The Scriptures testify of Christ

The Scriptures are given that we may come to a true and saving knowledge of God through His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Revelation, Scripture, Testimony to Christ, Luther

Luther claimed that “the Scriptures are Christ’s swaddling-clothes.” In the course of his major Galatians commentary of 1535, Luther deals with the question of how God may be known. While affirming that God may be known through nature, Luther insists that this is a limited and inadequate knowledge of God that must be supplemented and corrected in the light of Scripture. The strongly Christocentric understanding of the knowledge of God which Luther develops in this passage cannot be missed.

“According to John 1:18, God does not want to be known except through Christ; nor can he be known in any other way....

“Through Christ God declares his favour and mercy to us. In Christ we see that God is not an angry master and judge but a gracious and kind Father who blesses us, that is, who delivers us from the law, sin, death, and every evil, and give us righteousness and eternal life through Christ...

“Now, because people accept this as a major premise, ‘There is a God,’ all kinds of human idolatry came into being, which would have been unknown in the world without the knowledge of divinity. But because people had this natural knowledge about God, they conceived empty and evil thoughts about God apart from and contrary to his Word; they embraced these as very truth, and on the basis of them they imagined God otherwise than he is by his own nature.... Therefore whoever wants to worship God or serve him without the Word is serving, not the true God but, as Paul says, ‘one who by nature is no god.’”

Here Martin Luther condemns all religion, however well-meaning, that has no Scriptural basis, for without this solid grounding, all our doctrine would be speculative and imaginary. We simply cannot come to know God apart from Christ and we cannot come to know Christ without the Scripture. Luther says: “Faith...does not judge nor reason by what it sees or feels but by what it hears. It depends upon the Word alone and not on vision or sight.”

His affirmations are not arbitrary; his own thoughts are derived from his study of Scripture. For instance a seminal passage worth quoting is Romans 10:13-17: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?...So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

With logical lucidity, Paul asks one question that leads to another and yet another. His resounding conclusion, to which Luther would have given his hearty approval, is that if we are to have and exercise faith in Christ, the Word (read or listened to) is indispensable. There is simply no other way whereby we come to know Christ.

Christ is the subject of Scripture and therein He is manifested to our sight. He Himself said: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Christ, then, is exposited and laid bare to the eye of faith within the pages of Scripture. In this light Luther would have agreed with Jerome’s statement that “Ignorance of Scripture means ignorance of Christ.”

Luther’s tormented soul, while still in the shackles of monkery, compelled him to read Scripture; he traces his conversion to Christ to his clear understanding of a crucial biblical text. He writes: “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unjust...Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open door into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven...”

Scripture is the jewel-box; Christ is the jewel therein laid. His bride, the church, if she is to know Him and love Him all the more, must be wholly conversant with the contents of Scripture. At one time Luther observed: “The Church does not make the Word of God, but she is made by the Word of God. For while the Word of God flourishes, all things flourish and go well in the Church - and that is the reason that at this day the Church is not only withered away into luxury and pomp but is almost wholly destroyed. It is because the Word of God is disregarded, and the laws of men and the artful inventions of Rome are taught.” Rome had neglected Scripture; consequently it was discovered that she had neglected Christ. This was Luther’s understanding.

A fresh and vital knowledge of Christ is gained by a knowledge of Scripture. Christ challenges us: “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:46,47).

The interrelationship between the Living Word (Christ) and the Written Word (Scripture) is so intimate the Scripture itself is denominated “the word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16), which is to dwell richly in us. Again, Scripture is “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Evidently faith in Christ, according to this passage, cannot be engendered within our soul except through Scripture.

Scripture, then, is not an end in itself; it is a persistent pointer to Christ: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself...And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:27,44).