Four Branches – June 2021

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Exegetical theology: Gospel Motivation in the Shema via Vav

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, often called the Shema, is a key confessional text of the Old Testament and was likely recited frequently by Jesus. It contains a subtle bit of gospel motivation that is difficult to translate without paraphrase and is probably often missed. After stating “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4), the LORD inspired Moses to continue with a vav-consecutive perfect form:
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ

“And you shall love the LORD your God…” (v. 5).

The use of the vav-consecutive perfect is meaningful. Moses did not have to use this construction; he could have continued with another imperative form, with or without a prefixed vav.  The choice to use a vav-consecutive after an imperative is often exercised to express a logically or chronologically consequent situation (Waltke-O’Conner 32.2.2). That is, the vav-consecutive form does not simply transform the perfect to an imperfect, so to speak. The vav itself is important. It shows that the verb expressed with the vav-consecutive form is logically dependent on or subsequent to the previous verb, hence the name “vav-consecutive.” While not all vavs provide significant exegetical mileage, this form often gives you something to consider.

In the Shema, the the vav-consecutive form   וְאָהַבְתָ, “and you shall love,” is logically dependent on the previous verse. You are to love the LORD because he has made himself your God. It is clear in Deuteronomy that Israel has become the LORD’s covenant people completely by God’s grace. Moses states that they are receiving the land not because off their righteousness – since they are a stiff-necked people – but because of the LORD’s promise (Deut 9:5-6). Thus, this vav-consecutive form expresses gospel motivation. It is humbling that the holy LORD would make himself the God of a sinful people like Israel. The command to love the LORD is expressed as a logical response to this gracious act.

Most major English translations begin v. 5 without any conjunction, but even those which use the word “and” (NLT and KJV) do not adequately convey the connection expressed in the Hebrew. Granted, we know that God’s love for us is what motivates our love for him. WELS pastors can discern this logical connection in the Shema even without recourse to the Hebrew if we stop to think about it. But reading the Hebrew assures we will not miss this connection and reminds us that the priority of God’s grace to our works is found even in the small grammatical details of the Biblical text.

To review the vav-consecutive perfect more thoroughly, read the description in Waltke and O’Connor’s An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), section 32. They refer to this form as the “waw + suffix conjugation.” OT pericopes for the following Sundays after Pentecost this year contain vav-consecutive perfect forms for you to ponder (supplemental readings are starred): the 4th*, 6th*, 7th*,  9th,  and 11th.

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

Systematic Theology: Avoiding Election

“We’re closer than you think.” That is what my friend says who associates himself with the Reformed Church of America (RCA). He is well read in both the Lutheran Confessions and the Reformed statements of faith and has plied me with questions on a regular basis about “what Lutherans believe.” As you might imagine, many of our discussions have revolved around the topic of election.

So what do Lutherans believe about election? Because of the overemphasis of election in Reformed circles and their penchant for going beyond what Scripture says in that arena, it seems we shy away from talking about the “elect” in sermons, articles, and other public content. It’s not completely absent, of course, but we are very careful not to delve into the unknown depths of God’s will – a place in which the topic of election has at least one foot firmly planted.

Should we sidestep this comforting doctrine of the Bible just because it can be confusing?

The apostles did not. Peter addresses his first letter, “To the elect…” (1 Peter 1:1) and Paul describes himself as a servant “for the faith of God’s elect people” (Titus 1:1). Even Jesus used the term. In his well-known description of the signs of the ends times he reminds his followers that, “for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22). If the Bible speaks in this way, shouldn’t we utilize the same terminology when talking about those who belong to God’s family?

How often do you speak about the elect or refer to your people in that way? Not only should we talk about election, we should embrace it (covered in the next article of this series) and we should certainly preach about it (covered in the third article of this series).

But if we are going to talk about it, we need to know what we are talking about. Although we should be familiar with the basics, I would encourage you to take a look at Article XI of the Formula of Concord for a wonderful review of this important doctrine.

If you peruse the classic Reformed statements of faith, you will notice there are some obvious differences between us and the vast majority of Reformed-minded Christians out there. Unfortunately, you will also notice that proponents of the Reformed mindset dominate the material written about this biblical subject.

Should that be the case? Should those who have a skewed view of election be the only ones speaking up? Be sure that if your people want to know more, the material they run across will almost undoubtedly have a Calvinist slant. We cannot avoid these crucial parts of Scripture. Why would we? Why wouldn’t we want to take every opportunity to talk about the “elect” with the “elect”?

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

Historical Theology: Luther’s Commentary on the Magnificat, 1521[1]

For centuries prior to the Reformation, Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, was sung at Vespers. We continue to use it as part of Christian Worship’s Evening Prayer. In late 1520, Martin Luther began to prepare a commentary on the Magnificat as a gift for seventeen-year-old Prince John Frederick (1503-1554), the young nephew of Elector Frederick the Wise. Luther worked on the commentary, as well as the translation of the text in Luke 1:46b-55, during the early months of 1521, but his work was interrupted by his required appearance at the Imperial Diet of Worms. Although he had sent the first three sections to John Frederick on March 31, he was unable to return to the work until his time at the Wartburg Castle. On June 19, 1521, he sent the finished commentary to his friend Georg Spalatin to give to Luther’s printer in Wittenberg.

Luther wrote his commentary in German for the Einfaeltig or “simple folk.” His intention was not to water down his theological ideas for an ignorant crowd. He wanted to reach a larger audience, including those who would only listen to his comments being read, since not everyone could read. Luther considered the Magnificat suited for “simple folk” because Mary herself was of low social status. He noted in her song of praise that God would raise up the meek and lowly, while casting down the proud and powerful. He included in his commentary an excursus on the meaning of the word “humility,” suggesting it is not a virtue for which Mary should be praised, but, rather, an indication that she was a poor and humble member of society.

In the church of the Late Middle Ages, there was a high regard and excessive devotion for Mary. From Luther’s perspective this could no longer continue. He was critical of the Marian hymn Regina Coeli Laetare, which suggested Mary somehow earned the privilege of bearing God’s Son through her great virtue. Luther noted that ascribing merit to Mary would lessen the value of God’s grace, which Mary herself would not want. Luther shifted the focus. God deserves all the credit for he looked at and chose someone who was ignored by everyone else.

How should one view Mary? Luther insisted she should not be thought of as “a goddess who could grant gifts or render aid.”[1] She should be recognized for her faith and her willingness to be the Mother of God. Luther considered her a simple girl who had no high opinions of herself. She was truly humble person, who did not even realize she was humble.

Although Luther rejected the idea that we need Mary to serve as a mediator between us and God, he closed his commentary with a prayer that Christ would grant us a right understanding of the Magnificat. For Luther, Mary helps us by providing a theologically rich song for us. In it she teaches us how to pray and models the proper attitude we should have toward God.

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

[1] The Annotated Luther, 349.

[1] Luther’s Works, volume 21 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 295-358. Also in The Annotated Luther. volume 4, Pastoral Writings. Edited by Mary Jane Haemig (Minneapolis, Fortress Press: 2016), 313-384.

Practical Theology: “I Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like”

After moving to Oklahoma earlier this month, I have been trying to learn all I can about the people and places in our new home state. Do you know who is known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son”? Will Rogers. Have you heard of him? He was a cowboy, actor, performer, newspaper columnist, and all sorts of other things in the early 1900s. One of his most famous sayings is this: “I’ve never met a man I didn’t like.”

Those words have been on my mind ever since I first read them: “I’ve never met a man I didn’t like.” Know why? I have met a lot of people I don’t like. How about you? How often do you find yourself in conversations that you cannot wait to end? Which people do you hope will not call you or email you or text you today? When that certain person struggles or fails, why does it make you feel so happy inside? Sadly, I have met a lot of people I don’t like. Will Rogers’ words convict me of that sin in my heart.

Remember the time when Jesus and his disciples went in a boat to a quiet place to get some rest? They crossed the sea, and what did they find? No peace and quiet. A crowd of people—tired, dirty, sweaty, hungry people. How did Jesus react? Instead of seeing people as a nuisance or intrusion, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Jesus never met a person he didn’t like. Like that woman at the well (John 4), or those ten lepers (Luke 17), or the tax collectors and prostitutes (Luke 15), or that self-righteous rich man (Mark 10:21).

Add one more person to that list: You. Jesus loves you. Even though we complain about our ministries. Even when we shirk our responsibilities. Even after we have disliked or avoided so many of his children. Jesus loves you. He died for you. He has forgiven you. Jesus never met a person he didn’t love,including you and me! So, “dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

As I meet people in my new congregation, I have been reminding myself: “Because of Jesus, I’ve never met a person I didn’t like.” Whoever that woman is talking to you, she is not an “it” or a nuisance. She is loved by God and bought with Jesus’ blood. Whatever “to-dos” are on your mind, they are not more important than that man whom God unexpectedly placed in front of you. As inconvenient as it might seem, God wanted you to get that text at that time to give you an opportunity to show his love to a person who needs it. Every person is precious, because Jesus never met a person he didn’t love.

Pastor Nathan Nass serves at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Tulsa, OK. You can check out his blog at