Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Luther Said There Were Errors in the Bible?

"When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scripture, and we cannot har­monize them, let them pass. It does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith."- Martin Luther

This is a Luther quote I came across via Brigitte's blog, being used by (of all people) a Lutheran. He's  arguing, "The Word is inerrant. The Word is infallible.The book does not have to be. The book, the Bible, does contain God's Word." The basic premise is that the Bible contains God's word. Holding such a position is far different than the Bible IS God's word. This Lutheran has also provided subsequent argumentation via his blog. The obvious conundrum for such a position is how one determines which words in the Bible are the very words of God, and which are not. By the way, Romanists haven't sorted this out yet either.

This is indeed one those Luther quotes with polemical value, particularly on this subject of Biblical inerrancy. Here Luther's word "discrepancies" mean errors. The quote gained a little popularity many years back via the work of Jack Rogers and Donald McKim: The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible. They state, "Luther's basic attitude was: 'When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scriptures and we cannot harmonize them, let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith' "(p.87). According to Rogers and McKim, Luther didn't-


This Luther quote also resurfaced  in the book Models for Scripture By John Goldingay. On page 263 he states, "Luther describes Scripture as 'God incarnate.'Yet he is untroubled by  irreconcilable 'discrepencies' in Scripture: 'Let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.' " The reference given is back to Rogers and McKim.

As to the views of Rogers and McKim, it was probably about 15 years ago in which I heard a debate between Jack Rogers and John Woodbridge. Woodbridge simply destroyed Rogers view on the Scriptures, and his view of Luther. The transcripts of the debates can be found here:

Inerrancy, Part 1: Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?

Evangelicals Debate Bible Inerrancy—Part 2 Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?

Evangelicals Debate Bible Inerrancy—Part 3 Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?

Evangelicals Debate Bible Inerrancy—Part 4 Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?

Woodbridge also wrote a response book: Biblical authority: a critique of the Rogers/McKim proposal


As to the Goldengay book, Don Carson wrote a lengthy review. In that review he states,

The treatment of the positions adopted by characters of historical importance in the church is frequently skewed. For example, Goldingay writes that Luther 'is untroubled by irreconcilable 'discrepancies' in Scripture: 'Let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.' This quotation he assigns to WA 46.727, as he has culled it from the book by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, p. 87. But Rogers and McKim have been taken to the woodshed for their persistent and frankly irresponsible treatment of texts, pulling things out of their context and frankly misunderstanding what they read. Worse, the full sentence from Luther, rightly quoted in this instance by Rogers and McKim, is not quoted by Goldingay. The sentence reads: 'When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scriptures and we cannot harmonise them, let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.' In other words, by 'let it pass' Luther does not mean 'it does not matter', but that some cases we are not going to be able to resolve. That in principle they can be resolved Luther does not doubt: elsewhere he says, for instance: 'It is impossible that Scripture should contradict itself; it only appears so in senseless and obstinate hypocrites' (W2 9.356). Or again: 'But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they (the Fathers) have erred, as men will: therefore I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred' (WA 7.315). Goldingay tries to give the impression that errors do not really matter to Luther. Far from it: they matter so much he invests a lot of energy in harmonisation and text criticism. All he is saying is that if a small residue of problems remain, one should not worry.

Of the Luther quote in question, Carson is absolutely correct. Here's WA 46:727. Luther is commenting on John 2:13-15. This texts reads in English:

Recently we heard St. John’s description of how Christ miraculously changed water into wine at a marriage at Cana in Galilee, which was the first miracle to reflect His glory; then we also heard of His and His family’s removal from Nazareth to Capernaum, where He sojourned and preached for three years. Now there follows John’s account of Christ’s visit in Jerusalem for the Passover and of the tumult He caused in the temple. This we treated in our sermon on Wednesday on the basis of the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where this same episode is recorded. At that time we heard that Christ entered the temple right after His arrival in Jerusalem and there stirred up this commotion.

But now the question arises: How do we harmonize the accounts of the two evangelists, Matthew and John? For Matthew writes that all this happened on Palm Sunday, when the Lord made His entry into Jerusalem. And here in John we read that it occurred at the time of the Passover that followed Christ’s Baptism, the same Passover season during which the miraculous changing of water into wine also took place, and that then Christ moved to Capernaum. For Christ was baptized in the Epiphany season. And it seems possible that He tarried the short time until Passover in Capernaum, preaching there, and then cleansed the temple at the Passover of which John writes here.

These are problems and will remain problems. I shall not venture to settle them. Nor are they essential. It is only that there are so many sharp and shrewd people who are fond of bringing up all sorts of subtle questions and demanding definite and precise answers. But if we understand Scripture properly and have the genuine articles of our faith—that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, suffered and died for us—then our inability to answer all such questions will be of little consequence. The evangelists do not all observe the same chronological order. The one may place an event at an earlier, the other at a later time. Mark, too, chooses the day after Palm Sunday for this story. It may also be that the Lord did this more than once, and that John reports the first, Matthew, the second event. Be that as it may, whether it happened sooner or later, whether it happened once or twice, this will not prejudice our faith.

In our calculations we must assume, as all historians do, that Christ was baptized in His thirtieth year and that He preached for three full years after that event. But He continued to preach after the expiration of the third year, from the festival of the Circumcision of Christ, or Epiphany, until Passover, which might be roughly computed as half a year. This extends His preaching ministry over a period of approximately three and one half years. Now it is possible that the event recorded in our text happened after His Baptism, at the age of thirty, during the first Passover festival of His ministry. But when it took place is immaterial. If one account in Holy Writ is at variance with another and it is impossible to solve the difficulty, just dismiss it from your mind. The one confronting us here does not contradict the articles of the Christian faith. All the evangelists agree on this, that Christ died for our sins. But in their accounts of Christ’s deeds and miracles they do not observe a uniform order and often ignore the proper chronological sequence.

Still it is my opinion that here John skips over the first three years of the Lord’s preaching after His Baptism and speaks only of the fourth year. It was at the Passover festival which immediately preceded His suffering that He drove the buyers and the sellers from the temple. For John tells about many other things that Christ did at the time of the Passover festival. But nowhere else do we read that Christ paid much attention to the temple and its ministry, unless it was at the age of twelve (Luke 2:41–51). Otherwise He behaved quietly each time He visited Jerusalem for the three high feasts. Thus the accounts of John and of the other evangelists might be made to tally quite well, and I hold that this event occurred only once. But even if it happened three times, that would not be heresy. [LW 22:217-218]

I find it ironic that a Lutheran would try to use Luther against inerrancy. It's obvious to me he probably never looked up the context of the Luther quote he used. A few months back I mentioned that Lutheran scholar J.M. Reu's book Luther and the Scriptures was now online via a pdf document (that pdf seems to have vanished).  This is one of the best books on Luther's inerrancy. Of the quote in question, Reu states:



21 comments:

David Ernst said...

It is typical for theologically liberal Lutherans to argue that Luther shared their view that the Bible contains the Word of God rather than is the Word of God. They generally try to represent "Biblical inerrancy" as a relatively recent idea, either of Reformed or, better yet, 19th Century fundamentalist origin.

James Swan said...

Thanks David.

sma9231961 said...

The Word is infallible and inerrant.

The book does not have to be.(and isn't)



Why in the world did Luther have so much tropuble with the Books of James, Revelation, Esther, Jude, Jonah, Hebrews, if every jot and tittle dropped out of Heaven with a bow tied around it?

"In the beginning was the Bible, and the Bible was with God, and the Bible was God."

How ridiculous does that sound?

The Lord uses fallible men to preach His perfect Word, but He can't use a book unless it is flawless? Come on.

Christ + an inerrant Bible is still Christ +.

James Swan said...

Why in the world did Luther have so much tropuble with the Books of James, Revelation, Esther, Jude, Jonah, Hebrews, if every jot and tittle dropped out of Heaven with a bow tied around it?

The question of the canon is a different subject. For Luther, if it was Scripture, it was without error: "He who adheres to the Scriptures will find that they do not lie or deceive." "Scripture cannot err." "The Scriptures have never erred."

Rebecca Holter said...

Hi James!

I’ve had similar discussions about this concerning John Chrysostom. Have you seen any appeals being made to Chrysostom in the material that you’ve read supporting limited inerrancy? If so, have you seen anyone who does this, quote from anything besides Chrysostom’s First Homily on Matthew?

By the way, Chrysostom thinks that the cleansing took place twice:

“But on going up to Jerusalem, what did He, a deed full of high authority; for He cast out of the Temple those dealers and money changers, and those who sold doves, and oxen, and sheep, and who passed their time there for this purpose.

“Another Evangelist writes, that as He cast them out, He said, Make not my Father’s house a den of thieves (cf. Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46), but this one, an house of merchandise (cf. John 2:16).

They do not in this contradict each other, but show that He did this a second time, and that both these expressions were not used on the same occasion, but that He acted thus once at the beginning of His ministry, and again when He had come to the very time of His Passion. Therefore, (on the latter occasion,) employing more strong expressions, He spoke of it as (being made) a den of thieves, but here at the commencement of His miracles He does not so, but uses a more gentle rebuke; from which it is probable that this took place a second time” (Homily 23 on the Gospel of John).

With love in Christ,
Pete Holter

James Swan said...

Pete,

I'm not familiar with this issue in regard to Chrysostom.

My apologies for not getting to your CA thread. I have some other things currently on my plate.

Rebecca Holter said...

Hey James!

Don’t worry about my thread. If it dies it dies. I don’t want to drag you into a discussion that you’re not interested in right now. We all have our own apologetic priorities.

Here is where I’ve written on John Chrysostom and inerrancy, in case you or your readers were interested: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?p=5001582#176

It turned into a very long discussion that continued here: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=381187&page=10#140

And it ended with this final thought (2 posts): http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=381187&page=13#192

Anyway, the situation with Luther reminded me of this. Very similar!

Has Brigitte asked you why you’re not Lutheran? I’m curious. Obviously I’m hoping against hope that you’ll embrace the Roman Popish Papist faith, but why not Lutheran?

In Christ,
Pete

James Swan said...

It's not that I'm not interested- I simply involved in a few other things at the moment. Your link is bookmarked.

Brigitte said...

Peter Holter, thanks for the pitch. There is some really low-hanging fruit there, but I shall pass it by. :)

Weather the world was made in six days or in gazillion years, (evolution still has not come up with any kind of mechanism, so it really should keep its mouth shut; it can bare explain anything at all), when and how often Jesus exactly cleared the temple, or any other such issues, "verbum domini manet in aeternum". It will inform us; it shall form us and not we it.

I agree with James Swan that Luther's view of the inspiration of scripture is very high, that he took every verse very seriously. This is why he is so critical of books such as James, which tells nothing about Christ and makes some other messes. It goes by corollary. It takes a lower view of scripture to let James pass unquestioned. There is irony in this, but it makes sense.

As far as arguing these things ad nauseam goes, it seems to me that Calvinists have a knack for this for which I both commend them and feel like chastising them. We have to use our reason and we need to get to the bottom of things. And a thorough person like James Swan gives untold service.

And still the Calvinist position, how much ever it claims to hold to the inerrant position of the inerrant word, has chosen to sit above scripture. From what I've read in Calvin, and from what I argued not too long ago with some resident calvinist/baptist "scholars" (pardon my bitterness), I see that the "gracious God" whom Luther sought has been thrown out.

When the fact that the gospel is proclaimed to "all nations" comes to mean that it is not proclaimed to every single person (and that doing that would be a "scary", I would have said "pernicious", proposition) but instead that it means that it is proclaimed to "certain" persons among all nations, one just wants to scream real loud and long.

Or worse.

Thus Steve has a point, though I disagree with his use of the Luther quote. -- You can argue minutiae of scripture -- and there is a role for this -- but if you end up with the baby thrown out, you have killed the scriptures you are trying to uphold.

The devil is very sly. Lord have mercy.

Carrie said...

When the fact that the gospel is proclaimed to "all nations" comes to mean that it is not proclaimed to every single person (and that doing that would be a "scary", I would have said "pernicious", proposition) but instead that it means that it is proclaimed to "certain" persons among all nations, one just wants to scream real loud and long.

Who said this?

Brigitte said...

I don't know. You tell me. ?

Was it not Calvin, I got this from? (Don't make me read any more of him to find this again.)

Brigitte said...

Sorry, I think I may be sounding snooty. It was a beautiful, busy summer day, not one really for blogging.

The whole thing comes down to the way the gospel is proclaimed. We know that in Calvinism we have the famous TULIP, via which we are informed that Jesus did not die for every single person on the planet. Hence the proclamation is different than if you think you can just simply announce the good news to everyone.

I did not make up the thing about "all nations". It is consistent with TULIP anyhow.

Recently, to please not open this discussion again, it was Rhology who told me that announcing that in baptism God declares his favor to you is "scary". This goes along with TULIP for me, because you can't simply announce God's favor and let people believe the good news.

Thus no one can simply point to God's word and say something like "Jesus died for MY sins". You are made to look at yourself and see if you have faith, or fruits, or an experience, or whatever. If you have faith--THEN you get to believe the good news. It's like the cat chasing its own tail.

That's the longer of it, Carrie.

And then when you don't have permission to simply cling to the promise, the baby has been thrown out and "inerrancy" is a red herring, not to mention that I believe that the TULIP takes a lot of scripture twisting.

At first I thought maybe Calvin was not responsible for the TULIP, and others wrote it in response to
Arminians, but when I read some Calvin, I could see that it comes straight from him.

Brigitte said...

I just googled this about Calvin. Would you say this is a fair statement? Does this not make him similar to the "neo-orthodox" we are talking about on the other thread?

"In keeping with this view, Calvin sees no need for a common confession of faith for all the Reformed churches. It belongs to the authority of each individual church to formulate its doctrine and order its life according to biblical precepts. In his view the universal church is a kind of federation of confessions. However much the churches have to agree in the essential affirmations of the faith, the confession of each individual church nonetheless retains its specific emphasis."

Carrie said...

Brigitte,

Let me ask you one more thing before I answer you. Do you consider Calvinists heretics?

Brigitte said...

I don't go around calling people heretics. I am interested in the gospel the way Luther was, that people know that by God's unmerited favor, they themselves have a merciful God, each one. The kingdom has been announced to us all. By not proclaiming it clearly, the gospel is really denied to people. I come from there and this is what I care about. Jesus is the Savior of each one unless they reject him. No one should think that he is outside God's mercy and gracious gifts.

I don't know Calvinists except by internet and I'm only learning very gradually about Calvin himself. And what I've read bothers me a lot. I see his use of scripture, as far as I have read, as a scripture twisting and fitting into his own mindset.

I'd like to talk substance, not labels if we could, Carrie. Right now the matter under discussion is if neo-orthodoxy is right or wrong in saying that we can know things about God only in a "probable" way or in a "certain" way.

I believe that my salvation is "certain" based on God's holy and infallible Word and promise.

Taking that away from people, be honest, however, seems unconscionable to me and I will under no circumstance subscribe to such doctrine.

Brigitte said...

Carrie, let me just ask you in this context of certainty vs. probability: do you, Carrie, have gracious God? Do you know beyond all doubt that he is gracious to you also? Is his word of grace true for you?

Did Jesus die and wipe away all the sins of Carrie? And how do you know?

This is what Luther was after, the answer to this question. Does Luther himself have a gracious God and why?

(I'm getting off the computer for the rest of the day...) (Really, truly)

Carrie said...

I don't go around calling people heretics.

I wasn't asking you to call people names or something, I'm just trying to understand where you are coming from so I can reply to your comments here (and from the past) in a more specific manner.

I'd like to talk substance, not labels if we could, Carrie. Right now the matter under discussion is if neo-orthodoxy is right or wrong

Okay, then maybe I should have asked differently. Do you consider Calvinism to be a heresy?

I believe that my salvation is "certain" based on God's holy and infallible Word and promise.

Weren't you fighting against the notion of eternal security in another post?

do you, Carrie, have gracious God? Do you know beyond all doubt that he is gracious to you also? Is his word of grace true for you?

Why are you asking me this? Do you believe I am outside of God's grace because I am Reformed? It's not the first time you have essentially preached the gospel to me and I am confused as to why you do this.

This is why I was asking you if you think Calvinists are heretics b/c I just don't get where you are coming from but I am trying to understand. Or are you unable/unwilling to define where orthodoxy stops and heresy begins in your faith?

James Swan said...

No offense Brigitte, but I'm not that interested in the Lutheran vs. Calvinism argument. Maybe 10 years ago I was, but after I was called a bunch of names and accused of all sorts of things, I decided this was a battle of little worth. That being said, I'll offer a few sparse comments, and then move on. Others will be allowed to further dialog with you on this subject on this blog if you (and they) so wish.

Lutherans claim Calvinists use reason rather than simply letting the scriptures speak. The irony is that every time someone writes or says something about the Bible, they're using reason. It's all simply ridiculous to me. This was basically the position I outlined to you in the paper I sent you (which is now available on my blog sidebar-

Luther's Calvinism?

http://tquid.sharpens.org/Martin%20Luther%20and%20TULIP.htm

The simple fact is that none of us are saved by a theology test. Does a person look to Christ alone and his righteousness alone for their salvation? I'm sure through the centuries, many have. There's probably even a number of people in downright false sects, that despite the heresies of that sect, embrace Christ by faith alone. Some of these folks probably aren't Lutherans or Calvinists. Some of them may be stuck in Romanism or the Watchtower. Who knows? I certainly don't.

You can't look into my heart (though you've tried), I certainly cannot look into yours or anyone else's. I would never be so bold to suggest that you are "insulting" Christ as the host of a great banquet and not knowing Christ as a gracious God.

You do realize I have high regard for you. This should be apparent. I can appreciate your passionate theological inquiries and defenses. I have no doubt you have my best interests in mind. That is, I don't think you're arguing for the sake of arguing. I believe you believe my Reformed theology has dire consequences and you're hoping to alert me of the dangers. For that, I'm grateful, even though I have strong disagreements with you.

James

Brigitte said...

I love you both, but neither of you are speaking to the substance. You may have your way.

Carrie said...

I love you both, but neither of you are speaking to the substance.

That's fine.

Then I'll just say that you can't throw stones at Calvinism after reading a few pages of The Institutes and expect people to take you seriously. I wouldn't expect you to take me seriously if I showed up on your blog maligning Lutheranism after reading a few pages of the BoC.

Joe said...

not sure if it is too late to comment on this thread but, I am reading Martin Marty's "Martin Luther" right now and he says,

"The Scripture was an infallible guide to salvation, even though, contra the views of the scholastics, in his understanding its writers could and did make mistakes when writing on earthly matters." (p. 83)

"While the OT authors, he wrote, guided the people in their day by the right explanation and understanding of God's Word, they also occasionally proclaimed something concerning kings and worldly princes, and when doing so "they often erred"." (p. 83)

So according to this Lutheran scholar...Luther did believe there were some errors, but they did not concern the nature of salvation.

Unfortunately, this book does not reference support for his conclusions.

in Him,

Joe