Thursday, December 8, 2022

Hear that sound?

If you hear a groaning and scraping sound, it is Luther rolling over in his grave.  In an article on Luther's monumental work of translating Scripture into German, a writer in the Living Lutheran magazine stated unequivocally "What Luther manifested first and foremost was a private way of reading and interpreting Holy Scripture..."  So that is the legacy of Luther's work wresting Greek and Hebrew into a form of German he largely invented.  "Now that Luther has given the Bible to the people... we have as many interpretations of Scripture as we have readers; instead of one Christian church there are many, some bitterly opposed in their interpretations of the [W]ord."  If this is what was left by Luther and what Lutherans claim credit for, Lutheranism has plenty of problems.

If this were true, then Luther would be the perfect child of Erasmus -- one who multiplied the humanist and individualist ideal to the highest ruling chair of Christendom.  There is no higher place than to sit above Scripture and decide what the words say and what they mean.  If this is what Luther's legacy of translating the Scriptures into the language of the people, then Luther would be the first to admit that he has much to repent of and much to atone for.  Luther made the Word available in the vernacular so that the Word might be incarnate in the hearts and minds of the hearers and not the other way around.  His gift to the Church was not the privilege to decide what the Bible says and what the Bible means but the ability to hear the living voice of the God who did not merely speak once but continues to speak.  It was the gift of a sacramental Word to a people whose ears and hearts and minds were created to hear, even if sin had corrupted that hearing.  And the life of that Word is imparted to those dead in trespasses and sin and received by faith empowered by that same Spirit to receive it by faith.

Luther was captive to this Word and not captive to his conscience.  His conscience was under the Word.  There is little legitimacy in the view that Luther would have rejoiced to see the day when every Christian was his or her own magisterium.  Luther certainly hoped that everyone who read the Word of God would have the same joyous encounter as Luther himself did -- meeting the God of steadfast love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.  This cannot and will not happen if the Word becomes the subject matter over which we are the master.  But that, sadly, is precisely what has happened among liberal and progressive Lutherans who see the Word as a mere starting point or reference for their own opinions or emotions to build upon and even transform that Word.  However, the same fallacy can easily befall those on the conservative side of things.  Consider, for example, that Luther's catechism was prose, a sort of written form of a homiletical address whereas our version of his catechism has become a book of texts to prove our points -- so much so that what we have added not onnly predominates but dominates that catechism.  At the same time, Luther would never have surrendered his role as teacher of the faith to a Bible study in which everyone said what they thought the text said and what it meant and how it touched them.  Yet that has become normative for too many Bible studies among Lutherans -- even conservative ones.  

It is about time that we confront the elephant in the room.  Putting the text of the Scriptures into the hands of laypeople was never meant by Luther to be the surrender of the Church's teaching magisterium or the presumption that the Word of God said nothing and meant nothing until we decided what it said and what it meant (and how it applies).  It is a convenient lie to justify our own desire to be the masters over the Word of God.  In this way we are not all that different from those who entertain and allow those entertained to decide if it was worth paying for.  To lay this at the feet of Luther or any other translator who takes the Biblical languages and renders them into a faithful vernacular is to thrust upon that translator our own sins.  It is certainly convenient to do, but a lie nonetheless.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

"a writer in the Living Lutheran magazine stated unequivocally"

The magazine is a publication of the XXXA, which is an apostate politicoreligious organization.