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]


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)

[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.”

[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.

[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.“

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
This entry was posted in Gedankensplitter, Martin Luther and the Reformation, Theologie, You comfort me + and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.