HOW TO READ SCRIPTURE: PART 1
How To Read Scripture Like a Lutheran
Rev. Dean Kavouras, Pastor
Christ Lutheran Church
rev. August 27, 2018
What is the Bible, and how is it to be used?
For some Sacred Scripture is a rule book from which people extract principles by which they live their lives. For others it is a database of doctrines from which theological systems are built and defended. For still others it is a report of the events that make up the Christian religion. Scripture contains all these things and more, but how is it to be used?
The first thing we should realize is that Scripture is the church’s book. As such it is to be used in the church, by the church, and for the church in her worship and teaching. Most Christians understand that Scripture is to be used in the church’s teaching, but less understood is Scripture’s liturgical usage. But Scripture is, first, in my estimation a liturgical book. One that provides both the content and form of New Testament worship.
As regards liturgical content consider such items as the Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, Kyrie, Psalms, Baptismal Formula, Words of Institution and the Lord's Prayer. We should not think of these things as bare reportage. But rather such inspired words of God are given so that the church should vigorously utilize them in her worship, and catechesis.
Anyone familiar with the church's luxurious liturgical history knows that she has done just that. That the church of Jesus Christ has a seamless record of arranging the words, thoughts and allusions of Scripture into sensible liturgies so that the church might, by these, enjoy factual union with her Lord. This is how the church has always employed Scripture: in the church, by the church, and for the church.
Said another way Liturgy is Scripture. Liturgy is the Word of God. The Word of God in action, in use by God's people. It is the Real Presence of Christ with his people realized. In the mystery we name the Mass or the Divine Service the breach of sin is bridged by remission and filled with wave after wave of divine love that God pours out on his people through Christ Jesus. (see end notes)
Our union with God in Christ is mediated by this, and any attempt to have a relationship with Christ that is not so mediated is emotion at best, and deception at worst. As a person cannot reach God apart from Christ, he cannot reach Christ apart from the Word and Sacraments, and he cannot have these without Liturgy. Further, any attempt to abstract Liturgy from Eucharist is to over-think the matter, something for which Lutherans are famous!
Old Testament liturgy is patent and easy to locate. But New Testament liturgy is latent and more difficult to spot unless one recognizes Scripture's liturgical purposes.
Does this mean that New Testament worship is less important than Old? Or, as many assume today, that in the New Testament every man is free to do what seems right in his own eyes with no consideration for the voice of Scripture, tradition, theological reasoning, good order, human need, charity, logic, reverence, or “the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace”? (Ephesians 4:3”)
God forbid! Rather it means that we have learned to read the Bible like Fundamentalists and not like Lutherans. It means that we have not learned to understand the New Testament as it wants to be understood. Because both the form and content of New Testament worship is everywhere taught and assumed.
We learn said form and content from the institution of the Sacrament, the feeding miracles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Lord's Prayer and especially in the epistles each of which begins with an invocation and concludes with a segue! from the Liturgy of the Word, to the Liturgy of the Sacrament. We find it, too, in the New Testament's many Doxologies, Versicles and Responses, Canticles and Hymns of Praise.
We learn it from the Book of Revelation which might well be considered the inspired record of an actual Mass conducted on the Lord's Day by Saint John, among his fellow exiles on Patmos. But one in which God opens the eyes of his suffering servants to see the heavenly side of the earthly event, even as he opened Isaiah's eyes to see the temple from heaven's point of view. (cf Rev. 4:1, Isaiah 6 & 2) If we follow this line of thought then we should consider the possibility that the sermons preached to the "angels of the seven churches" to have been preached to the presbyters of those churches, who may have also been in exile on Patmos with Bishop John.
In summary, then, Scripture is a theological, ecclesiastical and liturgical book given to the church, to be used in the church, by the church and for the church.
Attempting to utilize Scripture apart from the church's worship and teaching will always produce poor results. This is especially true amongst Christians who have no magisterium, creeds, confessions or historic liturgy to safeguard them from ecclesiastical mania, and doctrinal confusion.
But before we get to specific examples of New Testament liturgy let us remember that the Eucharist comprises New Testament worship. The Lord says, "This cup IS the New Testament in my blood."
What does this mean? It means that the celebration of the Eucharist is definitional and constitutive of the Body Christ (to soma tou christou). It is who we are and what we do as Christians. Eucharist is not an accessory! But it is instead the expression of Christian identity, the practice of the Christian faith: the sum and substance of what it means to be a Christian.
"This cup IS the New Testament in my blood."
God's people can have no closer union with him in their earthly sojourn than when they participate in the Eucharist. A Fundamentalist service is constituted by preaching. But the Divine Service of Scripture, of the church catholic, and the church of the Lutheran Reformation is constituted by the celebration of the Eucharist.
This is why, while the pulpit assumes center stage in a Fundamentalist church, the altar is the focal point in the Lutheran church. (Contrast Loehe & Walther). This does not detract from preaching. Indeed Lutheran preaching is the invitation to the baptized to repent of their sins, believe the gospel and come to the altar which is the summit of Christian life. And then to go from the altar as Light and Salt into the world – only to return again and go again. That is the cycle of the Christian life. Said another way preaching and the Liturgy of the Word are the “pillow talk” that precede the intimacy that occurs between the baptismally-cleansed Bride and the Holy Bridegroom at the altar.
“THIS CUP is the New Testament in my blood.”
Examples Of How To Read Scripture Like A Lutheran
1 Corinthians 16:20-24 20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. 21 I, Paul, write this "greeting" with my own hand. 22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen. (ESV)
When reading these verses let us think of St. Paul's letters as liturgical documents with formal invocations and benedictions. Let us recall that they were written to be read aloud in the church, gathered for worship, on the Lord's Day (Christ's Day). We know from Scripture and from the unanimous witness of church history that this is how things were always done.
Let us now examine Paul's words keeping in mind that they are being read aloud, and preached on as part of the church's Eucharistic worship on Sunday, the first day of the week.
We learn from Scripture and from church history that worship from earliest times was divided into two parts: the Liturgy of the Word (synaxis), and the Liturgy of the Sacrament (anaphora). The reading and preaching of St. Paul's sermon would occur on Sunday during the synaxis, and this letter is written with that in mind. For St. Paul is the one who taught the Corinthian church how to conduct her worship in 18 months he spent there (Acts 18). As the synaxis now comes to a close Paul "who is absent in body but present in spirit" (1 Cor. 5:3) facilitates the anaphora with this rubric, "Greet one another with an holy kiss."
Those who know nothing of Scripture's liturgical usage think that the "holy kiss" is no more than an affectionate greeting among Christians. But liturgical history teaches us otherwise. That this was the normal practice of believers prior to receiving the Eucharist. The holy kiss liturgically demonstrated that those gathered in Christ were at peace with one another, that they loved one another, forgave one another their interpersonal trespasses (Matt 5) and were being brought into holy communion by this Sacrament, not only with their Lord but with one another.
There is also a warning / curse given herein (v. 22) as there properly should be. Because as Paul explains earlier in the epistle anyone who dares approach this table without true faith, and without recognizing the very body and blood of Christ here given "eats and drinks condemnation on himself." Knowing the careless communion practices of the erring Corinthian church St. Paul condemns them (irreverence, intoxication, a slighting of the poor, admitting the unrepentant).
Next, in Paul's letter we find nearly the same words that Christians still use today in the Preface of our Communion liturgy, "The (grace of our) Lord (Jesus Christ) be with you." These words should not be heard as mere pious verbiage but as descriptive of that which is about to occur! That the incarnate grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is given when the true body and blood of the Living Lord are tendered to sinners. Tendered to transmit the living flesh of Christ to sinners' dying flesh by the forgiveness of their sins; by the cleansing, endurance, consolation and hope that the Eucharist gives.
Next is "Maranatha," an Aramaic word that means: Our Lord, come! Fundamentalist ears can only hear this as a prayer for the Parousia but in so doing they miss the immediate meaning. As the Lord once came in humility, and as he promises to come again in glory, he also comes to us now! Not merely as a notion residing within our pious minds but actually and factually, really and truly, in the holiest communion of all.
He promises, "Lo I am with you always, even to end of the age?" We should not think of this as an imaginary or notional presence but as an incarnational, bodily and sacramental one instead. Not one to give us warm feelings. But to pardon, cleanse, fortify, shield, inoculate, and console the church militant as she does battle against the Evil One, death and sin each day. Maranatha, then is a call for the holy communion, the anaphora, to commence, Paul here facilitating it by his letter.
We should see the same in our day. When the celebrant cries out “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God,” he is not merely admonishing the congregation to be grateful. But knowing that “thanksgiving” is the English translation of the Greek eucharistia, we should hear him saying: Let us know “make eucharistia,” or “celebrate the holy Eucharist,” unto the Lord our God. It is an announcement, a joyous proclamation and an audible confession of our intentions – to “do” the thing that Jesus commanded his church to “do”.
2 Corinthians 13:11ff … Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
We find the same M.O. at the conclusion of 2 Corinthians where Paul transitions the congregation from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Sacrament. Note the technical terms: brothers, rejoice, greet, holy kiss, saints, as well as the admonitions: aim for restoration, comfort, agree with, and live peacefully with one another. All are liturgical terms and admonitions that describe Eucharistic fellowship. Nor should we think of verse fourteen merely "the apostolic blessing," as it is blandly called. But rather as the liturgical Preface that transitions directly to the Liturgy of the Sacrament. We learn from Theodore, Bishop of Mospsuestia (d. 428) in his catechetical lectures concerning the liturgy that verse fourteen was a normal part of the Eucharistic dialogue/Preface in his day. And so we must be careful never abstract such a verse from its natural home which is the Eucharist. (Homily 5:2ff) (Spinks Do This In Remembrance Of Me p. 75)
Romans 15:5-6. "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
We find the same pattern in Romans 15:5ff. The unity here mentioned should not be heard inchoately but rather in the specific context of the church's worship where Scripture is being read and homilized. For it is the place where people who are divided based on the world's categories shed all earthly distinctions and find themselves in Spirit-given "harmony" and "accord" with Christ Jesus and with one another. Here they are brothers, having the same heavenly Father as the Lord himself. Here, at the altar, the lion lies down with the lamb. It is in the church's corporate versicles, responses, prayers, hymns, creeds that Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, factually and demonstrably glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ "with one voice." (Romans 15:6) This means fixed liturgy. Repeated Lord's Day after Lord's Day.
We find this same pattern of liturgically and Eucharistically loaded words at the end of Romans (16:16ff), Galatians (6:18ff), Ephesians (6:23ff), Philippians (4:21ff), Colossians (4:14ff), 1Thessalonians (5:14ff), 2 Thessalonians (3:16ff), Titus (3:15), Philemon (1:23ff), Hebrews (13:20ff), 1 Peter (5:11ff), Jude (1:24ff).
Nor does time allow us to consider John's epistles which drip with Eucharistic language, love, elect lady, sister, new commandment, elder, greet, peace, seen with our eyes, touched with our hands and much more.
Or the Revelation of St. John which is not the geo-political handbook that Millenialists imagine. But rather a revelation of the mass from heaven's point of view (Rev. 4:1). For what happens every Lord's day in the church when we celebrate the holiest communion of all, is both a type and an installment of what will finally occur. The judgment of all our enemies. The end of Satan, death and sin. Our victory over all of them by the Lamb who was slain; and final realization of our eternal dwelling with the Holy Trinity unto the ages of ages. The only thing that the Evil One fears more than the crucified and risen Christ is the Divine Service wherein the benefits of our Lord's death and resurrection are proclaimed aloud and given to men. I think this is what St. Paul means when he says in Romans 16:20, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."
Consider the possibility that wherever a section of Paul's epistles (sermons?) can be easily divided into versicles and responses, you should assume that it was meant to be thus used. Here St. Paul is either giving, or more likely in my mind, accessing liturgy already in common use by the church he is addressing: for the purpose of preaching the Gospel to them.
V: Let this mind be in you,
R: which was also in Christ Jesus:
V: Who, being in the form of God,
R: thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
V: But made himself of no reputation,
R: and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
V: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself,
R: and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
V: Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him,
R: and given him a name which is above every name:
V: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
R: And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
V: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness
R: and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
V: in whom we have redemption,
R: that is, the forgiveness of sins.
V: He is the image of the invisible God,
R: the firstborn of all creation.
V: For by him all things were created,
R: in heaven and on earth,
V: visible and invisible,
R: whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities
All: all things were created through him and for him.
V: And he is before all things,
R: and in him all things hold together.
V: And he is the head of the body, the church.
R: He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
V: For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
R: and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven,
All: making peace by the blood of his cross.
In this way liturgy is embedded in the New Testament, but many fail to see it.
(Related: In the Old Testament I suggest that we think not only of the Psalms as liturgical, but also the prophets and any other so-called "poetic" section of the same. The notion that the prophets wrote poetry makes no sense. I suggest, instead, that all Old Testament “poetry” is actually liturgy that was the stuff of Israel's worship.)
The Lord's Prayer.
The natural home of the Lord's Prayer is in connection with the church's Sacraments. Yes, it is proper for Christians to pray it as the catechism teaches upon rising in the morning and so forth. But when doing so it should remind us of our adoption in Christ at baptism which permits us to pray it. And we should recall the Body and Blood of Christ which this prayer sanctifies (uniquely) in Lutheran liturgy, and to which it is closely connected.
How is the Lord's Prayer Eucharistic? Consider the content.
Our Father … The Lord's Prayer is first of all not the prayer of any individual Christian, but the corporate prayer of two parties: of Christ and of his Bride the church. They comprise the "our."
Hallowed be thy name … Hallowed is the language of worship, which in the Christian faith is always liturgical. There is no higher praise of God's name on earth than to hallow God's name by believing and receiving the promises of God in Christ in faith. In the Eucharist "every tongue literally confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:11. And the church's Eucharist liturgy is the place we supremely "confess with the mouth." Romans 10
Thy kingdom come … In this Sacrament the rule of God, by the Lordship of Christ, is in perfect evidence among the redeemed. For here the remission of sins, life and salvation are given to God's people. The kingdom is not a geographical locale but consists, rather, of being a child of God, by baptismal and now Eucharistic connection to Jesus and thus to the Father. Here the words of St. John make most perfect sense: In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Jn. 14:20. Cf also 17:23 et. al.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven … We know that doubt is the first human response to the promise "this is my body." This is made clear in Saint John chapter six and by two thousand years of theological war in respect to the Sacrament. Here the church prays that the will of God, which is to feed us to full satisfaction with the Bread of Life, the flesh and blood of Christ, would be done against all that might militate against it, be it the devil, false Christians, or "Dame Reason" herself.
Give us this day our daily bread … Without taking away from Luther's catechism, to have this petition refer only to the necessities of this life leaves much to be desired. In it we do pray for all that the catechism states, but for much more as well.
The word "epiousion" / "daily" can mean different things in the Greek. It can mean the bread that we need "for this day," i.e. "daily bread." But it can just as well mean "tomorrow's" bread, in which case we would be praying in keeping with the gift about to be received. That is, give us tomorrow's bread today. Heaven's banquet on earth. And that is what we receive in the Sacrament, Bread from the Messianic Banquet Table. The Bread of Angels. Food from the Marriage Feast of the Lamb that is in constant session before the throne of God and of the Lamb. Here we become participants with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Here we have fellowship with our loved ones who have fallen asleep in the Lord.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us … This petition is not the quid pro quo that most people take it to be. We need not fear it, or resort to circular logic, as I believe Luther did, in order to maintain the doctrine of justification by faith. From the beginning forgiving one another for offenses committed was an essential feature of the Sacrament. Those who would not forgive were barred from participation, barred from joining "to soma tou christou" in the Eucharistic fellowship, and thus barred from the remission that the Sacrament imparts.
And lead us not into temptation … God tempts no one. This we know from Scripture and the catechism. But "temptation" is the wrong English word to use here. The petition is that God would not lead us into "hard testing," so hard that we might fail in our faith, and Satan get his wish to sift us like wheat. It is the sincere prayer of every Christian, a prayer that is answered in the Eucharist! Answered by the fortification and the grace of God that we receive here, in the Sacrament when the life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus, touch our sinful and dying flesh, and infuse it with Christ's own life. Here the promise of Romans 8:11 comes true, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you (and he does by baptism), he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." We should also consider the Eucharist our best defender against the countless trials, troubles and temptations of life. Is this something we really want to limit to once or twice a month?
But deliver us from evil … Jesus delivered himself into evil in order to deliver us from evil, and the Sacrament is heaven's ultimate liberation operation. It is the remission of sins, life, salvation, Christian joy, consolation, endurance and strength. What is prayed here is answered here.
To review then, the natural home of the Lord's Prayer is in connection with the Lord's Supper. This is the way Christians have utilized it from the beginning and these things always go together: the Lord's People, the Lord's Day, the Lord's Prayer and the Lord's Supper, Jesus is that Lord!
1 Timothy 2:1ff First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior … 8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works.
I propose that we should never read Scripture in the abstract, but always connect it to our ecclesiastical and the liturgical realities. St. Paul is not likely thinking of personal prayer here, or stuffing the page with synonyms. Instead he is instructing Timothy the Deacon about the prayers of the church gathered for worship. He is passing on dominical and apostolic liturgical traditions to be employed in Ephesus, and by extension to all the clergy that would read his letter. Each word he uses has its own special meaning, each its own part in the church's worship.
The first is Supplications. Though there are various interpretations of what each of these words might connote I would suggest that we think of Supplications as the prayers we offer for all that we need to preserve body and soul. God wants his church to remember that he is the source of every good gift and to ask him for everything she needs. As in the General Prayer, the church prays here for "all sorts and conditions of men." Here, whether named or not all people are prayed for well.
Paul next mentions Prayers. I think of this term as referring to the fixed prayers that God's people developed to be offered over and over again. It is from the church's liturgy, and fixed prayers that we learn personal prayer. They are our model and teacher.
Intercessions are the prayers we offer for others. Many times people ask us to pray for them and we promise that we will. But how often do we? While they may be forgotten by us in the midst of life's busy pace, the church remembers, the church intercedes.
Lastly the apostle speaks of Thanksgiving. It is meet, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all place give eucharistia / thanks to God. But in the New Testament, the word "thanksgiving" should always bring the Sacrament to mind. And so Paul's use of thanksgiving here might well refer to the prayers that surround the holy communion, what is known as the Eucharistic Prayer, which has been prayed from earliest Christian times. Indeed, we would do well to think of John 18 as the Lord’s own Eucharistic Prayer.
The Feeding Miracles
What is the meaning of the feeding miracles found in all four gospels? Are they recorded to teach Christians that Jesus is powerful and compassionate? That he is able to supply all our needs no matter how scant the provisions? Or to teach us to thank God for his good gifts? Yes. Those are all true and salutary lessons to be learned, but they are not the only point.
But the feeding miracles enjoy a commanding presence in Scripture because they teach this fact, that the scattered people of God (Jews and Gentiles alike) are gathered to Christ in and through the Sacrament.
To teach these lessons without featuring the Eucharist is akin to teaching the sacrifice of Isaac without speaking of Calvary, or of Jonah without mentioning the resurrection. It is to see only the surface meaning of the event, but Jesus tells us there is more. He says in Luke 8:10, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand."
Consider what secrets the feeding miracles teach us about the Eucharist:
Jesus first teaches and then feeds his people. That is the order of the church's worship service hard-wired into her collective psyche from Pentecost forward. (Cf Acts 20 et. al.)
The people are told to sit, that is not to labor, but simply to receive. This objective must be regularly reinforced due to the octopus of human pride, namely that in holy communion (as in baptism) we are not doing something for God but that he is doing something for us, in us and to us.
Jesus receives the bread, looks upward, blesses it, gives thanks / Eucharistia then breaks it and gives it. Could it be only coincidence that the sequence here and at the First Divine Liturgy on Holy Thursday is the same? Or was this miracle planned in eternity, performed by Jesus, and recorded at the Spirit's bidding in order to catechize the church for all time regarding the Blessed Sacrament?
A few loaves and fish feed a huge crowd . In the same way the body and blood of Jesus are inexhaustible however many Christians it satisfies throughout the ages. (1 Kings 17:16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah. Also cf TLH # 306 v. 6 "Human reason, though it ponder, Cannot fathom this great wonder, that Christ's body e'er remaineth, though it countless souls sustaineth…")
Jesus is the one who accomplishes the miracle and who distributes the gifts. However he places the gifts into the hands of the disciples who, in turn, distribute them to the people. This should be taken as a reference to Jesus as the source of salvation, and to his ministers who he assigns to be stewards of the mysteries in his stead. (1 Corinthians 4:1)
And what of the Lord's command in each case to gather up the remains? This, perhaps, is the most important element of all. No one seems to know what to do with this command, and many explanations have been attempted of varying validity.
It has been taken as an admonition for the church not to be wasteful. By others to revere the remaining body and blood, and not to simply dispose of it in thoughtless manner. Still others see here a command to remember the poor. From the beginning the church has directly connected charitable giving to the celebration of the Sacrament. All of these are notable.
But William Weinrich has given what I consider the be the correct explanation of this command. Namely, that the miracle of the loaves and fishes was performed at the time of the Feast of Harvest. That is, the Feast of the Ingathering.
In the language of the Didache (9:4), "And concerning the broken Bread: As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.'" (also cf 1 Cor 10:17)
This being the case we should understand the Supper of the Lord and the gathering of the remnants as part of the same action: as the ingathering of all his people, on earth and in heaven, past and future, the Jew and the Greek, as many as the Lord our God shall call. (Acts 2)
I contend that this is how Lutherans should read Scripture. We marvel at the event (such as the feeding of the 5,000) but we should not stop there. We interpret it in order to obtain not only its theological lesson but its ecclesiastical, sacramental and liturgical force as well.
We could give many more examples, but let these suffice for now.
Thank you for reading.