Opening Up the Bible

9. A Lutheran Way of Reading

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cambridge ON

Sunday June 15 2008

10:00 a.m.

Preparation for Children's Message:

-Get acolyte to do part of “Bible” in skit

(with booming voice over microphone)

-Bible set out in chancel

-Neck Tie and hat to wear



-We are encountered by Christ in Scripture.

-The words of Scripture

bear the Christ to us

in the same way that the manger bore the Christ child.

-But the manger is not the Christ;

the manger bears Christ.

-The Bible is not the Word;

the Bible bears the Word to us.

-Some parts of Scripture bear Christ

better than other parts.

-We are driven to God

for help in discerning which parts are which.

-An incarnational view of Scripture

pushes us to listen to God.

Children's Message:

The Bible Speaks1

Man: [Walk out looking rushed and harried.

Look at watch. Notice Bible.

Look at watch again. Begin to walk away.

Sigh an d walk back to Bible.]

I didn't have time for devotions this morning.

[Pick it up, open to any page, read a verse (mumbling it).

Close Bible and walk away]

Bible: Hold on there!

Man: [Looking around, startled.] Who said that?!

Bible: I did.

Man: Who?!

Bible: Your Bible.

Man: [Picks up Bible, looks it over.

Holds to ear and shakes it.]

Bible: Hey, take it easy! Take it easy!

Man [Looks surprised, then suspicious/doubtful]

What's going on here! Bibles don't talk!

Bible: [Frustrated] Of course they do!

Would you stop shaking me already?!

Man: [Looks at Bible. Sets it down.]

Okay, so talk! I'm in a hurry in case you hadn't noticed!

Bible: I noticed! Believe me!

Man: [Defensively]

Well it's not like I've given up reading you.

It's just, well, this morning was, well, kinda rushed.

To be perfectly honest, it's getting a bit stale.

I mean, it's always the same:

I talk and talk, but I never get any answers.

Bible: Wait a minute.

You're not supposed to do all the talking.

Man: I'm not?

Bible: No. God wants to talk to you, too.

Man: What do you mean?

I haven't heard God interrupting!

Bible: That's because you weren't listening.

You're always too busy talking.

Man: You mean God wants to talk to me?

Bible: Right!

Man: [Sarcastically] Well I'm list-en-ing!

[Cups ear. Strains to hear]

I don't hear a thing!

Bible: You hear me, don't you?

Man: Well, yeah.

Bible: God's speaking to you through me.

Man: [Surprised] Oh! Of course! I get it!

But you make it sound like God is ALWAYS trying to talk to me.

I mean, this is the first time you've ever said anything.

Bible: No. This is the first time you've ever heard anything.

I've been trying to talk to you every time you opened me up.

I've got lots of encouragement and support for you!

You've just got to listen!

Man: Wow! Now I know you're there to help.

Maybe I can find time to talk with you today.

Do you think God will speak to me? [pause]

[Looks around. Picks up Bible.]

I guess God already has.

-The Bible is a very special book

because God speaks to us through its words.

-Thank you for learning about the Bible

these past 9 weeks.

-I hope you'll keep your “Bible Books”

to remind you about what we've learned.

-At the back of the church,

I've set out the handouts from every week.

-In case you missed any weeks,

or if you want to make another “Bible Book”

for someone you know,

you can help yourself.

Prayer: thanking God for speaking to us and being with us in so many ways, especially through words of Bible. Create in us an eagerness to be met by your in daily Bible reading.


-All Christians share the belief

that the Bible is divinely inspired,

and so it forms our faith, and leads to our beliefs.2

-But Christians hold differing views

of what it means to say that the Bible is inspired.

-There are Christians who hold that the Bible

was directly dictated by God,

and so, it's a collection of eternal, unchanging truths.

The Bible consists of moral absolutes.

-It's without error and is infallible

regarding not only religious truth

but also scientific and historical truth as well.

-Other Christians don't go quite that far,

and are willing to allow

that although the Bible might err on insignificant


there are no significant errors.

-In matters of faith and belief, it's infallible.

-Almost all televangelists

would one these two fundamentalistic viewpoints:

the Bible is virtually 100% divine,

with most or all human limitations

being overcome.

-Luther held what might be called

an “incarnational view” of biblical inspiration.

-The divinity and power of God

are embedded in Scripture

in the same way as God's divinity and power

were embedded in Jesus.

-Both Scripture and Jesus

are 100% God and 100% human.

-Scripture and Jesus bear God's presence

in unique ways.

-Scripture and Jesus, being human,

are also subject to human limitations.

-For example, in Mark 13.32

Jesus admitted that neither he nor the angels knew

when the end would come;

only God the Father knows.

-Because he was human,

there were some limitations on Jesus;

in the same way,

there are some limitations on Scripture

because words and writing themselves have limitations.

-This was Luther's incarnational view:

-Scripture bears God to us in a unique way,

just as God was present in Jesus in a unique way.

-Some Christians hold an infallible and inerrant view

of Scripture,

some hold an incarnational view,

and others hold that Scripture is inspired

in the sense that the best of any literature is inspired:

it has a depth and a beauty far above the normal,

a depth and beauty which speak to people

of every age and every time.

-In this sense, the Bible is like the great works

of Shakespeare

or worthwhile movies such as Star Wars,

or The Godfather,

or poetry by one of the lasting poets.

-This 3rd understanding of inspiration

is held by the most-liberal of Christians.

-Since we're a Lutheran congregation,

I'll focus on Martin Luther's view

of the inspiration of Scripture.

-When Luther translated the Hebrew Scriptures –

the Old Testament –

into German,

he wrote this in his preface:

Here you will find the swaddling cloths and the manger in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simple and lowly are these swaddling cloths, but dear is the treasure, Christ, who lies in them.3

-In other words,

we are encountered by Christ in Scripture.

-The words of Scripture

bear the Christ to us

in the same way that the manger bore the Christ child.

-But the manger is not the Christ;

the manger bears Christ.

-The Bible is not the Word;

the Bible bears the Word to us.

-Through the words of Scripture,

we are met by the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

-That's what it means

when we end our Sunday-morning Bible readings,

saying, “The Word of the Lord.”

and responding, “Thanks be to God.”

-We are acknowledging that through this reading

of Holy Scripture,

we have been met by the Word of our Lord,

the Word himself, Christ Jesus.

-And that was Martin Luther's criteria

for evaluating the Bible:

-whatever bears Christ to us –

whatever speaks the Gospel, the Good News,

of God's forgiving love –

whatever bears Christ to us is raised-up.

-In this,

Luther is more honest than many others,

for he recognizes that none of us

follows all the prescriptions of the Bible.

-In 1 Corinthians chapter 11:5,

St. Paul commanded the women at Corinth

to cover their heads when praying.

-That's one of the reasons that until fairly recently,

it was expected

that women would wear hats in church.

-But we're no longer so sure about St. Paul's view

that women should submit to the authority of men –

that was St. Paul's reason for women having to cover

their heads.

-We take note that God entrusted the message of the

resurrection to women,

and we believe that God's will is better summed up

in St. Paul's words from Galatians 3:28

“There is no longer Jew or Greek,

there is no longer slave or free,

there is no longer male and female;

for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

-It's a rare church, if any

no matter which concept of “inspiration” it holds –

it's a rare church which follows St. Paul's injunction

that women should cover their heads while praying.

-Like Luther,

every one of us

raises-up some verses as more important –

as more descriptive of God's will –

than other verses.

-All Christians

again no matter which view of “inspiration” is held –

all Christians pretty much would agree

that Leviticus 19:13 a –

that is, the first part of verse 19 –

against stealing and defrauding,

still applies,

but not the second part of that same verse,

which requires labourers to be paid before sundown?

-We do indeed pick and choose

which parts of Scripture describe God's will,

and which parts don't.

-Luther was just more honest than most

in recognizing this.

-Luther's list of biblical books

which do a better job of bearing Christ,

Luther's list included the Gospel of John;

Paul's letters to the Romans, Galatians and Ephesians;

1 Peter; and 1 John.

-Biblical books in which Luther saw little value

included the letter of James,

and the Revelation of John.

- “Luther's willingness to make distinctions

about the importance of the various books

sets us free to read the Bible as instructive in every part,

but not with every verse and every book

as important as all the others.”4

-The Bible bears the Word – Christ – to us,

but the Bible is not Christ, not the Word.

-Some parts of the Bible bear the Word to us

better than other parts.

-It would be easier to believe in a Bible

which is inerrant and infallible –

just read it and do it.


we are driven to Christ –

driven to listen to God

speak to us through the words of Scripture.

-Believing in an incarnational Bible

means that we need God's help in discerning

which are the important parts,

and which are the bits we can – and should – ignore.

-In that way,

God can free us from traditions and practices

which no longer make sense in our context today;

traditions and practices

which may indeed be against God's will for us, today.

-To read the Bible otherwise –

to believe that it is infallible and inerrant

in every respect –

ignores the reality

that no one actually reads Scripture that way;

instead, every one of us picks and chooses

which verses to raise up and which to ignore.

-To believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant

doesn't take seriously enough what it means

that the Word became Flesh,

that Jesus was both divine and human,

but not infallible and inerrant:

Jesus experienced the limitations of being human.

-To believe that the Bible is infallible and inerrant

also makes it too easy for those in the 21st century

to write-off Christianity and the Bible.

-Understanding with Luther

that the Bible is neither infallible nor inerrant,

but is incarnational,

we can learn from science

for the Bible was never meant to be read as a

science book.

-So, for example,

believing in an incarnational Bible,

we can look to science to teach us

about how the world was created –

even when that runs counter to Genesis chapter 2 –

and we can turn to Scripture to tell us

why and by whom the world was created.

-The Rev. Dr. Timothy F. Lull

was past-president of

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley CA.

-As Dr. Timothy Lull has written:

If Lutherans today have keys that can unlock the Scriptures, they have a great treasure indeed. Great hunger exists in our society among spiritually seeking people for an approach to the Bible that opens it up as a word of life and grace and hope. There is no greater tool for mission today than a credible approach to God's word.5

-May this series, “Opening Up the Bible,”

help us to greater mission –

for we Lutherans have so many gifts

to share with God's world. Amen.

Hymn of the Day: Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, for the Bible tells me so. #595

Sending Thought:

- In today's sermon,

I described Luther's view of Scripture

as “incarnational.”

-Another way of describing various views of Scripture

is to compare them to various views

of Holy Communion.

-Some believe

that the bread and wine of Holy Communion

literally, scientifically,

are changed to Jesus' body and blood.

-This is a view generally held by Roman Catholics.

-It's parallel to viewing Scripture

as inerrant and infallible,

as the words literally are the Word of God.

-Others see the bread and wine of Holy Communion

as a remembrance only.

-It's a kind of anniversary or birthday meal,

but done to recall the Last Supper.

-This view of communion

is parallel to understanding Scripture

as being inspired like any other good literature.

-The Lutheran teaching of Holy Communion

is that the bread and wine remain bread and wine,

and God comes to us “in, with, and under”

these elements.

-This is similar to Luther's incarnational view

of the Bible:

-Scripture remains a human writing

and God / The Word comes to us

through these human words.

The Benediction follows ....

Sending Song: O God of Light #507

1Based on “The Bible Speaks” from The Story of the Bible. Wood Lake Books, 1998. Page 70.

2This sermon draws on Jackie Nunns' “Opening Up the Bible” 2004, page 27; as well as Erwin Buck's Studies on Homosexuality and the Church, |ELCIC 2001, section 4: “How Does One Apply Biblical Teaching?” I've used Erwin Buck's resource because it's a recent and widely-accepted work on biblical interpretation in the ELCIC.

3Luther, M. (1999, c1960). Vol. 35: Luther's works, vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (35:236). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

4Timothy Lull: “Our Faith: Keys that Unlock the Bible” in The [ELCA] Lutheran, January 2003.

5Timothy Lull: “Our Faith: Keys that Unlock the Bible” in The [ELCA] Lutheran, January 2003.