Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Luther: The Prophets have "a Queer Way of Talking"

Here's a Luther quote recently sent to me:
Luther complained about the prophets: "They have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at."
If you Google the quote, you'll get a number of hits, often without a reference. One helpful reference can be found in Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (Edinburgh, Scotland: Oliver & Boyd, 1965), 2:33, no. 1. The author states in a footnote:
On the confusing impression which the literarry legacy of the prophets makes on the uninitiated, Luther says, "They (the prophets) have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at." (I am indebted to Protfessor Eudo C. Mason for this rendering. Trs.) Works, Weimar Edn., XIX, p. 350.
The quote is from WA 19:350, Luther's Lectures on Habakkuk (1526). It was translated into English in LW 19. One should not read this quote isolated from its context. The quote is from Luther's opening statement (or preface) on Habakkuk. The quote reads:

But before beginning with the text, I must pave the way with a general introductory remark. This is necessary and useful for a better understanding not only of this prophet but also of most of the others. For it has been most confusing in the past to hear the prophets speak of the Jewish kingdom and then to break off so abruptly and intersperse remarks about Christ. Everybody who is not familiar with their method regards that as an odd way of doing things, and he supposes that they observe no order but ramble along from one subject to another. This seems incomprehensible to all; people cannot get used to it. It is indeed very irritating to read a book that observes no order, in which statements are so disconnected that they do not fit together and therefore lack proper coherence. All of that may reasonably be expected of correct and proper speech. Thus the Holy Spirit was accused of an inability to express Himself properly, of talking like a drunkard or a fool, of mixing everything together and of delivering Himself of wild and odd words and statements. But it is we who were at fault; we did not understand the speech, and we were not acquainted with the method of the prophets. For it cannot be otherwise: the Holy Spirit is wise, and He also makes His prophets wise. Now, a wise man must necessarily be able to speak well; this can never fail. But to him who does not hear well or is not sufficiently conversant with a language, to him a speech may seem faulty because he hears or understands hardly half of the words. That has been our experience to date with Scripture. That is why we, too, groped in the dark so, aped others, and often missed the mark and arrived at another meaning. As the saying goes: He who cannot hear well, invents well. (LW 19:152).

2 comments:

Why would you need my name? said...

Thank you so much for tracking down that quote. I had seen the "queer way" quote in a commentary on Micah, but I could not locate the original context.

Your attribution makes a lot more sens. Thank you.

James Swan said...

Why would you need my name? said...
Thank you so much for tracking down that quote. I had seen the "queer way" quote in a commentary on Micah, but I could not locate the original context.


You're welcome.