Luther on Scripture

Martin Luther developed his theology around the conviction that the Word of God is true and strong. He believed, as do I, that Scripture is the speech of God. It is no different than the speech that brought earth into existence out of nothing. It contains that same power and purpose.

Here are three great quotes that capture some of his thinking on Scripture. We can see hints of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and ad fontes (back to the sources) in the first quote. In the second and third quotes we see Luther’s pastoral approach to Scripture. It is a safeguard against despair and temptation. It is a wellspring of hope and confidence.

“He who has made himself master of the principles and text of the word runs little risk of committing errors. A theologian should be thoroughly in possession of the basis and source of faith—that is to say, the Holy Scriptures. Armed with this knowledge it was that I confounded and silenced all my adversaries; for they seek not to fathom and understand the Scriptures; they run them over negligently and drowsily; they speak, they write, they teach, according to the suggestion of their heedless imaginations. My counsel is, that we draw water from the true source and fountain, that is, that we diligently search the Scriptures. He who wholly possesses the text of the Bible, is a consummate divine. One single verse, one sentence of the text, is of far more instruction than a whole host of glosses and commentaries, which are neither strongly penetrating nor armor of proof. As, when I have that text before me of St Paul: “All the creatures of God are good, if they be received with thanksgiving,” this text shows, that what God has made is good. Now eating, drinking, marrying, etc., are of God’s making, therefore they are good. Yet the glosses of the primitive fathers are against this text: for Bernard, Basil, Jerome, and others, have written to far other purpose. But I prefer the text to them all.”

“Oh! how great and glorious a thing it is to have before one the Word of God! With that we may at all times feel joyous and secure; we need never be in want of consolation, for we see before us, in all its brightness, the pure and right way. He who loses sight of the Word of God, falls into despair; the voice of heaven no longer sustains him; he follows only the disorderly tendency of his heart, and of world vanity, which lead him on to his destruction.”

“A fiery shield is God’s Word; of more substance and purer than gold, which, tried in the fire, loses naught of its substance, but resists and overcomes all the fury of the fiery heat; even so, he that believes God’s Word overcomes all, and remains secure everlastingly, against all misfortunes; for this shield fears nothing, neither hell nor the devil.”

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The Purest Theology

Martin Luther once said, “the cross of Christ is the only instruction in the Word of God there is, the purest theology.” For Luther, the cross was far more than a saving event though of course he affirmed that it was central to salvation. His argument went far deeper. He believed that the cross was the central event of theology, the definitive act of God’s revelation and self-identification.

Calvary was a game changer. The Triune God is now and forever the “God of the cross.” As Robert Kolb states, the cross is “where human beings can see what God’s experience, God’s disposition—even God’s essence— really are.” If we would find God, Kolb says we must look in the most unexpected places. We find him as a “child in a crib, as a criminal on a cross, and as a corpse in a crypt.”

Luther based these theological assertions on his reading of Paul, particularly the Corinthian correspondence. Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 1-2 that the cross destroys our perceptions of reality and redefines everything. Wisdom, power and glory are now foolishness, weakness and humility. The cross turns the world on its head.

If the cross becomes our center and we orbit about the Crucified God things will never be the same. We will see with a different lens. We will make decisions that won’t make sense to others. We will value things that are often despised. We will recognize God in places we’ve never seen him before. We will embrace a cruciform existence and in small ways reflect the heart of this humble God.

The Creative Presence of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the quiet, humble power standing behind the world’s greatest moments. His personal presence is identifiable at the critical points in creation and redemption. Reading the gospel of Matthew tonight I was deeply encouraged by the mind blowing story of the Son of God’s conception. The wonder of Christ’s miraculous birth need not be relegated to the Christmas season. The phrase in the Matthew story seems so nonchalant, especially for a bombshell. Mary was “found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18). And a little later, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20).

God’s gracious invasion into this fractured, groaning world was miraculous on every level. It was undeserved and gracious, the last thing humanity asked for and the first thing we needed. It was made possible only by unified Triune action. God the Father, Son and Spirit were equally required to engage and execute the plan of redemption. The One God in three persons alone could bring about the rescue mission humanity needed. The presence of the Spirit in knitting together the Christ in Mary’s womb signals the necessary divine handiwork for the entrance of God onto our soil.

The birth of the God-man was one of the most critical stages in God’s saving plan. The perfect life, the substitutionary death, the mighty resurrection, the exaltation to the right hand, the glorious return…all contingent upon a birth. The Spirit’s breath over Mary created saving possibilities that never existed before. The bringing forth of this embryo by divine means signaled beginnings far beyond the birth of a child. The Mighty Spirit shines forth with such glory in this moment. His behind the scenes heart and humble serving actions come into play as he quietly turns the world upside down by mysteriously creating a new life within a young Hebrew woman.

This Creative Spirit’s work extends into our lives. It is very encouraging to know that the same person who breathed on Mary and created the human life of the God-man is the one committed to saving us. It is assuring to know what the Spirit of God is not only capable of, but what he is willing to do. St. Augustine recognized his need for the Spirit’s creative work to be accomplished in him. His prayer to the Holy Spirit is instructive and helpful, one I want to make my own.

“Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.”