Friday, January 30, 2009

Luther and the Word, part 1

From a good friend, L, here is the first portion of a paper subtitled "A Study of How Martin Luther Understood the Word and How It Shaped His Theology." Sources will be listed with the final part.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[1] For Dr. Martin Luther nothing was greater or more important than the Word. He believed that the Word was absolutely necessary for the salvation of mankind. Luther’s will was captive by the Word of God: he could not go against it, and on this Word alone could he stand. Luther’s beliefs concerning the Word, or in the original Greek the “Logos,” shaped and defined every aspect of Luther’s theology. He saw anything contrary to God’s Word to be from the devil. However, understanding what Luther meant by “the Word” can be paradoxical, for when he speaks of the Word, it seems to refer to different things at different times. This is because Luther recognized that there is one Word that comes to mankind in many various ways. This shaped his theology and faith his entire life.

The intent of this research paper is to investigate how Luther always came to the conclusion that the Word is Jesus Christ Himself and how this shaped his theology. In order to articulate Luther’s theology concerning the Word, this paper will present the three ways in which the Word comes to the Church: the written Word, the spoken Word, and the visible Word.

Martin Luther always returned to the conclusion that the Word was nothing less than the Second Person of the Trinity, the Christ. “Christ and the Word are virtually interchangeable terms for Luther.”[2] This is best seen in the multiple sermons Luther preached on the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel where Jesus Christ is called the Word. However, why is Christ called the Word and why was this important for Luther’s theology? This researcher believes that Luther probably developed his understanding of Christ as the Word by reading John’s Gospel in its original Greek and studying the Greek word for “Word,” which is Logos. The Greek word Logos appears to have a far deeper meaning than mere ink on a page or sounds coming from one’s mouth. Logos is, “the word by which the inward thought is expressed.”[3] According to the Lutheran Cyclopedia, “When one speaks a word, it comes from within and reveals his thoughts.”[4] Christ is called the Word “because He is the Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity,” in other words He comes from within the Father Himself, and “He reveals thoughts of God about us, e.g., His love and gracious plan of salvation.”[5] Luther comes to these same conclusions in his sermons on St. John’s Gospel. Luther said:

“When, for example, we think about something and diligently investigate it, we have words; we carry on a conversation with ourselves. Its content is unknown to all but our selves until such words of the heart are translated into oral words and speech . . . Not until then is our word heard and understood by others.”[6]

For Luther, the Word is the thought and intention of God concerning mankind, for “a word is not merely the utterance of the mouth; rather it is the thought of the heart.”[7] Jesus is the Word, because He is within the Father’s heart and bosom. The Father and the Word are one and the Son knows every thought and intention of the Father.[8] So intimate is the relationship between the Father and the Son that Jesus can say, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”[9] The purpose of any word is to reveal the unknown thoughts of a person. Jesus is the Incarnate Word because in becoming man, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead, He revealed the thoughts and intentions of the Father to mankind. This is what St. John meant when he said in his Gospel, “The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”[10] The unknown God and His love for all men were made known in Jesus, the Incarnate Word. However, Christ is no longer visibly present. This ought to make one wonder: does man still have the Word? According to Luther, the answer is yes, for the Lord has given His Word to His Church, though in other forms than flesh and bones. “The Word of God embraces every way that God has revealed Himself, His will, and His grace to man.”[11]

What are your thoughts? How does this relate to the general Christian understanding of the Word, or Jesus Christ? How about the Islamic understanding of the word(s) of God?

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