Re: Inspiration

From: Tom Pearson (
Date: Thu Sep 21 2000 - 13:24:43 EDT

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    At 07:45 AM 09/21/2000 -0400, Mccarrick Alan D CRPH wrote:

    >Wayne, I am partially disturbed by the sound of the first part of your
    quote. Does this accurately reflect >Bonhoeffer's view of scripture - that
    is CONTAINS inspired truth that we must identify for ourselves. The
    evalgelical >position is usually that "those 66 chapters" are COMPLETELY
    inspired. Was you entire quotation directly from >Bonhoeffer ? Could you
    direct me to a specific location (I assume from drew from "Cost of

    Wayne Dawson has already responded to this from his own perspective, but
    allow me to add to the conversation. The position suggested in Wayne's
    post, which leaves Alan partially disturbed, is the traditional Lutheran
    understanding of the nature of biblical inspiration. Insofar as Bonhoeffer
    was a Lutheran (and there is some dispute over this), he is simply relating
    the historic position of Lutheranism.

    The Lutheran stance is to understand the primary resource for theological
    reflection among Christians to be Christ Himself, and not the text of the
    Bible. It is the narrative of Christ's life, death and resurrection that
    summarizes the Gospel, and it is the Gospel that is the focus of Christian
    faith and practice. Luther once compared the Bible to the manger in which
    the Christ child lay: you go to scripture to find Christ; but even as no
    one fastens their faith to the manger rather than the Child, so does no one
    fasten their faith to the written text of the Bible, which is simply the
    repository for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This accounts for Luther's low
    regard for various books of the Bible (James, Hebrews, Revelation) as
    deficient in Gospel, and therefore of less value. This also accounts for
    the historic Lutheran claim that "inspiration" is a term that applies to
    the authors of the biblical text (i.e., they wrote in a state of
    inspiration) rather than to the character of the text itself (i.e., the
    words themselves are inspired).

    My understanding is that many north American evangelicals argue that it is
    impossible to separate the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Bible which
    contains that Gospel, but Lutherans have ordinarily disagreed. We argue
    that Christian theology is Christologically centered, and that
    Christological reflection is a free exercise of Christian faith. The
    concern for Lutherans has typically been that this freedom may be
    compromised by an allegiance to various presuppositions regarding the
    nature of the written text of scripture. In Lutheran parlance, we call it
    a failure to properly distinguish between Law and Gospel, whenever claims
    about the Bible are taken as normative, and prior to, the claim of the Gospel.

    I don't know which Bonhoeffer passages Wayne had in mind in his original
    post, but you can find Bonhoeffer echoing these Lutheran emphases in a
    number of works, including the 1928 address, "Jesus Christ and the Essence
    of Christianity," and the 1935 lecture, "The Interpretation of the New
    Testament," both of which (along with a lot of other good stuff) can be
    found in *A Testament to Freedom*, edited by Geffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton
    Nelson (HarperCollins, 1995).

    Naturally, there will be always be exceptions among Lutherans to what I've
    outlined above, particularly with those who have accepted other theological
    models. In the second half of the twentieth century, some groups of
    Lutherans in Europe have been influenced by a Barthian neo-Orthodoxy, and
    in north America some groups have accepted certain hermeneutical and
    exegetical principles from evangelical protestantism. In such cases,
    Lutherans have muted their own voice. But Bonhoeffer's voice seems pretty
    clear on these points, and what he says represents traditional Lutheranism.

    Tom Pearson

    Thomas D. Pearson
    Deprtment of History & Philosophy
    The University of Texas-Pan American
    Edinburg, Texas

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