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Martin Luther in Sweden  

Carl Axel Aurelius

In the Swedish history of Christian thought there are various interpretations of the Reformation and of Martin Luther and his work. In the 17th century, Luther predominately stood out as an instrument of God’s providence. In the 18th century, among the pietists, he was regarded as a fellow believer, in the 19th century as a hero of history, and in the 20th century during the Swedish so-called Luther Renaissance as a prophet and an interpreter of the Gospel. This does not necessarily mean that the interpretations of Luther merely reflect the various thought patterns of different epochs, that whatever is said about Luther is inevitably captured by the spirit of the time. The serious study of Luther’s writings could also lead to contradictions with common thought patterns and presuppositions. One could say that Luther’s writings have worked as “classics,” not merely confirming the status quo but also generating new patterns of thought and deed, making him something rather different than just a name, a symbol, or a flag, which sometimes have been assumed. And one can only hope that his writings will continue to work in the same way in years to come. Anyway the reception of the Lutheran heritage in Sweden is well worth studying since it in some ways differs from the reception in other Evangelic countries.

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Martin Luther and Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism  

Christopher Ocker

The uncomfortable question of Martin Luther’s place in the development of modern anti-Semitism is raised by Luther’s status as a national cultural icon after German unification (1871) and by the fact that the Third Reich (1933–1945) perpetrated what is arguably the most violently racist state policy known to human history thus far. Luther contributed to the symbiosis of religious and secular prejudices. The reception of Luther’s anti-Jewish discourse illustrates the gradual diffusion of religious hostility into a society where churches slid from a central position to the margins of social influence. This can only be understood against the backdrop of a long chronology of religious thinking. The long chronology shows that Luther was more a conduit than a catalyst of European anti-Jewish polemic and feeling.

Article

The Book of Isaiah  

J. Blake Couey

The book of Isaiah is a compilation of prophetic poetry and narratives, named for an 8th-century bce Judahite prophet. As depicted in chapters 1–39, Isaiah declared that Yhwh intended to punish Judah for social and cultic infractions; at the same time, he expressed support for the Davidic monarchy and proclaimed that Jerusalem would not be conquered by the Assyrians. Chapters 40–55 are addressed to a later audience following the conquest of Jerusalem by Babylon in 587 bce. These texts offer reassurance that Jerusalem will be restored and its exiled citizens will return. The final chapters, 56–66, reflect growing disillusionment and conflict in Judah under Persian rule, and the book ends by describing Yhwh’s eschatological destruction of the wicked and vindication of a righteous remnant. The book grew and developed over a period of four to five centuries. Despite its sometimes conflicting perspectives, it is broadly unified by its focus on the fate of Jerusalem, and later editors worked to impose some coherence upon its varied content, as seen by the repeated thematic echoes in Isaiah 1 and 65–66. Isaiah is a sophisticated work of biblical Hebrew poetry, characterized by intricate combinations of imagery and wordplay. It features a high view of divine sovereignty, emphasizing Yhwh’s control over world nations and superiority over all human and divine powers; these ideas contributed to the emergence of monotheism in ancient Judah. The book also articulates diverse responses to imperial domination, even as it chronicles the ebb and flow of Judah’s own imperial aspirations. Striking portrayals of women and gender appear throughout Isaiah, including the extensive personification of Jerusalem as a woman and the comparison of Yhwh to a mother. Isaiah is also notable for its discourse about disability, which serves a variety of rhetorical functions in the book. The impact of Isaiah was felt immediately, as evidenced by the number of copies of the book among the Dead Sea scrolls and citations of it in the New Testament. It greatly impacted the development of important religious ideas, including apocalypticism and belief in resurrection. In Christianity, Isaiah played an important role in reflection upon the nature of Jesus and the inclusion of Gentiles, even as it informed Christian anti-Judaism. The book has had a more complicated reception in Judaism, where it significantly influenced the growth of Zionism. Scholarly study of Isaiah continues to clarify the shape of its final form and history of composition. Current research on the book is increasingly interdisciplinary, engaging metaphor theory, disability studies, and postcolonial thought. The history of the book’s interpretation and reception is another area of growing interest.

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Martin Luther and Lutheran Orthodoxy  

Andreas Stegmann

The theology of early modern Lutheranism was based on Martin Luther. From the mid-16th century to the start of the 18th, the theology developed and taught at Lutheran universities in Germany (in modern research called “Lutheran Orthodoxy”) centered on the Lutheran confession and took place within the institutional setting of church and university created by the Wittenberg Reformation. Luther’s theology was pervasive throughout early modern Lutheranism owing to basic confessional material such as the Luther Bible, Luther’s hymns, Luther’s Catechisms, Luther’s book of prayers, Luther’s liturgies, Luther’s homilies, Lutheran confessions, individual and complete editions of Luther’s works, Luther anthologies, and Luther memoria. This orientation reflects not so much an intensive preoccupation with his person and work and fundamental reflection on his authority, but rather stems from the natural presence of Luther in the Lutheran church and its theology. This reception is tangible not only in intertextual references, such as when his work is mentioned, quoted, or paraphrased, but also in the approach, completion, and content of theological thinking. Lutheran Orthodoxy continued contributing to the theological work of the Lutheran Reformation, especially in biblical exegesis, soteriology, and Christology, but also in anthropology, ecclesiology, and ethics. Although Lutheran Orthodoxy at times abbreviated or went beyond some points of Luther’s thought, resulting in a broad spectrum of diverging theological positions, it largely remained within the framework created by the Wittenberg Reformation in the 16th century. In fact, many theological initiatives of the Reformation did not come to fruition until the post-Reformation period, and many theological problems that had remained unresolved were then clarified. Hence, Lutheran Orthodoxy must be regarded as the legitimate heir and authentic interpreter of the theological legacy of the Lutheran Reformation. Because the potential of the Lutheran Reformation can be seen in Lutheran Orthodoxy, examining it can bring a fresh perspective on the history of the Reformation.

Article

Bible and Film  

Richard Walsh

For most, the designation “Bible and film” refers to the studio epics of the 1950s, as well as Mel Gibson’s financially successful The Passion of the Christ. This designation, however, also includes silents, travelogues, documentaries, musicals, comedies, parodies, television miniseries and serials, shorts, and avant-garde art films. Other than Jesus, who starred in numerous passion plays, the most popular biblical film subjects are those characters or stories already successful in 19th-century theater, operas, or novels. Since at least the 1990s, “Bible and film” has also referred to the work of biblical critics. Such scholars deal in semiotics, ideology, and reception criticism rather than the theology and apologetics of their precursors. These scholars have vastly expanded work under the “Bible and film” umbrella to include the Bible’s cinematic use as artifact, quotation, and so forth; the Bible and film (films that seem biblical, like so-called Christ figure or messianic films, only after convincing arguments); and film as Bible (where film functions as some biblical texts do). The most important recent developments in Bible and film, however, are technological advances in delivery systems and niche marketing. These developments, not Gibson’s success alone, appear to be driving the recently renewed interest in biblical films. Now, old films, including silents, and films from more diverse cultural perspectives (e.g., Indian and Islamic biblical films) are available to more people than ever before. While Christian Bibles may still dominate film, one can find other cultural perspectives as well as films or interpretations that challenge “the dominant.”

Article

Martin Luther in Modern New Testament Scholarship  

David Lincicum

Martin Luther is intimately interwoven with the history of New Testament scholarship. Histories of modern biblical interpretation often begin their treatment with Luther and other Reformation currents, suggesting a direct genealogical relationship between the Reformer and modern criticism. Indeed, Luther’s frank criticism of the theological utility of certain books in the New Testament—James, Hebrews, Revelation—were to prove a warrant for the later development of historical critical approaches to Scripture that would also entail judgements about the authenticity of biblical texts. Later scholars increasingly came to use historical, philological criteria rather than material, theological criteria to reach these judgements, but they relied on the possibility Luther established of criticizing sacred scripture while remaining within the institutional church, even if certain tensions with ecclesiastical authorities were inevitable. In the 20th century, the decisive influence of Luther can be found on a series of influential New Testament scholars and their interpretative efforts. To consider only an exemplary few—Rudolf Bultmann, Gerhard Ebeling, Ernst Käsemann, and Martin Hengel—one can begin to grasp the enormity of the Reformer’s imprint on modern New Testament scholarship, due in part to the outsize influence of the German Lutheran theological academy on the development of the discipline. In recent decades, Luther has been invoked above all in the lively debates surrounding the so-called “New Perspective on Paul,” and the question of whether Luther fundamentally misconstrued the Pauline message by unconsciously conforming it to his own experience of and reaction against late medieval Catholicism. While Luther has often been asked to shoulder the blame for a host of exegetical problems in this regard, more sophisticated recent approaches have allowed him to be an interpreter in his own right, with justified contemporary concerns that motivate his actualizing exegesis of Paul. In the end, with the turn toward reception history and the reinvigorated retrieval of the theological tradition in contemporary biblical scholarship, more of Luther within New Testament study is likely to be seen in the years ahead.

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Martin Luther in 19th-Century Theology  

Zachary Purvis

Across the theology of the 19th century, Martin Luther came to represent not only the Reformation but also what it meant to be Protestant—and, more than occasionally, what it meant to be modern, German, and Lutheran, in particular. Much of the modern theological interaction with and “return” to Luther occurred in the context of the various Luther or Lutheran Reformation jubilees; these religious, commemorative occasions were themselves more often than not heavily politicized affairs: for instance, 1817, 1830, 1867, and 1883. In addition, neo-confessional movements and attempts at both retrieving and “repristinating” the theology of the Reformation confessions and the highly developed systems of Protestant orthodoxy, as well as debates over what constituted the key “principle of Protestantism,” had a significant impact in the reception and formation of Luther’s image (Lutherbild) in theology across the modern era. Certain aspects of Luther’s theology, such as his doctrine of the hiddenness of God (Deus absconditus) from his landmark treatise De servo arbitrio (The Bondage of the Will, 1525), played particularly important roles. A few basic approaches to Luther emerged in the second half of the 19th century, spearheaded by such figures as Albrecht Ritschl, Theodosius Harnack, C. F. W. Walther, and Charles Porterfield Krauth. Some, like Ludwig Feuerbach or Søren Kierkegaard, constructed idiosyncratic images of the reformer. Many of the interpretations arose from polemical concerns, whether political, ecclesiastical, or theological. Conflicts over the proper appropriation of Luther’s thought increasingly resembled the battles between Protestants and Catholics in the late Reformation over who could claim the authority of the church fathers and other patristic voices. In many respects, the story of Luther’s theological reception is also a struggle for authority.