Friday, July 20, 2007

Luther: Denying Sola Scriptura With An Unbiblical Understanding Of The Word "Prophet"?

“I am not given to having or interpreting dreams, nor do I desire this faculty or knowledge. I have made a covenant with my Lord God that He send me neither visions nor dreams nor even angels. For I am well satisfied with the gifts of Holy Scripture, which gives me abundant instruction and plentifully supplies all that I need to know both for this life and for that which is to come. This Holy Scripture I believe, and with it I am satisfied. And I am certain that it will not deceive me.” – Martin Luther

“I do not claim to be a prophet, but I do say that the more they scorn me and the higher they regard themselves, the more reason they have to fear that I may be a prophet. God is marvelous in his works and judgments. He pays attention neither to numbers, greatness, cunning, or power. As Ps. 138[:6] says: “The haughty he knows from afar.” And even if I am not a prophet, as far as I am concerned I am sure that the Word of God is with me and not with them, for I have the Scriptures on my side and they have only their own doctrine.” Martin Luther

This is a follow up to my entry Martin Luther and Ellen G. White: Prophets? This overview doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference to the Seventh Day Adventist pastor over on the CARM boards for whom it was intended. Without responding to the material, he has moved on to another phase of argument:

“You seem pretty fair-minded…are you saying that Luther allows himself to be called a prophet, but creates his own definition of what a prophet is apart from Sola Scriptura?”

Rather than admitting his previous argumentation was faulty, he found another way to argue for the sake of arguing. Now that he can’t use Luther as a prophet and Ellen White as a prophet is the same sense, might as well go after Luther for being inconsistent with his dedication to sola scriptura, and his understanding of the word “prophet.” Here’s the argument:

A. Luther believed in sola scriptura.
B. Luther’s definition of prophet is unbiblical
C. Luther denied sola scriptura by creating a non-biblical definition of a biblical term.

The term prophet is rich in meaning, and Luther realized this. For instance, here Luther uses the term to refer to those in the Bible that received their teaching immediately from God:

“That person is called a prophet who has an immediate knowledge of God and into whose mouth the Holy Spirit puts the Word; for He is the source of their knowledge, and prophets have no other teacher than God. No one can make a prophet by human teaching or preaching; and though it is God’s word and I preach it with perfect purity, I still do not make a man a prophet. A wise and understanding man I can make him. Thus in Matt. 23:34 those are called wise who draw their doctrine from the prophets, for God speaks through people and not without means. But prophets are men who have their teaching immediately from God” (What Luther Says, entry 3654).

“Prophets are those who preach by direct inspiration of the Holy spirit, who have not drawn from Scripture of from other men.” (What Luther Says, entry 3656).

Of what the Prophets said:

“The office of the prophets was twofold. First they were to exhort, rebuke, and correct the people of their time. This is the preaching of the Law. Then they were to prophesy concerning the coming kingdom of Christ” (What Luther Says, entry 3661).

These are only a few quotes of many. Obviously, Luther understood the special role and attributes of a true Biblical prophet. In my earlier entry, I pointed out that Luther did not consider himself to be a prophet in the sense of Enoch or Elijah. He was not receiving information immediately from God.

How then did Luther call himself a prophet? I earlier explained Luther at times made statements saying he was a prophet, but not in the sense of giving extra-biblical divine revelation. He would liken himself to Elijah, only in the sense that he was proclaiming the same word of God Elijah did. Robert Kolb explains Luther’s reasoning:

“In 1522 [Luther] claimed, in his Church Postil sermon on Hebrews 1:1-12, that Elijah would not return bodily from the grave. Instead, ‘it would be his spirit, that is, the Word of God would be brought forward once again, as it is appearing in this present time” [Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher, and Hero: Images of the Reformer 1520-1560 (Michigan: Baker Books, 1999), 32].

To substantiate Kolb’s point, here is the relevant section of Luther’s sermon:

9. But first we must answer the inquiry liable to be made, “If the voice of God today is the last message, why is it said that Elijah and Enoch shall come, opposing Antichrist?” I answer: Concerning the advent of Elijah, I hold that he will not come in a physical manner. [As to the coming of Elijah I am suspended between heaven and earth, but I am inclined to believe it will not take place bodily. However, I will not contend hard against the other view. Each may believe or not believe it, as he likes. Editions, A, C, D, E.] I well know St. Augustine has somewhere said, “The advent of Elijah and of Antichrist is firmly fixed in the belief of all Christians.” But I also know there is no statement of Scripture to substantiate his assertion.

Malachi’s prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah ( Malachi 4:5) the angel Gabriel makes refer to John the Baptist ( Luke 1:17), and Christ does the same even more explicitly where he says ( Mark 9:13): “But I say unto you, that Elijah is come, and they have also done unto him whatsoever they would, even as it is written of him.” Now, if John is the Elijah of the prophecy, as the Lord here says he was, the prediction of Malachi is already fulfilled. And there is nothing more prophesied concerning the coming of Elijah. The statement the Lord made just previously to the one quoted, “Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all things,” may be fairly interpreted to mean that Christ, referring to the office of John, practically says: “Yes, I well know Elijah must first come and restore all things, but he has already come and accomplished it.”

10. This view is demanded by the fact that immediately after his reference to the coming and office of Elijah, Christ speaks of his own sufferings: “It is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at naught.” If this prophecy concerning Christ was to be fulfilled after the coming of Elijah, then certainly Elijah must have already come. I know of nothing more to expect concerning the coming of Elijah unless it might be that his spirit will be manifest again in the power of the Word of God, as now seems probable. For I have no longer any doubt that the Pope, with the Turks, is Antichrist, whatever you may believe.

1 comment:

Iohannes said...

William Perkins wrote a work on preaching called The Art of Prophesying. The title is based on the idea that "Preaching the Word is prophesying in the name and on behalf of Christ."