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Martin Luther Says Scripture Is All About Christ
The Certainty of Scripture
Caught up in the heat of controversy, Martin Luther reached the revolutionary conclusion that when the conflicting pronouncements of popes and councils threaten to leave the believer uncertain, the Scriptures alone speak with certainty and bind the consciences of the faithful in obedience to the Word of God. This certainty is grounded in the Scripture’s testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Luther understood it, the Bible as a whole is about Christ. Its purpose is to impart the knowledge of the triune God that has been given in the reality of Christ.
A Wondrous Exchange
Luther had found the Word of God’s grace in the promises of Christ given in the gospel. The Word of God promises us Christ as a sheer unmerited gift. Therefore, faith in the Word of God’s promise unites believers with Christ and affects a “wondrous exchange,” in which what belongs to Christ is made the possession of every believer and what belongs to each of us as members of the fallen human race is imposed on Christ, made his, and judged in his death on the cross. On this central theme in Scripture, Luther wrote:
“Christ would indicate the principal reason why the Scripture was given by God. Men are to study and search in it and to learn that he, Mary's Son, is the one who is able to give eternal life to all who come to him and believe in him.
Therefore, he who would correctly and profitably reads Scripture should see to it that he finds Christ in it; then he finds life eternal without fail. On the other hand, if I do not so study and understand Moses and the prophets as to find that Christ came from heaven for the sake of my salvation, became man, suffered, died, was buried, rose, and ascended into heaven so that through him I enjoy reconciliation with God, forgiveness of all my sins, grace, righteousness, and life eternal, then my reading in Scripture is of no help whatsoever to my salvation.
I may, of course, become a learned man by reading and studying Scripture and preach what I have acquired; yet all this would do me no good whatever” (Luther’s Works, Weimar Edition).
For Luther, Scripture was a source not only of theological truth, but also of practical wisdom for facing all the challenges of life. The reality of the Christian experience of testing leads full circle, pointing the believer back to the biblical text where one prays again for the illumination of the Spirit, and attempts to understand the text anew.
Nothing Less Than Christ
The purpose of the Scriptures as a whole is to witness to Christ, who is apprehended in faith. What counts in biblical interpretation, the substance of the matter for which the best expositors must always seek, is nothing less than Christ. “Whatever promotes Christ,” Luther insists, is the Word of God to be sought and found in Holy Scripture. For Luther, Christ is the essential content of Scripture, that to which the Scriptures as a whole direct our attention for the purpose of salvation. “Take Christ from the Scriptures,” he demands rhetorically, “and what else will you find in them?” To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.