‘Simple Preacher’ or ‘Exegete’: What Makes the Difference?

According to Luther, it’s the mastery of the biblical languages.  He writes [LW 45:363]

There is a vast difference therefore between a simple preacher of the faith and a person who expounds Scripture [that is, an exegete], or, as St. Paul puts it [I Cor. 12:28–30; 14:26–32], a ‘prophet’. A simple preacher (it is true) has so many clear passages and texts available through translations that he can know and teach Christ, lead a holy life, and preach to others.

But when it comes to interpreting Scripture, and working with it on your own, and disputing with those who cite it incorrectly, he is unequal to the task; that cannot be done without languages. Now there must always be such prophets in the Christian church who can dig into Scripture, expound it, and carry on disputations. A saintly life and right doctrine are not enough.

Hence, languages are absolutely and altogether necessary in the Christian church, as are the prophets or interpreters; although it is not necessary that every Christian or every preacher be such a prophet [exegete], as St. Paul points out in I Corinthians 12[:4–30] and Ephesians 4[:11].

He’s right.  And when he’s right, he’s really right.  One isn’t an exegete without competence in the biblical languages.

7 thoughts on “‘Simple Preacher’ or ‘Exegete’: What Makes the Difference?

  1. Deane 21 Jun 2012 at 3:06 am

    … and yet, isn’t Luther’s argument ironic, given that it is based on a misinterpretation of “prophet”?

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    • Jim 21 Jun 2012 at 4:17 am

      no- because prophet doesn’t mean predictor. neither calvin nor luther, nor zwingli for that matter, understood ‘prophets’ to be ‘predictors of the future’ so much as they saw them as ‘proclaimers’. indeed, they were right. the modern notion that prophets ‘see the future’ is based more on the greek practice of ‘prophecy’ than the hebrew bible’s vision of such persons.

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  2. Deane 21 Jun 2012 at 4:36 am

    Not what I was thinking.

    It’s ironic on the basis that Luther makes the “prophet” a rationalist “exegete” making arguments from the scriptures … fairly much like somebody else in the sixteenth century and not so much like a prophet in Paul’s letters.

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    • Jim 21 Jun 2012 at 4:41 am

      you mean in much the same way 21st century exegetes read homosexuality as legitimate? (david and jonathan, etc)…

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      • Jim 21 Jun 2012 at 4:44 am

        (just to be clear, my point being that modern eisegetes are prone to see the problems in the reformers and others whilst ignoring their own more egregious eisegetical practices).

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  3. Deane 22 Jun 2012 at 5:24 am

    Yes – as “homosexuality” is also a modern construct, to read the Bible as saying something about homosexuality would be as bad as Luther’s reading Paul’s “prophet” as a modernist exegete. But perhaps you were referring to 21st-century interpretation of the Bible as supporting same-sex intercourse? And I think this also would be a misinterpretation of certain passages.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right though. And Luther defending exegesis by projecting modernist notions of the role of the “prophet” on Paul’s own meaning is still ironic.

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    • Jim 22 Jun 2012 at 5:39 am

      how do you know paul didn’t see ‘prophets’ as skilled interpreters of god’s word? who’s projecting now? aren’t you projecting your own views on paul? or do you know what was in paul’s mind when he used the word ‘prophet’? in short, what makes you right and luther wrong?

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