Monday, February 25, 2013

Luther & Scripture as the swaddling-clothes and the manger in which Christ lies

Along with 30 or so other members of my congregation, I’ve been participating in the Bible Challenge to read through the Bible in a year. We read three chapters from the Old Testament, one Psalm, and one chapter from the New Testament every day except Sundays (so we can focus on the lessons assigned for worship).

This has been a great exercise for lots of reasons, not least because it has sparked lots of conversations. This is especially the case with the Old Testament in which many are finding much that is puzzling and provocative. Even folk who come from strong Bible backgrounds are unfamiliar with large chunks of the Old Testament.

And it has to be acknowledged that the Old Testament – along with much that is beautiful, wonderful, evocative, and edifying – contains material that is puzzling, disturbing, and even morally offensive when measured against the life and teaching of Jesus.

One of the big questions is how to make sense of all that. One way to at least begin answering that question is Martin Luther’s double analogy in his introduction to the Old Testament. First he suggests that the Old Testament is like a rich and inexhaustible mine in which we find the wisdom of God. Then he compares it to the manger and swaddling clothes in which Jesus lies. Not everything in the Old Testament is the treasure. But it is the loftiest and noblest of holy things because of the treasure it holds:

Therefore let your own thoughts and feelings go, and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines, which can never be worked out, so that you may find the wisdom of God that He lays before you in such foolish and simple guise, in order that He may quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling-clothes and the mangers in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds.

Simple and little are the swaddling-clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them.

More from Luther’s Introduction to the Old Testament: 

Faith and love are always to be mistresses of the law

From Luther's Introduction to the New Testament:

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