The Lutheran View of Interpretation

To understand the Lutheran view and interpretation of the Bible is to first become aware that Martin Luther “sought to make the Word of God the starting point and final authority for his theology [where] the Bible was for him of paramount importance, and it was in it that he found an answer to his anguished quest for salvation.”[1] This means, more than anything, that Luther found in the Word of God salvation, something from which he could connect to the message of the Christ, Christ’s work of atonement, the forgiveness of sins, and the overall message of the gospel.[2] Quite literally, for Luther, the message of the gospel as it appears in the Bible suggests that “the Word of God is none other than God.”[3] This, of course, is a premise that Luther takes directly from the first verse of the Gospel of John,[4] but, more specifically, it is the notion that the “Bible itself declares that, strictly speaking, the Word of God is none other than God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us.”[5] To arrive at such a conclusion, Luther believed that “the Bible is the Word of God, because [,] in it [,] Jesus, the Word incarnate, comes to us”[6] and, because of this, therein rests the Word’s final authority.[7] This final authority, in the Lutheran perspective, is an authority that is over the church, the Pope, and even tradition. In effect, the Word of God, or the Scriptures, provides “a more trustworthy witness to [the] gospel than the pope’s corrupt church, or even the best in Christian tradition.”[8] To that end, what Luther arrived to with this logic is his doctrine of the authority of Scripture above the church, which ascertains that the church had not made the Bible any more than the Bible had made the church, but that the gospel made both the Bible and the church.[9] More importantly, it is with the doctrine of the authority of Scripture above the church that Luther argues against the pope, alone, being allowed “to interpret the Scriptures or to confirm the interpretation of them [as though] they have assumed the authority of their own selves”[10] –to Luther, the interpretation of the Scriptures was not meant to be limited to the Pope alone, even if the Pope’s authority is derived from the authority “given to St. Peter when the keys were given to him,”[11] since such an authority was not given to St. Peter alone, but to the whole community.” From this, Luther advocated the creation of theological seminaries that “interpret the Bible in such a way that the exact philological application of the biblical texts to the questions [that must be asked] and which are supposed to be answered in systematic theology,”[12] even if Luther believed that what made the Bible the Word of God could not serve as a source of authority for theological and religious debate.[13]

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[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010), 47.

[2] Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought: From Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1968), 244.

[3] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010), 47.

[4] This is in reference to John 1:1, which states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

[5] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010), 47-48.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 48

[9] Ibid.

[10] Henry Wace and C. A. Buchheim, eds., First Principles of the Reformation or the Ninety-Five Theses and the Three Primary Works of Dr. Martin Luther (London, UK: John Murray, 1883), 26.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought: From Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1968), 244.

[13] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 2010), 48.

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