A Biblical Justification for Accepting Homosexuality in the Church
© 2003, John P. Nordin

6.  How should the Bible be used?

A.  Introduction

Having criticized both advocates and opponents for how they used the Bible and did not use it, now it becomes my turn to explain how I think it should be used.  As I have said in a previous chapter, the church has been struggling with the question of how to read and understand the Bible for its entire existence.  The whole question has come into a time of crisis in modern, western society with little sign of the crisis being resolved.  So, of course, the task of answering in a convincing, persuasive manner how we should read the Bible is a task that is simply impossible.  It is also inevitable.  There is no escape from trying because to write or say anything at all on homosexuality while invoking the Bible or Christianity is, implicitly, to give your own view of how the Bible should have authority.  One can cover up the question, but never avoid it.

I will propose a set of principles for how we should read the Bible.  These principles will come from examining the Protestant Reformation.  I will describe how Luther and other reformers developed a view of the authority of scripture.  This is neither a fundamentalist approach nor does it diminish the Bible.  It is a middle way that can be used by the church today. [1]

B.  What the Reformation reformed

The Reformation rejected both the church’s methods of interpretation and the hierarchy of interpreters culminating in the Pope.  In their place, they invited all Christians to use their reason in understanding the Bible. 

Medieval four-fold exegesis rejected in favor of a plain, clear book.

The reformers rejected the traditional medieval methods of Biblical exegesis.  In the medieval scheme there were at least four possible meanings of a text, the famous quartet of literal, allegorical, tropological and anagogical meanings.  This method of interpretation was always technical and now is of interest only to specialists.  However, it was not as obscure nor as mechanical as it appears.  This method was complex and closed.  An interpretation must relate to some previously held position of a patristic author and, in principle if not in practice, new interpretations could not exist. [2]   The reformers rejected the idea of this complexity and the idea that interpretation was closed.

Scripture was said to have one plain, clear, meaning, not the four, or more of medieval exegesis.  This “plain meaning,” however is neither literal in the modern sense, nor simple, as if it were some sort of rejection of “book larnin’” in favor of snap judgments by the uneducated. The plain meaning could be subtle and deep. [3]   The Reformers certainly defended the idea that scripture was infinitely deep and open to new insights to the believer after persistent study.

Luther admitted that God was mysterious and that some verses of the Bible could be obscure, but not the subject.  “I admit, of course, that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these text in no way hinder a knowledge of all the subject matter of  Scripture. …  If the words are obscure in one place, yet they are plain in another.” [4]

To Luther, the clarity of scripture is an article of faith, “In short, if Scripture is obscure or ambiguous, what point was there in God’s giving it to us?  Are we not obscure and ambiguous enough without having our obscurity, ambiguity, and darkness augmented for us from heaven?”

And Luther rejects all complex images or figures (“tropes”) “Let us rather take the view that neither an inference nor a trope is admissible in any passage of Scripture, unless it is forced on us by the evident nature of the context and the absurdity of the literal sense as conflicting with one or another of the articles of faith.  Instead, we must everywhere stick to the simple, pure, and natural sense of the words that accords with the rules of grammar and the normal use of language as God has created it in man.”

It is unlikely that anyone today defends the medieval style of biblical interpretation that Luther so roundly rejects.  However, the question of hidden meanings versus plain meanings in accord with logic and language is still with us.

The authority of the patristic authors rejected in favor of the Bible itself.

In the Medieval world, great authority was given to Patristic [5] authors.  To support your position, you would assemble and arrange quotes from Patristic authors, giving them authority like that of the Bible.

Luther rejected this.  This can be seen clearly in the Leipzig debate in 1519 between Eck and Luther.  Here, Eck demanded that Luther stick to Patristic authorities, and Luther wanted to discuss the Bible directly. [6]

Luther’s position was that he was not rejecting tradition, but a traditionalism that in fact abused the tradition. The real tradition was to give authority to scripture.  Patristic authors had authority to the extent they were grounded in scripture.  Patristic authors openly cited scripture as their authority, and denied that their human opinions should count as equal to scripture.  That was the model for all to follow. [7]   Luther and the reformers respected Patristic authors.

External systems rejected in favor of the primacy of the Bible.

The term sola scriptura (“scripture alone”) arose during the Reformation.  One aspect of what this meant to the Reformers is that the Bible does not need external systems, either external philosophical or theological systems, in order to understand it. [8]   Rather than starting with some categories or terms from a philosophical system and seeing how to organize the Bible to fit into the categories, one should start from the Bible itself.  Nor should our understanding of the Bible be filtered through the external system of the church’s tradition.  “Scripture interprets scripture.”  The scripture itself is “source and norm.”

The Pope and the church as authorities of interpretation rejected in favor of each Christian reading the Bible.

There is a further implication to be drawn from the points made above.  Removing Patristic authors and church councils and philosophical systems from a position of authority over the Bible was not just about documents.  It was not just a case that current theologians, church councils and the Pope should use the Bible instead of the writings of previous theologians, councils and Pontiffs.  The more daring and revolutionary thrust of the Reformers was that Bible interpretation did not belong just to those authorities but to all Christians. 

Luther and the reformers rejected the church’s that the Pope and gatherings of all the church’s leaders in a church council were infallible interpreters of scripture.  This also came out in the Leipzig debate as Luther dared to say that church councils could in fact err.  As with Patristic authors, so with church councils, they should be judged by their agreement with scripture.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, there is a tradition that “the church created scripture.” [9]   Thus the church, which made scripture, could control the interpretation of scripture and the church’s tradition becomes a record of that.  This view of the Bible as a product of the church, shocking to many western Christians, would also be rejected. 

These conclusions come from saying that scripture is “clear.”  If scripture can only be understood with the aid of secret knowledge, or by divine inspiration that is given only to the ordained, then ordinary Christians just have to accept the explanations those leaders give about what the Bible means.  If, on the other hand, scripture has a meaning that is, in some sense “clear,” then it is logical to suggest that any Christian could understand it, or understand the explanations of those who have studied it and judge the explanations offered by officials.  Therefore, Christians should understand scripture and participate in the effort to understand it.  And thus, Luther’s drive to translate the scripture into German [10] so every Christian in his country could read it or hear it read and begin the process of coming to understand it.  So also was his motivation to write the Small and Large Catechism and to provide prefaces for each book of the Bible.

“The Pope,” Luther said, “is no judge of maters pertaining to God’s word and faith.  But the Christian man must examine and judge for himself.” [11]

This view, however, should not be equated with the modern idea of individualism where each can do as they see fit.  This will be discussed in more detail later.

C.  What the Reformation affirmed

The Canon within the Canon: What proclaims Christ

Luther did reach behind scripture for a criterion of interpretation, creating a “canon within the canon” of “what proclaims Christ.”  The criterion used to determine which texts of the Bible were most authoritative is one that privileges the proclamation about Jesus as the primary purpose of scripture.  If the gospel (Jesus’ incarnation, the cross, and the proclamation of this) was prior to the written texts of the New Testament, then, the gospel could judge among scripture texts.  This is the source of Luther’s antipathy to books like James, which seemed to him to be simply moralizing texts of the “do good and God will like you” variety, antithetical to the free gift of the gospel.

What then of actual behavior and laws that would determine behavior?  It is a common Lutheran view that good works would come only as people’s lives were transformed by Christ. [12]   Lutherans were deeply suspicious of any system (and certainly any state run system) that purported to create a good society.  Proclaiming the gracious gift of God, and relying on people to respond to that gift was alleged to be enough.  This worry has led to extremes in Lutheran history where any actual transformation of people’s lives (sanctification) cannot be discussed as it is inevitably thought to lead to pride, a claim of self-sanctification and become “works righteousness.” [13]   Careful readers will have noted the contradiction to the Lutheran view of the previous chapter where keeping “the Law” was regarded as critical and independent from proclaiming the gospel.  This schizophrenia remains unresolved in actual practice, despite the attempt to develop a “third use of the law” for the guidance of the faithful.

The concept of the “canon within the canon” of  “what proclaims Christ” will not immediately tell us what behavior is and is not valid.  To be sure, we could simply try it for 40 or 50 years: Preach the cross and God’s gift and see if those homosexuals who hear us change their lifestyle.  If they don’t, then that would have to count as evidence in favor of homosexuality.  To state such a thought experiment is to risk being accused of writing satire.  However, observing how people, in particular, homosexuals, behave when confronted with the gospel is important.  This will be discussed in the next chapter.

The rejection of inerrancy

In previous parts of this chapter we’ve seen how the Reformers removed other sources of authority to put the Bible above everything else.  That would seem to lead directly to a doctrine of inerrancy or infallibility for the Bible.  But as the immediately previous section showed, the reformers placed an aspect of the Bible (“what proclaims Christ”) above the text itself. 

Luther was quite free to judge portions of scripture that did not meet this criterion.  He wrote prefaces [14] for each book of the Bible for his German translation and they have many statements incompatible with an infallible attitude to scripture.  He felt free to rank the books, regarding the Gospel of John and St. Paul’s letters (especially Romans) as the “true kernel and marrow of all the books.  Jude was valued, but “need not be counted among the chief books,” James was “an epistle of straw.. for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it,” though Luther recommended it be read.

In other writings he thought Kings more reliable than Chronicles, objected to Ester being in the Bible at all, disagreed with Hebrews 6:4 and Acts 15:29 and could complain about Revelation, a book not often thought to be “plain” or “clear.” [15]

So, while he thought scripture could be “clear” at least in its overall subject matter, it could be very tangled in the specifics.  What proclaimed Christ was infallible, but not so every word in the Bible.  If Lutherans are uneasy about the opinions expressed thus far on the infallibility of scripture, it is the beginning of awareness that we have forgotten our heritage.  Fundamentalism is not a Lutheran perspective.

But this is not at all due to Luther neglecting or not caring about Scripture.  English translations of his commentaries on scripture fill 30 volumes.  “No modern exegete [one who interprets scripture] can fail to be moved by the depth of the Reformer’s insights into the meaning of the Biblical text.  Next to his exegesis most present-day commentaries seem either pedantic or shallow or both.” [16]

D.  What the radical Reformation added: Reason and the Spirit

If tradition is rejected, and all can interpret according to their own ideas, doesn’t that open the doors to chaos?  How can we avoid a radical sort of individualism where each person is their own Pope?  So far we have considered the Reformation against the existing tradition.  But there also was a radical reformation that put itself against Luther and other moderate reformers.  This radical reformation caused Luther and others to reflect on these questions.

It was easy to proclaim that the average faithful Christian, led by the Holy Spirit, reading this “plain” and “clear” Bible, would infallibly come to the right understanding of scripture “in the stillness of the individual before the Word” [17] .  One can even imagine a thoughtful individual maturing in his or her awareness of this over time, and coming to some sense of when these factors are operating.

However, this pleasant picture could not survive the Reformation, as Luther found that all groups, Catholic, moderate and radical reformers claimed to have the Spirit. [18]   If the Catholic Church had wanted an interpretation based only on external sources, and the Lutheran view was “Word and Spirit” together, the Anabaptists and other radical reformers wanted to rely on the Spirit alone. [19]

In the radical reformation and in debates among faithful Christians down through the years, a total reliance on “the Spirit” yields some of the worst fanaticism, schism and violence.  There is no outward sign of when someone else is under the power of the Holy Spirit.  Faithful people can become hyper-faithful fanatics.  Again, as suggested in the introduction to this paper, if the group of faithful must make a decision about the collective’s policy, some form of collective decision-making is required.  The Lutheran “moderate reform” position would lead us to look for something the community of the faithful could use to come to a collective decision.  What would this be? 

Reason

What we are left with is reason, and its associated sciences of what constitutes evidence, what proves a fact and what is a valid argument.  Perhaps Melanchthon and his use of rhetorical analysis on Romans should be cited as an early attempt to explore this possibility for Biblical interpretation. [20]

Reason, as a technique for reaching agreement is under sustained attack today from two directions.  On the one hand, the church, perhaps even more than contemporary American society, is deeply suspicious of reason.  Reason is assumed to be opposed to the heart, and it is commonly believed that reason is rationalization, cold and unfeeling, which leads to all manner of evils.  Against this is the heart, feeling, caring, love and all that is warm and reassuring.

The history of this curious view is beyond the scope of this paper.  To be sure, reason’s disciples are not infallible: we have all encountered reason as a disguise for naked self-interest.  We have all emerged dizzy from an encounter with the hyper-logical person who “proves” to us that UFO’s have abducted millions or that Watergate was a deliberate plan by President Nixon to get us to think for ourselves. [21]   What is not noticed in contemporary society is that feeling and caring are equally effective covers for self-interest.  Perhaps it is an even more effective cover since any attempt to expose the self-interest can be rejected as “unfeeling.”  A stance of caring and appeals to emotion are staples of advertising, political persuasion and other forms of propaganda.

The choice, however, is not between reason and feeling, both of which can be distorted in the service of sin or be sources of inspiration.  There is an ancient spiritual phrase, “the head in the heart,” which suggests that the issue is to use both logic and emotion as checks and support for each other.  In the realm of theology, the parallel phrase might be “faith seeking understanding,” which suggests a union of logic and devotion.

A second attack on reason comes from the entire complex of postmodern deconstructive hermeneutics that contend that objectivity and the idea of one correct interpretation are illusions.  Again, a full discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.  To some extent, popular advocacy of deconstruction is attacking a straw man.  They have destroyed a monster of iron objectivity and scientific exegesis that never in fact existed.  That more than one interpretation is possible does not mean that all conceivable interpretations are equally valid. [22]  

In deed, attacks on logic have turned things inside out.  The point of the traditional “scientific method,” (one form of logical argument) was not to privilege my reasoning above others, but exactly the opposite: a way of subjecting my analysis and conclusions to review by others for correction.

That arguments and discussion take place about interpretation does not mean that there is no common currency in the debate.  For the purposes of this paper, I assume not that we can use mathematical logic to derive one correct answer but that a public discussion with shared criteria is possible.

What reason offers are criteria outside of ourselves.  An appeal to reason is an appeal to shared criteria of judgment about what is or is not valid. While attacks on this model are motivated, in part, by a critique of how those with power have used reason to sustain their power, it is in fact true that in the absence of a shared language of debate, what is left is the use of power to decide issues.

Reason: another external system?

In pointing to reason, are we introducing another external system and depriving scripture of its primacy?  No, reason is the minimum external means needed to simply absorb what this complicated, extensive, deep, subtle text is trying to communicate.  Reason is not a set of conclusions about the text, but a set of processes for assessing the text.  Do you have evidence for this?  Are your conclusions consistent?  Have you considered all the texts?  Have you looked at the language, culture and view of those who wrote it?  Have you considered ways of analysis that have proven fruitful on other passages?  Have you looked at what others say?  Reason is a way of being careful with the text and a way of allowing others to critique and correct your own views.

What is fatal, is to base faith on reason, removed from the authority of the text.  That leads to hair-splitting canon law or to atheism.  Luther certainly viewed reason as having limits. [23]   This use of reason occurs after one has accepted the text and what it proclaims.

The use of reason is not foreign to the text itself.  Isaiah invites it and the wisdom tradition holds it up as worthy of the believer’s efforts.  The logos of John implies that intellect is at the foundation of the Trinity, and describes Jesus, in part, as “the truth,” Corinthians urges us to adult thought. [24]  

The reasoning of the Spirit led

Perhaps we should not abandon so quickly the notion of God inspiring Christians.  Reading scripture with devotion as well as scholarship can happen.  Using reason and the spirit together is similar to the traditional spiritual virtue of “discernment.”  The best reasoning about scripture comes from those who read it with love and care. 

This is not a rejection of scholarship and its program of historical critical analysis by observers whose religious commitment to the text is not discussed.  Rather it is a message directed at those inside the faith.  If you are a Christian, and seek, as a Christian, to discover what God is communicating through the human artifact of the text, it is better to do that with a spiritual practice of prayer and devotion.

The reasoning of the faithful

In the realm of Biblical interpretation then, we might look to the faithful’s use of reason.  That is, the exegesis, the interpretation, of those who are members of the church.  This does not exclude the contributions of those outside the group – who can put forth reasons for why the faithful have gone off the track, but it does mean that the group will decide what those contributions mean for its own deliberation.

E.  Guidelines for interpretation

What then can we say of using this heritage in constructing Biblical interpretation?  From the discussion above, certain principles are suggested that might be animated by a Reformation hermeneutic of scripture, though not exclusive to it.

The Bible is the highest authority; the source and norm of our decisions.

This mandates the seriousness with which we must take what is written.  From this principle flow several corollaries:

·        The Bible should not be subject to external theological, philosophical, sociological or scientific systems in order to be understood.  This confirms our rejection of various false ways of getting around the prohibitions on homosexuality.

·        Interpretations arising out of a deep, devotional, reading of the Bible should be preferred.   If Scripture is a higher authority for religious questions than science, psychology or sociology, then religious approaches and techniques should be given preference when we read Scripture.  There is no way to guarantee the presence of the Holy Spirit, but in the environment of deep reading, and one of devotion, these are more likely to come to the fore. 

I am referring here not simply to praying scripture, as opposed to studying it.  I mean study and prayer, by methods either formal (such as Lexio divina) or informal.  I also mean this technique employed over time.  We simply must commit to letting ourselves be shaped by a lifetime of reading and pondering the scripture, within the church and within a life of faith.  The notion of a detached exegete is a modern idea; the patristic authors were theologians and mystics both.

·        The highest reading of a passage is more likely to be correct.  By “highest reading”, I mean the one that is most moral, more consistent with the highest view of God, etc.  Thus if the choice for interpreting the Levitical laws on kosher food is a choice between an assumption that the ancients didn’t understand modern hygiene or assuming that these laws assisted spiritual life, the latter has the presumption in the debate.  If this seems “unfair,” consider the extent to which we have privileged the lower or most reductionistic explanation in much Biblical exegesis.

·        We can construct theology from the text.  It is fashionable now to talk of separate, disparate views within scripture.  This is certainly progress over flattening out the entire text into a uniform whole.  However, if we will not get our theology from outside the text, we must get it from within the text.

Each generation is permitted to interpret the Bible anew

The interpretation of scripture is open to each generation of the church and to all believers. If scripture is open to all, it is open to all of every generation.  There is no infallible tradition of any church.  Out of humility and awareness that we are not the only generation or group of believers who has existed, we cannot simply brush off the heritage of the church as irrelevant.  But we can judge that heritage in the light of scripture.

There is a near universal rejection of homosexuality in the church’s tradition.  Do we have to accept that?  This rejection is not normative for us, except that we are bound to consider how that rejection was or was not rooted in scripture.  In humility, we consider the tradition carefully.  But we are not blasphemers if we find flaws in tradition, or suggest a correction.

Relationship with God is a primary concern

Note the grammatical inconsistency of this title: logically there is only one primary concern.  However, the Bible communicates on many dimensions and I only wish to claim that the Bible consistently raises our relationship with God to a high level of importance.

Of more value for our guidance on homosexuality is the direction that this gospel criteria points to.  If the focus of the Bible, and indeed, the Christian religion is on proclaiming something wonderful about God’s love and God’s plan to save humans, then one conclusion is that passages from the Bible that, on first glance, suggest that God is vicious, petty, power-mad, or intending on dooming humans need to be corrected by being read against a larger context. 

To be sure, God’s creation of the gospel is based on God’s concern that there is something wrong with human life: sin.  Thus, those passages in the Bible dealing with God’s holiness and God’s judgment on sin cannot be waved away.  The “canon within the canon” implicitly accepts them. 

These points suggest another principle: Any law God lays down has to be in our real, best interest.  Such laws are not likely to always be for our immediate benefit, or for any benefit we see when obsessed with some spiritual disease, but definitely for our benefit.  The analogy would be to the decisions a good parent makes for a small child: these decisions are always in the best interest of the child, but the child is not always aware of that.

The canon within the canon does provide a valuable way of framing moral choices.  The thrust of the Bible is about human distance from God, and God’s actions to bring people back to God.  The gospel gives priority to human standing with God, our “getting right” with God.  It condemns human behavior that distances people from God.  This suggests that moral choices are not about humans by themselves, or even only about humans with each other.  Moral choices, correct behavior, what is sin and what is not sin, has to do with humans and their God.  Moral choices are certainly about humans with each other but not only about humans with each other.  The connection is that treating your neighbor poorly distances you from God.

Nor is this simply a new idea with Jesus.  Consider the Ten Commandments, or even the bulk of the holiness code itself.  While it includes ritual laws, the majority of it is about human treatment of the neighbor and the stranger.  The consistent testimony of scripture is that God is very concerned about how you treat your neighbor. Human sin with each other has always been an issue in human relationship with God.

The text must not be read as a book of laws.  The point of scripture is to show God’s plan for human salvation, how God intends to restore the broken human relationship with God.  That includes the correct behavior of humans, but the text is not intended to describe exhaustively all prohibited behaviors.

Moral behavior is judged according to how it affects the relationship with God.  From the insight that the key to scripture is the proclamation of God’s gracious plan for humans, we derived that what scripture says about morality is shaped by this issue.  As we will propose in the next chapter, Jesus will makes that link by what he declares are the two key commandments.

We should now introduce the word sin.  Sin is actions that break relationships with God and the neighbor.  When defining sin, Philip Melanchthon includes violations of the Law, and the “immense weakness with which we are born which is called original sin.”  But he also includes this list:

... darkness and doubting whether God cares about human affairs, whether he punishes, whether he nourishes, whether he aids, and whether he grants people’s prayers, are not trivial evils.  Likewise, to lack fear and love for God; to love ourselves while neglecting the love of God; to admire our own wisdom; to play with opinions which flee from God ... to have impulses that wander about here and there, turned away from God, and fighting against the Law of God; these things are very great evils, as shown by the punishments. [25]

This way of defining sin moves us far beyond defining sin as breaking the ten commandments, though it includes such moral laws. 

Scripture’s authority is in the book as a whole, not in individual verses.

The text must not be viewed as inerrant or infallible.  From the previous section, it should be obvious that our Reformation perspective simply does not include this view.  While parts of Lutheranism have held it, and many Christians feel vaguely like that they should hold it, it is not a requirement.  Inerrancy cannot survive a reason-led examination of the text.  The text itself testifies against such a view.

The reading of the entire Bible is required for understanding parts of it.  While a century of atomistic exegesis has taught us that good analysis consists of the deconstruction of the text into fragments, our commitment to the whole of scripture would I think, demand that we read the entire book as a control on reading individual verses of it.  Not because it is all the same, but because its topic is so removed from our secular lives that we must work to enter the world of the text before understanding any part of it.

We are to use our reason to find the meaning of scripture.

We are to reason about scripture.  The full set of historical critical methods are allowed.  The full set of techniques about logic are allowed.  The arguments made about scripture are public, and subject to scrutiny of the faithful.  There are no appeals to the authority of seminary professors, church officials or pastors.  We respect the authority of such figures, but we do so not because of their position or person, but because of their actions: we see them reasoning, and see their knowledge of scripture and their awareness of the center and purpose of scripture.

Reasoning about scripture tells us several things:

·        The Bible communicates by means of metaphor, poetry, suggestive examples, vivid illustrations, the symbolic and the full range of persuasive rhetorical techniques.  In a seminary class, we were considering a passage that included “your young men will… and your old men will…” A student objected, and not because it omitted women.  No, this was “unfair discrimination” against middle-aged people.  If the Bible is a law book, then she is right.  If this verse is poetry, then she missed the point.  In reading the bible on homosexuality, errors of exegesis are committed that, while accepted, are identical in nature to the one this student committed.  This nature of the Bible means that techniques of literary analysis, not simply parsing of sentences, are crucial to comprehending its meaning.

·        The passages of the Bible are written at various times, to various groups and making various assumptions about context.  Verses are not all immediately addressed to 21st century, western Christians. 

From all of these principles, we are able to conclude that:

·        It is permissible to read one text in the context of larger themes.

·        It is permissible to diminish the importance of one text relative to other texts.

·        It is permissible to reject certain texts, as mandated by other texts.

F.  Are Reformation hermeneutics normative?

In a word, no.  Certainly it is not suggested that this approach can be privileged, even within the Lutheran denomination.  Rather, I am arguing that this cluster of interpretive methods has power for resolving a series of difficult questions and achieving consensus, a power other methods cannot achieve.  There are multitudes of approaches to the Bible, of course, but many can be grouped into broad categories.  The fundamentalist approach is riddled with logical inconsistencies.  Methods that do not place the Bible as normative lack power to sustain spiritual life.  This Lutheran or Reformation hermeneutic is advanced as a middle way.

There are difficulties with this that should be acknowledged.  The reformers were not totally consistent in applying their own principles, and did find passages that worked against their views.  Also, while terming it a “Lutheran hermeneutic” or “Reformation hermeneutic, it must be at once admitted that the Lutheran churches turned their back on it almost within a generation of the Reformation.  Interpretative methods hardened into a Lutheran orthodoxy or Lutheran scholasticism that would simply substitute proof-texting of the reformers or the reformation era confessions for proof-texting the patristic authors or church councils. [26]    In this era, the distinction between the Word of God and the text of the scripture that the Reformation had drawn was collapsed and the position that scripture was inerrant took hold.  Along with that position came the sort of rigidity that characterizes all fundamentalist movements.  “Sharp argumentation against other positions, quick identification of an enemy, and controversy in general belong to the era of Lutheran Orthodoxy.” [27]

Likewise, it must also be acknowledged that this approach to scripture drew on many contributions made by those that came before the reformers, setting the intellectual groundwork, and in many cases, giving their lives without fame or being remembered. [28]   Luther and others of his day did not operate out of a vacuum nor were they the first to make these points.

Advancing this hermeneutic and offering it for those who are not Lutheran or from a church associated with this moderate reformation is in no sense a claim of superiority for the church I belong to.

A word must also be said, in fairness, to those opposed to homosexuality.  Full disclosure demands I warn you to review these principles and the arguments for them.  For once these principles are accepted as the means by which we should look at scripture, the decision to accept homosexuality, or more precisely, to deny that homosexuality is in and of itself a sin, comes almost automatically.  From here on, the burden of proof in the debate has shifted.



[1] For this chapter generally, see, Braaten & Jensen, Christian Dogmatics, pp. 61ff; Farrar, History of Interpretation, p. 323ff; Bray, Biblical Interpretation, and Grant and Tracy, A Short History of Interpretation of the Bible.

[2] Karlfried Froehlich, “Problems of Lutheran Hermeneutics,” in Reumann, Studies.

[3] Pelikan, Jaroslav, The Reformation of the Bible, 30-36.

[4] Luther, “Bondage of the Will,” v.36. at p 25-26, p. 89 and 162 respectively.

[5] Patristic authors: the “Church Fathers,” writers from the first few centuries of the church who had been deemed orthodox.

[6] Pelikan, Luther the Expositor, p. 111.

[7] Pelikan, Luther the Expositor, p. 80ff.

[8] Bray, Biblical Interpretation, p. 189ff.

[9] Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church.

[10] The first version of the New Testament came out in 1524, the full Bible was completed in 1534.  Luther was not the first to do such a translation, but his came to dominate the culture.  See, Pelikan, Reformation of the Bible, p. 49ff.

[11] Bainton, The Reformation, p. 61.

[12] Luther was not opposed to good works at all, seeing them as the result, not the precursor of God’s grace.

[13] Those who did not grow up in this environment, cannot imagine how blanketing it was.  Even to buy a new stained glass window for the church, were it to be accompanied by a suggestion that God might approve of the “improvement” of the sanctuary was sure to earn the rebuke of “works righteousness.”

[14] Luther, “Prefaces.”  Quotes from pages 362, 398, 362,

[15] See Harrisville & Sundberg, The Bible in Modern Culture, at p. 15, and “The Bible in the Reformation” for examples.

[16] Pelikan, Luther the Expositor¸ p. 255.

[17] Reid, The Authority of Scripture, p. 71.

[18] Schreiner, “The Spiritual Man Judges All Things.”

[19] Reid, p. 60.

[20] Timothy Wengert, “Philip Melanchthon’s 1522 Annotations”.  Reid, The Authority of Scripture, p. 79.

[21] An experience of the author.

[22] Goldingay, Models for Interpretation of Scripture, pp. 48-55. VanHoozer, Is there a meaning in this text?

[23] Ebeling, Luther, p. 230-231.

[24] Isaiah 1:18; Proverbs 1:1-5; John 1:1-18; 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:10.

[25] Philip Melanchthon, Commentary on Romans, p.24-5.

[26] Certainly, my mild critique of the Lutheran position on sanctification will be regarded as near-blasphemous by some Lutherans, who hold Reformation theology equal to scripture.

[27] Gritsch, History of Lutheranism, p. 126. Bainton, The Reformation, p. 44-45. Harrisville, Bible in Modern Culture, p. 22-23.

[28] Farrar, History of Interpretation, p.307-322.