Today With Luther: The Publication of his ’67 Psalms’

Luther’s work on Ps 9-147 appeared on this date in 1521.  It’s evidence of the early Luther’s still evolving theological thought.  As the American editor remarks of this volume,

… on August 6, 1521, it appeared in print. Its German title is “Deutsche Auslegung des 67. Psalms”; from Psalm 9 to Psalm 147, as they are counted in our versions and in the Hebrew, there is a discrepancy of one between those versions and the Septuagint and the Vulgate. At this stage Luther was still following the numeration of the Latin version.*

Here’s a sampling- from Ps 68:21

21. But God will shatter the heads of His enemies, the hairy crown of him who walks in his guilty ways.

It is known well enough that the Jews have at all times been Christ’s greatest enemies, their claim to be God’s most loyal friends notwithstanding. It is undeniable that this verse chronicles their fate: their head is shattered; they no longer have a kingdom, a government, a priesthood. Soon after Christ’s ascent they lost that head and never regained it, which is the result of but one crime, namely, their hostility to Christ and their refusal to let Him be God. Their government is called “heads” and “hairy crown,” i.e., a handsome curly head. The Jewish priesthood was an attractive order, rich and respected. Their splendor is intimated by Absalom’s beautiful hair (2 Sam. 14:26). The head is the highest position in any nation; the hair on the head represents the great men in this highest position. They enhance the power of the head; they embellish it with their riches, honor, and might. But now the Jewish government has been destroyed; their head has been shorn bald. In Isaiah 3:24 God expresses this figuratively, when He says that He would give “baldness instead of wellset hair.”

All this is the consequence of their refusal to believe in Him who takes away both sin and death, and of their persistence to remain in their guilty ways, as our text declares. To be sure, they are not aware of their sin or of the reason for their total destruction. In times past they had experienced repeated captivity; but still they had always retained their head and government, or at least a prophet or priest. Never before have they been shorn as bald as after Christ’s ascension.

Luther fails here as an exegete.  He’s still far too tied to the exegetical method of the Medieval period.  He gets better, fortunately, but it has to be admitted even by his staunchest defenders that the 1521 exposition of the Psalms is bad at many points.
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*Selected Psalms II, (LW Vol. 13, pp. ix–x).

Author: Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.