In the former discussions on prolegomena I have touched at times on the hermeneutical assumptions and rules that guide classical Lutheran orthodoxy in the interpretation of Scripture. It is necessary at the present juncture to pursue this matter in greater detail, for before we can appreciate the position of the old Lutheran teachers on the various articles of faith, we must understand not only what they thought about Scripture as the source of theology — about its authority, clarity, sufficiency, etc. — but also how they approached Scripture. A doctrinal position may well seem like nonsense until we grasp the exegetical method and canons of hermeneutics that yield this position. Particularly in the case of the inerrancy of Scripture (treated) in detail in the next major section), the doctrine of the orthodox Lutheran theologians will inevitably be misunderstood and caricatured unless one knows with what presuppositions Lutheran theology reads the Holy Scriptures. In what follows, these hermeneutical principles will be delineated so that we may understand the position of the old Lutheran theologians — not that the subject will or could be exhausted, for a thorough analytical study of all the more significant exegetical works of that era is an immense undertaking that is simply not feasible for this book.
The hermeneutics and exegetical procedure of the orthodox Lutherans can be gathered from four sources: their works in prolegomena, which we have considered briefly (e.g., the works of Hyperius, Chytraeus, Gerhard, and Calov); their dogmatic writings, which treat certain basic hermeneutics rules and problems that were under discussion in their day; their monographs dealing with the interpretation of Scripture; and their exegetical works studied analytically. The conclusions sifted from these four sources will not always appear to be in agreement. The dogmatic works and monographs on Biblical interpretation often reflect the polemical situation of the day and lack balance for this reason. By drawing from all four sources I offer a brief but what I hope is a fair summary of their basic principles and chief concerns. It is quite impossible here to give any adequate treatment of the actual practice of Lutheran orthodoxy in interpreting Scripture, to say nothing of offering a complete presentation of all the contributions to Biblical hermeneutics that were produced in those days.
We must bear in mind that in our prior discussions we already found ourselves in the thick of hermeneutical concerns. All that has been said so far concerning Scripture — its divine origin, authority, and sufficiency; its Christological and doctrinal unity; its clarity and inerrancy; also its power and ability to authenticate itself — all constitutes a series of hermeneutical presuppositions of gigantic proportions that will and should totally determine the interpreter's attitude and approach to the Sacred Scriptures. Anthropological and soteriological assumptions are also part of the baggage the theologian brings with him as he interprets Scripture. That the exegete is a poor sinner with an habitual inclination toward evil, that he is in constant need of the Spirit's enlightenment, that all his labors to be fruitful must be preceded by earnest prayer, that every thought even of the regenerate reason must be totally subjected to the words and revelation of God — these too are assumptions of sweeping consequence for the exegete as he goes about his task.
We now offer a series of observations relative to the more prevalent hermeneutical principles and the general exegetical procedure of Lutheran theologians during the period of orthodoxy.
1. General Alertness of the Day
It has sometimes been alleged that the later orthodox Lutheran teachers with their doctrine of the divine origin and inerrancy of Scripture became guilty of a "literalistic," wooden interpretation of Scripture. Those who have charged them with such a mistake assume that the orthodox opinion on the nature and origin of Scripture will necessarily lead to such obtuse, atomistic exegesis. The critics do not bother, however, to support their charges with any concrete evidence. Do the Lutherans during the period of orthodoxy fail generally to recognize the various genres and bold imagery common to the Scriptures?
When we examine the manner in which these theologians actually use the Scriptures, we make some remarkable discoveries. We have already seen how, in contrast to the various enthusiasms of their day, the orthodox Lutheran teachers emphasize the stylistic traits and differences among the writers of the Scripture. In fact, there were lengthy discussions on the subject of stylistics in Scripture. And painstaking analyses of the multifarious tropes and Hebraisms employed throughout the Scriptures. The doctrine of inspiration did not lead to any sort of Aquila-like theory concerning the uniqueness of Biblical language. In every case the writers of Scripture employed the language and literary forms of their day (although not all of them, e.g., forms unworthy of the Spirit of truth), not some sort of divine metalanguage. Therefore the orthodox Lutherans are open to any light that extra-Biblical linguistic analysis might shed on the understanding of Scripture, although their studies in this regard are often primitive. In those days as today it was recognized that Scripture did not speak of God and divine things in the language of philosophic abstraction but in the concrete imagery of anthropomorphism. Scripture accommodates itself to the human mind: e.g., Scripture speaks of eternity as successions of time and of the eternal God as though He was, is, and will be. (Rev. 1:4)
Neither were they troubled with the synoptic problem ( and it was a problem for their day too, as we see from the grotesque attempt of Osiander to solve it.). Parallel and varying accounts of the same event seemed quite natural to them. They were not disturbed by the different wording of the statements of Jesus. They made no frenzied effort to establish the actual words of Jesus. Their conviction concerning the integrity of Scripture and its unity convinced them that they possessed the actual sense of everything Jesus said; and in fact His actual words were identical with the words of His inspired evangelists. Walther points out that the apostles preached and wrote the Word that they received from their Lord. We have therefore in the apostolic writings the actual words of Jesus. Take, for instance, the diverse renderings of the institution of the Lord's Supper. The later Lutherans, like Luther, grow impatient when this fact is thrown up against their exegesis of the words. The same truth can be expressed in any number of formulations. When Matthew and Mark have Jesus say, "This is my blood," and Paul and Luke have, "This is the New Testament in My blood," the four are saying precisely the same thing. Paul and Luke are merely employing hypallage, or metonymy; they are having Jesus speak of what is in the cup. Again when Paul and Luke say "in My blood" rather than "of My blood," they are using a common Hebraism that often prefixed a genitive construction with the letter "beth". The point made by all the Lutherans in their discussions on the words of institution is that the meaning of all the formulations is the same; and this is all that matters.
What I have attempted to show in these few prefatory remarks is that the orthodox Lutheran theologians, far from being exegetical obscurantists, were unhampered and alert exegetes who, laboring under the authority of the divine Word, desired to avail themselves of every help toward understanding and eliciting the meaning of that divine Word.
2. The Necessity of the Spirit's Guidance for the Interpretation of Scripture
The interpretation of Scripture is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:10). This was the most fundamental presupposition for all exegesis. The highest authority in interpreting Scripture is the Spirit of God Himself; He it is who enlightens the interpreter to find the mind and sense of Scripture, and this He accomplishes through Scripture itself. Without the enlightenment of the Spirit no exegete can grasp with salutary results the content of Scripture. True, the meaning of words and syntax can be known without any special illumination, but not the saving message, the Gospel (Matt 11:27; 16:17; Ps. 119:18; 1 Cor. 3:7; Eph. 1:17). On the basis of such Biblical evidence Calov concludes: "By his own powers without the gracious operation of God no man can understand the Scriptures with any benefit, neither can he render firm and trusting assent to them." This point of departure for all profitable exegesis is supported by the fact that faith, with which the theologian must work in interpreting Scripture, is itself a gift of God and a result of divine grace (Eph. 1:19; Phil 1:29). All that we know of God is wrought by God Himself. (2 Cor. 3:5; 2 Tim. 2:7, Deut 29:4; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil 1:6)
This position, the converse of which was that the unregenerate man cannot grasp the meaning of Scripture but will only wrest it to his own destruction, is not some minor consideration in the theology of classical Lutheranism. On the contrary, just as for Tertullian only the church was competent to interpret the Scriptures and possessed the right to do so, for Lutheran orthodoxy only the regenerate man could read and use Scripture with any hope of fruitful results. Think only of the errors, for instance, in the understanding for the Pharisees and scribes in their interpretations of the Scriptures, and this in spite of their immense erudition. However, no need of any special revelation is necessary for the Christian to understand the Scriptures. There is nothing esoteric about the interpretation of Scripture; there are no secret meanings in Scripture. The meaning is clear for all who have ears to hear and understand; for Scripture is clear enough in itself and is its own interpreter.
The regenerate interpreter of Scripture requires the continual aid and enlightenment of the Spirit, because he is never free of his corrupt reason and sinful curiosity. What is this guidance and enlightenment the Holy Spirit provides the Christian interpreter? Essentially it consists in the Spirit guiding the interpreter not so much to understand the literal sense, which is open even to an unbeliever, as to believe the intended sense of Scripture, it consists in His leading the believer to break with the dictates of reason and even with the apparent evidence of experience and to hold fast to the message of Scripture. The interpretation of Scripture, therefore, according to classical Lutheranism, often requires a virtual sacrifice of intellect. Faith is often in the impossible and the absurd — according to human reasoning. Whether the Word of Scripture agrees with our reason or not, we can only submit to it, believe it, and hold to it. Such submission (wrought in us by the Holy Spirit), such total commitment to the truthfulness of Sacred Writ, is an absolutely necessary hermeneutical presupposition. Typical of the Lutheran position is this statement by Calov;
We ought to take captive every thought in obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Now if our minds and thoughts are to be taken captive under the obedience of faith, it is incumbent upon us to accept the Word of God even if our mind cannot comprehend it at all, even if in our minds we are persuaded that it is false. With respect to the mysteries of faith the mode of thinking of God's Word is such "foolishness" to human judgment that "the carnal man cannot grasp or understand it all" (1 Cor. 2:14). It is exceedingly important for us therefore to believe the Word of God, however crassly foolish it may seem, and not to follow science and our erring conscience. Contrariwise, we must hold fast to the Word of God, whatever our erring conscience, which regards it all as absurd, may argue to the contrary. But we must add that the Word of God with its divinely instilled clarity and efficacy has the power to free even the mistaken conscience from its errors and provide a knowledge of the truth.
To the old Lutheran theologians Scripture was not just a dead book, as we shall see, but is God speaking, urging, pleading, striving to make His claim on us. This accounts for the fact that a man, dead spiritually and blind to the revelations of God, can be brought by the Spirit to sacrifice his intellect and understand and accept the Scriptures. For to understand the Scriptures is (by the guidance of the Holy Spirit) to accept the Scriptures.
3. The Fundamental Hermeneutical Rule:
Establishing the Literal Meaning of the Text
Fundamentally the interpretation of Scripture is an analytical activity whereby the genuine sense of Biblical passages that are not immediately clear is accurately investigated, descriptively drawn out, and set forth. According to Gerhard the public interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures in the church embraces two parts: interpretation, or explanation, of the text; and practical application. The interpretation in turn embraces an investigation of the true and genuine sense, and a plain and clear explanation of this sense. Only the literal sense of Scripture is valid for establishing doctrine and teaching in the church. This basic rule is directed against the use of the so-called mystical sense to establish doctrine and against the claim that all interpretation ultimately belongs to the pope.
The literal sense of Scripture is the meaning, or tenor, that the words directly and obviously convey. For instance, in John 3:16 the literal sense is immediately clear. But there is also a literal sense to those passages that are tropical and figurative. Such passages we do not read superficially according to the surface tenor of the words, as when Herod is called a fox or when we are to cut off a hand that offends us — such an interpretation would be absurd. In figurative statements of this kind, not only the words according to their native sense but also the thing or point (res) that the words express according to their quondam imagery must be considered. The literal sense, then, is the sense intended by the writer, whatever trope or genre is used. Figures of speech, words, and even ideas all have their literal sense. And the literal sense (meaning, intention) of a pericope is drawn from all these ingredients. Glassius makes it quite clear that the literal sense of a Scripture passage or pericope is not necessarily identical with the surface meaning of the words, but the genre of the text or the tropes therein must also be ascertained, when necessary, to determine the literal sense of a text. We quote him at length:
The literal sense is that which is directly intended by the Holy Spirit or by Christ in the sacred Scriptures. This literal sense is either strict or figurative. For since the words of any writing or text must be taken in either a strict or loose sense, it is necessary that the literal sense of the words be of two kinds. The strict literal sense obtains when the words are taken according to their ordinary and native meaning. Thus, in the words of the Lord's Supper, "Take and eat, this is My body," the strict literal sense obtains, because in this case no word occurs in a modified sense or affected by a trope. "Take" is understood according to its common usage as meaning to take with is understood according to its common usage as meaning to take with the mouth or the hand. "Eat" denotes the usual eating done with the mouth. "This" in its normal sense denotes that which Christ gave the apostles to eat. "Is" normally connects the predicate with the subject and points to the substance of the Eucharistic sacrament. "Body" denotes properly the Lord's body itself, which subsists in the most glorious person of the Logos. "My," taken strictly, denotes the personal pronoun. A figurative literal sense obtains when the words are taken figuratively or in a modified sense, when very obviously in the writings and text of the Scripture to be explained there occurs some sort of trope. In this case we say that the appropriate and stylistic intention is sought, whereas in the text whose sense is strictly literal we say only that the words in their natural and ordinary meaning are taken into consideration. Thus when Christ in John 6 speaks of eating the bread of life, the literal sense is figurative. For "bread" is not to be understood as bread in the strict sense but means the life-giving flesh of Christ, which is called bread metaphorically. Neither is the eating to be understood in the ordinary sense as eating done with the mouth, but it is a spiritual eating done with the heart; that is to say, the eating is to be taken as faith in Christ. All this can be proved abundantly from the intention of Christ from the connection of the context, and from analogy of Scripture.
This statement of Glassius, which is typical of the position of all the Lutheran teachers of the era, again manifests the ardent concern of Lutheran exegesis to determine before all else the intention, the true meaning, of the Scripture texts under consideration. Any application of such hermeneutical principles as the unity of Scripture or the rule that Scripture interprets Scripture is quite impossible without first determining the meaning of the individual texts in their broader and narrower contexts. And so the hermeneutical task is always first and foremost to establish the once-for-all meaning of the Scripture text. This meaning does not and cannot change. It remains the same for the Israelites of the Old Testament and for the Christians for the first century and of today. The intention of Scripture cannot be altered or vitiated according to the canons of human ingenuity or reason or according to cultural or intellectual advances. Nothing can be brought to Scripture whereby the intention is altered in any pericope or passage or phrase. It was the contention of the Socinians that due to the degree of imagery in Scripture the interpreter was called on at times to render a meaning for a Scripture pericope that was foreign to the intention of the words themselves. With a certain unexpected restraint Calov censures this view, which would undermine all normative and final exegesis:
Now although we would not deny that on some occasions we can and ought to explain the words of Scripture in a figurative sense when the strict sense (of the passage) obviously opposes the manifest data of Scripture or is plainly foreign to the sweep and context (of the entire section), still the literal sense must not be immediately bypassed because of the critical investigation of human reasoning alone. Human judgment cannot follow or comprehend these things and with its own kind of subtile insights even opposes the intention of Scripture. No, we must stick with the intention and natural force of the words of the sacred writing, particularly in reference to those chief sections presenting the articles of faith and the classic utterances of Scripture, and we must do so no matter how absurd overweening reason may judge these words to be.
In other words, there must be no receding from the literal sense of the words of Scripture unless there is some intimation by the author himself for our doing so.
This hermeneutical rule that we cannot depart from the natural, literal sense of Scripture unless Scripture itself suggests such a practice is predicated on a number of well-established facts. First, the high and lofty content of Scripture surpasses utterly the critical judgment of man's thoughts (1 Cor. 2:14). The message and assertions of Scripture cannot be investigated according to the canons of ordinary human insight, but the words of Scripture can only be accepted in the simplicity of faith (Is. 55:8; Luke 1:36ff.). Second, the clarity of Scripture is utterly vitiated when one twists its meaning according to his own preferences. Calov says: "If the words of Scripture were not to be accepted according to their intention but only as they commend themselves to our way of thinking, then the thoughts that are taken from the Scriptures themselves cannot be considered to be clear and lucid." The failure to read Scripture according ot is clear intention conflicts also with the perfection of Scripture, with the rule that the literal and native sense is one, and with the prohibition against bringing one's own private interpretation to Scripture. The interpretation of tropes and figurative language cannot change with the times. Otherwise no definite and consistent interpretation of any Scripture passage could obtain.
The Lutheran insistence on determining the literal sense of Scripture is clearly opposed to the theory of Origen, which filtered down to the Schoolmen, that every Scripture passage admitted of a muliplex intelltgentia and a fourfold sense must be sought. But what about analogical meaning (allegory, type), which is at times assigned an Old Testament pericope by the New Testament? Strictly speaking, such a procedure is not interpretation but application. Such a practice in no way vitiates the historical and literal sense of the pericope or imposes a new meaning on the words; it is rather a case of drawing from the literal sense an analogy is drawn and a type is sought for purposes illustration.
Do figurative or parabolic utterances in Scripture present doctrine in such a clear fashion that they can be used as proof for doctrine? This question was considered in some detail by the later Lutheran teachers because of the categorical negative answer given by the Socinians. The Socinian Valentin Schmalz, for instance, as quoted by Calov, asserted dogmatically: "To attempt to construct a dogma of religion from figurative discourse is nothing else than to admit beforehand that the dogma is false." For example, Schmalz would not allow Luke 16:19-31 to be used in support of any article of faith, because the pericope was a parable. Calov's rebuttal is definite but cautious. It is true, he admits, that the highly figurative genres of Scripture are not always capable of any definite and certain interpretation and can therefore yield no dogmatic certainty. In some cases any interpretation is extremely dubious. However, there can be no reason for insisting a priori that figurative language, when its import is plain and clear, as it often is, cannot establish or support a dogma of faith. It is just such language that offers the definite sense of the Holy Spirit. An example of a dogma resting on figurative language is the doctrine of Christ's session at the right hand of the Father. Again the scope of some parables is quite dubious, and in general the aphorism holds true Theologia parabolica non est argumentativa. But if the scope and intention of a parable is clear — and there is no reason for assuming a priori that this may not be so — the parable may certainly be used to support doctrine, provided one does not venture beyond its scope. Thus, for instance, Luke 16:19-31 teaches clearly enough that the souls of men after this life are borne immediately and without delay either into the bosom of Abraham or into a place of torment. The problem created by the Socinian position becomes quite clear when we pause to consider how very little in Scripture is not figurative. Calov remarks: "if all those passages that contain figurative expressions are uncertain and cannot prove anything, what then, I ask, will be considered certain in Scripture, since well-nigh all things in Scripture are stated figuratively." It is a Biblical claim that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine (2 Tim. 3:16). Actually the very goal of figurative, symbolical, parabolic, and even typical language is to teach and establish doctrine, as Christ and the apostles make clear in their ministries. The brazen serpent, Jonah, the Old Testament priesthood, and purification ceremonies are types and images used in the New Testament to teach and clarify doctrine.
4. "There is One Literal Sense"
Adjunct to the fundamental hermeneutical task of searching out the literal sense of Scripture was the principle that a given text of passage of Scripture offers only one genuine sense, the literal sense. This one meaning of individual words of passages in their given context is a constant and cannot be changed. Such a hermeneutical norm was directed against the medieval practice of allegorizing and attaching to Scripture a fourfold sense, a practice defended and followed by the Roman theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was also in opposition to the Socinian opinion that the meaning of Scripture and its interpretation could change with the advances of history, science, and culture. The rule is stated concisely by Gerhard: "There is only one proper and legitimate sense to each Scripture passage, a sense intended by the Holy Spirit and derived from the natural meaning of the words; and only from this one literal sense can any valid argumentation be brought forth. Allegorical, tropological, and anagogical interpretations are not different meanings but different inferences drawn from the one meaning or different adaptations to the one meaning and sense that the writings express." Another rule, correlative to the above, was that a definite meaning was intended by the Spirit of God in every individual pericope of Scripture."
It is clear what motivated the Lutheran theologians in their insistence on the one sense. A multiplicity of meanings ascribed to a single Bible text turns Scripture into a waxen nose and makes a chaos of all Biblical exegesis. Furthermore, if a given text can possess many meanings, what then becomes of the clarity, the inerrancy, or even the authority of Scripture? All Christian doctrine becomes uncertain. Calov expresses the Lutheran concern: "Although there is much figurative speech and many tropical and parabolic utterances in Scripture, we must not suppose that Scripture offers uncertain doctrine or that the Holy Spirit spoke with a studied ambiguity concerning matters of faith. Neither must we think that He intended many meanings with the same words and at the same time; but one and the same words express only one sense." One notes a certain sense of security and optimism among the Lutheran exegetes who operate with the principle that there is one literal sense. True, there will be many times when an interpreter must content himself with a possible exegesis of a Biblical text. But the principle is still a source of constant encouragement to the interpreter. If careful investigation is made, the meaning of even difficult texts often becomes clear. Watching the context, the scope, and the intention of the text, as well as the analogy of faith, often aids the theologian in arriving at the true sense of passages that at first seem dark and obscure.
But what about the allegorical application and typological interpretation that the New Testament often gives the Old? Do Jesus and the apostles by such a practice ascribe to passages of the Old Testament meanings different from the original intended sense? Such questions require a bit of answering, and the Lutherans are most thorough in their discussions of the nature and validity of allegory and type. First, they insist against the Roman exegetes that typological and allegorical interpretation cannot be applied to every passage of Scripture but must be restricted to those cases where Scripture itself practices such a method. Next, they carefully explain - and I am summarizing Glassius at this point - what they mean by a dual sense that is both literal (historical) and mystical (spiritual). The sense of Scripture is the meaning that the Spirit of God intends to be known and understood by those who read it. But often the Spirit intends a higher meaning to be understood from the persons or events depicted in a text than the reading of the text as a mere history immediately conveys. Thus, not only the history is the sense of the text, but through the history a certain mystery is introduced as the sense of the text. For instance, by causing the story of the fiery serpent to be recorded in Numbers 21:8-9, the Spirit intended more to be understood than what can be drawn from the text taken in its merely historical framework. Jesus makes it clear (John 3:14-15) that the story is more than a mere history; the story points to Him being lifted on a cross so that all men might live through Him. Granted that Jesus accommodates the text to Himself, such an accommodation is however justified: this was the intention of the Spirit in the text from the Book of Numbers. The possibility that Jesus and the apostles by typological interpretation are imposing a meaning upon the Old Testament texts that is not there by intention is never entertained by the Lutheran theologians; in such a case Christ and the apostles would have twisted and perverted the sense of the Old Testament, a very immoral practice that would have defeated their purpose of drawing their teaching from the Old Testament Scriptures.
What is the difference between allegory and type? Allegory as understood by Philo and the medieval scholastics was never employed in the Scriptures, according to the Lutheran exegetes. The one case in the New Testament where the apostle Paul "speaks through Allegory" (Gal. 4:24) is taken by most of the classical Lutheran exegetes as a case of typology. As used in the Scriptures, allegory, according to Flacius, is a heightened form of metaphor, employed for purposes of illustration. An example of such a form is John the Baptist's preachment in Matt. 3:10,12. Gerhard too sees allegory as a mere illustrative device. Whereas type is an instance of a concrete person or action in the Old Testament prefiguring or foreshadowing something in the New Testament, allegory gives a new meaning to something in the Old or New Testament for the sake of application only. For instance, we might say that David's victory over Goliath signifies the victory of our spirit over the flesh. This would be said to illustrate a point, not to prove it, and there is nothing in the story of David and Goliath that suggests the victory of our spirit over our flesh. The allegory is used merely for illustrative purposes. In this it differs from type.
What its emphasis on types in the Old Testament (Melchizedek, Adam, the stairs of Jacob, the sacrifices, the crossing of the Red Sea, the manna, the fiery serpent, etc.) And on direct predictive prophecy where the prophetic words themselves pointed directly to Christ, classical Lutheranism shows that in a sense it regarded the entire Old Testament as typological, as a foreshadowing and a blueprint, as it were, for the work of Christ and the coming of His kingdom. This would account for the fact that the New Testament so often and at times with apparent caprice finds allusions and types and prophecies of Christ throughout the Old Testament. The same Spirit of God is author of the Old Testament Scriptures, which point to the coming Christ and prepare for Him, and of the New Testament Scriptures, which testify of the Christ who has come according to the promises. Still, the old Lutherans were very cautious and generally did not find types lurking within every Old testament figure; nor did they seek to discover or make anything of prophecy in the Old Testament where the New Testament did not find it. They were careful, too, not to confuse type and prophecy, although to them type was a kind of prophecy.
There were times, however, when agreement could not be reached over the classification of certain passages. For instance, Hos. 11:1, "Out of Egypt have I called My son," was taken by the majority of commentators--Calov, Quenstedt, A. Pfeiffer, et. al. — as predictive prophecy. Their arguments were that "my son" in this context cannot refer to the backsliding Israel but only to the pure and holy Son, Christ. The term cannot be both collective and individual, and it is understood individually in Matt. 2:15. Furthermore, Matthew prefaces his citation of these with "That is might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying." Michael Walther, on the other hand, takes the verse as an example of typology where Israel's calling from Egypt foreshadows what took place in the life of our Lord. He avers that son often refers to Israel in the Old Testament (Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9) and does in this case also. It is perfectly permissible, he says, to use the term collectively in reference to the type (Israel) and individually in reference to the antitype (Christ) as Matthew does. The term seed, for instance, is used collectively in Gen. 28:14 and at the same time refers to the individual, Christ. That Matthew speaks of Christ fulfilling the prophecy from Hosea fits in perfectly with a typical interpretation, for type is a mode of prophecy.
We might ask why Calov, Quenstedt, and others failed to follow Walther's more convincing exegesis of Hos. 11:1. The answer is clearly their fear--in this case unfounded--of violating the unus sensus principle. In all the long discussions of the Lutheran theologians on allegory (always as an extended metaphor) and typology we notice that the basic principle of the one literal sense is never violated or weakened.
5. "Scripture Interprets Itself"
That Scripture interprets itself means for Lutheran theology merely that the true sense of Scripture must be derived from Scripture itself. The Holy Spirit, who is the author of all Scripture, must be allowed to be His own interpreter. Any compromise of this principle turns Scripture into an inanimate skeleton or mute image that must be animated by the church. The Scriptures themselves offer sufficient light for us to read them correctly. One therefore cannot and must not interpret Scripture according to foreign thought forms or norms. The canons of Biblical interpretation are found within Scripture itself.
Hollaz divides the hermeneutical aids suggested by Scripture itself into three classifications : antecedent, formal, consequent. The antecedent aids for interpretation are prayer; a previous acquaintance with the articles of faith; a solid knowledge of the Biblical mode of speaking, which would enable one to recognize the genres, tropes, etc.; a love for the truth that desires only to find the genuine sense of a text and interpret it clearly; and finally, the continued and repeated reading of Scripture. The formal aids are a careful and analytical examination of the words and phrases of the Biblical text; a careful consideration of the scope and intention of the text (bearing in mind always that the aim of all Scripture is the glory of God and the instruction, comfort, and edification of believers); careful study of the context of every text and pericope; an exhaustive collation of parallel passages so as to gather all possible data on the great Biblical themes (remembering always that parallel passages must always deal with the same subject); and finally, continual reference to the analogy of faith. All this should provide the exegete with a mastery of the Biblical mode of speaking and theology so that he reads Scripture from the inside. The consequent aids for interpreting Scripture are the means necessary for serious application of the Biblical theology: we are to translate the literal sense of the divine words into teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.
As Hollaz has explained the "Scripture explains itself", there is a good deal of overlap with other hermeneutical norms. But he is primarily concerned about what he calls the formal aids, and particularly the aid that one passage gives to the understanding of a parallel passage that is less clear. The clear passages of Scripture must shed light on the obscure passages dealing with the same subject matter. This is done by applying the so-called analogy of faith. The analogy of faith, according to all the old Lutheran theologians, was simply the articles of faith that could be summarized under the categories of Law and Gospel (2 Tim. 1:13). No interpretation of any passage can conflict with these clear articles of faith. This does not mean that there are no theological gaps, logical gaps, between the various articles of faith. It does means that one passage of Scripture can often help us in finding the meaning of another passage that treats the same article of faith. Romans 3--4 can help us to understand James 2, since they both deal with the justification of a sinner before God.
But is it not reasoning in a circle to say that Scripture explains itself? By no means. The official document of a ruler is explained by that document itself. The meaning of a father's last will and testament is explained by that will. The sun is known by its own light. So it is with Scripture. The aid of theologians and doctors in Biblical interpretation is of course necessary, but not absolutely so; actually such aid is calculated merely to bring out the meaning of Scripture itself. The formal aids mentioned by Hollaz above are not human and probable but are implied by Scripture itself. To apply the principle that Scripture interprets itself will serve to lead the exegete deeper into Scripture; this was the optimistic conviction of all the Lutherans.
6. The Unity of Scripture
Following Luther, the theologians of Lutheran orthodoxy make Christ the central theme of all Scripture. Christ is the pearl, the scope, the center, the nucleus, the evangelical treasure of all Scripture, Old and New Testament alike. All Scripture points to Him. Only in Him is Scripture read aright and understood. The genuine scope and ultimate intention of the entire Scripture is that we might come to a knowledge of the person, the office, and the benefits of Christ. Without Christ the Scripture is not an instrument whereby the Spirit gives life, but a dead letter, a letter that kills. The goal of Scripture is not just that we might know something historically about Christ and then talk about that, but that we might come to Him, come to Him in faith and true repentance, and in Him and through Him find life. He who does not seek life in Christ but thinks that he can manage in some other way will never be a fit reader of Scripture. The Christocentricty of Scripture is not therefore merely some worn cliche, but a principle established directly by Scripture and by Christ Himself (e.g., John 5:39, 2 Tim. 3:15) from the mass of prophecy and typology present throughout Scripture. The Christocentricity of Scripture becomes a hermeneutical norm. All Scripture must be read and expounded Christologically.
This conviction of all the orthodox Lutherans that the Christocentricity of Scripture is a hermeneutic principle dovetails perfectly with their belief that the theology of Scripture is one unified Christian theology, with their strong and consistent Christological exegesis of the Old Testament, with their emphasis on the analogy of faith as a hermeneutical norm, and with their understanding that all Scripture is Law or Gospel. But what is of higher significance is that the Christocentricity of Scripture unities the formal (Scripture alone) principle of theology with the material principle (justification through faith in Christ) in such a way that neither stands alone, but each complements the other perfectly. The Sacred Scriptures, which are the norm of doctrine, are the Scriptures that declare Christ throughout. Thus, Scripture is in no sense a mere authoritative history or book or rules. It is the norm for Christian doctrine. At the same time the Gospel is never and need never be divorced from Scripture as its source; for all Scripture is Christological, that is, evangelical.
The Christological unity in Scripture infers also a doctrinal unity in Scripture. If the same Gospel pervades all of Scripture, the doctrine in Scripture, which if really no more than the teaching of the Gospel, will be the same throughout Scripture. The Gospel is not first proclaimed in the New Testament, neither does the New Testament teach a Gospel different essentially from the Old Testament. Commenting on Romans 1, Calov says: "Now this Gospel (of St. Paul) is not something new, nor does he present anything new relative to the substance of his doctrine. Rather he teaches the same doctrine as the prophets taught. It is only that what they proclaimed would be performed, he now testifies has been completed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. To be sure, there is a vast difference between the Old and New Testament Scriptures in their presentation of doctrine; there is a definite unfolding and advance in clarity as well as phraseology and thought. The Old Testament Scriptures present the doctrine under different circumstances and different times; in the Old Testament Christ is prefigured under shadows and types as something to come. But substantially the theology of Scripture is one, even as Christ is one. Faith does not change with the times.
This means that Lutheran orthodoxy will, when tracing any theme or motif, quote indiscriminately from all over Scripture, not ignoring the differences in style and background and progression of thought in the different passages — the Lutheran theologians are careful to note these factors when they think it is important — but nevertheless recognizing that the theology (doctrine) of the different authors will not differ; and therefore, their procedure is perfectly justified. Classical Lutheran orthodoxy holds that such a procedure, based on the conviction that all Biblical theology is one, is Scriptural; it is the practice of the New Testament Scriptures and of Christ as they explain the Old Testament Scriptures. The procedure will, of course, materially affect their use of Scripture. For instance, one might be surprised to find Quenstedt employing almost as much Old Testament evidence as New Testament evidence of developing the doctrine of the vicarious atonement. And Calov will at times employ almost exclusively New Testament evidence (e.g., John 5:39; Luke 16:29; Acts 10:43; 26:22; Rom. 4:6; 10:11; etc.) To show that justification by faith was taught in the Old Testament. And so a procedure that to many today might appear to be hopelessly unscholarly, aprioristic, and circular is really quite in order. Why not, if both the Old and the new Testament Scriptures are the Word of one God, pointing to one Christ, reflecting one theology, the theology of very God? We must recall that for classical Lutheranism, Scripture, strictly speaking, is not man's word about God but God's Word to man about Himself; He, the one true God, is the author of all theology. "The Author of Theology is God". That little aphorism was taken seriously by the old Lutherans and applied consistently. Today anyone who would dispute with their use of Scripture must attack them at this early and crucial point, not later. It goes without saying that the principle "Scripture interprets Scripture" cannot be applied unless there is doctrinal unity in Scripture, one Gospel teaching proclaimed throughout.
7. New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures
The Old Testament Scriptures have a force, usefulness, and necessity equal to that of the New. Like the ancient church fathers, the Lutheran theologians believed that the Old Testament Scriptures belonged to the church. This belief led them to the conviction that the Old Testament Scriptures were useful in convincing Jews concerning Christ and the Christian religion. This is particularly important in their day, they said when the Jews, being far withdrawn from Christ's life and miracles and resurrection, had only His doctrine to examine in the light of the Old Testament Scriptures was the approach of both Christ and the apostles in dealing with the Jews; and this can and ought to be our approach today, wherever possible.
That the Old Testament Scriptures are Christian Scriptures and of equal force with the New Testament writings implies that the rule of St. Augustine be seriously practiced, In veteri testamento novum latet, in novo vetus patet. The New Testament explains and interprets the Old. And such exegesis of the Old Testament is final and unassailable. All Lutherans during the age of orthodoxy were content to read the Old Testament Scriptures trustingly and ingenuously in the light of their fulfillment in Christ. And this as interpreted in the New Testament. It never occurred to them to distrust or question the validity of any New Testament interpretation of the Old. The Socinians in those days advanced the theory similar to the view of many modern exegetes that the Old Testament prophecies had to be meaningful and have bearing on the people of the time when they were written. The New Testament, however, in proclaiming Christ "accommodates" the Old Testament to the goal of bringing us to faith in Jesus Christ. (Examples of such accommodation are Is. 49:8 with 2 Cor. 6:2; Is. 1:9 with Rom. 9:29; and Hos. 11:1 with Matt. 2:15.) "It is the very attribute of divine prophecies," Socinus said, "that they be obscure and cannot be perfectly understood until after the event has taken place." The Lutherans did not totally reject such a position. As we have seen, they were not averse to saying that the New Testament "accommodates" the Old Testament to Christ. But they were careful to point out that such a procedure does not impose a new or different meaning on the Old Testament prophecies. They were also concerned to maintain that the Old Testament prophecies, although not as clear as their fulfillment, were able to create a Messianic hope in the hearts of people of that day. And therefore there is no a priori reason for insisting that every Old Testament prophecy must somehow refer to the people who would first hear or read it. The Old Testament abounds in direct rectilinear prophecies that refer only to Christ; in such a way these prophecies are understood by the New Testament, and in the same way they were to be understood when first delivered in the Old Testament.
The New Testament, then, is the key to understanding these Old Testament prophecies; it is an inspired interpretation of these prophecies in the light of fulfillment. To take only one example, Hebrews 1 interprets many Old Testament prophecies as pointing directly to Christ and to no one else. To the writer of Hebrews, Ps. 102:25 in itself "demonstrates...that the Son is not some sort of creature but the very Creator Himself. Psalm 8:5 refers directly and only to the humiliation and exaltation of Christ. And Ps. 45:6 points to Christ's throne and in no sense to Solomon's, as the Jews contended. Admittedly,. according to such exegesis, the New Testament interpretation will settle the meaning of an Old Testament passage. This fact, however, does not imply that the Lutheran exegetes pay no consideration to the context of the Old Testament prophecies. On the contrary, they repeatedly attempt to show the Messianic character of such prophecies by the Old Testament context. For instance, Brochmand goes to great length in order to show from the Old Testament text alone that Ps. 45 can refer only to the coming King Christ. Some of his observations are that the throne of the King is the throne of God ("Thy throne, O God"); it is an eternal throne; it designates a rule of complete righteousness. No such description could possibly refer to Solomon's reign. That Solomon might have been a type of Christ does not occur to Brochmand in this instance. Of course, such an interpretation of the Old Testament text must agree with the interpretation given it in the New Testament; and therefore the New Testament is often of invaluable help to the interpreter of the Old Testament. If the old Lutherans were charged, as they were at times by Socinians and Arminians, of not reading the Old Testament prophecies in their Old Testament context, they replied that the New Testament understands perfectly and takes into account the Old Testament context; and furthermore the fulfillment of prophecy in the New Testament belongs to the wider context of the prophecies themselves.
We must bear in mind as we attempt at this point to understand the classical Lutheran interpretation of Scripture that the theologians of that day saw the writing of Scripture in a Sitz im Leben quite different from that imagined by scholars today. The conclusions of the so-called Religionsgeschichtliche Schule would have repelled them. They confidently assumed on the basis of internal Biblical evidence alone that the writers of Scripture were uninfected by Israel's neighbors, at least religiously; that, in spite of all her backsliding, God was directly leading Israel and revealing Himself to her through His prophets; and that Hebrew religion in the Old Testament was dominated by hope in a promised Savior. Modern theories on the development of theology, evolution of religion, and progressive revelation were foreign to their thinking, as such theories are foreign to the New Testament itself, and in fact were repudiated at great length when introduced by Socinians and certain Arminians. It is, of course, true as Dorner says, that justice was not done by the Lutherans of this era to the historical element of exegesis. History was barely a budding discipline in those days. But the reason for this is not due, I believe, to their doctrine of inspiration (that the writers of Scripture were instruments of the Holy Spirit), as Dorner alleges, but to the very rigid principle that the New Testament writings offer an absolutely authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures. And we might ask, does the New Testament itself give any more weight to the historical context of the Old Testament Scriptures when it cites passages from them.
8. The Legitimacy of Consequences Drawn from Scripture
In their discussions concerning the sufficiency of Scripture Lutheran theologians maintained that it was proper to draw consequences from Scripture, that these inferences, or conclusions, had the force of divine doctrine, and that they were even necessary for salvation at times. In other words, a legitimate consequence drawn from Scripture is as Scriptural as the Biblical passage from which it is drawn. It first became necessary to articulate this essential principle because of the precipitate suggestions of Bucer and other Calvinists that doctrinal controversies ought to be settled by an appeal to the actual words of Scripture, when in fact it was the interpretation of the actual words that was under debate. However, it was primarily against the Socinians that the principle was argued. Adopting a Sadducean-like exegesis, the Socinians held that doctrine could not be based on consequences drawn from Scripture. This rigid position lay behind their rejection of the Trinity and the deity of Christ: there was no passage in the Scriptures, they averred, that explicitly taught these dogmas. It was their boast that their theology was based on Scripture without any consequences. The Lutherans on their part insisted that it was a legitimate exegetical procedure to draw consequences from Scripture and that these consequences had the force of doctrine. Christ Himself appealed to consequences in demonstrating fundamental articles of faith. He proved the resurrection of the dead from a Scripture passage that did not explicitly teach the resurrection (Mark 12:26), and he predicted His own resurrection on the basis of Old Testament passages that did not explicitly teach this. That He was Messiah was based on an inference from the Old Testament Scriptures (John 5:39; Acts 10:43, and even today we cannot prove that Jesus is the Christ except through legitimate conclusions drawn from the Old Testament. Calov points out that even fides specialis is always built on an inference drawn from Scripture. To be certain of his salvation, a sinner must draw conclusions from Scripture passages that teach that God wishes to save all men.
Lutheran exegetes were most scrupulous not to carry too far the principle that consequences ought to be drawn from scripture. They were generally anxious not to drag out long catenae of deductions from single Bible passages. Although they were seldom averse to basing a single syllogism on a passage when this seemed called for. The Socinians sometimes argued around the import of certain passages by claiming that their application was limited to the times in which they were written. For instance, when Paul spoke of the necessity of sending preacher (Rom. 10:15), this applied only to his day. Although the Lutherans rejected such narrow interpretations as this, they were careful not to make a doctrine or precept out of a mere Biblical precedent, for such a procedure could result in the worst kind of legalism and absurdity. They argued, for instance, against the Reformed who insisted on breaking the bread of the Sacrament of the Altar because Christ had first done so. Conclusions must be based on the general nature and intention of the Biblical statement and its obvious and unavoidable implications.
As we conclude our resume of the classical Lutheran hermeneutics, we must pause to make a few remarks relative to a rather general charge leveled against the exegesis of the Lutherans of the orthodox era. The charge is made that their exegesis was no longer free but bound to a rigid dogmatic consensus and that their interest in exegesis was confined to word problems, as though Scripture were interested only in furnishing them. This charge is not wholly unjustified. The scholastic methodology of at least the later orthodox Lutherans, their preoccupation with polemics, their deep concern with church dogma obviously affect their exegesis and give it at times a overly systematic, dogmatic, and deductive ring. The exegetical works of Balduin, Giles Hunnius, Calov, Chytraeus, and even Gerhard are often replete with polemics concerning dogma. On the other hand, there is almost no polemics in the works or Prochmand and Sebastian Schmidt; their exegetical studies are analytical and inductive; their commentaries, like the harmonia Quatuor Evengelistarum of Chemnitz, Gerhard and Leyser, are unmarred by unnecessary references to the fathers and other exegetes, and are most practical and even devotional in nature.
We must say, however, that the general charge that free inductive exegesis during the period of orthodoxy was obstructed by doctrinal exigencies and scruples is unfair, unless the criticism infers only that the pre-critical Lutheran exegesis paid very strict attention to the hermeneutical rules we have mentioned above. Luther's principle of Biblical Christocentricity, which implied also the doctrinal unity of all Scripture, was to the following generations of Lutherans not merely a vague, nebulous truism worthy of lip service but incapable of any application. It was rather a workable and necessary hermeneutical principle, drawn from Scripture. What might appear to be dogmatic exegesis was merely the application of Luther's Christological exegesis of Scripture, which necessarily involved employing the analogy of faith, the practice of drawing legitimate consequences, and other Biblically founded hermeneutical principles. It is chiefly just these factors, these far- reaching assumptions, that give the exegesis of that day an apparent dogmatic tone to those who would follow the historicocritical method of interpretation introduced by Semler. But we must recognize that these principles according to which the orthodox Lutherans operate are not logical, historical, or dogmatic norms but in their considered opinion hermeneutical principles drawn from Scripture itself. Therefore the reason or basis for what has been called the dogmatic exegesis of Lutheran orthodoxy is due to their hermeneutics, not to their doctrine of inspiration, certainly not to their confessionalism. This statement is made in total opposition to the conjecture that the doctrine of verbal inspiration completely conditioned the old Lutheran exegesis. This allegation was first made by Semler, who because of his chronological proximity to the age of orthodoxy and his extreme prejudice against orthodox theology might understandably attribute everything he disliked in the orthodox Lutheran exegesis to the doctrine of inspiration that he repudiated. But the view is followed by a number of more dispassionate theologians such as Dorner, Farrar, and more recently Weber and Ebeling, theologians who unfortunately have not examined the hermeneutical and exegetical works of the orthodox Lutherans. In no case, however, do any of the critics offer any example of the so-called dogmatic exegesis in action. They all assume to be the inevitable result of identifying Scripture with God's Word.
Now the several hermeneutical rules that govern Lutheran exegesis are certainly dependent on the divine origin of Scripture, its infallibility and clarity, and on the "Scripture alone" principle; but it is nevertheless the hermeneutical rules that govern the exegesis. When Calov, for instance, finds Heb. 6:4-6 to be apparently at odds with the implications of other Biblical data relative to those who fall from grace and solicits the aid of other parallel passages that deal with the same subject in order to understand the Hebrews passage ( an example of "dogmatic" exegesis), his procedure is not the direct result of any dogma of inspiration but is due to his applications of the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture and all that is relative to this principle. Examples illustrating this same point could be multiplied ad infinitum. Again when the old Lutherans find clear Christological references in the Old Testament, this has nothing whatever to do with an inspiration theory but is due to their principle Christocentricity and the principles that the New Testament interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures is correct and final. Nor would they grant that such a procedure is tanamount to forcing exegesis into some sort of systematic schema; they rather insist that their exegetical method in inductive and Scriptural. And it is, if their hermeneutical rules are Scriptural. Everything depends on this.
It is quite clear from all that has been said in this chapter that the theology of Lutheran orthodoxy (and this would be true also of the theology of Luther or the Lutheran Symbols) will be acceptable only to the extent that we are able to approve the hermeneutics employed. This is the reason why principles of hermeneutics are spelled out in detail by the orthodox Lutherans even in works devoted to dogmatics. Doctrine must be the result of sound exegesis, and exegesis the result of the correct application of hermeneutical rules. Only when the hermeneutical principles are sound and Biblical will the doctrine be sound. Where the basic Biblical hermeneutical norms are abandoned, radically different theology, unevangelical in nature, will result — as we see in the Roman theology of the day, which, we must recall, had not quarrel with the Lutheran teachers regarding the divine origin and infallibility of Scripture. Therefore to disparage today as pre-critical the hermeneutical principles employed by the theologians of the age of orthodoxy would on their terms be tantamount to a rejection of their theology. Of such importance is their hermeneutics.
The preceding article is a sample and advertisement for the book, "The Theology of Post Reformation Lutheranism" by Robert Preus. It is provided for educational purposes only and cannot be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder.