Friday, June 29, 2018

Précis: Peter Williams 2014 "The Syriac Versions of the New Testament"

A Précis of
Chapter six of Ehrman, Bart and Michael Holmes, Editors, 2014 The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, Second Edition, Brill.

This volume is an updating and expansion on the first edition of 1995. The volume contains 28 articles to cover the current status of research on many basic areas in NT TC. The first 16 chapters survey the sources of the NT text available to us. The 12 chapters making up the second main part of the book focus on NTTC Theory and Method.

“Chapter Six: The Syriac Versions of the New Testament.” by Peter J. Williams, pp. 143-166

Syriac, an Eastern Aramaic dialect,  is known from inscriptions dating back to AD 6 and from pagan and secular manuscripts a little later.  “From the mid-second century onward” Christian writings appear. By the fourth century Christianity “dominated literary output.” (143) Syriac language Christianity experienced a wide expansion into “parts of Central Asia and China. Syriac influence can in fact be felt in translations of the Bible in Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic,Georgian, Middle Persian, and Sogdian.” (143)

Bible translation into Syriac dates from the second century, from the OT Hebrew with some Greek influence. “Between the Diatessaron in the second century and the Harclean in the seventh, five significant translations of major parts of the New Testament were produced.”(143)

“[S]cholars have only distinguished Syriac from other forms of Aramaic since the time of Immanuel Tremellius (1510-1580).” Therefore uses of the term Syriac in writings before his time “could well refer to a work in West or Palestinian Aramaic.”(144n2)

Earlier Syriac language translations were less literal than later translations. “Thus, while earlier translations are generally of greater textual significance, their witness is also harder to evaluate in many instances.”(144)

Williams covers the five versions: 1 The Diatessaron, 2 Old Syriac Versions, 3 The Peshitta, 4 Post-Peshitta Versions, and 5 Christian Palestinian Aramaic.

The Diatessaron of Tatian is probably the earliest. Tatian, a student of Justin Martyr, made a harmony of the Gospels (the Diatessaron “through the four”) which was cited by mainly Syriac Church Fathers. Whether Tatian did this work in Greek or Syriac is unknown. No known text of the Diatessaron as a work survives to us. Tatian’s version was in use widely in the East during the fourth century. Theodoret of Cyrrhus (bishop 423-457) worked to replace over two hundred copies of the Diatessaron with books of the individual Gospels. (144) The main source for the Diatessaron is Ephrem’s Commentary on the Diatessaron (Syriac and Armenian). In the West there were other harmonies leaving the influence of the Diatessaron in the West up to debate. Williams argues that the witnesses to the Diatessaron should be handled as Patristic evidence.

The Old Syriac Versions of the Gospels are known from two manuscripts 1) the Curetonian Syriac (syrc) and 2) the Codex Sinaiticus (syrs) or Sinai Syr. 30 (a late-fourth or early-fifth century palimpsest). Both these are earlier than the Peshitta. “Scholars now generally agree that this version arose after the Diatessaron,” though there are a few who believe it was prior to Tatian, and also a theory that these versions arose contemporaneously but independently.(146) Some scholars argue these translations show evidence that they underwent revision. One category of data used in evidence of this revision is the alternation between the name ܺܝܫܽܘܥ Jesus and the title ܡܳܪܰܢ  Our Lord. The Sinaitic Ms ends the Gospel of Mark at 6:8, while the Curetonian lacks all of Mark except 16:17-20! The Old Syriac text does not fit neatly into the categories of witnesses advanced in TC through Wescott and Hort. “Since writers prior to the making of the Peshitta were clearly familiar with Acts and Paul in Syriac, their citations and allusions are often deemed to bear witness to an Old Syriac version of Acts and Paul” (148) Lack of a Syriac text for comparison makes evaluating the quotations of Ephrem (in Armenian) and others difficult. Williams writes against “defining everything that disagrees with the Peshitta and subsequent translations as Old Syriac.”(149f)

The Peshitta translation is believed to have originated in the late-fourth to early-fifth century. This was the Bible for “all branches of Syriac-speaking Christianity.”(150) Contents same as Western Canon but without 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude or Revelation. Previous thought was that Rabbula, bishop of Edessa (411-435) was “responsible for this translation.”(150) A sixth or seventh century Life of Rabbula credits him with “a translation of the New Testament from Greek into Syriac.”(150) More recent scholarship gives evidence that the Peshitta is earlier than Rabbula and that the Old Syriac was used long after the Peshitta was introduced. As a translation the Peshitta “is not completely uniform.” Translations of particular words and phrases are not consistent from one book to another. The current “standard edition of the Gospels is that of Pusey and Gwilliam.” But “their edition … fails to present many variants.” (150) “The edition may therefore give an impression of greater uniformity in the transmission of the Peshitta than is truly justified.” Williams describes the current critical editions and value to NTTC.

Post-Peshitta Versions include the Harclean and the Piloxenian. Of the two, Williams states the Harclean is more valuable to NTTC. Williams outlines the origins of these two versions, one from Piloxenus, bishop of Mabbug, completed in 507/508. The other from Thomas of Harkel bishop of Mabbug, completed in the early-seventh century. “The Harklean version is a revision of the Piloxenian containing all twenty-seven New Testament books and marks the zenith of literalism in Syriac representation of Greek.”(154) This version has been particularly valuable in demonstrating the antiquity of the readings behind some Greek minuscule manuscripts from the eleventh century or later. (155)

The Christian Palestinian Aramaic version, (a.k.a.: Palestinian Syriac, or Syro-Palestinian version) may date from the fifth century. The “earliest extant manuscripts come from the sixth century.” (155) This version was used by the Melkites in Palestine and Transjordan. It is based on a Greek original. Further study of this version is needed with respect to many issues.

After describing these versions, Williams gives two practical examples using the Syriac versions in NTTC.


The author’s first set of example deals with the data of the Old Syriac and the Peshitta. It is critical that “we have adequate knowledge of the text,” and “that we understand its method of translation, consistency of translation, and extent of revision.” Too often textual critics “allow preconceived notions rather than systematic study to establish equivalents between Greek and Syriac.”(156) Williams then gives examples of issues concerning translational equivalents. His first example is brief, the relationship betweenܥܢܐ and ἀποκρίνομαι. William’s second example is more detailed concerning the words for “people” ܥܰܡܳܐ, ἔθνος, λαός, ὄχλος; and the kinds of considerations needed to be able to make claims based on actual data.

Williams concludes with an example relating to the Harclean version. The Harclean version is intentional in its degree of formal correspondence between Greek and Syriac. But no person or group of translators can be completely consistent across such a work with equivalences. This raises the issue of whether the non-consistent variants are inconsistent due to intent or accident. Williams discusses briefly how conclusions might be reached on this type of issue.

The chapter is followed by a six page bibliography.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Précis: Carroll Osburn 2014 "The Greek Lectionaries of the New Testament."

A Précis of
Chapter four of Ehrman, Bart and Michael Holmes, Editors, 2014 The Text of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, Second Edition, Brill.

This volume is an updating and expansion on the first edition of 1995. The volume contains 28 articles to cover the current status of research on many basic areas in NT TC. The first 16 chapters survey the sources of the NT text available to us. The 12 chapters making up the second main part of the book focus on NTTC Theory and Method.

“Chapter Four: The Greek Lectionaries of the New Testament.” by Carroll Osburn, pp. 93-113

Osburn briefly introduces basic issues surrounding the data of the Greek Lectionaries. The inclusion of Greek Lectionaries “in the critical apparatuses of various editions of the Greek Testament” has been sporadic. The evidence this body of literature presents is “seriously neglected.” Earlier scholarship incorrectly assumed these texts “must preserve the earliest form of the NT text” on the assumption that liturgical tradition would keep the texts more pristine. More recently there is a common assumption that because the texts are later they must preserve TR readings, rendering them “of little value in the text-critical enterprise.” But the interrelationships of the NT text with the Lectionaries is more complex than these assumptions.

In the first division of his chapter Osburn describes the structure, use, and basic terminology of Greek Lectionaries. Here he also describes theories and evidence of their development, their historical and regional diversity, and relationship to theory about the establishment of the NT canon. Osburn highlights the lectionaries from Jerusalem, Byzantium, and Egypt. More study also needs to be done with respect to their relationship to patristic testimony.

Osburn’s second division is a more detailed historical presentation on how the Greek Lectionaries have been incorporated and used by various scholars in critical editions of the Greek New Testament. John Mill’s 1707 was the first to integrate Greek lectionary MSS. He used eight in preparation of his New Testament. The number of included lectionaries grew with the editions of Johann Wettstein(mid-1700s) and Johann Greisbach (late 1700s to early 1800s). In the 1830s Johann Scholz included one hundred seventy-eight gospel lectionaries and fifty-eight apostolos. In the mid-1800s Karl Lachmann’s scholarship changed the direction of TC away from the TR. He and scholars after him largely abandoned the use of lectionaries. This trend remains and influenced the choice of textual resources up to UBSGNT4. However, the Antoniades Patriarchal Edition of 1904, though arbitrary in its use of lectionaries, helped (along with Scrivener’s 1894 A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament) to raise interest and awareness of the lectionaries in NT textual history. In the 1930s Ernest Colwell helped initiate the Chicago Lectionary Project. Osburn relates significant results and problems with this project. In the late 20th century study of the lectionaries became relevant to the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior. Newer research and analyses of lectionaries has led to a more systematic understanding of the development and propagation of lectionaries. The newer view is that lectionaries tended to develop after the 4th cent to 7th cent rather than developing in the 2nd cent as previously thought.

In the third part of his chapter Osburn presents how the text of the Greek lectionaries is handled in current scholarship. First, he outlines the approach of the International Greek New Testament Project for incorporating lectionary data. After this he presents the approach of the Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior. His discussion touches upon what is and is not included of the lectionaries in each case and why. He also briefly describes the apparatus of each of these editions.

Osburn closes with six conclusions about the status of lectionary studies in New Testament Textual Criticism.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Note 2 on Gerhard Forde's 1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross

1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Forde asserted that the vicarious atonement is a “theology of glory” in the first section of his introduction. In the second section he more boldly states that his intent is to discredit any theology of glory, including the vicarious atonement. For him the teaching of the vicarious atonement is legalistic.
“The theologian of glory sees through the cross so as to fit it into a scheme of works. The cross ‘makes up’ for failures along the glory road. The upshot of it all is a fundamental misreading of reality.” (p. 12)
Through the whole of the introduction Forde has managed to steer clear of speaking about what the atonement is, except to condemn the vicarious atonement as a theology of glory. He states that the term “theology of the cross” is a short-hand for the work of Christ for us “culminating in cross and resurrection” (p. 8f). But he does not speak of Christ’s payment of our debt of sin. Forde does speak of our sin as the work that crucified Christ.  But his expression of this is still in line with his 1984 writings about the nature of Christ’s atonement.

Forde quotes Luther up to a point. But he leaves out Luther’s preaching on the substitutionary atonement. For example, he enlists Luther up to self-examination:
You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. ... Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts, etc. (on p. 8)
But Forde never gets to the actual Gospel in the Cross. In the same sermon Luther continues with the Gospel that is actually at the center of the Cross. That is, Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Luther wrote:
You ease your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him, as we read in Isaiah 53 [:6], “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” St. Peter says, “in his body has he borne our sins on the wood of the cross” [I Pet. 2:24]. St. Paul says, “God has made him a sinner for us, so that through him we would be made just” [II Cor. 5:21]. You must stake everything on these and similar verses. (paragraph 13 of Luther’s Sermon. Italics mine.)
An aspect of this work so far is that Forde does not really define law, or gospel, nor does he define sin. He depends upon the reader filling in the meaning of these words. The reader should not assume that Forde has changed from his previous published  definitions.

Notes on the Writings of Gerhard Forde

The Writings of Gerhard Olaf Forde
(September 10, 1927 – August 9, 2005)
A Chronological List,  Annotated and Evaluated

This is a page where I collect links to the notes I am putting together on the writings of Gerhard Forde.


The late Gerhard Forde has gained a significant influence upon Confessional Lutherans, primarily through two of his writings. The first is his 1987 article “Radical Lutheranism: Lutheran Identity in America,” (Lutheran Quarterly 1:5-18). The second is his 1997 monograph titled On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

These two works did not come out of a vacuum. Forde was a prolific writer, pastor, professor. Forde documented his own understanding of theological concepts and his use of theological terms. His body of writing show a very consistent and somewhat self-reflective employment of theological concepts and terminology. Forde used historical Lutheran terminology, but he used this terminology with meanings already re-framed in writings from the Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr as well as the Lundensian theology of Anders Nygren, Gustaf Aulén and Ragnar Bring.

The theological terms which Forde used in those two works (Law, Gospel, Cross, Faith, Christ, Atonement, Justification, Theology of the Cross, Theology of Glory, etc.) have historical meanings in Confessional Lutheranism. Forde’s use of these terms is based in a very different framework of theology. Confessional Lutherans who do not know this other framework have read Lutheranism into Forde’s writings. Those who have, perhaps, naively adopted Forde’s words may also be ignorant of what he meant by other terms (Actual Story of Jesus, Objective, and Subjective Theories of Atonement).  In particular cases these later claims may be either the embarrassments of ignorance or they may reflect deeply held differences from Confessional Lutheran doctrine.

It should be emphasized that Forde uses theological terms which may not be readily apparent as theological terms to those unfamiliar with Neo-Orthodoxy and other Modernist and Postmodern theological writing. An example of such a term is the use of the term actual with reference to Christ or the story of Jesus. This term is used with reference to claims in historical critical scholarship to have separated the actual words and works of Jesus from the various traditions of interpretations this scholarship claims were placed on Christ within the New Testament writings as we have them today. (an example of which is found in Forde’s 1984 “The Shape of the Tradition,” 12-19)

Some advocates for Forde will state that a few of Forde’s writings are good, after all, does not the Lutheran Church continue to use the Augsburg Confession and the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. Both of them were written by Philip Melanchthon, who later caved in to pressure changing his theology during the Leipzig Interim (1548).

But the situation is not the same. Melanchthon’s change of theology was public, specific, and documented both in his own writings and in contemporary writings. Melanchthon held a Biblical orthodox Lutheran position. He distanced himself from that position after Luther’s death leading up to and during the Leipzig Interim.

Forde’s writings 1969 through his death show increasing sophistication in expression and in popular appeal, but they do not show a public change in substance or framework. His writings prior to 1987 and after 1997 as well as during the years between show fairly consistent and non-Confessional Lutheran views of Scripture, Christ, the Atonement, of Law and Gospel, and of Justification.

One may also point out that Forde was capable of describing Luther’s view or Confessional Lutheran views on certain issues in clear and accurate historical terms. In those cases it is equally important to note that when Forde did this he was in many cases distancing himself from Luther and Confessional Lutheranism on these very issues.

One should assume that Forde intended to be consistent in his worldview and theology. From this one should assume consistency of theme, meaning, and intent through his writings.

Here is a list of theological positions and the documents in which they can be read.

Clear rejection of the Preaching of Law for Repentance:
Clear rejection of the Substitutionary Atonement:
Clear rejection of Scripture:
Re-defining the Nature of God
Re-defining the Nature of Sin
Bondage of the Will

Works By Forde

✔️ = owned and read. When reviews are done the links will be placed in the bibliography. Theological topics are gathered in the list above.

✔️ 1969 The Law Gospel Debate

✔️ 1970 “Lex Semper Accusat?” Published in dialog 9/4 (Autumn 1970):265-274. Republished in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (33-49,)
✔️ 1972 Where God Meets Man
✔️1975 “Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ” Published in Lutheran Standard September 2, 1975: 3-5. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (98-101)
1982 Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life Published by Fortress Press, Philadelphia

✔️ 1984 “Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ” Published in Word and World 3:22-31. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (85-97)

✔️ 1984 Seventh Locus “The Work of Christ” Published in Christian Dogmatics vol 2. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson Editors, Fortress Press, Philadelphia (1-99).

✔️ 1984 Eleventh Locus “Christian Life,"  in Christian Dogmatics vol 2. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson Editors, Fortress Press, Philadelphia (391-469)

1984 "When the old gods fail : Martin Luther's critique of mysticism" in When the Old Gods Fail, Piety, Politics and Ethics, Reformation Studies in Honor of George Wolfgang Forell 

1985 Forensic Justification and Law in Lutheran Theology, Justification by Faith, Lutherans and Catholics in dialogue VII

✔️ 1987 “Radical Lutheranism: Lutheran Identity in America,” Lutheran Quarterly 1:5-18
Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (3-16)

1988 Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification, Reformed, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Contemplative, Edited by Donald L. Alexander, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois
  • “The Lutheran View” by Gerhard O. Forde (13-32)
  • “The Reformed View a Lutheran Response” (77-82)
  • “The Wesleyan View a Lutheran Response’ (119-122)
  • “The Pentecostal View a Lutheran Response” (155-157)
  • “The Contemplative View a Lutheran Response” (190-192)
✔️ 1989 “The Catholic Impasse: Reflections on Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today,” in Promoting Unity: Themes in Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today 67-77. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (189-199)

1990 Theology Is for Proclamation

✔️ 1992 “The Meaning of Satis Est” in Lutheran Forum 26:14-18 Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (159-170)

1994 "The Normative Character of Scripture for Matters of Faith and Life: Human Sexuality in Light of Romans 1:16-32*" Word & World, Volume XIV, Number 3, Summer 1994, pp. 305-314 ]

1995 "Law and Sexual Behavior" Lutheran Quarterly, Volume IX, Number 1, Spring 1995, pp. 3-22 ]
[ ]

✔️ 1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
1997 "What Finally to Do about the (Counter-) Reformation Condemnations." Lutheran Quarterly 11.1: 3-16.

1997 "The Lord's Supper as the Testament of Jesus." Word & World 17.1: 5-9.

✔️ 2003 "Lutheran Ecumenism: With Whom and How Much?" Lutheran Quarterly 17.4: 436-455.
(same title as chapter in 2004 A More Radical Gospel)

✔️ 2004 A More Radical Gospel: Essays on Eschatology, Authority, Atonement, and Ecumenism, Eerdmans; edited by Mark C. Mattes, and Steven D. Paulson.
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction by Mark C. Mattes and Steven D. Paulson
  • Eschatology: The Last Word First (Section One)
  1. Radical Lutheranism  (originally published 1987 “Radical Lutheranism: Lutheran Identity in America,” Lutheran Quarterly 1:5-18)
  2. The Apocalyptic No and the Eschatological Yes: Reflections, Suspicions, Fears, and Hopes
  3. Lex semper accusat? Nineteenth-Century Roots of Our Current Dilemma (originally published 1970 “Lex Semper Accusat,” dialog 9/4 (Autumn 1970):265-274. Notes
  • Legal and Evangelical Authority (Section Two)
  1. Authority in the Church: The Lutheran Reformation
  2. Scriptura sacra sui ipsius interpres: Reflections on the Question of Scripture and Tradition
  3. The Irrelevance of the Modern World for Luther
  • Atonement and Justification: Christ Unbound (Section Three)
  1. Caught in the Act: Reflections on the Work of Christ (originally published 1984  in Word and World 3:22-31) Note 1 Note 2 Note 3
  2. Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ (originally published 1975 in Lutheran Standard September 2, 1975: 3-5) Notes
  3. In Our Place
  4. Forensic Justification and the Christian Life: Triumph or Tragedy?
  5. Luther’s “Ethics”
  6. Unecclesiological Ecumenism (Section Four)
  7. The Meaning of Satis Est (originally published 1992   in Lutheran Forum 26:14-18)
  8. Lutheran Ecumenism: With Whom and How Much? (same title as a 2003 article  in Lutheran Quarterly 17.4: 436-455)
  9. The Catholic Impasse: Reflections on Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today (originally published 1989 in Promoting Unity: Themes in Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue Today 67-77.
  • Sermons (Section Five)
  1. God’s Rights: Matthew 20:1-16
  2. Exsurge Domine!: Psalm 74:22-23
  3. Hidden Treasure: Matthew 13:44
  4. You Have Died: Colossians 2:20-3:4
  5. The Day of the Lord: 2 Peter 3:8-14
  6. Jesus Died for You
  7. Not the Well, but the Sick: Matthew 9:10-13
2004 The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage Lutheran Quarterly Books Edited by Steven Paulson  with an introduction by James A. Nestingen. Contains four essays, a postscript, and ten sermons.

2007 The Preached God: Proclamation in Word and Sacrament Lutheran Quarterly Books

✔️ 2012 "Satis est?: What Do We Mean When Other Churches Don't Agree?" Lutheran Quarterly 26.3: 322-324.

✔️ 2011 "The Freedom to Reform." Lutheran Quarterly 25.2: 167-175.

2013 "Luther and the Jews." Lutheran Quarterly 27.2: 125-142.

2013 “Chapter 3. The One Acted Upon” in Moritz, J. M. & Nelson, D. R.(2013). Theologians in Their Own Words. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, pp. 41-52 Forde autobiography.

A note on Gerhard Forde's 1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross

1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This is a note on the content as I begin reading this work.

Forde distances his interpretation of the theology of the cross from the vicarious atonement at the beginning of this book in the  introduction “Two Stories.”
“The biblical story of the fall has tended to become a variation on the theme of the exiled soul. The unbiblical notion of a fall is already a clue to that. Adam, originally pure in soul, either by nature or by the added gift of grace was tempted by baser lusts and ‘fell,’ losing grace and drawing all his progeny with him into a ‘mass of perdition.’ Reparation must be made, grace restored, and purging carried out so that return to glory is possible. The cross, of course, can be quite neatly assimilated into the story as the reparation that makes the return possible. And there we have  a tightly woven theology of glory!” (p. 6, italics original)
It is essential to notice that Forde is equating the vicarious atonement with “a tightly woven theology of glory.” Forde plainly states that one main purpose in writing this work is explicitly to remove the vicarious atonement from the idea of the theology of the cross. In paragraph following the above quotation Forde wrote:
“This fateful amalgamation of the glory story with the cross story [his above statement about the vicarious atonement] is the hidden presupposition for the deadly combat between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Indeed, one of the difficulties in the attempt to set the theology of the cross apart from the theology of glory is that the differences between the two are often very subtle. Obviously they use much the same language in Christian theological circles. One purpose of this treatise is to attempt to make the differences clearer. … [The theology of the cross] does not ask us to probe endlessly for a meaning behind or above everything that would finally awaken, enlighten, and attract the exiled, slumbering soul.” (pp. 6-7)
Forde then quotes Luther about how we should consider that we are the ones who are torturing Christ, “for your sins have surely wrought this…” (p.8) Confessional Lutherans, along with Luther, understand that this is not only our doing, but Christ willingly giving Himself to suffer punishment on our behalf. But Forde steers clear of Luther’s language about the vicarious nature of Christ’s Cross. In this Forde is consistent with his earlier published views on the Atonement of Christ.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Gerhard Forde's 1970 article “Lex Semper Accusat?”

1970 Lex Semper Accusat?” was published in dialog 9/4 (Autumn 1970):265-274. Republished in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (33-49, quotations from this printing)

Forde’s antinomianism is clear in this social justice piece.  In the article Forde is explicitly distancing himself from Confessional Lutheranism and historic Christianity.

The title translates "Does the Law Always Accuse?"

The title comes from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 4 “Of Justification” part 38.
38] Paul says, Rom. 4:15: The Law worketh wrath. He does not say that by the Law men merit the remission of sins. For the Law always accuses and terrifies consciences. Therefore it does not justify, because conscience terrified by the Law flees from the judgment of God. Therefore they err who trust that by the Law, by their own works, they merit the remission of sins. [emphasis added] 
The phrase in the context of Ap 4.38 refers to one of the main things the law of God will always do while we live in this world as sinners. The phrase does not refer to an eternal use of God’s Law. But it does refer to the fact that God uses His Law to drive us as to repentance. Forde distances himself from the use of the Law to preach repentance. And he misrepresents how the Confessors and Reformers as if they taught God uses His Law eternally to accuse.

Forde says his article is designed to “help Christians to find their bearings in a confusing time”, (33) that he wanted to show how the development “theological understanding of law...may have the current difficulties and if so, how these might be sorted out.” (33, italics original) Forde asked “What ought the Christian attitude to law and the rule of law to be?”(34)

Here Forde lays out his concept of “The Reformation View.” He states:
 “The reformers, it should be noted, did have devices by which they sought to establish a more positive attitude to law. This came in their distinction between the uses of the law. The accusing function of law related to its theological use, i.e., its use for man’s relationship to God. Here the law always accuses. That is to say that man can never use the law to earn his way to God, to establish his own righteousness in the final judgment.” (34, italics original)
In contrast to this theological use Forde distinguishes a different use:
“The situation was quite different in relation to human society, however. Here one encounters the law in its civil use. Here the law is understood as a force, backed by the power of the state as God’s representative in civil matters to restrain evil and to preserve human society. In this it could be argued that there was at least beginnings of a more positive evaluation of the place of law. Christians must have respect for law as the means through which God intends to preserve and extend human society.” (34-35)
And at this point Forde includes a footnote:
“Some of the reformers, of course, liked to speak also of a third use of the law, the law used as a guide to conduct for the redeemed Christian. Since, however, this is a rather specialized use, pertaining to the Christian life alone and not to the attitude toward the laws of society in general, it can perhaps be left out of account here. I say perhaps because some would no doubt dispute this”(footnote 2, p. 25, italics original)
From there he directs the reader to Werner Elert’s Law and Gospel, and to Paul Althaus’ The Divine Command.

What should be apparent to Confessional Lutherans readers is that Forde is mixing the Kingdom of the Left and the Kingdom of the Right under the generic term law. He has not represented the classical Lutheran or the classical Reformed distinctions between the uses of the law.

It is this mishmash of categories and historical positions which Forde contrasts with what he labels the gospel. If the law is no longer the condemnation of sin, then the gospel can no longer good news regarding freedom from Satan, sin, and death. Forde's law and gospel find no harmony with Christ's decree:
 “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations" (Luke 24:46-47)
Forde's article has a purely social justice goal, an antinomian end.

Forde maintains that the law is not eternal:
“There is no escape from the law in this way [theology, philosophy, liberalism, or revolutionary ideas]. But there is an end to law far more real than that, the end that comes with the breaking in of the new in Christ, the end of the old Adam and the creation of the new. It is when man realizes that there is really and truly an end, a goal, a telos, that he can begin for the first time to listen to the law, to let is speak to him and hear what it has to say. When one sees the end, the goal of it all, has happened and is on its way through God’s initiative one can begin to see the law in a positive light. For then one sees that the law is not forever; it is for this age, for this world.” (48)
“If the law is eternal, if there is no distinction between this age and the next, there is no way to speak of the goodness of our actions in and for this age; everything is judged by the moral absolute.” (48)
Forde also asserted that the law is not for spiritual use, but for civil use only.
“When it [law] has an end, however, a real end, one can see its positive use. In view of the end in Christ we can see that the law is intended for this world and that a new kind of goodness is possible, a goodness in and for this world, a ‘civil righteousness.’ Faith in the end of the law establishes the law in its proper use.” (49, italics original)
“[T]he proper use of the law [is] for taking care of this world, in the name of purely natural and civil righteousness and not in the name of supernatural pretension.” (49)
Forde established his rejection of the use of the law in Christian preaching of repentance. The law is meant only for civic good. He fails to bring forward Biblical categories or Lutheran Confessional understanding.

Recent Discussions

May 5, 2015 by Scott Keith “Do You Really Think You Can Use God’s Law?” The Jagged Word a 1517 Legacy Project Blog

August 14, 2017 by Steven Hein “About Preaching Good Works” 1517 Legacy Project Blog

Jordan Cooper April 9, 2011 “Lex Semper Accusat: A Response to TurretinFan” Just and Sinner Blog 

Mark Surburg, September 4, 2017 “Mark's thoughts: About Steven Hein's "About Preaching Good Works"” Surburg’s Blog

Dr. David Scaer “Lex Semper Accusat - Really?” Symposia 2018 Concordia Lutheran Seminary-Fort Wayne, Indiana

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Gerhard Forde's 1975 “Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ”

I've been assigned a paper topic for which I need to do some extensive reading of Gerhard Forde. I'll be posting some of my thoughts on his writings every now and anon. Forde (pronounced FIR'-dee) is popular among some in what might be called Confessional Lutheran denominations. But it is hard to find a Forde advocate who is familiar with what he actually taught. And for those Confessional Lutheran advocates who may understand Forde, there is a disturbing tendency to excuse him because of his eloquence or hide what he was actually teaching.

My goal is to read through all his stuff and take notes before going deeply into the evaluations made by others.

Today we'll look at an article from 1975

“Loser Takes All: The Victory of Christ”

Published in Lutheran Standard September 2, 1975: 3-5. Reprinted in 2004 A More Radical Gospel. (98-101, quotations from this printing)

This is an article written to teach the laity. In this article Forde explicitly rejects the Scripture’s teaching on Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement. In this popular article he takes two pot-shots at this doctrine. Forde has already stated that the preaching of the Law for repentance has no part in his theology. (1970 "Lex Semper Accusat" --which I'll post notes on soon, hopefully) If the law does not condemn with respect to God, then what purpose does Christ serve?

There are several ideas about Christ which Forde deems false. But a particular focus of his ridicule is the Vicarious Atonement. He states:
“Jesus is portrayed for all the world like a pro football player emerging radiant and glistening from the shower after the big win. He can even be our substitute winner so we can relax and equate piety with sloppiness.” (p. 98)
“Or he [Jesus] is the one who somehow transacts business with God behind the scenes and pays the debt we owe (as though heaven were some big credit union in the sky!) And since we think of him in this fashion, we do not seriously entertain the thought that he could actually be a loser….So we tend to miss the real nature of the victory.”(p. 99)
But without redemption from condemnation under the Law what is meaning of the Atonement for Forde? He states:
Jesus “decides to be a human being. He sticks to it to the end. ‘He … became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). This is his victory. The resurrection alone is not simply the victory. If so, it would mean he was our type of winner after all — that he ‘snatched victory from defeat’ at the last minute like some of our championship teams in spite of playing a bad game. No, it was precisely by losing in a world of winners that victory becomes possible. For God shocks everyone by raising this loser from the dead. God vindicates his cause by making this Jesus to be Lord and Christ.” (p. 100)
And that, in this article is pretty much it. For Forde Christ did not need to die to pay for sin. According to him the Father was already forgiving. In this short article Forde claims that Christ is merely the validation of what it means to be truly human before God the Father.

I Came across an Example of a Weird Use of Forde's Article

Bob Hiller, Dec. 12, 2014 “Loser Takes All” The Jagged Word : a 1517 Legacy Project Blog

Hiller quotes the first sentence from p. 98 quoted above and some text after the second sentence. But he omits the point Forde was making with the second sentence! Hiller endorses Forde’s portrayal of Jesus as Loser, but neglects to follow through on what Forde actually means by this. Hiller goes on to affirm vicarious substitution. But Hiller did this by quoting from Forde who, with this particular example, was denying the vicarious substitution. So the question is “Why use this quotation?” 

Hiller misrepresents Forde’s intent. By eliminating Forde’s heresy in that sentence Hiller demonstrates at least that he was uncomfortable with Forde's intent or that he knew this quotation would be unacceptable to his readership if it were included. So, why endorse Forde with this particular quotation and with no explicit disclaimer about Forde’s intent with this article? Which is more charitable to assume, incompetence, negligence, or deliberate misleading? Perhaps there is an overriding social pressure for acceptance among some groups to include Forde quotations regardless of what they actually mean in context.