging from the divine, sacred things, faith, a supernatural being or supernatural beings or some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life.”  

Wikipedia on “religion”

This legalistic way is not specifically Christian, never mind the salvific Christian way as Francis Pieper explains:

What religion means to the heathen is the exact opposite of what it means to the Christians. Since the heathen know nothing of the Gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 2:6–10: “neither have entered into the heart of man”), but have some knowledge of the Law (Rom. 1:32: “knowing the judgment of God”; Rom. 2:15: “work of the Law written in their hearts”), their entire religious thinking moves in the sphere of the Law. Religion to the heathen means man’s endeavor to placate the deity through his own efforts and works, through worship, sacrifices, moral exercises, ascetic discipline, and the like. The religion of the heathen is therefore a religion of the Law.

Christian Dogmatics 1953

This is the common denominator of all religions – Jewish, Muslim, Enthusiasts, Legalists, moralists, iconoclasts and other “Schwarmgeister” (Karlstadt, Müntzer, and those erecting heaven on earth in Münster etc). They go the way of the divine law – convinced just as the humanist Erasmus and other Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians:

“We can, because we must” or as in the corollary: “We must, therefore we can!”

De libero arbitrio diatribe sive collatio 

They trust in the divine Law as route to salvation. Where the Divine law is revealed by meditation (Quakers/Yogi etc), angels/dreams (Koran cf. Salman Rushdie: “Satanic verses” 1988: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Satanic_Verses) or the celestial press (Book of Mormon). Yet, this is necessarily doomed to failure because the Law can´t save our souls. It just can´t, because it is not made that way and we can´t use it salvifically either. We just can´t.

Dr. Martin Luther recognizes this conundrum: “Thou shalt be perfect/holy!” even as he confesses the sinful reality: “I can´t – not even nearly!” That brings him close to despair until the Gospel is revealed to him and it is as if paradise opens up…

Read more here: The Gospel way sola fide

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Guidance in our daily life

(Part 1. Guidance in the Pentateuch: Rereading Moses with Luther)

“Inspiration, authority, and guidance – how does God lead today?” There are many opinions concerning this topic both within and outside the Christian church. The lectures on the planned conference were to address the issue from a number of different perspectives.” Rev. Dr. Alfsvåg´s assignment for me was to work on „Guidance in the Pentateuch” and as the conference fell flatt, I invite You to re-read Moses with me from a Lutheran perspective.

We start off with the prayer:

Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.

Psalm 143,10

We remember God´s command and clear apostolic and prophetic witness

God commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that Jesus Christ is the one whom He appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about Jesus Christ that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.

Acts 10,42f

As we confess the one, who is the be all and end all of our, the churches and everybody´s and everything´s being

„Nicht das Bekennen, sondern das Bekannte oder zu Bekennende, nicht den Glauben, sondern das Geglaubte oder zu Glaubende, nicht die Liebe, sondern den Geliebten, aus dessen Liebe alle Liebe herkommt hat die Kirche zu ihrem Grunde.“

Franz Delitzsch, „Vier Bücher von der Kirche“ 1847, Buch III, Ziffer 7, S.122 zitiert nach Werner Elert „Die Kirche und ihre Dogmengeschichte, S.317.

DIY: Building Your life & stairway to heaven

Respekt wer´s selber macht!”

Toom Baumarkt

From tender childhood guidance in the sense of life orientation is part of all sorts of didactics and pedagogy. To do it oneself is a sign of being grown-up, self-sufficient, autarch and independent. Traditional roots of classical Greek philosophy reveal this liberating streak promoting eventual autonomy both in comedy and tragedy – revealing issues of freedom, limited choice and even determinism in a more or less popular fashion still very much in a divine framework. Luther takes up significant clues and markers from Homer/Vergil (Illias and Odyssey) in his last words. Bayer notes:

Er (Martin Luther) lebt in der Erfahrungsfülle der Bibel. Läßt der Poet und Poetologe Luther … die Bibel zur Aeneis (Hervorhebung WW) werden, dann zeigt er sie uns als dramatisches Epos, als Erfahrungsbuch. Es bewahrt erlittene und erstrittene Erfahrungen, zu Texten geworden, so auf, daß diese Texte wiederum dieselben Erfahrungen in neuen Zusammenhängen konstituieren. Angesichts der Fülle dessen, was die Texte der >heiligen Schrifen< nicht nur zu >erkennen<, sondern – weit darüber hinaus: alles Erkennen umfassend und durchdringend – aus ihrem >Saft und Mark< zu >schmecken< geben, kann ich nur meine eigene Verstehensunfähigkeit bekennen. (Bayer S.288)

Bayer, Oswald. 1999. „Das letzte Wort: die göttliche Aeneis“ in “Gott als Autor. Zu einer poietologischen Theologie.” Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen. Pg.288

The disillusioned Boethius finds guidance in the consolations of philosophy even if from imprisonment and banishment it sounds much like the fatalistic “amor fati” taken further by Baruch Spinoza and then to elaborate depth by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Traditional religions know the crucial value of guidance at a young age even if it encompasses life-long teaching at which Luther points us on his deathbed. It is the old mantra of these traditional pagan religions, that Karma and the rule of life determine all, so that what goes around comes around. Act up decently and You will be treated accordingly, appropriately and in the end decently. Essential work righteousness according to the book – and the laws of this world.

Karma comes after everyone eventually. You can’t get away with screwing people over your whole life, I don’t care who you are. What goes around comes around. That’s how it works. Sooner or later the universe will serve you the revenge that you deserve.

Jessica Brody

It´s behind the golden rule of doing to others, as they should to you in the sense of “do et des” – “I wash Your hand and You mine!” (Tun-Ergehen-Komplex), for the benefit of both.

“As you sow, you shall reap” (suum cuique) is the law of karma based on the laws of cause and effect. … Whether we act honestly, dishonestly, help or hurt others, it all gets recorded and manifests as a karmic reaction either in this life or a future life.

Old Clint Eastwood objects rightly against this orderly setup, when he quips very much in line with “Justification by faith” (sola fide):

Deserves got nothing to do with it!

Unforgiven

Of course, the old monks thought they knew better. The ancient Benedictine option for monastic isolation from the impudence, pervasive impurity, and general imperfection of the sinful world convinced Francis of Assisi, Amish/Hutterers and perhaps some of the growing number of homeschoolers. Others promote “Sharia Law” – erecting God´s kingdom here on earth by force if necessary. It´s the calling, duty and passion of the faithful: ISIS, Taliban, crusaders, power crazy papacies, “orthodox” theocracies in Constantinople & Moscow, Zürich, Münster & Philadelphia to name but a few. The wise bishop Bo Giertz knew all about it, when he wrote about this thrilling contest: “The Knights of Rhodes“. The kingdom of God and His righteousness is not for us to behold in this world. Rather, the glories of papacy, Islam and other theocracies will far outshine the humble and much maligned mistress of our Lord. We don´t believe in her nor any of His followers, but solus Christus – and that by faith only.

Our Confession concludes on issues of the free will:

Concerning free will it is taught that a human being has some measure of free will, so as to live an externally honorable life and to choose among the things reason comprehends. However, without the grace, help, and operation of the Holy Spirit a human being cannot become pleasing to God, fear or believe in God with the whole heart, or expel innate evil lusts from the heart. Instead, this happens through the Holy Spirit, who is given through the Word of God. For Paul says (1 Cor. 2[:14*]): “Those who are natural do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit.

In order that it may be recognized that nothing new is taught here, these are the clear words of Augustine concerning free will, quoted here from the third book of the Hypognosticon: “We confess that there is a free will in all human beings. For all have a natural, innate mind and reason—not that they can act in matters pertaining to God, such as loving or fearing God with their whole heart—but they do have the freedom to choose good or evil only in the external works of this life. By ‘good’ I mean what can be done by nature: whether to work in the field or not, whether to eat and drink, whether to visit a friend or not, to dress or undress, to build a home, to marry, to engage in a trade, and to do whatever may be useful and good. To be sure, all of this neither exists nor endures without God, but everything is from him and through him. On the other hand, a human being can by personal choice do evil, such as to kneel before an idol, commit murder, and the like. Rejected here are those who teach that we can keep the commandments of God without grace and the Holy Spirit. For although we are by nature able to do the external works of the commandments, yet we cannot do the supreme commandments in the heart, namely, truly to fear, love, and believe in God.

Augsburg Confession XVIII

During the so-called “Enlightenment” Immanuel Kant stressed the necessity of using ones one intellect: “Sapere aude!” This promoted the “coming-of-age”-stories of people, who were learning to use their own mind and to determine their own destiny. This narrative dominated our humanistic curricula. Here just a few examples

Obviously this is far removed from the biblical approach – and conversely Luther´s concept of guidance, learning and life-long-dependance on the Holy Spirit, who alone calls to Jesus Christ, binds to Him and keeps with and in Him. But in secularity following enlightenment, it became fashionable and an outspoken goal of not only Science, but of all human endeavor to deal with daily life “as if there is no God!” That becomes visible in the Scandanavian architecture building temples to society in the modern civic centers. (cf. Rick Steves) Love for God eclipsed by that for Your neighbor. The Russian poet Dostoevsky goes a long way to illustrate the futility of this – and not only in “Crime and Punishment.” The same holds true for Selma Lagerlöf´s “Gösta Berling´s Saga“.

Wichman von Meding makes a strong argument, that Luther in his much-acclaimed catechisms gives us a basically legalistic (“gesetzliche”) introduction (“Prolegomena“) preceding the actual teaching of the Christian faith, which is found in his sermons, lectures and letters. The Catechisms however, are very much in line with the 10 commandments and all, that we are to do according to God´s guidance, laws and guidance.

Ein jeder lern sein Lektion, dann wird es wohl im Hause stohn!

Kleine Katechismus 2014, Pg.898.

In the next section we will look more closely on how religion is basically a (wrong) way to reconnect with God.

Er (ML) wird sie (Gottessuche) später ablehnen: nicht menschliches Suchen, Gottes Finden ist Anfang der Wahrheit.

Wichmann von Meding. 2012. Luthers Lehre. Teil 1: Ihre historische und literarische Gestalt. Frankfurt a.M. et al: Peter Lang. Pg. 357f

Read more here: Religion as Reconnecting with God (Part 2. of “Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther”)

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Guidance in the Pentateuch

0. Introduction to “Re-reading Moses with Luther”

Jogging in Kullavik – just south of Göteborg – a local encouraged me to press on during my holidays: “The universal principle will guide You.” Well, I didn´t get lost. Not immediately. Not there and then. At least not physically. Yet, I would not bet on such clueless meandering. Not in those never-ending forests up north. When we get into the car, we switch on the GPS and follow the guidelines even as we start singing: “Führe mich, o Herr und leite, meinen Gang nach Deinem Wort...”. That´s the 5th stanza of our old favorite since early days. We continue with another standard: “All Morgen ist ganz frisch und neu…“. We are confident that His grace will safely lead us to walk as in the light of day all the way to our ultimate destination, the promised land, that He has ready and all prepared for us.

Where do we find guidance? Daily and on those routes, that matter? Together with the true Church we believe in the triune God and that He keeps drawing us to himself. That´s where we´re going. He communicates with us in many ways, but most clearly and definitely in the written witness of Holy Scripture. In the Words of the Old and New Testament. He inspired apostles and prophets of old to record His faithful Words for us and our salvation. And at the brink of time, He spoke to us through His only Son: Jesus Christ. He, in whom all divine promises and commitments are fulfilled once and for all. For good, perfectly. Those words keep our heart, mind and soul focused and all in perspective from the very source of light, which illuminates even the darkest night, revealing life and salvation, pointing us to the very source of life Jesus Christ, the only way to the Father, who is one with the Father – God of God, light of light, very God of very God. And He is the one, who speaks to us in the Bible. He the author, actor, director, perfector, editor, publisher, and main character of all of Holy Scripture in its entirety – from the first book of the holy prophet Moses – Genesis – right through to the Apocalypse penned down by the holy apostle and evangelist St. John – just as He is the author, director, and perfector of all of history too even if we don´t see it all that clearly now still. It is the Holy Spirit as true comforter and advocate, who speaks clearly, effectively, efficaciously, understandably, and authoritatively through them, His holy, inspired witnesses, who recorded all He wanted them to write down for us in those ancient languages, which are even translatable and communicable into different times, places, languages, and people – yes, to the very ends of the world and last Mohicans in the most distant hidaways. Revealing all, we need to know about the Lord and God Jesus Christ and His vicarious justification and redemption for us and all mankind. Not just to the Jews, but also to the gentiles, who too are saved only by grace through faith alone in just this one Lord God Jesus Christ, begotten of the Father before all worlds and from the virgin Mary at the peak of time. He, who lives and reigns at the right of God the Father together with the Holy Spirit – one God – from the very beginning, now and always. Amen. Hallelujah.

The words of the living God written way back and by His prophet Moses:

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30,11-20

It is this Holy Bible, which is a collection of divine writ throughout many centuries, which is the ultimate source, measure, and guideline (norming norm!) of all saving truth for us poor sinners here on earth as we travail between paradise lost and the same regained. There is no other.

In this way the distinction between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament and all other writings is preserved, and the Holy Scriptures alone remain the only judge, rule, and standard, according to which, as the only test-stone, all dogmas shall and must be discerned and judged, as to whether they are good or evil, right or wrong.

Epitome, FC: Summary, rule and norm, 7.

The Lutheran confessions, which were penned down in less than a century, brought the center piece and most bright and shining star of this truth of divine wisdom, truth and saving grace back to light. They are the faithful and binding exposition of the revealed divine truth, justly called the measured measure and normed norm.

But the other symbols and writings cited are not judges, as are the Holy Scriptures, but only a testimony and declaration of the faith, as to how at any time the Holy Scriptures have been understood and explained in the articles in controversy in the Church of God by those then living, and how the opposite dogma was rejected and condemned [by what arguments the dogmas conflicting with the Holy Scripture were rejected and condemned].

Epitome, FC: Summary, rule and norm, 8.

This holds true especially but is not limited to the explication and promulgation of the first and chief article of our Christian faith, the Justification of sinners by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which like the mathematical point fixates the bulk of the Gospel as does that one point bearing Foucault’s pendulum. Luther describes that decisively in the first article of the second part of the Smalcald Articles:

That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25. And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6. Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ. Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us.

Smalcald Articles II,1,1-5

This week from the 16th to the 19th September, we were supposed to meet with Scandanavian Lutherans in the Old Latin School of Lutherstadt Wittenberg to deliberate on divine guidance in our lives and that of the church. Well, that meeting did not happen. Worldly powers dictated a temporary moratorium on this meeting. Perhaps it´s just a postponement. Was that according to the “universal principle” referred to above? Was it a wise decree from on high and designated from the throne of the triune God? Or was it just another decision by some struggling board to come to grips with an unprecedented game changer in our global village? We Lutherans don´t believe that the status quo is a conclusive reflection of God´s most holy and gracious will. The loudest voice is not necessarily the one of truth nor is the vox populi the vox Dei. It is more complicated than that. In the little time assigned to me (40 minutes) I was to introduce “Guidance in the Pentateuch“. Well, God in His divine wisdom interfered on my part. He has granted more time and space to address this topic at more leisure. So, I have responded with a re-reading of the Pentateuch with help from the good Doctor Martin Luther (1483-1546) and laying out, what according to him and his writings, we Christians should look for in the Old Testament – specifically in Moses – as we live our short lives as beggars here on earth. That´s what the following posts are about.

Read more here: Guidance in our daily life. First part of “Guidance in the Pentateuch. Re-reading Moses with Luther”

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