Hearing the Word: Lutheran Hermeneutics

David Ratke (ed), Lutheran University Press, 2006, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Martin Luther claims both scripture and ‘clear reason’ as the foundation of Christian faith (LW 32:112-113). Hearing the Word is an attempt to foster healthy conversation as it comments on the meaning and authority of scripture for Christian life and discipleship.

        Scripture is the living word which seeks to bring together in conversation both past and present (perhaps future, too!); it is not only a historical record of personal beliefs, but a record of G-d’s intent that ‘circumscribes us’ (p 9). Scripture brings together the experience of the writer and of the reader; experience reflected on is both the content and intent.

        Luther’s concept of the orders embedded in creation (priest, civil body, church and marriage) called for legitimation of the sword (LW 48:261-262).  (This is an issue I don’t follow: his use of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are not legitimation of the state but of the basis of civic order.  But this illustrates the need to clarify our concepts of hermeneutics.)

        Erick Heem’s essay articulates changes in Lutheran interpretation in the twentieth century:  ‘demise of biblical civilization; historical criticism, and liberal/conservative perspectives. He also cites some statistics (22% of Lutherans hold to an inerrant view of scripture) (p 51). Mark Powell speaks to social locators contributing to the hermeneutical grid (age, gender, intent of the biblical writer), strategy (is the passage read as pericope or part of a larger story, empathy choice).

        Lutheran hermeneutics  focuses on the priority of ‘the plain sense of scripture’; all scripture is to be seen through the lens of the gospel (what it says about Jesus), a community understanding (not private interpretation).

        An excellent treatment of Lutheran hermeneutics that is a paradigm for the larger church. (PS  I’m not Lutheran, but a Mennonite teaching in a Lutheran seminary.)

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.