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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Questions Aimed at Luther and Lutherans



Someone asked me to answer these questions aimed at Luther and Lutherans. I have marked them in blue with the answers following.

Question
I have a question that is perhaps provocative, but it not intended to offend or be upsetting, if you can possibly take it that way. It is intended to get an answer from an “insider” of what I shall refer to as Protestantism.
In 2 Tim 3, Paul says that all scripture is inspired by God and (useful or profitable)…
He also refers to the sacred writings.
He’s writing in Greek to Greek speaking Jews and Gentiles. Historically, do you feel that he is referring to anything other than the Greek Septuagint, which he apparently assumes his readers/listeners would understand? Historically, that seems to be the answer.
What I understand as the Septuagint is a Jewish translation of the Hebrew sacred writings (Torah, etc.) which would include all the recognized canonical books of the Jewish religion. It stands as a Jewish witness to what were considered to be the inspired writings.
Over the course of hundreds of years, the early Church adopted the writings of the Septuagint as its canonical text.
That seems to be a stable situation, although even a “Catholic” guy like St. Jerome really liked only books that he could translate from Hebrew, not translating a translation (Greek). But, overall, the Roman Church and later the Orthodox Church as well recognized the canonicity of the Septuagint.

But, then, in the 16th century, along comes Martin Luther who overturns a lot of things. In translating the Bible into German, people commonly say that he threw 7 books out of the Old Testament.
Answer
One would be hard pressed to find the New Testament text quoting the Old Testament apocrypha, so that is one answer found in the Bible itself. The apocryphal books were pious additions but did not belong to the Old Testament. It was not a matter of "liking" or "feelings" or "opinions." It was a matter of right and wrong. If I add to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, later editors have every right to separate my additions or commentary and call it the extra gregoristicum
In contrast, the New Testament quotes almost all of Isiah 53, indicating its status within the Bible. The issue of the canonical books is not deciding which ones to include but which ones never belonged in the first place. The same can be said about the New Testament, when people wanted to include extra books, some magical in nature, long after the apostles were dead.
The Old Testament canon was limited first by the Jewish scholars, then by the Christian Church.
The apocryphal books were found in Bibles through the Reformation and after. Luther and a pope separated the books and put them in a section between the two Testaments. Later, Protestants became angry at the Roman Catholic doctrinal debates using the Apocrypha and dropped that section. 
It is a false claim that Luther "threw out seven books from the Old Testament." He was trained as a Catholic Biblical scholar at a Catholic University. He simply taught what he learned - that those later additions, the Apocrypha, were never regarded as the Old Testament Canon but only as well meaning, somewhat valuable additions. They are worthy of study but not authoritative for deciding Christian doctrine. Many Protestant Bibles today have a section on the Apocrypha and it is taught to a lesser degree in various Protestant schools. 
Many Catholic editions of the Bible have the Apocrypha in a separate, center section. Does that mean the Catholic Church threw out books of the Bible. Since any Catholic Bible edition has to be approved, that would be going against the Roman Catholic magisterium.
Question
I read Eric Metaxis’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was very smart (otherwise) but seemed to have rejected membership in the German Lutheran Church (because it was supporting Hitler or at least not effectively opposing Hitler). Metaxis says that DB was troubled by a nagging question, What is the Church?
Answer
I am not a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He reminds me of many modern theologians (like Rahner and Hans Kueng - tboth Roman Catholics) who use the words of faith but are really rationalists. The Church is not an institution. To quote Augustine, Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.  Augustine, The City of God
The Church exists wherever the Word is taught in its truth and the Sacraments are administered according to the Scriptures. They are the Means of Grace that bring Christ and His forgiveness to us - the Word and Sacraments. Someone described them as the invisible Word of teaching and preaching, the visible Word of the Sacraments. The purpose of the Church is to plant and nurture faith in Christ.