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 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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Sola gratia (5th Sunday after Trinity)

Looking forward to this coming 5th Sunday after Trinity. Some 29 years ago tomorrow, Präses Ernst-August Albers preached at the official dedication of our Afrikaans congregation in Piet Retief. He was my confirmand and ordinand, but also strong backer of this congregational outreach from our home base into the nearby town to plant a new church there. He preached on tomorrow´s marvellous gospel:

Now Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing around him to hear the word of God. He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear.So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For Peter and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people!” So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5,1-11

With this sermon he put us on track in this faith mission to trust solely on the gracious salvation of our Lord and God Jesus Christ procured for us on the cross of Golgotha. That is the power of God for salvation for all, who believe as we hear from tomorrow´s Epistle, which is also the sermon text:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will thwart the cleverness of the intelligent.” Where is the wise man? Where is the expert in the Mosaic law? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world by its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased to save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching. For Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks ask for wisdom, but we preach a crucified Christ, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1. Corinthians 1,18-25

Just like Abraham, who followed God´s gracious call to the promised land and trusted His future blessings – and became a father to all, who believe like him in Jesus Christ alone.

Now the Lord saidto Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing through you.” So, Abram left, just as the Lord had told him to do, and Lot went with him. 

Genesis 12,1-4a

We, like the Psalmist are tempted to just look at what we see – and forget the divine promises.

Certainly God is good to Israel,
and to those whose motives are pure.
But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my feet almost slid out from under me.
For I envied those who are proud,
as I observed the prosperity of the wicked.
(For they suffer no pain;  their bodies are strong and well fed. They are immune to the trouble common to men; they do not suffer as other men do. Arrogance is their necklace, and violence covers them like clothing. Their prosperity causes them to do wrong; their thoughts are sinful.)
They mock and say evil things; they proudly threaten violence.
They speak as if they rule in heaven, and lay claim to the earth.
Therefore they have more than enough food to eat, and even suck up the water of the sea.
(They say, “How does God know what we do? Is the Most High aware of what goes on?” Take a good look. This is what the wicked are like, those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer. I concluded, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure and maintained a pure lifestyle. I suffer all day long, and am punished every morning.” If I had publicized these thoughts, I would have betrayed your people. When I tried to make sense of this, it was troubling to me. Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple, and understood the destiny of the wicked. Surely you put them in slippery places; you bring them down to ruin. How desolate they become in a mere moment.Terrifying judgments make their demise complete. They are like a dream after one wakes up. O Lord, when you awake you will despise them. Yes, my spirit was bitter, and my insides felt sharp pain. I was ignorant and lacked insight; I was as senseless as an animal before you.)
But I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
You guide me by your wise advice, and then you will lead me to a position of honor.
Whom do I have in heaven but you?
On earth there is no one I desire but you.
My flesh and my heart may grow weak, but God always protects my heart and gives me stability.
Yes, look! Those far from you die; you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But as for me, God’s presence is all I need.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter,
as I declare all the things you have done.

Psalm 73,1-3.8-10.23-26

But our good Lord, encourages us: “Don´t be afraid!” and grants us the gift of faith by grace – again and again. Hallelujah, Hallelujah. So, don´t be afraid, but trust, that God´s grace is enough for You too – every day anew. Just as the Psalmist confesses: But as for me, God’s presence is all I need! And He, our good God and Lord, friend and savior has solemnly declared: “Behold, I am with You all the days of Your life. Remember: Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name, there I am right with You.” Therefore, we can rest in peace and do, what becomes us to do in our calling as St. Paul admonishes in tomorrow´s watchword:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his creative work, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we can do them.

Ephesians 2,8-10
My father´s dedication into my hymnal given on my confirmation

1. Saints, see the cloud of witnesses surround us; Their lives of faith encourage and astound us. Hear how the Master praised their faith so fervent: “Well done, My servant!”

2. These saints of old received God’s commendation; They lived as pilgrim-heirs of His salvation. Through faith they conquered flame and sword and gallows, God’s name to hallow.

3. They call to us, “Your timid footsteps lengthen; Throw off sin’s weight, your halting weakness strengthen. We kept the faith, we shed our blood, were martyred; Our lives we bartered.”

4. Come, let us fix our sight on Christ who suffered, He faced the cross, His sinless life He offered; He scorned the shame, He died, our death enduring, Our hope securing.                                     

5. Lord, give us faith to walk where You are sending, On paths unmarked, eyes blind as to their ending; Not knowing where we go, but that You lead us – With grace precede us.

6. You, Jesus, You alone deserve all glory! Our lives unfold, embraced within Your story; Past, present, future – You, the same forever -You fail us never!

Stephen P. Starke 1955
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Deliver us, O Lord, our God…

Looking forward to this upcoming Sunday. It´s the 5th Sunday after the High Feast of the Holy Trinity. The Introit is from Psalm 106. The last two verses serve as antiphone:

Deliver us, O Lord, our God.
Gather us from among the nations.
Then we will give thanks to your holy name,
and boast about your praiseworthy deeds.
The Lord God of Israel deserves praise,
in the future and forevermore.
Let all the people say, “We agree! Praise the Lord!”

Psalm 106,47-48

The first five verses give us the main part of the Introit.

Praise the Lord.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
and his loyal love endures.
Who can adequately recount the Lord’s mighty acts,
or relate all his praiseworthy deeds?

Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people
Pay attention to me, when you deliver,
so I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
rejoice along with your nation,
and boast along with the people who belong to you.

Psalm 106,1-2.4-5

Here is the first part intoned by Heinrich Schütz (SWV 91) und hier vom großen Meister Johan Sebastian Bach (BWV 374)

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As a deer longs for streams of water…

Psalm 42. For the music director, a well-written song by the Korahites in Martin Luther´s translation has been put to music by Felix Mendelsohn Bartholdy.

As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God!
I thirst for God, for the living God.
I say, “When will I be able to go and appear in God’s presence?”
I cannot eat; I weep day and night.
All day long they say to me, “Where is your God?”
I will remember and weep.
For I was once walking along with the great throng to the temple of God,
shouting and giving thanks along with the crowd as we celebrated the holy festival.
Why are you depressed, O my soul?
Why are you upset?
Wait for God!
For I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention.
I am depressed, so I will pray to you while in the region of the upper Jordan,
from Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
One deep stream calls out to another at the sound of your waterfalls;
all your billows and waves overwhelm me.
By day the Lord decrees his loyal love, and by night he gives me a song,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I will pray to God, my high ridge:
“Why do you ignore me?
Why must I walk around mourning because my enemies oppress me?”
My enemies’ taunts cut me to the bone,
as they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you depressed, O my soul?
Why are you upset?
Wait for God!
For I will again give thanks to my God for his saving intervention.

Introit for the 4th Sunday after Trinity

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We are beggars. That is true.

Luther´s last note dating back to the 16th February 1546 in Eisleben contextualizes his busy life as biblical theologian, faithful teacher of the church and ever diligent student of the Holy Scriptures. Here is the note as recorded in “Table Talk” (Luther´s Works Volume 54. CPH, St.Louis 1967. Pg.476)

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 the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years. 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)

Martin Luther

Und in Deutsch:

“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.

Zitiert bei Oswald Bayer: “Das letzte Wort: die göttliche Aeneis” in “Gott als Autor. Zu einer poietologischen Theologie”. J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen, 1999. S.280-301.
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Reading, learning, suffering God´s Word

In his preface to the Wittenberg edition of his German writings of 1539 Dr. Martin Luther shows God´s means of forming faithful followers through His Holy Word. Luther refers us to King David´s deep Psalm 119. It´s the way God teaches us in His ways – teaching us theology and making us theologians on the way following three recurring modes: oratio, meditatio, tentatio (prayer, meditation and temptation/”Anfechtung“). Here is the English translation by Robert R. Heitner as found in Luther´s collected Works Volume 34: “Career of the Reformer IV” edited by Lewis W. Spitz (CPH, St.Louis: 1960. Pages 279-293).

I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board. Among other reasons, I shudder to think of the example I am giving, for I am well aware how little the church has been profited since they have begun to collect many books and large libraries, in addition to and besides the Holy Scriptures, and especially since they have stored up, without discrimination, all sorts of writings by the church fathers, the councils, and teachers. Through this practice not only is precious time lost, which could be used for studying the Scriptures, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench (as happened to the book of Deuteronomy, in the time of the kings of Judah)
Although it has been profitable and necessary that the writings of some church fathers and councils have remained, as witnesses and histories, nevertheless I think, “Est modus in rebus,” and we need not regret that the books of many fathers and councils have, by God’s grace, disappeared. If they had all remained in existence, no room would be left for anything but books; and yet all of them together would not have improved on what one finds in the Holy Scriptures.
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.
Neither councils, fathers, nor we, in spite of the greatest and best success possible, will do as well as the Holy Scriptures, that is, as well as God himself has done. (We must, of course, also have the Holy Spirit, faith, godly speech, and works, if we are to be saved.) Therefore it behooves us to let the prophets and apostles stand at the professor’s lectern, while we, down below at their feet, listen to what they say. It is not they who must hear what we say.
I cannot, however, prevent them from wanting to collect and publish my works through the press (small honor to me), although it is not my will. I have no choice but to let them risk the labor and the expense of this project. My consolation is that, in time, my books will lie forgotten in the dust anyhow, especially if I (by God’s grace) have written anything good. Non ere melior Patribus meis. He who comes second should indeed be the first one forgotten. Inasmuch as they have been capable of leaving the Bible itself lying under the bench, and have also forgotten the fathers and the councils—the better ones all the faster—accordingly there is a good hope, once the overzealousness of this time has abeted, that my books also will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches.
Very well, so let the undertaking proceed in the name of God, except that I make the friendly request of anyone who wishes to have my books at this time, not to let them on any account hinder him from studying the Scriptures themselves. Let him put them to use as I put the excretes and excretals of the pope to use, and the books of the sophists. That is, if I occasionally wish to see what they have done, or if I wish to ponder the historical facts of the time, I use them. But I do not study in them or act in perfect accord with what they deemed good. I do not treat the books of the fathers and the councils much differently.
Herein I follow the example of St. Augustine, who was, among other things, the first and almost the only one who determined to be subject to the Holy Scriptures alone, and independent of the books of all the fathers and saints. On account of that he got into a fierce fight with St. Jerome, who reproached him by pointing to the books of his forefathers; but he did not turn to them. And if the example of St. Augustine had been followed, the pope would not have become Antichrist, and that countless mass of books, which is like a crawling swarm of vermin, would not have found its way into the church, and the Bible would have remained on the pulpit.
Moreover, I want to point out to you a correct way of studying theology, for I have had practice in that. If you keep to it, you will become so learned that you yourself could (if it were necessary) write books just as good as those of the fathers and councils, even as I (in God) dare to presume and boast, without arrogance and lying, that in the matter of writing books I do not stand much behind some of the fathers. Of my life I can by no means make the same boast. This is the way taught by holy King David (and doubtlessly used also by all the patriarchs and prophets) in the one hundred nineteenth Psalm. There you will find three rules, amply presented throughout the whole Psalm. They are Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio.

Firstly, you should know that the Holy Scriptures constitute a book which turns the wisdom of all other books into foolishness, because not one teaches about eternal life except this one alone. Therefore you should straightway despair of your reason and understanding. With them you will not attain eternal life, but, on the contrary, your presumptuousness will plunge you and others with you out of heaven (as happened to Lucifer) into the abyss of hell. But kneel down in your little room [Matt. 6:6] and pray to God with real humility and earnestness, that he through his dear Son may give you his Holy Spirit, who will enlighten you, lead you, and give you understanding.
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.

Secondly, you should meditate, that is, not only in your heart, but also externally, by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligent attention and reflection, so that you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them. And take care that you do not grow weary or think that you have done enough when you have read, heard, and spoken them once or twice, and that you then have complete understanding. You will never be a particularly good theologian if you do that, for you will be like untimely fruit which falls to the ground before it is half ripe.
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.

Thirdly, there is tentatio, Anfechtung. 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. I myself (if you will permit me, mere mouse-dirt, to be mingled with pepper) am deeply indebted to my papists that through the devil’s raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise. And I heartily grant them what they have won in return for making this of me, honor, victory, and triumph, for that’s the way they wanted it.

There now, with that you have David’s rules. If you study hard in accord with his example, then you will also sing and boast with him in the Psalm, “The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” [Ps. 119:72]. Also, “Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep thy precepts,” etc. [Ps. 119:98–100]. And it will be your experience that the books of the fathers will taste stale and putrid to you in comparison. You will not only despise the books written by adversaries, but the longer you write and teach the less you will be pleased with yourself. When you have reached this point, then do not be afraid to hope that you have begun to become a real theologian, who can teach not only the young and imperfect Christians, but also the maturing and perfect ones. For indeed, Christ’s church has all kinds of Christians in it who are young, old, weak, sick, healthy, strong, energetic, lazy, simple, wise, etc.
If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it—if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.” That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can. But in this book the honor is God’s alone, as it is said, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” [1 Pet. 5:5]; to whom be glory, world without end, Amen.

LW 34: Pg.283-288

John W. Kleinig takes this up in his memorable reflection´s of 2001: “What makes a theologian?” Tolle lege!

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