Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Sword and State

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms
Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Prior to writing Temporal Authority, Luther had rejected the Roman construction of the dichotomous application of the ethical, such as the imperative of the Sermon on the Mount, to commands and counsels,[15] as well as rejecting the view that the Church was the source of a worldly authority.[16] Once Luther had rejected the Roman interpretation, he found it necessary to construct a system in which he could balance seemingly competing Biblical claims. On the one hand, his doctrine needed to consider Paul’s command in Romans to be subject to ruling authorities. On the other hand, his doctrine needed to make sense of Jesus’ exhortation in the Sermon on the Mount to be peacemakers and not fear persecution for the general Christian life. Regarding especially those Christians who were in positions of temporal authority, Luther’s doctrine needed to consider both Jesus’ commands to not murder and Paul’s confirming an authority’s divine right to wield the sword. Continue reading

Luther and Erasmus: Erasmus on Scripture, Canon, and Authority

This post is part of our ongoing series comparing Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam’s perspectives on scripture, canon, and authority during the Age of Theological Reformations.
De libero

De libero

Written in 1524 as a response to Martin Luther’s Assertio omnium articulorum, in which Luther wrote that “everything happens by absolute necessity” (Watson, 13), [1] Erasmus’ De Libero Abritrio Diatribe Seu Collatio offers Erasmus’ fullest treatment of his theological anthropology, namely that human freedom must coexist with the divine will in matters of salvation.[2] As much has been written on this topic, our purpose here does not include considerations of Erasmus’ arguments concerning the will. Instead, by our review of Erasmus’ theological construction in this work we hope to demonstrate his perspective on scripture, canon, and authority. He begins this work by noting his limitations, immediately noting the difficulty in examining difficult passages and concepts, arguing that extreme care must be demonstrated in the interpretation of scripture (Diatribe, 35-7). Appealing to the “inviolable authority of the Holy Scriptures” and “decrees of the Church,” Erasmus nonetheless concluded that there are “secret” places in the scriptures that God has not wished men to fully understand, and that attempts to understand such passages lead to confusion of human minds (Diatribe, 37-8). While allowing for a certain degree of probability in the interpretation of scripture, Erasmus made clear his understanding that uncertainty does not necessarily undermine Christian faith, instead functioning as a means of humility and caution (Diatribe, 39). Continue reading

Comparing the Historical Jesus: Crucifixion

This is part of our ongoing series comparing the perspectives of J. D. Crossan and N. T. Wright on the Historical Jesus.
The Crucifixion, by Cano Alonso

The Crucifixion, by Cano Alonso

This post considers Crossan and Wright’s perspectives on the crucifixion and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Crossan understands the reason for the crucifixion of the historical Jesus to rest with his preaching of radical egalitarianism, open commensality, and rhetoric against established Judaism. As a Mediterranean Jewish peasant, Jesus defied the acceptable social standards of behavior and resisted the established Jewish religious understanding of social practices.[1] Arguing for an understanding of the historical Jesus as what amounts to a first century Jewish cynic, Crossan believes that Jesus’ form of social resistance toed the line between the covert and overt rejection of authority; ultimately, such a position made Jesus and his movement a highly volatile mixture in the wake of the apocalypticism of John the Baptist.[2] Jesus’ position with the Jewish authorities did not fare well with his symbolic destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem the week before Passover, the most politically and religiously charged freedom festival that the Jewish people celebrated.[3] Crossan further argues that the canonical accounts of the crucifixion cannot be accurate history, but are instead prophecy historicized that plays into the later understanding of the Christian church.[4] Thus, Crossan concludes that the historical Jesus was crucified as a result of his causing civil unrest in Jerusalem during the Passover period and his radically anti-establishment teachings and parables. Continue reading

Comparing Historical Luthers: Reformation Breakthrough

This post is part of our series on the Historical Luther. Today’s post examines Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb’s respective positions concerning Luther’s “Reformation Breakthrough.”
Rendition of Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses

Rendition of Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses

Scholars have long debated over Luther’s critical and radical breakthrough that led to the reform movement in Wittenberg (and indeed across Europe during the Age of Theological Reform); whether this understanding was a single idea or multiple ideas, where such an idea came from, whether the development of the idea was sudden or gradual, and so on. Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb each offer differing perspectives concerning Luther’s reforming principle that challenged and changed the Western Church.[1] Oberman argues that the road to the “reformation breakthrough” began in earnest with Luther’s development of the principle that, “careful heed to the scriptures was the only scholarly basis for theology and thus the reliable standard of truth.”[2] In terms of chronological development of ideas, much of Luther’s early processing appears to be lost to historical research. Despite the lack of much clear evidence concerning the breakthrough aside from Luther’s own autobiographical account of the incident, Oberman argues that between 1518 and 1519 Luther came to an understanding of ‘justification by faith,’ and began “teaching the righteousness of God as that righteousness through which we are made righteous.”[3] This landmark interpretation of St. Paul in Romans “rent the very fabric of Christian ethics” and caused a great deal of turmoil within the Church.[4] Though in Oberman’s interpretation this understanding for Luther was opposed at every turn by the Devil, this fundamental shift in the understanding of justification formed the basis for Luther’s subsequent theological development, as well as the theological development of many other reformers and Protestants. Continue reading