The Doctrine of Holy Scripture in the Lutheran Confessions

An Anthology

(Confessional quotations are from The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959].)

St. Peter says that when the prophets spoke, they did not prophesy by the impulse of man but were moved by the Holy Spirit, yet as holy men of God [II Peter 1:21]. But without the external Word they were not holy, and the Holy Spirit would not have moved them to speak while they were still unholy. They were holy, St. Peter says, because the Holy Spirit spoke through them. (Smalcald Articles III, VIII:13, p. 313)

All Scripture, inspired by God, should minister not to security and impenitence but “to reproof, correction, and improvement” (II Tim. 3:16). Furthermore, everything in the Word of God is written down for us, not for the purpose of thereby driving us to despair but in order that “by steadfastness, by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration XI:12, p. 618)

It is surely amazing that our opponents are unmoved by the many passages in the Scriptures that clearly attribute justification to faith and specifically deny it to works. Do they suppose that this is repeated so often for no reason? Do they suppose that these words fell from the Holy Spirit unawares? (Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV:107-08, p. 122)

If, then, bishops have the power to burden the churches with countless requirements and thus ensnare consciences, why does the divine Scripture so frequently forbid the making and keeping of human regulations? Why does it call them doctrines of the devil? Is it possible that the Holy Spirit warned against them for nothing? (Augsburg Confession XXVIII:49 [German], p. 89)

It is written, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). And again, “But because of false brethren secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we did not yield submission even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Gal. 2:4,5). ... Here we are dealing primarily with the chief article of our Christian faith, so that, as the apostle testifies, the truth of the Gospel might be preserved... At the same time this concerns the article of Christian liberty as well, an article which the Holy Spirit through the mouth of the holy apostle so seriously commanded the church to preserve, as we have just heard. (Solid Declaration X:11,14-15, pp. 612-13)

St. Augustine also writes in his reply to the letters of Petillian that one should not obey even regularly elected bishops if they err or if they teach or command something contrary to the divine Holy Scriptures. (Augsburg Confession XXVIII:28 [German], p. 85)

It is furthermore to be hoped that when they are rightly instructed in this doctrine, they will, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, turn to the infallible truth of the divine Word and unite with us and our churches and schools. (Preface to the Book of Concord, p. 12)

...believe the Scriptures. They will not lie to you, and they know your flesh better than you yourself do. (Large Catechism V:76, p. 455)

Especially are we to abide by the revealed Word which cannot and will not deceive us. (Formula of Concord, Epitome XI:14, p. 496)

...God’s Word is not false nor does it lie. (Epitome VII:13, p. 483)

...the Word of God is not false or deceitful. (Solid Declaration VII:96, p. 586)

...we know that God does not lie. My neighbor and I -- in short, all men -- may err and deceive, but God’s Word cannot err. (Large Catechism IV:57, p. 444)

...the Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel. (Smalcald Articles II, II:15, p. 295)

...we also know that “the wisdom of this perverse world is folly with God” [I Cor. 3:19] and that it is only from the Word of God that judgments on articles of faith are to be pronounced. (Solid Declaration II:8, p. 521)

We pledge ourselves to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated. (Solid Declaration, Rule & Norm: 3, pp. 501-02)

We believe, teach, and confess that the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged, as it is written in Ps. 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And St. Paul says in Gal. 1:8, “Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Other writings of ancient and modern teachers, whatever their names, should not be put on a par with Holy Scripture. Every single one of them should be subordinated to the Scriptures and should be received in no other way and no further than as witnesses to the fashion in which the doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved in post-apostolic times. (Epitome, Rule & Norm: 1-2, pp. 464-65)

...the distinction between the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testaments and all other writings is maintained, and Holy Scripture remains the only judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong. Other symbols and other writings are not judges like Holy Scripture, but merely witnesses and expositions of the faith, setting forth how at various times the Holy Scriptures were understood by contemporaries in the church of God with reference to controverted articles, and how contrary teachings were rejected and condemned. (Epitome, Rule & Norm: 7-8, p. 465)

...we offer and present a confession of our pastors’ and preachers’ teaching and of our own faith, setting forth how and in what manner, on the basis of the Holy Scriptures, these things are preached, taught, communicated, and embraced... (Augsburg Confession, Preface: 8, p. 25)

Certainly we should not wish to put our own souls and consciences in grave peril before God by misusing his name or Word, nor should we wish to bequeath to our children and posterity any other teaching than that which agrees with the pure Word of God and Christian truth. Since this teaching is grounded clearly on the Holy Scriptures and is not contrary or opposed to that of the universal Christian church, or even of the Roman church (in so far as the latter’s teaching is reflected in the writings of the Fathers), we think that our opponents cannot disagree with us in the articles set forth above [in the Augsburg Confession]. Therefore, those who presume to reject, avoid, and separate from our churches as if our teaching were heretical, act in an unkind and hasty fashion, contrary to all Christian unity and love, and do so without any solid basis of divine command or Scripture. (Augsburg Confession, epilogue to XXI, 1 [German], pp. 47-48)

And now, dear reader, you have our Apology. It will show you what our opponents have judged, as we have reported this faithfully; far from having disproved our contentions from the Scriptures, they have condemned several articles in opposition to the clear Scripture of the Holy Spirit. (Apology, Preface: 9, pp. 98-99)

...we have in what follows purposed to commit ourselves exclusively and only, in accordance with the pure, infallible, and unalterable Word of God, to that Augsburg Confession which was the year 1530. (Preface to the Book of Concord, p. 8)

Dr. Luther of blessed memory...expressly asserts by way of distinction that the Word of God is and should remain the sole rule and norm of all doctrine, and that no human being’s writings dare be put on a par with it, but that everything must be subjected to it. This, of course, does not mean that other good, useful, and pure books, such as interpretations of the Holy Scriptures, refutations of errors, and expositions of doctrinal articles, should be rejected. If they are in accord with the aforementioned pattern of doctrine they are to be accepted and used as helpful expositions and explanations. (Solid Declaration, Rule & Norm: 9-10, pp. 505-06)

...although man’s reason or natural intellect still has a dim spark of the knowledge that there is a God, as well as of the teaching of the law (Rom. 1:19-21,28,32), nevertheless, it is so ignorant, blind, and perverse that when even the most gifted and the most educated people on earth read or hear the Gospel of the Son of God and the promise of eternal salvation, they cannot by their own powers perceive this, comprehend it, understand it, or believe and accept it as the truth. On the contrary, the more zealously and diligently they want to comprehend these spiritual things with their reason, the less they understand or believe, and until the Holy Spirit enlightens and teaches them they consider it all mere foolishness and fables. It is as St. Paul says in I Cor. 2:14, “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (Solid Declaration II:9-10, pp. 521-22)

Christ, the prophets, and the apostles define the church as anything but such a papal kingdom. Nor should that be transferred to the popes which is the prerogative of the true church: that they are pillars of the truth and that they do not err. How many of them care anything for the Gospel or think it worth reading? Many openly ridicule all religions, or if they accept anything, accept only what agrees with human reason and regard the rest as mythology, like the tragedies of the poets. In accordance with the Scriptures, therefore, we maintain that the church in the proper sense is the assembly of saints who truly believe the Gospel of Christ and who have the Holy Spirit. (Apology VII/VIII:26-28, p. 173)

Since the Holy Scriptures call Christ a mystery over which all heretics break their heads [Col. 1:27], we admonish all Christians not to pry presumptuously into this mystery with their reason, but with the holy apostles simply to believe, close the eyes of reason, take their intellect captive to obey Christ, comfort themselves therewith, and rejoice constantly that our flesh and blood have in Christ been made to sit so high at the right hand of the majesty and almighty power of God. In this way they will be certain to find abiding comfort in all adversities and will be well protected against pernicious errors. (Solid Declaration VIII:96, pp. 609-10)

To some extent reason and free will are able to lead an outwardly virtuous life. But to be born anew, to receive inwardly a new heart, mind, and spirit, is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. He opens the intellect and the heart to understand the Scriptures and to heed the Word, as we read in Luke 24:45, “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Likewise, “Lydia heard us; the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). (Solid Declaration II:26, p. 526)

In Ps. 119, for example, David asks God more than ten times to give him understanding so that he might rightly comprehend and learn the divine doctrine. We find similar prayers in St. Paul’s letters (Eph. 1:17,18; Col. 1:9,11; Phil. 1:9,10). Of course, such prayers and passages about our ignorance and impotence were not written so that we might become remiss and lazy in reading, hearing, and meditating on the Word of God, but were written in order that above all things we should thank God from our hearts for having liberated us from the darkness of ignorance and the bondage of sin and death through his Son, and for having reborne and illuminated us through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. And after God, through the Holy Spirit in Baptism, has kindled and wrought a beginning of true knowledge of God and faith, we ought to petition him incessantly that by the same Spirit and grace, through daily exercise in reading his Word and putting it into practice, he would preserve faith and his heavenly gifts in us and strengthen us daily until our end. Unless God himself is our teacher, we cannot study and learn anything pleasing to him and beneficial to us and others. (Solid Declaration II:15-16, p. 523)

Compiled and Edited by David Jay Webber

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