Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Luther's Apologetic cont. / Luther and Analogies

Becker, p. 145

"In perfect agreement with this denial of man's right to ask why God deals with men as he does, Luther rejects every attempt to explain the counsels of God and to make them palatable to human beings.  He also rejects all attempts to probe into the mind of God or to prove divine truth by use of analogy.  Luther did not, it is true discountenance every use of analogy."

Luther sometimes delighted in comparing his relationship with his children to the relationship with the heavenly Father.

He often used analogy to illustrate the doctrine of the resurrection.

But "He raises the question of whether such analogies are dialectical or rhetorical arguments.  While he does not give a categorical answer to his own question, he does imply that they would be rhetorical in nature.  In other words, they are intended to illustrate rather than to serve as logical proof.  They may therefore be used most effectively after the matter itself has first been clearly established by Scripture.  Such analogies are related to allegories, which also proceed from human to divine matters.  It is well known that Luther gradually drifted away from the allegorical method of biblical interpretation until, in the end he almost completely abandoned and rejected it. " p. (146)

For example:  "Thus the Turks say that in one house there should be no more than one master or one host.  Using this as an analogy, they are led to reject the doctrine of the Holy Trinity." (p. 147)

Thus far Becker.

The use of analogies and Christ's use of parables.  The other day I had a brief, private discussion with a hugely qualified and  very confessional Lutheran pastor about the parables.  Since the pericope has been working through Matthew lately, we were in Matthew 13, where it says:

 "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"  He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what he was will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables:  'Though seeing, they do not see;  though hearing, they do not hear or understand.'  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:  "' You will be ever hearing but never understanding;  you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people's heart has become calloused;  they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'"
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For I tell you the truth, many prophets are righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."  (Matthew 13: 10-17)

The point was made that Jesus spoke in parables as a kind of judgement, things were going to remain hidden for those who won't hear, not to make things more understandable for the simple.  They were not nice illustrations to help people learn better.

Having taught Sunday Schools for decades and acted out many parables with children, it did not sit right with me that they were not meant as a teaching device for the children.  Also, I did not like the fact that Jesus who is the revealed God proclaiming the kingdom, is sitting here hiding things.  Certainly, more than one thing can be going on at the same time.  This is perhaps similar to the law, it instructs us, accuses us and drives us to Christ all at the same time and in various measures at various times.  So a parable can maybe instruct, illustrate, hide and illuminate at the same time?

I quoted from Reu, which James Swan had sent over kindly some time ago.

p. 74.

"For the people are greatly delighted with allegories and similitudes, and therefore Christ Himself oftentimes uses them. For they are, as it were , certain pictures which set forth things as if they were painted before the eyes of the simple, and therefore he stireth especially the simple and ignorant." 

The answer I received was in line with what Becker says above, that Luther grew increasingly cold to the validity of the use of analogies and allegories.

Still, I am not really happy with this, for it is Luther's analogies about the resurrection and fatherhood which have really stuck in my mind for years and years.  Also, Luther, as a pedagogue and catechist always tried to make things palatable and memorable for children and the simple.

To summarize, perhaps, analogies, allegories and parables do not convince in an apologetic sense.  They will not "prove" anything to "reason" and they should not.  Those who already have faith in God' revelation will be built up by an appropriate use, but for those who will not believe the illustrations only further distance them.


From The Foolishness of God by Siegbert Becker (c) 1982 Northwestern
Publishing House (www.nph.net). All rights reserved. Reprinted with


Dave Armstrong said...

Responding to your remark on Beggar's All:

What's so "amazing"? The standard 18th-century edition of Luther's works (Walch) had "Esther," not "Esdras." That's the root of the "mistake" -- going back to Aurifaber's Table-Talk in 1566. WA reads differently. But if we want to understand the basis of this textual strain, it goes back to Protestant Sir William Hamilton, citing Lutherans Walch/Aurifaber in 1834.

Yet somehow, all this Protestant internal disagreement is supposedly the fault of evil Catholics who merely cited official Lutheran collections of Luther's writings? I don't think so . . .

I document all of this in my lengthy paper on it:


Brigitte said...

Hello Dave Armstrong, greetings, I don't intend to bring this discussion here because I am not qualified to discuss Esther in detail and not about to immerse myself in this right now. You would be better off taking it up with James, but I think you have given up commenting there. I am nigh close to this course myself, at times, mostly frustrated at the lack of willingness to look at the shortcomings of Calvinistic theology. Some will not see or admit that the iron-clad "logical" "system" has led them down some garden paths of unscriptural teaching.

Anyhow, we are discussing the authority of scripture further down, in relation to Becker's book, neo-orthodoxy and the way the "incarnational" understanding of Scripture is applied, and what it means to believe in the "living word."

Brigitte said...

I see now that you left a brief comment there. I have not followed the threads that James Swan was involved with, so I will not go into any of that.

However, even if Luther had said that he would throw "Esther" in the Elbe, we understand that this would be in line with others in history who have questioned Esther's authoritativeness. In any case, the story is nice and instructive and the providence of God can be seen and appreciated. It does not have anything about Christ, and that's limits its usefulness and authority. Anybody could write a story about God's providence. I could write one.

You might look over this list of links regarding the "anti-legoumena".


Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Brigitte,

Swan deletes my comments, and no rational discussion can be had with him because he personally despises me (has said I am mentally ill, etc.). I thought I could have a normal conversation with you, and that appears to be the case, but I understand if you don't want to discuss this at length. That's fine.

I was simply noting that authoritative Lutheran sources had "Esther" and that this was why Catholics later cited it. All of the original material with "Esther" was Protestant (Aurifaber, Walch, and Hamilton). In 1834, Walch was the state of the art in primary Luther material.

I posted here because I know my comment at Beggar's All will soon be deleted. :-)

What I get sick and tired of is Swan's always insinuating that these things are due to deliberate Catholic dishonesty. That is not the case at all here (it's merely as textual variant in Luther collections), and in many other instances where he implies it.

I have also defended Luther on many occasions where I thought he was getting a bad rap or being lied about. I'm not "anti-Luther." I am "pro-truth" wherever it lies. I like historical fact: best as they can be ascertained.

Brigitte said...

James has struck me as a reasonable man and he is in my prayers.

It is never really about Luther. I love Luther because he has preached the gospel to me. When thus Calvin robs the gospel again my animal nature takes over.