Jews

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Jews and the Book of Concord: Why we cannot affirm “unconditional subscription”

A title page of the Book of Concord

I’m a Lutheran, though some would say I am not. Why? Because many try to define out of existence those who adhere to the Book of Concord “in so far as” it agrees with Scripture as opposed to “because” it agrees with Scripture. Entire denominations argue that the affirmation “because” is the only way to be a genuine Lutheran. I have argued that this places adherents in an impossible situation before. First, I’ve argued that there are actually wrong interpretations of Scripture in the Book of Concord. There is also at least one etymological error. Must Lutherans, to be Lutheran, be saddled with these? According to the “because” position, the answer is yes, they must affirm these errors.

But it gets worse. In light of the despicable act of evil that occurred in Pittsburgh and with Reformation Day having just passed, I’ve been reading about Martin Lutherr and also decided to look up what the Book of Concord says about Jews. I believe the latter demonstrates conclusively that we cannot and must not give the Book of Concord “unconditional subscription.”

Unconditional Subscription?

I take my definition from one of the conservative Lutheran sites that is pushing for this as the definition of Lutheran:

What is an “unconditional subscription” to the Confessions?
Confessional Lutheran pastors are required to “subscribe,” that is, to pledge their agreement unconditionally with the Lutheran Confessions precisely because they are a pure exposition of the Word of God. This is the way our pastors, and all laypeople who confess belief in the Small Catechism, are able with great joy and without reservation or qualification to say what it is that they believe to be the truth of God’s Word. (Lutheran Reformation emphasis removed)

Unconditional subscription, then, is the notion that Lutherans must pledge to agree without reservation to the entirety of the Lutheran Confessions, which are those contained in the Book of Concord.

Jews and the Book of Concord

I have not cited every instance of the occurrence of “Jew” or “Jewish” in the Book of Concord. Rather, here I’ll be citing three instances which I believe demonstrate beyond a doubt that we cannot affirm unconditional subscription without seriously compromising our morality.

The first section comes from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII, section 18:

This is absolutely a Jewish opinion, to hold that we are justified by a ceremony, without a good disposition of the heart, i.e., without faith.

There are a number of problems with this sentence even apart from the use of “Jewish” here. First, it doesn’t just imply but states that Jewish “opinion” believes in justification without faith. Yet this contradicts the New Testament’s own teaching on the faith of Jewish people. For example, Hebrews 11:8-10:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

So Abraham, the father of Judaism, acted by faith, looking forward to the city whose designer is God. This famous passage in the New Testament goes on to affirm the faith of Rahab, Sarah, Jacob, the Israelites coming out of Egypt, and many, many more Jews, noting, ultimately, that though they acted on faith none of them received the promised final perfection (Hebrews 11:39-40). So the Book of Concord appears to simply be wrong in this offhanded remark about how “Jewish opinion” holds to a position that is “without faith.”

The next sentence in the Apology states that this “Jewish opinion,” now united with the Pope, is “impious” and “pernicious.” This ascribed to a view of faith that was simply assigned offhandedly to the Jewish people without proof!

The Large Catechism is one of the most important expositions of Lutheran faith, and therein, regarding the Ten Commandments, it is stated (Conclusion of the Ten Commandments, section 330):

 Therefore it is not in vain that it is commanded in the Old Testament to write the Ten Commandments on all walls and corners, yes, even on the garments, not for the sake of merely having them written in these places and making a show of them, as did the Jews…

Here, a practice of Jews is simply dismissed offhand as “making a show” of the Ten Commandments. Jewish practice surrounding the Ten Commandments is dismissed as simply for the sake of having them written; as if the Jewish people had no more regard for the Ten Commandments than anyone else. I hope it need not be stated that we should not “unconditionally subscribe” to this.

A final example comes from the Solid Declaration VII, section 30:

 Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, [1 Corinthians 11:27] sins not merely against the bread and wine, not merely against the signs or symbols and emblems of the body and blood, but shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which, as there [in the Holy Supper] present, he dishonors, abuses, and disgraces, as the Jews, who in very deed violated the body of Christ and killed Him; just as the ancient Christian Fathers and church-teachers unanimously have understood and explained this passage.

Here is a seriously problematic passage, though it is historically tied to the context. The Germany of Luther’s day was filled with anti-Semitic imagery, sayings, and practices. Churches had imagery of Jews suckling on pigs; the notion of Jews as killers of Christ was quite common. And here, in the Book of Concord, we see that leaking in, as Jews generally, not just a handful of people but all Jews are blamed for the “violation” of the body of Christ and killing him. Not only that, but it is alleged that the Church Fathers and “church-teachers” unanimously agree upon this language. This is exactly the language that is used to this day to attack Jews as “Christ-killers” and to raise anti-Semitic sentiment among Christians. This is the kind of language that we must take a firm stand against.

I realize some may stand up and try to cite 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 here, arguing that the New Testament teaches specifically that Jews killed Jesus. Such would be a mistaken conclusion, because it also speaks of “the Jews” as killing the prophets. Jesus and the prophets were Jewish, and the common use of the phrase “Jews” in the New Testament refers to the leaders (see its use in the Gospels, each written by people who were Jewish, to refer to certain factions among Judaism).

Conclusion

I have already argued that the Book of Concord has errors of etymology and interpretation. In this post, we see that its treatment of the Jews is deeply problematic. Those who argue that we must have “unconditional subscription” to the Book of Concord must affirm these problematic statements in the name of being a “true” Lutheran. But what is more Lutheran than self-examination, confession of sins (like those of anti-Semitism), and the continuing Reform of the church? What can be more Lutheran than demanding that any document with which we agree, we will only agree with “in so far as” it agrees with Scripture?

Links

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Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Another Problem for Book of Concord Inerrantists– I discuss an etymological error in the Book of Concord.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

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The Historicity of Jesus: The Tools for the Task

This is part of a series I’ve entitled “Jesus: the Living God,” which explores Jesus from Biblical, theological, and apologetic levels. View other posts in the series here.

For now, let us focus on the “tools for the task” (Wright, 29 and following). What kind of historical, textual means are used to talk about Jesus? I’ll be outlining views made by N.T. Wright in his The New Testament and the People of God, (hereafter NTPG) and Blomberg in The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. First, I should outline my presuppositions. I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, whose salvation is freely available to all who believe by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is no other name by which we are saved (Acts 4:12). I believe that the Bible is the Holy, Inerrant Word of God. It is infallible in its teachings.

Wright argues for a “critical realist” view of history. This view describes a “process of ‘knowing’ that acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower… while also fully acknowledging that the only access we have to this reality lies along the spiralling path of appropriate dialogue or conversation between the knower and the thing known” (Wright, 35 emphasis his). This acknowledges that observers have their own point of views, that they have their own interpretations, and that metaphysical beliefs will influence interpretation of data (36). This is vitally important throughout not just Wright’s body of works, but any historical (or other field) study–one’s presuppositions will influence how one interprets the same data.

Wright argues that one primary function of worldviews is to tell “stories” (38). This doesn’t mean these stories are fiction, rather, Wright is arguing that these stories form the basis of a worldview as well as the ways the worldview will interact with other views (38-40). In the context of the New Testament, “They [first-century Jews] never expressed a worldview in which the god in question was uninterested in, or uninvolved with, the created world in general, or the historical fortunes of his people in particular” (41). It is this worldview that, upon reading more of Wright, I think Wright not only acknowledges but agrees with. God is not uninterested or uninvolved, rather, the opposite is true–God is intimately involved and interested in His creation and creatures.

Wright emphasizes the “impossibility of ‘Mere History'” that is wholly divorced from any worldview (82). This doesn’t mean there are no facts… rather, it means there is no such thing as an uninterpreted fact (88). These interpretations are generally used in conjunction with historical hypotheses. Thus, it is important to note what composes a good historical hypothesis:

1) The historical hypothesis must include the data. One cannot, for example, simply drop the eschatology which was clearly part of Jesus’ teachings as well as the rest of the New Testament, in order to make one’s hypothesis easier to produce. The data must all be included (99).

2) “It must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture” (100).

3) The hypothesis must show that it is useful in related areas, it must explain other problems (100).

It is important to realize that a simply enormous amount of material has been produced on Jesus and the Gospels, not to mention the rest of the New Testament. Thus, I will turn to Craig Blomberg’s work, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (hereafter HRG) to analyze some of the ways this study has been done. The tools for our task (to borrow Wright’s terminology) should utilize the best available evidence from New Testament scholarship, while discerning everything in light of the truth of Scripture.

Craig Blomberg wonderfully summarizes the various methods of historical criticism and analyzes them for usefulness  in HRG. Note that I’m not endorsing historical criticism, rather, I’m endorsing taking what is useful from historical criticism and use it as part of the toolbox. In my summing up, I’m leaving out much of Blomberg’s task of pointing out flaws in these criticisms (which is not only in-depth, but also illuminating), but rather emphasizing his ways to use them in the presuppositions that I’ve outlined above.

1) Form Criticism- Form criticism emphasizes the genre of the work being viewed (Blomberg, 50). It also discusses how a text was transmitted or brought into being. Christians can find this useful as it can be readily implemented in the “historical grammatical” type of reading of Scriptures. The background of the text is indeed important, as well as realizing the genre involved (i.e. the historical telling of what Jesus did, as opposed to His parables, which are not literal history).

2) Redaction Criticism- Redaction criticism views the writers of the Gospels as “editors” of the New Testament, “selecting, arranging, and rewording their sources to highlight particular theological and stylistic emphases” (Blomberg, 67). Christians can utilize this not to break down the reality of the Gospels, but rather they can use it as they realize there are indeed differences in the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels (i.e. Mark’s suffering servant and Matthew’s son of David), not as contradictions, but as parts to a whole picture of Christ as suffering servant, son of David, compassionate teacher, and Word Incarnate (74).

3) Midrash- Midrash criticism of the Gospels focus on the “relationship of the Gospels to various [Hebrew Scripture] passages to which they may refer” (75). Clearly, this has uses for the Christian. How did the writers of the Gospels utilize Hebrew Scriptures to make their arguments or draw their conclusions about who Jesus was and what He did? This is vitally important to Christological study–who did Jesus say He was, based on the passages He cites, and who did others say He was?

4) Literary Criticism- this discipline is broken down into three types, though the most useful type for the Christian is the “narrative criticism” which analyzes characters, symbolism, figures of speech, etc. within the Gospels (87).

I’ve left out much of Blomberg’s analysis in order to simply sift off what we can use from these various methods, in light of the presuppositions I’ve outlined above. There is much more that could be said about either of these fantastic works (NTPG or HRG), and there is much more that could be said about the “tools for the task”, but for now, these are our tools, and I shall soon move into some of the historicity of Jesus.

Sources:

Blomberg, Craig L. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. InterVarsity Press. 2007.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress. 1992.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The Covenant and Christ

This post is part of a series on Jesus: The Living God. View other posts here.

Recently I wrote a guest post for a fellow Christian blogger (an excellent site, check it out), Chris Reese, on N.T. Wright’s Climax of the Covenant. I wanted to re-blog it for my site and add a bit to it.

A subject that is often ignored within discussions of who Christ is involves Covenant theology, specifically, the theology of the Torah. How exactly does Christ relate to the Covenant that God made with the people of Israel? N.T. Wright discusses this very issue in his book, The Climax of the Covenant.

First, what is the Torah? The Torah, in Wright’s usage, is not just the Mosaic books of the Bible or the Law, but the promise of God to His people, Israel. He states that “…the law… was regarded not merely as a general code of ethics, but as the charter of Israel’s national life” (24). The problem was, of course, that God demanded perfect obedience to the Torah, to the Law. As His covenant people, Israel was to keep the Torah and to cherish it. But Israel constantly strayed. Thus, the power of the Torah became death, the consequence of sin (209).

So how could Israel fulfill the Torah? The short answer is that Israel simply could not. It demanded perfection, and the people of Israel could not be perfect. God had to intervene directly in history in order to accomplish His covenant with His people, and to open this covenant up to all people.

And how did this happen? First, note the relationship between Christ, Adam, and humanity. Wright notes that “Adam has [for the rabbis of Israel] become embodied already in Israel, the people of the Torah, and in her future hope” (25). This, in turn, must be viewed in light that “Israel, the family of Abraham, is God’s true humanity. Her land is God’s land. Her enemies are God’s enemies” (23). This reflects back on the Torah, as discussed above. It is the “charter of Israel’s national life” (24). So there is a relationship between Adam and Israel–Adam, Wright argues, is to be understood as Israel. Jesus Christ, then, became a New Adam for a New Israel. By acting as the New Adam and redeeming Israel, He fulfilled the Torah and seal the charter of Israel. Not only that, but He opened this charter, this Covenant, to all people.

“Jesus, as last Adam, had revealed what God’s saving plan for the world had really been… by enacting it, becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross” (40). The resurrection confirmed Jesus as Christ–Messiah.

Finally, how could God keep this promise in light of the failure of Israel (and mankind at large) to keep the Torah? Christ, argues Wright, is the “Climax” of the covenant. “The Messiah is the fulfillment of the long purposes of Israel’s God” (241). How does this happen? Wright argues that the “…answer must be that sin, by causing death, stood in the way of the divine intention of giving life; when, on the cross, God condemns sin… then sin is powerless to prevent the gift of life” (209). God’s plan of salvation “always involved a dramatic break, a cross and a resurrection written into the very fabric of history” (241, emphasis his). Thus, Torah and Covenant Theology can be summed up by saying that “Christ on the cross is thus the goal of the Torah” (243, emphasis his). It is in Christ that we become the people of God.

Source:

Wright, N.T. The Climax of the Covenant. Fortress Press. 1991.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from cited material which is the property of its respective owner[s]) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

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