Saturday, September 13, 2008

Luther, the Prophet: Context, Context, Context


A few years back, I defined how Luther understood the term "prophet," and then contrasted it with some material put forth from Seventh Day Adventists. The following Luther quote though comes from a Roman Catholic, and it's supposed to be shocking that Luther was arrogant enough to think he was like a Biblical prophet:

"Do we not read in the Old Testament that God commonly raised up only one prophet at a time? Moses was alone in the Exodus, Elijah was alone in King Ahab’s day, Elisha, after him, was alone, Isaiah was alone in Jerusalem, Hosea alone in Israel, Jeremiah alone in Judaea, Ezekiel alone in Babylon, and so forth. Even though they had many disciples, called “children of the prophets,” God never allowed more than one man alone to preach and rebuke the people.........

I say not that I am a prophet, but I do say that the more they despise me and esteem themselves, the more reason they have to fear that I may be a prophet . . .

If I am not a prophet, yet for my own self I am certain 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. This gives me courage, so that the more they despise and persecute me, the less I fear them.

(An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull, 1521; from: Works of Martin Luther [PE], Vol. III, 12-14; translated by C. M. Jacobs)


The Roman Catholic who posted this stated, "Granted, here Luther does not claim to be a prophet but then, he does not say that he is not either, and this even after being accused of thinking that he was. In addition, the whole discussion of there being only one prophet at one time........ is pretty damning." Let's clear up the later charge first. In the above quote, Luther states, "Do we not read in the Old Testament that God commonly raised up only one prophet at a time?" The key word is "commonly." The translation being used is the out-of-print Philadelphia edition of Luther's Works. The Concordia edition translated the sentence, "Do we not read in the Old Testament that God generally raised up only one prophet at a time?" [LW 32:8]. There is nothing "pretty damning" about Luther's statement. Generally or commonly speaking, Luther is Biblically accurate.

This quote though serves as an excellent example of the typical selective citation employed by some Roman Catholics. Is this quote an argument for Luther claiming to be a Prophet receiving extra-Biblical revelation? No. The context suggests something quite different. The quote does come from "An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull." This writing is Luther's lengthy response to the bull Exsurge Domine. Note as you read through the extended paragraphs, the context focuses on how God uses the few to convict the many. God uses the meek to convict the mighty. At one point, Luther includes Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine. Interesting how the Roman Catholic citation left these men out.

Here is the broader context, which I reproduced from the old Philadelphia edition of Luther's Works. (The entire treatise can be found here: An Argument in Defense of All the Articles of Dr. Martin Luther Wrongly Condemned in the Roman Bull).

Wherefore I, Doctor Martin Luther by name, have undertaken,with joyful heart, to prove by Scripture all the articles, for the further instruction and the exposure of the false and pretended Church, so that everyone may be able to protect himself against the blind feints that these tricksters are wont to make. Perhaps even they will some time come to themselves and consent to exchange their hypocrisy for truth, their trickery for serious earnest, their pretensions for proofs. But first I must defend myself against some of the charges they bring against me.

In the first place, I pass by entirely the charge that I am caustic and impatient. I shall not excuse myself for that, for I have not been caustic or impatient in the books that have treated of Christian doctrine, but only in controversies and foolish disputings about the papacy, the indulgences and such like fools-work, and they have forced me into them. These subjects have neither deserved nor permitted so much discussion, let alone kindly and peaceful words.

They accuse me of setting myself up all alone to be everybody's teacher. I answer, I have not set myself up, I but have preferred at all times to creep into a corner. It is they who have drawn me out by wile and force, that they might win glory and honor at my expense. Now that the game is going against them, they think me guilty of vain-glory. And even if it were true that I had set myself up all alone, that would be no excuse for their conduct. Who knows but that God has called me and raised me up? They ought to fear lest they despise God in me.

Do we not read in the Old Testament that God commonly raised up only one prophet at a time? Moses was alone in the Exodus, Elijah was alone in King Ahab's day, Elisha, after him, was alone, Isaiah was alone in Jerusalem, Hosea alone in Israel, Jeremiah alone in Judaea, Ezekiel alone in Babylon, and so forth. Even though they had many disciples, called "children of the prophets," God never allowed more than one man alone to preach and rebuke the people.

Moreover, God never once made prophets out of the high-priests or others of lofty station; but usually He raised up lowly and despised persons, even at last the shepherd Amos. King David was an exception, but even he came up from lowly rank.

Therefore the saints have always had to preach against those in high places —kings, princes, priests, doctors—to rebuke them, to risk their own lives, and sometimes to lose them. In those days, too, the great men gave the holy prophets no other answer than to say, "We are the authorities and men must obey us, not the lowly and despised prophets"; as Jeremiah writes. So they do even now. Everything is wrong that does not please the pope, the bishops and the doctors; we must listen to them, no matter what they say.

Under the New Testament, too, have not the true bishops and teachers been rare enough? St Ambrose was alone in his day, after him St Jerome, and then St Augustine. Besides, God chose not many high and great bishops for this work. St Augustine was bishop in a single little city of small reputation, but he accomplished so much more than all the Roman popes, with all their fellow-bishops, that they cannot hold a candle to him. Then too it is a fact that all the heresies have been started, or at least have been encouraged, by bishops and doctors. Why then shall we trust them now, when they no longer serve the Church and have become temporal lords, if they were so dangerous before, when they were better, more learned, holier and more diligent? We insist on being blind.

I say not that I am a prophet, but I do say that the more they despise me and esteem themselves, the more reason they have to fear that I may be a prophet. God is wonderful in His works and judgments and giveth no heed to rank, numbers, greatness, knowledge or power; as saith Psalm cxxxvi, Alta a longe cognoscit. If I am not a prophet, yet for my own self I am certain 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. This gives me courage, so that the more they despise and persecute me, the less I fear them.

There were many asses in the world in the days of Balaam,but God spake by none of them save only by Balaam's ass. He saith in the xiii Psalm to these same great ones, "Ye have shamed the doctrine of the poor preacher, because he trusteth in God," as if to say, "Because he is not great and high and mighty, his doctrine must needs be false in your eyes."

1 comment:

Kauã Pacheco said...

Did Martin Luther support theocracy? (* I'm Brazilian, sorry for bad English)