Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Human beings can err

Whenever we see that the opinions of the fathers are not in agreement with Scripture, we respectfully bear with them and acknowledge them as our forefathers; but we do not on their account give up the authority of Scripture. Aristotle’s statement in the first book of his Ethics is well put and true: “Better it is to defend the truth than to be too much devoted to those who are our friends and relatives.” And this is, above all, the proper attitude for a philosopher. For although both; truth and friends, are dear to us, preference must be given to truth. If a pagan maintains that this must be the attitude in secular discourses, how much more must it be our attitude in those which involve the clear witness of Scripture that we dare not give preference to the authority of men over that of Scripture! Human beings can err, but the Word of God is the very wisdom of God and the absolutely infallible truth.

-Martin Luther, from his Lectures on Genesis


Ed said...

You know, I'm pretty sure that it is not "biblical" to call the Scriptures the "Word of God." On looking it up, I was only able to find one NT reference where the word of God possibly refers to the written Scriptures (John 10:35). In almost all references, it is a term for a clearly oral kerygma which is being passed on by Jesus or the Church. The minority references generally point to Christ himself as the "Word of God." It is just not a Scriptural term for the Scriptures themselves, at least not a NT one.

I don't know if the Fathers refer to the written Scriptures as the "Word of God," but Luther must be relying on some other witness than the Scriptures themselves for this language.

(And how much more to say that the all-important Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura is not taught in the Scriptures either! Rather the Scriptures send us elsewhere for authority on truth, but I know you won't believe my account of it, anyway, so I'll spare you a rehashing of things we've discussed in the past.)

Also, I find Luther's recourse to pagan philosophy for his defense fairly amusing. I think his possible inclusion of himself in philosophical company (i.e. his speaking with approbation of having "the proper attitude for a philosopher") is telling.

I can think of only one reference to "philosophy" in the Scriptures, and it is not one with a tone of approbation at all.

Finally, I would quibble as to whether or not inanimate things can be infallible. Since being fallible strikes me as a characteristic that only a reasoning being could have, does it not stand to reason that being infallible is also only possible to persons themselves and not to books, which simply are what they are, lacking a reason from which to speak truth or to err?

Anonymous said...

Amen Luther! Absolutely Matt; one must always side with what is right, true, good, and ethical. In the past I found myself making excuses for friends when I know they were in the wrong or sinning, yet I went along with them (or at least turned a “blind eye” to the misconduct and in the long run was facilitating the bad behavior). There is a way in which these subjects can be broached and addressed, in a manner this is suitable and non-hurtful to the recipient, but clarifies at what point you stand and distinguishes one as a person with Christian morals and character. Compromising ones' values is never a good choice. Constantly looking to Scripture for guidance and fortitude to take that stand and be “the light of the world” is critical to maintaining one’s strength as a Christ follower. I appreciate your blogs, which remind us to be steadfast to what is right, always looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith as our hope for salvation and best example.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

It seems this quote could be utilized to pursue a lot of different avenues. Certainly,Bruder Martin had a clear idea in his head about what the Word of God was--and wasn't-- when he posted his theses (and gained a lot of followers).
So, how does anyone discern the true Word of God? If the Holy Church, being made up of erring humans, is flawed, and the Holy Scripture--being transcribed and translated by erring humans--are flawed, how do we know what is correct--or, at least, most correct?
If religious teachings fail us--as they did for Bruder Martin, where do we turn?
Of course, many many people elected not to side with Martin...and Catholicism is still the strongest Christian denomination. And on the world stage Christianity is still the minority. Is it possible that what is right for one is not necessarily right for all? What do you think?

Have a good week,

Scarlet Pimpernel

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Ed,
Figured you might comment on this one. I think Luther is correct in what he wrote here. I think John 10:35 makes it quite biblical to call the Bible the "word of God," and it also is one of the many places which reveals how Christ Himself related to Scripture, that is, he said, "and Scripture cannot be broken." Also, if something is "God-breathed" as in 2 Tim 3:16 I think you can call that thing the "word of God." If something which was written down had been "Matt-breathed," I think you could call that the "word of Matt." I don't think Luther is relying on any reference outside of Scripture when he says "Word of God." "Word of God" is simply descriptive of what the Scriptures are - I think it's that simple.

I think your argument for the Scriptures sending us elsewhere for "authority on truth," is weak and is a misinterpretation of a single verse (1 Tim. 3:15). An interpretation which would be in line with the rest of Scripture would be that truth does come through the Church and only the Church, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, can interpret Scripture. But Scripture is an objective and unchanging revelation from God which any teaching of the church and any tradition must be measured against. Jesus battled the man-made traditions of the religious institutions of his day and his standard was the Scriptures (Matt 15:6 - another verse where Jesus refers to the Scriptures as the "word of God").

I think you are misreading Luther's "recourse" to pagan philosophy. He is using the same rhetorical method that Christ used in Matthew 5:46 where He says, "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" Christ says that even tax collectors, "sinners," loved those who loved them and then calls his disciples to a higher standard. Luther points out that even pagan philosophers had enough respect for the truth to be devoted to it over devotion to friends and relatives. How much more then should the Christian be devoted to the truth (the Bible) then slavishly follow the writings of fallible human beings.

When it comes to what the first Lutherans thought of pagan philosophy and its influence on theology and the church fathers, I'll post something on my blog soon.

Ed you're an intelligent man, I can't argue against your last paragraph too well because you just tell me you feel a certain way about whether an inanimate object can be infallible. I guess I just "feel" differently.

Thanks for making me think bro!

Matt Perkins said...

Hey SP,

First of all I must state the strongest disagreement I can possible express with the possibility of "what is right for one . . . not necessarily [being right] for all." Whatever the truth is, it applies to everyone whether they accept it or not. If this universe got here by chance and whatever we are is simply annihilated at death then every person who ever conceived of a god or hoped for an afterlife is utterly wrong and they wasted their life. Of course in that kind of universe there's really no standard to discern whether or not a life was wasted. The same logic applies to any other belief system. For instance if you're right, SP, maybe I'll end up in terrestrial or telestial heaven unless I get sent to Mormon hell for being too hard on you for quoting old Joe a few posts back =).

But I digress... How does anyone discern the true word of God... ultimately it is only by God's grace that anyone who had been dead in their sins could ever discern such a thing. The word of God will always look like foolishness to those who are perishing. I don't accept that the Bible is flawed SP, at least not flawed in any sort of way which makes it no longer inerrant or infallible. I believe God has protected His word through all transcription and translation when it comes to doctrines which are essential to true Christianity.

Not sure what to make of your comments about Catholicism being "strongest" or Christians being a minority of the world population. In some sense perhaps both of those things are true, although Christianity, in one form or another, is the largest religious group on the face of the planet, about 1/3 of the earth's population, I think. But size and numbers have nothing to do with whether or not something is true. After Christ's passion only a small band of followers had some understanding of Christ being "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation," and "by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth . . . all things were created through him and for him." In my opinion, this truth is the most important truth in the whole universe and it was not any less true then because only a few people knew it. Nor was it any less true before Christ had come in the flesh and the Old Testament saints could only hope for the day of the messiah's appearing, however little they understood of Who that Messiah would be.

Thanks for the comment SP!

Also, thank you A.J. for the comment, you're always encouraging!

Ed said...

Okay Matt, I'll let you win this one. I still think the John 10 argument is tenuous at best, especially given the nearly unanimous usages of "word of God" and (more commonly) "word of the Lord" in the OT which have to do with direct personal revelation and proclamation as well. Hence, for instance, the word of the Lord being "rare" in the time of Eli (1 Sam. 3:1).

Nevertheless, I think your intuition regarding 2 Tim 3:16 is a good one probably for making a case for calling the Scriptures the word of God, and I am willing to concede the point. I doubt that Luther was the first one to use the phrase in that way, though I really have no clue where it might be concretely found historically before him (as I do not accept the argument that Jesus was using it as a synonym for the scriptures in John 10:35).

Also, it's interesting to me that Jesus cites that passage as "written in your Law" when in fact it's from a psalm (John 10:34). Any thoughts on that?

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Ed, your observation about John 10:34 is very interesting and something I had not picked up on before. I checked out Calvin's commentary and was surprised to see that he said nothing about it - usually he comments on everything. I guess maybe "Law" was even more generic of a term than I thought in referring to the OT at the time of Christ. That's the only thing I can think of.

Anonymous said...


I love you, I really do. Please, please never fear that I am trying to convert you to something you have obviously investigated and decided isn't for you. I have told you before that my whole point in following your blog is to hear other opinions, so to try to convert you to another way of thinking would be a disservice to us both. And believe me, if one of us is going to hell, it's me.

However, your statement of "If you're right...maybe I'll end up in terrestrial or telestial heaven" leads me to believe that you have read "How Wide the Divide?" While I have great respect for Dr. Robinson, I do not agree with all of his statements, and I ask that you not assume that I embrace any belief that I have not specifically stated that I do.
In truth Matt, I find myself agreeing with--or at least seeing the logic in--almost everything you post. When I ask questions, I'm not quizzing you to see if you are "right" or "wrong"--how could I possibly do that? I really am just picking your brain for the theological discussion. Matt, your words "If you're right" really hurt me--in a productive way--because it made me stop and realize that maybe we are both assuming too much about each others beliefs.
Matt, if I have assumed anything about you that was wrong, or have posted anything that was personally hurtful to you, I am truly sorry. I will try harder.


Matt Perkins said...

Hey SP,

Nothing you have ever posted here has been hurtful to me. And you are correct in saying that I should not assume that you believe something if you have not specifically indicated such belief. I apologize for hurting you by saying "if you're right."

The thing you wrote which I cannot get out of my mind, and something which I thought about on and off throughout the day today was you writing "if one of us is going to hell, it's me." That is a very serious and fearful thing to write. I think you know what I think about this issue. We all deserve hell. You deserve it no more than me and I no more than you. We all like sheep have gone astray. The Bible says of man, "every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually(Gen 6:5)," and "for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly(Isaiah 9:17)." David writes in Psalm 14, "there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They all have turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one(14:1-3)." In the Isaiah passage not only is mankind found guilty but a hope is also given, for the prophet also writes, "and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (53:6)," and "But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (v 5)." In the New Testament we find that the identity of this suffering servant is the Lord Jesus Christ. "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8)." We also read in Acts 16:30 of a jailer questioning the apostle Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they answered, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."

I believe this gospel with all my heart, SP, so when you say something like you think you're more likely to go to hell than me I can't help but try to articulate it. I believe that God does love you but God is also utterly holy and any sinful creature could only be destroyed by His presence. It is only by truly turning to the Christ of the Bible, repenting and believing in Him, and putting all of your hope in Him, his cross and resurrection and then receiving His perfect righteousness which can allow us to stand before God. And not only to stand before Him but also to be made a new creation, with new affections so that we can desire God with all our being and therefore behold and worship Him for all of eternity - Heaven.

Joshua said...

Hey Matt,

It's cool to see you posted this quote from Luther. I just watched the movie Luther for the first time last night and enjoyed it. Now, I'm really interested in learning more about him and some of the other reformers (I actually got online to google Luther and others but thought I would take a peak at your blog first!).

It's crazy how the Roman Catholic Church distorted the truth and deceived so many for so long. But I just see how God is so good and loves His Bride so much that he raises up reformers that love the truth no matter what the cost.

So any recommendations on books about Luther's life?

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Josh,

Glad you enjoyed that movie, I liked it too. Luther was certainly far from perfect, as is every man, but I do think God used him for a specific purpose at a specific time. The biography I read was by Althaus but it wasn't that great. I'd recommend "Here I Stand" by Roland Bainton or "Martin Luther: A Life" by Martin Marty. If you want to get a taste of Luther's writings, a book called "Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings," by John Dillenberger is probably a good one.

If you end up reading some Luther I'd be interested to talk with you about it and see what you think of him. The most unfortunate thing about Luther was that later in life he wrote some pretty anti-semitic stuff. I was just talking the other day though with someone about how it's easy for us to judge people like Luther for some of his writings, or Calvin for his role in the death of Servetus, or the Puritans and the Salem witch trials. But I wonder what cultural things we participate in and think nothing of that Christians from other times in history would look at and would question whether we are really Christians. In the end there is only one man to look to if we want perfection: Jesus Christ.

God bless you brother.

Joshua said...

Hey Matt,

Thanks for the recommendations, I look forward to reading more about Luther and also some of his writings.

I agree that Jesus must be the main person we look to for our perfect example. I like to read about the people who Christ lived through in this world because it encourages me; but the most encouragement and strength I ever experience is in Christ Himself.

Hope your doing well down in Texas (if your still there). God bless you bro.