Monday, April 5, 2010

Inner or Outer Word? Luther on divine revelation in Genesis.

Luther in the Genesis commentary is highly preoccupied with his schwarmer opponents.  He fears any claim that Spirit comes without the Word.  This is one of the most important aspects of Luther's theology and I commend his highlighting this fact in Genesis.

At times though, it gets a bit odd.  For example, when Genesis says "God said such and such to Abraham" Luther will frequently argue that Abraham didn't hear a voice or something, but rather that Shem or some other Patriarch spoke to him.  Since the Holy Spirit was speaking through them, it was in fact the Word of God.  

My question (beyond the fact that this doesn't make much sense exegetically) is what's the difference?  In other words, how does it make it better that the Holy Spirit is inspiring the Patriarch to speak some sort of external Word to Abraham, rather than the Holy Spirit speaking within Abraham?  The functionally the two are no different.  

Also, I see the problem with Medieval popes or with Thomas Munzer thinking that their own thoughts are identical with that of the Holy Spirit, but I don't not see the difficulty or the violation of Luther's principle by positing that the Holy Spirit spoke to Abraham in such a way that he individual heard it without a medium.  For revelation to take place, you have to posit that happening at some point.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Finitum non capax infiniti is not a maxim that I would accept. Perhaps you have me confused with a Calvinist. I would accept finium capax inifiniti.

    In any case, I don't follow you first comment. What I believe Luther is trying to say is that God can talk to us apart from the external Word, but he chooses not to do so. All I was saying that he tries to use explanation of revelations in Genesis that emphasize the externality of the Word. Nevertheless, the person who gives the external Word would necessarily not have initially received it as an external Word. At some point you would had to posit a non-external Word to begin the whole process of revelation.

    The second remark about a generalized papism I didn't follow either. Sorry.

  3. My apologies. I deleted my post because it wasn't a well-formed comment. I intended to mention Calvin's "non capax" as a fundamental error, not as a good principle or as one you would hold.

  4. What about the Angel of the Lord? Would a message being delivered by an Angel be considered by Luther to be mediated or immediate?

  5. Luther weighs the possibility that the Angel of the Lord could be God (he mentions this view in the Church Fathers) and then doesn't say very much about it. It seems like he simply follows Augustine and assumes it's merely a created angel. In any case, he has a very keen sense of God being present in, under, and with created object meant to mediate revelation. So, the words of the Angel of the Lord are God's words, just like when we are absolved by the minister of the Word or receive the promises of Word and sacrament. He has a very interesting passage where he talks about how when God reveals himself he always "wraps" himself up in something and it becomes "the face of God." He does this as part of a strange defense of a medieval heresy called the Anthorpomorhites who posited human attributes of God. Luther says though they were wrong to think God had human attrbutes, we can't really say what God is in himself. So we have to always use metaphors and created objects.