You Gotta Exegete Someone

Reformed Protestants may be a tad hung up on Scripture, though it is supposed to be the very word of God. But if you begin to waffle on that canon notice how you begin to add to the authoritative texts.

For Roman Catholics, the doctrine of development has a hard time nurturing content with the Bible (even including the Apocrypha):

The deepest reason for the identity of Revelation in its ecclesial continuity is given in the hypostatic union, i.e., in the unity of the human and divine natures in the one divine person of Jesus Christ. The many words he spoke, revealing God’s plan to us through the medium of human language (cf. Joh 3:34; 6:68), are united in the hypostasis or person of the one Word that is God and has become flesh (cf. Joh 1:1, 14). The Word of God comes to us through the preaching of human beings (cf. 1 Thess 2:13); it is made present through human words, with their grammar and vocabulary. Therefore, it is possible and necessary to grow individually and communally in our understanding of the revelation that has been given to us once and for all in Christ. It is clear, then, that Catholic theology has always recognized the fact and necessity of the development of dogma. It is part of Christianity’s essence as the religion of the incarnate Word—the religion of God’s self-revelation in history—to affirm the identity of the doctrine of the faith along a continuous process by which the Church comes to an ever more differentiated conceptual comprehension of faith’s mysteries.

Make of that what you will about the potential problems of development but here you see an affirmation of continuity between the incarnation, divine revelation, and the ongoing revelation of divine truth in the doctrines of the church. Finding a distinction there between the prophets and apostles, and the teachings of the bishops and councils becomes fairly murky when the word incarnate, the word inscripturated, and the mystical body of Christ (the church) are all pieces of ongoing understanding of truth.

Unfortunately, it seems that Lutherans have a similar problem distinguishing between the apostles and the church’s theologians or pastors:

From a very practical standpoint, we have, as Lutheran pastors sworn to uphold the theology of the Book of Concord of 1580, also consequently, committed ourselves to the hermeneutic of reading the confessions we find in the Formula of Concord, and that is, if ever a question arises within the Lutheran church, the writings of Luther are to be consulted for the answer. In other words, the confessions understand themselves not to be so much a theology in and of themselves, but a summation of Luther’s theology:

“Since Dr. Luther is rightly to be regarded as the most eminent teacher of the churches which adhere to the Augsburg Confession and as the person whose entire doctrine in sum and content was comprehended in the articles of the aforementioned Augsburg Confession and delivered to Emperor Charles V, therefore the true meaning and intention of the Augsburg Confession cannot be derived more correctly or better from any other source than from Dr. Luther’s doctrinal and polemical writings.”[1]

Thus the confessions are not the bottom of a theological well from which Lutheran theologians thereafter would draw, but instead the confessions are the peak of the mountain, the mountain which is the theology of Martin Luther. But if that mountain remains unknown to us, how then are we to understand our task as pastors today in view of the Lutheran confessions?” (Paul Strawn, “Rediscovering the Theology of the Small Catechism, i.e. Martin Luther”)

Luther was great and is always edifying to read. But he did not approach salvation by following a great theologian, unless you consider (as some do) Paul the church’s first great theologian. Here, though, Paul had an advantage over Luther. He was infallible.


9 thoughts on “You Gotta Exegete Someone

  1. Great observation. I’d like to add, that as Reformed folk, we should be careful not to place all or most Puritans under the category of infallible as well, or try to defend our favorite current theologian, even when he is wrong in an area of doctrine, when lined up with Scripture. I mentioned this once to a friend of mine, and he said the “Puritans aren’t infallible, but that’s as close as you get, outside of Scripture.” I thought, “Not that close at all.” We can mention quite a few that believed in a “second justification,” or did not believe in double imputation, etc. We must tread our Puritan libraries carefully.


  2. Authoritarianism allowed both those from the Roman Church and the Lutherans to add to the Scriptures. But how are some Presbyterians different when they do the same with the Westminster Standards? There is one difference, whereas those from the Roman Church and conservative Lutherans add to the Scriptures on a dejure basis, some Reformed Presbyterians do so on a defacto basis and it is all done because of authoritarianism.

    What we need is to distinguish between legitimate responses to legitimate authority figures from authoritarianism.


  3. Do this Darryl (trust me)
    Download THIS image somewhere, go into the appearance editor (customize) for this blog, click site identity and select the image as your site icon. The default WordPress favicon ain’t cuttin it.

    You’re welcome 🙂


  4. From the First Things article:

    “One may think here of the Protestant Reformation. Its new formal principle was Scripture alone. This new principle subjected the Catholic doctrine of the faith, as it had developed up to the sixteenth century, to a radical change. The fundamental understanding of Christianity turned into something completely different. Salvation was to be obtained by faith alone, so that the individual believer no longer required the help of ecclesial mediation. In consequence, the Reformers radically rejected the dogmas concerning the seven sacraments and the episcopal and papal constitution of the Church. If understood in this sense, there can be no paradigm shifts in the Catholic faith. Whoever speaks of a Copernican turn in moral theology, which turns a direct violation of God’s commandments into a praiseworthy decision of conscience, quite evidently speaks against the Catholic faith.”

    Wow, talk about a straw man view of the Reformation re: conscience and God’s commands. That may be what many Mainline Protestants and non-Reformed evangelicals believe today, but that is certainly not the view of the Reformers.

    On the other hand, I agree with this, at least in principle:

    “Recently groups of bishops or individual episcopal conferences have issued directives concerning the reception of the sacraments. For these statements to be orthodox, it is not enough that they declare their conformity with the pope’s presumed intentions in Amoris Laetitia. They are orthodox only if they agree with the words of Christ preserved in the deposit of faith.”

    If the RCC viewed the Magisterium the way we view the Confessions – as fallible but based on Scripture and presumably inerrant – they might be on to something. Though they view the Magisterium as the “handmaiden” of Scripture, they elevate it to the same infallible level of Scripture, which is unacceptable.


  5. Leithart—Protestant anti-Catholicism has not only distorted theology and church history. It’s distorted accounts of the history of science, and given an edge to scientistic hostility to religion.

    The significance of “sacraments” is doctrinal and exegetical It is not enough for “don’t take but receive from us” actions to be performed the same by clergy from the OPC and from the Missouri Synod.


  6. Dr. Hart,

    You quoted from my piece, but something has clearly been lost in translation. No one is claiming Luther is infallible. Not sure where you got that from. Do those who signed the Confessions have confidence that they are “truly church” and that Luther, in the context that they knew, best understood and laid out the Scriptures? Certainly. That’s different though.



  7. Dr. Hart,

    The point is that Luther is all about the Bible. As someone noted in the comments to that post, he said:

    “The aggregation of large libraries tends to divert men’s thoughts from the one great book, the Bible, which ought, day and night, to be in every one’s hand. My object, my hope, in translating the Scriptures, was to check the so prevalent production of new works, and to direct men’s study and thoughts more closely to the divine Word. Never will the writings of mortal man in any respect equal the sentences inspired by God. We must yield the place of honour to the prophets and the apostles, keeping ourselves prostrate at their feet as we listen to their teaching. I would not have those who read my books, in these stormy times, devote one moment to them which they would otherwise have consecrated to the Bible.”

    That is precisely *why* we shouldn’t lose sleep about quoting Luther. He always points us to the Bible, to Jesus, and to dealing with the Words of Scripture in the best way possible.



  8. Ya know Darryl, here I am trying to be a nice guy and everything and help you spruce up your blog and you won’t change that favicon. 😦
    Don’t be such a ninny.


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