Four Branches September 2017

Jump to:


Exegetical Theology: Excise the Extras

The New Testament textual critic, David Parker, once wrote:

Let us consider what it is to which a reader responds. It is a historically hybrid text: a modern Greek New Testament has been generated from electronic files and printed in its thousands; it has sixteenth-century verse numbers, thirteenth-century chapter numbers, and fourth-century subsections; follows standard rules of orthography partly modern and partly based on manuscripts of the fourth century; has punctuation supplied by its editors; the words are written separately and not in the traditional scriptio continua; has the books in the order of the Latin Bible.1

Now, to give you a ‘heads-up’ of sorts, Parker overplays the human element in having the bible handed down to us. But what he mentions here has always given me pause. What are the implications of the fact that, while the content of our bibles stays the same, the “extras”—the verses, chapters and headings are added to the text? Take a look at our New Testament manuscripts for a moment. In the earliest manuscripts we have, we simply have words with no spacing in between them (scriptio continua).2 Then, later on, the scribes added “paragraphs” to help us arrange the thought-units. In Vaticanus, for example, notice the big letters jutting out from the margin.3 Next, a cross-referencing device, attributed to Eusebius of Cæsarea was added (hence, “Eusebian apparatus”). It links parallel passages in the Gospels.4 Finally, the chapter divisions did not exist until the 1200’s and the verse numbers did not exist until the 1500’s. Aside from helping us understand why Luther seemingly never cites verse numbers (because they didn’t exist yet), knowing this helps us in other ways. Take the following as examples:

  • In most English versions Luke 12:13-21 is marked off both with a title and a paragraph division as being a self-contained unit. What is missing if you end the section (or worse, your sermon) with verse 21, and not continue on to verse 34? (answer: the gospel.)
  • Has it ever seemed strange to you that seemingly every English version ends the paragraph at Ephesians 5:21 and then begins a new section with a new heading at verse 22? Is this division our friend or foe?5
  • Has it ever seemed strange to you that Luke informs us that Jesus tells us one parable in chapter 15, but then in our English versions they are divided up into three parables? Has the unity of the three parables been eroded by dividing the section into three distinct accounts?

So, as I close off this first of three articles, I urge you to “excise the extras.” Pretend the chapters, verses and paragraph divisions weren’t there. Even better, read a manuscript which does not have them at all.

1 Textual Scholarship and the Making of the New Testament, by David C Parker. Oxford University Press. 2014. (19)

2 P46—Hebrews

3 Notice the Beta in Vaticanus in the first verse of Matthew

4 The Eusebian Canon Tables in Alexandrinus, at the beginning of Mark’s gospel

5 for more discussion about the paragraph divisions in Eph. 5 and the hefty variant there, cf. Prof. Balge’s brief

Rev. Steve Bauer serves as pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Chaska, MN.

Systematic Theology: Vocation – Its Sphere

It’s the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. How much do you know about the uniquely Lutheran doctrine of vocation?

Vocatio is God’s call to join his family. We’re called out of darkness into his wonderful light and a new life begins. “Already” redeemed, “already” forgiven, “already” your name has been written in the Book of Life, “already” given the status of God’s child, but still very much in the world and “not yet” in heaven. This is your sphere, your world of vocation. For Luther, vocation was more than your occupation. He also used “office,” or “station.” For Luther, vocation was everything that you do that brings you into a relationship with the world.

Luther had a rather simple, but not simplistic, view of the world through his theological lenses. There are two kingdoms, heaven and earth. The powers of these kingdoms are God and Satan. Man finds himself on the battle line between the two. And there’s the tension.

Luther’s two kingdoms gives us a fresh understanding of Christian freedom. We are free “upward,” but we are bound to vocation “downward.” Yet at the same time our new man freely does it. And there’s that tension again. Let’s call it the “dilemma of discipleship.” The disparity between our “already” status as children of God, and our “not yet in heaven” experiences of living in this world of sin. Questions arise. “I don’t like this task.” “What shall I do with my life?” “Is there a holier career I could be doing?” We’ll answer these in future installments.

Wingren writes, “So vocation belongs to this world, not to heaven; it is directed toward one’s neighbor, not toward God. . . In his vocation one is not reaching up to God, but rather bends oneself down toward the world. When one does that, God’s creative work is carried on. God’s work of love takes form on earth, and that which is external witnesses to God’s love.”

Luther on Vocation by Gustaf Wingren is highly recommended. After a lifetime of Luther study he distills his teaching on vocation in one concise text. Wingren has found a way to weave the two kingdoms, the Christian cross, prayer, eschatology, practical theology and providence into his discussion.

Here are two refresher papers on vocation that I would suggest before we meet again next month. Ken Cherney’s, Hidden In Plain Sight: Luther’s Doctrine Of Vocation. This is a shorter precursor of his Symposium paper Uncovering Our Calling: Luther’s Reformation Re-emphasis on Christian Vocation.

Pastor Harland Goetzinger serves the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Paul in Ottawa, and is the president of WELS-Canada.

Historical Theology: Brand Luther

For the next few articles, I’ve decided to introduce readers, or reintroduce them, briefly to Luther biographies that might prove worth their time as we celebrate the Luther Year and, Lord-willing, keep its momentum going in our personal study and public ministry. The first choice was admittedly easy for me, as I consider it to be hands-down the best new contribution to Luther scholarship in recent history. This biography, which isn’t necessarily pure biography as many are used to it, is Brand Luther by Andrew Pettegree. Now available in paperback for about twelve dollars through Amazon, it’s hard to beat the price for the benefits this book brings.

Why do I think this book is so worthwhile and fresh? First, I think that his treatment of Luther’s relationship with the printing press sheds light on an understudied aspect of the reformer’s labor and success and dispels some myths. Additionally, in a time when media opportunities have been multiplied so that we can share content in a variety of ways, there is crossover that pastors might find captivating. Second, Pettegree reminds us that Luther’s Reformation was far from only Luther’s. It was the work of a circle of friends and a wider circle of gifted, reform-minded individuals. This too has applications for pastors today as we appreciate and benefit from, as well as encourage, the works of brothers with different gifts. We can do more together than we can on our own. Third, Pettegree explains how Luther’s environment, the cities in which he lived, for instance, shaped him, and how he shaped them. Wherever pastors are assigned or called, they go as those shaped by their environment and they will certainly be shaped by and will shape wherever they serve. In short, Pettegree helps root Luther’s Reformation in his time, place, colleagues, and collaborators. In so doing, he makes Luther and his work both more accessible and relatable.

The Luther Year and the lead-up to it have given birth to a number of wonderful articles and monographs—too many to read in one year, that’s for sure. If you ask me, though, which I would recommend most highly to you at this point, Brand Luther tops the list. I hope some of you will find the time to check it out and, Lord-willing, find it as helpful as I have through several readings now. In my next two articles I’ll be sharing two other works I think deserve attention as well.

Rev. Wade Johnston serves as an Assistant Professor of Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran College and received his Ph.D. from Central Michigan University and Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam.

Practical Theology: How do you talk about the Reformation?

If you haven’t heard it yet, you probably will soon: “I’m seeing stuff in the news about Martin Luther and the Lutheran Reformation. You guys are Lutheran, right? What’s that all about?”

How do you reply?

It’s important to be mindful of what we say about the Reformation – and how we say it.

Lutherans sometimes tend toward one of two extremes when explaining who they are. I’ll illustrate with two examples. Both examples are overstated and absurd, but I think you’ll get the point.

Absurd example 1: Triumphalism

“The first thing you need to know about Lutherans: we’re right and everyone else is wrong. We’re the best and everyone else stinks. Catholics? They’re really bad. I know because I watched the movie about Martin Luther. Every other denomination is pretty awful too. Go Lutherans! By the way, would you like to visit our church sometime?”

That’s definitely not a winsome way of inviting someone to church! Yet this kind of tone can creep in among us who love our heritage and are proud of it. But to someone who does not share our love of Lutheran doctrine and culture, it comes off as arrogant and judgmental.

Absurd example 2: Embarrassment

“The whole Lutheran thing is stupid. We’re stuck with it, but we don’t really like it. There’s just all kinds of old and weird stuff to deal with, and other denominations don’t really have that. I actually don’t really think there’s much that’s all that bad in other denominations. But hey, our Lutheran heritage is good for one thing: we get to make jokes about it! By the way, would you like to visit our church sometime?”

This approach is trying to avoid the triumphalism in the previous example. But this isn’t winsome either. A potential visitor would think, “Why would I want to go to that church? Not even the members of the church want to be there!” This example also reveals a “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” refusal to see real doctrinal problems in other churches.

Instead of triumphalism or embarrassment, I suggest this guiding principle for talking about Lutheranism: gratitude for grace. An example:

“The best thing about the Reformation and Lutheranism is that they point us to God’s love. Martin Luther was a guy who stressed and did everything he could think of, including joining a monastery, to get peace with God. Nothing worked. What finally did work, though, was the simple message that had been in the Bible all along: because of what Jesus did, God forgives us and actually thinks of us as perfect in his sight. It’s not our work that gives us peace with God; it’s God’s work that brings us his peace, purely as a gift. Lutherans are sinners like everyone else, but what’s great about being Lutheran is that the grace of God—his love for sinful people—is in the spotlight. That’s the love that gives us real life, now and forever.”

May God’s grace guide you as you talk about your Lutheran heritage this fall.

Pastor Jon Micheel serves Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City, UT.  He also serves on the Rites Committee for the new hymnal project.