Reading the Bible with Martin Luther

An Introductory Guide

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Prominent Reformation historian Timothy Wengert introduces the basic components of Martin Luther's theology of the Bible and examines Luther's contributions to present-day biblical interpretation. Wengert addresses key points of debate regarding Luther's approach to the Bible that have often been misunderstood, including biblical authority, the distinction between law and gospel, the theology of the cross, and biblical ethics. He argues that Luther, when rightly understood, offers much wisdom to Christians searching for fresh approaches to the interpretation of Scripture. This brief but comprehensive overview is filled with insights on Luther's theology and its significance for contemporary debates on the Bible, particularly the New Perspective on Paul.

Contents
1. Authority: Putting James in Its Place
James and Straw
The Self-Authenticating Scripture
Sola Scriptura?
2. Method: Dying and Rising
A Cautionary Tale about Throwing Stones
Distinguishing Law and Gospel
The Law's First Use: The Pastor as Vo-Tech Teacher
A Third Use for the Law: The First and the Second Uses Apply to Believers
Exegesis Is for Proclamation: Finding the Law and the Gospel in the Text
3. Interpretation: Strength Perfected in Weakness
The Weakness of Scripture
Finding the Central Weakness of Scripture: Romans
Finding the Center of the Gospels
4. Practice: Luther's Biblical Ethics
Gleichmut: The Christian's Balancing Act
Das Gewissen: The Conscience
Glaube: Faith
Gemeinschaft: Community
5. Example: Luther Interpreting Galatians 3:6-14
The Argumentum
Galatians 3:6-14 in 1519
Galatians 3:6-14 in 1535
An Afterword: Looking Forward to Reading the Bible with Luther
Indexes


Endorsements

"Wengert shows his mastery of Luther with this study of the Reformer's biblical interpretation. Here we read Scripture with Luther and move beyond fundamentalistic and liberal perspectives. We encounter fresh approaches to authority, method, interpretation, and the practice of scriptural interpretation with Luther's biblical ethics. This is a fine work, engaging basic issues and providing a rediscovery of insights that are poised to awaken the academy and the church."

Donald K. McKim, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther

"Wengert's remarkable skill as a pastoral theologian and theologian for pastors is evident as he applies Luther's insights on proclaiming the gospel to issues such as biblical authority, the domestication of texts by both fundamentalists and liberals, relating the Old Testament to the New, the 'canon within the canon,' the 'New Perspective on Paul,' biblical ethics, and the general modern penchant to try to understand rather than 'stand under' biblical texts. He succinctly and perceptively applies to biblical interpretation such classic theological loci as the third use of the law, the dialectic of law and gospel, and, most important, Luther's persistent emphasis that Scripture is Scripture because it 'pushes Christ' on the hearer to reveal sin and give new life. Required reading for preachers of all denominations!"

Carter Lindberg, professor emeritus of church history, Boston University School of Theology

"Martin Luther's faith journey took him deep into the Scriptures, looking for God. Timothy Wengert lifts up Luther's most essential discoveries in that search and offers them to scholars and seekers alike as a guide to reading the Bible. Ironically, the guide does not keep us from getting lost in the Bible but rather draws us deeper into the 'foolishness' and 'weakness' of Scripture, where we may well discover in faith the truth of who is seeking whom."

Roy Riley, former bishop of the New Jersey Synod, ELCA

"Wengert's exposition of Luther is passionate, practical, and provocative--a marvelous exercise in theological and historical spring-cleaning in which long-standing half-truths and caricatures about Luther are exposed and discarded. The book is worth reading for the first chapter alone; Wengert deftly sets forth Luther's real picture of the Epistle of James as well as his surprising reluctance to embrace sola scriptura as a slogan. In the context of today's Protestant Christianity, Luther emerges as an iconoclast and a maverick, as well as a huge risk-taker and a pastoral presence likely to bring no easy comfort either to liberals or to conservatives. Not everyone will agree with every move Luther made, but everyone ought to ponder what Luther taught about reading the Bible and how he truly lived the Word of God not just on paper but throughout his own life and ministry. To that end, Wengert is an engaging and joyous guide."

John L. Thompson, author of Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis That You Can't Learn from Exegesis Alone

"Wengert leads readers into Luther's study and directs their reading of Scripture though Luther's law/gospel hermeneutics, assessing from a specific, twenty-first-century North American perspective how the Reformer's Christ-centered delivery of the biblical message functions. Wengert challenges contemporary students of the Bible to find its authority and message by letting the text master them rather than through their own attempt to master God's Word."

Robert Kolb, professor of systematic theology emeritus, Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Missouri


The Author

  1. Timothy J. Wengert

    Timothy J. Wengert

    Timothy J. Wengert (PhD, Duke University) is Ministerium of Pennsylvania Emeritus Professor of Church History at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He has authored or edited twenty books, including The Book of Concord (2000 translation,...

    Continue reading about Timothy J. Wengert

Reviews

"If you are Lutheran--or if you want to know about Luther and Lutheranism--make sure that you 'read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest' this little tome. Wengert has done a real service to laity and clergy alike with this fresh, lively, and deeply insightful analysis of Luther and his approach to Scripture. . . . One thing is especially attractive about this book (besides its comprehensive approach and excellent summary nature). It brings together, and properly so, Luther's approach to scriptural interpretation and contemporary linguistic theory."

James W. Voelz,

Lutheran Quarterly

"Wengert is an internationally recognized expert on the life and thought of Philipp Melanchton, Martin Luther's closest and most influential colleague. In this concise, lively, and engaging volume . . . Wengert brings his prodigious learning to bear on Luther's biblical hermeneutics as he highlights along the way both the numerous consistencies as well as some subtle differences between the two reformers. . . . Wengert's critique of fundamentalist appeals to and appropriations of Luther is plainly devastating. Readers who follow Wengert's arguments will discover numerous insights highlighting how such appropriations of Luther rest on basic misunderstandings of his most cherished principles of interpretation."

Brooks Schramm,

Interpretation

"Wengert provides a look at the approach to scripture used by Martin Luther in reading the Bible. Combining academic rigor with pastoral application this makes a very useful guide. . . . Wengert's work is very helpful in unpacking Luther. Like Luther, he is able to bring his experiences as both a pastor, serving in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and an academic to assist those who study and teach the Bible. He is thereby especially able to help students engage with Luther. . . . [This book] will be of help in understanding Luther's commentaries, lectures, and sermons so that we can learn and remember the important lessons the reformer taught."

John S. Kennedy,

Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology

"Offer[s] insights and perspectives on the work of Martin Luther. In this brief work, Wengert draws the reader into a practical and pastoral conversation regarding Luther's understanding and use of the Scriptures. . . . Wengert is to be commended for this study and encouragement to continue to use the Bible as the basis for one's proclamation, faith, and life."

Timothy Maschke,

Concordia Theological Journal

"This is a very interesting book. . . . [Wengert] argues that reading the Bible with the reformers would result in lives that are lived out in dependence on God and that ultimately result in love and care for others. . . . It will be of interest to anyone who, along with Wengert, finds current methods of reading and interpreting the scriptures in ecclesial settings to be wanting. There could quite possibly be a large audience for this book."

James R. McConnell,

Review and Expositor

"If you are a Lutheran, you will find a lot of encouragement in Timothy Wengert's book on Martin Luther's view and approach to Scripture. The book will challenge you to undertake the interpretation and proclamation of the gospel with the same passion and care as the original Lutheran. If you are not a Lutheran, Wengert's explanation of Luther's view on Scripture will force you to re-think some of the things you thought you knew about Luther. . . . [Wengert] seeks to introduce the reader to the basic components of Luther's theology of the Bible. He succeeds in that task but does it in such a way that you come away thinking more deeply about your own approach to understanding Scripture. . . . You may not agree with all of Dr. Wengert's conclusions, but you will certainly glean new insights and a fresh approach to your own study and preaching as you open your mind and heart to his--and to Dr. Luther's--words and instruction."

Douglas Connelly,

Englewood Review of Books

"Wengert takes a fresh approach to Martin Luther and his theology."

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