Friday, 25 April 2008
LUTHER'S APPROACH TO HOLY SCRIPTURE: HOW WOULD HE SCORE?-Eric J. Swensson
I wonder how Luther would have scored if he could have done Scott McKnight's quiz? He certainly could not be called a fundamentalist! His reading of scripture was a truly liberating experience especially after trying to gain heaven by his own works, then discovering from it that 'the just will live by faith'. He then read Scripture in this light and any part of it that did not seem to give weight to this view, which he believed to be the central part, he was prepared to reject.He even went as far as to call the letter of James 'an epistle of straw' with Hebrews and Revelation not faring much better.He once wrote 'without doubt the whole of Scripture is orientated to Christ alone'.He therefore did not believe that scriptural texts were absolute truth but when they were read they could be questioned whether they truly 'proclaimed Christ crucified and risen from the dead for the salvation of all people,as well as the doctrine of justification by faith alone'(H.P.Grosshans'Luther').
This fine article by Eric Swensson will provide, for those interested,details on how the great Church Reformer interpreted Scripure and I leave it up to you whether you think he was conservative, moderate or progressive according to Scott McKnight's quiz.Answers on a postcard please. AK
Martin Luther (1483-1546) is best known as the reformer who said, "Here I stand," to Pope and Emperor, but he understood his vocation to be a Doctor of Biblical Studies at University, and the majority of the 55 volumes of his works in English are commentaries on Scripture. In Luther's approach to understanding Scripture, the Word and Spirit create an event in which the reader participates. As the Holy Spirit used a human to write it, the Holy Spirit uses the Word and helps the human enter into Scripture. The impression one gets from Lutheras he writes about figures and scenes in Scripture is that he is describing an actual landscape that he had visited. Luther would say that interpretation is a Word-event available to all readers though the Holy Spirit.
Kenneth Hagen explains how Luther gave explicit "rules," for his method of interpretation in his 1539 Preface to his works in German. Luther's rules are an integration of the intellectual into the spiritual: Oratio (prayer), Meditatio (meditation), and Tentatio (temptation), the latter term best translated as "life-experience" (Oswald Bayer). This is existential, understood as experiential but not as "discovery of the self" since the goal of temptation is humility. Luther preferred experience-oriented wisdom theology, hence these three existential rules are helps to achieve wisdom (sapientia) rather than knowledge (scientia). He used rules derived from Scripture, as did Augustine, for training in theology because they are consistent with Scripture as its own interpreter. These rules correspond to the marks of the church--Word (Meditatio), Prayer (Oratio), Cross (Tentatio). Significantly, though he used his grammatical skills in a continuous effort for more accurate translations in his German Bible, Luther understood that critical grammatical skills were secondary to a prayerful approach when attempting to discern the meaning of Scripture. These three experiential rules serve as lenses for a fresh look at what are commonly understood as the main features of Luther's approach to Scripture.
1. Scripture alone is authoritative. "No doctrine be taught except the pure Word of God."
Scripture as the sole authority for the rule of the life of the Church can be found in the writings of the earliest church Fathers. Augustine wrote, "For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. Therefore, I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher." Sola scriptura came into wide usage after Luther existentially made it a hermeneutical guideline at Worms in 1521: "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason ? I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God ? May God help me. Amen."
While Luther believed there was an inseparable bond between Scripture, the Fathers, and the teachings of the Church, he disagreed that tradition was equal to Scripture; rather Scripture is the judge of the Church. Luther's insistence that Scripture is the sole authority did not make him a radical in the sense that he was suggesting something new, because in many ways he was an "obedient rebel," he was a radical in the sense of "proceeding directly from the root." Luther sums up his position stating, "When everything that is said and done is said and done in accord with God's Word, then the glory of Christ and God will be done to all eternity."
This is the approach to Scripture that Luther utilized as an Augustinian monk and continued throughout his productive career, sacra pagina, given by God so that we might have faith, and it needs to be received in faith to be understood, but which was largely forgotten until Kenneth Hagen and Oswald Bayer rediscovered it. This is the tradition of the early Fathers and the monastics to pray, meditate, memorize, and copy the sacred text daily, and is in contrast to scholastics who were primarily concerned with doctrine, and humanists who were devoted to the religious literature for philosophy. "They are worthy of blessing who strive to purify the Holy Scriptures and lead them out of the darkness of scholastic opinions and human reasoning." Article continued as a comment.