Thursday, December 3, 2009

How to Read the Bible Like a Lutheran. Part 1


Lutherans use a specific set of tools to interpret Scripture. We share some of those tools with other Christians. Some of them we use in a particularly Lutheran manner. Taken together, they add up to a uniquely Lutheran way of reading the Bible.

The constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) describes the Bible as "the written word of God." Written is an important modifier, because Lutherans use the phrase "word of God" to describe three separate but closely related things.

First, and most importantly, Jesus Christ is the eternal and incarnate Word of God. The Gospel of John describes Jesus as the Word which existed with God from eternity, and which was God. This Word entered human life at a particular time and place and lived among us, showing us the heart and mind of God.

Second, Lutherans call the Bible the word of God. The Bible is precious to us because in it we find the stories and teachings of Jesus. In the Bible, we meet Jesus. Martin Luther called the Bible "the cradle in which the Christ child is found." Lutherans read the Bible through a pair of Jesus goggles.

Third, Lutherans speak of the proclaimed word of God. That is, the Word (Jesus) expressed in sermon, hymn, liturgy, and in the lives and deeds of believers.

The heart of the matter is this: when Lutherans read the Bible, we do so expecting to hear God's word. We read the Bible expecting to meet Jesus.

If you would like to read the Bible like a Lutheran, I recommend two excellent resources, both published by Augsburg Fortress. First is Lutheran Study Bible, which is thick with introductory materials, footnotes and additional essays. (Don't confuse this book with Concordia's similarly titled The Lutheran Study Bible which I do not recommend). Second is a thin volume titled Opening the Book of Faith, by Diane L. Jacobson, Stanley N. Olson and Mark Allan Powell. Jacobson and Powell do an especially fine job of explaining how Lutherans read, interpret and understand the Bible.

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