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Martin Luther on The Church Father and Biblical Interpretation 

128756_imagnoTaken from Martin Luther’s Table Talk, p 352

May 7, 1539

No 4567

There was talk on May 7 about the clarity of the Scriptures in this age, though in former times much had been written and read but little understood. He [Martin Luther] replied, “Surely a great light has gone up, for we understand both the words and the content [of the Scriptures] according to the testimony of the ancient writers. None of the sophists [scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages] was able to expound the passage, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live’ [Rom. 1:17], for they interpreted ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness’ differently. Except for Augustine, there was great blindness among the fathers. After the Holy Scriptures, Augustine should especially be read, for he had keen judgment. However, if we turn from the Bible to the commentaries of the fathers, our study will be bottomless.

“Consequently this is the best advice, that one should draw from the source and diligently read the Bible. For a man who knows the text is also an extraordinary theologian. One passage or one text from the Bible is worth more than the glosses of four writers who aren’t reliable and thorough. Suppose I take the text, ‘Everything created by God is good’ [I Tim 4:4]; food, marriage, etc., are created by God; therefore [they are good], etc. The glosses contradict this; Bernard, Dominic, and Basil wrote and acted otherwise. But the text itself overcomes the glosses. The dear fathers were held in high esteem; meanwhile what they did to the Bible was wrong. Ambrose and Basil were quite dull, and Gregory Nazianzen was accused of writing nothing honestly about God in his poetry and songs.”

“The Holy Spirit doesn’t let himself be bound by words but makes the content known. This once happened to me when with the help of certain men I concentrated on a Greek form. Because I insisted on definitions, I said nothing about the matter and couldn’t tell about the function, use, or utility of the thing about which I spoke.”

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