Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Luther on the Doctrine of Verbal Inspiration

Critics are quick to point out that theological categories like biblical inspiration and biblical inerrancy are recent inventions not adopted by the historic church. So far as using these words, certainly such criticism is warranted. However, such an argument fails to understand that such words are rather recent because the challenges they are in response to are recent. The modernity and postmodernity has been an all-out attack on the Word of God. Thus theologians have used such categories and doctrines to articulate more clearly what Scripture says about itself and what Christians ought to affirm regarding divine revelation.

With that said, there is no doubt that the theological giants of history would have affirmed these doctrines and their writings hint at it. In his book The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther (read my review here), author Steve Lawson makes this point regarding the theology of the great Reformer. Here is what he says regarding Luther's belief in what we now call biblical inspiration:

First, Luther believed that the Bible is divinely inspired. He affirmed with the Apostle Paul that “all Scripture is breathed out [inspired] by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). This is to say, the Bible is the written Word of the living God. This is the high ground on which Luther based his pulpit ministry. He would proclaim the voice of God, not the edicts of the pope or any other ecclesiastical leaders of the day.

Pointing to the Scriptures, Luther confidently asserted, “The Holy Spirit is the Author of this book.” He confessed, “They are God’s Scriptures and God’s Word.” Further, he contended, “We attribute to the Holy Spirit all of the Holy Scripture.” This conviction was the foundational principle of Luther’s pulpit — as it must be for every pulpit. He firmly believed that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.

Luther recognized that the biblical books were written by human beings, but he was convinced that these men were merely secondary authors who recorded the divine message: “The Scriptures, although they are written by men, are neither of men nor from men but from God.” Luther understood that the human writers were simply divinely commissioned messengers. The true Author of the Bible is God Himself.

This doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture elevated Luther’s view of preaching to a lofty height that had been lost. He believed that biblical inspiration mandated biblical preaching. The Word must be preached, he maintained, because in it, God Himself speaks and is heard: “The preacher’s mouth and the words that I hear are not his; they are the words and the message of the Holy Spirit [through which] He works within me.” Therefore, when the Bible speaks, we “assuredly believe that God Himself speaks unto us.”12 This is why Luther believed preaching must be central in the life of the church. . . .

It was important for Luther to distinguish between God’s Word and man’s word. He stressed: “We must make a great difference between God’s Word and the word of man. A man’s word is a little sound, that flies into the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea, greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God.”16 Luther was convinced that when God’s Word is preached, an eternal message is communicated that imparts eternal life.

To this point, Luther emphatically stated: “For God has said, ‘When the Word of Christ is preached, I am in your mouth, and I go with the Word through your ears into your heart.’ Therefore, we have a sure sign and sure knowledge that when the gospel is proclaimed, God is present there.”17 In other words, Jesus Christ is powerfully present in the proclamation of the Scriptures. . . .

Luther’s theology of preaching can be summarized by his assertion that preaching is God’s own speech to people. For Luther, preaching is Deus loquens — “God speaking.” The greatness of preaching, he maintained, lies in the fact that God Himself is active insofar as the preacher remains obedient to the Word and seeks nothing but for the people to hear the Word of God
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* The above picture is of Luther's translation of Scripture.


For more on Luther:
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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