Theology I _________________ In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for class
Th 211 __________________ by Logan Easterday
THE CLARITY OF SCRIPTURE: LUTHER VS. ERASMUS
When we pick up the morning paper or drive to work in the morning, we read articles to inform us about the world we live in, and we read road signs to alert us to changing road conditions. We assume that we can understand such things, rather it is commonly assumed that they can be understood. Similarly can we assume that Scripture is understandable and clear.
Martin Luther and Erasmus had many debates over their lifetimes, with the clarity of Scripture chief among them. They argued about whether Scripture is truly understandable. I agree with
Luther’s understanding about the clarity of Scripture and about how certain points of the Bible are hard to understand. Through enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, we can discern what our
Father wishes to communicate with us.
Luther, as expected, held to a reformed view. Erasmus held his own view apart from
Luther and apart from the Roman Catholic Church. Erasmus was stuck in the middle on his own.
Luther, being a part of the Reformation, would follow the principle commonly known as “
” (Scripture only).1 This caused the division between him and the Catholic church:
“Within the early position of the Reformer, Martin Luther was confronted with the church’s positions against common people being encouraged to hear and understand the Word of God...
Among Luther’s positions was the Catholic position that stated the interpretation of Scripture belonged to the pope, Second was that the Church’s theology was formed with reference to
Scripture, church tradition, and the interpretation of the Bible by the church fathers.” 2The basis
Gregg R. Allison,
Historical Theology: An Introduction To Christian Doctrine.
(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 128.
2 ibid., 128.
for this was that the Catholic church felt that Scripture was somehow dependent upon the church.
Luther's position on difficult passages of Scripture affirms that “the Holy Scriptures are a spiritual light far brighter even than the sun, especially in what relates to salvation and all essential matters.”3 Luther’s view was that the Bible is clear by itself, but we still need the Holy
Spirit as a necessity for reading and understanding it. Luther claimed that any disagreement or misunderstanding in Scripture does not find fault in the Scripture but in the spirituality of the reader.4 Luther also used Scripture from the Old Testament that refers to the Law itself being
Scripture as worthy of lighting the readers way to enlightenment; he also argued that if clarity in our human laws made my men are clear, then how much more clearer it should be for God’s
Laws.5 Luther concludes by stating that if God’s Word was not meant to be understood, what would the purpose be? This would result in a never ending process of attempting to explain the meaning of the Scripture and trying to manufacture from it a purpose.6 Luther quoted the Apostle
Peter saying, “We have the word . . . as . . . a light shining in a dark place,” Luther argued: “If part of the lamp does not shine, then it is a part of the dark place rather than of the lamp! When he enlightened us, Christ did to intended that part of the Word should be left obscure to us, for he commands us to mark the Word; and this command is pointless if the word is not clear.”7
Erasmus later argued that we can not possibly fathom or know everything about God,
Martin Luther on the bondage of the will
. Westwood, (New Jersey:
Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957), 125. (Luther also makes this connection to the “Sun” on page 67). 4 ibid., 73. i bid., 125126.