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”

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Bibel und Übersetzung, Gedankensplitter, Martin Luther and the Reformation, St.Paul, Theologie and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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