Saturday, March 14, 2020

Did Luther Say, "The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me"?

Did Martin Luther say, "The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me"? I'm not so sure he did. This is a murky quote people love to mention but have no idea where it came from. The picture to the left is one of many found on the Internet.

Here are some popular sources that attribute the quote to Luther:
James Montgomery BoiceJoel Beeke,  Table Talk Magazine, The Gospel Coalition,  Christian History Magazine, John MacArthur, Relevant Magazine, The Women's Study Bible, Greg Laurie, Michael Youssef, Ron Rhodes,  The Christian Postthe Lutheran StandardWarren Wiersbe, Tim ChalliesThe Museum of the Bible, to name but a few of the bigger names.

There's also some quirky citations of it: the Christian Science Journal,  the Alpha Course,  a book on the "Catholic" way to pray,  and this person sells a calligraphic version for $700This person includes it as "4 Martin Luther quotes that changed my faith." It's also one of "50 profound Martin Luther quotes about faith," and also in the "top 30 quotes of Martin Luther."

Luther may have said something similar to this quote, but I suspect he never exactly said,  "The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me."


Documentation
In most instances there is no documentation provided for this quote, even in sources that should have some sort of meaningful reference (c.f., Christian History).

John MacArthur comes close to an actual meaningful reference. He says it came from page 207 of Luther's Table Talk. What MacArthur actually was quoting though was the back cover blurb of a modern edition of Luther's Table Talk, not the actual text.  (see image to the right, that's page 207). Joel Beeke similarly cited a 2005 edition of the Table Talk, and also extended the quote to include, "The Bible is not antique of modern. It is eternal." Beeke's reference likewise doesn't deliver anything useful.

In contemporary sources, the safest documentation I've seen are authors quoting other authors that have used the quote. For instance,  James Boice cited Joel Beeke.   Journey Magazine and Zondervan Academic quote Christian History Magazine (which doesn't cite  a source). This author quoted this author. etc.

Possible Origin: Julius Hare
So if no one appears to be able to document the quote meaningfully, where did it come from? Based on a sampling of books from the nineteenth-century to the present (see Addendum #2 below), here's' my theory. In  the mid-nineteenth century (1846), a capable scholar named Julius Hare wrote the following:
Well indeed did Luther know the power of God's word, the power which goes along with it when it is truly the sword of the Spirit. He knew it, as he here tells us, from what he himself had felt: in fact he could not have spoken of it as he does, except from personal experience. He knew it too from the effect which he had often seen it produce, when it issued with the power of the Spirit from his own lips. And so far as any written words can yield us a conception of that power, and realize the description he gives of it, his do: as he himself has somewhere said of St Paul's words, they are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet.
Hare appears to have been familiar with Luther's writings (he even wrote a book called, Vindication of Luther). The gist of what Hare says about Luther and the power of God's word is connected with what Luther "somewhere said of St. Paul's words" that "they are not dead words, but living creatures and have hands and feet." There are obvious similarities with  "The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me," and also some obvious differences. The most direct similarity is the use of hands and feet. Also, the words of Scripture (albeit Paul's words), are alive... or not dead. That of course is also one of the main differences as well: that Hare is speaking of Luther's opinion of St. Paul, not the entirety of the Bible. Notice also, Hare is not directly citing Luther, he's summarizing Luther.

I suspect Hare's Luther comments may have eventually turned into the quote as it's found today. His comment was picked up by other writers, particularly by William John Conybeare, in his popular book, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Volume 1, (originally printed in 1849), a book which went through multiple printing during the nineteenth-century. Notice the author refers to Hare's comment:





Conybeare turned Hare's synopsis into a direct Luther quote! Hare's words then morphed over time as they were cited by different authors, either knowingly or unknowingly, sometimes citing Hare, sometimes borrowing from someone who utilized Hare. Below in Addendum #2 is a sampling of versions of the quote found in books from the nineteenth-century to the twenty-first century. This is not exhaustive; some of the books cited below went through multiple editions. You can see the how the quote subtly changed over time. The popular form of the quote (as it's found today) appears to have entered into existence sometime in the 1940's (see below).

Conclusion 
There are a number of comments from Luther about the "living word" peppered throughout his writings. Below in Addendum #1, I've included a Table Talk quote in which Luther is said to have stated, "The words of our Savior Christ are exceeding powerful; they have hands and feet... ", and a snippet from a sermon in which Luther says of the Word, "these are not inert or dead words, but active and living." Did Martin Luther specifically say though,  "The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me"?  The evidence below in Addendum #2, though not exhaustive, suggests he probably did not.

It appears this quote may actually be an apocryphal English Luther quote that popped up in the mid-twentieth century. It looks as if the quote may have morphed from the original, "St Paul's words... are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet." But where did that Luther quote about Paul originate? I've found no evidence that Luther said this either. The earliest evidence points to a passing comment by Julius Hare who said that Luther said it "somewhere." I've yet to find which Luther writing Hare is referring to, but because of his caliber of scholarship, it is possible that "somewhere" Luther may have actually said it. So far, I've not found anything at all. Perhaps Hare himself read someone else saying it! 

Granted, this search has been limited to English. I did a cursory search for "Die Bibel lebt, denn sie spricht zu mir; sie hat Füsse und läuft mir nach; sie hat Hände und ergreift mich," and "Hände und Füße" and found no earlier uses. Interestingly, the quote in its full form does show up in recent German usages, but not nearly as much as English uses.

I'm not the only one to suspect this quote is dubious.  A  book of Catechetical Helps published by Concordia uses the quote and at least recognize that it's "attributed" to Luther:


Zondervan's 1001 Quotations book is the only source I found (so far) that cautiously says, "Citation: Unknown":


Addendum #1
Here is the closest I could find in the Table Talk to the quote:
The words of our Savior Christ are exceeding powerful; they have hands and feet; they outdo the utmost subtleties of the worldly-wise, as we see in the Gospel, where Christ confounds the wisdom of the Pharisees with plain and simple words, so that they know not which way to turn and wind themselves. It was a sharp syllogism of his: ‘Give unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s;’ wherewith he neither commanded nor prohibited, but snared them in their own casuistry.
And also this sermon from Luther states:
Where the heart is unoccupied and the Word does not sound, Satan breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware. On the other hand, the Word possesses such power wherever seriously considered, heeded, and put into practice, that it never remains barren of fruit. It always awakens new thoughts, new pleasures and devotions, and cleanses the heart and its meditations. These are not inert or dead words, but active and living, and although no other interest or need impel us to the Word, yet everyone should be induced to use it by the fact that thereby Satan is put to flight and hunted down.

Addendum #2- The "Quote" in its Literary Use 

Nineteenth-Century Uses of the Quote
1846- Well indeed did Luther know the power of God's word, the power which goes along with it when it is truly the sword of the Spirit. He knew it, as he here tells us, from what he himself had felt: in fact he could not have spoken of it as he does, except from personal experience. He knew it too from the effect which he had often seen it produce, when it issued with the power of the Spirit from his own lips. And so far as any written words can yield us a conception of that power, and realize the description he gives of it, his do: as he himself has somewhere said of St Paul's words, they are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet.
1849- “His words are not dead words—they are living creatures, with hands and feet,” touching in a thousand hearts at this very hour the same chord of feeling which ..." [This is an extract from William John Conybeare's book, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Volume 1.  Luther isn't mentioned, though Conybeare is citing Luther via Hare.]
1853His words are not dead words, they are living creatures with hands and feet, touching in a thousand hearts at this very hour the same chord of feeling which..." [This is a review of Conybeare's book, Luther is not mentioned, but the quote is used]. 
1856-  His words are not dead words, they are living creatures with hands and feet," touching in a thousand hearts at this very hour the same chord of feeling which vibrated to their first utterance. [A quote is specified (" "), but Luther is not mentioned]. 
1858We can never read any of his writings without being reminded of his own remark on the Epistles of Paul, — " St. Paul's words are not dead words ; they are alive and have hands and feet." [From a review of the then recently published English translation of Luther's First Five Chapters in Genesis].
1859- Luther's words, “as he himself has somewhere said of St. Paul’s words, “are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet.’ [citing Hare]
1865- Many of the great words and topics of theology, and still more of the Bible, are not dead words, whose classification is of importance merely for the sake of perspicuity (such as ‘genuine'-authentic”—“canon,’ &c.); but they are, as Luther says of St. Paul's words, ‘living creatures with hands and feet.'
 The first instance I found in which "Paul" was left out and replaced with the phrase, "the Word of God" occurred later in the nineteenth-century, but the version with Paul also continues:
1867 In this subordinate sense it is also true what the apostle says of the Word of God, it is living; and what Luther used to express in his realistic way, “it has hands and feet.”
1869- Luther said of Paul's preaching, "His words are not dead words; they are living creatures, with hands and feet." 
1873-  "His words are not dead words; they are living creatures, with hands and feet." 
1878-  Nothing from the apostle better justifies Luther's hyperbole, "The words of St. Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures and have hands and feet."
1879- "The words of St. Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet." Luther meant thereby to describe...
The English textual tradition of the quote continues to be intermingled between referring to Paul, and to a lesser extent, the Word of God (or the Bible), with echos back to Hare's phraseology:
1881-Luther once said, in homely phrase, "The Bible has hands and feet." In this pompous style, which is a travesty upon natural expression, it has feet, indeed; but they are the clumsy feet of the elephant.
1882- Never was there a truer description of any style than that which Luther gives of the style of the Apostle : 'The words of St. Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet.'
1883- It would ill become us, who enjoy the blessings of the Reformation through the open Bible, which Martin Luther called "living words with hands and feet," if we were to be silent on the occasion of his birthday...
1883- As he has said of St. Paul's words, his own are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet.  [This book cites Hare directly].
1884As he has said of St. Paul's words, his own are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet. [This book cites Hare directly].
1884- Again, Luther's words had a natural life of their own—hands and feet, as he himself said of the words of the Bible—which gives him a singular advantage in dealing with the spiritual life.
1888Martin Luther once wrote: "The words of the apostle Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures, they have hands and feet."
1888- Some of you may have heard Luther's celebrated description of St. Paul's language: "The words of St. Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet."
1890-  Luther used to say that "the words of the Bible, and especially the words of our Lord, were not dead words, but had hands and feet, by which they could, as it were, take a strong grasp of the human heart, and make their own progress there." 
1891- St. Paul is emphatically the seer. "His words are not dead words, they are living creatures, and have hands and feet." [Luther not mentioned].
1892- It was inspired by an inspired pen that he wrote his living epistles,  of which Luther said, "His words are not dead words, they are living creatures with hands and feet."
1893- The words of the Bible, not least those of St Paul, are not dead words, but living. They are of all races and ages. [Luther not mentioned]
1895-.He did not mince his words. He was terribly in earnest, and we may say of his words as he said of Paul's, that they are “living creatures, and have hands and feet.”
1889- Martin Luther. ... As he has somewhere said of Paul's words, they are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet. It no longer ...
1889- The great words of theology, and still more of the Bible, are not dead words, whose classification is of importance merely for the sake of perspicuity; but are, as Luther says of St. Paul's words, " living creatures having hands and feet." By getting below the surface, by making out what they are, or were in themselves, we arrive at the very essence of the Christian doctrine or dogma.—Dean Stanley.

Twentieth-Century Uses of the Quote
Hare's original comment continued to be utilized, sometimes with a reference back to him, sometimes not. Also, the interplay between "Paul," "the Word of God" and "the Bible" continues to be intermingled.
1901-The door was closed, and, as far as the Church of Palestine was concerned, no new intruder was ever admitted. But there were several modifications still possible, so difficult is it even for the strictest rigour to fetter those books, 'which are 'like living creatures with hands and feet.'
1902- "His words were half- battles, " " they were living creatures that had hands and feet"
1902- ...but living words- as Martin Luther puts it, with hands and feet. 
1905'The Word of God liveth and abideth.' That does not mean that it lasts; other books do that. It does more, it lives! It is a thing alive. As Luther said in his strong way, 'It has hands and feet.' 'The Word of God is quick and powerful,' or, as the Revised Version has it, 'The Word of God is living and active.'
1905- Archdeacon Hare: “As he has said of St. Paul's words, his own are not dead words, but living creatures, and have hands and feet. [Hare cited directly].
1906Martin Luther once wrote: "The words of the apostle Paul are not dead words ; they are living creatures, they have hands and feet."
1906:  "The words of St. Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet." Luther.
1908- The Bible is there, as it is, the Book of Man, and the Book of God; human and divine. No search into its texture and composition alters its effect as a Book. Be it what it may, it has hands and feet. It moves, it grips us. [Luther not mentioned at all]
1909- As Luther says, "His words are not dead words, they are living creatures, and have hands and feet." 
1911As Martin Luther said three hundred years ago, so can we still say: “His words are not dead words, they are living creatures with hands and feet..."
1916- Jerome says that his words are so many thunders, whilst Luther compared them to living creatures with hands and feet.
1917- As Martin Luther said three hundred years ago, so can we still say: "His words are not dead words, they are living creatures with hands and feet..."
1937-What Martin Luther said of Paul's writings is true of all Scripture, that its words are not dead words, but are living creatures and have hands and feet.
1941- Luther, a great German, said: "They are not dead words, they are living creatures, and have hands and feet."
1946- The words of St. Paul," said Luther, "are not dead words, they are living creatures, they have hands and feet." 
 In the Journal of Bible and Religion Vol. 15 of 1947, the currently popularized longer version of the quote makes an appearance, without documentation. The quote appears in an a review of "Preaching Values in the Bible by Corwin C. Roach," the reviewer, George Dahl.
1947- Preachers and congregations alike will be led to discover once more with Luther that "the Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me." The value of the book would be considerably enhanced by the...
In a text from 1948,  the exact rendering of the quote appears as it's now popularly presented, without documentation. I suspect the source isn't even book (only a limited preview is available): The First Church Visitor, "Published Semi-Monthly by The First Baptist Church of Madison Wisconsin, Edited by Rev. Charles R. Bell."

The sampling English textual tradition that I utilized simply picks up again, and the quote in its fuller popular form begins to emerge more, particularly towards the end of the century:

1948 His words were half-battles,” “they were living creatures that had hands and feet”
1955? - Luther remarked that the Bible has hands to grip, eyes to see, feet to run.
1955: the Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me;
1956- Martin Luther over 400 years ago said of Paul's writings: “His words are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet."
1962- (Christianity Today Magazine) - As Luther picturesquely said of the Pauline epistles, “The words of St. Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures and have hands and feet.”
1967- The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. The bible has feet; it runs after me. The bible has hands; it lays hold of me. Martin Luther 1483-1546 
1971- All the world knows how the words and the deeds of former times became in his hands, as Luther describes the Apostle's language, 'not dead things, but living creatures with hands and feet.' 
1972- The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.
1976-The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me. Martin Luther
1977- The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands...
1978The words of St. Paul, said Martin Luther, are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet.
1981Yet the Bible must always be seen for what it is, the actual Word of God, “living and powerful,” ... As Luther picturesquely said of the Pauline epistles, “The words of St. Paul are not dead words; they are living creatures and have hands and feet."
1983- The Bible is alive; it speaks to me; it has feet—it runs after me. It lays hold of me.—Martin Luther
1986-Martin Luther once stated, "The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me."
1986-  The words of St. Paul are not dead words, but are living creatures that have hands and feet to carry away a man (Luther)
1986- The words of St. Paul, said Martin Luther, are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet. 1  [a reference is given: "Quoted on the title page of Arthur S. Way, The Letters of Saint Paul (1935)." In actuality, the book is older. Here is the title page of the 1906  second edition]:

1989-The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays its hold on me. Martin Luther 
1990-Martin Luther said, "The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me." 
1993"The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me. Martin Luther
1994- As Martin Luther said, "The Bible is alive ... it speaks to me ... it has feet ... it runs after me ... it has hands ... it lays hold on me."
1995-Martin Luther said of the Bible, "This book is alive; it speaks to me. It has legs; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me."
1997- Martin Luther once wrote of God's Word, "The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me. The Bible is not antique of modern. It is eternal." [Reference given : "Quoted by Joel R. Beeke and Ray B. Lanning, “The Transforming Power of Scripture" in Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), p. 331, 332"]. Note also, "The Bible is not antique of modern. It is eternal" is attached to the quote.
1998- "The Bible is alive, Martin Luther once said; "It speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me: it has hands, it lays hold of me."
1999-The words of St. Paul, said Martin Luther, are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet.[Documentation: "Quoted on the title page of Arthur S. Way, The Letters of St. Paul (1935)."
Twenty-first Century Uses of the Quote
The use of the long version of the quote greatly increases while Hare's original logion fades further into the background. Whereas the earlier version of the quote was used in more technical works,  twenty-first century uses are often found in devotional material or Christian self-help books (a trend that started in the late twentieth century).
2001- "To me, the Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me" — Martin Luther ..
2004- Concerning the Scriptures Martin Luther said, "They are not dead words; they are living creatures, and have hands and feet."
2006- "The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me.
2006- The bible is alive- it has hands and grabs hold of me, it has feet and runs after me. 
2008- Martin Luther, the cause and founder of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has ...
2009- The leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, whose life was profoundly changed by the thoughtful reading of Scripture, said, “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me, it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”
2009- Believers discover with Martin Luther that “the Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me. The Bible is not antique, or modern. It is eternal.” [Reference: Cited in Thomas S. Kepler, ed., The Table Talk of Martin Luther (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2005), 197.]
2011- When the great Reformer Martin Luther said, 'The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me,' he was reflecting the truth the Church has always known but which it often forgets,
2015- The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold on me." -Martin Luther

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Do You Have the Gift of Discernment? The Gift of Discernment in 1 Cor. 12:10

Do You Have the Gift of Discernment?
I've been in a number of conversations with Christians convinced that the Holy Spirit has endowed them with the gift described in 1 Corinthians 12 as "the distinguishing of spirits," or, sometimes referred to as the gift of discernment.  Sometimes I wonder if the claim to such a gift is simply a ploy for recognition. Or perhaps it's a type of hubris or spiritually immaturity. I'm often tempted to simply dismiss such people as violating Paul’s exhortation in Galatians 6 to boast only in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is possible, though, that sincerity is that which motivates such an assertion. Couldn't it simply be zeal for the purity of doctrine or the protection of the church that leads someone to claim this supernatural gift? Perhaps they've heard a sermon or been to a Bible study exhorting the seeking out and nurturing of spiritual gifts. Perhaps friends have noticed and encouraged their seeming ability to rightly discern spiritual issues. Perhaps a church leader has blatantly told them they have the gift of discernment. If any of these positive scenarios are true, if someone indeed has the gift spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:10, the fault would not be admitting to it (whether boastfully or not), rather it would be not using the gift for the benefit of the church.

How should such claims to spiritual discernment be understood in the church today? Can one know if the claim is Biblically valid today? These questions cannot be addressed until related issues are scrutinized. How has the church understood this gift, and is there a consensus view? Is this gift something particular only to the infant church or has it been given throughout the centuries? What role did it play in the early church, and if still extant, what role would it play today?

What is the "Distinguishing of Spirits" According to the Early Church?
Paul doesn't explain what this gift is, nor do the Scriptures elsewhere explicitly offer any divine commentary as to what it entails. That is, the Bible doesn't say elsewhere, "This is what Paul means by the distinguishing of spirits." One may be tempted to think the earliest extra-biblical writers could provide the needed illuminating commentary or explanation. Weren't they closest in historical position to the divine authors? This is a fallacy. Simply because one is nearer in history does not mean an interpretation is necessarily more accurate. The writings of the church fathers do not provide any determining clarity. From these extant writings, often the gift is simply mentioned along with the other gifts without detailed elaboration or interpretation.(1)

In an obscure letter, Augustine refers to it as an ability to answer extra-biblical theological questions. In responding to questions related to how martyrs are able to help those who make requests of them, Augustine is convinced martyrs have abilities from the grave but he does not know exactly how these powers work. He explains that simply because he lacks understanding, this does not mean there isn't someone given the discerning of spirits who could address the issue with precision.(2)  In a secondary way, Augustine argues elsewhere that knowing Scripture will put Christians "on the alert for discerning of the spirits" in regard to false doctrine. (3)  Chrysostom blatantly speaks of the cessation of the supernatural gifts of 1 Corinthians 12. The gift of the discerning of spirits functioned to tell God’s Word apart from "soothsayers… addicted to Grecian customs." (4)

Luther and Calvin on the "Distinguishing of Spirits"
During the Reformation period, Luther saw the supernatural gifts as "necessary in the primitive church, which had to be established with visible signs on account of the unbelievers… But later on, when the church had been gathered and confirmed by these signs, it was not necessary for this visible sending forth of the Holy Spirit to continue." (5) Some of these gifts, though, have been transformed and still function. (6)   Tongues became the public reading of Scripture. Prophecy became "the ability to rightly interpret and explain the Scriptures, and powerfully to reveal therefrom the doctrine of faith and the overthrow of false doctrine." (7) He similarly alludes to 1 Corinthians 12:10 as demonstrating the ability of the early Lutherans to "handle and interpret Scripture skillfully." (8)

Similar to Luther, Calvin held there was a sense in which certain gifts still functioned even if not in the precise way they did at inception. In The Institutes Calvin admits to a cessationist view of miracles (IV:19,18). (9)   Elsewhere he refers to 1 Corinthians 12:10 as the active gift of interpreting God's word and something not to be surrendered to the papists. Calvin explained, though, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians that the discerning of spirits during the apostolic age was "a clearness of perception in forming a judgment as to those who professed to be something." Calvin states:

"It was a special illumination, with which some were endowed by the gift of God. The use of it was this that they might not be imposed upon by masks, of mere pretences, but might by that spiritual judgment distinguish, as by a particular mark, the true ministers of Christ from the false." (10)

The "Distinguishing of Spirits" Post-Reformation
Likewise admitting cessation after the apostolic age, John Owen (1616-1683) held, "the gift of discerning spirits has ceased, since no pretense to prophetic gifts is any longer asserted 'unless by some persons phrenetical and enthusiastical, whose madness is manifest to all.'"(11) John Gil (1697-1771) saw the gift as the previous ability to "discern the hearts of men, their thoughts, purposes, and designs, their secret dissimulation and hypocrisy" (12) and no longer functioning. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) likewise understood the gifts had ceased. In his The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God he exhorts his readers to test the spirits, noting the Spirit was now working differently:

"However great a spiritual influence may be, it is not to be expected that the Spirit of God should be given now in the same manner as to the apostles, infallibly to guide them in points of Christian doctrine, so that what they taught might be relied on as a rule to the Christian church. Many godly persons have undoubtedly in this and other ages, exposed themselves to woeful delusions, by an aptness to lay too much weight on impulses and impressions, as if they were immediate revelations from God, to signify something future, or to direct them where to go, and what to do." (13)

John Wesley (1703-1791) likewise held the gift of discernment was "The discerning - Whether men be of an upright spirit or no," (14) but held this gift along with the others only ceased later in history when "a general corruption both of faith and morals infected the church- which by that revolution, as St. Jerome says, lost as much of its virtue as it had gained of wealth and power." (15) John Darby (1800-1882) on the other hand contrarily held "The discerning of spirits is not that of a man's condition of soul - it has nothing to do with it. It is the knowing how to discern, by the mighty energy of the Spirit of God, the actings of evil spirits, and to bring them to light if necessary, in contrast with the action of the Spirit of God." (16)

Echoing back to Owen and Edwards, B.B. Warfield (1851-1921) held the apostolic gifts were given for the authentication of the apostolic message. After the deaths of those imparted with these gifts, the gifts ceased. Warfield considered the discerning of spirits "among the extraordinary items." (17) He states,

"How long did this state of things continue? It was the characterizing peculiarity of specifically the Apostolic Church, and it belonged therefore exclusively to the Apostolic age- although no doubt this designation may be taken with some latitude. These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles." (18)

The "Distinguishing of Spirits" in the Present
The rise of Pentecostalism (including both heretical and orthodox factions) breathed new life (and confusion) into the notion of the continuation of the gifts in their fullness. Jack Hayford holds, "Discerning of spirits is the ability to discern the spirit world, and especially to detect the true source of circumstances or motives of people."(19) Derek Prince says the gift gives the ability to "lift the veil that covers the unseen spiritual world," "enables us to see as God sees," "protect us from deception," and to "diagnose people’s problems and so help them."(20) Joyce Meyer says some people believe the gift is "the discerning of divine spirits, as when Moses looked into the spirit realm and saw the 'back' of God, or when John was in exile on the isle of Patmos and had a vision of the resurrected Jesus."(21) Examples of such sentiment, differing in scope and content, have ample representatives.

Contemporary non-Reformed conservative voices tone down their interpretation of the extent and efficacy of the gifts. Billy Graham denies that prophecy in the sense of new revelation is occurring today, but explains, "We are to exercise the gift of discernment because many false prophets will appear… Thus the Christian must have those who can distinguish between false and true prophets."(22) For Graham, certain people are singled out by the Holy Spirit and gifted specifically with discernment. Contrarily, in his book Living the Extraordinary Life, Charles Stanley avoids citing 1 Corinthians 12 entirely while confidently laying out an entire method for any Christian to develop discernment. One need only regularly practice a few simple steps.(23)  Discernment ceases to be an extraordinary gift despite the title of the book.

There is therefore no shortage of explanations in broad Christendom as to what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 12:10. The explanations produced by the church throughout the centuries run the theological gamut. In summary, at least three basic explanations have been given throughout the centuries. First, the gift was only given to the early church to discern true and false prophets before the completion of the canon. Second, the gift functioned as the first view suggests, but now post-canon completion functions differently. Third, the gift functions today supernaturally to those whom the Spirit gives it.

Exegetical Considerations of 1 Corinthians 12:10
The feminine noun "discernment" (διάκρισις) in 12:10 is found also in Hebrews 5:14 and Romans 14:1. In each of these verses, it functions along the lines of "differentiation."(24) It is related to the verb "judge" (διακρίνω) used in 1 Corinthians 14:29. There Paul gives instructions for what the Corinthians were to do after a prophet spoke: "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment." Paul does not explicitly say that those who "pass judgment" are gifted with the discerning of spirits, nor does his comment exclude such a gift among specific people in the Corinthian church. All Christians are responsible to listen to the prophet discerningly (1 John 4:1), but, as Leon Morris states, "the ability to distinguish between spirits shows that to some was given a special discernment in this matter."(25)

To what does the word "spirits" (πνεύματα) refer, to a prophet, the message of that prophet, or both? In 1 Cor. 14:32 the word refers to the prophet being in control of his prophecy. It was not uncontrolled supernatural ecstasy. The person with the gift of discerning of spirits in 12:10 is someone who can discern the truthfulness or deviousness of that prophecy, or "spirit" of the prophet and prophecy. This has led some commentators to hold that false prophets were not simply false on their own accord. Rather, they were false because of either demon-possession or evil spirits ("the spirit of antichrist" as described in 1 John 4:1).(26)   In 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 Paul describes these people as Satan's servants masquerading as servants of righteousness. The person who was gifted with special discernment therefore, could recognize the actor behind the mask.

VII. The Canon and 1 Corinthians 12:10
Some explicitly link the gift of discerning spirits to the forming canon of the New Testament. The function of the gift was to determine which writings were actually theopneustas:

"[T]hese New Testament prophets certified to the congregation what was and what was not a divinely inspired document. In the interest of clearness let us visualize a congregation of Believers assembling in a remote, out of the way village. Into that assembly comes two manuscripts, both purporting to be written by Paul but one of them a forgery. What means would they have of detecting a cleverly written forgery? Did God leave them to their own discernment? Fortunately this was not the case otherwise they would have been open to all manner of deception. Apparently what would have happened in that congregation was that the local prophet would hear both manuscripts read. The document that was written by Paul would, by the prophet, be declared as from Paul and the forgery would be branded a forgery." (27)

While this anonymously published interpretation is certainly neat and tidy, it is read into the text rather than exegeted from the text. The factor of the canon, though, must be placed somewhere in this discussion. If indeed the canon is closed, the purpose of particular revelatory gifts becomes crucial. Richard Gaffin insightfully reminds his readers that the continuation of prophecy beyond its foundational period "would necessarily create tensions with the closed, finished character of the canon."(28) If the discerning of spirits is linked with the gift of prophecy, then it either does not now function as it did during the period of Inscripturation or it does not function at all.

VIII. Strengths and Weaknesses of Taking a View on 1 Cor. 12:10
The gift of the discerning of spirits had the same goal as the other gifts described: the common good of the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 12:7). While all the gifts were different, they each individually served to unify the church and protect the apostolic message 1 Cor. 12:1-7). If Paul intended the gift of the discerning of spirits to be linked with prophecy, the gift no longer would have any use, even if it still did exist. One difficulty for those taking this view is navigating through 1 Corinthians 12: Have all the gifts mentioned in verses 7-11 ceased? Perhaps one could almost argue affirmatively, save the one hurdle of the "gift of faith" mentioned in verse 9. On what basis does one determine that an entire listing of gifts save one no longer functions today? This isn’t an impossible problem to overcome. Exegetes distinguish it from the gift of faith given to every believer (Eph. 2:8-10). Perhaps some would be so bold to conclude this extra measure of faith in 1 Cor. 12 is no longer given by the Spirit. Was it something special related to the forming church that is no longer needed? Perhaps though, the easiest solution for someone taking this view is to simply affirm it as an exception to the list of gifts.

For modern-day charismatics believing the gift still functions today as it did when first given, that there's such diversity as to what they posit the gift entails should provoke suspicion. Because these representatives see the gift as pointing to something beyond the mundane, there are no rules as to the function of a supernatural gift in a charismatic paradigm. If the Spirit is understood to be working in an extraordinary way, the gift can refer to whatever one wants it to.

Perhaps the most attractive view are those who attempt to navigate a middle path seeing the gift as being transformed into something other than it’s original function. They likewise face a similar problem to those who think it ceased entirely: on what basis does one determine that a gift functions differently later in history? Have some of the gifts been transformed, and why only some? Can it properly be designated the same gift in its transformed state?

IX. Conclusion
God has expressly stated that He does not want the church to be ignorant on the issue of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:1). The gifts were not Biblically described as optional add-ons for the Church. Rather, the gifts demonstrated the work of the Spirit in the church and helped build her. Despite her gross sin, even the Corinthian church was described as not lacking any of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:7). Paul wished to visit the Roman church to impart to them a spiritual gift to strengthen them (Rom. 1:11). The question therefore as to the identification, existence, nature, and purpose of the gift of the discerning of spirits is of no little importance. If God has gifted the church with the discerning of spirits and the gift still functions presently, we would do well to vigorously seek it out. If it was something specific to the apostolic church, a gentle response to those claiming its service needs to be prepared with either rebuke or gentleness, depending on the person.
Given the scope of interpretations throughout history, the exegetical difficulties of 1 Corinthians 12:10, and the logical problems of consistently maintaining any of the views briefly outlined above, what sort of response may be formulated to someone claiming the gift of discerning spirits?

The first response would be to point out the difficulties of achieving any sort of certain view as to the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:10. In essence, this is an exhortation to humility. One can appreciate a desire to discern and stop error or heresy from entering the church. This though need not be rooted in a supernatural ability. It can just as easily be the result of Christian maturity. The response therefore is to point out that humility in regard to difficult passages coupled with Christian maturity is enough to look at spiritual situations appropriately.

In this age of post-inscripturation, the second response should be to direct people back to the Scriptures. That is, if one wants to have a certain Holy Spirit-driven discernment of truth from error, savingly knowing and believing the Bible itself would be the means of accomplishing this goal. This places our faith back into God's word rather than any sort of subjective experience as the determiner of truth. Such passages as Acts 17:11 and 1 Peter 3:15 serve as a solid basis to build discernment on. Here discernment becomes a result of sanctification rather than a sudden supernatural experience or feeling of special knowledge given by God to an individual.

This would mean that those in the ministry would primarily and typically have the most discernment on spiritual matters. This does not though rule out that laymen can likewise attain a healthy level of spiritual discernment. One need not be a minister or even an apostle to say in the face of error: "Even if we or an angel from heaven preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" One need only be faithful to placing the supernatural word of God into the heart and allow it to naturally transform and renew the mind.


Notes
1.See Origen's (184-254) comments in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament VII, 1-2 Corinthians, ed. Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: Intervaristy Press, 1999), 122, "It is a spiritual gift, therefore, by which the spirit is discerned, as the apostle says: 'Test the spirits, if they are from God.'" Clement of Alexandria (150 – 250) refers to it as an attribute describing "the perfect man or those who have experienced an aspect of deep Christian truth" [The Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 2, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: WM.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 433-434]. Henceforth all references to the Ante-Nicene Fathers are designated ANF. Tertullian (160-225) describes how the Spirit and His gifts were taken from the Jews and given to the church [ANF 3, 445-446]. Gregory Thaumaturgus (213-270) mentions the gifts as describing the orthodox faith [ANF 6, 47], though this writing may be spurious. Augustine simply mentions the gift in passing [The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids: WM.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 197, 346; III, 63, 94; IV, 267; VII, 98]. Henceforth all references to the Nicene and Post-Fathers are designated NPNF.

2. NPNF III, 549-550. Augustine recommends John the Monk who was purported to have extraordinary gifts of the Spirit.

3. NPNF VII, 499.

4. NPNF XII, 168-169.

5. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 26, ed. J. J. Pelikan (Philadelphia: fortress Press, 1955), 374. Henceforth, all references to Luther’s Works are designated LW.

6. LW 14,36.

7. Martin Luther, The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther vol. 4.1-2, John Nicholas Lenker, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 213.

8. LW 40, 250.

9. "Calvin sets forth an embryonic cessationism. Conceiving of prophets as those who have a 'particular revelation,' he observes that '[t]his class either does not exist today or is less commonly seen.' However, after provisionally holding out the possibility that there could be contemporary prophets, Calvin slams the door shut by pointing out in regard to the offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist that '[t]hese three functions were not established in the church as permanent ones, but only for that time during which churches were to be erected where none existed before, or where they were to be carried over from Moses to Christ.'" [Philip A. Craig, "And Prophecy Shall Cease, Jonathan Edwards on the Cessation of the Gift of Prophecy," Westminster Theological Journal Volume 64 no. 1 (Spring 2002): 164.

10. John Calvin, Calvin's Bible Commentaries: Corinthians Part One (Forgotten Books, 2007), 326-327.

11. John Owen, The Works of John Owen vol. 4 (London: Richard Baynes, 28, Paternoster Row, 1826), 302. “These gifts are not saving, sanctifying graces—those were not so in themselves which made the most glorious and astonishing appearance in the world, and which were most eminently useful in the foundation of the church and propagation of the gospel, such as were those that were extraordinary and miraculous.”

12. John Gil, Commentary 1 Corinthians 12:10.

13. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (London: J.R. and C Childs, Bungay, 1835), 265.

14. John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818), 448.

15. Benjamin B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918), 8.

16. John Darby, The Present Testimony and Original Christian Witness Revived in Which the Church’s Portion and the Hope of the Kingdom vol. VIII (London: R. Groombridge & Sons, 1856), 154.

17. Warfield, 5.

18. Warfield 6-7. Warfield also discusses and refutes the view that the gifts gradually died out around the time of Constantine, thus lasting for three centuries (6-21).

19. Hayford, J. W., & Curtis, G. Pathways to Pure Power: Learning the Depth of Love's Power, a Study of first Corinthians (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994), Libronix electronic edition.

20. Derek Prince, Called to Conquer: Finding Your Assignment in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2010), 50.

21. Joyce Meyer, Knowing God Intimately: Being as Close to Him as You Want to Be, (New York: Time Warner Book Group, 2003).

22. Billy Graham, The Holy Spirit: Activating God's Power in Your Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 146-147.

23. Charles Stanley, Living the Extraordinary Life (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 175-178.

24. Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: WM.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 949.

25. Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: WM.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 169.

26. F.W. Grosheide, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: WM.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953), 267.

27. Anonymous, “The Angels of the Seven Churches (Rev. 1:20),” Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 91 (October 1934): 439-440.

28. Richard Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1979), 100.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Luther: "Affliction is the best book in my library"

Here's a popular Martin Luther quote making the cyberspace rounds, even finding it's way into Christian History Magazine:
"Affliction is the best book in my library." Another version says, "The best book in the library of my life is the Book of Affliction." Did Luther say it? I don't think so.

Documentation
Since this quote often appears undocumented throughout cyberspace, let's use Christian History Magazine as the source. While entertainingly written, Christian History is often lacking in regard to precise documentation. This particular quote is included in their section, "Colorful Sayings of Colorful Luther: A sample of the reformer's wit and wisdom" (Issue 34, Vol. XI, No. 2, pp.27-28), compiled by Mary Ann Jeffreys (apparently, a freelance writer if this is the same person).

What's interesting about Ms. Jeffreys is that a simple Google search of her name + "Christianity Today" (the publisher of Christian History) puts forth a number of hits to articles on or by Charles Spurgeon.  A basic Google book search of this Luther quote also puts forth a number of hits to books by Charles Spurgeon. Coincidence?  Probably not! It appears to me that the basic English form of this quote originated from a Charles Spurgeon sermon published in the nineteenth-century. Spurgeon preached,
Another reason for this discipline is, I think, that in heaviness we often learn lessons that we never could attain elsewhere. Do you know that God has beauties for every part of the world; and he has beauties for every place of experience? There are views to be seen from the tops of the Alps that you can never see elsewhere. Ay, but there are beauties to be seen in the depths of the dell that ye could never see on the tops of the mountains; there are glories to be seen on Pisgah, wondrous sights to be beheld when by faith we stand on Tabor; but there are also beauties to be seen in our Gethsemanes, and some marvelously sweet flowers are to be culled by the edge of the dens of the leopards. Men will never become great in divinity until they become great in suffering. “Ah!” said Luther, “affliction is the best book in my library;” and let me add, the best leaf in the book of affliction is that blackest of all the leaves, the leaf called heaviness, when the spirit sinks within us, and we can not endure as we could wish.
Context
I could not locate anything exactly like "affliction is the best book in my library" from Luther.  The closest I could locate was the following Table Talk utterance:
To have Patience in Suffering.
On the 8th of August, 1529, Luther, together with his wife lay sick of a fever; then he said, God hath touched me sorely, and I have been impatient: but God knoweth better than we whereto it serveth. Our Lord God doth like a printer, who setteth the letters backwards; we see and feel well his setting, but we shall see the print yonder, in the life to come: in the mean time we must have patience.
The tribulations of God-fearing christians are strong and profitable. Tribulation is a right school, and an exercise of flesh and blood: whoso is without them, the same understandeth nothing. Therefore the Psalms, almost in every verse, speaketh of nothing but tribulations, and perplexities, sorrows, and troubles: it is a book of tribulations.

Conclusion
That Table Talk quote was taken from one of the oldest modern English versions, a version published in the nineteenth-century. Included in this volume is a lengthy anthology of quotes on "Temptation and Tribulation." Did Spurgeon have this edition? During Spurgeon's time period, there was only a limited pool of Luther's writings available in English, so it's highly likely he had a copy. It was a very popular book!  It certainly would make sense that he would gravitate to those Table Talk topics that expounded on suffering. Spurgeon's sermon is about spiritual "heaviness," or rather despair. It's a fairly uncontested fact that Spurgeon suffered from bouts of depression, as did Luther.

I suspect though, Spurgeon had a flair for using the phrase, "best book," and he was not citing Luther at all.  Elsewhere, Spurgeon says:
Let me yet further observe, that YOUR FAITH WILL BE TRIED FOR AN ABUNDANTLY USEFUL PURPOSE. The trial of your faith will increase, develop, deepen, and strengthen it. “Oh,” you have said, “I wish I had more faith.” Your prayer will be heard through your having more trial. Often in our prayers we have sought for a stronger faith to look within the veil. The way to stronger faith usually lies along the rough pathway of sorrow. Only as faith is contested will faith be confirmed. I do not know whether my experience is that of all God’s people; but I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable. What do I not owe to the hammer and the anvil, the fire and the file? What do I not owe to the crucible and the furnace, the bellows that have blown up the coals, and the hand which has thrust me into the heat? Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library. We may wisely rejoice in tribulation, because it worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and by that way we are exceedingly enriched, and our faith grows strong.
Notice also this comment from Spurgeon:
We learn more true divinity by our trials than by our books. The great Reformer said, "Prayer is the best book in my library." He might have added affliction as the next. Sickness is the best Doctor of Divinity in all the world; and trial is the finest exposition of Scripture. This is so inestimable a mark of the love of our blessed Lord that we might almost desire trouble for the sake of it.
Notice also this comment from Spurgeon:
LUTHER has well said that the experience of the minister is the best book in his library. I am persuaded it is so, and that God often leads his servants through peculiar states of mind, not so much for their own benefit as for the sake of those to whom they may afterwards minister.
The similarities are apparent, but no mention of Luther in the first quote, and referring to the "great Reformer" in the second, and "Luther" in the third. I suspect the "best book" was Spurgeon's phrase, not Luther's.

If Spurgeon was citing Luther, he was probably working from memory in his sermon and not citing Luther directly, perhaps summarizing the Table Talk's extensive quotes on suffering. The quote, as has been popularized, may simply also be Spurgeon's recollection of what he recalls reading Luther to have said, perhaps by Luther, or perhaps a book about Luther. Interestingly, elsewhere in the Table Talk, Luther does mention the "best book" in regard to suffering:
The Holy Scriptures are full of divine gifts and virtues. The books of the heathen taught nothing of faith, hope, or charity; they present no idea of these things; they contemplate only the present, and that which man, with the use of his material reason, can grasp and comprehend. Look not therein for aught of hope or trust in God. But see how the Psalms and the Book of Job treat of faith, hope, resignation, and prayer; in a word, the Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity, far otherwise than mere human reason can; and when evil oppresses us, it teaches how these virtues throw light upon the darkness, and how, after this poor, miserable existence of ours on earth, there is another and an eternal life.