Lutherans and the Bible
Lutherans believe that the Bible is the Word of God. When we say that, however, we mean something different that what some other Christians mean when they say it. When we say that the Bible is the Word of God we are saying that everything in the Bible is something that God wants us to pay attention to, something God wants us to think about, and sometimes something God wants us to act on. We believe that passages from the Bible should be read in their context and that includes their historical context. As Martin Luther pointed out in his essay How Christians Should Regard Moses sometimes when we read a passage we should say to ourselves, “It is the Word of God. Yes. But is it the Word of God for us in our time?” His point was that some passages have a clear application in their original context but may not be what God is wanting from us in our time. We recognize that the Bible contains a wide variety of types of literature created over a period of thousands of years. In its pages we find poetry, history, political records, allegory, folk tales, hymns and songs, prophetic oracles, visions, letters and more. Not all these things can or should be read the same way.
The Ways the Word of God Comes to Us. For Martin Luther, Jesus Christ was central to every theological undertaking including reading the scriptures. Citing the first chapter of the Gospel of John, Luther made it clear that The Word of God was a living thing which was manifested most fully in Jesus Christ. Luther said that the Word of God comes to us in 6 ways:
1. First and foremost is the Living Word who is Jesus Christ.
2. The Word comes to us through the scriptures. The scriptures are a “vessel which carries the Word,” or “the cradle in which the Christ child is rocked,” or “the manger in which the infant Christ sleeps.” The wise men who knelt at the manger did not worship the manger but the child it cradled.
3. The Word comes to us in the sacraments. Baptism and communion are effective because they are empowered by the Word.
4. The Word comes to us in proclamation; our preaching and teaching.
5. The Word comes to us when we gather as the body of Christ. “Where two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt. 18.20)
6. The Word comes to us through Creation. Luther wrote, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
The Word of God proclaims both Law and Gospel. There is a dynamic tension between Law and Gospel throughout the entire Bible. There is Law in the New Testament and there is Gospel in the Tanakh (the Old Testament). The purpose of the Law is to show me where I’ve fallen short. “It is,” said Luther, “a hammer that breaks through the crust of my self-righteousness.” It makes me examine myself and see how much I need Christ. The Law drives me to the Gospel, those parts of the Bible where I am embraced by God’s love, forgiveness and grace.
Lutherans do not say that the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God. We say that Jesus Christ is the infallible and inerrant Word of God. The Bible points to him. The Bible receives its authority because it points to him. We do not worship the Bible. We worship the God we have encountered in the Bible.
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