Monday, January 29, 2007

CFW Walther to JA Ottesen March 9, 1867

Clergy Bulletin XII,6:80, February and March, 1953

Letters by C.F.W. Walther

A letter to J. A. Ottesen.


St. Louis,

March 9, 1867

My dear Pastor:-

It is only today that I reply to your dear communication of the 18th of last month. You will kindly excuse this delay on account of the load of the various tasks that rest upon me.

Induced by you I have drawn up the enclosed document.1 May it serve at least to this end that the light and the fire which is slumbering in your spirit may be drawn out, so that the subject may be treated as you require it for your circumstances, for it may easily be that I have treated what you did not wish, and that I did not bear in mid what you wanted to have me treat. However, I hope that my few theses will form the basis on which the entire doctrine of the Sola Scriptura and all its ramifications may easily be built up and improved. The sharper one defines the simplest rules of hermeneutics, the easier the most intricate questions may be blown away like thin wisps of fog. In clinging to those fundamental rules on is, as I believe, invincible over against all sophists, and as soon as one is driven to consternation in even on instance, that is, if one, as we Germans say, permits himself to be bluffed, this is simply due to the fact that one does not remain fully conscious of the significance of the most important principles of hermeneutics.

In order to be sure of my ground I, on last Wednesday, submitted the theses to our local conference, and the conference now wishes to have them appear in Lehre und Wehre. If this plan is followed, some of your Norwegian brethren would be induced to think through the matter before the meeting of Synod.

So far as the question is concerned whether the Norwegian Lutheran Church might have approved a translation in a general way, if an obvious error concerning a Scriptural dogma had been contained in them, without thereby having become a sect, I must answer: Indeed! For every church states, with Augustine: “Errare potero, haereticus non ero.””2 It would be a different matter if the fundamental error had not only crept in and had been overlooked, but had been defended as God's Word, for then the Church, by this action, would have become a sect. To deny the possibility of a mistake, even of a grave error in a translation of the Bible a priori, since this would militate against John 14:26, 16:23, I would not dare, since these promises are given, not to a particular Church, but only to the Church as a whole. However, no layman need question the correctness of the translation, though he is not familiar with the original languages, so long as he through the translation has received the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and those whom he has proved to be orthodox teachers give him the assurance that there can be no doubt as to the correctness of a certain passage. the last refugium3 for a layman in case of temptation remains the examination according to the analogy of faith, in case he does not want to learn Hebrew and Greek.

At your next Synod I shall unfortunately not be present, since I at that same time must be present at the session of the Northern District, which begins on June 20.

The Lord be with you and keep both of us in the unity of the true faith; then there will be no trouble about love.

My colleagues send fraternal greetings. Please give my cordial regards to your most highly honored wife.

Your companion in the kingdom and the tribulation,


C.F.W. Walther.

1A series of theses on Sola Scriptura.

2“I may err, but I shall not be an heretic.”


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