Four Branches – July 2021

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Exegetical Theology: The Way He Should Go?

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6, KJV). This statement has left many parents of wayward children puzzled, and perhaps rightly so. The Hebrew could be saying something quite different:

חֲנֹךְ: “Begin.” The other three occurrences of this verb describe “dedicating” a building, as in celebrating its inaugural use (cf. HALOT). TDOT finds the “basic meaning” of this root as “use for the first time.” What precisely this verb means when applied to a youth must be inferred. Many assume the meaning “train” here to fit what they sense the context demands (e.g. TDOT, Fox, Proverbs II). The NIV translates “Start children off.” The verb apparently refers to conducting a child’s early instruction. 

לַנַּעַר – “the child.” נַּעַר can refer to a variety of ages, but in Proverbs refers to someone in the period of moral training we call youth (Fox, Proverbs II, p. 698).

 עַל־פִּ֣י –This phrase idiomatically means, “in accordance with” (Clines, DCH פֶּה sec. 13a).

דַרְכּוֹ – “his way.” Does this refer to the child’s actual way of living, or “the way he should go”? Elsewhere in Proverbs, דֶּ֫רֶךְ  with a pronominal suffix refers to the way a person is actually going. The wicked eat “from the fruit of their way” (מִפְּרִ֣י דַרְכָּ֑ם, 1:31). Do not follow the wicked man in any of his ways (בְּכָל־דְּרָכָֽיו, 3:31).  A person’s every way (כָּל־דֶּרֶךְ־אִישׁ, 21:2) seems right in his own eyes. “His way” most likely refers to a child’s actual way. 

What is a child’s “way” when he is beginning instruction? Foolishness is bound in the heart of a נַּעַר, though discipline will drive this out (22:15). A נַּעַר who is left to himself (מְשֻׁלָּח) is a disgrace and requires discipline (Prov 29:15). Thus, a נַּעַר has an innate foolishness, and this must be driven out of him and replaced with wisdom (Prov 1:4, 7:7, 23:13-14).

גַּם כִּי יַזְקִין – “even if” or “even when he grows old.” A child left to his foolish way is likely to bring about his own demise (Prov 19:18). גַּם כִּי  “even if” allows that the child might not make it to old age.

לֹא־יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה – “he will not turn from it,” namely, from “his way.” In line with the above, if a person’s foolish disposition is indulged rather than corrected in childhood, he will not turn aside from it later in life.

In this interpretation, the proverb emphasizes the importance of providing discipline and instruction from the beginning of childhood. A child encouraged in his own foolishness will not be correctable later in life. It is a warning, not a promise.

Whether this convinces you or not, I hope you’re encouraged to review even familiar passages in the original Hebrew or Greek. I encountered this interpretation in the short article by Gordon P Huganberger, “Train Up a Child.” Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar. (Zondervan, 2007). I have repeated and further supported his arguments.

Rev. Aaron West serves at St. Matthew, Spokane, Washington.

Systematic Theology: Embracing Election

“I’m sorry someone gave you nachos and told you that it was Mexican food, but it’s not even close.” That was my Reformed friend’s way of lamenting the fact that the Lutherans he had come across had supposedly made a caricature of Reformed doctrine by saying that the Perseverance of Saints (the “P” in Calvin’s TULIP) means “once saved, always saved.” My friend disagrees with this assessment. He would claim that the correct understanding of the doctrine of the Perseverance of Saints is what Lutherans teach, namely: God promises to preserve his elect in this life and one day take them home.

Although we might argue that what the Reformed statements of faith officially teach and what my friend believes to be true are not the same, I can’t fault him for wanting to embrace election. It is meant to be an extremely comforting doctrine for us, and specifically, it’s meant to be an extremely comforting doctrine for you.

You rightly cling to God’s Word that worked faith in your heart. You correctly remember baptism through which many of us were brought into God’s family for the first time. You long for the Lord’s Supper in which God grants you the real forgiveness of sins again in a tangible, taste-able way. But don’t leave election out of the equation! That is the start of the Golden Chain found in Romans 8:30: “Those he predestined, he also called. Those he called, he also justified. And those he justified, he also glorified.”

Embrace your election! Rejoice in that fact that you were chosen to be adopted as sons of God through faith in Jesus (Eph. 1:5) long before he ever said, “Let there be light.” Be confident that you are part of the elect because you have the gift of the Holy Spirit in you as a deposit that God will receive back once you make it home (Eph. 1:13-14). We would not claim that everyone who is “once saved is always saved,” but we do believe that God will ultimately save his elect – and you and I are a part of those elected by God’s inexorable grace.

I’m glad that my friend has a better understanding of election than what his church body and their confessions declare. It’s also nice to see his enthusiasm for this particular doctrine based on the promises of God. Is there any reason why we shouldn’t have that same passion – almost obsession – with this beautiful scriptural teaching? We certainly don’t want to promote election at the expense of justification, but ignoring it altogether is almost as bad. Embrace your election – it is a crucial part of the reason why you are saved.

Historically, Lutherans have fought for the correct understanding of this subject which they embraced. Check out “Conversion and Election: A Plea for a United Lutheranism in America” by Franz Pieper and John Brenner’s book: “The Election Controversy.”

Rev. Matthew Frey serves at Living Word, Montrose, CO.

Historical Theology: The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows

On July 17, 1505, Martin Luther abandoned the study of law and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. Sixteen years later he found himself exiled at the Wartburg Castle. In his Address to the Christian Nobility (1520), he had touched on monastic life and celibacy but had not dealt with those topics in detail. Now he had time to think through the issues of vows and monasticism. In addition, three priests in the dioceses of Magdeburg and Meissen had married. One of them, Jacob Seidler, had been imprisoned and would later be executed by Duke George of Saxony. Closer to home, Bartholomew Bernhardi, Luther’s former student, and now priest at Kemberg, not far from Wittenberg, had married. 

Albert, the archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, demanded that Elector Frederick surrender Berhardi for punishment. The Elector refused and gave the case to a commission for study. Melanchthon and Karlstadt came to Berhardi’s defense, and ultimately, Luther also entered the discussion with his Theses on Vows. These theses, together with a second set of theses published in October 1521, formed the foundation for The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows.

In a letter to Spalatin, dated November 11, 1521, Luther explained the circumstances which lead him to write on vows. Monks were leaving monasteries, and he was concerned that those who left were taking this action for the wrong reasons. Because of his concern, Luther decided to deal with the problem of monastic vows in a book. He did not intend this as a polemic, but as a guide to those who had left or were thinking of leaving monasteries and convents.

In his brief introduction to the treatise, Luther noted his purpose in writing. “We shall deal with the subject of monastic vows because we see them multiplied and spread abroad to the utter ruination of Christendom and the wholesale destruction of souls.” He does not deny that vows were instituted by divine authority. “What we are trying to show is how to distinguish one vow from another and recognize which vows are godly, good, and pleasing to God.”

Luther continues by dividing the question into five parts. First, monastic vows are not commanded by God’s word, but rather are contrary to it. In the second section, he points out that monastic vows conflict with faith, since taking perpetual vows involve self-righteousness. This leads to his third section where he stresses that compulsory and perpetual vows violate Christian freedom. Although he does not want to abolish monastic life, such a life must be voluntary with a conscience that does not trust in works. In the fourth section, he argues monastic vows violate the First Commandment, displacing faith with works and denying a Christian’s responsibility to parents and neighbors. In the fifth section, he insists monastic vows are contrary to common sense and reason.

In the concluding Appendix, Luther promotes the position that no one should be permitted to enter monastic life before age sixty.

Rev. James Korthals is Professor Emeritus of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, WI.

Practical Theology: “Preaching Points”

“I was recently asked to be part of a new resource being created to assist WELS pastors with preaching. A “Preacher’s Podcast” is in the works based on the new hymnal’s lectionary. 30-40 minute podcast episodes are being recorded for each week, done by two parish pastors, a Seminary professor and a moderator. They will begin to be released in Advent, 2021. This is a joint effort between the synod’s Congregational Counseling arm and WLS’s Grow in Grace.”

The format of the podcasts is to highlight key preaching points about each suggested text. To prepare for the podcasts, I was sent a simple summary of what to look for in each sermon text. You already know these things. I do too. But these preaching points have been a helpful reminder to me of the importance of getting at the core message of any given text. Maybe a refresher would be good for you too!

As you prepare, take careful note of:

  • The Main Point of the Text: Before you write your sermon, write out the main point of the text clearly and concisely. A sermon without a main point can sound pointless to our hearers.
    • Specific Law and Gospel: Although it’s tempting to cut corners, there’s no substitute for clearly identifying specific law and gospel in our sermon text.
      • Specific Law: What in this text calls for repentance from us and our hearers? Sins of thought, word, or deed? What is the problem that only the gospel can solve? Remember to preach to yourself first!
      • Specific Gospel: How does this text point to Jesus as our Savior? Take special note of gospel phrases/pictures/concepts that are unique to this text. How can I communicate them so that each hearer understands that Jesus’ gospel promises are meant for them?
    • Potential Applications: How might the Spirit use this text to empower us to think or act differently? Maybe it’s a change in how we see ourselves. (“I am a child of God!”) Maybe it’s a change in our lives. (“With God’s strength, I’m going to strive to be more patient.”)
    • Possible Illustrations: As you study your text, list out all illustrations that come to mind. Having multiple options beforehand is better than scrambling to invent illustrations at the last minute.
    • Past Experiences in Preaching This Text: Don’t be ashamed to look back at how you preached on this text before. Was there an application that’s worth repeating again? Was there something missing that you want to convey this time? Has further study shown you a different angle?
    • Potential Themes: Having a strong, central theme helps your readers grasp and remember the main point of the text. Brainstorm multiple options early in the week and see what sticks as the sermon progresses. Remember to focus your theme on the main thrust of the text.

Finally, trust in God’s wonderful promise: “My Word will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). May Jesus bless your preaching of his Word!

Pastor Nathan Nass serves at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tulsa, OK. You can watch examples of his sermons by searching “Upside-Down Savior” on YouTube.