Rev’d Dr. Marquart on inerrancy: “Luther In Fact And Fiction”


From Anatomy of an Explosion (Ft. Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1977), Dr. Marquart’s brilliant accounting of the historical milieu of Lutheranism in its relation to the “1974 Walkout” (“Seminex”). Having now read his work thoroughly and pored over most of its 460 endnotes, I get the feeling that Marquart’s observations from 1977 are just as piquant now as they were then.

Apparently a gratis copy of Marquart’s work was sent to all CTQ subscribers when it first came out, additional copies being made available to the same for a dollar a piece. If you or someone you know has a copy of this book and would be willing to send it to me, please use the contact form on the site, or leave a comment, and let me know. I’d like to have some copies of this book to give away, but at the time of my writing this I’m a poor, unemployed seminarian.

"Please, sir, I want some more Marquart books!"

“Please, sir, I want some more Marquart books!”

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from Marquart’s book that I thought shareworthy. More to come…


In Walther’s day it was already becoming the fashion to hold that the strict view of absolute biblical authority and inerrancy goes back not to Luther, but to the “scholastic dogmaticians” of the seventeenth century, who borrowed the idea from Calvin and hardened it into a rigid system. As we have seen, Walther called this a “ghastly fraud” perpetrated on Lutheran Christians. Today’s “moderate” literature [i.e., Marquart here refers to the nascent “Seminex” theology] seems quite under the spell of this “ghastly fraud.” A cautious but unmistakable case-in-point is Edgar Krentz’s treatment in his apology for the historical-critical method. (Edgard Krentz, The Historical Critical Method, [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975], pp. 8-10.) He states rightly that Calvin “did not follow Luther’s christological approach,” but suggests wrongly that Luther did not, like Calvin, “derive the Bible’s authority from the theologoumenon that God himself is the speaker in the Bible.” This is quite false. It was precisely Luther’s doctrine, not a mere theologoumenon (private opinion) that God is the author of Holy Scripture, which is authoritative for that very reason. Luther wrote:

I beg and faithfully warn every pious Christian not to take offence at the simplicity of the language and the stories that will often meet him there. He should not doubt that, however simple they may seem, these are the very words, works, judgments, and narrations of the high divine Majesty, Might, and Wisdom for this is Scripture, which makes all wise men fools…. (“Preface to the Old Testament” [1545], Dr. Martin Luther’s Vorrenden zur deutschen Bibeluebersetzung [St. Louis: Concordia, 1908], cc. 3-4)

And again:

When you hear people of this stamp, who are so blinded and hardened as to deny that what Christ and the Apostles spoke is God’s Word, or doubt it, then be silent, speak no more with them, and let them go.(St. Louis Ed., IX, 1238)

If anything, it was Calvin, not Luther, who took a looser view of the authority of the sacred text. In his commentary on St. John’s Gospel, for instance, Calvin did not hesitate to say that the Evangelists “neglect” a figure of speech in Psalm 22, and therefore “depart from the native sense”! (qtd. in Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, I. 275, n. 89)

Walther and Pieper already were thoroughly familiar with the kind of Luther-scholarship which, following von Hoffman’s lead, tried to pit Luther against the Lutheran Church on doctrines like inspiration, the atonement, and others. They also understood, as many today do not, that the new, re-interpreted Luther was being opposed not only to “later Orthodoxy,” but to the Formula of Concord (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, I, 158. Cf. E. Mayer, The Story of Bad Boll [St. Louis: Concordia, 1949), p. 16: “Dr. Elert maintained furthermore that recent Luther studies, especially those of Karl Holl, have shown that the Lutheran Confessions show a deviation from Luther. German Luther Scholars therefore are interested more in the study of Luther than of the Confessions.”), and thus to the Lutheran Confessions themselves. Pieper devotes a whole chapter of the dogmatics to “Luther and the Inspiration of Holy Scripture.” Having refuted a number of scholarly fallacies, Pieper concludes that for some modern Luther-reinterpreters “their wish to have Luther as their protector was stronger than their sense of historical truth.”

What was the basic point at issue? Then as now the question was whether Luther accepted Scripture as inspired and inerrant totally, or only in some limited sense, which would allow for historical, geographical, and other mistakes and contradictions in the inspired text. Then as now people snatched up some vivid phrase like “what urges Christ,” or “hay and stubble,” or “urging Christ against the Scripture,” tore these phrases out of their context, and then used them to “prove” Luther’s liberal attitude to Scripture.

Eugene Klug has recently, in his valuable doctoral study, From Luther to Chemnitz, gone over this ground very carefully. He shows that Luther regularly says of Scripture that it “never errs,” “has never erred,” is “alone inerrant,” is the “absolutely infallible truth,” “cannot err,” “cannot lie,” and that “it is impossible for Scripture to contradict itself.” (Eugene Klug, From Luther to Chemnitz, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], pp. 106-109) Nor are these statements limited to “theological” or “Gospel” themes in Scripture. They apply to Scripture as such, so that Luther regards himself duty-bound to submit his mind, whatever the intellectual difficulties, to what the Bible teaches about waters above the firmament, Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib, the chronology of the world, and the like. Interesting is Paul Althaus’s admission that Luther basically accepted the Bible

as an essentially infallible book, inspired in its entire content by the Holy Spirit. It is therefore “the word of God”, not only when it speaks to us in law and gospel and thereby convicts our heart and conscience but also—and this is a matter of principle—in everything else that it says…. Here is the point at which the clarity of Luther’s own Reformation insight reached its limit. For it was at this point that Luther himself, in spite of everything, prepared the way for seventeenth century orthodoxy…. Theology has had plenty of trouble in the past—and in many places still has—trying to repair this damage by distinguishing between the “Word of God” in the true sense and a false biblicism. (Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, tr. Robert C. Schultz [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966], pp. 50-52, quoted in J. W. Montgomery, ed., God’s Inerrant Word [Minneapolis: Bethany, 1974], p. 92, n. 30)

Another splendid study is A. Skevington Wood’s Captive to the Word (published by Paternoster Press in 1969). Wood shows that Luther’s view of the Bible is shaped not by abstract notions of inspiration but by the great “model” of the Incarnation:

And just as it is with Christ in the world, as He is viewed and dealt with, so it is also with the written Word of God. It is a worm and no book, compared with other books.” (Weimar edition, 48, 31, quoted in A. Skevington Wood, Captive to the Word [Exeter: Paternoster, 1969] p.178; Ch. XVI of this work is available here. — TDD)

But if the Incarnation is the model for inspiration, that the full humanity of the Bible implies error no more than Christ’s humanity implies sin or error. On the contrary, Luther’s incarnational-sacramental understanding of Scripture honours God’s Word precisely  in its humblest outward details. The mystery of the Bible is holy ground; criticism is sacrilege. This approach is the very opposite of the modern Zwinglian-Barthian flight from the concrete text to a “Word” or “meaning” above, beyond, and behind it! (That Barth had simply applied to the doctrine of the Word the basic Calvinistic axiom, finitum non capax infiniti [the finite has no capacity for the infinite], was recognised long ago by Wm. M. Oesch, CTM, vol. VI, no. 11 [Nov. 1935], p. 846.)

It goes without saying that Luther must, now as then, be rescued from the clutches of his liberal or “trendy” misinterpreters. What may not be so obvious to conservative Lutherans is that they cannot simply be satisfied with Reformed-fundamentalistic “cover-to-cover” slogans, which ignore the organic structure and content of the Scripture so clearly recognized by Luther. “Is it possible for a Bible-believing person to deny that Holy Baptism is the washing of regeneration and the bread which we bless in the Lord’s Supper the Body of Christ? What kind of faith in the Bible is it that can deny these things?” So asked Sasse in 1951, alarmed at the influence of the Reformed environment on American Lutheranism, particularly the Missouri Synod. Among other things he added:

Even the theologians scarcely have any longer a conception of a Luther Bible with the Apocrypha—something incomprehensible for fundamentalists—with the prefaces of Luther and with a text which was not yet cut up into verses as is the text in our Bibles, in which the letter to the Hebrews no longer appears to be a unified composition but a collection of three hundred Bible passages. (H. Sasse, “Confession and Theology in the Missouri Synod,” Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No. 20 (July 1951)