Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Luther on the Doctrine of Biblical Inerrancy

In an earlier post, I argued that theological categories like verbal inspiration and inerrancy, though recent terms, are not recent ideas. In that post I quoted Steve Lawson's book The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther and his argument that Luther affirmed what we now call verbal inspiration. In a similar vein, here is what Lawson had to say regarding Luther's articulation of what we now call biblical inerrancy.

Second, Luther was persuaded of Scripture’s divine inerrancy. He maintained that God’s Word is absolutely pure and infallibly true. Though Luther rarely used the terms inerrant or inerrancy with respect to Scripture, he argued forcefully that Scripture never errs. . . . So deep was this conviction that Luther felt the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura rested on the Bible’s inerrancy and infallibility. . . . Simply put, Luther was an ardent defender of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.

Because God cannot lie, Luther believed, all Scripture will come to pass. He affirmed that every promise will be realized, every prophecy fulfilled, and every judgment carried out. Luther declared: “If God has said it, it must also come to pass. For no one should ask whether it is possible but should only determine whether God has said it.” As Scripture says, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18).

Luther contended that the Bible is free from contradiction because “the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself.” He further asserted, “Scripture will not contradict itself or any one article of faith.” From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is the unadulterated truth of God.

Popes and church councils could and did err, Luther insisted, but the Scriptures cannot err. He declared, “The apostles . . . show that one should not trust the holy fathers and the church unless it is certain that they have the Word of God . . . only Scripture is to be considered inerrant.” He agreed with Paul’s assertion: “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Only God speaks absolute truth, and this He does in His written Word.

Because of this conviction, Luther stated that only the Bible is to be preached: “God . . . would hold us solely to His Word that we may learn to despise the great cry: Church! Church! Fathers! Father! The church cannot err! The church cannot err! . . . We should learn to put out of sight church, fathers, temple, priesthood, Jerusalem, God’s people, and everything, and listen only to what God tells us in His Word.” Luther was convinced that everyone should listen only to what God says in His Word. He understood that sinful men are subject to error, even those who serve in high ecclesiastical positions. Thus, all church leaders are subject to correction and reproof by the infallible Word of God.

Consequently, he was sure the Word of God can never fail. That is why, in answering his papal antagonists, Luther demanded: “Give me Scripture, Scripture, Scripture. Do you hear me? Scripture.” Luther was compelled to preach the Word, not the pontifications of men
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For more on Luther:
Luther on the Doctrine of Verbal Inspiration
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 4
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 5
The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 6 
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
The 95 Theses, 490 Years Later
For Reformation Day:  An Insightful Documentary  
The Theology of the Reformers  
The Unquenchable Flame  
Christianity's Dangerous Idea 
"Five Leading Reformers"
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