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500 Jahre Reformation- Luther und wie heutige Theologen das sehen (Englisch), part 3

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Law and Gospel in the Theology of John Frith
THE IMPORTANCE OF JOHN FRITH TO THE HISTORY OF THE EARLY ENGLISH Reformation in the 1520s has often been overshadowed by more high profile figures like William Tyndale, Robert Barnes, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Bilney. There is actually very little secondary scholarship on either the life or theology of Frith in comparison to Tyndale or Barnes. This is interesting to note in the light of Foxe’s own high praise of Frith in his Acts and Monuments: “there hath bene none a great tyme which seemed vnto me more greueous, then the lamentable death and cruell handlyng of Ihon Fryth, so learned and excellent a yong man: who had so profited in all kinde of learning and knowledge, that skarsly there was his equal amongest al his companions, and besides withall had suche a godlines of life ioyned with his doctrine, that it was hard to iudge in whether of them hee was more commendable, bring greatly prayse worthy in them both.” Similarly, C. S. Lewis, although describing Frith as looming “larger as a man than as an author,” stated that he was “not contemptible even in the second capacity.”3
John Frith was born at Westerham in Kent in 1503. In the most recent biography, Raynor suggests the possibility of 1506 on the basis of a comment made by John Bale that Frith (d. 1533) was “not twenty-seven years old the year he was executed.” Furthermore, Raynor observes that, if Frith was born in 1503, he would have been older than was typical for entering college. However, the evidence Raynor provides is inconclusive, and he acknowledges that the date of 1503 has been generally accepted by scholars and is based on a comment by Frith’s own parents recorded in Foxe’s Whole Works that he was martyred at the age of thirty.4
More important than the date is the location of his birth and upbringing. The consensus among scholars is that Kent was a known stronghold of Lollardy in the early sixteenth century. However, there is simply no historical evidence to link the Frith family to Lollard sympathies. It was Humanism, rather than Lollardy, which made the earliest visible intellectual impression upon the young Frith.
Early on in his childhood, the Frith family moved to Sevenoaks where his father became employed as an innkeeper. Wright suggests that Frith was first introduced to humanist educational reforms, and possibly even to the study of Greek, when he was sent to Eton College at the age of seventeen. What is doubtless, however, is that Frith encountered the new scholarship when he transferred first to Queen’s and then later King’s College, Cambridge University, where he obtained his BA in 1525.
Humanism had taken root at Cambridge by the early sixteenth century in the co-founding of St. John’s College by Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and the Bishop of Rochester and University Chancellor, John Fisher. However, the scholastic curriculum was also still in place. It was also at Cambridge that the famous humanist Erasmus taught Greek between the years 1511 and 1514 at the request of Bishop Fisher and began work on his monumentally influential Greek and revised Latin text of the New Testament (Novum Instrumentum) published in Basle in 1516. Erasmus spoke fondly of Cambridge at least as a suitable environment for his Greek scholarship.
Foxe describes Frith as being a diligent scholar of both Latin and Greek. In the Acts and Monuments of 1570, Foxe mentions this in the context of Frith’s Cambridge period, but in his edition of Whole Works it follows after his transfer to Oxford in 1525. The reason for this discrepancy is uncertain, but it seems likely that Frith would have flourished in Greek studies first at Cambridge. In any case, his scholarly aptitude was recognized by Cardinal Wolsey who chose Frith to join other junior canons of his newly established Oxford college (later Christ Church). This might suggest that Frith at this time was still an orthodox Catholic influenced by humanist sympathies, but it is possible that Frith’s more radical theological loyalties were undetected by Wolsey. Foxe mentions that the men chosen were not just from Cambridge and that the list was much longer than what he recorded. This certainly makes it possible for individuals and their deeper doctrinal convictions to sneak below Wolsey’s radar.11
Although Foxe states in his earlier Acts and Monuments (1563) that Frith met Tyndale while in attendance at Mary Hall, Oxford, he later records that it was during his years at Cambridge. Foxe also claims that it was through Tyndale that Frith “first receyued into his hart the seede of the gospell and syncere godlines.” J. F. Mozley and Marcus Loane argue that this meeting most likely took place at Cambridge in the early 1520s, although Foxe himself is not actually explicit about the precise location, and Tyndale’s presence at Cambridge at this time is not accepted by most recent scholars. Both Mozley and Loane are right to discredit the account given in Whole Works, which indicates that Frith first became acquainted with Tyndale in London after his release from imprisonment. This would mean that they met in London sometime in 1528, which is impossible since Tyndale had left for the continent four years earlier. Yet it is also doubtful that Tyndale met Frith at Cambridge in 1520–21. It is more likely that the two met sometime in 1523 or 1524 near the completion of Frith’s B.A. and before he was transferred to Oxford by Wolsey. Furthermore, Raynor only considers the possibility that Tyndale visited Frith at Cambridge, but this meeting probably took place in London where Tyndale was residing prior to his departure for the Continent in the spring of 1524. It is also in London that Tyndale first conferred with Frith about translating the Bible. Thus, Foxe’s Whole Works is probably correct in identifying London as the location of their initial acquaintance, but the chronology in Acts & Monuments is more consistent with what is known about Tyndale’s own whereabouts in the mid-1520s.
Sometime after transferring to Oxford, Frith and others were accused of “conferryng together vpon the abuses of Religion being at that time crept into the Church,” and “were therefore accused of heresie vnto the Cardinall, and cast into a prison … where their saltfishe was layde.” Foxe’s account in Whole Works more specifically identifies the suspected heresy to be sympathy with “Martyn Luthers doctrine.”16 The simple fact that Frith was imprisoned does not necessarily prove that he was beyond the bounds of mainstream orthodox Catholic theology at this time. According to Foxe, it was not until after the men were imprisoned that they were even formally examined. Neither does all criticism toward religious “abuses” indicate the necessary stamp of Luther’s influence, and it must be kept in mind that the name of Luther overshadowed nearly every heresy hunt of the 1520s.
Yet there are good reasons to believe that Frith had indeed moved well beyond a mere Erasmian critique of religious abuses after 1525. It is certainly reasonable to conclude that Frith was well acquainted with the name of Luther before he ever arrived at Oxford, and Foxe does claim that he was evangelically “converted” through acquaintance with William Tyndale before this. Wolsey certainly had good reason to be cautious of heretical activity at his newly established Oxford college. He and Bishop Tunstall’s earlier efforts to stop the trafficking of evangelical works into England proved ultimately unsuccessful and now a new wave of trouble was emerging with the publication of Tyndale’s English New Testament in 1525–26.
Foxe indicates that the investigation of Frith and his companions at Oxford included a search for prohibited “bookes” in their bedrooms. Among these “bookes” were likely the works of Luther and perhaps other continental reformers, but even more significant was Tyndale’s recently printed English New Testament of 1526, a work which Frith himself appears to have been involved with in its earliest stages in London in 1524. Although the statement made by Foxe that Tyndale “consydering in his mynde, and partely also conferring with Ioh. Frith …” chronologically follows Tyndale’s departure for Germany in the narrative, this conferral could not really have occurred at this time since Frith remained in England until 1528. Although Trueman is probably right in asserting that Frith did participate with Tyndale in the later translation of the Pentateuch and the book of Jonah in the later 1520s, the context of Foxe’s narrative is referring to the translation of the New Testament and to Tyndale’s initial flight to Germany. Furthermore, the section that follows is actually a parenthesis describing the whole development of Tyndale’s vision for the work of Bible translation, after which the story picks up again with his departure from England. Therefore, this conferral mentioned only in passing by Foxe probably refers to Frith and Tyndale’s early acquaintanceship in London in 1523 or 1524.
Tyndale’s English New Testament and other proscribed books were being sold in London and Oxford by a parish priest named Thomas Garrett, and it was knowledge of this fact that aroused suspicion and eventually brought charges against Frith and the other men who were imprisoned. Frith, therefore, was linked to an underground evangelical reform movement that was being fueled by forbidden works, including one by an English exile, imported from the Continent.
After the prisoners became infected and a few died from the stench and diet of the saltfish, Wolsey released Frith and the other survivors “vpon the condition, not to passe aboue ten myles of Oxford.” Hearing of the heresy trials of Oxford colleagues Thomas Garret and Anthony Dalaber, however, compelled Frith in 1528 to flee “across the sea” to join Tyndale in Flanders. Foxe provides no other details concerning Frith’s sojourn other than that this initial visit lasted a little more than two years. Except for a brief return to England during Lent in 1531, Frith resumed his exile on the Continent until the summer of 1532. Throughout his exile, Frith was in attendance at the colloquy of Marburg (1529), was married in Holland, and authored his first three works expressing an evangelical theology.
One of those three works that Frith composed during his exile was a translation from Latin into English of the Scotsman Patrick Hamilton’s Divers Fruitful Gatherings of Scripture and dubbed by Frith as “Patrick’s Places” (1531): “For it entreateth exactelye of certeyne comen places/ which knowne/ ye haue the pith of all divinite.” The story of Patrick Hamilton is important in itself for understanding Frith’s connection to Luther and the influence of his theology of Law and Gospel.
Hamilton (1504?–1528) was born of Scottish nobility, was made a titular abbot in 1517, and studied at the University of Paris where he received his MA in 1520. Hamilton probably learned of Luther while at Paris since his works were receiving significant attention at the Sorbonne by 1519. However, it is impossible to know precisely what impact Luther had on Hamilton at this time, and his reforming sympathies may not have extended much beyond Humanism. Hamilton moved to the University of Louvain in 1520–22, and then returned to Scotland as a new faculty member at the University of St. Andrews in 1523. His reforming criticisms, however, made him an enemy of Archbishop James Beaton, and he fled first briefly to Wittenberg and then soon after to the recently established University of Marburg in Hesse in 1527. One of Hamilton’s teachers was a former Franciscan, now Luther-sympathizer, named Francis Lambert, who had just been appointed to the faculty at Melancthon’s recommendation. While in Marburg, Hamilton composed the Fruitful Gatherings, a series of biblical theses expounding the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone under the rubric of Law and Gospel. Hamilton returned to Scotland after just six months and was tried and executed for heresy in 1528. John Knox later considered Hamilton’s martyrdom to be the starting point of the Scottish Reformation, and he published Frith’s Patrick’s Places in his History of the Reformation in Scotland (1559–71). Frith never had the opportunity to meet Hamilton, who returned to Scotland before Frith arrived on the Continent, though Loane suggests that Tyndale met him during a brief hiatus in Marburg in 1527. Yet Frith’s decision to publish Patrick’s Places shows not only his admiration for Hamilton as a reformer and martyr but also his adoption of an evangelical theology of Law and Gospel influenced by Luther.
Patrick’s Places is organized by pithy theological propositions and Scripture quotations that follow an intentional progression from Law to Gospel and from faith to hope, love, and good works. The central theme underlying the entire work is justification by faith in Christ alone apart from, but resulting in, good works. Hamilton begins the work with a discussion of the Law, which he identifies with the commandments and prohibitions of God encapsulated in the Ten Commandments and interpreted by the law of love. The Law is then characterized by Hamilton as something impossible for any natural person to do without first having faith and grace: “He that hath the fayth/ loveth god/ and he that loveth god kepeth all his commaundementes: ergo he that hath the faith kepeth all the commaundementes of god.” Thus, the Law by itself only makes a person aware of his or her weakness and guilt without providing any remedy or solution. That remedy is found in the Gospel, which Hamilton defines as the “good tydyngs” that in Christ all the requirements of the Law have been satisfied and He is “oure rightwysenes … oure satisfaccyon … oure redemptyon … oure goodnes.” Hamilton effectively establishes the dialectical relationship of Law to Gospel with an evangelical theology of justification by faith alone through a series of propositional dialogues: “The lawe sayeth/paye thy dette. The gospell sayeth Christ hath payed it … The lawe sayeth thou art a synner/ despayre and thou shalt be dammed. The gospell saieth/ thy sinnes are forgeuen the be of good comforte thou shalt be saued.”
The work then proceeds to exalt the priority of faith and all that springs from it as pleasing to God: “He that hath the faith is iust and good / and a good tre bereth good frute: ergo all that is done in fayth pleaseth god.” The work clearly upholds the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone apart from works and that “faith onlye maketh a man good and rightwise … faith onlye saueth vs.” At the same time, hope and “cherite” are inherent to justifying faith, with hope pertaining to the promises made to faith and love pertaining to the welfare of others for their own sake with no thought of reward. According to Hamilton, works possess neither the ability to condemn nor to justify. Rather, condemnation comes by unbelief, and justification comes by faith in Christ alone, although works flow naturally from a heart of true justifying faith: “A man is good ere he do good workes/ and evell ere he doo evel workes/ for the tre is good ere it bere good frute and evel ere it bere evel frute.”
This short work breathes the inspiration of Luther and the influence of his evangelical theology of Law and Gospel. It might also be argued that Hamilton’s emphasis on the preaching of the Law as the revelation of human culpability and weakness apart from grace so that faith in Christ only justifies or makes a person righteous reflects the influence of Augustine as a legacy of Humanism. However, it should not be assumed that Luther’s own way of speaking about justification was wholly dissimilar to Augustine, though with some important qualifications. Furthermore, the particular Law-Gospel organization of Hamilton’s Fruitful Gatherings, the emphasis in his understanding of the Gospel and his theology of justification on the remission of sins in the righteousness of Christ through faith alone, and his time spent in Wittenberg and Marburg all point strongly toward the influence of Luther. It is uncertain to what degree Hamilton had adopted Luther’s theology before fleeing Scotland, although this was assumed by Archbishop Beaton to be the case, but Hamilton most assuredly knew of Luther’s evangelical theology and of Tyndale’s English New Testament prior to his departure for the Continent in 1527. It may be that his time at Wittenberg and Marburg only confirmed his evangelical sympathies developed earlier between 1523 and 1527.
According to Foxe, Frith had already been converted through the influence of Tyndale, so it is questionable what amount of direct impact Hamilton’s work had upon the shaping of his evangelical theology. Nevertheless, his decision to translate it obviously shows that he valued its author and his theological message, a message that reflects the evangelical priorities Luther had outlined by 1520. Of course, as Clebsch argues, the fact that Frith translated the work does not necessarily mean he agreed with Hamilton on every particular, but this point is impossible to prove.
In 1529 Frith published a three-part work under the pseudonym of “Richarde Brightwell,” the core of which was a translation of Luther’s own antipapal exposition of the eighth chapter of Daniel (Ad librum eximii Magistri Nostri Magistri Ambrosii Catharini, defensoris Silvestri Prieratis acerrimi, responsio, 1521). In the prefatory A Pistle to the Christian reader, the influence of Luther is evident in Frith’s description of the possessive character of saving faith, that it “is not therefore sufficient to beleve that he is a sauiour and redemer,” since even the Devil and his demons have such belief, “but that he is a sauiour and redemer vnto the …” Like Luther and also Tyndale, Frith asserts in the A Pistle that repentance is necessary “in the order of thy iustification,” although this does not mean that enumerating sins itself justifies. Rather, the faith in Christ that alone justifies must by its very definition follow a humble acknowledgment of guilt and weakness before the Law of God that seeks such grace. Frith quotes directly from Augustine whose claim of helplessness before the demands of the Law had aroused the ire of Pelagius in the fourth century. The preaching of the Law does not imply that the works it commands are possible for people to accomplish on their own strength, but instead reveals the need for the help of the grace of God. The self-consciousness of moral weakness accompanied by an acknowledgment of the righteousness of the will of God in the Law is not meant to bind a sinner indefinitely to despair. The answer is in the Gospel, which is the promise that Christ has made atonement to God for sins and is “wisdome/rightewesnes/holynes/ and redemption/ fulfillinge the lawe for us.”
Trueman argues that while Frith and Tyndale are in complete agreement concerning the relationship between faith and good works, although Tyndale develops a much more explicit emphasis on this in terms of covenant conditionality, Frith has a much more objective (theocentric) view of the atonement. Guilt and propitiation are at the center of Frith’s doctrine of atonement rather than the liberation of the will as in Tyndale. Trueman is right that Tyndale does not speak explicitly or as often about the “propitiation of the wrath of God” as Frith does, but the contrast he establishes seems unwarranted and misleading. It is obvious that Tyndale assumes along with Frith that an important work of Christ on the cross was the objective removal of moral guilt. Tyndale spoke openly about being “hated of god” for the poison of sin and for the vengeance deserved for human guilt. Though he did stress the liberation of the will that results from faith in the work of Christ, he also clearly describes the blood of Christ as pardoning, atoning, and making satisfaction for sins condemned under the Law. In fact, he states openly that by His work on the cross Christ “peased the wrath of God.”36 According to Tyndale, it is the objective work of Christ that makes it even possible to speak about the subjective conversion of the sinner, and he assumed along with Luther that the bondage of the moral will to sin results precisely from the estrangement of the conscience from God and from the assurance of His absolute favor.
The A pistle to the Christen reader then proceeds by arranging Scripture quotations and paraphrases into a progressive narrative expounding the biblical themes of spiritual bondage, the Law, flesh and spirit, faith and the Gospel, the obligation of the Christian to resist the “old man of synne,” and good works as the fruits of genuine faith. With regard to his interpretation of “flesh” and “sprete,” Frith’s anthropology reflects the particular influence of Luther in that “flesh” refers to “all thinges that we do/ thinke or speake/ yee our hole body soule reason/ with the cheffe and hyghest powers of them/ yf they be not led and gowerned with the Sprete of God” and “sprete” as “every outward and inward worke that a man havinge faith and cherite (which are the frutes and gyftes of the Sprete) doth worke seakinge spirituall thinges.”
The whole arrangement of the A pistle shows the influence of Luther’s dialectic of Law and Gospel on the evangelical theology of Frith as was the case in Patrick’s Places. Most of the text is simply extracted from Scripture with little or no personal exposition added by Frith, and it serves as a backdrop for his principal point that false prophets and Antichrists are identified by the ungodly behavior and lifestyle that is out of step with their profession of faith: “And perfect fayth hath with him sure hope and cherite and of these foloweth the fulfillinge of the commaundmentes necessarylye/ Even as the light foloweth the fyre.” Frith blames the ignorance of the laity on the purposeful withholding of the truth by the leaders of the Church who oppress the people by religious fasts and penances. The persecution of those who try to give the light of truth to the people shows that those in power are indeed the offspring of Ishmael, the persecutor of Isaac and the symbol of all who oppress God’s chosen. On account of this, Frith identifies such religious oppressors as Antichrists.
Frith’s quoting from Augustine in the A pistle reflects certain methodological legacies inherited from Humanism and does show his theological agreement with the ancient bishop at least concerning the powerlessness of the Law to make sinners righteous in the sight of God. However, his use of Augustine must not be stressed too far as if to diminish the particular influence of Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel, and it must be remembered that the A pistle prefaces a translation of a work authored by Luther himself.
The Revelation of Antichrist is largely a translation of Luther’s own exposition published in 1521. The chief charge brought against the unholy rule of the pope and his successors in both treatises is the suppression of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. Through a preaching of works-righteousness (especially ceremonial and ritualistic righteousness), and under the deceptive front of power and prestige, the ecclesiastical rulers spite the truth concerning faith, “which alone doth truly iustifye and make holye.” New Testament passages, especially the epistles of Paul, are used to demonstrate that such attacks on the Gospel had been prophesied long ago by the apostles. Not only popes are arraigned, but all those who are in his service, including bishops, cardinals, and priests. Even Thomas Aquinas is referred to acrimoniously as the theologian chiefly responsible for introducing the works-righteousness of Aristotle’s ethical philosophy into the medieval university.41
The influence of Luther is apparent in objections to making Christ into a new Moses, as if Christ also compels externally without providing any spiritual assistance to accomplish good works. Instead, Christ purchased people so that He might live and reign within them and in all their works through faith. Frith largely translates Luther’s expanded discussion on the topic of the liberty of the Christian in rebuke of the papacy and the compulsory works it enforces upon people. Christ not only takes away the condemnation deserved by sin, but also the very occasion for sin prompted by the compulsion of the Law, which only arouses rebellion and forces the doing of works reluctantly without a free and willing heart. These are not good works at all but are sin. A righteous and true Christian needs no such compulsion, but does good works even as if there were no commandment. In the New Testament, Christ and the apostles are ministers of the Spirit, or Gospel, and not the letter, or Law.43 On at least one occasion in another work, Frith does explicitly use “letter” and “Spirit” to differentiate a literal (physical) from an allegorical (figurative or spiritual) interpretation of Scripture. The most notable example of this is Jesus’ command to “eat his body and drink his blood” in John 6. Frith quotes Augustine, though also in agreement with Luther, and interprets this not as a reference to the sacrament of the Eucharist but as figurative of abiding in Christ through faith. Nevertheless, the hermeneutical association of “letter” and “Spirit” with “Law” and “Gospel” is more typical of Frith’s writings. Although Augustine also spoke in this way and influenced Luther to a certain degree, Frith’s contrast of compulsory obedience under the force of the Law versus the freedom of the Christian for true obedience through justifying faith in the Revelation of Antichrist is carried directly over from Luther’s own treatise.
Although the proper ministry of Christ and the apostles was the preaching of the Gospel, Frith’s treatise also acknowledges that the gospels teach good works, but they do not do this harshly or with the same force of compulsion as under Moses. Rather, Christ and the apostles exhort gently concerning what to do and leave undone: “So he hath not delivered vs from the lawe/ but from the power and violence of the lawe/ which is the very true losinge/ gevinge all men libertye at their awne perill to do other good or evill.” True Christian freedom is not freedom from obedience to the Law, but freedom from the obedience compelled by the fear of punishment. In Christ fear is removed and replaced by the freedom of a willingness to obey. The temporal government, however, is still necessary for the compulsion of outward obedience and for the punishment of evil, but they serve those who are not yet of His kingdom, “untyll they are made spirituall/ and then frely and with a glade harte serve god.” The popes, then, corrupt the faith by creating new opportunities for sin by binding consciences to so many laws, traditions, and ceremonies, and by deceiving the people into thinking they are righteous in obeying them. In this way they have put consciences in bondage all over again after Christ came to set them free. For Luther and Frith, this is nothing less than the work of the Antichrist.
Frith appends his own brief statement encouraging the Christian reader to charity, patience, and to fighting the antichrists in the Church with good living rather than with violence. Though Wright is correct to point out that Luther’s treatise rages on to the end of the work without a similar word of explicit restraint or caution, the German reformer likewise in the 1520s argued that such corruption in the leadership is not justification for militant insurrection, even when that corruption could be interpreted with such apocalyptic invective.
Following the Revelation of Antichrist, Frith attached the Antithesis, wherin are compared to geder Christes actes and oure holye father the Popes. This is an adaptation and considerable expansion of an anonymously published tract probably belonging to Philipp Melancthon entitled Passional Christi und Antichristi (1521), which included a series of illustrative woodcuts designed by Lucas Cranach. Whereas Melancthon’s Passional contained only thirteen theses, Frith’s Antithesis expands the number to seventy-eight, and only eleven from the Passional are paralleled in the Antithesis.
The series of theses vividly contrast the humble lifestyle of Jesus and his teachings on faith and love over against the material opulence, power obsession, and legalistic tyranny of the Pope and his bishops. A few theses in particular speak more directly to the subject of Law and Gospel and the priority of faith before good works.
Frith contrasts the teaching of the “lawe” by Christ and Moses with the “Pope and his Bisshopes” and “their awne traditions.” Although Frith could differentiate between the law of Christ and the whole Law of Moses, this does not mean that Christ’s moral teachings are anything new in substance from the Law of the Decalogue. Rather, his point here is to contrast the divine origin of the Mosaic laws and the teachings of Christ with the man-made accretions of the medieval Catholic Church. Furthermore, Christ not only practiced what he preached, but He “confirmed it with his awne death.” In fact, as a later thesis testifies, Christ satisfied both the “old law and the new/ and all rightewesnes.” Another thesis states that “Christes lawe is fulfilled thorow charite.” The clergy, however, have utterly ignored “christes” law so as to erect their own to “maynten their fatte belyes.”
Frith sounds like Tyndale when stating that “Christ promisseth forgyvnes of synnes. And the kingdome of heven vnto them that repent and will amend their lyves.” As often the case with Tyndale in the 1530s, faith in Christ alone is not explicitly mentioned here in connection with the forgiveness of sins, but it is assumed by Frith as much as it was by Tyndale. The stress in this particular statement is on the concomitance of a true justifying faith in Christ with a heart of repentance.
In another thesis Frith uses the tree and fruit analogy used before by Luther and Tyndale to illustrate the priority of faith before all good works, which are the outward testimony of inward faith. Nevertheless, Frith cautions that human judgment in discerning inward justification by outward works is not infallible. Only God is able to see true faith in Christ before that faith, working through love, is demonstrated in deeds before the watching eyes of the world: “although we can not know the tre is good/ but by his frute (for we can iudge nothinge but by his outward operation) yet god seyth the quickenes in the rote/ which in the tyme that god hath apoynted him/ shall bringe forth his frute. And approveth the tre to be good/ although he seme dead vnto vs. The tre is faith which is the mother of all good workes/ which ever worketh by charite when he seyth occasyon.” Thus, Frith shares Luther’s evangelical theology that true justifying faith in Christ produces love and good deeds and that God, and only God, knows infallibly that such faith (“the tre”) is good and right for justification before any outward actions (“frute”) are observable to others.
Frith returned to England for a brief period during Lent in 1531, and this is somewhat surprising since Thomas More had succeeded Cardinal Wolsey as Chancellor to King Henry VIII. Despite the intensity of Wolsey’s campaign to suppress heresy, it is said that he “lacked the persecutor’s temperament.” It was under Thomas More, who was given license in 1528 from Bishop Tunstall to refute heretical works in the vernacular, that focus shifted with intensified urgency to the burning of heretics more than their writings.53 Thomas Bilney, who had been persuaded to abjure for his earlier offense, resumed his reforming activities and was martyred at the stake in August of 1531. Others, such as Richard Bayfield and John Lambert, experienced a similar fate. The list of prohibited books had grown considerably by 1530, and now more works were appearing by English exiles. The King had been mustering support in the latter half of the 1520s for a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and though Henry had earlier praised Tyndale’s fealty to higher authority in Obedience of A Christian Man (1528), he now had to contend with Tyndale’s objection to the divorce in his Practice of Prelates (1530). Thus, on the one hand, things had become worse, not better, for English evangelicals by 1531. On the other hand, Stephen Vaughn had been commissioned by the English court to seek out and persuade both Tyndale and Frith to return to England under royal protection, albeit unsuccessfully. Indeed, the situation for protagonists of evangelical reform would shift in their favor by the mid-1530s, beginning with More’s resignation as Chancellor in 1532, the appointment of Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532, the crowning of Anne as Queen in 1533, the elevation of Thomas Cromwell to the role of Vicegerent of Spirituals in 1535, and parliamentary negotiations with German Protestants that peaked between the years 1536 and 1538.
Foxe narrates the arrest of Frith at Reading, and this most likely took place during his brief return to England in 1531, though some scholars have dated it to his final return to England in July of 1532 (Daniell’s article in the ODNB incorrectly identifies 1531 as the year of his final return). Raynor at least leaves open the possibility that the arrest took place in 1532.
Foxe records that Frith “came over for exhibition of the Prior of Readying (as is thought) and had the Prior ouer with hym.” In Foxe’s Whole Works, the Prior of Reading Abbey is described among Frith’s “frendes,” and scholars have indeed identified this Prior as one who had for some time been actively involved in the underground evangelical reform movement. Reading was a monastery known early on as a receptacle of Luther’s works.63 While at Reading, Frith was arrested as a “vacabound” and “set in the stockes.” He was eventually released due to the intervention of the local schoolmaster, Leonard Cox, a very learned man who developed a scholarly admiration for Frith. Again, Foxe leaves out the details but seems to imply that Frith then fled persecution and returned to the Continent before his final return to England and arrest in London in 1532. Many scholars have overlooked Foxe’s claim that after Frith was released from the stocks, Thomas More, identified as still “Chancellour of England” (until May 1532) “persecuted hym both by lande and sea” (my italics).
After this first brief return to England, Frith reappeared in Antwerp and published his A disputacio[n] of purgatorye. He was also probably involved in seeing Tyndale’s Answer to More (1531) through the press. As Wright suggests, the Disputation of Purgatory moves Frith more into “the realm of original theological writing.” It demonstrates his abilities as a skilled theologian as well as his confidence as a polemicist. It certainly is the first ever extensive biblical and theological argument against the doctrine of purgatory published by an English evangelical. However, the assertion that this work reflects originality can be potentially misleading. While it must be acknowledged that, unlike his earlier works, the Disputation of Purgatory is neither a translation nor direct adaptation of any single writing belonging to another reformer, its evangelical theology reflects the influence of Luther.
As far as his rejection of the doctrine of purgatory itself is concerned, the influence of Luther cannot be dismissed, although Zwingli also objected to the existence of purgatory in the 67 Articles (1523). In the Ninety-Five Theses (1517) the existence of purgatory was simply assumed by Luther despite the abuses surrounding the sale of indulgences. Even by 1521, Luther still retained a personal belief in it though admitting he was unable to prove it by Scripture or reason. For this cause, he left the matter open to individual conscience. However, by this time Luther was also arguing that certain passages of Scripture had been incorrectly interpreted as referring to purgatory when they actually spoke about the suffering of the saints on earth. He also objected to grounding belief in purgatory on a statement about praying for the dead in the intertestamental apocryphal book 1 Maccabees, the canonicity of which he rejected. Although Trueman pushes Luther’s objection to the doctrine of purgatory all the way back to 1530, by 1522 and thereafter, Luther, still of the opinion that purgatory is not an article of faith provable by Scripture, had now come to openly deny that it was even a particular place. Instead, he stressed the taste of hell that the just experience in this life as the true purgatory and suggested that all souls after death, with few exceptions, lie in a bodiless sleep until the final resurrection and Day of Judgment. Frith echoes both Luther and Tyndale in expressing some agnosticism concerning the experience of dead saints on the basis of the silence of Scripture, and he simply affirms as they did that justified souls are “resting in peace” in God’s keeping and will be reunited with their resurrected bodies in full glory at the Last Judgment.71
Frith’s own objections to the existence of purgatory on the basis of the lack of exegetical support reflects the influence of Luther, but even more significant to his case is the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, which Frith concludes does away with any need for purgatory. Luther’s own increasing objections to the existence of purgatory in the early 1520s seem to be made more on the grounds of its lacking exegetical support in Scripture rather than by emphasizing the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, although he later recounts how the preaching of the Gospel naturally swept away belief in purgatory and all the ritual piety associated with it. Whether or not Frith’s application of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone in objection to the existence of purgatory was itself influenced by Luther, his understanding of justification and his evangelical theology of Law and Gospel is very much the legacy of the German reformer.
The Disputation on Purgatory is split up into three books, each dealing with a different Catholic opponent and his unique contribution to defending the doctrine of purgatory. The first book is a response to the printer and brother-in-law of Thomas More, John Rastell, and his use of natural reason in A New Book of Purgatory (1530). The second book is predominantly a response to the exegetical arguments of Thomas More in The Supplication of Souls (1529). Rastell and More’s own treatises were both inspired by recent objections to purgatory made by Simon Fish in his The Supplication of Beggars (1528). Fish is mentioned by name in Frith’s prologue. His attack on the doctrine of purgatory, however, was not so much on theological or exegetical grounds but on the basis that the doctrine of purgatory is a front for the greed of the ecclesiastical magisterium: “that the pope were a mercilesse tyraunte whych (as he sayeth humsilfe) maye delyuer them from thence and wyll not excepte he haue monye.” The criticisms Fish made against the claims of papal power over souls in purgatory are reminiscent of Luther in his Ninety-Five Theses, wherein Luther acknowledges the justifiable complaints of the laity regarding the selling of indulgences. Frith’s third book critiques the patristic resourcement and biblical exegesis of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, in his Assertionis Lutheranae Confutationem (1523). Fisher had denounced Luther in two public sermons preached at St. Paul’s in London (1521 and 1526), and his Confutatio was written in refutation of Luther’s Assertio Omnium Articulorum (1520), a work of self-defense against the papal bull Exurge Domine. In the case of both Rastell and Fisher, Frith argues somewhat on their terms but makes his ultimate and definitive appeal to the authority of Scripture: “Suffer therfore all thinges, whatsoeuer they be/ to be tryed and examined by the Scripture.”75
Rastell’s book is a dialogue between a Muslim Turk named Gingemin and a Christian named Comingo, the former proving to the latter by the use of natural reason the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the doctrine of purgatory. Frith does not even deal with the first two doctrines and encapsulates his objection to the third by arguing that “it is hoellye iniuryous vnto the bloude of Chryst and the destruccyon of all chrysten fayth” to believe in purgatory. The only “purgatoryes” necessary are, first, the cleansing of the heart through faith in Christ who made full atonement for sin and appeased the wrath of the Father: “This faith purefyth the harte and geueth us a will and gladdnes to do what so euer oure most mercifull father commaundeth us.” The second is the experience of adversity and tribulation. This is necessary even for the elect because of the weakness in “oure membres,” “that we can not eschewe sinne as oure harte wolde and as oure will desyreth,” and so “that we maye remembre his lawe and mortefye the olde Adam and fleshlye lust which els wolde waxe so rebellious that it wolde subdue vs/ raigne in vs and holde vs thraulde under sinne.” These purgatories will cease to be necessary after death, “when deeth hath subdued oure coruptible bodye/ and oure flesh committed to rest in the erth …”77 Even though Christians are still sinners in the imperfection of their faith and love, and though the rebelliousness of the flesh wages war against the obedience of the Spirit, yet they are fully righteous in Christ and His atonement so that sin is neither “imputed nor rekened” to them. The idea that Christians have the beginnings of the Spirit and love while their remaining sins and imperfections are not imputed to them is certainly Augustinian in form but is not so unlike Luther’s own doctrine of “simul justus et peccator” and the proleptic element in his theology of justification. The particular influence of Luther’s evangelical theology is found in Frith’s emphasis on Christ and His atonement as the extrinsic righteousness that justifies the sinner in acceptance before God. Frith’s stress on suffering and affliction as a necessary “medicyne” for aiding the Christian in the mortification of the sinful flesh until the redemption of the body also echoes statements made by Luther.
Frith objects to the idea that a loss of the fear of purgatory would encourage people to sin, when in fact to abstain only because of fear is itself already sin and is to live under the Law: “For we ought not to abstayne from euel because of the punishment that foloweth the cryme but onlye for the loue that we have vnto god with out any respect either of saluacyon or of damnacyon.” Whereas human laws are satisfied by outward observance, God “requireth a thinge to be done with a wel willinge harte/ and euen for pure loue.” A heart that obeys begrudgingly resists both the Law and the God who made it. This reflects the influence of Luther’s own thoughts on the power of the Law, Christian liberty, and the nature of truly good works.
Frith describes God dealing with Christians on the basis that He “clothe[s] vs with a nother mannes iustice [that is Christes].” Christ’s obedience even unto death belongs to the sinner through faith and is counted as if it were his or her own obedience and death. Scholars have argued that Frith never expresses an understanding of justification as imputed righteousness in Christ. McGrath argues that Frith stresses the non-imputation of sin within an entirely sanative, proleptic, and Augustinian theology of justification. This claim, however, rests largely on the consideration of only one single statement, wherein Frith in a series of antitheses contrasts the inheritance of original sin with the gift of the righteousness of Christ: “Thorow Adam/Adams sinne was counted oure awne. Thorow Christ/ Christes rightwysness is reputed unto us for oure awne.” McGrath argues that this contrast utilizes “Augustinian presuppositions.” To be sure, the Adam-sin/Christ-righteousness dialectic of Romans 5:12–21 was a favorite of Augustine with regard to his doctrine of original sin contrasted with divine grace, but Frith’s particular use of “reputed unto us for oure awne” is significant when interpreted in the light of other similar statements. Trueman agrees that nowhere does Frith speak explicitly of the “great exchange” occurring between the sinner and Christ in justification, but nevertheless observes that the concept of union with Christ was an intricate part of his understanding of justification: “Christ deals with God on man’s behalf, and man is thus saved by virtue of this union.”84 Trueman is right to highlight the importance of union with Christ in Frith’s doctrine of justification by faith, but he gives no explicit consideration to the likelihood that this was borrowed from Luther. It was the legacy of Melancthon upon later Lutheranism that more strictly described the imputation of the righteousness of Christ in justification using legal and forensic terminology whereas Luther often used the language of personal union. On the basis of other statements made by Frith indicating that Christ’s righteousness “clothe[s]” the Christian and that His righteous obedience unto death belongs to the sinner as if it were his or her very own, it seems just as accurate, if not more, to paraphrase Frith as saying that “God deals with man on Christ’s behalf.” Though perhaps not using the precise terminology of “imputed righteousness,” which only becomes most prevalent in Luther in the 1530s, Frith does clearly indicate that the atoning righteousness of Christ that satisfied the wrath of God belongs completely to the Christian through faith alone as if it were his or her very own. At the same time, the particular stress Luther himself placed on the reckoning of the alien righteousness of Christ in justification did not prevent him from speaking of justification using proleptic and sanative language and of the non-imputation of sin in the life of the Christian led by the Spirit.
According to Frith, apart from the work of Christ, “al the repentaunce in the worlde coulde not satisfye for one synne.” This does not mean that Frith considered repentance unnecessary. Luther and Tyndale were both adamant that justifying faith in Christ cannot exist without following the humility of repentance under the Law, but that there is also a repentance and contrition that, without faith and hope in the Gospel, actually keeps one in bondage to sin.88 In the context of Frith’s statement, his intention is to refute the reasoning of Rastell that he perceives logically excludes the need for the work of Christ by giving repentance itself justifying power. Frith had already rejected this idea in his A pistle to the Christen reader in 1529. Frith describes a “repentance without fayth and is such a repentance as Judas and Rastels christen men which continue styll in synne/ haue at the later ende whych doth rather purchace them an halter then the remission of synnes.” Although the only other repentance Frith identifies explicitly in this context is that which follows after justification, this is not to say that Frith ever denied the role of repentance or contrition as a necessary antecedent to justifying faith in the Gospel. In 1533, Frith received a letter from Tyndale encouraging him to avoid disputation on more complex matters involving the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and instead to “expounde the law truly, and open the vayle of Moses to condemne all flesh, and proue all men sinners, and all deedes vnder the law, before mercy haue taken away the condemnation therof, to be sinne and damnable.” The point Frith is making in his dispute with Rastell is that repentance in itself cannot satisfy the Law of God and remove the guilt of sin. Frith is also clear that the life of repentance that follows after faith in the Christian life cannot satisfy or remit the guilt of past sins but is only concerned with chastening the flesh out of love for God.
Although Frith denies that any person can make satisfaction to God, he does believe that there is such a thing as making satisfaction to another person against whom an offense has been made. In fact, God will not forgive the offense of the guilty party “unlesse” he or she is willing to set things right. On the other hand, neither will God forgive the sins committed by the one offended unless he or she is willing to receive his or her repentant neighbor with forgiveness. Frith’s comments appear to make God’s forgiveness conditional upon the work of human reconciliation and forgiveness. Though Frith does not explicitly elaborate the point, his theological assumptions were the same as that of Luther and Tyndale in that working toward reconciliation and peace and having a willingness to forgive others is a sign of the indwelling Spirit and of justifying favor with God through a repenting faith in Christ.92
Frith’s response to the common objection that the evangelical gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone renders good works irrelevant is reminiscent of earlier comments made by Tyndale, and before him Luther. Although good works do not justify because Christ alone is “thy wisdome/rightwysnes/halowinge and redempcyon,” they should be done for the simple fact that God has commanded them, for the good and welfare of others, drawing them to God by the means of charity, as well as for the taming of the flesh. According to Frith, good works are also a “testymonie” of belonging to God. Trueman argues that Frith is similar to Tyndale in allowing works to have a “secondary role” in assurance, but that he does not develop this as profoundly as does Tyndale in his theology of covenant conditionality. Luther also believed that works reassure Christians of the authenticity of their faith, but not just any works. Like Luther and Tyndale, Frith defines truly good works as characterized by selfless motivation: “Therfore must thou do thy workes with a single yie/ hauinge neither respecte vnto the ioyes of heauen/ neither yet to the paynes of hell/ but onlye do them for the profyte of thy neyghboure as god commaundeth thee/ and let hym alone wyth the resydue.” Frith recognizes that the intent of the Christian to do good works and to refrain from sin is always obstructed and opposed by the desires of the flesh. His description of the Christian struggle with sin is a close paraphrase of Romans 7 and hearkens back to the earlier prologues to Romans written by Luther and Tyndale. Frith asserts that God is “pacefyed” by the will and conscience that delights in and consents to His Law, hates sin, and desires to do what is right even though the old nature continues to desire the exact opposite. This does not mean, however, that love toward the Law is what justifies the sinner in the sight of God. Frith has already stated that Christ atoned the wrath of God and that the sinner is justified in Him through faith alone, but, as Luther and Tyndale both argued, God also promises that He does not impute sins to those who earnestly desire to do what is right, not giving consent in the conscience to sin despite the sinful impulses of the flesh: “pardone us oure trespaces/ and accepte oure good will for the full dede.” Such a person who has these qualities is indeed already justified in the sight of God and has the Spirit of God through genuine repentance and faith in Christ. For Frith, this fact removes any need for a post-mortem satisfaction of sins in purgatory. Frith also uses phrases like “consenteth to the law of god,” “begynneth to loue the lawe,” and “desyre to fulfylle the law of God,”95 which are characteristic of both Tyndale and Luther.
In his second book, after pointing out Augustine’s own ambivalence toward the doctrine of purgatory nearly 400 years after the time of Christ, Frith then predominantly challenges More’s exegesis of Scripture. Many of the passages he discusses are those already treated by Luther earlier in 1521, which actually speak of the hellish experience of the saints living on earth, including Hezekiah, David, and the saints passing through the fires of persecution in 1 Corinthians 3. Frith also follows Luther in rejecting the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees as a valid authority on which to establish the doctrine of purgatory as an article of faith.
Although exegetical arguments resurface in the third book, Frith’s unique contention with Fisher in the last part of the Disputation of Purgatory is his use of the opinions of the Church Fathers. Frith’s attack against Fisher is itself written in response to Fisher’s own blast against Luther’s theology. Rex argues that Fisher was the first Catholic polemicist to target the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone as central to Luther’s thought and, thus, to identify it as his principal error. Fisher also attacked Luther’s objections to making purgatory a necessary article of faith. Therefore, it can reasonably be said that Frith’s reply is, at least in part, written in defense of Luther and his theology of justification.
Frith’s argument with Fisher on the basis of biblical exegesis and patristic testimony shows influences of his background in Humanism but it also demonstrates that two scholars could equally appropriate its methodology with different theological presuppositions and conclusions. With regard to Fisher, this was to uphold Catholic orthodoxy on the doctrine of justification and purgatory. Frith quotes from Fisher who openly acknowledged that the Fathers seldom discuss purgatory, but goes beyond him in actually using the words of Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome on the afterlife to support his argument for its complete non-existence. Yet, this does not mean that Frith was looking to the Church Fathers as the final authority in doctrinal matters. Regardless of patristic opinion on purgatory, Frith argues that the authority of the Fathers is secondary and only derivative of the supreme authority of Scripture. Although even Fisher recognized the possibility of error in the Fathers, Frith parts with Fisher in denying that the Pope acts as the rightful arbiter of truth and error in such disputed matters. Frith’s response echoes Luther’s own position in debate with John Eck of Ingolstadt at Leipzig in 1519. Although Frith references the words of Augustine in support of the Word of God in Scripture as alone trustworthy, Frith is undoubtedly influenced by the evangelical theology of Luther and Tyndale.
Other themes in the Disputation on Purgatory that show the influence of Luther’s evangelical theology are found in Frith’s objection to the use of outward coercion in matters of the conscience where faith, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God alone should rule, as well as his identification of the “keys” in Matthew 16 as the preaching of repentance and faith, or Law and Gospel, rather than the sacerdotal imposition of penances and the exercise of power over purgatory. Many of these ideas certainly might have come by Luther to Frith through the influence of Tyndale, and Frith does explicitly refer his readers to the description of “what the church of Christ is” in Tyndale’s Answer to More (1531).
In July of 1532, Frith made his second and last return to England. Why he did so continues to puzzle scholars, but some have suggested that the resignation of Thomas More as Lord Chancellor in May might have encouraged Frith to return to England to help shepherd the evangelical reform movement. Whatever the reason for his return, Frith found himself a target of the policies of More still in activation under Bishop Stokesley of London, and he had to constantly elude capture. He was eventually arrested in October on Milton Shore in Essex, apparently in the middle of preparing to leave for the Continent with the Prior of Reading and to be reunited with his wife and children. Instead, Frith was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he would compose most of his last writings and live out the greater length of his final months before being transferred to Newgate prison and executed at Smithfield on July 4, 1533.
It must have been in the tower that Frith composed the prefatory letter to his commentary on the last will and testament of William Tracy. Though there has been some confusion concerning where and when the writing of the commentary actually occurred, John Day has recently provided strong evidence suggesting that it was written between March and October of 1531 during or shortly after Frith’s first return to England. In the commentary itself, Frith makes no mention of Tracy’s body being exhumed (October 1532), so it is likely that the commentary was written prior to this event. On the other hand, Frith does appear to refer implicitly to the sentence that was passed by Convocation against Tracy’s will, which means that the commentary cannot be dated any earlier than March of 1531. Since Tyndale does refer twice to the posthumous burning of Tracy’s body in his own commentary, Day concludes that Frith must have written his commentary first. However, Frith does make mention of the exhuming in the brief prefatory letter to his commentary, which Day dates separately to the time of his imprisonment in 1532. It is difficult to ascertain how Frith’s commentary and prefatory letter found their way from London to Antwerp where they were later discovered in 1535 bound together with Tyndale’s commentary in Frith’s handwriting. Day admits that this does amount to a “strange preprinting history for Frith’s contribution.”
Frith’s commentary is so distinct in form and so much longer than Tyndale’s that no direct literary relationship can be established. Nevertheless, Tyndale and Frith both equally praise Tracy for his denial of purgatory on the basis of his faith in the sufficiency of Christ alone for his salvation. Frith attacks with biting sarcasm the canonists’ greedy desire for Tracy’s wealth, as well as the empty threats of purgatory they ironically nullify by their sale of half-penny pardons. Yet the faith praised by Frith is not a “dead historical faith which the devils have and tremble,” but only that faith that is “formed with hope and charity” or “that worketh by cherite.” The latter phrase is biblical and comes from Galatians 5:6 and it was used frequently by Augustine and other medieval theologians to stress that faith alone unaccompanied by love is not sufficient to justify, or make righteous, for acceptance with God. Frith, however, means to emphasize that acceptance with God established in justification through faith in Christ alone by its very nature results in love and not, as in Fisher’s concept of “fides caritate formata,” that love exercised in good works completes or perfects faith for justification and acceptance with God. Frith speaks of justifying faith as being the “root of the tree, and the quickening power out of which all good fruits spring.” Works are vain if done without faith and they merit nothing before God. The goodness of the heart resulting from justifying faith comes before all good works, like the health of a tree before the quality of its fruit. God, the “iuste iudge,” justifies the heart “inwardely,” “gyuinge sentence accordinge to faith,” which is the root from which spring love and all good works. Only God can see and judge whether inward faith is truly justifying, whereas people can only judge outwardly, though fallibly, on the basis of the fruits of faith in good works, “which iustifye us before men.”
Clebsch wrongly interprets Frith as saying that the inability to make an infallible judgment about the justification of another person on the basis of works precludes ever speaking of works as the outward testimony of inward faith and justification. On this basis, Clebsch argues that Frith rejects the concept of “double justification” and is actually much closer to Luther on the centrality of faith than either Tyndale or Barnes. Trueman also points out Clebsch’s error, although he goes on to criticize his misleading reference to the concept of “double justification,” which in its formal sense developed in the context of Protestant-Catholic dialogues in the 1540s and in the proceedings of the Council of Trent. Many scholars, however, see Frith as actually in implicit agreement with a Reformed understanding of “double justification,” which supposedly owes more to the influence of Martin Bucer than to Martin Luther. In the theology of Bucer, double justification refers to the distinction between the “iustificatio impii” and the “iustificatio pii,” the former referring to the gratuitous imputation of righteousness by faith alone and the latter the consequent good works and moral transformation of the Christian that testifies outwardly to faith. Although Bucer contributed to the Protestant-Catholic dialogues on justification at Regensburg in 1541, McGrath distinguishes his position from the concept of “double justification” in the most proper sense of the term, or the combined merit of imputed righteousness in Christ with the inherent righteousness of infused grace as double grounds for justification, which he argues was discussed during the proceedings of the Council of Trent.
Frith, of course, never uses the phrase “double justification” nor does he ever, like Bucer, explicitly distinguish a “justification of the wicked” from a “justification of the righteous.” There is no evidence of any direct influence of Bucer on his theology. The tree and fruit analogy used by Frith to explain the relationship of faith to good works was a favorite of Luther. Luther could also use “justified” in more than one sense and believed that justifying faith by its very nature produces love and good works through the presence of Christ and the power of the Spirit in that faith. In fact, Luther specified in his own writings that God justifies sinners with the proleptic view of making them new creatures, perfected only in the future resurrection, and that only the ones who struggle against sin while trusting in Christ for righteousness can rightly be said to be justified and under His grace. Furthermore, Luther openly spoke of love and good works not only as self-evidences of justifying faith, even to the point of strengthening faith, but also as outward testimonies to others of justification before God.111 Nevertheless, both Frith and Luther understood that outward works are not an infallible reflection of the inward condition of the heart. On the one hand, only God sees the faith working through love that makes a deed truly good and, on the other, God knows whom He has justified through faith before they ever have the opportunity to put that faith to good work.
To be sure, Frith shows his admiration for the theology of Augustine by citing him throughout the commentary, and perhaps this is because he shared Tyndale’s opinion that Tracy was the greatest scholar of Augustine in all of England. Thus, Frith defends Tracy and the theological convictions for which he died using the writings of Augustine who was generally respected by his Catholic opponents as among the greatest of the Fathers of the ancient Church. Yet Frith’s use and interpretation of Augustine does not negate the particular influence of Luther that overshadows the whole development of his evangelical theology of Law and Gospel and his understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone.
While in prison in 1532–33, Frith authored a number of new works. A mirroure to know thyselfe was written to a friend instructing him to show by his deeds a humble gratitude to God for the mercy in all His gifts. As Trueman argues, the idea of knowing oneself in relation to God is probably borrowed from Augustine and it was also used by both Zwingli and Calvin. Among the gifts listed by Frith is faith itself, which he states will be taken away by God if not exercised continually in responsible action, mortification of sin, and the doing of good works: “Let us therfore with feare and tremblynge seke our helth and make stable oure vocation and eleccion/ mortifying oure membres and man of synne/ by exercisinge oureselues in Christes preceptes/ that we maye be the children of oure father that in heuen and felow heyers with oure sauioure …” The loss of faith seems to imply the possibility of the loss of the forgiveness of sins, since it is only “wher fayth is present” that “no synne can be imputed,” yet Frith’s doctrine of predestination also indicates that the elect known only to God have been given the gift of a persevering faith and are not of those who fall away beyond the reach of repentance. Elsewhere, in another treatise, Frith speaks of the “pure congregacion” predestined by God that can never ultimately perish in unbelief.115 Frith also reiterates his understanding of absolute human depravity (“the unstablenes of my flesh being prone to all synne/ and rebellyous to ryghtwesnes, and that there dwelleth no goodnes in me”), justification by faith in Christ alone (“neyther of the worckes going before nor of the workes commyng after/but only of the fre fauoure of God”), and the obligation of the Christian to love his or her neighbor in fulfillment of the Law (“And the lawe of God and nature byndeth me therto/which chargeth me to loue my neyghboure as myselfe”). Although many of these themes also echo the sentiments of Augustine, they must be viewed in the light of the whole development of Frith’s theology, which reflects the particular influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel and the righteousness of justification reckoned in Christ through faith alone.
That Frith was no mere admirer of Augustine is greatly illumined by his treatise on baptism, A myrroure or lokynge glasse wherin you may beholde the sacramente of baptisme described (1533). Frith emphasizes the spiritual meaning reflected in the sacrament of baptism over against a perceived stress in the Catholic Church on the mere performance of the external rite in mediating actual grace. He also defends his interpretation of the significance of the rite of infant baptism against both Catholic and Anabaptist extremes. Nowhere does Frith quote Augustine in this entire treatise. In fact, his argument is more focused on biblical exegesis here than anywhere else. His objections to the idea that unbaptized infants are condemned, his emphasis on the communal participation of baptism, and his understanding that the performance of the rite itself does not communicate grace but rather symbolically reflects the receiving of grace, could be argued as showing the influence of Zwingli. Indeed, Frith’s arguments for infant baptism follow closely the traditional line of argument articulated by Zwingli. According to Frith, although baptism much like Old Testament circumcision signifies belonging to God and His people, it does not “testyfy” conclusively to others that one is of the invisible congregation known only to God by election: “but euerye man may know his owne thorowe his fayth and wil that he hath to fulfil the law of god.” Even so, baptism should not be withheld from anyone who professes to believe. Neither should it be withheld from infants any more than Hebrew children were restricted from circumcision. This is on account of the fact that the promises of God are offered inclusively to the children of the congregation, Christ Himself welcomed children, and such children should be treated as among the elect when there is no reason yet to suggest otherwise.
Yet Luther’s theology, such as expressed in his A Treatise on the Holy Sacrament of Baptism (1519), could certainly be another influence behind Frith’s understanding that the spiritual meaning reflected in baptism applies to the daily mortification of sin in the life of the Christian. Furthermore, Frith’s opinion that the liturgical symbols surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist are theoretically indifferent to the Christian faith, so long as this is properly taught and absorbed by the congregation, is more compatible with Luther and Wittenberg than with Zwingli and Zurich. Also, the liberality with which Frith characterizes the observing of the Sabbath hearkens back to Luther’s own position.
Frith’s treatise on baptism, then, demonstrates an important point that he was never fully “Augustinian” anymore than he was fully “Lutheran,” but it does show a certain selectivity of the theological influences he chose to follow on various doctrinal themes. Frith was obviously influenced by and used a variety of sources on different theological subjects so long as they appeared to him to make the best sense of Scripture.
This is also apparent in Frith’s treatment of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, written in reply to Thomas More in 1533. It was the first of its kind written by an English evangelical in thorough objection to the doctrines of transubstantiation and the Real Presence. It shows Frith to be more in line with the “spiritual feeding by faith” interpretations of the Lollards, Zwingli, Tyndale, and Oecolampadius. Wright points out the affinities of this treatise with Lollard beliefs as recounted in Wycliffe’s Wicket (1546), but he argues that the single most influential theologian on the formulation of Frith’s Eucharistic theology was the Basel reformer and patristic scholar Johann Oecolampadius (1482–1531). Augustine appears again as the most numerously cited Father throughout the treatise and is used liberally by Frith as the chief ancient authority to support his own theological interpretation of the sacrament. For example, in objection to transubstantiation, Frith quotes Augustine’s interpretation of Jesus’ words about “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood” in John 6 as referring to the life of faith and not to the Lord’s Supper. This interpretation, however, was also shared by Luther.
With regard to Frith’s use of Augustine in general, it must be remembered that Augustine was one of the most respected saints of the ancient Church. Thus, it would make more obvious sense for Frith to quote from Augustine so profusely than to reference the name of Luther, Zwingli, or Oecolampadius in argument with his Catholic opponents. Indeed, other than his early translations of Hamilton and Luther, Augustine is the only theologian that Frith borrows from so explicitly in his more original writings. His use of Augustine and the Fathers in general probably points back to his background in Humanism, although not all trained in Humanism made such frequent and explicit use of the Fathers. Tyndale is a case in point. Furthermore, not all humanists showed favoritism towards the theology of Augustine. Erasmus is a case in point. Frith’s use of Augustine in his writings was obviously to reinforce his interpretation of Scripture. Nevertheless, Frith was also willing to differ openly with Augustine and other Church Fathers when they could not be squared at all with his interpretation of Scripture, and it was noted that nowhere in his treatise on the sacrament of baptism does Frith ever refer to the name or writings of Augustine. Therefore, Frith made liberal use of Augustine only when he agreed with him or, some might argue, when he could interpret Augustine in a way that agreed with his own theology. It cannot be simply assumed that Frith’s interpretation and use of Augustine was equivalent to the actual theology of Augustine, which was obviously used on both sides of the argument. Frith was influenced by Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel in the 1520s and it was through the presuppositions he inherited from Luther that he later interpreted and used Augustine.
With regard to his theology of Law and Gospel and the related themes of spiritual bondage, repentance under the Law, faith in Christ alone for justification, and the love and good works that flow from justifying faith in the life of the Christian who nevertheless remains a sinner, these all show the influence of Luther. Although elements within Frith’s theology of justification and the Christian life also reflect his use of Augustine, including the contrast between powerlessness before the Law through spiritual bondage to sin and the love, righteousness, and good works that flow from justifying faith, as well the proleptic non-imputation of sin in the life of the justified, these must be interpreted in the light of other statements that clearly speak of the justifying righteousness of Christ that atoned the wrath of God and that “clothe[s]” the Christian as his or her very own in union with Christ through faith alone. It was Frith’s exposure to the theology of Luther, even though this may have been significantly mediated through his acquaintanceship with Tyndale, that brought about his evangelical conversion in 1524–1525. In his own words, Frith had this to say about the legacy of Luther: “I do nether affyrme nor denye any thing because Luther so sayeth: but because the Scrypture of God doth so conclude and determe. I take not Luther for soche an auctour that I thynke he can not erre/ but I thynke verely that he both may erre and dothe erre in certayne poyntes all though not in suche as concerne saluacyon and dampnacyon, for in these (blessed be God) all thes whom ye [Thomas More] call heretykys [Wycliffe, Tyndale, Oecolampadius, Zwingli] do agre ryght well” (my italics). Notwithstanding the possibility that Frith was simply unaware of subtler differences between him and Luther concerning the doctrine of salvation, as well as between Luther and the other reformers mentioned, his explicit and conscious endorsement of Luther’s theology on this central matter in the early 1530s is a significant point that cannot be overlooked.
In Frith’s own words, it was not on account of his denial of transubstantiation that he was eventually sentenced to death in 1533, which is quite ironic in that this happened under the archbishopric of Thomas Cranmer who later espoused Frith’s view, but for his conviction that tolerance should be shown to a variety of opinions so long as idolatrous reverence to the sacrament was discouraged. Even if it could be proven by Scripture and the Fathers, and Frith argues that it cannot, transubstantiation should not be constituted an article of faith compulsory for all Christians to believe on pain of persecution. It seems that Frith followed Tyndale’s advice in treading softly with regard to the sacrament.123
Despite the sympathies of Thomas Cromwell, the hard-line conservative opposition of his former Cambridge tutor, Bishop Gardiner of Winchester, eventually won the day. Frith was removed from the Tower of London to Newgate Prison in Croydon and was tried before Bishop Stokesley on account of refusal to submit to the Church’s teachings on purgatory and the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Frith was burned at the stake at Smithfield on July 4, 1533.


Law and Gospel in the Theology of Dr. Robert Barnes
THE LIFE AND THEOLOGY OF ROBERT BARNES HAS RECEIVED SIGNIFICANTLY more scholarly attention than that of John Frith, and this is probably due to his prominent role at the White Horse Inn meetings of the early 1520s and the strategic part he played in Anglo-Lutheran diplomacy efforts in the 1530s. In comparison to Frith, however, Barnes left behind fewer theological writings. What he did leave behind, however, was a summary of his theological insights on a variety of matters that show not only his erudition as a scholar but a mind that was deeply influenced by the theology of Luther. Rupp argues that Barnes was the most thorough-going Lutheran of any of the English evangelical reformers. More recently, Trueman describes Barnes as “the most significant Lutheran theologian of the English Reformation” and agrees, despite some finer qualifications, that Barnes is generally closer to Luther than either Tyndale or Frith.
Robert Barnes was born near Lynn in Norfolk around the year 1495. John Bale, one of Barnes’ later Cambridge peers, records that he entered the university order of the Augustinian friars in his youth. Earlier accounts date this to 1511–1512, but, on the basis of Barnes’ own testimony that he was a resident of Cambridge for twenty years, J.P. Lusardi recently suggests that he entered the Order in 1505.
After more than a decade at Cambridge, Barnes developed a scholarly reputation, and he was transferred to the University of Louvain from 1517 to 1521. It is generally assumed that Barnes went on to receive his Doctor of Divinity at Louvain and then later at Cambridge by incorporation in 1523. The duration of Barnes’ residency at Louvain coincided with that of Erasmus, but there is no evidence that the two ever met. However, Barnes’ early reforming career shows the influence of Humanism. Upon returning to Cambridge, he became prior of his Augustinian house and, with the help of Thomas Parnell who returned with him from Louvain, implemented an innovative series of lectures on the classical Latin rhetoricians Terence, Plautus, and Cicero. Future Bible translator Miles Coverdale was among the Augustinian friars who sat under Barnes’ teaching. Foxe’s comment that “the knowledge of good letters was scarsely entred into the Universitie” reflects the rather young influence of Humanism at Cambridge in the early sixteenth century. Nevertheless, Greek studies were significantly introduced at the university through the influence of Erasmus who described Cambridge fondly as suitable for his Greek scholarship,6 and Humanism had also made some significant strides at Cambridge in the co-founding of St. John’s College by Bishop Fisher of Rochester and Lady Margaret of Beaufort in 1516.
Foxe recounts how Barnes soon replaced the scholastic disputations of Duns Scotus with the direct reading of Paul’s epistles. Yet, even despite the level of his new attention to “Christ” and “his holy worde,” Foxe identifies Thomas Bilney as the one who “conuerted him wholy vnto Christ.” This was possibly in the context of the White Horse Inn meetings in the early 1520s, over which Barnes soon was to preside. Foxe’s narrative, however, anachronistically suggests that Barnes’ 1525 sermon at St. Edward’s occurred before, and in some way even instigated, these meetings.
Barnes had certainly come to know of the evangelical theology of Luther even before these meetings. As a friar of the Augustinian Order, Barnes would have heard of the budding controversies surrounding his fellow friar from Wittenberg, and he was a student at Louvain when that university condemned Luther (and almost Erasmus) in 1519. The years 1520–21 saw a heightening of early tension surrounding the works of Luther in the Low Countries, and in the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp several monks began espousing his views. Trueman even conjectures the possibility that Barnes attended Luther’s disputation at the meeting of Augustinians at Heidelberg in 1518. However, there is no evidence as to what particular influence Luther had upon Barnes’ theology during the early 1520s. His participation in the White Horse Inn meetings alone does not necessarily prove that he had at this point developed any particular devotion to Luther’s theology, and another member of those meetings, Stephen Gardiner, went on to oppose evangelical theology as the future Bishop of Winchester. Furthermore, Thomas Bilney is said to have converted Barnes to faith in Christ for his salvation, and though tried by association with Luther later in 1527, Bilney denied ever having learned his theology of salvation by faith from Luther, claiming instead that he first found peace of conscience through his own reading of Paul in Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum (1519). The emphasis in his reforming preaching against images, pilgrimages, and the cult of the saints is nothing peculiar to the influence of Luther and parallels the concerns of Lollards and, to some degree, humanists as well.
General criticism of the secular clergy was not even uncommon among the friars themselves, and they possessed some immunity from the jurisdiction of university and episcopal authorities. This drastically changed in the case of Barnes, however, on Christmas Eve in 1525 when he preached a scathingly anticlerical sermon at St. Edward’s Church, Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Barnes, probably egged on by fellow Cambridge men George Stafford and Thomas Bilney, used the opportunity to preach against clerical abuses while Latimer substituted for him as chaplain of the Augustinians.
Foxe records that Barnes’s sermon followed “the Scripture and Luthers postill’ for that day, the fourth Sunday in Advent.” Stuart Hall claims unreservedly that the sermon “wholeheartedly” expounds “Lutheran doctrines.” The actual sermon is not extant, but Barnes later identifies in his Supplication (1531 and 1534) the twenty-five articles for which he was charged in the subsequent heresy proceedings. Other scholars have argued that nothing in these articles shows any obvious connection to the influence of Luther.16 The majority of Barnes’ reforming criticisms are rather conventional to the late medieval period and leveled against clerical abuses of power, such as the holding of more than one bishopric (pluralism), the temporal authority exercised by prelates, the selling of pardons, priestly absolution, clerical materialism, and the ornate opulence surrounding the clerical office and its ceremonies. Other particular articles attack superstitious legalism surrounding the keeping of Sabbaths and holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and one article objects wholesale to lawsuits involving Christians and their personal possessions on the basis of a New Testament commandment. The latter, which Stephen Gardiner considered Barnes’ worst offense, caused him to be accused of Anabaptist sympathies and was of particular significance since Trinity Hall was a lawyer’s college. One other charge brought against Barnes was his neglect to pray to the Virgin Mary and for the souls in purgatory as was customary from the pulpit. Although he objects to this practice on the basis of Scripture, he does not openly deny the reality of purgatory itself.18
There is not one single article, however, that explicitly refers to being “justified by faith alone” in Christ. The closest Barnes comes to this is in reference to people and their prayers being acceptable to God, not on the basis of their works, but “allonly for christes merytes.” It is not self-evident that this article was influenced by Luther’s evangelical theology of justification, and it agrees with the belief expressed by Barnes’ earlier spiritual mentor Thomas Bilney. Barnes acknowledges that this particular article did not receive a sentence and that those commissioned to examine him were more concerned with his anticlerical statements. Although Foxe claims that Barnes followed Luther’s Postill for that Sunday, the particular influence of Luther on Barnes’ reforming criticisms in 1525 is not entirely self-evident on the basis of the articles themselves, which deal mostly with clerical abuses of power and, to a lesser extent, superstitious ritualism and devotion to saints.
After a process of hearings with university authorities, Barnes was taken into custody, and, with the help of Stephen Gardiner, was given a private hearing before Cardinal Wolsey in London prior to the commencing of his more formal trial in the days that followed. Barnes was eventually persuaded to abjure in public and to swear to whatever penance was enjoined upon him by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. After a night in prison, Barnes fulfilled his penance before Cardinal Wolsey and other prelates at St. Paul’s Cross on February 11, 1526. He was also accompanied by four London Steelyard merchants recently discovered by Thomas More to be in possession of forbidden works. Barnes kneeled during the sermon of Bishop John Fisher against Martin Luther (now his second), and carried faggots around a pyre of works by Luther and other continental reformers. Barnes explains later that he made his abjuration to the Bishop of Bath and Wells thinking his examiners were genuinely concerned about his safety and that all they really desired of him was to show nominal deference to the authorities. He also gives the impression that his promise to do penance was made before being told exactly what that penance would entail. Despite being convicted under the umbrella of Lutheran heresy, Barnes objects in his Supplication to any such connections to “Lutherians” at this point in time. Indeed, despite obvious parallels in their reforming agendas, and though such claims of disassociation from Luther during this period should always be taken with a grain of salt, it is difficult on the basis of the articles extracted from his Christmas Eve Sermon to make any substantial case for the particular influence of Luther upon Barnes’ theology in 1525.
Six months later, Barnes was moved to the Augustinian house in London. He stayed here for two years and sought in vain for the official release he thought had been promised to him. During this time, Barnes’ received a personal visit from two Lollards from Essex. The confession of John Tyball before Bishop Tunstall of London in April 1528 tells of “Barons” having sold to him and his associate a copy of Tyndale’s superior English New Testament for 3s. 2d. in the chamber of his Augustinian house. This event does not imply that Barnes had formal ties to an underground network of Lollards, nor even that Barnes himself was influenced by Lollardy. Stackhouse argues that the possibility of Lollard influence upon Barnes would cast doubts on his Lutheran inheritance. However, though it does constitute a connection between Lollards and the evangelical movement, there is no need to conclude on the basis of this encounter that Barnes himself was ever influenced by Lollardy. If anything, it appears to have been the reverse.
As a result of the episode, Barnes was moved to the Augustinian house in Northampton under more scrupulous surveillance, but he staged a suicide by drowning and escaped first to Antwerp before moving on to Wittenberg. Barnes’ flight to Wittenberg is important in itself, and it is clear from his writings of the 1530s that his interaction with Lutherans in Germany left an indelible mark on his theology. Tjernagel might not be too far off the mark in stating that: “Louvain and Cambridge had made him a humanist scholar; Wittenberg made him a Lutheran theologian.” In fact, he claims in another article that in “the entire body of Barnes’ theological writings, there is no originality of interpretation or religious thinking. There is however, every evidence of a full grasp and unqualified acceptance of the teachings of Martin Luther and the Wittenberg reformers.” Yet Barnes’ use of patristic writings in support of his biblical exegesis shows the continued influence of Humanism, and his frequent recourse to the theology of Augustine must also be taken into consideration as a possible influence.
Barnes quickly won the acceptance of the Germans. He boarded with Johann Bugenhagen (“Pomeranus”) and befriended Wittenberg’s leading theologians Luther and Melancthon. He assumed the name “Antony Anglus,” under which he later matriculated at the University of Wittenberg in 1533 (the name Robert Barnes appears in the margin of the university rosters next to “D. Antonius Anglus Theologiae Doctor Oxoniensis”). His relationship with German Lutherans in Wittenberg, Hamburg, and Lübeck, as well as with John Frederick of Electoral Saxony and the King of Denmark, would later make him an important asset to Henry VIII in the 1530s who was then seeking political support for his break with the papacy in his divorce from Catherine of Aragon in marriage to Anne Boleyn. The opinion of Barnes among the German theologians is probably best captured by Luther, who after Barnes’ martyrdom in 1540 wrote the preface to a German translation of the life and last confession of “Saint Robert.”
During the years 1530 and 1531, Barnes mostly focused on writing and composed his most revealing theological treatises. His first, the Sentenciae ex doctoribus collectae, quas papistae ualde impudenter hodie damnant (Wittenberg, 1530), was written in Latin and published in Wittenberg under the pseudonym of Antonius Anglus. The Sentenciae contains nineteen doctrinal propositions supported by the authority of Scripture and reinforced by the sayings of the Fathers and even canon law. A preface was written by Bugenhagen, who himself provided a German translation of the work in two editions in 1531. The articles reveal how far Barnes has now come under the theological influence of Luther: 1)“Only Faith justifies”; 2) “Christ’s death has made satisfaction for all sins and not only for original sin”; 3) “God’s commandments cannot possibly be kept in our own strength”; 4) “freewill by its own powers is only able to sin”; 5) “the just sin in all good works”; 6) “what is the true Church and how she may be told”; 7) “God’s Word, not men’s powers, is the keys of the Church”; 8) “councils may err”; 9) “all should receive the Sacrament in both kinds”; 10) “priests may marry”; 11) “human ordinances cannot free sinners”; 12) “auricular confession is not necessary for salvation”; 13) “monks are not more holy than lay folks on account of cowls and monasteries”; 14) “Christian fasting does not consist in discrimination between foods”; 15) “for the Christian every day is a Sabbath day and a festal day and not only the seventh day”; 16) “unjust banning by the Pope does not disgrace the banned”; 17) “in the Sacrament of the Altar is truly (wahrhaft) the Body of Christ”; 18) “saints may not be appealed to as mediators”; 19) “of the origin and parts of the Mass.”
To a large extent the Sentenciae reappear again in the third part of Barnes’ Supplication published in Antwerp in 1531, the same year as Frith’s Disputation of Purgatory and Tyndale’s Answer to More. In the first part of the Supplication addressed to Henry VIII, Barnes proceeds to exonerate himself from charges of heresy and to object to the “uncheritable” treatment he and other persecuted preachers had received from Cardinal Wolsey and the bishops. Barnes deflects criticism to the magisterium, whose tyranny over the Word of God and exemption from temporal obedience to princes makes them the real traitors of the kingdom of “youre grace.” The second part rehearses the articles for which Barnes was charged for heresy in his Christmas Eve sermon of 1525. The final part is devoted to a more exhaustive treatment of Christian doctrine and further reveals the extent to which Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel has influenced the mind of Barnes. Bishop John Fisher’s sermon in condemnation of Luther provides the major literary focus of Barnes’ polemic.
The very first of the “comon places” treated by Barnes is that “Only faythe Justifyeth by fore god,” which he argues is the article that stands at the center of Scripture. Such paramount importance given to the article of justification by faith alone in biblical revelation agrees with the centrality Luther ascribed to it, which was affirmed also by Tyndale in both his earlier and later writings. Barnes builds his case exegetically on the basis of the gospels and the epistles of Paul, with understandable emphasis on the book of Romans. This section of his treatise is largely written as a response to Bishop Fisher of Rochester who was the first major English opponent of Luther, particularly with regard to the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. In light of Fisher’s use of the Fathers, Barnes’ Supplication, much like Frith’s own Purgatory, contains a host of patristic citations, including Augustine, Ambrose, Bernard of Clairvaux, and even Origen. Barnes’ basic argument is that the Scriptures speak of Christ alone as the only Savior and Justifier, which means that there is no need for the help of any other creature or for the making of any other satisfaction for sin. For Barnes, to be of the opinion that works of any kind, either before or after faith, somehow contribute to human redemption is to deny the biblical truth about the utter gratuitousness of salvation in Christ. To deny this is to deny the very person and work of Christ Himself, which Barnes identifies, echoing Luther’s antipapal response to Prierias in 1521 and translated by Frith in the Revelation of Antichrist (1529), as the spirit of the antichrist. For Barnes, the Scriptures clearly teach that justification, which he defines by citing Augustine as the “remission of sins” (remissionem peccatorum), is imputed to faith only (Sola. Sola. Sola). By the promise of the grace of God, Jesus Christ alone is “al oure iustice/ all oure redempcion/ all oure wysdom/ all oure holynes/ alonly the purcheser of grace/ alonly the peace maker/ bytwene god and man. Breuely al goodnes that we haue/ that yt is of him/ by him/ and for his sake only.” It is significant that Barnes stresses Augustine’s definition of “justification” as the “remission of sins.” As McGrath argues, Augustine does occasionally use justification in this sense, but he ordinarily uses justificare to stress being “made righteous” through love and the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, that Barnes uses Augustine to define justification as essentially the remission of sins in Christ imputed to faith alone reflects the influence of Luther upon his presuppositions.
Trueman pits Barnes and Frith against Tyndale, arguing that Tyndale more than the others “tends to emphasize Christ’s work as an example rather than as an objective accomplishment of redemption,” but this is a misleading distinction since Tyndale, like Luther, understood the liberation of the Christian from spiritual bondage as consisting precisely in the removal of guilt promised in the Gospel and accomplished through the righteousness of Christ. Trueman is also of the opinion that Barnes’ own “doctrine of atonement in relation to the doctrine of God” is somewhat underdeveloped in comparison to that of Frith who lays more explicit stress on the propitiation of God’s wrath. Although Barnes does not explicitly refer to the propitiation of the wrath of God the Father, he does often refer to the satisfaction made for sin by the blood of Christ. It is important to remember that neither Barnes, Tyndale, nor Frith ever set out to provide a systematic and comprehensive treatment of the atonement, but it can be assumed that these reformers all shared a common belief in the objective work of Christ on the cross offered to God the Father on behalf of sinful humanity that was part of the Western medieval theological inheritance going back to Anselm and reflected through the liturgy of the Mass. The same could also be said of Luther who considered the Godward orientation of the work of Christ to be the very foundation for the liberty of the Christian from bondage to sin under the Law, death, and the Devil in justification and the new life of good works.
Trueman and McGrath also argue that Barnes does not clearly set forth a doctrine of justification understood as the imputation of righteousness in Christ in the early Supplication of 1531. According to McGrath, Barnes’ earlier treatise is “vague” on the subject and states that: “The first clear and unambiguous statement of the concept of the imputation of righteousness to be found in the writings of an English Reformer may be found in the 1534 edition of Robert Barnes’ Supplication unto King Henry VIII.” Although he is certainly correct if speaking of the lack of any explicit reference to “imputed righteous in Christ” or the “imputation of Christ’s righteousness,” which is not even characteristic of Lutheran writings until the 1530s, it must be stressed that Barnes does clearly describe justification in terms of the forgiveness of sins “imputed” to faith “alone” (sola) in union with Christ and His atoning righteousness. In fact, Trueman states that Barnes’ more explicit statements on imputed righteousness in the revised 1534 Supplication, which actually occur as a newly appended summary, are only inserted to clarify his earlier position.
It is not surprising that Barnes in 1531 could anticipate objections to his doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, and the rationale for his response clearly reflects the influence of Luther’s presuppositions though often quoting from Augustine. Works apart from grace and faith cannot justify because they do not have the right intent and are nothing but sin. Trueman distinguishes the doctrine of faith in the theology of Barnes from that of Frith and Tyndale, arguing that the latter two stress the Holy Spirit and love in the doing of good works rather than faith. This seems like an unwarranted comparison since each of these reformers freely employed the tree and fruit analogy to stress the relationship of faith to love and good works, and Trueman himself acknowledges that Barnes stresses the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit under his discussion of the bondage of the will.
Following Luther, Barnes defines justifying faith as personal and possessive, that God is “not alonly a father, but my father.” This is no general, earthly kind of faith that believes things knowable by human reason or testimony, such as the existence of a creator or the historical facts of Jesus’ life. Although neither works before nor after faith justify, saving faith is a divine work that necessarily produces good works “to the honour off god/ and also to the profite of oure neyboure.” A truly good work is neither done for reward nor out of fear, but after the example of Christ Himself. These good works can only be done by a justifying faith and the indwelling of Christ. Barnes states that the works of the just are all good, though not in the sense that the works of Christians are perfect. Barnes uses the familiar image of the “good tre” and its good “appylle” to describe the relationship between faith and good works. Those who respond to the promise of grace in Christ as a thief might abuse the pardon of a king are not truly among the justified who rightly do what “the kyngys pardon deseruyed.” Nevertheless, in direct opposition to Bishop Fisher, Barnes argues that it is unbiblical to ascribe to love and works a meritorious role alongside faith for justification such as in the traditional Catholic notion of a “fides caritate formata.” According to Barnes, Paul’s praise of charity above faith in 1 Corinthians 13 and the faith that “worketh by charity” in Galatians 5:6 does not mean that love and faith together justify, and Barnes cites Athanasius’ reference to the other kind of “faith” that works miracles, prophecies, and healings. According to Barnes, Fisher’s appeal to the epistle of James does nothing for his argument, and Barnes explicitly echoes Luther’s skepticism towards the apostolicity of James on account of the fact that it appears to teach justification by works and lacked the consensus of patristic acceptance as recorded by Eusebius. Nevertheless, Barnes argues that to concede the authority of James does not necessarily prove Fisher’s point anyway, and he uses Augustine to demonstrate that James can be interpreted in theological agreement with Paul in praising those works that follow after faith as testimony of a justification already received. Barnes points out that a Christian who dies right after believing without having any opportunity to exercise his or her faith in a good work is yet fully justified.
Though he acknowledges in the second article of his “comon places” that the word “ekklesia” in Scripture often refers to a local body of professing Christians in a general region or city, Barnes argues that the true, universal Church is not an outward thing, nor is it defined by the magisterium, popes, or councils that can and have erred. Rather, it is made up of all who are truly justified through inward faith in Jesus Christ. The elect are only infallibly known by God, since the justified are also still sinners and the valiant works of the wicked mask a hypocritical righteousness. Nevertheless, Barnes does not conclude that this eliminates all possibility of reasonable estimation since the “serten tokens” of preaching the pure Word of God and its positive reception among a submissive people bear witness to the likely presence of a true Christian “ecclesia,” which Barnes translates as “churche or congregacion.” The latter English word in particular was favored by Tyndale in his New Testament translation to stress, like Luther in his own use of congregatio (“gathering”) and Gemeinde (“community”), the common priesthood of Christians under the rule of the Word of God. In fact, this section of the Supplication is reminiscent of the same discussion in Tyndale’s Answer to More, which is interesting in the light of the fact that Barnes and Tyndale were broadsided together on this very issue in More’s Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer (1532). The invisible-withinthe-visible conception of the Church was taught by Augustine and was promulgated by Wyclif in the context of the doctrine of predestination, but Luther asserted it more recently in stressing the ultimate “hiddenness” of God’s elect in the world. Barnes’ admission of the fallibility of popes and councils also resonates with the thought of Luther in debate with Eck in 1519.
In his third common place, Barnes argues against Duns Scotus that the preaching of the Word of God, and not sacerdotal absolution, is what is meant in Scripture by the power of the “keys” to bind and loose. Echoing the thoughts of Luther and Tyndale, the Word of God alone holds the powers of repentance, the loosing of the conscience, and the amendment of life. Though the keys of the Word of God rightly belong to all baptized Christians, who all “be Peter,” there are within the “congregacion of faythefulle men” those perceived to be “most abylle and best lernyd in the word of God.” These have a particular calling to serve as preachers and administers of the sacrament in the context of the regular corporate gathering.
The fourth common place treated by Barnes addresses the controversy over free-will. Barnes’ answer mirrors Augustine’s ancient controversy with Pelagius and Luther’s more recent dispute with Erasmus in arguing for the spiritual bondage of the will and the sinfulness of all works apart from grace: “he [free-will] cane neyther thynke good/ nor wylle/ nor yet performe yt … that man hathe lost his frewylle by synne and cane no more do vnto goodnes/ than a dede man cane do to make hym selfe a lyue agayn/ yee he cane doo nothynge but delyght in synne …” Barnes strongly opposes the late medieval scholastic notion of congruous merit and that the natural person can be prepared and disposed to desire grace through his or her own contrition (facere quod in se est and preparare se ad graciam): “frewylle without grace cane doo nothynge.” Like Luther, Barnes asserts that sin is the property, not of the “bonys nor the synows/ nor the fleshe that hangeth there on,” but of the very rational soul itself. In fact, when speaking of the mortification of the “flesh” by the Spirit of God, Barnes explicitly associates this with the suppression from within of the sinful desires that originate from the human spirit and not with the outward control of sinful passions aroused within the physical body.
Of course, Barnes is aware of the natural objections raised as to why God commands anything at all if free-will is so incapacitated and what right He has to condemn people for things they cannot possibly avoid. The answer, for Barnes, is not to look for fault in God or His Law and commandments, but “to subdewe thys presumtuous pryde of thyne/ and to bryng the to knowledge of thyne awne selfe.” With this knowledge, the sinner can confess his “unabyllnes” to God and beseech the “phisician” for His mercy and for the help of His Spirit to henceforth keep the commandments. For Barnes, this is not the same thing as what scholastics like Duns Scotus called “attrition,” or imperfect contrition, understood as a turning from sin out of natural fear meriting justifying grace congruously from God. As Luther objected to the theology of Gabriel Biel in his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517), Barnes objects to Scotus and Fisher and lumps them together as Pelagians on account of their teaching that God rewards with justifying grace a soul that is penitent apart from prevenient grace. To the contrary, like Luther, Barnes states that human nature apart from grace wishes there were no God to punish sins. Furthermore, attrition did not merit grace and the remission of sins in the case of Judas. Barnes’ contrast of spiritual bondage to sin and the grace of God needed to help keep the Law certainly owes to his explicit use of Augustine but must be interpreted in the light of the stress in his definition of justification on the forgiveness of sins in Christ imputed to faith alone, which shows the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
According to Barnes, God is even particular to whom He grants this special grace of repenting, believing, and willing, and it has nothing to do with foreseen cooperation on the part of individuals. The grace of election itself guarantees the conversion of the sinner. Yet God’s inscrutable will in election is righteous and not open to rebuke. Barnes states that God uses the natures of both the righteous and the wicked as “instrumentis” for His own sovereign purposes, yet He is not laid open to the charge of the fault of evil.
While Barnes quotes often from Augustine throughout this section in support of spiritual bondage apart from the grace of God, his knowledge of the more recent controversy between Luther and Erasmus in 1525 must also be at the forefront of his mind. Indeed, Barnes refutes Bishop Fisher in a manner very reminiscent of the way that Luther refutes Erasmus. In fact, Barnes alludes to Luther’s refutation of Erasmus in Article 4 of his earlier Sentenciae (1530). Trueman acknowledges that Barnes made some obvious literary use of Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio (1525), but he also distances Barnes from Luther by arguing that the latter denied “free-will” fundamentally on the “axiom of God’s immutability with its implications for divine determinism.” It is indeed true that Luther’s argument in the De Servo Arbitrio begins here, but that is because he is purposefully following the outline of Erasmus’ own preface in the Diatribe seu collatio de libero arbitrio (1524). On the other hand, when Luther moves beyond direct interaction with Erasmus and proceeds to provide his own exegetical case against “free-will” he begins by discussing the universal guilt and dominion of sin, which Trueman argues is the distinguished focus of Augustine and Barnes. Furthermore, Barnes’ discussion of God’s sovereign use of the natures of the righteous and the wicked echoes Luther who likewise distinguished sinning by necessity of nature from sinning by compulsion as if against nature.
The influence of Luther is also arguably evident in at least two of the last four common places that conclude this section of Barnes’ Supplication. The first of the four common places advocates for the vernacular translation and distribution of the Bible among the common people. As has already been mentioned, Barnes marketed a copy of Tyndale’s unauthorized English New Testament to two Lollards from Essex sometime earlier between January 1526 and April 1528. Barnes’ support for a vernacular Bible was not necessarily the result of the influence of either Luther or Tyndale but might have originated earlier in his associations with Humanism. To be sure, English translations of biblical texts were not even exclusively a legacy of either Lollardy or the evangelical Reformation, although these translations were scarce and based from the Latin. Although vernacular lay Bibles were not entirely unknown on the continent by the fifteenth century, Luther was actually the first to translate the entire Bible from the Greek and Hebrew texts for the common German Christian. His example made an obvious impression on Tyndale’s own translation work from the original languages, and this certainly was not missed by Barnes, who also wished to see an authorized vernacular English Bible.
Barnes’ understanding of the “two powers” of spiritual and temporal authority is reminiscent of Luther’s own concept of the “two kingdoms.” The former refers to the ministry of the Gospel and the latter refers to the legitimate, though limited, authority of temporal government. In the case of the forbiddance of the English New Testament, disobedience, though not armed resistance, is obligatory for the sake of the Gospel and of the faith. This, of course, is reminiscent of Luther’s advocacy of passive resistance in the case of the suppression of his own German New Testament in Ducal Saxony. According to Barnes, such passive resistance also applies in the event that ecclesiastical authorities legalistically impose upon consciences under the penalty of eternal damnation certain rites that are not commanded by God in Scripture and which constitute free or “indifferent” things: “those thynges which be of the inuencion of man do not bynde oure consciens though they seme to be of neuer so grett holynes and of humbillenes and holynes of angelles …” In other instances, however, such practices should be heeded if they contribute to personal or communal edification. This fundamentally echoes Luther’s own understanding of the liberty of the Christian conscience with regard to matters not clearly proscribed in Scripture.
Barnes’ seventh common place rejects the decision of the Council of Constance and argues against Bishop Fisher that Christians should receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in both forms of bread and wine. Luther raised doubts about the authority of Constance in his debate with Eck in 1519, and he advocated for the sacrament in both kinds at the very beginning of his Babylonian Captivity (1520).
In the final common place, Barnes denounces superstitious devotion and prayers to images and saints, which was at the heart of the reforming criticisms of his earlier mentor Thomas Bilney. However, Barnes does not explicitly concede, as Tyndale and Luther both do, that images are theoretically acceptable for purposes of visual remembrance inspiring imitation. Barnes acknowledges that the saints should be revered for the glory of Christ in them and should be followed just as they followed the Lord, but he does not make an explicit connection here to any viable use of images nor does he give the impression that images constitute what he referred to before as indifferent things. Rather, he stresses that people of flesh and blood are the true images of God to whom devotion and charity must be redirected. Barnes’ approach to images, then, does not seem to reflect the guarded tolerance of Luther, but Luther certainly agreed in denouncing superstitious devotion to images and saints, prayers for the meritorious intercession of the saints, and the neglect of serving the saints here on earth.54
As in the case of Frith, Barnes balances the exegetical use of Scripture with a heavy dose of quotations from Church Fathers like Augustine to rhetorically amplify and reinforce his own theological integrity. The latter does indeed at least partly suggest the legacy of his background in Humanism, although Barnes was also a friar hermit of the Augustinian Order. Yet, as also in the case of Frith, this should not be misconstrued as dismissing a real significant indebtedness to the theological influence of Luther, and for Barnes this included intimate proximity with Luther and his colleagues in Wittenberg. Charles Anderson points out that Barnes’ objection to being dismissed as a “Lutheran” in his earlier Sentenciae reflects his desire to win an unbiased hearing from his Catholic opponents rather than a disavowal of Luther’s theology or influence. Use of the Fathers by Frith and Barnes was chiefly a rhetorical and polemical strategy to reinforce the teaching of Scripture (as they interpreted it) with the ancient words of those saints generally respected by their Catholic opponents. Of course, no theologian of the early sixteenth century who wanted to gain a respectful hearing from his Catholic opponent would have zealously quoted from Luther. Even Tyndale and Frith, when liberally translating from Luther’s own writings, did not openly acknowledge him as their source (what in modern times amounts to plagiarism).
Until more recently, most scholars have interpreted Barnes’ early theology of 1531 as Lutheran. Trueman, however, argues that upon closer inspection Barnes’ treatment of the Law shows more of a synthesis of Lutheran and Augustinian influences. According to Trueman, Barnes agrees with Luther concerning the role of the Law in convicting the conscience of the sinner but not with the same extremity. Trueman also argues that Barnes does not polarize Law and Gospel to the same degree as Luther, bringing him closer to Augustine in stressing the Christian’s fulfillment of the Law through the Holy Spirit.57 Indeed, Barnes does quote Augustine repeatedly throughout the Supplication and this obviously impacts how his theology is expressed. However, Barnes’ discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the Christian to fulfill the Law, though quoting from Augustine, is not as uncharacteristic of Luther as Trueman assumes. Furthermore, the simple fact that Barnes used Augustine does not negate the influence of Luther upon his presuppositions in reading and interpreting Augustine. Rather, his use of Augustine comes from a desire to reinforce the integrity of his interpretation of Scripture with reference to the premiere Catholic Father of the Western Christian Tradition. Trueman even acknowledges the likelihood that rhetorical and polemical strategy is at least one significant part of Barnes’ heavy use of Augustine.59
The influence of Luther in Wittenberg was the most immediate and proximate influence shaping the theology of Barnes around the year 1530 and the writing of his most revealing theological work yet to date. Even though resourcing the sayings of the most generally respected Father and Doctor of the ancient Church, Barnes’ treatment of the spiritual bondage of the will to sin under the Law apart from grace, the fruit and testimony of a living faith in love and good works, interpreted in the light of his definition of justification as essentially the remission of sins in Christ imputed to faith “alone. alone. alone” (Sola. Sola. Sola), bears the distinctive influence of Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel.
Henry VIII received a copy of Barnes’ Supplication along with Tyndale’s Exposition of I John by means of Stephen Vaughn, a merchant and agent of Thomas Cromwell in the Low Countries. In a letter to Cromwell, Vaughn pointed out the potential impact of the Supplication upon the English people and urged that Barnes receive an invitation to speak before the Defensor Fidei himself. That this was even a possibility for a religious refugee results from the fact that Barnes had praised Henry’s royal prerogatives in the Supplication and was able to obtain from Luther a response to the question of the legitimacy of the King’s divorce from Catherine. Though Luther objected to the divorce, Barnes’ relationship to the Wittenberg theologians put him in a strategic position for the continual courting of German political support by the English crown. He returned to England under the promise of safe conduct in December of 1531, but his visit was closely scrutinized by Chancellor Thomas More. Barnes also had the opportunity to approach Stephen Gardiner, now Bishop of Winchester and a judge during his earlier heresy trial of 1525–1526. It is uncertain what transpired between Barnes and Henry VIII, and he quietly left England after only two months, probably to escape from More’s antagonistic shadow. More had even accused Barnes of overstaying the period of his safe-conduct, but Frith came to his defense in his answeringe vnto M mores lettur (1533). In the first part of his Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, which may have appeared before Barnes departed again for the Continent, More also attacked Barnes for rejecting the Real Presence, which Barnes effectively denied in a letter sometime in early 1532. In fact, Tyndale wrote to Frith in 1533 warning him that Barnes would be “hot against” him on account of his rejection of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Barnes’ role in the later trial and execution of John Lambert in 1538 is further proof that he remained steadfast in his understanding of the Real Presence. Despite the persistent opposition of More, Barnes crisscrossed the channel in 1533–1534, settling alternately in Hamburg and Wittenberg and establishing important diplomatic contacts in Lübeck and elsewhere, now employed as a royal diplomat and middleman between English and German emissaries. In 1534 Barnes also published a revised version of his Supplication, this time in London and under royal sanction to promote the prerogatives of the English Crown against the papacy.
A quick glance at the overall structure of the revised Supplication reveals visible changes made to the previous edition of 1531. A new autobiographical section provides a detailed narration of the heresy proceedings of 1525–1526. Only three of the original eight common places remain in the new edition: justification by faith alone, the bondage of the will, and the Church. The fourth common place that supports clerical marriage is new to the revised edition, although it was derived from his earlier Sentenciae (1530). The fact that Barnes omitted the common place devoted to the freedom of the conscience with regard to “mennes constitucions which be not grounded in scripture” has received scholarly attention for its implications involving submission to the Royal Supremacy.
Upon closer examination of the content, it is plain to see that the introduction to the Supplication has been rewritten and its antipapal poise even sharpened. The section describing the articles for which Barnes was condemned in the 1520s is for the most part unchanged except for a more moderate appraisal of litigation involving Christians. Barnes defends his consistency on this matter with respect to temporal authority, especially that of the King’s, although Lusardi points out that he made no such allowance for it in his Christmas Eve sermon of 1525, the heresy proceedings that followed, or his Supplication of 1531. The common place on free-will is the least altered of all the articles, and notes taken of a sermon preached by Barnes in London in 1535 confirm the continued influence of Luther upon his understanding of the Law as the accuser of the natural conscience and its true pacification only in the forgiveness of sins promised in Christ: “when the law bryngyth us to knowledge of our selfe we have serten hobtes [obits] there and then, some hath runnyd to Jerusalem, other to S. James, other at charterhowse, other hange them selves yf christ now be not toghte per truwly toghte in remissionem peccatorum Job seyth the hevens nor the angelles ar not pur in thye syght yf thow judge them.” The common place on the Church has been totally revamped in the light of More’s Confutation that attacked Barnes’ previous treatise of 1531. Yet, rather than offer a direct refutation of More’s counterarguments, Barnes merely restates his position using the same authorities, although improving his citations and softening his anticlericalism to the extent of acknowledging that not all secular and religious clergy are reproachable.
The common place “Onely fayth iustifieth before God” is notably reduced in size compared with the earlier edition of 1531. Clebsch argues that the revised Supplication of 1534 displays an entirely new attitude toward good works as the outward testimony of inward justification and that this is not attributable at all to Luther. As mentioned before, Trueman argues that Barnes’ earlier Augustinian appraisal of the Law already distanced him from Luther, and he argues that the Supplication of 1534 does not reveal any real changes in this understanding.
With regard to major omissions in this section, Trueman is right to point out that Barnes softens his personal invective toward the episcopacy, which he had formerly and unabashedly labeled as antichrist in 1531. As for additions, Trueman identifies a paragraph on the justification of Abraham by faith,68 although this did appear with some variation in the earlier edition. One major addition worthy of note is Barnes’ expanded refutation of the notion that Paul only objects to the works of the “old law” as justifying but not works of the “new law.” Whereas in the 1531 Supplication Barnes criticizes his opponents who associate the “old law” with the Mosaic laws and the “new law” with the laws and traditions of the Catholic Church (“workes that you haue inuented out of youre idylle brayne”), in the revised edition “old” and “new law” refer explicitly to the commandments of the Decalogue and the ethical teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount respectively. Thus, whereas in the earlier Supplication Barnes stressed justification apart from the ceremonies and practices instituted by the Church, he here clarifies this to preclude justification even by the moral laws of Scripture itself. Barnes’ identification of the Ten Commandments with the Sermon on the Mount does not mean he has adopted a more legalistic position, as Trueman rightly argues against Clebsch, and Barnes’ point is that Christ merely interprets the Decalogue correctly according to the commandment to love God and neighbor from the heart. This is followed by a stark contrast between the ministry of Moses and that of Christ, and Barnes argues that the latter came to fulfill what the former demanded of all people. This is completely consistent with the Law-Gospel theology of Luther and reveals his indelible influence upon the theology of Barnes in the Supplication of 1534.
Another minor addition to the text of the Supplication is the statement that “workes hath theyr glorye and rewarde.” Luther was not against speaking about the promise of reward in heaven in the context of faithfulness in suffering, though he stressed that a good work by nature is never done with thoughts of reward nor is heaven itself a reward merited by works. Similarly, for Barnes, since neither the works that are without faith nor even those that follow faith contribute to justification, he asserts unambiguously that “the glory, and prayse of iustificacion, belongeth to Christ onely.”
The most significant revision that occurs in the common place on justification, however, is Barnes’ unhesitant exegetical use of James to prove that faith without works is really non-faith: “that fayth is a deed fayth, and of no value that hath no works. For workes shulde declare, and shewe the outwarde faythe, and workes shulde be an outwarde declaracion and a testimonie of the inwarde iustificacion …” Barnes nowhere expresses the same doubts he had earlier in 1531 about the apostolicity of the book. At the same time, however, he is quick to maintain that the Gospel of justification by faith alone is still most clearly explained in the epistles of Paul, which is reminiscent of Luther’s own accolade of Romans, and that other scriptures must be interpreted with respect and deference to them.
Trueman is right in objecting to Clebsch, who argues that this new appraisal of James moves Barnes much closer now to Martin Bucer’s concept of “double justification,” and observes that Barnes’ theology has not substantially changed in that he openly affirmed works as the outward testimony of inward faith and justification in his previous Supplication of 1531. Trueman argues that Barnes already shows an underlying ambivalence toward the book earlier in 1531 and that his reticence to openly accept its canonicity was due perhaps to the overshadowing influence of Luther in Wittenberg. However, what Trueman and other scholars have not considered is how Barnes’ decision to drop earlier doubts about the canonicity of James was politically expedient. Although Barnes’ use of James is still clearly grounded on the assumption that the “rewarde” of “good workes” is “not remyssion of synnes, nor yet iustificacion,” it makes more sense that he would concede its canonical integrity rather than to resurrect an antiquated discussion about its apostolicity in a treatise sanctioned by a Catholic royal court. Nevertheless, Luther was himself never wholly opposed to exegeting James 2 in order to stress the importance of good works as testimonies of true faith. It does appear at least that Barnes revokes his earlier uncertainties that were most likely inspired by Luther, but this does not necessarily imply a conscientious break with the theology of Luther on the importance of good works or their relationship to justification. Other revisions in the Supplication can certainly be explained in terms of the royal sanctioning of this treatise, and Lusardi perceptively observes with regard to the new Supplication that: “In general, the second version of the Supplication remains a distinctively, indeed, militantly Protestant document, but it is less radical and uncompromising than the original version. Barnes was a staunch advocate of the revolution that was taking place in England; he wanted to see it go farther than it had, but for the time-being he was bending all his efforts to consolidate the gains already made.”
A few other additions are worth noting, and these are surprisingly either not mentioned or not significantly explored by Trueman. As already mentioned, Trueman argues that Barnes’ Supplication of 1531 does not develop an objective doctrine of the atonement in terms of a satisfaction made to God. However, this was most certainly implicit, and in the 1534 edition Barnes does clearly state that Christ receives all the glory for salvation for it is in His blood that there is a “satisfienge of Gods wrathe, takyng away of euerlastyng vengeaunce, purchasynge of mercy, fulfyllynge of the lawe, with all other lyke thynges.” Trueman also does not analyze the new conclusion appended to the article on justification in the 1534 Supplication where the word “imputed” appears three times, “imputative” once, and “reckened” twice. He does mention “the unequivocal statement of the doctrine” in a footnote to the Supplication of 1531, arguing that this is a “clarification, rather than a development, of his position,” but he never mentions it again in his discussion of the revised 1534 edition.
The conclusion discusses how faith itself is not a holy work that merits justification, but it justifies only on the basis that “it is that thynge alonely, wherby I do hange of Christe. And by my faythe alonly, am I partaker of the merites, the mercy purchased by Christes bloude, and faythe, it is alonely that receyue the promyses made in Christe.” The notion that justifying righteousness is imputed to faith alone in and through union with Christ could not be stated with much greater clarity than in the statement that follows: “all the merytes, and goodnes, grace, and fauour, and all that is in Christe, to our saluacion, is imputed, and reckened vnto vs, because we hange, and beleue of hym … it is a iustice, that is rekened, and imputed vnto vs, for the fayth in Christ Jesus, and it is not of our deseruynge, but clerely, and fully of mercy imputed vnto vs.” That Barnes continues to use Augustine throughout his article on justification in the 1534 Supplication while explicitly stressing the imputation of righteousness in Christ to faith alone shows that he could refer apologetically to the ancient bishop with the presuppositions influenced by Luther’s evangelical theology of justification.
It is quite ironic that Barnes, who had fled secretively from England as a religious refugee in 1528 or 1529, was now employed in service to the English Crown, whereas Thomas More, who had defended the English Church as a champion against heresy, was imprisoned in the Tower of London in April 1534 for his refusal to submit to the Act of Supremacy. He was beheaded a little over a year later. With More now out of the way, Anne Boleyn as Queen with evangelical sympathies, Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop, and Thomas Cromwell as Vicegerent of Spirituals, Barnes enjoyed a brief period of peace as a reforming preacher and diplomat. For the greater part of the next five years Barnes preached openly in his homeland and continued working for diplomacy between England and Germany. As a newly appointed royal chaplain, Barnes was commissioned to dissuade Melancthon from accepting an invitation to France and to come to England instead. Through an interview with Elector John Frederick, he succeeded in opening the way for negotiations between a royal embassy headed by Edward Foxe and Nicholas Heath and the German princes of the Schmalkaldic League. During this time, Barnes also published his history of the papacy, the Vitae Romanorum Pontificum (1536), which was dedicated to Henry with a preface written by Luther.
With the fall of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the situation turned more precarious for the evangelicals in England. Barnes even retracted his previous invitation to Melancthon. He continued to preach and spent a brief time in the Tower of London but was released with the help of Cromwell. Thereafter, he resumed his preaching in 1537–38, was recommended to the King by Bishop Hugh Latimer of Worcester, and was praised with bequests in the last will and testament of Humphrey Monmouth. Barnes also continued performing his duties as a royal diplomat and was even urged to participate in theological discussions with a German delegation to England led by Francis Burchardt and Frederick Myconius. In 1538, Barnes was also commissioned to furrow out Anabaptists, including John Lambert who was summoned to a hearing before Archbishop Cranmer. Lambert had been with Barnes at the White Horse meetings of the early 1520s and was executed on November 22, 1538, for his more extreme views on the Eucharist.
Contrary to the statement made by Foxe, Barnes was not then sent in early 1539 as the King’s envoy to the Duke of Cleves to negotiate a marriage alliance. In fact, Tjernagel denies Barnes as having any direct role in forging the marriage alliance itself. However, Barnes was sent to John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, and King Christian III of Denmark to garner support and to widen the political geography of the alliance.84
Barnes’ usefulness to the King was already fading in the light of the failing negotiations between Henry and the Schmalkaldic League. In 1539–40 his security was further threatened by open conflict with his former acquaintance Stephen Gardiner over the doctrine of justification. Gardiner also criticized the suitability of Barnes, an abjured heretic, to serve as a royal diplomat and for his refusal to submit to the “Act of Six Articles” in 1539. It seems that Barnes’ connections to Cromwell did not help his case, whose own favor with the King was in peril as a result of having spearheaded the ill-conceived marriage alliance with Anne of Cleves. After being appointed by Cranmer along with William Jerome and Thomas Garrard to preach a series of Lenten sermons at St. Paul’s Cross, Barnes was attacked by Gardiner in a sermon before the King in 1540. Gardiner had preached earlier against the doctrine of justification by faith alone and was goaded by Barnes from the pulpit a month later. With the approval of the King, Gardiner held a private disputation with Barnes, the latter even momentarily appearing to concede until his colleagues soon reignited the evangelical fires from the pulpit. The three rebellious preachers were ordered by the King to preach recantation sermons, and Barnes only feigned surrender in his opening prayer. The three were then consigned to the Tower as obstinate heretics. Cromwell was soon to join them and was beheaded first at Tyburn. Without ever having a formal trial or knowing the heresies for which he was condemned, Barnes was burned along with Jerome and Garrard at Smithfield on July 30, 1540.
Barnes’ last confession is a testimony to the persistence of his evangelical faith. As Foxe records, Barnes went to the stake with the assurance of glory, not because of his own works but because of his trust in the atoning righteousness of Christ. As for good works, he reiterated that “they are to be done, and verely they that doo them not, shall neuer come in the kingdome of God. We must do them, because they are commaunded vs of God to shew and set forth our profession, not to deserue or merite, for that is only the death of Christ.”
Robert Barnes did not leave behind much of a prolific literary legacy, but his importance as a statesman during the Anglo-German negotiations of the 1530s makes him one of the most intriguing and memorable reforming figures of the early decades of the sixteenth century. Despite the few works that Barnes’ authored, the two editions of the Supplication bring together his thoughts on such a variety of themes as to provide a basic digest of his theology. Though often making appeal to the Fathers, especially Augustine, in addressing his Catholic opponents, the influence of Luther upon Barnes’ theology is unquestionable, not least because of his proximity to Wittenberg, his personal relationship with its most influential reformers, and his extended diplomatic work throughout northern Germany on behalf of the English Crown. Although perhaps the most outstanding inheritance from Luther that sets him apart from nearly all other English evangelical reformers of his time is his retention of a belief in the Real Presence, the influence of Luther upon Barnes is also readily discernable in his treatment of the spiritual bondage of the will under the Law, the need for repentance, an articulate doctrine of justification understood as the imputation of righteousness in Christ to faith alone, and good works as the fruit and testimony of a genuine faith and new life in the Spirit. Finally, Luther’s own tribute to the English friar at his death cannot be underestimated.


Reassessing the Influence of Luther’s Theology of Law and Gospel on Early English Evangelicals
THE FATE OF ROBERT BARNES WAS IN MANY WAYS SYMBOLIC OF THE failed relationship between German Lutheranism and the English Reformation. Clebsch described Barnes as “in many ways the last Englishman to command the attention of the Lutheran party.” The reverse was also true, for the decade after Barnes’ death in 1540 would witness increasing ties developing between the English Church and the Swiss and south German Protestants.
Luther’s direct influence on the English Reformation was most significant during the 1520s and 30s, yet most recent scholarship agrees that “Lutheran” is not an entirely accurate descriptor for the three leading English evangelicals of the period. Indeed, over the last fifty years, Luther’s influence on English theology has become increasingly diminished all the way down to the level of utter non-existence.
If it is true, as scholars say, that a distinctive theological legacy of Luther was the centrality he placed on the forgiveness of sins and righteous acceptance before God in justification through faith in Christ alone, then this emphasis alone in the thought of the English evangelical reformers makes Luther a significant influence and is true even of Tyndale at the height of his matured theology of covenant conditionality in the Newe Testament of 1534. Although few early English evangelicals express having experienced quite the same intensity of Anfechtungen as Luther records from his memories in the Erfurt monastery, it would be wrong to imply or assume on that account that they never felt the same tiredness, anxiety, or restlessness of conscience before God in the structures of late medieval Catholicism. In fact, such sobriety was highly encouraged as a further stimulant to a life of piety. This does not mean that all English people were dissatisfied with the status quo, as the evidence of popular resistance to the English Protestant Reformation shows, but there were also many, like Thomas Bilney, who genuinely welcomed the affective respite of a reformed Gospel.
Although Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes define justification primarily in terms of the forgiveness of sins and the favor of God in Christ and His righteousness, scholars are right to point out that they place a significant amount of emphasis on the new obedience in good works that ensues from justifying faith in the life of the Christian. Some have attributed this to the influence of Augustine (via Humanism), the Reformed tradition, and even Lollardy. At the same time, scholars have often exaggerated the centrality in the theology of Luther of justification understood as righteousness in Christ coram Deo through faith alone to the degree that they fail to appreciate the regularity with which he himself substantially and positively praises the Law and stresses good works as the form of justifying faith and the rule of the Spirit in the life of the baptized and believing Christian. Luther was certainly hard against the Law and works when conceived as a means of meriting justification before God. Yet he could speak with equal adulation and urgency about the Law and good works in the context of the call upon the Christian in the light of the Gospel to mortify the flesh and to live a life of service for others in the world. Contrary to the opinions of his Catholic opponents, reforming contemporaries, and even some later Protestants, Luther was never ethically indifferent or ambivalent about morality, but he was firmly convinced that only faith alone in Christ and His perfect righteousness reckoned or imputed for justification before God could truly liberate the conscience and purify the heart through the Spirit to keep the Law with the sincerest of love in devotion to others.
It was for this reason that this book began where all previous studies have not, with a fresh look at the whole development of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel in its historical context. Indeed, Luther always perceived the chief function of the Law to be that of awakening the conscience to the knowledge of sin and spiritual bondage in order that the repentant might believe in Christ alone for their justification before God. Yet this negative approach to the Law was not simply on account of his desire to accentuate justification as a gift to be received through faith alone in Christ and His righteousness, but it also proceeded from his conviction that the renovating presence of Christ in faith leading to the mortification of sins and the love of good works only follows a humbling encounter with the Law mitigated by filial trust in the Gospel. Of course, Luther recognized that even the works of the Christian remain imperfect on account of the weakness of faith and the opposing desires of the flesh, and it was precisely on this account that Luther stressed the continuing function of the Law in the Christian life. This refers to the ongoing work of the Law to censure sin for the sake of the increase of repentance and faith throughout the Christian life, something Luther developed and stressed even more explicitly at the end of the 1520s and into the 1530s. Yet the kindlier exhortations of Christ and the apostles were interpreted by Luther even earlier on as merely interpretations of the Ten Commandments to spur on those who have faith and possess the Spirit to good works and to battle against sin but precisely on account of the fact that they are sinners and remain sluggish in the flesh. The work of the Law in increasing repentance and as a norm of Christian obedience was fully commensurate with what Melancthon and the Formula of Concord more formally defined as a tertius usus legis. Luther openly praised the Ten Commandments as teaching the highest form of living under God in human community, and his negativity toward the Law was in rejection of works done by compulsion, “works of the Law,” with the false notion that these merited justifying favor with God.
Recent scholars of early English evangelical theology have generally perpetuated these stereotypes of Luther as a reformer solely interested in the justification of the sinner coram Deo with little or no emphasis in his theology for the positive value of the Law and good works in the Christian life. Not only have such studies lacked serious critical interpretation and contextual engagement with the larger body of Luther’s writings, but they have oversimplified his thought entirely. Therefore, it was necessary to correct this imbalance before moving on to explore the influence of Luther upon the theology of Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes.
Apart from a comparison of theological content in their writings, the identification of an historical point of contact between Luther and early English evangelicals reinforces the argument for his influence upon their intellectual formation. With regard to Tyndale and Frith, that incontrovertible point of contact is Luther’s published writings. It is not insignificant that the careers of both these reformers, and Tyndale even more so, began with the publishing in English of significant portions of the works of Luther. Whether or not Tyndale or Frith ever personally met Luther or visited Wittenberg, their sojourns in and around Germany brought them deeper into the local sphere of his cultural legacy. As a younger reformer, Frith’s debt to Luther was also partly mediated through his earliest associations with the elder Tyndale. As for Robert Barnes, his matriculation at Wittenberg, his close personal relationship with Luther and his colleagues, and his diplomatic services in northern Germany on behalf of the English court adds historical weight to the argument that Luther was the principal theological influence on his intellectual development. The particular relationship Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes shared with Luther, whether through his writings or his person, cannot be rivaled historically by any other single reformer of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.
With regard to theological content, each of these reformers stood faithfully in the tradition of Luther in affirming the necessity of preaching the Law to awaken sinners from spiritual bondage to lead them to repentance, that justification is the forgiveness of sins and favor of God in union with Christ and His righteousness through faith alone apart from works, and that a heart for the Law and good works in ongoing struggle against sin proceeds from faith through love in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though imperfect and only secondary, Luther and the early English evangelicals both described good works as further self-assurance and outward testimony to others of genuine faith, the possession of the Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins.
It cannot be denied that these reformers possessed a certain admiration for Augustine, especially Frith and Barnes who made frequent and explicit apologetic use of the bishop throughout their writings. However, their use of Augustine in the light of their theology viewed holistically and in historical correlation with Luther and his writings argues strongly in favor of the influence of Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel on their presuppositions. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that the simple presence of Augustinian elements in the thought of the English evangelical reformers necessarily precludes the influence of Luther. As McGrath argues, Luther’s own relationship to Augustine is “ambivalent. While one can point to elements in his thought which are clearly Augustinian, there are points—particularly his doctrine of iustitia Christia aliena—where he diverges significantly from Augustine.” The case of Barnes is particularly enlightening on this matter. His article on justification in the 1534 Supplication continues to reference Augustine at the same time that he expresses an even more explicit and unambiguous theology of imputed righteousness in Christ through faith alone. Recent scholars have rightly drawn attention to the varied importance of other influences, but Luther was still the principal influence that made them “evangelical” reformers and shaped their basic theological assumptions concerning the nature of justification before God in the Gospel and the obedience of the Christian life in the Law.
The influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel on early English evangelicals is certainly more controversial with regard to Tyndale in the light of his development of a quite distinctive rhetorical emphasis on the conditionality of God’s promises of mercy in terms of the covenant. Thus, on account of this, as well as the greater prolificacy of his literary output, Tyndale naturally received an inordinate amount of attention in comparison to the others. Yet even with regard to covenant conditionality, Tyndale did not stray so far from Luther as is usually assumed. Tyndale’s Prologue to Romans and its affirmation of the biblical centrality of justification by faith alone remains largely unchanged in the New Testament of 1534, and he continued to interpret Christian conversion in terms of repentance toward obedience in the Law and good works through a faith that justifies before God only in the righteousness of Christ. Tyndale’s theology of covenant merely becomes his preferred way of stressing that justifying faith in Christ cannot exist where there is no repentance under the Law and earnestness for good works with intentions of showing gratitude to the mercy of God. Although Tyndale did not inherit his emphasis on the covenant as a hermeneutical principle for biblical interpretation from Luther, it was not so unlike Luther to speak of salvation in terms of covenant conditionality. Luther described the Gospel in the context of the sacrament of baptism as an eternal covenant good for life but only for those who repent and believe and who give evidence of this in battle against sin. This was at the moment of the culmination of his evangelical “breakthrough” and reveals that his own theology of Law and Gospel was not antithetical to describing salvation in terms of covenant conditionality. This is further reflected in the many other statements in which Luther describes God’s promise to not impute sin remaining in the life of the baptized who fight against sin in the Spirit while trusting in the Gospel for their righteousness and repenting again when they fall. This struggle is carried out under the grace of justification and is evidence of the beginnings of the rule of the Spirit in righteousness to be perfected by God in His eternal presence.
The influence of Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes upon the future development of the English Reformation beyond the 1540s did not extend much beyond Tyndale’s Bible translations and possibly the Eucharistic writings of John Frith. Nevertheless, while it has become customary to define the English Reformation more as an achievement of politics and the enforcement of religious change from above, all of which in its more comprehensive forms occurred well after the deaths of these early English evangelicals, Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes are critical to the history of the English Reformation between the years 1520 and 1540. If this is true, Luther also deserves a central place in that history.


Sixteenth Century Publications
Anonymous (Tyndale?). A booke called in latyn Enchiridion militis christiani, and in englysshe the manuell of the christen knyght replenysshed with moste holsome preceptes, made by the famous clerke Erasmus of Roterdame, to the whiche is added a newe and meruaylous profytable preface., [Imprynted at London: By wynkyn de worde, for Iohan Byddell, otherwyse Salisbury, the. xv. daye of Nouembre. And be for to sell at the sygne of our Lady of pytie next to Flete bridge, 1533]. British Library.
Barnes, Robert. Sentenciae ex doctrobus collectae, quas papistae valde impudenter hodie damnant [Wittenberg, 1530].
———. A supplicatyon made by Robert Barnes doctoure in diuinitie, vnto the most excellent and redoubted prince kinge henrye the eyght. The articles for which this forsayde doctoure Barnes was condemned of our spiritualtye, are confirmed by the Scripture, doctoures and their awne [sic] lawe. After that he disputeth certayne comon places which also he confermeth with the Scripture, holye doctoures and their awne [sic] lawe, [Antwerp: S. Cock, 1531?]. Cambridge University Library.
———. A supplicacion vnto the most gracyous prynce H. the viij, [Imprinted at London: In Fletestrete by John Byddell, at the signe of our lady of Pitie, nexte to flete brydge, The yere of our lorde God. 1534. in the moneth of Nouember]. British Library.
Foxe, John. Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes touching matters of the Church, wherein ar comprehended and decribed the great persecutions [and] horrible troubles, that haue bene wrought and practised by the Romishe prelates, speciallye in this realme of England and Scotlande, from the yeare of our Lorde a thousande, vnto the tyme nowe present. Gathered and collected according to the true copies [and] wrytinges certificatorie, as wel of the parties them selues that suffered, as also out of the bishops registers, which wer the doers therof, by Iohn Foxe. Imprinted at London: By Iohn Day, dwellyng ouer Aldersgate. Cum priuilegio Regi[a]e Maiestatis, [1563 (20 March)]. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
———. The first volume of the ecclesiasticall history contaynyng the actes and monumentes of thynges passed in euery kynges tyme in this realme, especially in the Church of England principally to be noted: with a full discourse of such persecutions, horrible troubles, the sufferyng of martyrs, and other thinges incident, touchyng aswel the sayd Church of England as also Scotland, and all other foreine nations, from the primitiue tyme till the reigne of K. Henry VIII., At London: Printed by Iohn Daye, dwellyng ouer Aldersgate, these bookes are to be sold at hys shop vnder the gate. 1570. Harvard University Library.
———. The whole workes of W. Tyndall, Iohn Frith, and Doct. Barnes, three worthy martyrs, and principall teachers of this churche of England collected and compiled in one tome togither, beyng before scattered, [and] now in print here exhibited to the church. To the prayse of God, and profite of all good Christian readers. At London: Printed by Iohn Daye, and are to be sold at his shop vnder Aldersgate, An. 1573. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
Frith, John. A boke made by Iohn Frith prisoner in the tower of London answeringe vnto M mores lettur which he wrote agenst the first litle treatyse that Iohn Frith made concerninge the sacramente of the body and bloude of, christ … vnto which boke are added in the ende the articles of his examinacion before the bishoppes … for which Iohn Frith was condempned a[n]d after bur[n]et … the fourth daye of Iuli. Anno. 1533., [Imprinted at Monster [i.e., Antwerp]: Anno 1533 by me Conrade Willems [i.e., H. Peetersen van Middelburch?, 1533]. British Library.
———. A Christen sentence and true iudgement of the moste honorable sacrament of Christes bodye & bloud declared both by the auctorite of the holy Scriptures and the auncient doctores. Very necessary to be redde in this tyme of all the faythful [London, 1548]. Bodleian Library.
———. The contentes of thys boke. The fyrst is a letter which was wryten vnto the faythful followers of Christes gospell. Also another treatese called the Myrrour or glasse to knowe thy selfe. Here vnto is added a propre instruction teaching a man to dye gladly and not to feare death [London?: W. Hill, 1548 or 1549]. National Library of Scotland.
———. A disputacio[n] of purgatorye made by Ioh[a]n Frith which is deuided in to thre bokes. The first boke is an answere vnto Rastell, which goeth aboute to proue purgatorye by naturall phylosophye. The seconde boke answereth vnto Sir Thomas More, which laboureth to proue purgatorye by scripture. The thirde boke maketh answere vnto my lorde of Rochestre which most leaneth vnto the doctoures, [Antwerp: S. Cock, 1531?].British Library.
———. A myrroure or lokynge glasse wherin you may beholde the sacramente of baptisme described. Anno. M.D.xxxiii. Per me I.F., [Imprinted at Lo[n]do[n]: By Ihon Daye, dwellynge in Sepulchres parishe, at the signe of the Resurrection, a litle aboue Holburne condite, [1548?]]. Cambridge University Library.
———. A mirroure to know thyselfe [Antwerp: M. Crom, ca. 1536?]. Bodleian Library.
———. An other boke against Rastel named the subsedye or bulwark to his fyrst boke, made by Ihon Frithe preso[n]ner in the Tower [London?: S.n., 1537?]. British Library.
———. A pistle to the Christen reader. The revelation of Antichrist. Antithesis, wherin are compared to geder Christes actes and oure holye father the Popes. At Malborow in the lande of Hesse [Antwerp]: the. xij. day of Iulye, anno. M.CCCCC.xxix. by me Hans luft [Martin de Keyser]. British Library.
———. [Paitrikes places] [Antwerp: S. Cock, 1531?]. Trinity College Library.
———, and William Tyndale. The testament of master Wylliam Tracie esquier, expounded both by Willism Tindall and Iho[n] Frith. Wherin thou shalt perceyue with what charitie y[e] chaunceler of Worcester burned whan he toke vp the deek carkas and made asshes of hit after hit was buried, [Antwerp: H. Peetersen van Middelburch?], M.D.xxxv. [1535]. British Library.
More, Thomas. A dyaloge of syr Thomas More knyghte: one of the counsayll of oure souerayne lorde the kyng [and] chauncellour of hys duchy of Lancaster. Wherin be treated dyuers maters, as of the veneration [and] worshyp of ymages [and] relyques, prayng to sayntys, [and] goyng o[n] pylgrymage. Wyth many othere thyngys touching the pestylent sect of Luther and Tyndale, by the tone bygone in Sarony, and by tother laboryed to be brought in to Englond, [Enprynted at London: [By J. Rastell] at the sygne of the meremayd at Powlys gate next to chepe syde in the moneth of June, the yere of our lord. M. [and] C.xxix. [1529]]. Folger Shakespeare Library.
Tyndale, William. An answere vnto Sir Thomas Mores dialoge made by Vvillyam Tindale. First he declareth what the church is, and geveth a reason of certayne wordes which Master More rebuketh in the tra[n]slacion of the newe Testament. After that he answereth particularlye vnto everye chaptre which semeth to haue anye apperaunce of truth thorow all his.iiij. bokes, [Antwerp: S. Cock, 1531]. British Library.
———. The examinacion of Master William Thorpe preste accursed of heresye before Thomas Arundell, Archebishop of Canterbury, the yere of ower Lord. MCCC. And seuen. The examinacion of the honorable knight syr Ihon Oldcastell Lorde Cobham, burnt bi the said Archebisshop, in the first yere of Kynge Henry the Fyfth., [Antwerp: J. van Hoochstraten, 1530]. British Library.
———. The exposition of the fyrst epistle of seynt Jhon with a prologge before it: by W.T., [Antwerp: M. de Keyser, 1531]. British Library.
———. That fayth the mother of all good workes iustifieth us before we ca[n] bringe forth anye good worke …, [Printed at Malborowe [i.e., Antwerp] in the londe of hesse: By Hans Luft [i.e., J. Hoochstraten], the. viii. day of May. Anno M.D.xxviii] [1528]. British Library.
———. The firste boke of Moses called Genesis newly correctyd and amendyd by W.T., [Antwerp: M. de Keyser], MD. XXXIIII [1534]. Cambridge University Library.
———. [New Testament] [Cologne: H. Fuchs, 1525].
———. The Newe Testament dylygently corrected and compared with the Greke by Willyam Tindale, and fynesshed in the yere of our Lorde God A.M.D. & xxxiiij. in the moneth of Nouember., Imprinted at Anwerp [sic]: By Marten Emperowr, M.D.xxxiiij [1534]. British Library.
———. The Newe Testament yet once agayne corrected by Willyam Tindale; where vnto is added a kalendar and a necessarye table wherin earlye and lightelye maye be founde any storye contayned in the foure Euangelistes and in the Actes of the Apostles., [Antwerp: M. De Keyser for G. van der Haghen], Prynted in the yere of oure Lorde God M.D.[?].xxxo. [1530–1534?]. Bodleian Library and John Rylands University Library of Manchester.
———. The obedie[n]ce of a Christen man and how Christe[n] rulers ought to governe, where in also (if thou marke diligently) thou shalt fynde eyes to perceave the crafty conveyance of all iugglers., [At Marlborow in the la[n]de of Hesse [i.e., Antwerp]: the seconde daye of October. Anno. M.CCCCC.xxviii, by me Hans luft [i.e., J. Hoochstraten], [1528]]. Bodleian Library.
———. Pathway to the Holy Scriptures [London: Thomas Godfray, 1536?]. Emmanuel College Library, Cambridge University.
———. [The Pentateuch]. Imprented at Malborow in the lande of Hesse [i.e., Antwerp]: By me Hans Luft [ i.e., Johan Hoochstraten], M. the. xvij dayes of Januarij [17 Jan. 1530] Cambridge University Library.
———. The practyse of prelates Whether the Kinges grace maye be separated from hys quene, be cause she was his brothers wyfe., marborch [i.e., Antwerp: Printed by Joannes Hoochstraten], In the yere of oure Lorde. M.CCCCC. [and] XXX. [1530]. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
———. The prayer and complaynt of the ploweman vnto Christ writte[n] nat longe after the yere of our Lorde. M. [and] thre hu[n]dred., [London: T. Godfrey, ca. 1532]. Bodleian Library.
———. The prophete Ionas with an introduccio[n] before teachinge to vndersto[n]de him and the right vse also of all the scripture, and why it waswritten, and what is therin to be sought, and shewenge wherewith the scripture is locked vpp that he which readeth it, can not vndersto[n]de it, though he studie therin never so moch: and agayne with what keyes it is so opened, that the reader can be stopped out with no sotilte or false doctrine of man, from the true sense and vderstondynge therof., [Antwerp: M. de Keyser, 1531?]. British Library.
———, and John Frith. The testament of master Wylliam Tracie esquier, expounded both by Willism Tindall and Iho[n] Frith. Wherin thou shalt perceyue with what charitie y[e] chaunceler of Worcester burned whan he toke vp the deek carkas and made asshes of hit after hit was buried, [Antwerp: H. Peetersen van Middelburch?], M.D.xxxv. [1535]. British Library.
———, and Miles Coverdale. The Byble which is all the holy Scripture: in whych are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament truly and purely translated into Englysh by Thomas Matthew. M,D,XXXVII, Set forth with the Kinges most gracyous lyce[n] ce., [Antwerp: Printed by Matthew Crom for Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch, London, 1537]. British Library.
Modern Editions and Facsimiles of the Writings of English Evangelical Reformers

Duffield, G. E. editor. The Work of William Tyndale. Abingdon: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1964.
Greenslade, S. L. The Work of William Tindale, with an essay on Tindale and the English Language by G. D. Bone. London: Blackie & Son, 1938.
Mombert, J. I., editor. William Tyndale’s Five Books of Moses, Called the Pentateuch, Being a Verbatim Reprint of the Edition M.CCCCC.XXX. Compared with Tyndale’s Genesis of 1534 … with Various Collations and Prolegomena. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph, 1884.
Tyndale, William. An answere vnto Sir Thomas Mores Dialoge. The Independent Works of William Tyndale, Volume 3. Edited by Anne M. O’Donnell and Jared Wicks. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2000.
———. The Beginning of the New Testament Translated by William Tyndale, 1525. Facsimile of the Unique Fragment of the Uncompleted Cologne Edition with an Introduction by Alfred W. Pollard. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926.
———. The Prophete Jonas with an introduction before teachinge to understande him and the right use also of all the Scripture by William Tyndale. Reproduced in facsimile. To which is added Coverdales version of Jonah, with an introduction by Francis Fray, F.S.A. London: Willis and Sotheran; Bristol: Lasbury, 1863.
———. Tyndale’s New Testament. Translated by William Tyndale. Edited with an introduction by David Daniell. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
———. Tyndale’s Old Testament. Translated by William Tyndale. Edited with an introduction by David Daniell. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Parker, Douglas H., editor. A Critical Edition of Robert Barnes’ A supplication Vnto the Most Gracyous Prince Kynge Henry The. VIIJ. 1534. University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Russell, T., editor. The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale and John Frith. 3 volumes. London, 1831.
Walter, H., editor. An answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue: the supper of the Lord after the true meaning of John VI. and 1 Cor. XI. And Wm. Tracy’s Testament Expounded. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1850.
———. Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. 1848. Reprint, Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2005.
———. Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures, together with the Practice of Prelates. 1849. Reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004.
Writings of Tindal, Frith, and Barnes. London: Religious Tract Society, 1830; reprint, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1842.
Primary Sources of the English Reformation

Colet, John. An Exposition of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Delivered as Lectures in the University of Oxford about the year 1497. Translated by J. H. Lupton. Ridgewood, NJ: Gregg, 1965.
Ellis, Sir Henry, editor. Original Letters Illustrative of English History. London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, 1846.
Hatt, Cecilia A., editor. English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469–1535): Sermons and other Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Henry VIII. Answere Unto A Certaine Letter of Martyn Lther [London, 1528]. Amsterdam: Da Capo, 1971.
Hudson, Anne, editor. Selections from English Wycliffite Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Lawler, Thomas M. C., Germain Marc’hadour, and Richard C. Marius, editors. The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. Vol. 6.1. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, preserved in the Public Record Office, the British Museum, and elsewhere. 2nd ed. Revised and greatly enlarged by R. H. Brodie. 21 vols. 1920. Reprint, Vaduz Kraus, 1965.
Schuster, Louis A., Richard C. Marius, James P. Lusardi, and Richard J. Schoeck, eds. The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer. Part 3. The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of Thomas More. Vol. 8. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973.
Strype, John, editor. Ecclesiastical memorials, relating chiefly to religion, and the Reformation of it, and the emergencies of the Church of England, under King Henry VIII. King Edward VI. And Queen Mary I.: with large appendixes, containing original papers, records, &c. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1822.
Writings of Luther and the Continental Reformation

Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche: Herausgegeben im Gedenkjahr der Augsburgischen Konfession 1930. Zwolfte Auflage. Götingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 vols. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated and Indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Library of Christian Classics Volume 20. Philadelphia Westminster, 1960.
———. Opera quae supersunt omnia. Corpus Reformatorum [microform]. Volumes 29–87. Edited by Guilielmus Baum, Eduardus Cunitz, and Eduardus Reuss, et al. Braunchsweig-Berlin, 1863–1900.
Chemnitz, Martin. Loci Theologici. Vol. 2. Translated by J. A. O. Preus. St. Louis: Concordia, 1989.
———. Loci Theologici De Coena Domini De Duabus Naturis in Christo Theologiae Jesuitarum [Frankfurt and Wittenberg, 1653]. A facsimile published by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation. Chelsea, MI: Sheridan, 2000.
Kolb, Robert, and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.
Lenker, John Nicholas, editor. The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther. 7 Volumes. Translated by John Nicholas Lenker, et al. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works: American Edition [CD-ROM]. 55 vols. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. St. Louis: Concordia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955–1986.
———. D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. 63 volumes. Weimar, 1883–1987; reprint, Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger Weimer, 2001.
Melancthon, Philipp. Loci Communes 1543. Translated and Edited by J. A. O. Preus. St Louis: Concordia, 1992.
———. Melancthon on Christian Doctrine: Loci Communes, 1555. Translated and edited by Clyde Manshreck. 1965. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982.
———. Opera quae supersunt omnia. Corpus Reformatorum [microform]. Volumes 1–28. Edited by C. G. Bretschneider and H. E. Bindsell. Halle, 1834–1860.
Pauck, Wilhelm, editor. Melancthon and Bucer. Translated by Lowell Satre. Library of Christian Classics 19. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969.
Tappert, Theodore G., editor. The Book of Concord. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959.
Secondary Sources and Other Writings Cited

Althaus, Paul. The Divine Command. Translated by Franklin Sherman with an introduction by William H. Lazareth. Social Ethics Series. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966.
———. The Ethics of Martin Luther. Translated with a foreword by Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1972.
———. The Theology of Martin Luther. Translated by Robert C. Schulz. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.
Amos, N. Scott, Andrew Pettegree, and Henk Van Nierop, eds. The Education of a Christian Society: Humanism and the Reformation in Britain and the Netherlands: Papers Delivered to the Thirteenth Anglo-Dutch Historical Conference, 1997. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.
Anderson, Charles S. “The Person and Position of Dr. Robert Barnes, 1495–1540: A Study in the Relationship between the English and German Reformations.” ThD diss., Union Theological Seminary, 1962.
———. “Robert Barnes on Luther.” In Interpreters of Luther: Essays in Honor of Wilhelm Pauck, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan 35–66. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968.
Aston, Margaret. “Lollardy and the Reformation: Survival or Revival?” History 49 (1964) 149–70.
Aulén, Gustaf. Christus Victor. Translated by A.G. Herbert. London: SPCK, 1931.
Avis, Frederick, C. “Book Smuggling into England during the Sixteenth Century.” Gutenberg Jahrbuch (1972) 180–87. Mainz: Gutenberg Gesellschaft,
———. “England’s Use of Antwerp Printers, 1500–1540.” Gutenberg Jahrbuch (1973) 239–40. Mainz: Gutenberg Gesellschaft.
Bagchi, David, and David C. Steinmetz, editors. The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Bainton, Roland. Erasmus of Christendom. New York: Scribner, 1969.
Baker, D., editor. Reform and Reformation: England and the Continent c. 1500—c. 1750. Oxford: Blackwell, 1979.
Baker, J. Wayne. Heinrich Bullinger and the Covenant: The Other Reformed Tradition. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980.
Barth, Karl. Community, State and Church: Three Essays. Translated by A.M. Hall with an introduction by Will Herberg. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1960.
Bayer, Oswald. Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation. Translated by Thomas H. Trapp. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2008.
Beeke, Joel R. The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and His Successors. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1999.
Bierma, Lyle D. German Calvinism in the Confessional Age: The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.
Bornkamm, Heinrich. Luther in Mid-Career 1521–1530. Edited with a foreword by Karin Bornkamm. Translated by E. Theodore Bachmann. London: Darton Longman, & Todd, 1983.
———. Luther and the Old Testament. Translated by Eric W. and Ruth C. Gritsch. Edited by Victor I. Gruhn. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969.
Bouman, Walter R. “The Concept of the ‘Law’ in the Lutheran Tradition.” Word & World 3 (1983) 413–22.
Bozeman, Theodore Dwight. The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Braaten, Carl. “Reflections on the Lutheran Doctrine of the Law.” Lutheran Quarterly 18.1 (1966) 72–84.
———, and Robert W. Jensen, editors. Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.
Bray, Gerald. “Luther’s Legacy to the English Reformation.” Evangel 15.2 (1997) 42–50.
Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483–1521. Translated by James L. Schaaf. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985.
———. Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1533–1546. Translated by James L. Schaaf. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.
———. Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation, 1521–1532. Translated by James L. Schaaf. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.
Bridston, K. R., “Law and Gospel and Their Relationship in the Theology of Luther.” PhD diss., University of Edinburgh, 1949.
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———. “Gesetz und Evangelium und der dritte Gebrauch des Gesetzes in der lutherischen Theologie.” Zur Theologie Luthers: Aus der Arbeit der Luther-Agricola Gesellschaft in Finnland. Schriften der Luther-Agricola Gesellschaft in Finnland 4. Helsinki: Ackademische Buchhandlung, 1943.
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500 Jahre Reformation, Luther und wie heutige Theologen das sehen (Englisch), part 2

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Law and Gospel in Luther’s Later Years and His Dispute with the Antinomians (1530–1540)
AFTER THE FAILURE TO OBTAIN LEGAL RECOGNITION OF THE AUGSBURG Confession in 1530, the Lutheran territories were put on guard against the threat of an offensive war from Charles V to remake Catholic Christendom. The Protestants began banding together in 1531 to form a defensive military alliance known as the Schmalkaldic League led by Electoral Saxony and Hesse. Yet, in light of new attacks from the East by Turks, Charles again, for the sake of garnering support from the imperial lands, held off on his conquest of the Protestants in the Nuremberg Standstill of 1532. For more than a decade after this, Lutheran reform continued to expand and consolidate, incorporating newer territories and imperial cities into the League. During the relative calm of this decade, Luther continued to lecture, preach, debate, and write, working both to stoke and to confine the fires of reformation.
One of the most important works for understanding Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel in the 1530s is his revised lectures on Galatians, delivered from July to November of 1531 and published as a commentary from the transcript notes of George Rörer in 1535. Although not entirely rejecting his earlier lectures published in 1519, Luther looks back upon them as merely the first dawn of his evangelical breakthrough on the Gospel of justification by faith in Christ alone now requiring greater clarity for a new generation. In the new Galatians lectures, Luther describes justification and grace with an even sharper emphasis on the imputation of righteousness in Christ through faith alone. At the same time, Luther revises his earlier emphasis against the righteousness of works in late medieval theology with even greater stress now on the necessity of repentance and obligation to the Law in the light of the antinomian tendencies discovered in the recent parish visitations.
Luther describes the book of Galatians as “his Katie,” a term of endearment and an obvious reference to his wife Katherine von Bora whom he married in 1525 as a vivid testimony to his own preaching of freedom from ecclesiastical laws and vows of celibacy in favor of the sanctity of married life. The commentary, much like his first lectures, speaks so profoundly of Christian freedom from the Law, but Luther also speaks positively of the Law and its importance in the life of the Christian. At the very outset of the lectures Luther states profoundly that, “Therefore the highest art and wisdom of Christians is not to know the Law, to ignore works and all active righteousness, just as outside the people of God the highest wisdom is to know and study the Law, works, and active righteousness.” However, Luther goes on to explain that such disparagement of the Law has to do with living “before God” (coram Deo) as if divine acceptance was attainable by works, which is contrary to the Gospel promise that justification is available through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Luther goes on to state: “works and the performance of the Law must be demanded in this world as though there were no promise or grace. This is because of the stubborn, proud, and hard hearted, before whose eyes nothing must be set except the Law, in order that they may be terrified and humbled. For the Law was given to terrify and kill the stubborn and to exercise the old man.” This statement clearly excludes the position of the antinomians. It occurs years before his open dispute with Agricola in 1537, yet it obviously bears the imprint of his involvement in the parish visitation controversies of 1527–1528. For Luther, the issue at hand is a confusion of “two kinds of righteousness” (duas iustitias), the “active” (activam) righteousness of works with relation to others and the “passive” (passivam) righteousness of grace before God through Christ. As stated by Luther much earlier in his biblical lectures on Romans and Galatians and all throughout the 1520s, the Law in its Mosaic ministry needs to be preached for the sake of the wicked and the not justified. In the life of the Christian, the Law and works have a role to play with regard to the flesh. Thus, “as long as we live here, both remain,” that is, both Law and Gospel: “that in a Christian the Law must not exceed its limits but should have its dominion only over the flesh, which is subjected to it and remains under it … But if it wants to ascend into the conscience and exert its rule there, see to it that you are a good dialectician and that you make the correct distinction.”
The proper place of the Gospel is in the conscience before God to assure it of the promises of His complete grace and favor apart from all works, whereas the proper place of the Law is then to rule over the flesh in obedience to God. The distinction must be maintained, for whereas failure to uphold the latter will lead to a license to sin, failure to uphold the former will lead to despair and bondage under the Law in sin: “Therefore whoever knows well how to distinguish the Gospel from the Law should give thanks to God and know that he is a real theologian. I myself do not know how to do this as I should.” The distinction between Law and Gospel is compared to that of heaven and earth, light and darkness, or day and night, and yet it would be better “If we could only put an even greater distance between them.” Luther describes the proper distinction of Law and Gospel as the “summary of all Christian doctrine … There is a time to hear the Law and a time to despise the Law. There is a time to hear the Gospel and a time to know nothing about the Gospel … in a matter apart from conscience, when outward duties must be performed, then, whether you are a preacher, a magistrate, a husband, a teacher, a pupil, etc. this is no time to listen to the Gospel. You must listen to the Law and follow your vocation. Thus the Law remains in the valley with the ass, and the Gospel remains with Isaac on the mountain.” This echoes the point Luther had made years before in his A Freedom of A Christian (1520), wherein he stated that the Christian is paradoxically both a totally freeman before God and yet a slave with regard to his calling and obligation to mortify the flesh in service to others.
Luther reaffirms this proper balancing of Law and Gospel in a series of sermons on the Gospel of John preached on Saturdays from 1530–32 in the absence of Bugenhagen. Whereas Luther early on in his career stressed the preaching of the Gospel to counteract a theology of works-righteousness, in these sermons He urges the preaching of the Law to counteract presumption and moral complacency. To keep from creating lazy Christians through the preaching of the Gospel, the Law is urged upon the alten Adam: “Refrain from sin! Be pious! Desist from this, and do that!” Yet, at the instant the conscience begins to feel burdened by the accusations of the Law as if the righteousness of justification was by obedience in works, the Law must yield to the promise of the Gospel. In a conversation recorded by Veit Dietrich in 1533, Luther states that such a proper distinction of the Gospel in relationship to the Law is a mighty rebuke against the torments of the Devil who troubles consciences by confusing the Gospel with Law and righteousness with works.
Righteousness before God belongs to Christians through passive trust in the promise of the Gospel, but moral action is the obligation of Christians in their duty to the Law and to the battle against the flesh: “as long as the body is alive, the flesh must be disciplined by laws and vexed by the requirements and punishments of laws, as I have often admonished. But the inner man, who owes nothing to the Law but is free of it, is a living, righteous, and holy person …” The Christian with regard to faith is entirely free from the demands and torments of the Law and is fully righteous before God but the “flesh” remains at enmity with the work of the Spirit and must still be controlled by the Law.
In a very key passage in the new Galatians lectures, Luther gives his first formal definition of a “double use of the law” (duplicem esse legis usum). The first use of the Law is its “civic” (civilis) use, which God uses to restrain the wicked and not justified by coercing them into outward obedience by the means of the civil sword and temporal threats and punishments: “This is why God has ordained magistrates, parents, teachers, laws, shackles, and all civic ordinances, so that, if they cannot do anymore they will at least bind the hands of the devil and keep him from raging at will.” God uses the Law in this way to maintain public peace and social order so that the wicked do not utterly destroy one another and so that the Gospel can be free to do its work unhindered “by the tumults and seditions of wild men.”13
The most important and primary use of the Law for Luther, however, is its “theological or spiritual one” (Theologicus seu Spiritualis). This use of the Law reveals to unconverted consciences “sin, blindness, misery, wickedness, ignorance, hate and contempt of God, death, hell, judgment, and the well-deserved wrath of God.” Instead of the Law having the ability to make people good or acceptable to God, this use breaks down all presumption and self-righteousness and shows people how bad they really are at the core of their being. When confronted with the impossible demands of the Law and the threat of eternal judgment for disobedience, the first reaction is to hate the Law and to hate God, wishing that neither existed. In this way the Law actually increases sins, but with the purpose that God will use such knowledge to convert sinners in their desperation to desire and believe the mercy promised in the Gospel. This use of the Law is the most important for Luther because it is a prelude to justifying faith and the gift of eternal life: “Therefore the Law is a minister and a preparation for grace.” These statements again reaffirm Luther’s agreement with Melancthon (and vice versa) against Agricola in the Instructions for the Visitors (1528).
To drive the sinner to Christ for justification is the primary function of the Law for Luther, “so when the Law is being used correctly, it does nothing but reveal sin, work wrath, accuse, terrify, and reduce the minds of men to the point of despair. And that is as far as the Law goes.” Influential scholars such as Ragnar Bring argue that statements like this indicate that Luther never conceived, either explicitly or implicitly, of a “third use of the Law” for the Christian life. Rather, the Law continues to function in the life of the Christian in terms of the first and second uses, which are not a “third use.” One problem with this interpretation is that the second, or theological, use of the Law always drives the sinner to faith in Christ in the mind of Luther, but Luther also believed that the commandments of the New Testament, which are kindlier interpretations and explanations of the Law, are taught to Christians in the very light of the Gospel promise in order to exhort them who believe to obedience on account of the flesh. Furthermore, it is important to observe that, for Luther, the formal definition of the “second use of the Law” is to terrify, accuse, and condemn the consciences of the not justified of the eternal wrath of God. It is the Mosaic preaching of the Law with threats and warnings that is nullified through faith in Christ,16 but that does not mean that the Christian has no need to use the Law against the flesh in obedience to God.
According to Luther, however, the Christian does live in a paradox of times, the “time of Law” and the “time of grace.” The time of the Law did end in a sense when Christ fulfilled the Law and abolished the Old Covenant, yet it ends “personally and spiritually every day in any Christian, in whom are found the time of Law and the time of grace in constant alternation.” The Christian sins, though “not coarse sins like murder, adultery or theft,” but “feelings of impatience, grumbling, hatred, and blasphemy against God.” Therefore, the Christian remains under the “time of the Law” as it “disciplines, vexes, and saddens me, when it brings me to a knowledge of sin and increases this” [that is, it increases the knowledge of sin]. Ironically, the oscillation between the knowledge of sin and trust in the Gospel is vital to abiding in Christ so that repentance and faith continue and increase throughout the Christian life, being properly synthesized against the extremes of despair and presumption. Luther recognizes that the Law will never cease in bringing to mind the knowledge of sin throughout the Christian life and even the condemnation that it deserves, but reassurance of the favor of God promised in the Gospel also never ceases.
When Luther speaks of the continuing role of the Law in revealing sins, however, he is not simply equating this with the formal “theological” or “spiritual use,” which troubles and terrorizes the consciences of those “who are to be justified” (iustificandi). Even Ebeling recognizes the fact that many scholars have overlooked the different mode of the usus theologicus in the pii compared with the impii, although he is not willing on this account to associate this with a “third use.” Luther states, however, that those “who are to be justified” are: “disciplined by the theological use of the Law for a time; for it does not last forever, as the civic use does, but it looks forward to the coming of faith, and when Christ comes, it is finished. From this it is abundantly clear that all the passages in which Paul treats the spiritual use of the Law must be understood about those who are to be justified, not about those who have already been justified.” Althaus also recognizes that the ongoing theological use of the Law in revealing sins and evoking contrition in the life of the Christian for the renewal of repentance and the battle with sin is to be clearly distinguished from the theological use of the Law to terrorize the consciences of the not yet justified who stand condemned under the Law.20
Much like his earlier Galatians lectures, Luther interprets Paul’s description of the Law as a “schoolmaster” in Galatians 3:24–25 as referring to the complete freedom of the Christian from the Law with regard to faith in Christ through the Spirit. Just as the office of the hired tutor was never meant to be permanent, so in a similar manner the office of the Law to rule by compulsion and terrors is finished with the coming of faith in Christ, in whom there is freedom from the slavery, harassment, and tyranny of the Law. However, Luther is quick to acknowledge that the justified do not “take hold of” Christ perfectly and, later on, that “the flesh, the world, and the devil do not permit faith to be perfect.” Thus, as long as Christians remain sinners and their faith imperfect, the Law will return to harass and trouble them again and again, yet they must also grasp the Gospel in faith with the assurance “that according to our conscience we are completely free of the Law. Therefore, this custodian must not rule in our conscience, that is, must not menace it with his terrors, threats, and captivity.” A healthy understanding of the role of the Law in the Christian life is to allow it to have “dominion over the flesh and the old self; let this be under the Law; let this permit the burden to be laid upon it; let this permit itself to be disciplined and vexed by the Law; let the Law prescribe to this what it should do and accomplish, and how it should deal with other men. But let the Law not pollute the chamber in which Christ alone should take His rest and sleep.” Elsewhere, he says that “the Law of the Decalog has no right to accuse and terrify the conscience in which Christ reigns through grace, for Christ has made this right obsolete.”22 As a help to Christians to convince them of this truth, Luther explains in his Commentary on Psalm 45, originally part of a larger series of lectures on the Psalms delivered in the early 1530s, that the Mosaic ministry of the Law has even been removed symbolically in the historical event of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD: “Not only has the divine worship ceased, but the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed, and the Jews have been dispersed throughout the entire world—and justly.”
The Christian life is for Luther really a growth in the apprehension of Christ and the promise of His grace. For Luther, Christian maturity is always defined in terms of growth in faith. Whereas the Law will never cease in this life to convict Christians of their being still sinners, Christ in the Gospel continually comforts and reassures them of His grace: “Thus the conscience takes hold of Christ more perfectly day by day; and day by day the law of flesh and sin, the fear of death, and whatever other evils the law bring with it are diminishing. For as long as we live in a flesh that is not free of sin, so long the Law keeps coming back and performing its function, more in one person and less in another, not to harm but to save. This discipline of the Law is the daily mortification of the flesh, the reason, and our powers, and the renewal of our mind.”
Bring rightly argues that Luther describes Christian conversion as a daily and ongoing experience rather than a single past event or moment of existential crisis. He argues that misinterpretations of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel result precisely from the influence of Pietism on modern Protestant evangelicalism in its emphasis on an identifiable conversion experience (die Bekeherten) of being “born-again” (widergeborenen). In Luther, however, Bring says the emphasis in regeneration and conversion is a daily process continuing throughout the entire life of the Christian. Therefore, the Law continues its old ways because the Christian life is a daily cycle from repentance under the Law to a renewal of faith in the Gospel.
Bring is certainly right to an extent to interpret Luther in this way, but it is important to keep in mind that perseverance through this process describes the experience of the justified. Even weak faith is justifying from the moment of its first inception. Such a young or immature Christian with weaker faith may indeed suffer much more under the vexations of the Law, but the Law has just as much right to condemn him or her as it does a person of much stronger faith. Luther describes the one who has the beginnings of faith and the first fruits of the Spirit in terms of a lump of dough not yet fully leavened. The leaven represents the miniscule, even imperceptible, redeeming presence of Christ in faith, whereas the lump that hides the leaven is characterized by feelings of “greed, sexual desire, anger, pride, the terror of death, sadness, fear, hate, grumbling, and impatience with God.” It is impossible for these attributes to be completely eradicated in the Christian life this side of the resurrection, yet they do not result in condemnation even for those who would “fulfill” them in weakness because they do not give full consent to them with indifference. It is with regard to sinful promptings, frequent stumblings, and so that faith might not become presumption through the flesh that: “there is still need for a custodian to discipline and torment the flesh, that powerful jackass, so that by this discipline sins may be diminished and the way prepared for Christ … so He comes to us spiritually without interruption and continually smothers and kills these things in us.” This amounts to an ongoing, even increasing, experience of repentance in the life of the Christian, which results in the increase of faith and the daily mortification of sin. As this relates to the action of the Law in the life of the justified Christian, this appears to be something developed more explicitly by Luther in his theology of the 1530s and probably resulted from his involvement in the recent parish visitation controversies over the doctrine of repentance.
Yet when it comes to the matter of being justified before God, the Law cannot be downgraded enough: “we cannot speak of it in sufficiently vile and odious terms either. For here the conscience should consider and know nothing except Christ alone.” When it concerns moral action, however, the Law should be spoken of with the highest regard: “Apart from our conscience we should make a god of it, but in our conscience it is truly a devil …” As Luther made clear in his earlier The Freedom of A Christian (1520), a Christian relates to God entirely on the basis of faith in Christ alone while relating to others through obedience to the Law and good works. All truly good works are directed, not to God to merit His favor in justification, but to others for “the peace of the world, gratitude toward God, and a good example by which others are invited to believe the Gospel.” For Luther, faith toward God, who has no need of works, and moral action on behalf of others, who have no need of faith, is the very sum of the Christian life.29
Near the middle of 1535 and on into the decade of the 1540s Luther lectured on the book of Genesis. The lectures were interrupted once in July 1535 by an outbreak of the plague in Wittenberg and were resumed at the beginning of 1536. By 1538–1539, Luther had only reached chapter twenty. As was the case with many other published sermons and lectures of Luther, these are not from his pen nor are they even an unedited transcript of his actual lectures. An anachronistic reference to the death of Robert Barnes (d. 1540), the uniform accuracy of classical quotations, and even a positive reference to astrology, reinforces the opinion of some scholars that the theology presented in these lectures may have been adulterated to conform to the concerns of the second generation of Lutheran reformers. Yet, Jaroslav Pelikan argues that the lectures, while clearly edited by Veit Dietrich, are still basically Luther’s voice and must be compared with even more reliable works of the later 1530s and not just with his earlier writings.
In these lectures, Luther distinguishes between the giving of the Law before the Fall, after the Fall, and in the context of the New Covenant of faith and grace. To Adam, despite his innocence and righteousness, God gave a Law, “that he might have an outward form of worship by which to show his obedience and gratitude toward God.” In a similar sense, even the “guiltless” angels are given commandments and instructions to follow in service to the will of God.
Luther makes a similar point in a contemporaneous sermon series preached on the Gospel of John 14–16 in the spring of 1537. Caspar Cruciger (1504–1548), an in-law to Luther through the marriage of their children, recorded the sermons and edited them as a commentary in 1538–1539. Luther prized them above all his other works. According to the sermons, Luther observes that Christ in the Gospel of John gives commandments to His disciples in the context of fellowship with Him. In this regard, the commandments are quite similar to the commandments given to Adam in the Garden in that they are not given so that the favor of God, already possessed, might be merited, but with regard to showing gratitude through obedience. Christ teaches the disciples as one would speak lovingly to a friend and commands them to love one another as He has loved them. The instruction is not harsh as if burdening the conscience with works and threats of God’s wrath without providing any help to obey. The commandment is given precisely in the light of the promise of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. To lack the desire to obey this commandment shows that such a person has not yet accepted the gift of fellowship with God by faith in Christ.33 This comparison of the Mosaic ministry of the Law with the moral entreaties of Christ given in the context of fellowship with God by His grace is entirely consistent with what Luther has already expressed earlier in the 1520s.
During the years that Luther lectured on the book of Genesis, he also became more outspoken against the antinomianism of Agricola. In the Table Talk, from personal notes recorded by Anthony Lauterbach and Jerome Weller, Wittenberg students and frequent visitors in the Luther home, Luther criticizes Agricola for pitting the violatio legis against the violatio filii, as if the latter was the only true violation. Furthermore, the sufferings of Christ on the cross do inspire contrition or repentance, but in so doing they are acting as Law in the proper sense rather than the Gospel.
Recent scholarship argues that significant divergences between Agricola and Luther over the nature of Law and Gospel appear much earlier than the later 1530s. Kjeldgaard-Pederson argues that differences can be traced as far back as 1524 in Agricola’s earliest printed works. Wengert observes that Agricola’s works of 1525–1527 lack any acknowledgment of a function of the Law before faith and justification. For Agricola, the preaching of the Law can do nothing but create despair, which led him conclusively to a “de facto exclusion of the law before the gospel.”
Yet Luther did not enter into personal dispute with Agricola until late in the 1530s. Luther had apparently been ill during much of Melancthon’s debate with Agricola at Torgau in 1527 and was content with the compromise. As mentioned in the previous chapter, despite a public reconciliation, Melancthon wrote to Justus Jonas that he and Agricola continued debating over breakfast after the end of the formal debate.
Upon returning to Wittenberg from Eisleben in 1536, Agricola boarded with Luther in his home, even filling in for him as preacher and lecturer while Luther was away at a conference of Protestant allies in Schmalkalden in 1537. Luther had been asked by Elector John Frederick to propose theological articles to be considered by the members of the Schmalcaldic League identifying what concessions it could and could not make were it to send representatives to a council summoned by Pope Paul III in 1536. The articles, though not adopted officially by the League on account of their divisiveness, were published in 1538 with the addition of a preface and were adamant in affirming the importance of preaching the Law for repentance.40 Ironically, this was the very theological perspective that Agricola had long since come to reject. Other theologians in Wittenberg were not as welcoming of him, and it is possible that their opinions were instrumental in turning Luther against his former friend by the time he returned from Schmalkalden. At this time, a series of anonymous theses denouncing the preaching of the Law also began circulating in Wittenberg. Luther ascribed them to Agricola and published them along with his own refutations and a challenge to public disputation. In September of 1537 Luther preached sermons against Agricola, and the first disputation took place in December, though in Agricola’s absence. In a telling comment recorded by Lauterbach and Weller, Luther states: “I’ve had him at my table, he has laughed with me, and yet he opposes me behind my back … But to reject the law, without which neither church nor civil authority nor home nor any individual can exist, is to kick the bottom of the barrel. It’s time to resist. I can’t and won’t stand for it!”42
A second disputation took place in January of 1538, and this time Agricola publicly agreed to keep private his own opinions on the matter. However, Luther became frustrated when the insincerity of Agricola’s compliance soon became apparent. In September of 1538, a third public disputation was held in the hope that Agricola would finally recant, though Agricola again failed to show up. In the context of this third disputation, Luther explains why he now so adamantly defends the preaching of the Law in light of the fact that the urgency of his earliest writings was weighted significantly towards the preaching of the Gospel:

True it is that at the early stage of this movement we began strenuously to teach the gospel and made use of these words which the Antinomians now quote. But the circumstances of that time were very different from those of the present day. Then the world was terrorized enough when the pope or the visage of a single priest shook the whole of Olympus, not to mention earth and hell, over all which that man of sin had usurped the power to himself. To the consciences of men so oppressed, terrified, miserable, anxious, and afflicted, there was no need to inculcate the law. The clamant need then was to present the other part of the teaching of Christ in which he commands us to preach the remission of sin in his name, so that those who were already sufficiently terrified might learn not to despair, but to take refuge in the grace and mercy offered in Christ. Now, however, when the times are very dissimilar from those under the pope, our Antinomians—those suave theologians—retain our words, our doctrine, the joyful tidings concerning Christ, and wish to preach this alone, not observing that men are other than they were under that hangman, the pope, and have become secure, forward, wicked violators—yea, Epicureans who neither fear God nor men. Such men they confirm and comfort by their doctrine. In those days we were terrorized so that we trembled even at the fall of a leaf … But now our softly singing Antinomians, paying no attention to the change of the times, make men secure who are of themselves already so secure that they fall away from grace … Our view hitherto has been and ought to be this salutary one—if you see the afflicted and contrite, preach grace as much as you can. But not to the secure, the slothful, the harlots, adulterers, and blasphemers.

In 1539, Luther published Against the Antinomians, which was basically a document of recantation prepared at Agricola’s request. At the beginning of the pamphlet, Luther rebukes the antinomians’ belief that the preaching of the Law should be excluded from the Church. That the temporal government has the power to exercise the civil use of the Law was not denied by Agricola, although it is not certain that the particular statement found in the anonymous theses indicating that the Decalogue belongs in courtrooms and not in churches was his own.46
Luther expresses surprise that the antinomians view him as their inspiration, since on more than one occasion he has exposited the use of the Law for the Church: “Furthermore, the commandments are sung in two versions as well as painted, printed, carved, and recited by the children morning, noon, and night.” Luther’s reference to singing the commandments probably refers to hymns he himself composed in 1524 praising the Ten Commandments, including “These are the Holy Ten Commands” and “Man, Wouldst Thou Live all Blissfully.”
Luther concedes to the antinomians that the sufferings of Christ are indeed a profound revelation of God’s wrath against sin and that he himself had described it this way. Yet Luther argues that the antinomians confuse the proper functions of Law and Gospel. For Luther, it was bad logic to reason that the sufferings of Christ make the preaching of the Law irrelevant. On the contrary, in Against the Antinomians, Luther argues that every part of Scripture is valuable in working repentance and not just the “sweet grace and suffering of Christ.” In fact, narrating the sufferings of Christ is simply one way of preaching the Law, albeit in its most powerful way: “For in the Son of God I behold the wrath of God in action, while the law of God shows it to me with words and with lesser deeds.” Nevertheless, for Luther, the preaching of the Law explains why Jesus had to die on the cross in the first place. For this reason, the Law should always be preached alongside the Gospel, and it is meaningless to do away with the word “Law” as the antinomians do, since the revelation of sin and God’s wrath in whatever form it takes performs the proper work of the Law.
Luther continued his tirade against the antinomians in his later lectures on Genesis and named them specifically: “Therefore we justly censure the antinomians, who assert that the threats of the Law have no place in the church.” Whereas the Gospel is the cure for a conscience troubled by sin and the fear of God, the “hammer of the Law” is there to crush the indolence of the smug, the hard-hearted, and the wicked. For Luther, to promise the Gospel to those who are smug and unrepentant is only to indulge and give license to their wickedness.50
The antinomians were known to have said that the sinner need not feel contrition or an impulse to turn from his or her sin before believing in God’s forgiveness. Luther criticizes the antinomians for failing to censure sins by the Law out of their fear that free grace be impugned.52 Luther states emphatically that “God is no antinomian” and that His Word offers the comforting promise of grace only to those whose consciences are burdened by guilt under the Law. Furthermore, to exclude the preaching of the Law excludes the fear of God from the Church along with all the works of God recorded by the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament meant for all ages, such as His outpouring of wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
For Luther, the visible Church is “never altogether pure; the greater part is always wicked …” Thus, the ministry of the Law must certainly continue in the Church for the sake of false Christians. Nevertheless, even the “true saints themselves, who are righteous through faith in the Son of God, have the sinful flesh, which must be mortified by constant chastening.” It is true that Luther’s contention with Agricola appears to be over the preaching of the Law in the Church for the sake of the not justified.55 Indeed, this was the same issue that split Melancthon and Agricola ten years earlier. However, Luther also acknowledges that the harsher preaching of the Law is still useful even for Christians on account of the flesh and for the sake of repentance: “for sins should be denounced, and God’s wrath should be exhibited for the sake of the unbelievers who are in the church, yes, also for the sake of the believers, lest they yield to sin, which still adheres to them, and to their natural weakness.” As mentioned before, this description of the Mosaic ministry of the Law as a service to the Christian seems to be something developed more explicitly in Luther’s theology in the 1530s in the light of the visitation controversies. Whereas Luther had always acknowledged that the life of a Christian is one of ongoing repentance, now he makes more explicit how the preaching of the Law in terms more akin to the Mosaic pedagogy relates to the Christian life of repentance. Of course, as mentioned already, Luther assumes there to be a significant difference between the preaching of the Law in this way for the justified and the not justified. The former do not need the preaching of the Law that they might become justified by faith, but nevertheless they still have the flesh and old man that remains powerfully opposed to faith and the Spirit. Therefore the Christian, to keep from becoming presumptuous and lazy, also has need of the preaching of the Law for a life of ongoing repentance and restoration through the Gospel for the battle against sin and the flesh.
In a conversation recorded in the table talk notes of Lauterbach and Weller, Luther comments at length that:

anybody who abolishes the law in an ecclesiastical context ceases to have a knowledge of sin. The gospel doesn’t expose sin except through the law, which is spiritual and which defines sin in opposition to God’s will. Away with him who claims that transgressors don’t sin against the law but only dishonor the Son of God … they teach everything confusedly and say things like this, ‘Love is the fulfillment of the law, and therefore we have no need of law.’ But those wretched fellows neglect the minor premise: that this fulfillment (namely, love) is weak in our flesh, that we must struggle daily against the flesh with the help of the Spirit, and this belongs under the Law.

Not only is the preaching of the Law necessary for the not justified to restrain the wickedness of them who do not have the Spirit and to properly lead them to Christ for forgiveness, it also restores repentance and the battle against the flesh in the life of the justified Christian. Although Luther can praise the antinomians for preaching that the grace of Christ in the Gospel is given apart from works, he believes they do this at the expense of the necessity of censuring sin and upholding obedience and good works by their neglect to also preach the Law. In his work On Councils and the Church (1539), written preemptively to undermine the authority claimed by a future Catholic council (Trent), Luther argues that preaching the Gospel of forgiveness without also preaching the Law is to exclude the need for repentance that leads through faith to obedience. This is like “granting the premise and denying the conclusion.” In fact, he goes on to state that: “they may be fine Easter preachers … they are very poor Pentecost preachers … he [Christ] has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men … so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation from sin …” In Luther’s opinion, the exclusive preaching of Gospel by the antinomians essentially encouraged the unrepentant to presume upon the mercy of God. The great challenge of pastoral ministry is to appropriately temper the preaching of both Law and Gospel so as to maintain the proper balance between despair under the Law and presumption upon the Gospel.59
In the light of their differences over Law and Gospel, Luther succeeded in keeping Agricola from being elected as dean of the arts faculty at the University of Wittenberg and even proposed that he be placed under the ban. Agricola responded by appealing to the university rector and the Electoral Prince to secure a public hearing, which Luther himself countered in his Against the Eislebener (1540). Count Albert suggested that Agricola be arrested, whose falling out with the leaders of Saxony motivated him to sneak out of Wittenberg in 1540. He fled to Berlin and later became court preacher to Elector Joachim II of Brandenburg. Agricola eventually submitted a retraction and was allowed the right to reenter Electoral Saxony without the fear of arrest, though Luther retained doubts about his sincerity and the two were never reconciled.
Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel remained quite consistent throughout the twenty years spanning the height of his reforming career. In so far as the New Testament commands taught by Christ to His disciples agree with natural Law and the Law of the Decalogue, Luther always acknowledged an important role for the Law in living the Christian life. This went beyond merely describing the life lived spontaneously by faith in Christ through the power of the Spirit, for the Christian always lives in conflict with sin and the flesh and, on that account, must actually heed written moral prescriptions.
Although a role for the Law in the Christian life was not new to his theology in the 1530s, what is new, or at least now made more explicit, is his emphasis that the revealing of sin by the preaching of the Law with threats and warnings is necessary even for the justified Christian with regard to the life of repentance. As Luther himself claims, this emphasis was a direct response to the reactionary overemphasis on the exclusive preaching of the Gospel witnessed in the parish visitations in the late 1520s.
Another significant development in these later years was Luther’s formal definition of the two-fold “usus legis” as it relates to the life of the not justified, although this was certainly nothing new to his theology. Luther had always acknowledged that the preaching of the Law in the Church is essential to establishing a functioning society and that it was only after being humbled by the Law that a person can receive the Gospel with true faith.
What place, then, did Luther have in his theology for a so-called “positive” or “third use of the Law”? Although Luther never names such a “third use,” his belief that the preaching of the Law in the life of the Christian sustains and renews repentance and faith and that the New Testament commandments, exhorting Christians on account of the flesh to obedience on the basis of the love of God in the Gospel, agree with the will of God in the Ten Commandments is commensurate with Melancthon’s more formal definition of the “third use of the Law.”
In a set of theses prepared for the doctoral examination of two Wittenberg graduates in 1535, Luther states that the Christian guided by the Spirit in faith and love can create “new decalogues” even as Jesus and the apostles did in applying the law of love to particular situations. While it is tempting to see in these words a rejection of a necessary external norm to guide the practical life of a Christian in good works, Luther immediately tempers this statement by insisting that the anointing of Jesus and the apostles was unique, and that, because “we are inconstant in spirit, it is necessary also on account of inconstant souls, to adhere to certain commands and writings of the apostles, lest the church be torn to pieces.” In wanting to avoid the errors of more radical reformers who claimed to be needfully controlled only by the inward rule of the Holy Spirit and faith, Luther emphasizes that the written application of the Law in the New Testament is necessary for guiding Christian behavior.
It is also significant to note that in 1537 Luther praised Melancthon’s teachings on the uses of the Law: “Would that we might pay heed to Master Philip! Philip teaches clearly and eloquently about the function of the law. I am inferior to him, although I have also treated this topic clearly in my Galatians.” Following this, the Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz (1522–1586), in his commentary published posthumously in 1591 on Melancthon’s Loci Communes, and in the section specifically devoted to the “third use of the Law,” has this to say: “Luther in a very learned way sought the foundations of this doctrine in the Epistle to the Galatians, and divided the use of the law into one aspect which was civil and one which was theological. Likewise in Galatians 5 there is one use of the Law in justification and another for those who have been justified. From this Luther constructed the threefold division of the uses of the Law.”
It is necessary to acknowledge that Chemnitz’s treatment of the uses of the Law is polemical, particularly as it relates to upholding the preaching of the Law against antinomians and with the purpose of demonstrating his alignment with Luther on the matter. Therefore, it is at least possible that Chemnitz’s interpretation was skewed by an apologetic and rhetorical agenda. Only a closer look at his actual interpretation of the “third use of the Law” will determine whether or not he captured the theological spirit of the first Martin.
As with Luther, Chemnitz opposes those who justify following their own subjective inclinations by appealing to their freedom through the Holy Spirit and faith. Rather, he states that the “apostles everywhere preach about the new obedience of the regenerate and clearly seek the description of this new obedience in the Decalog.” Thus, like Luther, Chemnitz equates the substance of the Decalogue with the commandments of the New Testament. Chemnitz then delineates three separate causes for the “third use of the Law” (Tertius usus) in the life of the Christian. First, he states that the Law of the Decalogue prescribes what good works please God. Secondly, the Law continues to reveal the imperfection of the Christian to counteract presumption and to preserve a sense of repenting dependence upon the mercy and grace of God. Though this has to do with the continuing function of the Law to revealing sin in the life of the Christian, Chemnitz, like Luther, also refrains from simply equating this with the formal “second use of the Law” (Secundus usus Legis), which he clearly associates with the justification of the unregenerate. Thirdly and lastly, the Law is important on account of the fact that the Christian is not yet fully spiritual, but is paradoxically both “old” and “new man.” It is precisely on account of the flesh and the fact that faith, though justifying, is not perfect that the Christian still benefits from compulsion: “For we experience that the new obedience is not so voluntary a thing as a good tree which brings forth its fruit without any command or exhortation.”65 These statements of Chemnitz are essentially the same as those found in the later Formula of Concord (1577) and agree with the theology of both Luther and Melancthon. With regard to Luther, however, the preaching of the Law in this regard is made more explicit in his thought in the 1530s.
Luther always praised the Ten Commandments rightly interpreted as the epitome of a truly Christian life. Yet such a Christian life lived independently from union with Christ by faith in the Gospel was inconceivable to Luther, Melancthon, and the Formula of Concord. The Law gives no power to do good works from the heart. Truly good works in complete fulfillment of the Law only and ever spring spontaneously through faith in Christ alone. Yet, on account of the imperfection of faith and the realistic limits of its rule in the life of Christians who are simul justus et peccator, the written and preached Law is needed both to summon and to guide the justified in obedience to God.


After Lollardy and Humanism

Luther’s Writings in England and the Beginnings of “Evangelical” Reformation
THERE ARE SOME SCHOLARS WHO HAVE ARGUED THAT ENGLISH REFORMERS whose careers emerged during the 1520s owe as much, if not more, to late medieval Lollard or humanist influences than to the writings of Martin Luther. Before making an individual assessment of this claim with regard to the life and thought of Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes, it is important to establish the broader context by making some general observations concerning the relationship of Lollardy, Humanism, and Luther’s writings to the English Reformation of the 1520s and 30s.
Of course, Luther’s works were not the first to inspire a movement calling for the reform of the English Church. Tracing their origins to the influence of the English philosopher John Wyclif (1330–1384), scattered groups of Lollards had begun implementing their own local reforms unofficially since the early fifteenth century, and Italian Renaissance Humanism began to make its impact first on English education and scholarship by the end of that same century. Many of the reforming concerns emerging from these late medieval movements indeed paralleled those of the first generation of English evangelicals living during the reign of Henry VIII. Lollards, Catholic humanists, and evangelicals could all bemoan the presence of superstitious devotion to images and relics among the people, which was the target of reforms under the official Injunctions promulgated by the Henrician court in the second half of the 1530s. In fact, in the light of this continuity it was long believed that Humanism and Lollardy naturally and effectively paved the way for the diffusion of evangelical beliefs imported from the Continent and made for a smoother transition to an established evangelical Reformation during the reign of Edward VI in the late 1540s to early 50s and Elizabeth I in the 1560s.
With regard to Wyclif and the Lollards and to lend historical credibility to the Reformation of the Elizabethan era, John Foxe praised Wyclif as the “mornynge starre” of the English Reformation, and a similar assertion was made earlier by John Bale in 1548. The first and most comprehensive study of Lollardy was published in the early twentieth century and actually adopted a more skeptical attitude with regard to the broader theological impact of Wyclif and the Lollards upon the development of the English Reformation, but studies more positive to the Lollard contribution to Protestant expansion gained popularity after the middle of the twentieth century. Recent research, however, accounting for the weaknesses in Lollard influence by the early sixteenth century, now leans more heavily against this point of view. The influence of Lollardy on evangelical reformers in the early period of English Reformation in the 1520s and 30s is also tenuous from the perspective of both history and theology.
It is important to point out that no new or original Lollard writings were written later than the middle of the fifteenth century, and the first printings of Lollard manuscripts date to the 1530s. The manuscript collection selected by Anne Hudson for her edition of Wycliffite writings dates between 1384 and 1414, and she is certain that none of the writings originates beyond 1425. Although relatively few of the original manuscripts dating to this period are now extant, evidence in heresy trials does prove that portions of the vernacular translations of the Bible and other pre-existing Lollard manuscripts did continue to circulate rather widely into the sixteenth century. The fact that Lollard manuscripts were even published in the 1530s by evangelical reformers such as William Tyndale is evidence that Lollard writings were accessible well into the sixteenth century.
An apparent lull in official persecution of Lollards that occurs in the historical records between 1430 and 1480 has led some scholars to surmise that a revival of the Lollard heresy occurred in the few generations just prior to, and was reenergized by, contact with the arrival of Luther’s works. Foxe does record a number of depositions against heretics in the diocese of London between 1509 and 1527, and episcopal registers in Lichfield and Coventry indicate the suppression of heretical activity in the early 1500s. However, as Richard Rex has wisely observed, this apparent lull could be nothing more than a gap in the historical records themselves. Otherwise, it might indicate a renewal of more intensified efforts to extirpate heresy, especially in the light of foreign heresies being imported. Furthermore, the evidence limits this so-called revival only to those areas already possessing a known stronghold of the heresy, such as Coventry, Bristol, London, and the Chilterns.13
Many of the regions with the smoothest turnover to the evangelical Reformation in the late 1540s do have a known history of Lollard strength at the popular level, but, as Rex points out, this is no basis on which to draw a universal conclusion about the relationship of Lollardy to the English Reformation. He argues that, while some areas with a Lollard presence do indeed show a relatively smooth transition to the evangelical Reformation, some areas devoid of a documented Lollard tradition were also won expediently to the evangelical faith just as others where Lollardy survived were actually centers of great opposition.
Most recently, Richard Lutton suggests that the particular success of Protestantism in the parish of Tenterden in Kent may have resulted from the “broader influence of Lollard heresy upon the types of pieties that may have been susceptible to new doctrines.” Yet, regardless of whether Lollard influences affected, or merely overlapped, with late medieval orthodox Catholic pieties in the particular parish of Tenterden in Kent does nothing to explain the origins of such Christocentric pieties throughout the rest of England and elsewhere on the Continent. Furthermore, it is important to point out that the types of pieties Lutton highlights in his study were also evident in places such as Yorkshire that were virtually untouched by Lollardy.17
In comparing theological content, it is obviously impossible not to recognize that many of the doctrinal themes of Wyclif and the Lollards are echoed in the evangelical writings of the English reformers in the 1520s and 30s. Besides having a vision for a vernacular Bible, Wyclif criticized the office of the papacy and the temporal power exercised by prelates, he objected to prayers for the dead, the cult of the saints, priestly absolution of sin through mandatory confession and indulgences, misguided devotion to images, relics, pilgrimages, shrines, and the scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation. Yet it is also known that Wyclif maintained belief in purgatory and the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist not shared by later English evangelicals.
There are doubts surrounding whether or not Wyclif had any personal role in shepherding the “Lollards” (“mumblers”), a pejorative term loaned from the continent against heretics and highly ambiguous, but he was certainly the major inspiration behind many of the reforming themes that appear in Lollard manuscripts and accounts of heresy trials. However, for all the agreements shared by Lollards, they lacked universal agreement with each other and even with Wyclif himself, since some went beyond him in adopting a more strictly memorial interpretation of the Eucharist. With regard to images, some Lollards recognized their value if used appropriately, while others promoted a more blatant iconoclasm against idolatry toward the saints. Wyclif’s belief in purgatory was also not universally embraced by all Lollards.20
Alec Ryrie argues that Lollards were sympathetic to evangelical ideas and became largely integrated into the evangelical reform movement of the 1520s and 30s. Their sympathy was chiefly displayed in the participation of the “Society of Christian Brethren” in the foreign book trade and through the distribution of Tyndale’s groundbreaking 1526 New Testament. There is also evidence that Lollards had personal contact with the emerging generation of evangelical reformers. It is well known that, while under house arrest in London, Robert Barnes sold a copy of Tyndale’s English New Testament to two Lollards from Essex. The confession of John Tyball before Bishop Tunstall of London in April 1528 gives the famous account of Barnes (here called “Barons”) selling the New Testament for 3s. 2d. in the chamber of his Augustinian house. The early reforming preacher Thomas Bilney also drew crowds of sympathizing Lollards in his criticism of images, pilgrimages, and the cult of saints.24
In the minds of the ecclesiastical and secular rulers, the ideas of Luther did seem, in fact, little more than a resuscitation of the earlier indigenous heresy. In fact, in a letter from Bishop of London Cuthbert Tunstall to Thomas More in 1528, licensing him to read and refute heretical books, he refers to Luther’s heresy as the “foster-daughter of Wycliffe’s.” Henry VIII similarly referred to Luther’s writings as having “kyndeled agayne almost all the embres of those olde errours and heresyes.” Such overlapping similarities between Lollard and evangelical beliefs has caused some dispute as to whether a reformer such as Thomas Bilney should be properly classified as Lollard or evangelical.27
The emphasis in Bilney’s reforming preaching throughout the 1520s against popular devotion to the cult of saints, pilgrimages, and the veneration of images certainly parallels those of the Lollards and even shares some common ground with the reforming criticisms of humanists against a morally vacuous and superstitious devotional ritualism. Bilney was raised in Norfolk and this town was known for Lollardy, but there is no proof that his reforming career was a product of such influence. Bilney later became a prominent member of the circle of scholars that met to discuss Luther’s writings in the early 1520s. According to Foxe, it was Bilney who succeeded in converting Robert Barnes, Thomas Arthur, and Hugh Latimer. Bilney’s narration of his own conversion to trusting in Christ for salvation from his sins indeed resembles the evangelical experience of Luther. Although his opponents readily associated his teachings with the heresies of Luther, and later of Tyndale, Bilney claimed that his own conversion resulted not from the writings of Luther but from his own reading of the epistles of Paul in Erasmus’s Novum Testamentum (1519). Perhaps this was then only reinforced and developed through contact with Luther’s more developed evangelical theology of justification. In his 1527 trial Bilney did give verbal support to the condemnation of Luther, but he also went on to deny having preached any of the heretical articles attributed to him during that trial. Bilney was later remorseful over his abjuration and resumed his tour of preaching against images and the cult of the saints in 1531 until his martyrdom the same year.
Although most of the Lollards probably did eventually become evangelicals, it is important to point out that no leading evangelical clergyman of the Henrician period was of a Lollard background. This is also true of most other leading reforming figures including Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes. Not long before going public in their support of evangelical reform, these three were all active within the elite institutions of the Catholic tradition.30 However, the assumption that such high profile evangelicals were actually converted from a devout Catholic background has come under some recent scrutiny: “What we do not yet know in any systematic way, aside from the anecdotal self-conscious accounts of the conversion of leading Protestant figures, is whether particular aspects of orthodox culture may have rendered their adherents susceptible to evangelical beliefs … that there may already have been changes in orthodox devotioether particular aspects of orthodox culture may have rendered their adherents susceptible to evangelical beliefs … that there may already have been changes in orthodox devotion prior to the arrival of outright solafidianism that were lessening the centrality of purgatory and the saints, n prior to the arrival of outright solafidianism that were lessening the centrality of purgatory and the saints, and reducing some of the more burdensome elements of religious observance.” Lutton suggests that such changes were actually inspired by Lollardy, which made an indirect contribution to the acceptance of evangelical beliefs among late medieval Catholics possessing a stronger devotion to the person and work of Christ, but this is not beyond reasonable doubt.
On the other hand, to give the impression that evangelical reformers were ever ignorant of Lollardy would be misleading, since the literature of the older heresy was later revived in the 1530s and 40s “to muster precedent and example.” Most historians now agree with John Foxe and John Bale that William Tyndale himself was the editor of Lollard manuscripts in the 1530s. While this does not prove that Tyndale was ever a Lollard or was even influenced by Lollardy early on in his reforming career, since the publication of these manuscripts appears well after his evangelical conversion became public, it does reveal his obvious sympathy for, and identification with, their preceding efforts.
It is certainly tempting to look for an incipient form of English Protestantism in the fifteenth century. Ian Stackhouse admits that caution is needed here particularly in light of the eventual victory of Protestantism in England. However, although Smeeton and Werrell are more favorable toward the idea that Wyclif and the Lollards taught a doctrine of justification by faith,35 most scholars argue that neither ultimately challenged fundamental assumptions within medieval soteriology concerning the role of good works in obtaining eternal life, other than with regard to attacking idolatrous devotional practices and a ceremonial or ritual works-righteousness, nor did they ever positively or clearly articulate a clear doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone so central to the evangelical reformers. The doctrine of justification sola fide among English evangelicals was even a distinction recognizable to contemporaries such as Bishop Tunstall. Furthermore, Anne Hudson has shown that, despite the obvious biblicism of Wyclif and the Lollards, their closer continuity with the allegorical tradition of medieval exegesis and interpretation also distances them from Tyndale and other early English evangelical reformers.38 Besides these differences, it is simply not possible to argue with any substantive evidence that leading early English evangelicals were influenced theologically by contact with the writings of Wyclif and the Lollards.
Lollards never established an organized movement or a coherent denominational structure, and due to its lack of consolidation, suppression from above, the decline in the literary output of new works, and eventual loss of support among the gentry and more educated, contributing to a social isolation largely among families of the rural mercantile classes, the impact of Lollardy was far less significant than formerly thought. A rampant anticlerical spirit at the dawn of the early sixteenth century in England is hard to substantiate historically, leading scholars to conclude that the Protestant reforms implemented during the Edwardian and later Elizabethan periods were enforced upon a largely unsympathetic and devout Catholic populace.
The relationship of Humanism to the evangelical theology of leading English reformers of the 1520s and 30s is also ambiguous. There is no doubt that these reformers received some education in Humanism and were influenced by some of its methodological advancements and reforming concerns. Trueman even states that it was “Humanism which provides the immediate intellectual context in which the English Reformers interpreted and developed the theology of the continental Reformation.” Yet it is important to recognize that Renaissance “Humanism” was by no means a uniform movement and, with regard to the reform of late medieval Catholicism, was really interested in cultivating moral virtue through the pragmatic application and eloquent communication of Christian doctrine and practice rather than in completely overturning the cardinal points of Catholic orthodoxy.42 Thus, although some scholars might argue that there would have been no Reformation without Humanism, “Humanism” is not a universal explanation for either the origins of, or receptiveness to, evangelical theology.
Humanism, or rather the studia humanitatis, originated in Renaissance Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and began broadly as a movement to reform scholarship and education through direct rhetorical and literary engagement with the ancient classics for the purpose of nurturing practical moral virtue. It did not begin with overt criticism of the Church but scholars trained in Humanism employed its methodological and moralistic emphases more explicitly in criticism of the impracticality of much of medieval scholastic theology and the moral decadence of late medieval Catholic clergy and popular religious piety. Humanism in essence imbibed an appreciation for the historical, literary, and rhetorical form of the classical texts of antiquity, including the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, as well as the best of ancient pagan Greek and Latin literature, studied in their original languages using the best available manuscripts. The classical Renaissance phrase coined by humanist scholars, “to the sources” (ad fontes), characterized this belief in the reformational value of direct historical engagement with the classics in their most primitive and pristine literary form. To this end it was necessary that scholars be well versed in the languages of Greek and Latin and that the learned have access to the most “critical and authoritative texts” of Scripture, the Fathers, and the acceptable pagan classics. Thus, Humanism of the late medieval period gave birth to early textual criticism in its search for the best and most accurate texts and translations, including improvements on the Latin Vulgate.46
Humanism in England in the early sixteenth century was neither a monolithic nor, as elsewhere, a uniform movement. Humanist scholars differed in their attitudes toward the legitimacy of the speculative, abstract, and dialectical methodology of medieval scholastic theology, the benefits of the vernacular translation of classical texts, and the ancient Christian and pagan writers to be favored. Those influenced by Humanism eventually became split over the acceptance of the new evangelical theology arriving from the Continent in the 1520s, thus forming more distinctively “evangelical” and “conservative,” or “Catholic,” humanisms. This makes it difficult to establish a universal connection between Humanism and receptiveness to evangelical theology, since many educated humanists rejected the new doctrines and remained orthodox Catholics. According to Rex, it is clear that Humanism affected religious change on both sides of the divide and, thus, “did not determine or even direct the theological course of the English Reformation.” In another essay by Rex, he points out that educated humanists at both Oxford and Cambridge were enlisted as a major force against Luther’s heresies.49 It is clear that many reformers trained in the literary and grammatical methodology of Humanism not only employed its scholarly tools in contrast to the more abstract methods favored by scholastic theologians and to attack clerical immorality and corruption, as well as the moral bankruptcy of medieval ritual and devotional superstition to images and relics, but also to reform more basic theological assumptions about God and salvation through the exposition of Scripture supplemented by recourse to the Church Fathers. Calvin and Zwingli, for example, owe something to their education in Humanism in communicating Christian doctrine and life on the basis of a rhetorical and exegetical engagement with Scripture and the Fathers.51 Yet, the priority they placed on reforming the very doctrinal and theological assumptions characterizing the mainstream of medieval Catholicism, and this according to a principle of sola scriptura, shows them to have moved significantly beyond the original essence and aims of Humanism.
Early on, humanists displayed a common concern for moral reform in the life of the Church, but eventually the influence of the new evangelical theology sharply divided them. By 1521, the year of Luther’s imperial condemnation at the Diet of Worms, it was clear that humanists loyal to Catholic orthodoxy needed to distance themselves from the more radical teachings of Luther. In a letter written by Erasmus to Cardinal Wolsey dated May 18, 1518, he denounces rumors of any favorable connection with Luther and reassures Wolsey of his faithfulness to the Pope and to Rome. In his letter to Wolsey, Erasmus states that it has been his preoccupation with writing letters that has kept him from penning a book against Luther thus far, which he eventually did with his diatribe on free-will in 1524. Catholic humanists were enlisted in the early 1520s as defenders of the Church against heresy and backed off in their own criticisms. When the matter of Henry’s divorce (technically, annulment) to Catherine of Aragon came up, the division was furthered even more since influential Catholic humanists like Thomas More (1478–1535) and John Fisher (1469–1535) were unable in good conscience to disavow papal authority, whereas evangelicals supported Henry in his break with Rome in marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533, herself a sympathetic patron of evangelical ideas.
England’s own connection with Humanism originated from itinerant English scholars who visited Italy and Italian humanists who visited England in the 1400s, but there was little humanist scholarship of significance in England before the very end of the fifteenth century. Among the most influential of these English scholars educated in Italy were the so-called “Oxford Reformers”: Thomas Linacre, William Grocyn, and John Colet.58
The influence of John Colet (1467–1519), in particular, upon the development of Humanism at Oxford is controversial. In the nineteenth century, Frederick Seebohm heralded Colet’s university lectures on Paul’s epistles delivered in 1496–1499 as foreshadowing later Protestant expository style preaching. The lectures do indeed use a literary hermeneutic with emphasis on the moral application of Scripture, and this contrasts with the more conventional use in university lectures of allegory and scholastic commentary to dispute abstract theological questions. Colet used a similar humanist approach in a sermon later delivered before Convocation in Canterbury in 1512.
However, recent scholars have downplayed the novelty of the lectures and circumscribed their impact on the development of Humanism at Oxford. As was the case with Erasmus, Colet also apparently followed Origen in characterizing allegory as one of the four senses of biblical interpretation. Dickens acknowledges that the style of the lectures is undeniably distinct from the common methodology employed in the universities at the time, but he argues that it is not so unlike the preference for the literal sense of Scripture in the hermeneutics of the medieval Parisian commentator Nicholas of Lyra (c. 1270–1340). John Gleason argues that it is also similar to the homiletic tradition of medieval monasticism.62 Furthermore, though Erasmus acknowledged the popularity of Colet’s lectures in personal letters, the methodology used by Colet did not create the shock and consternation that might be expected. Furthermore, according to the foremost scholar on Colet, the Oxford reformer remained theologically orthodox despite the harshness of his criticism of religious abuses in the Church. If Colet made any major contribution to English Humanism in his own time, says Gleason, this probably had less to do with the lectures than with his work in co-establishing and administering the St. Paul’s cathedral school in London in 1512. The school was to provide learning in “good literature both laten and greke,” which Colet restricted to Christian writers. The influence of Colet on Humanism at Oxford is also questionable since it was Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum (1516) that convinced Colet, now in his forties, of the indispensable value of learning Greek, a language he never mastered.
By the early decades of the sixteenth century, it was clear that Oxford and Cambridge had been touched by Humanism. The generous patronage of the Tudor prelates helped contribute to this reality. Lady Margaret Beaufort, for example, demonstrated her support of humanist learning by co-establishing St. John’s College, Cambridge, as did Richard Fox with the founding of Corpus Christi College, Oxford.
St. John’s College, established in 1511 and opened for classes in 1516, was co-founded by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and Chancellor of Cambridge. The older scholastic curriculum was preserved to such a degree as to avoid confrontation, but emphasis on language studies and grammatical-literary exegesis, rather than on dialectic, logical exercises, and the study of medieval commentaries, contributed to the subtle decline of the older method’s dominance.68
Humanist scholarship at Cambridge was, then, implemented into the curriculum rather slowly through emphasis upon grammar and language skills and regular readings of classical texts, but it did not immediately replace its medieval educational counterpart, and the reading and study of the medieval scholastic commentaries continued for some time alongside it. In fact, according to Leader, the line demarcating humanists from scholastics was not even quite so clear at Cambridge in 1517. It was not until 1535 that Thomas Cromwell, Vicegerent to Henry VIII, implemented a more comprehensive series of injunctions to abolish the study of canon law in the universities and the “total eradication” of the scholastic theologians from philosophical and doctrinal studies. This, coupled with Henry’s break with the papacy, aided the continual consolidation of humanist education in English universities well into the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
The impact of Humanism at Cambridge and Oxford, and all of England for that matter, arguably owes its greatest debt to Erasmus, “the most celebrated European humanist connected with England.” Elton argues that it was with Erasmus that Humanism became an actual movement in England.73 Erasmus had visited Oxford as early as 1499, was present during the lectures of Colet, and later taught the first official Greek course at Cambridge intermittently between 1511 and 1514. Erasmus, as a student of the Devotiona Moderna, was already well known for his description of the virtuous life as the imitation of Christ in his Handbook of the Militant Christian (1503), and the final draft of his satirical musings on the moral vacuity of the late medieval Church in the Praise of Folly was finished in 1514. While at Cambridge Erasmus also worked on his Greek New Testament. The Novum Instrumentum, a Latin translation revised on the basis of the original Greek text, was printed in 1514, but was not published for distribution until 1516 after receiving papal permission. The value of the Greek New Testament to the biblical scholarship of English evangelical reformers is obvious,75 but the importance of Erasmus was claimed by Catholic humanists as well. As has already been shown, the tools of Humanism could equally be used as a weapon against evangelicals and their theology.
Leading English evangelicals did encounter some humanist influences as young college students and at university in the early sixteenth century, but Catholic theology was still significantly impressed upon them in the scholastic mold. While Humanism did give budding English evangelical clergy, scholars, and theologians tools of literary interpretation, a more direct path to Scripture and the Fathers (Augustine being the most important to them), and a perspective that was as analytical towards texts as it was toward clerical immorality and the moral vacuity of medieval ritual and devotional superstition to images and relics, Luther’s works were profoundly influential in shaping their “evangelical” vision to reform English Christian faith and devotion at the root of theological assumption. Thus, it was not enough simply to elevate the virtuous life lived in imitation of Christ as many humanists had done, but it required a whole different outlook on the nature and purpose of human morality on the basis of, what English evangelicals believed was, a more biblical theology of the Gospel in the doctrine of justification before God through faith in Christ alone resulting in truly good works. In fact, it could be argued that the evangelical theology of Luther was the immediate intellectual background in which early English evangelicals interpreted and developed the prior methodological and moral impulses of English Humanism.
The influence of Luther and his theology was significant to the story of the English Reformation of the Henrician period, whether it was the serious efforts of the highest offices of government to suppress the importation, distribution, and perceived influence of his writings in the 1520s or, contrariwise, to court the sanction of German Lutheran political support for Henry’s break with the papacy in divorcing Catherine and in marriage to Anne Boleyn in the 1530s.
Luther’s evangelical writings found their way to England thanks to the trade market established much earlier between England and northern Europe. If it is true that “trade often built the circuits” on which the works of Luther traveled, then, as one historian has observed, the waters that served to defend England in war time were ironically the very channel on which the infection of his religious heresy spread.78 Antwerp, in particular, was a major importer of English wool, and England was a major importer of books printed by the more highly developed press industry of the Continent: “before and throughout the sixteenth century, the cultural and economic lives of England and the Netherlands were closely and intricately connected.” Therefore, it is not all that surprising when laws proscribing a rather lucrative market in the printing and exporting of prohibited books from Antwerp received little cooperation from local authorities.80 Such books sold at the large Frankfurt book fairs were shipped up the Rhine River, smuggled into London in bales of cloth, and delivered by courageous couriers to interested buyers. Lollards, local merchants, and sympathetic university scholars were those busiest in the trafficking of the works of Luther throughout England in the 1520s. Monasteries such as at Reading and Bury were also important receptacles of his works.
The printing, distributing, and reading of Luther’s works really became an international scandal after his preemptory condemnation in the papal bull Exurge Domine in May 1520. However, while visiting Rome, the Bishop of Rochester notified Cardinal Wolsey back in England about the bull even before its official release.84 If it is true, then, that Luther’s Latin works were distributed in England as early as 1518, then for almost two years they were imported, distributed, and discussed without legal prosecution.86
In 1521, Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall of London urged Cardinal Wolsey in a letter from Worms to prevent Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520) from penetrating the English border. Wolsey’s efforts to forbid the importation of Luther’s works were praised by Pope Leo in March of 1521, but Cardinal de Medici suggested that he schedule a more public book-burning ceremony.89 In a letter dated April of 1521, the Pope also urged Wolsey to burn Luther’s works and to forbid them to be read except by those with special permission to refute them. The Pope also notified Wolsey of a summons that had been sent to Luther in Germany to appear in Rome. Wolsey commissioned local bishops to furrow out Luther’s works from among the various religious institutions.91
Luther’s writings were well known at Oxford and Cambridge by 1520. A letter from Archbishop William Warham to Cardinal Wolsey in 1521 speaks of heresy at Oxford with a request that he take serious action against it: “that diverse of that Universitie be infectyd with the heresyes of Luther and of others of that sorte, havyng emong theym a grete nombre of books of the saide perverse doctrine which wer forboden …” John Dorne was a major marketer of Luther’s works, the treatise against the papacy being among the most popular.
Luther’s writings also made a noticeable impact upon a circle of intellectuals at Cambridge University, where, according to A. G. Dickens, the “earliest known society of English Lutherans originated.” Meetings at the White Horse Inn were the occasion for the discussion of the “new German doctrines” and came to be infamously known as “Little Germany.” Many of the future leading evangelical clergymen and supporters of the English Reformation were educated at Cambridge and present at these meetings. Scholars, however, have recently warned against adopting popular characterizations of these meetings as some sort of clandestine “Lutheran club.”95 Indeed the word “Lutheran” is a bit misleading, if not anachronistic, for the early 1520s. Furthermore, though many of its attendees, such as Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and John Bale, would go on to become influential evangelical leaders and spokesmen for reform, a regular such as Stephen Gardiner, later Bishop of Winchester, remained an orthodox Catholic. Gardiner had been John Frith’s tutor at Cambridge, but would later serve as a chief prosecutor in the trials of both Robert Barnes and John Frith. Attendance at these meetings, then, did not automatically translate into sympathy or support for Luther’s evangelical ideas.97 Nevertheless, as it relates to a movement of reform, Luther was the center of attention at Cambridge in the 1520s.
Although an earlier bonfire of Luther’s works had occurred at Cambridge in late 1520, and Erasmus told Oecolampadius in Basle of another possible one he had averted earlier that year, the first official burning of Luther’s books in England took place on May 12, 1521, in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Cross in London. It was attended by Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop William Warham, and other English bishops and papal and imperial emissaries. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and Chancellor of Cambridge, preached a public sermon condemning the German friar for his heresy. This was “England’s first public assertion of orthodoxy” in reaction to Luther’s heresies.101 All of this took place before the official signing of Luther’s condemnation at Worms on May 25, 1521. Later that year, although the extent of his actual contribution is debatable, the invective Assertio Septum Sacramentorum was published by Henry VIII and earned him and all future kings of England the title of “Defensor Fidei” from the pope. The personal exchanges that followed between the two certainly contributed to the stalemate of the later 1530s and the failure to establish a possible Anglo-German alliance.
Even after 1520–21, those previously involved in the producing, distributing, and purchasing of these books continued their business at the risk of exile or martyrdom. Printers, merchants, and traders endangered their lives by subsidizing the work of English refugees and supervising the smuggling of forbidden works from the Continent. The London merchant Humphrey Monmouth, for example, was later imprisoned in the Tower of London for aiding and abetting Tyndale, and he confessed to boarding Tyndale for half a year and to forwarding him money in Hamburg.105
The warning of Bishop Tunstall of London to booksellers and his own personal involvement in supervising the book import later in 1524 was unsuccessful. After 1525, anxieties over the immigration of foreign heresies had by no means been quelled. In fact, a new wave of oppression emerged and was centered significantly on the person of William Tyndale. It was being rumored that two Englishmen were preparing a vernacular New Testament to be sent to England from the continent that would infect all of England with Luther’s heresies. Bishop Tunstall attempted to put a freeze on the buying and selling of Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament,108 but vast copies had already been circulating throughout the environs of London by the time he ordered the securing of all copies on pain of prosecution. Despite royal proclamations issued by Henry VIII threatening punishment for failure to surrender heretical works and unlicensed English translations of the Bible, the trafficking continued in the years that followed. It is hardly surprising that Dutch and German booksellers and merchants were resistant to the royal decrees.110
As Craig D’Alton suggests, this second wave of persecution beginning around 1525 reveals a shift in governmental policy toward more intensified action against native dissenters. Clebsch observes that what was perceived in the early 1520s as a foreign encroachment largely requiring the halting of illegal book trafficking had now become what the hierarchy had attempted to prevent—a growing domestic problem.
Between the years 1525 and 1530, efforts to curb the threat of heresy in general were amplified. The Index of Prohibited Books grew in size significantly after 1526, which by this time now included works by other rising continental reforming leaders such as Ulrich Zwingli, Philipp Melancthon, and Martin Bucer. Luther’s writings, however, still dominated the list. Tyndale’s New Testament and Prologue to Romans were the first prohibited writings to be written by a native English evangelical.
A second official book burning service took place in 1526 at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Presided over by Cardinal Wolsey, John Fisher was appointed for a second time to preach the public sermon condemning Luther’s heresies. Thomas More had made an unexpected visit earlier that year to the London Steelyard to search for heretical works,116 and other suspected merchants accompanied the Augustinian friar Robert Barnes in public penance around the bonfire. As mentioned already, the reforming preacher Thomas Bilney was tried in 1527 and later martyred under the banner of Luther’s heresy in 1531.
Henry’s attitude toward Luther and the evangelicals dramatically changed near the mid-1530s in his courtship of the German theologians and princes in support of his defiance against Charles V and the papacy in divorcing Catherine and in marriage to Anne Boleyn. Luther was hopeful early on for a providential alliance with England but could not give his approval to the divorce, and his optimism was soured over the lack of progress in theological agreement in the second half of the 1530s. Even after the death of Anne Boleyn in 1536, continual efforts were made to establish theological consensus with the Germans until 1539. The evangelical Robert Barnes was a chief player in these negotiations as a royal ambassador to Germany, and evangelicals Thomas Cromwell and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer rose to positions of political favor in the decade that also witnessed the dissolution of the monasteries, the sanctioning of an English Bible for every parish in 1538, and other royal injunctions aimed at deconstructing ritual and devotional superstition to images and relics. Henry VIII, however, refused to adopt the Augsburg Confession as a condition for leadership of the Schmalkaldic League.121 His passing of the “Act of Six Articles” in 1539, though never so strictly enforced as previously assumed, reaffirmed his loyalty to Catholic tenets unacceptable to the Lutherans and essentially ended all viable hopes of unity between England and Germany. This hope was severed further with the nullification of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. Although this was followed by a declaration of a general amnesty for all heretics who had been charged prior to July 1, 1540, influential evangelicals like Barnes and Cromwell did not share in this amnesty, which Luther supposed was on account of their opposition to this divorce.
Alec Ryrie argues that it was the king’s “suspicion of Lutheranism” as a threat to the social and political stability of nations, as well as his personal dislike and disagreement with Luther, that prevented the lasting impact of Wittenberg on the official course of the English Reformation. Ryrie identifies the year 1540 as essentially the beginning of the end of attempts at diplomacy between England and Germany followed by the more formal “death” of Lutheran influence in England near the end of Henry’s reign in 1546. Like Ryrie, MacCulloch sees the influence of Luther waning at this time and supplanted by new relationships with the Reformed Swiss states under Edward VI.126 The defeat of the Protestant League by Charles V in 1547, Luther’s death the year before, theological division among the Lutheran churches over the next few decades, and the growing international influence of the Reformed tradition, also contributed to the weakening of German Lutheran influence on the English Reformation. By the reign of Edward VI, the Swiss Reformed tradition had essentially eclipsed the legacy of the German Lutheran tradition upon developments in English Protestantism, and thus paved the way for the emergence of Puritanism. Yet N.S. Tjernagel has argued that the Anglo-Lutheran theological negotiations of the 1530s provided the substance of the later official formularies of Edward VI and Elizabeth I, but the “Lutheran” quality of these later documents is still in dispute.130
There never was a “strictly Lutheran movement” in England and neither did England ever really come close to becoming a “Lutheran land.” No English evangelical reformer other than Robert Barnes adopted the Lutheran theology of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the breakdown in official dialogue between the two nations and their respective churches at the end of the 1530s only revealed the ultimate intransigence of Henry’s loyalty to Catholic doctrine. Yet Luther was a dominant focus of the religious discord characterizing this turbulent period of the early English Reformation, whether it was in attempts to find and destroy his writings and to suppress the perceived growth of their heretical influence in the 1520s or, in a near complete reversal, to court him and his German compatriots for much needed political support in the 1530s.
Much of the research in recent years has intentionally taken the spotlight away from Luther (as well as Zwingli and Calvin) as a defining personality of the broader Reformation to focus on the theological nuances and impact of lesser known reforming figures. There is much to be commended in the very fine and much needed studies that have appeared over the last few decades,133 but it appears that a reverse discrimination may be in danger of underestimating the defining role that Luther did play on the international scene. In fact, there are still reputable historians who are convinced that the Reformation, if it would have happened, would have looked remarkably different without him. With regard to the English Reformation in particular, including the early Henrician period of the 1520s and 30s, the influence of Luther has been diminished and, in some minor cases, rejected wholesale with regard to the first generation of English evangelicals Tyndale, Frith, and, to a lesser extent, Barnes. Of course, the mere fact that Luther’s writings found an eager readership among many learned and influential personalities in the 1520s and became a focus of English politics in the 1520s and 30s does not by itself prove that his ideas were the direct inspiration behind, nor even closely followed by, like-minded English reformers whose careers emerged during this period. That is why it is absolutely necessary to closely assess the life, intellectual development, and theology of each of the leading English evangelical reformers, Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes, on an individual basis and in their own contexts.


Law and Gospel in the Theology of William Tyndale
THE LIFE AND THOUGHT OF TYNDALE HAS RECEIVED ACUTE ATTENTION over the last fifty years. The most fruitful area of research has engaged the development of his theology of covenant around the year 1530. Most interpreters assume this to be a radical departure from the Law-Gospel dialectical theology of Martin Luther, but more and more scholars are arguing that Tyndale’s thought from the very beginning reveals critical differences with the German reformer on issues of justification and the Christian life. These conclusions deserve careful evaluation, and to do this it is important to begin by unraveling the influences behind Tyndale’s earliest writings as an evangelical reformer, which also provides context and perspective for the later development of his theology of covenant in the 1530s.
Though his precise birthplace remains uncertain, John Foxe states in the Acts and Monuments that Tyndale was “borne upon the borders of Wales,” and historians have confirmed that he was indeed raised in the Severn valley of Gloucestershire, the Vale of Berkeley, probably near the village of Stinchcombe. There is little that is known about Tyndale’s youth, and only possible suggestions can be made regarding the potential influences that might have shaped him at this early stage. The most critical to note in the light of the most recent research is Lollardy. Donald Smeeton and Ralph Werrell have provided the most ambitious attempts to link Tyndale theologically to Wyclif and the Lollards.3 Both work from the Trinterud thesis as it was later developed by P.A. Laughlin and assume that Tyndale from the very beginning had major theological differences with Luther. While not denying that a range of continental influences from Erasmus to Luther had some variable part to play in the development of Tyndale’s thought and expression, these writers challenge distorted emphases placed on foreign currents of thought at the expense of a surviving and vibrant native tradition of Lollard dissent.
Smeeton acknowledges that his own argument for Lollard influence on Tyndale’s theology is inconclusive and that his conclusions are “tentative.” In fact, even the editor of the series reiterates in the preface that Smeeton “is well aware that his own arguments are based on inference and that additional evidence on the main issues of the book would be highly desirable if only it were available.” The argument for Lollard influence is based upon the two basic premises that Lollardy on the eve of the Reformation was a socially and culturally significant movement and that semantic and doctrinal similarities suggest likely influence. Both of these premises, however, are highly questionable on historical grounds.
Regarding the first premise, Smeeton’s conclusions are based on older research that argued in favor of Lollardy’s impact on the English Reformation in the early sixteenth century. However, the consensus of more recent scholarship now leans heavily against this notion and argues that Lollardy’s impact was negligible in comparison to a widespread popular loyalty to Catholicism that persisted well into the Tudor dynasty. With regard to Tyndale, Lollardy is traceable to Gloucestershire, especially the port city of Bristol, but there is no evidence that it was thriving where Tyndale was born and raised.7 In fact, the evidence actually points to the Vale of Berkeley as a stronghold of mainstream Catholicism. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Tyndale had any contact with Lollards before matriculating at Oxford in 1506: “The social history of Gloucestershire, then, and the analysis (in so far as it can be pursued) of Tyndale’s place therein, are hardly such as to establish that Tyndale was exposed to Lollard influences in his upbringing and early development.”
Ralph Werrell, however, has recently isolated a statement made by Tyndale indicating he read the vernacular translation of Hugden’s Polychronicon by John Trevisa as a boy, which happened to be a favorite also of Wyclif and the Lollards. Trevisa was a colleague of Wyclif and Nicholas Hereford at Queen’s College Oxford in the fourteenth century, and the preface to the early seventeenth century King James Bible indeed links him to a Wycliffite translation. Whatever the degree of his involvement in the work of Bible translation, or even of the doubtless influence of Wyclif upon him, Trevisa was by no means a complete disciple of Wyclif.12 Then again, as Anne Hudson has demonstrated, neither were all those generally known as Lollards. However, even if the philology of Tyndale’s vernacular translations could be matched to Wyclif and the Lollards through the medium of Trevisa,14 this does not prove that Tyndale’s theological dissent is of a Wycliffite origin.
The second premise based on doctrinal similarities also rests on shaky ground. Certainly, Tyndale and other English evangelicals had much in common with earlier English dissent, and Tyndale showed his own personal sympathies by publishing Lollard treatises later in the 1530s. However, there were also notable differences between Lollards and evangelicals, chief among them being a clear articulation by the latter of the doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works.16 Furthermore, the publication of these treatises was years after Tyndale’s evangelical leanings had already been made public, and the evidence is strongest that, along with other reformers of his generation, he received his theological training within the boundaries of orthodox Catholicism. The only historically satisfying way to authenticate any direct influence of the Lollards upon the emerging reforming career of Tyndale is to prove that he was thoroughly familiar with Lollard writings and reforming activity around the time he began his public reforming career. Of course, it is then necessary to determine whether or not specific Lollard texts, doctrinal ideas, and theological expressions were incorporated into his own writings. The fact of the matter is that there is simply no way of knowing what, if anything, by Wyclif or the Lollards Tyndale actually read prior to 1530. Rather, the only scholars that it is infallibly certain that Tyndale possessed an early literary admiration for are Erasmus and Martin Luther. As Richard Rex has aptly pointed out, without solid historical proof this argument rests upon the dubious assumption that doctrinal similarity and chronological precedence indicates influence, which is to fall prey to the logical fallacy of “after, therefore, because of” (post hoc ergo propter hoc). This one-dimensional approach also lies behind the rather brazen assertions of an even more recent work linking Tyndale’s reforming criticisms indirectly to Bogomil-Cathar dualism via Wyclif and the English Lollards.20
For support of Tyndale’s independence from Luther, Werrell cites the comments of Thomas More who considered Tyndale to be ultimately “wors yet in som parte than hys mayster Luther ys hym self.” Not only is this comment probably more specifically targeting Tyndale’s rejection of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but citing the opinion of an incensed critic in the midst of a virulent controversy is hardly a legitimate court of historical appeal. Anne Hudson even states that More cannot even be properly classified as a “theologian.”22 Of course, the point here is not to vainly defend the notion that Tyndale was a disciple of Luther in every regard, yet More himself never identifies differences between Tyndale and Luther with regard to the issues of repentance, faith, justification, and good works. Even if it could be argued that Tyndale is more similar to Lollardy than Luther on some doctrinal points, this itself does not prove beyond historical doubt that he was directly influenced by Lollard writings and activities. A direct theological influence of Lollardy on the writings of Tyndale is simply difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate with any certainty.24
To what degree, then, Tyndale had more in common with Wyclif and Lollardy than with Luther, specifically with regard to his understanding of how the Law and Gospel works in justification and the Christian life, obviously needs to be reassessed in the light of these recent arguments. How important this issue is to the overall historiography of the English Reformation itself is noted by Rex: “Tyndale is such a pivotal figure in the history of the English Reformation that, if it could be shown that his theology was shaped in significant ways by the pre-existing tradition of Lollardy, then this fact alone would establish the case for the importance of Lollardy to the English Reformation.” Indeed, Smeeton, Stackhouse, and Werrell all assume that Tyndale radically differs from Luther on the issue of Law and Gospel, yet not one of these scholars provides any substantial or thoughtful interaction with the writings of the German reformer himself. For example, Rex soundly criticizes Smeeton for his uncritical dependency upon Laughlin apart from a study of Luther’s own writings.26
The earliest significant influence upon Tyndale’s reforming career is undeniably English Humanism. John K. Yost is really the only scholar so far to explore Tyndale’s theology in the context of Renaissance Humanism to any significant degree and who argues for its importance more than any other legacy upon his thought. He identifies Tyndale as essentially a “Protestant advocate of humanist reform” and one among the younger generation of “Erasmians” principally concerned with reviving moral Christian piety based on the Sermon on the Mount. As such, Tyndale stands in continuity with the humanist tradition, and, according to Yost, his theology even anticipates the reform policies carried out in 1535–1540 under the administration of the Vicegerent of Spirituals, Thomas Cromwell, and also the later via media of the Elizabethan period of the 1560s.
The evidence overwhelmingly weighs in favor of Tyndale’s early associations with late medieval Catholic Humanism rather than with Lollardy. It is also common knowledge that Tyndale was ordained to the priesthood sometime before 1520, and Rex has even presented evidence that Tyndale was appointed a chantry priest in Gloucestershire.
It is doubtless that Tyndale encountered Humanism during his studies at Oxford University, and this would be even more true if he visited Cambridge, but Foxe’s comment concerning Tyndale’s sojourn there is unreliable. It seems likely that Tyndale’s own concentration on the value of Scripture was, at least initially, a result of his encounter with ideals within Humanism, particularly in the writings of Erasmus. In fact, his mission to produce a vernacular Bible for the common Christian was more likely inspired earliest by Erasmus rather than Lollardy or even Luther. Tyndale’s prophetic rebuke against a certain Gloucestershire clergyman that he would see “a boy that driueth the plough to know more of the Scripture then he did” bears stark resemblance to a comment appearing in the Paraclesis prefacing Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum (1516).
Although Humanism was only beginning to make significant strides in English university curriculum in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Oxford had undoubtedly been affected by the new methodology in some measure when Tyndale first matriculated at Magdalen school in 1506 as a grammar student between the ages of 12 and 13. It is important to point out, as Rex does, that the simple fact of Tyndale’s attendance at university points to his more orthodox Catholic, as opposed to Lollard, background. It is possible that Tyndale was first introduced to the study of Greek at Oxford, but it does not seem from statements in his own writings that the curriculum had changed all that much by the second decade of the sixteenth century. In his Practice of Prelates (1530), Tyndale bemoans that his university education was still profoundly in the scholastic mold, which he claims restricted him from engaging a more direct study of the Scriptures themselves on their own terms. Oxford is the only university that Tyndale indisputably attended. Even Foxe changed his comment in the 1563 edition of the Acts and Monuments from “had bene a studient of diuinitie at Cambridge” to “made his abode a certaine space” in the 1570 edition. Scholars remain unconvinced even of this revised statement. The important point here is that, according to Tyndale’s personal recollections, the methods of scholasticism still dominated the arts faculty at Oxford during his years as a university student. Nevertheless, Foxe does claim that Tyndale meanwhile increased in the knowledge of languages, the arts, and “especially in the knowledge of the Scriptures,” even hosting lectures on the Bible to other “students and fellows” of Magdalene Hall. Since Tyndale never actually reached the academic level granting him formal authority to lecture on the Bible, this must have been of his own volition and in an unofficial capacity.
The writings of Wyclif had been largely quarantined at Oxford by the early fifteenth century, and this would lend further support to the notion that Tyndale’s valuing of Scripture was originally of humanist, rather than Lollard, derivation. Though Erasmus’s groundbreaking Novum Instrumentum was not published until after Tyndale had taken the M.A. degree in 1515, it is probable that Tyndale was already familiar with Erasmus’s Handbook of the Militant Christian (1503) and his more recent and enormously popular satire on clerical abuses in The Praise of Folly (1514). However, there is no evidence to indicate that Tyndale had made any radical break with the cardinal points of Catholic theology by the time he was awarded the M.A., and it must always be kept in mind that Humanism itself was not inherently opposed to traditional Catholic theology. Humanism was primarily a reform of classical methodology and its chief aim was to inspire and foster morality and virtue. It was not interested in overturning the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church nor in denying its authority, nor did it even necessarily reject other hermeneutical methods entirely, though it did seek to emphasize the historical, literary, and rhetorical interpretation of Scripture in its original languages. While many English reformers who encountered Humanism as it was beginning to emerge significantly in England in the early sixteenth century did indeed end up reconstructing more basic theological assumptions about salvation and biblical authority, it must also be acknowledged that many humanists, including both Colet and Erasmus, did not perceive the methodological and moral concerns of Humanism to be at all inconsistent with their loyalty to the Catholic Church and its authority or the fundamentals of its theology. The reforming career of Tyndale is certainly one example of how certain elements within the methodology of Humanism might be employed to more radical ends, but it is necessary to consider other sources, such as the writings of Luther, in accounting for the origins of his evangelical theology.
After acquiring his M.A., and according to university tradition, Tyndale would have been expected to lecture for at least a year. In the 1570 edition of the Acts and Monuments, Foxe mentions that Tyndale next, “spying hys tyme, remoued from thence to the Universitie of Cambridge, where after hee had likewise made his abode a certaine space” became “now further ripened in the knowledge of Gods word.” As tempting as it might be to accept this statement on the basis of circumstantial factors, such as the importance of Cambridge to both English Humanism and the early circulation and organized discussion of Luther’s writings, most historians today argue that there is simply no evidence other than this one single statement to verify that Tyndale ever visited Cambridge. Tyndale himself never mentions having done so, his name appears nowhere in the university records, and other Cambridge evangelical reformers make no mention of him ever being there around 1520. The first evidence of Tyndale’s acquaintanceship with other Cambridge reformers such as George Joye, William Roye, Robert Barnes, and Miles Coverdale occurs only after his flight to Europe in 1524. The one exception is John Frith, whom Tyndale met in London sometime in 1523 or 1524.
Tyndale’s early sympathy with Erasmus and Humanism is evident when he returned to Gloucestershire in the early 1520s to become a tutor to the sons of Sir John and Lady Anne Walsh at Little Sodbury Manor. Richard Rex provides strong evidence that Tyndale’s gentry patrons were devoted Catholics who regularly dined with local clergy. Foxe mentions that both Erasmus and Luther were the topic of table conversations. On one occasion, Tyndale’s objections to the opinions of the local clergy were challenged by Lady Anne. His response, probably presented sometime in 1522, was an English translation of Erasmus’s Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503). The fact that Tyndale chose this particular work in itself suggests that his reforming sympathies by 1522–23 probably had not extended much beyond that of Erasmian Humanism.
The translation of the Enchiridion is the first known literary work of Tyndale. It has been suggested on stylistic grounds that a certain English edition of the Enchiridion printed in London by Wynkyn de Worde in 1533 might not be the work of Tyndale nor identical to the original manuscript he presented to the Walshes in the early 1520s. The discussion of its authorship remains unsettled. In any case, it is striking how many of the themes of Erasmus’s Enchiridion relating to the Christian life do recur throughout Tyndale’s career. These include a covenantal understanding of baptism, an attack on popular devotional superstition to images and relics in praise of personal discipleship to the life of Christ as presented in the Scriptures, and a disdain for the medieval scholastic method.
After failing to secure patronage for his vernacular New Testament from Bishop Tunstall of London in 1523, Tyndale boarded for about a year in the home of a cloth merchant named Humphrey Monmouth. Monmouth became an important benefactor to Tyndale and, when summoned before Thomas More in 1528 on grounds of abetting heretics, mentions having possession of a copy of the English Enchiridion given to him by Tyndale. Therefore, by as late 1523–1524 Tyndale still appears to esteem Erasmus’s “practical book about being Christian in the world.” Although his opinion of Erasmus would change and become more negative,47 his indebtedness early on to the legacy of the Dutch humanist cannot be ignored. It is at least clear that Tyndale had more demonstrable sympathies with Humanism than Lollardy during these early years of his intellectual development as a reformer.
Tyndale’s skill with the ancient languages is another obvious tribute to the legacy of Humanism, and he shared Erasmus’s vision to see the Scriptures in the vernacular and made use of Erasmus’s Greek New Testament in his own biblical translations. Yet it would be inaccurate to overemphasize the enduring influence of Erasmus and Humanism upon the evangelical theology of Tyndale after 1524–1525. Although John Yost argues that Tyndale’s use of the Church Fathers in his later writings is further evidence of his bonds to the legacy of Humanism, he admits that Tyndale never comes close to matching Erasmus’s patristic resourcement. Furthermore, while humanists themselves disagreed concerning which classical pagan authors were appropriate to use, Tyndale’s writings post-1524 possessed not a fraction of Erasmus’s respect for the ancient pagan poets and rhetoricians. In his later polemics, Tyndale lumps together English humanists such as Thomas More and John Fisher with the scholastic theologians, which shows that a common heritage in the methodologies and reforming concerns of Humanism did not automatically result in theological agreement. A comparison of Tyndale’s exegetical method with that of Erasmus also creates some difficulties in aligning the former too closely with the latter.
Erasmus readily accepted the four senses of biblical interpretation as outlined by the third century exegete Origen of Alexandria, whom Erasmus warmly admired in his Enchiridion, and he believed that the allegorical meaning is preferable but only when a literal interpretation is unreasonable. Tyndale, on the other hand, inspired in some measure by Luther, openly attacks Origen in his later writings and denies that allegory is a separate sense of Scripture. On account of this, Yost places Tyndale closer to the Humanism of Colet on this issue, although Gleason has argued that even Colet acknowledged the medieval quadriga on a theoretical level. Of course, Tyndale recognized the value of allegory as a rhetorical method to illustrate a point stated clearly in another passage of Scripture, but he never classifies allegory as one of four modes of biblical exegesis. In his Obedience of A Christian Man (1528) Tyndale asserts that the literal interpretation of the text and its spiritual meaning are the same and that interpreting the Scriptures according to the “letter” does not mean being bound to the earthly sense of the text but to read the Bible as Law without the Gospel. This echoes Luther in his own preference for Augustine rather than Erasmus who obviously favored Origen.
Although Tyndale inherited the rhetorical and literary methodology pioneered by Humanism, and though Erasmus himself considered the study of the Scriptures to be invaluable to fostering Christian morality, the high view of the authority of Scripture Tyndale expresses in his evangelical writings places him much closer to Luther than Erasmus. Erasmus admitted that a doctrine such as Mary’s perpetual virginity could not at all be grounded on Scripture, even allegorically interpreted, but he was willing to accept such a matter by faith on the basis of the authority of the Catholic Church. Tyndale also moved closer to Luther than Erasmus in expressing a higher regard for the didactic writings of Paul, arguing that the Gospel is most clearly preached in one epistle of Paul than in any one of the synoptic gospels. Tyndale’s Pauline orientation certainly owes more to Luther, and by default Augustine, than to the synoptic orientation in the Humanism of Fisher or Erasmus.51
With regard to the moral Law, Yost follows Trinterud by contrasting Tyndale’s moral thought with Luther’s stark dialectic of Law and Gospel. For Tyndale, the “law of Moses and the law of Christ were not antithetical” and “He lacked the evangelical emphasis upon the antithesis between law and gospel.” According to Yost this antithesis was avoided on account of Tyndale’s bond to the moralistic concerns of Humanism, and that Tyndale was “a Christian humanist of the younger generation who turned enthusiastically and expectantly to Luther for ecclesiastical reform and religious renewal, but reverted later to a progress of humanist reform.” Tyndale’s emphasis upon the Law throughout his writings is argued as evidence of the indelible imprint of Humanism upon his thinking. Even with regard to the doctrine of justification, Yost argues that Tyndale emphasizes the obedience of faith to the Law, whereas Luther’s emphasis is on faith before God: “Tyndale employed Luther’s idea of justification by faith alone in furthering the cause of Christian humanism.” With regard to his theological anthropology, Yost argues that Tyndale’s emphasis on grace enabling the will to perform good works and the moral capacities of the natural intellect places him closer to Erasmus than Luther: “Tyndale agreed with Erasmus concerning the idea of man which was the core of humanist thought. On the other hand, he disagreed with Luther concerning justification by grace alone which was the core of Reformation theology.” Luther is caricatured by Yost as if he was only ever concerned with the relationship of the sinner coram Deo. Yet like so many other scholars of early English Reformation theology, Yost reveals no real engagement with Luther’s own writings. In fact, given the many number of times he asserts there to be a disparity between Tyndale and Luther on the subject of Law and Gospel, it is surprising that the only work by Luther listed in his bibliography is the Lectures on Romans (1515–1516).
The point here is certainly not to deny the impression that Humanism made upon the young Tyndale. After all, it was Erasmus’s praise of Bishop of London Cuthbert Tunstall that inspired Tyndale to seek his patronage in translating the New Testament into English. Tyndale presented Tunstall with his translation of the Greek oration of Isocrates in order to demonstrate his knowledge of Greek and his skills as a translator. This, along with his earlier decision to translate the Enchiridion for Lady Walsh is proof enough of his having some degree of affection for Erasmus early on. However, Yost’s classification of Tyndale as essentially a Christian humanist influenced largely by Erasmus, who only for a brief period flirted with Luther’s evangelical theology, is a grave overstatement on the basis of the life and career of Tyndale after 1525. Given such crucial differences that do emerge between Tyndale and the principal architect of English Humanism, including a general repulsion for classical pagan literature and the medieval quadriga, it seems that labeling him a “Christian humanist” is as much a misleading generalization as scholars say of the badge of “Lutheran.”
Tyndale was obviously influenced and inspired by certain methodological and reforming considerations within Humanism, including its philological, rhetorical, and literary methods of interpretation and its emphasis on the cultivation of inward Christian character. It is also obvious that he was an early admirer of Erasmus in particular, but this is not enough to justify classifying him over the course of his career as an essentially Christian humanist. Though some might argue that Erasmus himself was even a “fideist,” Tyndale’s articulation after 1524 of a doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ apart from all works is a credit to the evangelical influence of Luther not Erasmus. With regard to his theological anthropology, Anne Richardson has shown that Tyndale clearly takes the side of Luther against Erasmus in debates over free-will in the mid-1520s. Erasmus’s Enchiridion explicitly follows Origen in differentiating between spirit, soul, and body, with sin essentially defined as a breakdown in the rational control of the body and its sensual appetites. Following Socrates, Erasmus identifies the cause of fleshly indulgence as the ignorance of the good, and, like Aristotle, characterizes the achievement of virtue as the result of a process of the disciplined cultivation of moral habits, which Erasmus says is possible with God’s help and the example of Christ. Although this work was translated by Tyndale as his first literary work, all of his subsequent writings reveal the influence of Luther’s anthropology and his belief in the total depravity and absolute bondage of the “totus homo” under the complete compulsion and condemnation of the Law, as well as the active righteousness of the Christian as an a priori new state of being established in the heart through faith and the working of the Spirit and not something accumulated through the disciplined increase of moral habits leading to the merit of eternal life.
It is not certain when Tyndale first learned of Luther or became familiar with his writings, but it could not have been any later than 1522 since Luther was a topic of table discussions in the home of Tyndale’s noble patrons in Gloucestershire. He could not have been familiar with the German reformer any earlier than 1518–1519 when Luther’s works began to be exported from Germany and sold in England. Attention to Luther in England multiplied intensely in the years 1520–1521, especially in the environs of London, Oxford, and Cambridge. If Tyndale had contact with Luther’s writings by the end of 1520, they would have most likely been accessed in one of these three places. Tyndale was at Oxford from 1506–1516, but Luther was not an international figure at that time. Tyndale was ordained a deacon and then a priest in the diocese of London in 1515, but the next time he appears in London is almost ten years later after fleeing Gloucestershire and seeking patronage from the Bishop of London for his work in translating the New Testament into English. If Tyndale spent time at Cambridge this would have been between the years 1517 and 1520, but there is no corroborative evidence to verify the statement in Foxe. This is further undermined by the fact that Tyndale returned to Gloucestershire as a tutor to the Walshes, a Catholic family of the gentry class, and was appointed as a chantry priest in a chapel in Breadstone in the Vale of Berkeley around 1520. Therefore, at the moment of his return to Gloucestershire in 1520–1521 there was as of yet “no hint of suspicion about his orthodoxy” nor any such links whatsoever to Luther whose charges of heresy by this time had been made official by the Catholic Church in Rome. Although Luther and Erasmus were the topic of table discussions in the home of the Walshes, there is no way to know what the precise content of those discussions was other than that Tyndale showed his superior knowledge of the Scriptures. With regard to Tyndale’s now famous words of defiance against the Pope in conversation with a local “Divine,” this appears less to have been the influence of Luther than a “certaine Doctour” living in the same region, “an old Channcellour before to a Byshop” and “old familiar acquantance.” Furthermore, the immediate context of this invective statement appears to be Tyndale’s determination to issue a vernacular Bible, which was initially inspired by the work of Erasmus rather than Luther.63
Tyndale’s desire to work under the patronage of Bishop Tunstall, who was praised by Erasmus for his humanist leanings, is evidence of his much closer associations with Erasmus by the date of 1523, as is his passing of the Enchiridion on to Humphrey Monmouth. Perhaps Tyndale’s desire for episcopal sanction was nothing more than a desire for physical protection and financial subsidization, but it also might have been because Tyndale had simply not yet moved in the more radical theological direction of Luther. After all, this is now two years after Luther had been formally excommunicated and condemned by the Empire. Tyndale’s early activities in London seem unlikely for a person sympathetic to a renegade German monk officially condemned for heresy by the Catholic Church. One scholar has argued that the doctrinal differences between Erasmus and Luther were not even clear before the public controversy over free-will in 1524–1525, but Luther as early as 1516 had already expressed disagreement with Erasmus on the issue of justification and the bondage of the will. Besides, Luther, not Erasmus, was demarcated a heretic in 1521.
It is likely that during Tyndale’s brief stay in London in 1523–1524 he became more familiar with and sympathetic to the theological reforms of Luther, whose own German translation of the New Testament had been recently published in September 1522. Knowledge of this event coupled with Tyndale’s growing awareness that “there was no place to [translate the New Testament] in all of England” must have been the inspiration behind his decision to join the company of like-minded opportunists across the channel.
Tyndale left England for the Continent in the spring of 1524. Visits to both Hamburg and Wittenberg rest completely on contemporary testimony alone. For the former, Monmouth’s confession to the Bishop of London recorded by Foxe in his Acts and Monuments is principal evidence. Tyndale’s visit to Wittenberg is far more controversial due to the sensitivity surrounding the discussion of Luther’s influence, but it, too, is based on the contemporary testimony of Catholic apologists Thomas More and John Cochlaeus (1479–1552). Foxe also records that “At his first departing out of the realme, he tooke hys iourney into the further partes of Germany, as into Saxonie, where he had conference with Luther and other learned men in those quarters.” J. F. Mozley took Foxe’s statement one step further in his classic biography by suggesting that a “Guillelmus Daltici ex Anglia,” a name appearing in the 1524 matriculation registers of the University of Wittenberg, is none other than Tyndale himself (Daltici being close to “Daltin,” which is a reversal of “tin-Dal”). Though this appears to be quite the stretch, Mozley argues that it would not have been necessary for Tyndale to officially matriculate in order to benefit from association with the Wittenberg reformers:

Wittenberg had an university, and offered all the helps that a scholar might need. There he would find books and libraries; there he could take counsel with Melancthon professor of Greek, Aurogallus professor of Hebrew, Bugenhagen (Pomeranus) rector of the town church, and other learned men. Above all, there was Luther himself, no mean scholar, and one that had lately performed the very task which Tyndale had in his mind … it would be strange if he did not desire to meet the great captain, who had braved the might of pope and emperor, and had successfully raised the standard of reform.

There is no other evidence apart from contemporary testimony that Tyndale ever visited Wittenberg, much less met Luther personally. It is interesting to note that Luther never mentions Tyndale in his writings or correspondences, and Tyndale even later objects to More’s accusation that he was ever “confederate with Luther.” However, Tyndale biographers keenly observe that this statement hardly constitutes a denial of ever having visited Luther or Wittenberg. In any case, Tyndale’s sojourn in the German Empire would certainly have been enough to bring him into the fuller orb of Luther’s influence than if he had stayed in England. Indeed it is in 1525 and afterwards that an indisputable connection of Tyndale to Luther becomes evident beginning with the printing of the first English translation of the Greek New Testament in the imperial free city of Cologne.
Along with Antwerp and Hamburg, Cologne had a developed printing industry and was a city with strategic economic ties to England. Tyndale would later settle in Antwerp prior to his betrayal and arrest, but it was in Cologne that Tyndale would first see his vision for a printed English New Testament come to fruition in the printing house of Peter Quentell. Accompanying him in the work was William Roye, a converted friar from Greenwich who matriculated at the University of Wittenberg in 1525 where he possibly met Tyndale. The printing of the New Testament, however, was interrupted in the middle of Matthew 22 after authorities were tipped off by John Cochlaeus who overheard intoxicated employees of Quentell describe how two Englishmen were printing Luther’s New Testament in English to make all of England Lutheran.
The surviving Cologne Fragment of 1525 is the first evangelical work by Tyndale as well as the first evangelical work printed in English. The extent of its actual “Lutheranness” is the subject of much debate. Heresy hunters and Catholic apologists such as Thomas More viewed Tyndale as little more than a mimic of Luther and the one principally responsible for spreading Luther’s heresy in England in the late 1520s. Even modern scholars only a few generations ago typified Tyndale as an essentially English Luther.72 At first glance, the Cologne Fragment does seem to be largely a translation of Luther’s September Testament (1522). The prologue, marginal notes, and even the accompanying woodcuts undeniably borrow from Luther’s edition. Even Trinterud, whose essay was written to minimize Luther’s influence on the theology of Tyndale, recognizes the obvious indebtedness of Tyndale’s prologue and marginal notes to Luther. Nevertheless, he goes on to state that Tyndale “used Luther rather than agreed with Luther,” and that “About one eighth of Tyndale’s prologue consists of a good translation of roughly half of Luther’s prologue.”
Upon closer inspection, the two texts are indeed not identical. Tyndale’s prologue is considerably longer than Luther’s own “Preface” (Vorrhede) to the New Testament, and Tyndale does not follow Luther’s translation of Matthew on every turn, often preferring to translate directly from the Greek while utilizing Luther judiciously along with the revised Latin text of Erasmus. With regard to the marginal notes, biographer David Daniell argues that only a third could be ascribed independently to Tyndale. The other two-thirds include verbatim translations, modifications, and expansions, along with a few reductions and complete omissions.75 Nevertheless, although the marginal notes are hardly identical to Luther’s, the parallels are still very significant. In essence, they are a continuance of the evangelical themes discussed in the prologue, that “rightwesness/ ys fulfilled when we forsake all oure awne rightwesnes/ that god only maye be counted he which is rightwes/ and maketh rightwes/ throw faith.”
Although a comprehensive philological analysis and comparison of the biblical translations of Luther and Tyndale would be valuable, the scope of the following discussion focuses primarily on the prologue and the theological themes pertaining to Law and Gospel, repentance, faith, justification, and the Christian life of good works. As Smeeton has pointed out, “The debate about the degree to which Tyndale was influenced by Luther’s thought hinges on the interpretation of the Englishman’s soteriology.”78 The main point to be explored is whether or not the undeniable semantic and structural differences existing between the two texts belie a fundamental indebtedness to Luther’s theology, especially as it pertains to Law and Gospel.
Daniell describes the Cologne prologue as essentially “the first printed Lutheran document in English to reach England.” Yet he also observes that Tyndale doubles the length of Luther’s prologue with new and expanded material, which includes an opening section devoted to defending the vernacular translation of Scripture. Tyndale also omits the stratification of New Testament books that comes at the end of Luther’s prologue, especially with regard to doubts about the apostolic canonicity of James. Though Tyndale acknowledges the reasoning for such doubts, he is much more readily accepting of its canonicity than Luther. Some scholars have wanted to interpret this as a possible connection to Lollardy, since the latter were known to have placed a great stake on the book.81 However, as Rex points out, Tyndale in his career rarely utilizes or quotes from James. In fact, “there are only one or two books of the New Testament—minor Pauline epistles—which Tyndale cites less frequently than James.” It is also important to remember that Luther himself praised James for the works that it taught, although he harshly criticized it for failing to explain how these are truly possible.83 Furthermore, Tyndale’s use of James is not so unlike Luther who, despite the more disparaging tone toward James in his Vorrhede, actually makes exegetical use of James in other writings, including a sermon dating to the very same year.
In the prologue, Tyndale follows Luther rather closely by prefacing the New Testament with an interpretive grid and according to an evangelical understanding of Law and Gospel. The theology of the prologue bears the stark imprint of Luther here, and it does so either by extracting lines verbatim from Luther or by developing a line of thought that is reminiscent of other early works of Luther.
One important example of a near verbatim translation of Luther’s own preface is the passage containing his definition of Law and Gospel. Tyndale’s Cologne Fragment of 1525 reads: “The olde testament is a boke/ where in is wrytten the law and commaundments of god/ And the dedes of them which beleueth them ore beleue them nott. The new testament is a boke where in are Conteyned the promyses of god/ and the Dedes of them which beleue them Or beleue them nott … Euangelion (that we cal the gospel) is a greke worde/That signyfyth good/mery/ glad ioyfull tydings/ that maketh a mannes hert glad/ and maketh hym synge/ daunce and leepe for ioye.” Luther’s own German preface translated by the American Edition (LW) reads: “Just as the Old Testament is a book in which are written God’s laws and commandments, together with the history of those who kept and of those who did not keep them, so the New Testament is a book in which are written the gospel and the promises of God, together with those who do not believe them … For ‘gospel’ [Euangelium] is a Greek word [German New Testament actually has deutsch] and means in Greek a good message, and good tidings, good news, a good report which one sings and tells with gladness.” That Tyndale freely copied from Luther’s definition is undeniable and the differences are minor and heavily outweighed by the almost identical appearance of the two texts.
Tyndale’s prologue continues closely in step with Luther following this definition by describing the Gospel as rightly called a “New Testament,” in so far as it was fulfilled in and confirmed by the death of Jesus Christ, even though at the same time it was prophesied long before to Adam and Abraham.
Tyndale stops trailing Luther at the end of his discussion of Old Testament messianic prophecy. Whereas Luther goes on for a few more paragraphs to contrast the ministries of Christ and Moses before concluding with his stratification of New Testament books, Tyndale goes into an extended discussion relating the themes of Law and Gospel to fallen human nature and divine grace respectively. Yet, in his marginal notes on Matthew 16, Tyndale does lament over the fact that prelates of his own day have made the Gospel “biterer then the olde law” and the burden of Christ “hevier than the yooke of Moses,” so that “oure condicion and estate ys ten tymes more grievous than was ever the jewes.” This hearkens to the contrast Luther strikes between the proper ministries of Christ and Moses in his own prologue, but Tyndale also makes mention in the marginal note that the Pharisaical rituals of the “new goddes” (Catholic clergy) reveal they have “feyned Rede Erasmus annotacions.” Tyndale still shows some regard here for the textual insights of Erasmus accompanying his Greek New Testament and with regard to his criticism of the saturation of contemporary Christian piety with rituals and ceremonies, but his underlying theological position by this time has much more obvious affinities with Luther. His description of the Law in the prologue as fundamentally the revelation of natural human depravity and absolute spiritual bondage, “to brynge vs vnto the knowlege of oureselves,” is certainly more reflective of Luther’s pessimistic outlook on human nature rather than of the anthropology of Erasmus. For Tyndale, like Luther, the Law demands what is impossible, namely the love of a pure heart, and in this way it only brings with it the sentence of judgment and wrath. The Gospel, on the contrary, is the “grace,” or “favour,” of God in Christ toward repentant sinners and it ministers salvation by its promises: “of lyfe/ of mercy/ of perdon frely by the merites of Christ … In the gospell when we beleve the promyses/ we receave the spyrite of lyfe/ and are iustified in the bloud of Christ from all things whereof the lawe condemned vs.”89 Although the themes of spiritual bondage and the receiving of the righteousness of justification and the Spirit through faith and the merits of Christ are also found in Augustine whose influence on Tyndale could be attributed to his education in humanist methodology, his strong correlation of faith, both here and elsewhere in the treatise, with the receiving of the Spirit and the favor of God in Christ that justifies from the condemnation of the Law is evidence of the particular evangelical influence of Luther. Although Tyndale’s prologue has at this point branched off from Luther’s text, the theology of this entire section still very much breathes the influence of his understanding of Law and Gospel.
This section continues with Tyndale’s description of the Old Testament containing many promises alongside the Law to comfort troubled consciences, and the New Testament containing Law alongside the preaching of the Gospel to condemn those who do not yet believe the promises. Tyndale, like Luther, believed that the preaching of the Law and Gospel must always abide together in history, the former to humble the self-righteous and proud and the latter to keep contrite sinners from despair. Even the imperfect works of Christians need to be evaluated in the perfect light of the Law so that God always receives the praise for His mercy and grace. Tyndale’s prologue then identifies two sorts of people who are deceived and who do not properly humble themselves before the Law. The first seek to justify themselves by outward works, though inwardly their hearts are far from pure, which is revealed by attitudes of self-righteous superiority over others. Such a person has failed to understand that the Law demands inward purity and that he or she only obeys the Law because of its outward compulsion. Inwardly they would wish the Law to vanish while they disregard the hope of the promises by trusting in their own merits. The second kind of deceived person lives in open sin “with full consent,” presuming upon God’s promise of forgiveness and pardon while living an immoral life without repentance. For Tyndale, this is not the kind of saving faith that comes from the Spirit of God but is merely “dremynge,” an “ymaginacion,” and “folisshe opynion.” It shows a lack of respect both towards God’s Law and the kindness of His promises. The kind of faith that saves is that which follows only after a deep remorse for sin in repentance. This “right fayth” consents that the commandments and the God who established them are just, and even though the Law cannot be fulfilled perfectly by anyone, a “right christen man consenteth to the lawe” by hating what is forbidden and pleading with God for greater strength to do what He commands. Although true faith is not without love and good works, “yet is oure savinge imputed nether to loue nor vnto good werkes, but vnto fayth only.” Thus, in the meantime of praying for greater strength to do the will of God more perfectly, the Christian confides in the promises of God in the blood of Christ for pardon resulting in continual gratitude and praise unto His mercy. All of these ideas and themes, though perhaps not always the same wording or phraseology, can be readily found in Luther’s evangelical writings of the 1520s.
At this point in Tyndale’s prologue a subheading is introduced: “Here shall ye see compendiously and plainly set out the order and practise of everythynge afore rehearsed.” Based on the opinion that the theology and tone of this later section do not quite sing “in Tyndale’s voice,” Daniell proposes that the last five pages might actually belong to William Roye. Even if this was true, and Daniell does make some thought-provoking observations, it is hard to imagine that Tyndale would allow the second half of the completed prologue to be published if it were containing any questionable material.
Under this subheading, Tyndale also describes natural men as “heyres of the vengeaunce of god by byrth.” Just as poison is inside a serpent before it ever strikes, so the heart of a person is evil before he or she even does one single outward deed. Using a biblical metaphor, Tyndale asserts that the quality of a person’s works, like the fruit of a tree, are determined by the quality of the person inwardly, whether good or bad. Likewise, “so doo nott oure evyll deds make vs evyll: but because that of nature we are evell/therfore we bothe thynke and doo evyll …” Though Smeeton has shown that the analogy of the tree and its fruit was common even among the Lollards, it also appears frequently in the more contemporary works of Luther. Furthermore, Tyndale’s use of the analogy is closer to Luther because it occurs in the context of a more clearly articulated doctrine of justification before God in Christ through faith alone apart from works and not merely in describing faith as the source of love and good works.
Tyndale goes on to describe the preaching of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of the elect to trust in the mercy of God, which in turn results in righteous desires to fulfill the Law. Those reborn of the Spirit are never satisfied with imperfection. A righteous sorrow remains in them and they depend upon the atonement of Christ for the pardon of all their deficiencies. Until more strength is given, God takes pleasure in the heart that longs after His will. Tyndale makes it clear, though, that it is by faith alone that men are saved and “only in belevynge the promyses.” Love and good deeds, even those virtues described in the Beatitudes, are the fruit of being pardoned by “fayth onlye,” and they “certyfyeth us in oure hertes that we are goddes sonnes/ that the holy gost is in us.” In and of themselves, love and good deeds are never the basis of pardon, and there is no deed done in this life that is untainted by sin, including that of Christians. Even great apostles like Peter and Paul perpetually “syghed after” the fullness of moral righteousness. Again, all these themes reflect Luther’s evangelical theology of the Christian as simul justus et peccator. As for good deeds acting as self-assurances of true faith, this is also made explicit in Luther’s early writings.
Carl Trueman argues that Tyndale does not explicitly develop his doctrine of the atonement in terms of the objective removal of moral guilt or the satisfying of the wrath of God, but rather interprets and emphasizes the work of Christ more as impacting the regeneration of the moral will. Trueman acknowledges that Tyndale openly speaks about God’s wrath and vengeance against sin and even about the blood of Christ as making satisfaction, but that he never speaks explicitly of Christ as propitiating God’s wrath nor that satisfaction is made directly to God for sin: “he fails to emphasize the guilt of man before God, he consequently places little emphasis upon the God-ward aspects of Christ’s work. As a result, his theology of atonement is extremely vague … salvation is concerned more with man’s ability than with his guilt before God.”
Although Tyndale may not have developed his theology of the atonement quite to the satisfaction of a systematic theology, it is quite clear from the prologue that he, like Luther, perceived the human will to be in bondage to the Devil and to sin until the conscience becomes free of the knowledge of guilt under the righteous condemnation of the Law and of the fear of the deserved wrath of God through faith in the justifying, atoning, and pardoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Althaus provides a useful critique of Gustaf Aulén’s Christus Victor and its strict association of Luther with the “classical” theory of atonement, arguing convincingly that Luther interpreted the classical emphasis on the victory of God over evil powers precisely in terms of the Godward satisfaction of justice made in Christ. Tyndale’s own statements concerning the necessity of contrition or repentance under the Law to drive the sinner to Christ and the love and good works that flow liberally from faith in Christ cannot even be understood or appreciated apart from his awareness of the profound moral guilt of all before God atoned only in and through the righteousness of Christ.
Tyndale describes in the prologue how the Law acts upon the conscience to bring about repentance and that this always must precede the pardon offered by the Gospel so that the promise of salvation in Christ from a terrifying future is received genuinely as “good tydings.” It is by the preaching of the Law that sinners first become aware of how captive they are to the Devil and how, like him, they are inwardly enemies of God and His will. The preaching of the Gospel of forgiveness softens the contrite heart of the elect and, by the restoration of the rule of the Holy Spirit, they are liberated from bondage to Satan. In this way the Law binds and the Gospel looses. They act together as two “salves” to cure the disease of sin, the Law acting as the diagnosis and the Gospel as the medicine.
According to Tyndale’s prologue, the truly repentant Christian will desire to be completely cured of all unrighteousness and not just of guilt, just as a sick man wants to be made completely whole and well again. The Christian, then, wants to fulfill the Law more and more because it is the good will of God. Though Christ is first and foremost the Redeemer whose redemptive accomplishments belong to them that believe, He is also an example to follow in doing good works out of love for the sake of others. Christ obeyed the Father not to gain a heavenly favor he already possessed, but considered “nothinge but oure welth … Bond servaunts werke for hyre/ Children for love. For there father with all he hath/ is thers alreddy.” Contrary to Werrell’s opinion that Tyndale, unlike Luther, stresses that “man’s salvation is primarily for the glory of God” and not the benefits of man, this is one instance where Tyndale indeed describes salvation in terms of the benefits God gives to humanity. Though Tyndale acknowledges that rewards are promised for holy living in Scripture, rewards can never be the objective of a truly good and Christian work, which is always selfless by nature. Rewards are indeed promised, but not as merits or earnings. Rather, they follow the obedient life that springs of its own accord from faith without any thought of reward.
Although Tyndale’s prologue expands much beyond Luther’s shorter prologue, there is nothing here to warrant the claim of any major theological disagreement. In fact, Tyndale seems to copy heavily from other early sources of Luther besides his Vorrhede, most notably The Freedom of A Christian (1520). Scholars exaggerate Tyndale’s independence from Luther on the basis that he expands or develops a line of reasoning beyond what is visibly found in the text of Luther’s own preface. Yet they have not adequately considered whether or not Tyndale is appropriating other early writings of Luther. For example, though Luther does not go into as long a discussion of human nature and depravity in his own preface, Tyndale’s description of the natural will in bondage to sin certainly resembles Luther’s own position formulated by 1518 well before his differences with Erasmus were made more public on this issue in 1524–1525.
A fair number of scholars have adopted Trinterud’s thesis by distancing Tyndale from Luther at this early stage, placing his approbation of the moral Law in closer proximity to Humanism and the Reformed tradition. Accordingly, Luther’s supposedly rigid polarization of Law and Gospel is not even adopted by Tyndale here in 1525. According to Trinterud, Luther spoke of the love of God and neighbor as the fruit of justifying faith, whereas Tyndale also stressed love for the very commandments of the Law themselves.
On the contrary, Tyndale does polarize Law and Gospel in precisely the same manner as Luther. First, he does this by starkly contrasting the very “nature of the lawe and the nature of the evangelion.” The preaching of the Law always goes before to bind consciences so that the Gospel might follow after and liberate: “When a preacher preacheth the Lawe/he byndeth all consciences/ and when he preacheth the Gospell/ he lowseth them agayne.” Tyndale agrees with Luther that the preaching of Law and Gospel, defined according to their proper senses, have their own distinctive ministries in the human heart.
Paul Laughlin argues that Tyndale obviously employs Luther’s language of “Law and Gospel,” but that he had already at this point developed a “quasi-covenantal configuration” that resembles the emerging “covenantal” theology of the Swiss and Rhineland reformers. Therefore, Tyndale’s later formal emphasis on the “covenant” in the 1530s merely represents a shift in his homiletic “schemata” and not in his fundamental theological understanding. Yet Laughlin can even admit that Luther at times referred to the Law more positively as a guide for Christian behavior, though he argues this is de-emphasized when compared with the centrality it receives in Tyndale’s thought. Smeeton at least acknowledges that greater emphasis does not necessarily betray fundamental theological disagreement.103
Laughlin also argues that “Gospel” in Luther usually refers to “proclamation,” whereas for Tyndale it refers to “the promises.” He also asserts that Luther conceives of the object of faith in terms of the promises in Christ, whereas for Tyndale the object of faith is in both the promises and Christ as if each has an “independent soteriological function.” Trueman also argues that Tyndale’s reference to “faith in the promises” removes God’s mercy from its Christological context. However, on the very next page Trueman himself observes that Tyndale uses “promises” to refer to “the work of Christ, the benefits of which are appropriated by the believer through faith in them.”
First of all, that Luther could speak of “promises” interchangeably with “Gospel” has been effortlessly demonstrated by Rex with regard to Luther’s Freedom of A Christian (1520). Secondly, Luther does not simply reduce “Gospel” to “proclamation.” Indeed, in the Vorrhede he does literally translate the bare Greek word “Euangelion” as “good message,” “good tidings,” “good news,” and “a good report,” but Tyndale does just as much in his own prologue to the Cologne Fragment. Furthermore, Luther immediately proceeds from this definition to elaborate the meaning of “Euangelion” in its biblical context, which tells of: “a true David who strove with sin, death, and the devil, and overcame them, and thereby rescued all those who were captive in sin, afflicted with death, and overpowered by the devil. Without any merit of their own he made them righteous, gave them life, and saved them, so that they were given peace and brought back to God.”
Tyndale wholeheartedly agrees with Luther that “In the olde testament are many promyses/whych are nothinge els but the evangelion or gospell,” and his definition of “Gospel,” as was shown earlier, is taken almost verbatim from Luther’s own preface. It is true that Tyndale does not translate that portion of the text where Luther elaborates on the contrast between the ministries of Moses and Christ, but he does allude to this a few times and openly connects the preaching of the Law with the proper office of Moses and the preaching of grace in the Gospel with Christ. This challenges Smeeton’s assertion that Tyndale shared the Lollards’ definition of the “Gospel” as a moral rule or “promises” that explain “God’s requirements.” On the other hand, even Luther could speak of the “Gospel” in terms of the broader ministry of Christ and that good works are among the benefits promised within the Gospel, although its proper work is the promise of forgiveness to contrite sinners. With regard to the relationship between the promises and Christ in Tyndale’s thought, he describes Jesus in the prologue as: “oure redemer/ delyverer/ reconciler / mediator/ intercesser/ advocat/ atturney/ soliciter/ oure hoope/ comforte/ shelde/ proteccien/ defender/ strength/ helth/ satisfactien/ and salvacion … And god (as greate as he is) is myne with all that he hath/ threw Christ and his purchasynge.”108 This makes it hard to accept Laughlin’s suggestion that Tyndale could conceive of the salvific promises of God independent of their very fulfillment in and through the person and work of Christ.
With regard to the contrast made between Tyndale and Luther on the subject of Law and Gospel even at this early date, the scholarly consensus also seems to have overlooked and underestimated the significance of those passages and writings in which Luther speaks with open praise and adulation about God’s Law, particularly the Ten Commandments, such as in his A Treatise on Good Works (1520), Personal Prayer Book (1522), and in his Preface to the Old Testament (1523) and Lectures on Deuteronomy (1525). It is not so unlike Luther to speak of the Christian as loving, delighting, or even consenting to the Law as scholars assume, although the particular phrase “consent to the Law” does appear more predominant in the writings of Tyndale. Yet in his earlier Romans lectures, Luther explicitly speaks of the Christian life as a life of repentance from sin and that the conscience is made pure and “delights in the Law of God” through faith,110 and in his Lectures on Galatians (1519) Luther describes how the Christian at the final resurrection “consents entirely to the Law.” In the Treatise on Good Works (1520), faith fulfills the Law because love and good works spring forth naturally from faith, and in The Freedom of a Christian (1520) the soul that genuinely trusts in God’s promise of mercy will undoubtedly “consent to His will.”
There are some modern scholars who argue that Luther, in the name of Christian liberty, resists ever identifying the new obedience of faith and the Spirit with any written Law. Though Luther does argue that the Law written on the heart by the Spirit through faith is superior to the written Law, this is because the written Law cannot supply the power to fulfill its demands as the Spirit can do from within by changing the heart.115 Similarly, though Luther believes that some situations justify the breaking of a law out of devotion to God or love for others, this does not mean that he perceived the Decalogue to be an inadequate guide for Christian moral behavior. On the contrary, he extolled the Ten Commandments rightly understood and interpreted. Yet, Luther recognized that loyalty to God in the First Commandment trumps loyalty to family and government in the Fourth Commandment if they are ever in conflict. Furthermore, the Ten Commandments are rightly interpreted and applied in service to the law of love. Thus, Tyndale translates Luther’s gloss on the apostles’ breaking of the ceremonial law of the Sabbath in Matthew 12 as constituting an example of how “the very commaundments of god binde not where love and neade requyre.”
Tyndale’s statements that “fayth only” justifies and that salvation is “imputed” to “fayth only” apart from the love and works that follow faith show the particular influence of Luther’s evangelical theology, and he shares with Luther the idea that God justifies a person on the basis of faith alone because faith justifies God and the truth of His promises in obedience to the First Commandment. Tyndale also compares the righteous desires produced by faith in Christ to a sick man who desires to be made whole and healthy, while through the blood of Christ the weakness that remains with the Christian as a sinner until the resurrection is not imputed for condemnation. The non-imputation of sin in the life of the regenerate is Augustinian but a sanative and proleptic element is also found in Luther’s theology of justification and the Christian as simul justus et peccator.
Tyndale’s description of the offering of Christ first as a gift and then as an example follows Luther’s early writings as does his use of the analogy of the tree and its fruit to illustrate that justification is by faith alone without works but that faith naturally produces good works,120 which are motivated by selfless concern for others and not for rewards or for the favor of God promised freely in the blood of Christ.
Although Luther’s Vorrhede was a significant influence on the Cologne Fragment, Tyndale’s prologue does admittedly display an obvious sense of independence, both structurally and rhetorically. Tyndale’s prologue is anything but a mere replica of Luther’s own preface. Nevertheless, the claim of his independence from Luther has been recently stressed too far when this is bound entirely to a direct comparison of the Cologne Fragment with Luther’s Vorrhede. The influence of Luther’s other early evangelical writings, with which Tyndale was assuredly familiar by 1525, must be considered as well. Daniell at least considers this a possibility with regard to the last portion of the prologue. A look at the wider corpus of Luther’s thought ranging from the years 1515–25 challenges preconceived notions about significant discrepancies existing at this early date between the two reformers. The principal influence of Luther upon Tyndale’s early theology of Law and Gospel cannot be so easily dismissed.
After fleeing authorities in Cologne, Tyndale and Roye found their way to the city of Worms where Tyndale’s dream of a complete New Testament translated from the Greek and printed in English was finally achieved in 1526. As Daniell states: “Here was suddenly the complete New Testament, all twenty-seven books, the four Gospels, the Acts, the twenty-one Epistles and Revelation, in very portable form, clearly printed. Here was the original Greek, in English.” Before the end of the year, Bishop Tunstall intensified his efforts in London to prohibit the buying and selling of Tyndale’s New Testament, along with other proscribed evangelical works streaming in from the continent.124 Such works listed by Foxe include Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Lectures on Galatians, The Freedom of the Christian, and a work by Zwingli on Anabaptism. It is interesting to note that, although the list visibly grew by 1529 to include works of Zwingli, Bucer, Oecolampadius, and Melancthon, Luther’s works still dominated the list. With regard to Tyndale’s New Testament, Foxe recounts how Bishop Tunstall struck up a deal with an English merchant in Antwerp named Augustine Packington to buy up all printed copies in order to have them burned, not knowing all the while that Packington was taking the revenue to Tyndale who then used it to subsidize later revised editions.
Also printed in Worms in 1526 was Tyndale’s A compendious introduccion/ prologue or preface un to the pistle off Paul to the Romayns. This is Tyndale’s second major evangelical work, even though, again, a sizeable portion of it is a translation of Luther’s own German prologue of 1522. Yet, following Trinterud’s essay, many scholars have argued that Tyndale used Luther liberally without following him on several important theological points, one of which is his understanding of Law and Gospel.
A cursory glance of Tyndale’s prologue reveals that he indeed used Luther’s prologue and translated a good portion of it. It is also obvious, however, that Tyndale by no means merely duplicated Luther’s German prologue, but interpolated his own comments, phrases, and passages for purposes of elaboration or expansion. Furthermore, a substantial portion of text at the end of Tyndale’s prologue has no direct parallel in Luther’s prologue. Nevertheless, the German prologue is clearly the principal inspiration and structural model behind Tyndale’s own text.
Some scholars have moved beyond mere structural comparison and have attempted to demonstrate that a closer analysis even of the very opening sentences reveals that Tyndale is doctrinally distant from Luther in 1526. For example, Werrell notes that only Tyndale adds “a lyght and a waye unto all the scriptures” to emphasize the central importance of the book of Romans. Werrell, somewhat ironically, uses this very same statement to argue that Tyndale possessed a greater respect for the whole canon of Scripture compared with the hierarchy that Luther gave to the books of the Bible. On the contrary, what is important to recognize here is that Tyndale shows no hesitation in borrowing from Luther’s exalted admiration for the book of Romans as the “principal and most excellent part off the newe testament.” Furthermore, Tyndale is translating directly from Luther in describing the book as a “bryghte lyghte and sufficient to geve lyghte un to all the Scripture,” a statement that is nearly identical to the one isolated above by Werrell.
Many other contrasts made by scholars have been exaggerated and, in some cases, contrived. For example, it is argued that Tyndale is more concerned with the glory of God in salvation than Luther, that he lays a far greater stress on the work of the Holy Spirit,131 and that he speaks of justification more as being made righteous whereas Luther emphasizes it as the declaration or forensic imputation of righteousness.
As far as basic content and structure are concerned, Tyndale closely follows Luther’s prologue by defining law, grace, faith, righteousness, flesh, spirit, and he similarly provides chapter summaries of the book of Romans. Luther and Tyndale both interpret “Law” in Romans as referring to the will of God, which is unlike human laws whose conditions are satisfied by mere outward conformity (“works of the law”). To “fulfill the lawe” of God is to do it cheerfully with loving obedience from the very depths of the heart. This is impossible without the Spirit of God empowering a person through faith in Christ. If people were honest, they would actually wish the burden of the Law away so that they might satisfy their own lusts without consequence. Though not a verbatim translation, Tyndale’s definition of “Law” as requiring the “grounde off the hert and love from the botome there of” echoes Luther who himself says: “God judges according to what is in the depths of the heart. For this reason, his law too makes its demands on the inmost heart; it cannot be satisfied with works, but rather punishes as hypocrisy and lies the works not done from the bottom of the heart.”
Contrary to the claim of many scholars that Luther somehow diminishes the personal role of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of the heart, Luther clearly states that: “such a heart is given only by God’s Spirit, who fashions a man after the law, so that he acquires a desire for the law in his heart, doing nothing henceforth out of fear and compulsion but out of a willing heart.” Elsewhere, he states clearly that: “This pleasure and love for the law is put into the heart by the Holy Spirit … But the Holy Spirit is not given except in, with, and by faith in Jesus Christ …” Trinterud makes too much of a statement made by Tyndale that works “only” cannot fulfill the Law, as if Tyndale was saying that the love of the heart is necessary, which he argues is out of step with Luther’s insistence on faith alone as fulfilling the Law. According to Trinterud, this is characteristic of Tyndale’s more Augustinian emphasis on love as the fulfillment of the Law.135 However, Tyndale in this statement is simply refuting the assumption that God’s righteous Law is satisfied by compulsory behavior and outward conformity, which is Luther’s point as well. Thus, Tyndale is actually in agreement with Luther that fulfilling the Law means doing what it says from the heart without compulsion or for self-seeking purposes, “even as though there were no lawe at all.” This love, however, Tyndale and Luther agree, springs only and spontaneously from faith in Christ.
On the basis of Tyndale’s use of phrases like “inward affection and delectation” for the Law, one scholar argues that Tyndale lays a much stronger emphasis on the “inwardness of the law” than Luther. However, this difference is really nothing more than one of literary style. Luther’s thoughts are often expressed more tersely, whereas Tyndale tends to be a bit more loquacious. Yet, it should not be concluded on this basis that they are in fundamental disagreement regarding the love that only exists where faith and the Holy Spirit are present. Luther’s prologue has: “So it happens that faith alone makes a person righteous and fulfils the law. For out of the merit of Christ it brings forth the Spirit. And the Spirit makes the heart glad and free, as the law requires that it shall be. Thus good works emerge from faith itself.” Tyndale’s own prologue reads: “fayth only iustifyeth/maketh rightewes/and fulfylleth the lawe/for it bringeth the Sprite thorowe Christes deservynges/the Sprite bringeth lust/looseth the hert/maketh hym fre/ setteth hym at lyberte/ and geveth hym strengthe to worke the dedes of the lawe with love/ even as the lawe requireth/ then at the last out off the same fayth so workinge in the herth/ springe all good workes by there awne acorde.”139 Tyndale merely expands upon what Luther himself has simply stated more concisely, but there is nothing to indicate any substantial difference of theological opinion. In fact, it seems that Tyndale has merely refashioned Luther’s thought using his own wordy style. For example, Luther simply has “make the heart glad and free,” whereas Tyndale has “bringeth lust/ looseth the hert/maketh hym free/ setteth hym at lyberte.” This use of such obvious repetition or verbosity might communicate a conscious emphasis placed on the idea but could also merely reflect a difference in rhetorical style. It certainly does not betray any fundamental theological disagreement incongruity.
Tyndale follows Luther’s prologue by defining “sin” as essentially unbelief, even as all truly good works spring from a heart of faith. “Grace” is defined as the merciful favor of God and the offering of Christ and the Spirit with all His gifts. Christians who wrestle with the lusts of the flesh stand under this grace on account of their faith in Christ and the “begynninge off the Sprite” until sin is fully mortified at death. “Faith” is described as a gift of God, and Tyndale is just as adamant as Luther in rejecting the notion that the doctrine of justification by faith alone encourages lawlessness. On the contrary, justifying faith is freely active in doing good works out of gratitude to the love of God. Faith “maketh vs all togedyr newe in the hert/ mynd/ will/ lust/ and in all oure affeccions and powers of the soule …” Faith brings with it the Holy Spirit through whom the believer freely and cheerfully serves others without the need for outward compulsion. Tyndale uses Luther’s analogy of good being inseparable from faith as heat is from fire.
Werrell argues that Tyndale’s emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit, rather than faith, in conversion sets him apart from Luther, but Luther clearly states that the new heart of cheerful obedience “is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith.”143 A disparity between the two is falsely contrived on the basis of the obvious fact that the two parallel quotes are not identical. A reading of the wider context, however, reveals that Tyndale is not departing from Luther here. A few isolated statements of Luther where the “Holy Spirit” is not specifically mentioned should be interpreted in the light of others where, as Rex has aptly demonstrated, the essential work of the Holy Spirit with regard to faith, good works, and divine illumination is explicitly stated. Tyndale himself could equally say, as Luther did, that faith “bringeth the Sprite,”145 and, on the other hand, his expression that “faith is a thing wrought by the Holy Ghost in us,” adapted from Luther’s “Faith … is a divine work in us,” does not warrant the polarization that scholars like Werrell have contrived between the two.
With regard to the doctrine of justification by faith, Luther and Tyndale both agree that faith in Christ brings new life, affections, and desires through the working of the Spirit and is the seed of all active righteousness. Nevertheless, many scholars such as McGrath and Trueman argue that Tyndale defines “justification” and “justified” more in the Augustinian sense of being “made righteous,” or a change of nature and will, rather than being “declared righteous,” or a change of status, as in the theology of Luther. Trueman places Tyndale closer to Augustine on the supposition that Tyndale placed greater emphasis on the moral implications of justification rather than on the objective, Godward satisfaction of guilt. Jeffrey Leininger argues that Tyndale at the very least is under the influence of the “early Luther” in 1515–1519 and the “Luther in transition” during the 1520s whose theology of justification as the forensic imputation of righteousness in Christ only became more explicitly defined and developed in the 1530s. However, even Trueman goes on to acknowledge that Tyndale speaks of justification, union with Christ, and righteousness in language that falls just shy of an explicit theology of imputation while admitting that there is a proleptic element in Luther’s own understanding of justification by faith. Trueman eventually admits that the difference between Tyndale and Luther is one more of emphasis rather than of real substance. If this is the case, then it should not be stressed too far as if to give the misleading impression that Tyndale differed with Luther profoundly on the nature of justification in the 1520s, and McGrath even acknowledges that Tyndale’s works of the early 1530s convey the “basic features” of imputed righteousness. Few scholars have considered that the Augustinian elements in Tyndale’s theology are derived from Luther himself and that these elements should be interpreted synthetically with regard to the influence of Luther’s particular theological presuppositions and emphases.
Following Luther’s prologue, Tyndale does not restrict the meaning of “flesshe” in the book of Romans to physical unchastity, but likewise defines it as the corruption of the entire person in “soule/ body/ wytte/ wyll/ reason.” Like Luther, Tyndale describes actual sin as the product of the root of all sin in unbelief, which corrupts every work that does not spring from grace no matter how “good/ holy/ and spiritual they seme to be.” On the contrary, truly “spiritual” works spring from faith, which even sanctifies “grose” tasks like fishing and cleaning shoes. A person who is reborn and lives by the Spirit is rightly called “spirituall,” as are the good works that issue freely from his or her faith.
Tyndale follows Luther’s lead by providing a summary of each chapter in Romans and agrees with Luther that the order of the book provides a model for ministers to preach the Law followed by the Gospel. This is to foster a sense of humility and contrition among the people for their sin so that they can properly “desyre helpe,” acknowledging that their compulsory obedience, or “workes of the lawe,” will not justify them in the sight of God: “that the lawe was geven to vtter ande to declare synne only.” It is only by faith in Christ that a sinner is “made ryghtewes,”151 and this righteousness is “deserved … for vs” in Christ. Werrell needlessly contrasts “merits for us” (verdienet) in Luther’s text with Tyndale’s “deserved soche rightewesnes for vs.” Tyndale agrees with Luther that a Christian is made righteous in a certain sense through justifying faith in Christ and the redeeming power of the Holy Spirit, but that the righteousness of favor with God and the forgiveness of sins is promised in Christ through faith alone. It is “Christes” righteousness that justifies the sinner and Tyndale adds that “faith ys imputed for ryghtwesnes.” This is on account of the union of faith with Christ’s atoning righteousness in the Gospel and not in the sense that faith is a human work regarded by God as meritorious of His justifying grace.
Tyndale does not translate Luther’s chapter summaries verbatim but exercises a significant degree of rhetorical and literary independence. For instance, he adds a substantial amount of running commentary on the bondage of human nature under the Law and on the promise of grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Yet, even in this, Tyndale echoes Luther by emphasizing the preaching of the Law before the Gospel, and that the Law “causeth wrath” for all who are neither found in Christ nor possess the gift of His Holy Spirit.
Like Luther, Tyndale defines a vital work of faith after justification as the “batayl of the Sprit agenst the flesshe.” The flesh lusts against the desires of the Spirit so long as a person lives in his or her mortal body. Nevertheless, God does not condemn the Christian for remaning sin on account of the presence of faith and the Holy Spirit that “fighte agenste it.” Tyndale, basically translating Luther, states that to do battle against the flesh and its lusts is to “fulfil oure baptim,” or to live out what is signified by the sacrament. This understanding of baptism was not unique to either Luther or Tyndale, and Erasmus in his Enchiridion speaks of the Christian life as a living out of the sacrament. To view salvation in terms of a covenant, and particularly in the context of the sacrament of baptism, was a familiar concept by the time of the Reformation, including that of late medieval Catholicism.
Most scholars have come to acknowledge that by the early 1530s, and reaching its zenith in the revised New Testament (1534), Tyndale develops an understanding of salvation expressed in terms of a conditional covenant wherein God promises eternal life only to them that keep His laws. Some interpret this as the likely influence of the theology of the Swiss and Rhineland reformers, who shared Tyndale’s education in Humanism and an affection for the Law that is supposedly absent from Luther. The “covenant” obviously plays a significant role in the writings of these reformers.157 More recently, Werrell argues that Lollardy is behind Tyndale’s understanding and appropriation of the covenant theme.
It is important at this point to establish that it is not so much Tyndale’s supposed affection for the Law that anticipates and fore-shadows his more maturely developed theology of covenant as it is his understanding of the Christian life as the living out of baptism. In fact, Tyndale’s theology of covenant is grounded in his interpretation and theology of baptism.
In the discussion above, Tyndale does appear to give salvation a certain conditional quality, in that God promises to withhold condemnation if and where faith is present and struggling in the Spirit against sins. While scholars such as Rex argue that Luther’s theology of baptism “is very much a one-way street,” Tyndale here is translating directly from Luther. In his own prologue, Luther encourages Christians with the assurance of God’s favor despite sinful impulses: “we are still God’s children, however hard sin may be raging within us, so long as we follow the spirit and resist sin to slay it.” Tyndale’s own translation reads: “we ar never the lesse the sonnes of god and also beloved/ though that sinne rage never so moche in vs/ so longe as we followe the Sprite/ and fyghte agenste synne to kyll and mortify it.”160 Luther had articulated the same idea years before in his treatise on The Holy Blessed Sacrament of Baptism (1519).
This is certainly not to suggest that Tyndale’s later emphasis on “covenant” as an interpretive scheme was taken over from Luther. However, at this point, Tyndale’s understanding of the conditionality of salvation as it pertains to living out the sacrament of baptism through faith is arguably the legacy of Luther. It is certainly possible that Luther’s own theology of baptism is among the foundational influences upon Tyndale’s more mature theology of covenant.
Tyndale continues to roughly follow Luther’s prologue by explaining the true nature of Christian liberty, which is defined as freedom from the burden of condemnation under the Law. Rather, whereas the Law extorts obedience from the unwilling, the Gospel makes people free and willing to serve God with pleasure and without the need for compulsion. For Tyndale, the Holy Spirit “maketh vs love the lawe,” so that the Law is no longer at enmity with those who live by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. Luther himself, in the corresponding passage, expresses it this way:“Grace … makes the law dear to us … sin is no longer present, and the law is no longer against us but one with us.” The difference of language used here should not be exaggerated, and it does certainly reveal that Luther spoke with equal candor about the newfound affection for the Law produced in the Christian through the Gospel. Earlier in the prologue, Luther speaks explicitly of “pleasure and love for the Law.”162 Yet, at the same time, the phrase “love the Law” need not be interpreted only as love toward the written Law itself, but that the inward desires of the Christian correspond spontaneously to the written Law. Indeed, both Luther and Tyndale define the obedience that comes from faith as occurring without the compulsion of the Law, “ye though there were no lawe.”
Both Luther and Tyndale acknowledge a new affection for the Law that comes through the Holy Spirit by faith, yet Tyndale, like Luther, argues that the “beste” and proper way to think about the purpose of the Law is its work in revealing sin and the condemnation deserved by it. Only after a person becomes conscious of sin by the Law can he or she properly believe in Christ for salvation and begin to follow the will of God by doing battle with the flesh, which is the “ryghte werke of fayth.”165
Tyndale mostly follows Luther’s prologue to the end and largely translates his comments on the duties of all people to obey the government, although true Christians ruled by the Spirit (in Luther “the good”) have no need of any such government to coerce them to respect the lives and property of others. Luther only in passing defines love as the sum of the Christian ethic, but Tyndale adds that “spirituall love” needs moral pressure just as much as a loving mother needs to be told to care for her one and only son. Finally, Tyndale imitates Luther by urging readers to become diligent students of the book of Romans, which is the “lyghte and the effecte of the olde testamente.”
An additional nine pages in Tyndale’s prologue include a treatise on the Pater Noster, “to fill vpp the leefe with all.” Scholars have identified this as an adaptation from the summary appearing at the end of Luther’s own widely circulated tract on the Lord’s Prayer published in Wittenberg in 1519. This fact was overlooked by Werrell who argues that Luther’s Christocentric theology caused him to devalue the “Fatherhood” of God. Tyndale’s introduction reviews the themes of Law and Gospel and, like Luther, he describes the Lord’s Prayer in terms of a plea for the mercy of forgiveness and a request for the help to do what is impossible to be done by human strength alone.168 The introduction gives the undeniable impression of Luther’s influence in both content and tone, especially with regard to the absolute helplessness and guilt of human nature before the Law: “Marke this well and take it for a sure conclusion/ when God commaundeth us in the law to doo any thinge/ he commaundeth not therefore/ that we are able to do yt, but to bryng us unto the knowledge of ourselves/ that we might se what we are and in what miserable state we are in … The office of the law is only to vtter sinne and to declare in what miserable damnacion and captivity we are in … The law then bringeth a man unto the knowledge of him selfe, and compelleth him to morne/ to complayne/ to sorowe/ to confesse and knowledge hys sinne and miserie/ and to seke helpe.”
Scholars are certainly right to point out that Tyndale’s prologue is more than a mere translation of Luther’s prologue, for he exercises a substantial amount of rhetorical and literary independence. However, in many cases where Tyndale does expand quantitatively beyond Luther’s text, whether in his comments on human nature or with regard to the work of the Devil, this does not reveal any significant theological divergences from Luther but actually suggests the imprint of other works of Luther dating to the early 1520s. Furthermore, even if the Holy Spirit is named more numerously in Tyndale’s prologue, a point that is open to gross misrepresentations, such a comparison seems unfair when the two prologues are so varied in length. It does not appear in the final analysis that, other than the obvious rhetorical and literary variables, Tyndale has “left Wittenberg” behind in his prologue to the book of Romans.
After the publication of his 1526 New Testament and Prologue to Romayns, Tyndale resurfaced in the city of Antwerp in 1528 where he published two of his most infamous theological treatises: That fayth the mother of all good workes … and The Obedience of a Christian Man. It is not known exactly when Tyndale arrived in Antwerp, but the city with strategic ties commercially to England would be his headquarters for the next several years until his arrest in 1535 followed by imprisonment in the Vilvorde castle.
Scholars readily acknowledge that Tyndale’s Parable of the Wicked Mammon is loosely based on a published revision of a sermon originally preached by Luther in Wittenberg in 1522. The two texts of the sermon by Luther are mostly similar, but Daniell exaggerates in stating that they are “identical.” The text for Luther’s sermon is the parable of Jesus in Luke 16:1–13. In the parable, a rich man rebukes his steward for the poor management of his estate. In the impending loss of his employment, the steward becomes an illicit creditor to his master’s debtors. By dishonestly reducing their outstanding debts he wins their friendship and secures his future. Jesus refers to the steward rightly as “dishonest,” but his cunning methods used in this fraudulent transaction become an illustration of the importance of winning future friends and witnesses in heaven through acts of kindness and charity while on earth.
Luther claims that this text has been inappropriately used in the past to support a doctrine of salvation by works. Thus, his intention is to prove that the parable is only rightly interpreted under the assumption that faith alone justifies before good works. Luther’s sermon went through five editions in 1522, one edition in 1523, and it was printed in Wittenberg, Augsburg, Basle, and Erfurt. For Tyndale to use a sermon so widely known and circulated as the basis for his own exposition may indeed show him to be, as Daniell aptly observes, “firmly in the Lutheran mainstream.” Vasilev’s claim that Tyndale’s choice of the parable is likely rooted in Bogomil-Cathar dualist philosophy is simply without any basis whatsoever. However, Daniell does note that Tyndale’s longer treatise is hardly an exact copy of Luther’s much shorter printed sermon, and he argues that Tyndale’s elaborate use of illustrations from human experience linked with scriptural references is more of an evidence of his debt to Erasmus as a rhetorician. This may be true, but literary embellishment cannot be equated with theological divergence. As was the case with Tyndale’s Cologne Fragment (1525) and the Prologue to Romayns (1526), a brief look at the Wicked Mammon confirms Tyndale’s continued indebtedness, not only to the immediate sermon in question, but to Luther’s broader evangelical thinking as a whole.
After a four page introduction “to the reader,” in which he strongly distances himself from former translating associate William Roye, Tyndale builds on the main themes of his previous writings, namely the bondage of the natural will under the condemnation of the Law,176 the necessity of contrition or repentance under the Law (including Christians who sin “throughe fragylytie”), that faith alone “iustyfyeth and setteth us at peace with God,”178 and that good works in accordance with the Law do not merit heaven or eternal life but are the evidence of the life of the Spirit and of faith in Christ. In fact, this last statement is the whole point of Jesus’ parable according to both Tyndale and Luther. The exhortation of Christ to make “frends of the unrighteous mammon” is rightly interpreted as the exercise of faith in kindness and service to others, which gathers up witnesses for the Day of Judgment who will be able to “testyfye and witnesse of thy good workes” and, by implication, of true faith in Christ. Although heaven is not a reward earned for contracted labor, it naturally follows upon the doing of good deeds without any thought of personal gain, just as hell awaits those who give full consent to evil even though they do not do evil acts to earn eternal punishment. True believers only need to be put in “remembraunce” of those things that should be done to mortify the flesh and to serve the welfare of others.181
Both Laughlin and Trinterud argue that the theology of Tyndale’s Wicked Mammon transcends Luther’s sermon by more strongly emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the doing of good works, by teaching that such good works are a means of assurance to Christians that their faith is true, and by stressing the positive relationship of the Christian to the Law. Contrary to the opinion of Clebsch, who dates the shifting of Tyndale toward an emphasis on good works nearer to 1530, Laughlin argues that “Tyndale already had traveled a long distance from Wittenberg” by the time he published the Wicked Mammon. Once again, however, the differences between Tyndale and Luther have been exaggerated and, in some cases, even contrived. Trinterud’s essay quotes lengthy passages from Tyndale with only brief interpretive comments interspersed here and there with regard to differences from Luther. He assumes for the most part that the reader will pick up the differences for him or herself since he provides only a rather superficial analysis of the Wicked Mammon and other works of Tyndale, and his abrupt references to Luther do not reveal any substantial familiarity with the wider corpus of Luther’s writings.
Luther obviously assumes that the Holy Spirit is crucial to the conversion and moral life of the Christian, and Luther openly speaks of good works as being the “fruit of the Spirit.” Furthermore, Luther equally acknowledges that good works that come from the heart are a testimony not only to others but also to oneself regarding the genuineness of professed faith: “if you can give from the heart you may be assured that you believe.” Tyndale’s remark in the Wicked Mammon that “mi forgeving certifieth my sprite that God shall forgeve me” sounds similar to something Erasmus said in the Enchiridion but must be interpreted in the context of Tyndale’s other statements including “For as a man fealeth god to hym selfe/ so is he to hys neyghboure.” In other words, Tyndale is operating in consistency with the assumptions of Luther’s evangelical theology that the ability to forgive others is an active reflection of the presence of justifying faith allowing that Christian to have an even bolder confidence in presuming upon the continual mercy of God. Tyndale can speak of forgiveness in terms that very much sound like conditions for salvation, foreshadowing his later theology of covenant, but this conditionality has to do with works being the evidence of justifying faith and a boost to assurance. Luther makes a similar point about the ability to forgive and the assurance of salvation in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism (1529). Trueman identifies good works as the “primary means of assurance” in Tyndale’s Wicked Mammon. It is questionable how “primary” they really are, but works as providing some means of assurance is also the point Luther is making in his own sermon. Trueman also argues that Tyndale makes no effort to harmonize this works-based assurance with the priority of faith before works, even though Tyndale explicitly defines good works as always proceeding freely in love following repentance and faith.
The phrase “consent to the Law” that appeared in the Cologne Fragment now resurfaces in the Wicked Mammon as “the consent of the hert vnto the law.” Although even the repentance or contrition preceding justifying faith constitutes a certain “consent” to the Law of God for Tyndale, a point that Laughlin overlooks,189 it seems that this phrase most often refers in Tyndale’s writings to the “lust to the Law” following and produced through justifying faith. According to Tyndale’s Wicked Mammon, the lawful works that please God in gratitude to His grace are found in Scripture, and misguided zeal usurps what God in His Word has clearly commanded should be done or left undone. Luther also directed people to the Word of God for moral instruction in good works, whether the natural-moral Law of the Decalogue or its softer counterpart in the kind entreaties of Christ and the apostles. Like Luther, Tyndale sees no real qualitative difference before God between preaching the Word and washing “thy masters dyshes” with the understanding that these are done with thanksgiving and in a spirit of faith and not as a means to merit favor with God.191
Tyndale identifies “consent to the Law” as the evidence of the working of the Spirit within and “the seale and marke” of election, but this is consistent with Luther’s own theology of Law and Gospel and his understanding that repentance and devotion to good works are evidences of justifying faith and election to grace. Luther never explicitly says that the “consent of the hert unto the lawe/ ys unite and peace betwene God and man,” although he does state on numerous occasions that God does not condemn the sins of the Christian who fights through faith in the Spirit against the flesh. This statement of Tyndale also needs to be interpreted in the light of others where “consent to the Law” is not enough to be “at one with God.” In this latter case, “consent to the Law” refers to sorrowful contrition and a despairing repentance that is not enough to justify if it is without faith and hope in the Gospel, and Tyndale clearly states that “fayth therfore setteth the at one wyth God.” Therefore, it is faith that establishes unity and peace with God but such faith is not without repentance and a consent to His Law that gives living evidence to the reality of this spiritual communion.194
It seems a bit overstated to say, as Daniell does, that the Wicked Mammon is mostly “Tyndalian,” unless this refers to its literary structure, which does reflect a great degree of Tyndale’s individuality and personal interaction with Scripture. Tyndale indeed expands well beyond Luther’s own sermon by expositing a far greater number of New Testament passages, although it is important to point out that Luther’s text was a printed sermon and not a formal theological treatise. Yet it is clear that Luther’s sermon is the significant influence behind Tyndale’s treatise. If not, why translate any portion of it at all? Therefore, even by the publication of the Wicked Mammon, Tyndale’s fundamental theological perspective with regard to Law and Gospel still bears the strong imprint of the direct evangelical legacy of Luther.
Tyndale’s Obedience of the Christian Man was published five months after the Wicked Mammon and from the same press in Antwerp. It was written by Tyndale chiefly as a response to Thomas More’s criticism that the evangelical reformers are the scourge of monarchies stirring up civil unrest and rebellion throughout Europe. The response of the Obedience yields little that is truly novel, for Luther had addressed the same challenge years before during the peak of social unrest in the so-called “Peasant’s Revolt” in 1524–1525.
Although the Obedience is not based structurally on any one specific work of Luther, Tyndale re-emphasizes themes that are consonant with the wider corpus of Luther’s evangelical writings, such as the bemoaning of the introduction of Aristotelian ethics into Christian theology, his affirmation of the preaching of the Law as a necessary revelation of the bondage of the will leading to repentance (“the lawe doeth but vtter synne only and helpeth not”), the division of biblical revelation according to “law” and “promyses,” the importance of teaching the Law to urge outward submission to authorities for “long liffe uppon the erth” and “worldly prosperite,” a rejection of rebellion against temporal authority,199 and a recognition of the value of adversity for discipline, the testing of faith, and to inspire the “Christen man” weak in the flesh to mortify sins. Like Luther, Tyndale also distinguishes between types of law-keepers, those who keep the Law outwardly for fear of temporal punishment or for the “pleasure/ profit and promocion that foloweth” and those who keep the Law in their heart by the Spirit without the need for compulsion or other such incentives.201
Still following Luther, Tyndale understands “repentaunce,” otherwise known as contrition, to be a “mornyinge and sorow” for sin under the Law. One kind of repentance comes in the form of eternal despair before faith and prepares the heart to receive the promises of forgiveness in Christ. Yet, another kind lasts throughout the Christian life as a godly mourning for the weakness of sin that remains until death. Like Luther, Tyndale rejects the Catholic sacrament of penance on the grounds that inward repentance and faith are wholly adequate for reconciliation with God for all sins committed after baptism. There is no need for any other satisfaction to be made. Nevertheless, Tyndale does assume that an offending sinner who is truly sorry for his or her sins will not fail to seek public reconciliation with the offended. Furthermore, the power of the “keys” is not the authority of the episcopal office to pardon sins in the sacrament of penance but is simply the preaching of the Gospel.
In the Obedience, Tyndale defends Luther’s theology of justification by faith alone against John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester and Chancellor of Cambridge, who argued against Luther that faith justifies only after becoming “formed by love” (caritate formata). Tyndale responds by arguing that God cannot be loved as Father until there is first assurance of His love as Father. Therefore, justification, defined as the forgiveness of sins and the favor of God, is received through faith alone in Christ though love proceeds by nature from this faith: “Yf thou beleve Gods promises in Christ and love his commaundmentes then arte thou saffe. Yf thou love the commaundmente then arte thou sure that thy fayth is unfayned and that Gods Sprite is in the.”204 This faith is obviously not the kind of historical faith that Satan and his demons have who acknowledge that Jesus was crucified but who cannot believe that the benefits of that death are for themselves. Thus, historical faith alone does not and cannot produce the love of God. It is with this understanding that Tyndale can say that the satisfaction made by Christ for the debt of sin proclaimed in the sacrament of baptism is only for them who repent, believe, and submit to the commandments of God. This does not mean that Tyndale believes in salvation by faith and love and good works, but it is to insist that the kind of faith in Christ that justifies is preceded by repentance under the Law and is followed by the evidence of a willful submission to that Law in love. Truly good works pleasing to God in honor of His commandments must be totally free and cannot have anything to do with seeking to earn the favor of God, which He promises liberally to faith in Christ alone, but they are done with love for the sake of others, the taming of the flesh, and with thanksgiving to God. All of these presuppose justifying faith in Christ. This is also to reject fasts, veneration of images, pilgrimages, and any other works of “ydolatry” and “imagination” perceived as works of merit before God.206
There is nothing in Tyndale’s Obedience to suggest any conflict with the Law-Gospel theology of Luther. In fact, it bears the strong imprint of his evangelical influence. Tyndale clearly follows Luther in logically prioritizing repentance under the Law, faith alone in Christ for forgiveness and favor with God (the apex of Christian conversion), and the resulting love and submission to God’s commandments. Tyndale says at one point that “whosoever doeth knowledge his sinnes receaveth forgevenes,” but this does not mean that contrition itself justifies. Both Luther and Tyndale recognize there to be such a “consent to the Law” that is without faith and hope in the Gospel and thus without the ability to truly love God and His Law from the heart, which only creates a damning bondage to despair. The point here is that the Gospel promise of forgiveness in Christ to be received through faith is meant for those who are repentant under the Law, and faith in Christ is most likely implied here. Furthermore, Tyndale’s comment is a paraphrase of 1 John 1:9, a passage of Scripture that arguably refers to the ongoing intercessory work of Christ on behalf of repentant Christians.
There is one statement in the Obedience that does pose some difficulty, however. Tyndale asserts that: “as sone as the herte lusteth to doo the law/ then are we righteous before God and oure synnes forgeven.” This statement admittedly appears to make love and earnestness to obedience, rather than faith in Christ alone, the formal basis for the remission of sins and righteousness before God. This interpretation is very unlikely, however, when considering other contemporaneous and unambiguous statements made by Tyndale that justification, understood as the forgiveness of sins and favor of God, is by faith in Christ alone, as well as his recent and explicit rebuttal to Bishop John Fisher’s theology of justification by “fides caritate formata.” Even earlier within this very same treatise Tyndale states clearly that such love for God and His commandments cannot exist without prior assurance and faith in the forgiveness and favor of God and is actually the evidence of justification, true faith, and the possession of the Holy Spirit. Neither Luther nor Tyndale ever equate true faith with mere historical knowledge of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but with a personal and filial trust in the promise of God’s love in Christ. The kind of love for the Law Tyndale has in mind here, then, can only be generated by the assurance of faith in the forgiveness promised in Christ alone. Therefore, Tyndale must be emphasizing how intimately related faith and love are in time by saying that love for the Law occurs at the very same moment, though not as the formal basis, of the forgiveness of sins received through faith in Christ alone. In any case, this statement cannot be allowed to stand by itself but must be interpreted with respect to Tyndale’s thought more generally. Nevertheless, it does seem that Tyndale, increasingly by the end of the 1520s, is beginning to favor a certain way of expressing and emphasizing the new life that is expected to flow from an evangelical theology of justification by faith alone. In this sense, then, Laughlin is correct to argue that Tyndale never changes his theology but only his mode of expression when he begins to emphasize the covenant in the 1530s. However, the assumption behind his premise, that Tyndale’s appraisal of the Law is un-Lutheran all along, is inaccurate. Trinterud’s opinion that the Obedience “neither demonstrates nor refutes the ‘Lutheranism’ of Tyndale” might be true in so far as the treatise neither translates nor is derived from any one specific work of Luther. Yet this widely influential English work on the “political effects of Scripture”210 still largely bears the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
Tyndale’s thought does begin to take a noticeable turn in the 1530s from his earlier writings, and this has to do with his development of an emphasis on a theology of covenant, which eventually becomes his key hermeneutical principle. Although Tyndale could not have derived this rhetorical motif of “covenant” from Luther, the concept of covenant is readily found in Luther’s theology of baptism. Thus, scholars have been all too quick to assume that Tyndale’s theology of covenant shows a significant theological divergence from the influence of Luther.
Trinterud and Clebsch really pioneered the study of Tyndale’s turn to “covenant” in the 1960s. Although Clebsch identifies a much starker shift occurring in Tyndale’s theology away from an earlier emphasis on faith alone in the doctrine of justification, both scholars argue that Tyndale develops a covenantal moralism that foreshadows the piety of English Puritanism. A decade or so later, Paul Laughlin agreed with Trinterud’s thesis that Tyndale’s theology remained largely consistent throughout his career and added that Tyndale only significantly shifts from a “Law-Gospel” to a more Reformed “Covenant” scheme as befitting his stress on the need for good works in the life of the Christian.212 Only in the last few decades have scholars begun to explore whether this theme of “covenant” in Tyndale’s later thought is derived from the influence of other sources other than the Swiss and Rhineland reformers. Smeeton, and more recently Werrell, have attempted to locate Tyndale’s theology of covenant within the native English WycliffiteLollard tradition.
It is important to acknowledge outright that, besides the “pactum” theology of the scholastic via moderna, viewing salvation in terms of a covenant was part of the common parlance of late medieval baptismal spirituality. It has already been demonstrated that Erasmus himself speaks of baptism in terms of a covenant binding people to God in moral obligation. Smeeton has shown that the idea was not foreign to the Lollards.215 Luther also readily spoke of the baptismal covenant, and Anabaptist reformers in the 1520s used “covenant” language to describe the oath taken by adults at baptism. However, the covenant concept does seem to have flowered most among the leading Swiss and south German Protestants who, in turn, influenced English Puritanism.
As early as 1522, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, and Bullinger each spoke in some manner of the continuity between the two testamental periods straddling the cross, and around the time of Tyndale’s arrival at Antwerp in the late 1520s the works of Zwingli and Oecolampadius were being published and proscribed throughout the Low Countries. Yet Luther in the early 1520s, while acknowledging the temporality of the Mosaic Covenant made with Israel, also recognized a substantial unity to the canon of Scripture. In terms of the preaching of the Gospel, for example, the former age dimly proclaimed the Christ who was to come whereas the latter more plainly proclaimed the Christ who had come. It was in response to Anabaptists such as Balthasar Hubmaier in 1525 that Zwingli began to develop a much fuller articulation of the covenantal continuity of Scripture, particularly in the context of legitimizing infant baptism as the replacement of the Jewish covenantal sign of circumcision. Although Bullinger apparently preceded Zwingli in explicitly identifying the origins of a covenant of grace in Genesis 3:15, both agreed that the Abrahamic covenant is the definitive form of the eternal covenant of grace in the Old Testament and stressed the conditionality of participation in the promises of God’s mercy by a responsive submission to God’s Law. Luther never spoke of a “covenant of grace” per se, but he equally recognized that the promise made to Adam and Eve and to Abraham was essentially the preaching of the Gospel.
The point of the following discussion is not to determine whether Tyndale’s own theology of covenant was the result of the inheritance of Erasmus, Lollardy, the Swiss Reformed tradition, Luther, or his own reflections on the Old Testament-any one of which is difficult to substantiate definitively. Yet, acknowledging that Tyndale’s adoption of a rhetorical emphasis on covenant as an interpretive scheme did not come from Luther, previous scholars have not considered the extent to which Luther’s own theology of baptism contributed to Tyndale’s more developed formulation of a theology of covenant. If so, then Tyndale’s theology of covenant may not be so opposed to Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel as is commonly thought.
According to a rather incredible story told by Foxe, occurring sometime between 1528 and 1530, Tyndale suffered a shipwreck while traveling to Hamburg and lost all of his translation work on the Old Testament then to date. Upon arrival, as Foxe continues, he was assisted by Miles Coverdale in completing the Pentateuch, published in Antwerp in 1530 from the presses of Martin de Keyser under the pseudonym of “Hans Luft of Marburg.” David Daniell rightly acknowledges the significance of this publication for the history of the English Bible: “the first translation—not just the first printed, but the first translations—from Hebrew into English. Not only was the Hebrew language only known in England in 1529 and 1530 by, at the most, a tiny handful of scholars in Oxford and Cambridge, and quite possibly by none.
Even before the appearance of Tyndale’s Pentateuch, excerpts from his other writings show how comfortable he was in working with the Old Testament. It was probably after arriving on the Continent, and most likely in Germany, that Tyndale achieved proficiency in the Hebrew language. England by the 1520s was still comparatively behind in the knowledge of the Semitic languages.
The linguistic aids that Tyndale may have had at his disposal were Reuchlin’s Hebrew grammar and dictionary, the Complutensian Polyglot Bible printed by the University of Alcala in Spain before Erasmus’s Novum Instrumentum (1516), Zwingli’s recently published biblical commentaries, a French translation of the Old Testament, a Hebrew Bible, and an updated Latin text by the Italian Sanctes Pagninus. Though it is not entirely certain that Tyndale used all of these sources, few if any scholars would deny that Tyndale’s “biggest help” was Luther’s own German translation of 1523, which was the first-ever vernacular translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Aside from the prologues, the influence of Luther’s German text of the Old Testament upon Tyndale’s English translation is plain to scholars, although it has also been demonstrated that Tyndale exercised substantial independence from Luther by translating more directly from the Hebrew into English.227
The main concern here, however, is far less with the methods of Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament than with the theological themes he discusses in the prologues to each of the books of the Pentateuch. In his prologue to the book of Genesis, Tyndale identifies the core message of Scripture according to the juxtaposition of Law and Gospel (or promises): “Seke therfore in the Scripture as thou readest it first the law/ what god commaundeth us to doo/ And secondarylye the promyses/ which god promyseth us ageyne/ namely in Christe Jesu oure lorde.” The narrative portions of Genesis serve as examples both of God’s faithfulness to those who trust in Him even in the midst of adversity and His discipline upon those who reject His laws. McGiffert mistakenly identifies this particular statement and its parallel in the earlier Wicked Mammon as foreshadowing Tyndale’s more developed theology of covenant. Laughlin and Smeeton also make much of Tyndale’s increasing use of the word “promises,” contrasted with Luther’s usual definition of the “Gospel” as “proclamation,” and argue that the former word choice narrows the dialectical gap between Gospel and Law, faith and obedience, promise and ethical obligation.230 However, this assumption is challenged by the fact that Luther could also use “Gospel” and “promises” interchangeably, and he spoke of the Gospel in the context of baptism with regard to the obligation of the baptized to believe with a heart of repentance and to struggle daily against sin.
At one point Tyndale objects to outward deeds as having the power to justify and make holy, but stresses rather “the inward Spirite receaved by fayth and the consent of the harte unto the law of god.” The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 illustrates that there may appear little outward difference between the works of the righteous and the unrighteous, but God sees the heart converted by His Spirit and approves those works that spring freely from it: “the deade is good because of the man / and not the man good because of his deade.” Tyndale’s understanding of the priority of inward faith working through love in outward deeds continues to bear the influence of Luther’s evangelical theology. The fact that he adds “consent of the hart unto the law of god” to “fayth” in the context of the receiving of the Spirit, however, does pose somewhat of an interpretive quandary. Tyndale might be interpreted as saying that the Holy Spirit is received by faith in Christ and love toward the Law of God that comes from faith. One way of reading this text could understandably give this impression. Another way, however, is to read the phrase “and the consent of the hart” as referring back to “made them holy” and not the “Spirite receaved by fayth.” This latter reading certainly fits better with Tyndale’s understanding that it is the receiving of the Spirit through faith in Christ that converts the heart to love the Law of God in the first place. Yet, this still does not explain why Tyndale would say that the Spirit received by faith and consent to the Law of God justifies and makes one holy, unless Tyndale in this context is defining “justify” as “made righteous” and stressing that justifying faith submits to God’s Law from the heart in the Spirit. Yet, if “consent of the harte unto the Law of God” merely refers to the repentance that precedes and accompanies justifying faith then all these difficulties are avoided, though Tyndale’s choice of word order is misleading in this regard. In any case, this one statement must be interpreted in the light of the whole of Tyndale’s thinking during this period.
The word “covenant” does not appear in Tyndale’s prologue to the book of Genesis, in the textual glosses, or even in the main body of the translation itself. In Genesis 9, Luther uses “bunds” or “bund,” and Tyndale uses “bond,” “testamente,” and “appoynment” interchangeably. In Genesis 17 Tyndale also uses “testamente” and “bonde.” However, Tyndale’s definition of “Testament” is “an appoyntement made betwene god and man/ and goddes promyses,” which does resemble his later definition of covenant, and it is important to note that he explicitly connects the “Testament” to the sacrament of baptism: “which is come in the roume thereof [i.e., circumcision] now signifieth on the one syde/ how that all that repent and beleve are washed in Christes bloud: And on the other syde/ how that the same must quench and droune the lustes of the flesh/ to folow the steppes of Christ.”235
It has already been shown that Zwingli and Bullinger were not the only ones, nor even the first ones, to view baptism in terms of the making of a covenant with certain expectations, so it is not self-evident that Tyndale borrowed this particular idea from the Swiss Reformed tradition. Even Tyndale’s brief reference to baptism as taking “the roume” of circumcision does not reveal any necessary departure from Luther, who himself states in 1520 that “a sacrament of the Old Law and one of the New” are the same in the sense that faith alone in the promises that are given with these signs justifies. Luther even on another occasion defends the practice of infant baptism on the basis of the Old Testament circumcision of male children.
In his prologue to the book of Exodus, Tyndale states that the stories of the Old Testament teach the universal principle that God’s favor rests upon people who believe and obey, or whose faith produces obedience, whereas eventual destruction awaits all those who “through unbelief” resist His laws in disobedience. Though capable of differentiation, Tyndale does not conceive of faith and works as being separable. Rather, the Law becomes a “lyvely thing in the herte” through the Holy Spirit, “so that a man bringeth forth good workes of his awne acord without compulsion of the lawe … All good workes and all giftes of grace springe out of him naturallye and by their awne accorde.” Tyndale still shows he is indebted to Luther’s evangelical theology in describing the main purpose of the Law as to “vtter synne onlye and to make it appere” so that through faith in the mercy of God people would keep His commandments from the heart. Tyndale emphasizes the powerlessness of the Law to enliven the heart for the true keeping of the commandments, which comes about only through the remedy of the promise of the New Testament. This “testamente” reaches back to the very beginning of time, so that all sinners throughout history have been justified by faith in the promises of God. The “Old Testament” by contrast was a particular covenant established by God with Moses and the people of Israel. This testament pertained to the promise of the land, physical protection, and material wealth conditioned by outward obedience to laws and ceremonies. It dealt only with temporal prosperity and not with eternal favor. The substance of this “testament” with its temporal blessings and cursings applies equally to the keeping or breaking of the laws that rule any established nation of the world.
It is common knowledge that Luther saw Christ veiled in the pages of the Old Testament books. He also agreed that justification before God has always been by faith alone in the promises of God, such as in the case of Abraham, and he similarly viewed the Mosaic Covenant and its laws as a temporal ordinance established by God with the Jewish nation in particular. Thus, although the continuity of the covenant throughout Scripture becomes the keystone hermeneutic of the Reformed tradition and also later of Tyndale, each of the themes above agree completely with Luther and were arguably inspired by his own reading of the Old Testament. These parallels between Luther and Tyndale have been overlooked by scholars such as Trinterud.
In his prologue to the book of Leviticus, Tyndale echoes Luther by interpreting the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant as God’s way of keeping Israel from establishing false forms of worship. In a marginal gloss on Leviticus 10, Tyndale uses the story of Nadab and Abihu to illustrate the danger of zeal apart from the Word of God, “so doeth this ensample teach that we maye do no moare than is commaunded.” The ceremonial laws also serve as typological figures of the life and intercessory ministry of Christ. Tyndale’s interpretation of the efficacy of the old and new symbols seems very similar to Luther, in that both understand that it is faith alone in the promise given with the symbols that justifies. In this sense, Tyndale could say that water baptism instituted by Christ saves just as much as animal sacrifices instituted under Moses.241 Tyndale makes another connection between circumcision and baptism in this prologue, stating that both sacraments were instituted by God to set apart His people from the world, to serve as a visible confirmation of His favor, and to signify the practical mortification of sin in the life of the Christian. In his Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Luther likewise paralleled circumcision with baptism to illustrate that faith alone in the promise behind the sacrament justifies and that the fulfillment of the meaning of the sign is personal consecration to God.
Tyndale’s description of the message of the book of Numbers is also similar to Luther’s, although his prologue is much lengthier. For both, the importance of the book is the numerous examples it provides of human failure to keep the Law apart from God’s grace. The moral failures of the people reveal that the power to fulfill the Law and to avoid succumbing to temptations comes only by grace through faith in the promises of God. For Luther, the book of Numbers is “a notable example of how vacuous it is to make people righteous with laws; rather, as St. Paul says, laws cause only sin and wrath.” In fact, for Tyndale as well as for Luther, the major point of the giving of the Law was, ironically, to show people that they utterly lack the strength to do what was commanded.
In the context of his interpretation of vows in his prologue to Numbers, Tyndale rejects the notion that sacrificial offerings, whether of money, goods, or chastity, justify the heart before God. The only proper vow is the one associated with baptism, which is to respond to the mercy of God by walking in His commandments for the sake of others and to mortify the lusts of the flesh. Commitment to a life of voluntary poverty and chastity matters to God only when it serves these purposes. Yet the office of the Law is absolutely essential to the making of a true Christian and the revealing of the complete powerlessness of the sinner to be justified through his or her works, for unless the heart is moved by the Law to repent it has “no part with Christ. For yf thou repent not of thy synne/ so it is impossible that thou shuldst beleue that Christ had delyuered the from the daunger therof.” Without faith in Christ, the heart cannot then be prompted to truly delight in the Law of God, and to lack such delight reveals the absence of faith and the Spirit. The office of the Law to illicit repentance for the sake of leading the sinner to Christ in faith was of critical importance to both Luther and Tyndale.
Tyndale prizes the book of Deuteronomy above all others in the Pentateuch for it clearly teaches faith and its dynamic relationship to love: “deducinge the loue to God oute of faith, and the loue of a mans neyghboure out of the loue of God.” In comparison, Luther similarly extols Deuteronomy for teaching faith and love, “for all God’s laws come to that,” and for providing the “most ample and excellent explanation of the Decalog” and the best instruction on how to fulfill the Ten Commandments in “spirit and body.” Hammond erroneously interprets Luther’s many negative comments on the Old Testament as referring to the Hebrew canon as a whole rather than more specifically to the “Mosaic Covenant.” His inability to distinguish these two, as well as the Mosaic Law from the natural-moral Law, causes him to overlook the likelihood that Tyndale is extracting from Luther here.
Also echoing Luther, Tyndale interprets the First Commandment as the “fountayne off all commaundmentes,” for to obey this commandment is to believe in God with a thankful heart. Through this love for God, people are strengthened to love one another from the heart, and “loue only is the fulfillinge of the commandmentes.” Tyndale acknowledges that the blessings and cursings spoken to Israel under the Mosaic Covenant are made fundamentally “with all nacions,” but with respect to “the life to come thou must haue the rightuousnesse of faith.” In a similar way, Luther interprets the promise of temporal prosperity in the Fourth Commandment as applying to people of every nation who obey the rule of God’s Law administered by parents and princes.
According to Clebsch, Tyndale’s Pentateuch reveals the beginnings of a shift from a previously dominant emphasis on faith alone in the doctrine of justification toward a new emphasis on the moral Law and good works after justification. Whereas Luther, as portrayed by Clebsch, treated the Law of the Old Testament only in terms of the ministry of Moses to issue death and judgment, Tyndale is able by 1530 to value the moral Law of the Pentateuch as a guide to Christian moral living. Clebsch’s misreading of Luther is easily demonstrated by Luther’s praise of the Ten Commandments in his catechetisms and other writings and his perception that the moral teachings of Christ in the gospels are the natural-moral Law of the Decalogue taught lovingly to His disciples in the context of grace. For Luther, the real difference between the preaching of works by Moses and Christ has less to do with actual content or substance than with form and tone and with respect to distinct dispensations of salvation history.249
Scholars such as Trinterud and Laughlin are right to point out that Tyndale’s earliest writings already emphasize “consent to the Law” and good works as concomitant with justification by faith alone. Thus, they are right to stress the fundamental consistency of Tyndale’s theology on this point. Nevertheless, Clebsch is also partly right in the stress he places on a shift occurring in Tyndale’s writings in the 1530s. Tyndale does indeed later relegate faith in many passages that speak of God’s mercy to a more implicit role with an even greater stress on the conditionality of the salvation promises in the expectation of repentance and the response of faith in good works and obedience to the Law. Yet this does not mean, contrary to Laughlin, that Tyndale no longer has use for the Law-Gospel theology of Luther, which is amply evident in his description of the chief work of the Law as the revelation of human sin and damnation that leads toward the comfort and life-changing power of the Gospel.
In the same year that his Pentateuch appeared, Tyndale published three other works, one of which was a reprinting of a fifteenth century Lollard tract entitled The Examination of Master William Thorpe. More well-known is his The Practice of Prelates and A Pathway unto Holy Scripture, the latter being a slightly revised and expanded edition of his prologue to the 1525 New Testament (Cologne Fragment).
With regard to the Examination, its late date of publication makes it an unlikely source of Tyndale’s theology, although Tyndale obviously valued it as a support to his cause of reform. The tract is an autobiographical account of a local priest named William Thorpe who stood trial before the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, in 1407. Many of Thorpe’s protests foreshadow Tyndale’s own frustrations with English clergy. Charges brought against Thorpe while preaching in the town of Shrewsbury include his opposition to transubstantiation, the worship of images, pilgrimages, priestly tithes, and oath swearing all on the basis of the Word of God. Thorpe also opposes the proud and covetous prelates who persecute those of the “true faith of holy chirche,” or the faithful Christians who loyally adhere to the commandments of God in His Word and the example of Christ. Thorpe also rejects the necessity of the sacrament of penance on the grounds that God forgives the truly contrite heart without the mediation of an earthly priesthood. Though priests are useful for counsel, Thorpe interprets the “keys” of binding and loosing as the preaching of judgment upon the wicked and mercy unto the repentant who sorrow and turn from their sin. Thorpe’s emphasis on diligence to the revealed commandments of God resonated with Tyndale.255 However, Thorpe does not articulate a clearly defined doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, and his main concern is to encourage the faithful in the midst of persecution and to contrast the godly who suffer with their wicked persecutors. Tyndale’s personal interest in the tract is in its exhortation to the faithful in protesting against unbiblical practices and ritualistic devotion in honor of obedience to the commandments of God and His Word.
Tyndale’s The Practice of Prelates was written in response to King Henry VIII’s impending divorce from Catherine of Aragon, which Tyndale opposed while criticizing the greedy interference and political maneuverings of popes and prelates throughout history, chiefly including Cardinal Wolsey. Tyndale directs the King to the Law of God and urges him as a baptized, professing Christian to bring the question “unto the light of goddes lawe and let us submitte oure causes unto the iugement thereof and be content to have oure appetites [i.e., for answers] slayne therbye/ that we lust no farther then goddes ordinaunce geveth us libertye.” He also encourages the King not to let the fear of human opinion, including that of Emperor Charles V, dictate his course of action. Instead the king should trust that God will “kepe them that kepe his lawes. Yf we care to kepe his lawes/ he wyll care for the kepinge of us/ for the truth of his promises.”257 Taken out of context, this statement would seem to communicate the idea that salvation is a “bipartite agreement” or contract stipulated by human obedience to the Law. Yet it is not even self-evident that Tyndale has the promises of eternal salvation in mind in this context. Rather, he is speaking with regard to the temporal welfare and rule of the King, and Tyndale has already made mention in another writing of the fact that even outward submission to the Law of God brings with it the reward of temporal blessing and prosperity.259
Tyndale refers to Leviticus 18:16 and Deuteronomy 25:5–7 to defend his opinion about the divorce and in doing so provides important insight regarding his hermeneutical approach to the Mosaic Law. Although Luther and Tyndale came to different conclusions about the divorce, their interpretation of how to apply the Mosaic Law is remarkably similar. Like Luther, Tyndale distinguishes between the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws of Moses. The ceremonial laws were signs pertaining to God’s past dealings with the people of Israel, all of which have been surmounted by the sacrifice of Christ. The civil laws of Moses pertained only to the Jews and were a means of protection for the people. In this way, Luther and Tyndale both describe Moses as a “lawegever” (Luther has “gesetz geber”), but only for the Jews. However, the moral Law of the Decalogue summarized in the commandment to love God and neighbor is the very “lawe of nature” demanded of every person regardless of nationality. It is a law that even predated Moses and the Sinai Covenant, and would have remained in place regardless of whether or not it had ever been formally codified in writing. For Luther and Tyndale, to have faith and love toward God, which is the keeping of the First Commandment, results in the cheerful keeping of all the other laws pertaining to the neighbor. Trueman even states that, while Tyndale’s rhetoric of loving the Law is, in his opinion, uncharacteristic of Luther, “his actual concept of Christian ethics is fundamentally identical with that of Luther.” Neither Luther nor Tyndale strictly equate the moral Law with the Decalogue, since both identify the law of the Sabbath as a ceremony abrogated by the New Covenant, which made all such ceremonies free matters. Nevertheless, the spirit of the law in surrender to the authority of the teaching and preaching of the Word of God is expected of every professing Christian. Lastly, both Luther and Tyndale regard the promise of a long life given with the commandment to honor parents (commandment number four for Luther, but five for Tyndale) as basically the temporal promise of a long prosperous life for respectful children and law-abiding citizens.261
Tyndale published A Pathway unto Holy Scripture in 1530–1531, which was a minor revision of his 1525 New Testament prologue. Clebsch states that this treatise is, “without exaggeration,” the “magna carta of English Puritanism.”263 However, the text bears only slight differences when compared with its predecessor. The following excerpts exemplify some of the more noteworthy additions as it relates to the subject of Law and Gospel (revised material is noted in italics):

to gyue unto all that repente and beleue … iustified in the bloud of Christ from all things where of the lawe condemned us. And we receyue loue unto the lawe and power to fulfyl it/ and grow ther in dayly … the lawe requyreth love from the bottome of the hert/and that loue onely is the fulfyllynge of the lawe … obedient to the iustice or rightwesnes that commeth of god / whiche is the forgyuenes of sine in christes blode unto all that repent and beleue … Whatsoever we doo/ thynke/ or ymmagon/ is abominable in the syght of god. For we can referre nothynge unto the honor of god: neither is his law or wyl written in our membres or in our herts/ neither is there any more power in us to folow the wyl of god/ than in a stone to ascende upwarde of his owne selfe … It is not possyble for a naturall man to consent to the law/that hit shuld be good/ rightewes/ or that god shuld be which maketh the lawe in asmoch as it is contrary unto his nature and dampneth him/ and all that he can do/ and neither sheweth him where to fetch helpe/ nor precheth any mercy/ but onely setteth man at varyance with god … do I well/nott for hevens sake/which is yet the reward of well doyinge: but because I am heyre of heven by grace and Christes purchasyinge.

These and other minor additions that Tyndale makes in the Pathway do not reveal any new theological insights and are all consistent with his theology as expressed in the earlier Cologne Fragment and other writings of the 1520s. Furthermore, rather than putting new stress on the positive relationship of the Christian to the Law, at least two of these additions reemphasize the absolute powerlessness of fallen human nature before the demands of the Law. The additions should be seen as points of clarification rather than revisions per se, and, except for the few opening paragraphs of Tyndale’s introduction that express his desire to translate the New Testament, no omissions or alterations of the original text have been made.
The most original portion of the Pathway is the several folios of completely new material that begins immediately where the original prologue ends. This section begins with a conventional reiteration of the evangelical value of good works, which do not justify a heart before God but are evidences of the life of the Holy Spirit within, are useful to “tame the flesshe” so as not to “choke” out the Word of God and “quence the giftes or workig of the Spirite,” and meet the needs of the neighbor resulting in thanks and praise to God.
Next, Tyndale exposits the Decalogue, although much of this material reiterates comments found in his other earlier writings. Although Tyndale numbers the commandments differently than Luther, it is important to note here that Tyndale does not develop the prohibition of worshipping images. Tyndale then expounds on other themes he has elucidated in the past, which have to do with the depraved human condition, the opposition of the natural heart to the Law of God, and the only hope of salvation through repentance and faith in the blood of Christ. Tyndale identifies this as the “inward baptim of our soules.” The outward act of baptism “signifieth that we repent and professe to fyght agaynst synne and lustes/ and to kyll them euery day more and more/ with the helpe of god and oure dilygence in folowynge the doctrine of Christ and the ledyinge of his Spirite …” To believe in the promise accompanying the act of baptism is to believe that sin is forgiven and the condemnation of the Law removed on account of Christ, and that even the weakness that remains “after we haue gyuen our consente unto the law and yelded ourselfe to be scolers therof” is forgiven by God’s grace: “And thus/ repentaunce and faith begynne at our baptyme and first professynge the lawes of god/ and contynue unto our lyues ende/ and growe as we growe in the Spirite.” Such diligence to keep God’s commandments must not be thought of as meritorious, however, in the sense that these works are deserving of God’s favor. Rather, any such moral goodness in Christians is itself the “gyft of grace.” The responsibility of the baptized is to have faith in God and the promise of His mercy in Christ while being earnest and diligent to keep His commandments for the reasons already specified above. For His part, God will be faithful to His promises and will bring to perfection what is impossible for human strength alone. Though Tyndale does not specifically use the word “covenant” in the Pathway, the notion that he articulates of the respective responsibilities of both God and the baptized comes close to his later formal development of a theology of covenant. This explains Clebsch’s identification of the work as proto-Puritan, yet it is important to stress again here how these statements emerge in the context of Tyndale’s covenantal theology of baptism, which is not at all novel to him nor is it distinct from the theology of Luther.
Clebsch exaggerates the significance of the Pathway as a turning-point in the development of Tyndale’s thought. In fact, Trinterud only mentions the work in passing. According to Trueman, although Tyndale does begin to place an even greater emphasis on good works in the Christian life after 1530, this is “fundamentally consistent with his earlier writings.” Yet it is hard not to notice a growing tendency on the part of Tyndale around this time to recast his theology of justification and the Christian life of good works using rhetoric that implies a bipartite covenant. Nevertheless, Tyndale continues to contrast the Law over against the Gospel with regard to their proper functions, and the resiliency of Luther’s influence is evident in his theological assumption that justification through faith in Christ alone follows repentance under the Law and results in the new obedience of the Christian life.
In 1531, Tyndale published an anticlerical Lollard tract entitled The Prayer and Complaynt of the Ploweman unto Christ, a translation of the book of Jonah accompanied by a prologue, a reply to Thomas More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529), and an exposition of 1 John. Although the anonymous writer of the Ploweman does occasionally refer to the importance of belief and love toward God, as well as repentance, keeping the commandments, and love of the neighbor, its main point is to rebuke the corruption of prelates on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount. Since it does not explore the doctrine of justification by faith and its relationship to the moral obedience of the Christian as any matter of primary concern, it does little to illuminate Tyndale’s own opinions on this subject other than his identification of the Sermon on the Mount as a model for Christian piety.
With regard to the translation of the book of Jonah, Trinterud observes that it bears “no connection with any Luther item on Jonah.”271 This is true, although Trinterud is cautious to credit too much to Luther’s influence even when Tyndale has made obvious use of his works. Although the argument for indebtedness to Luther would be more strongly supported on the basis of a direct use of his translation and preface to the book, the prologue does reveal the continuing influence of Luther upon Tyndale’s theology of Law and Gospel: “Scripture conteyneth. iii. thinges in it. first the law to condemne all flesh: secondaryly the Gospell / that is to saye/ promises of mercie for all that repent and knowledge their sinnes at the preachinge of the law and consent in their hertes that the law is good/ and submitte themselues to be scolers to lern to kepe the lawe and to lerne to beleue the mercie that is promised them: and thirdly the stories and liues of those scolers both what chaunces fortuned them/ and also by what meanes their scolemaster taught them and made them perfect/ and how he tried the true from the false.”
Contrary to Laughlin, Tyndale still obviously uses the word “Gospel.” He also continues to summarize the message of the Scriptures according to a theology of Law and Gospel, although instead of simply stating that the Gospel is the “promises of mercie” in Christ he goes on in detail to explain that those promises apply to those with hearts of repentance and intentions of being obedient to the Law of God. Yet this should not be construed as diminishing the distinctive and proper functions of Law and Gospel, as Tyndale will continue to make clear elsewhere, nor is Tyndale saying that repentance and a heart for obedience to the Law actually merit divine mercy. Although repentance is necessary, it is insufficient by itself. It is only faith in Christ that justifies and enables Christians to truly devote themselves in love to the Law. Tyndale did believe that sincere devotion to the Law of God can, in turn, bolster faith in divine mercy on account of it being a sign of true faith and the working of the Spirit. Luther said essentially the same thing with regard to the exercise of faith in good works and that only the sins of those who struggle with faith in the Spirit against the flesh are under the grace of forgiveness and without condemnation.274 Furthermore, with regard to the necessity of repentance, Luther also believed that the message of the Gospel is intended as a comfort only for the truly contrite, not the unrepentant and self-righteous, and genuine repentance includes not only a desire for forgiveness but also for the strength and power to keep the holy commandments. This is the very reason the Creed follows the Ten Commandments in the order of his catechism.
It is also not evident that Tyndale has shifted toward a more legalistic and moralistic appraisal of the Law as Clebsch argues. Tyndale continues to stress that the Law is “all together spirituall,” and that it condemns unless “it be written in his herte and untill he kepe it naturally without compulsion and all other respecte saue only pure love to God and his neyboure.” Thus, as Tyndale has made abundantly clear before, the Law is never fulfilled by mere outward deeds, which are sin if without perfect love, and the true fulfilling of the Law comes only from a “a fast fayth in christes bloud coupled with our profession and submytttinge ourselues to lerne to doo better.” Tyndale clearly states that the forgiveness of sins, as in the story of Jonah, has always been by “faith only without respecte of all workes,” though such faith is the kind that naturally coinheres with repentance going beforehand and a sincere heart of love in devotion to the Law going after and, indeed, coming out of that very repenting faith. Yet neither repentance nor a heart for the Law, though necessary in their own way, are in themselves the grounds for receiving and believing in the forgiveness of sins, but “that the promises be geuen un to a repentynge soule that thursteth and longeth after them/ of the pure and fatherly mercie of god thorow oure faith onely with oute al deseruinge of oure dedes or merites of oure werkes/ but for Christes sake alone and for the merites and deseruinges of his werkes/ deth and passions …
Baptism is a sign that is given only once at birth, but the promise it signifies is good until death, and Tyndale believes that the forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ is available to anyone who repents and believes, for “we can doo no werkes unto God/ but receave only of his mercie with oure repentynge fayth.” Therefore, at the very same time that Tyndale can speak of God’s promises as possessing a certain conditionality with regard to the expectation of repentance and a heart of love in obedience to God’s Law, he is still obviously of the conviction that justification and reconciliation with God is through faith in Christ alone. This more explicit stress on the conditionality of God’s promises is simply his new way in the 1530s of emphasizing how justifying faith in Christ cannot possibly exist in truth without a preceding repentance under the Law and a submission to the Law of God that proceeds naturally in love from that very same repenting faith. Although Tyndale’s words could be misinterpreted in a works-righteousness and legalistic way, interpreting them in the light of his theological assumptions and in the broader context of other statements and writings shows that he is still under the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
In 1531, Tyndale published his reply to Thomas More’s Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529). More’s treatise implicates Tyndale as the major cause of the infiltration of Luther’s heresies into England.280 More was probably an important contributor to Henry VIII’s Assertio septem sacramentorum (1521), which was a defense of Catholic sacramental theology and a virulent rebuttal to Luther’s own Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520). More’s main motivation in joining the attacks on Luther under the direction of Cardinal Wolsey was Luther’s scathing reply to Henry VIII in 1522. Within one year, More published his own personal tirade against Luther in his Responsio ad Lutherum (1523). By 1529, and at the behest of Bishop Tunstall of London, More changed his approach and began combating heresy using the vernacular. The ensuing product was his Dialogue, in which More now specifically targets Tyndale as guilty of perpetuating the spread of Luther’s heresies.
In the Dialogue, More identifies Tyndale’s major link with Luther to be his publication of the English New Testament: “For Tyndall (whose books be nothing else in effect but the worst heresies picked out of Luther’s works and Luther’s worst words translated by Tyndall and put forth in Tyndall’s own name …” Yet, as scholars have observed, other comments of More portray Tyndale as even a worse heretic than Luther. Unfortunately, these comments have been used to justify the notion that Tyndale disagrees with Luther on critical matters of Law and Gospel. In response to these claims, it must be remembered that More’s highly charged polemical tirade is hardly an objective appeal for interpreting differences between Tyndale and Luther. Even so, More never lists matters pertaining to faith, justification, the Law, or good works as among those differences. Werrell, who makes the most of More’s comment, can only identify purgatory, the mass, confession, and patristic authority as areas of supposed difference marked by More. In fact, if scholars are right that Tyndale stressed the importance of the Law and good works more than Luther from the very beginning, then Luther, rather than Tyndale, would be the greater heretic.
Trinterud observes that Tyndale’s Answer to More is not dependent for its structure or content on any one work of Luther, and he virtually ignores this text in his analysis. Though Tyndale makes a statement in this work denying that he had ever been “confederatt with Luther,” most scholars do not accept this as being an absolute repudiation of any associations with Luther whatsoever. The fact that Tyndale ignored a prime opportunity to show explicitly how he differed with Luther and did no such thing is certainly noteworthy in itself. In fact, Tyndale’s Answer to More is a response to an unabashedly anti-Luther document in which he himself is explicitly linked to the German reformer. This means that Tyndale’s work is, in many significant ways, a defense of Luther against the attacks of More.
It is true that the Answer to More is not based on any single work of Luther, but the recurring themes connecting repentance under the Law (in the manner of the preaching of John the Baptist), justification by “fayth only” (a “felynge faith”), and a sincere obedience to God’s Law under the rule of love reveal the lasting influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel upon Tyndale’s developing thought: “And yf I beleved the gospell/what God hath done for me in Christe/ I should suerly loue hym agayne and of loue prepare my selfe unto hys commanundementes.” Tyndale defends his purposeful translation of “metanoia” and “metanoite” as “repentaunce” rather than “penance” because of its associations with the idea that sinners can make satisfaction to God for their sins by acts of penance. Even though all Christians remain as “synners” in the imperfection of their deeds and the frailty of their flesh, even falling as heinously as King David, they are at the same time “no synners” on account of their repenting reliance upon God’s promises of mercy. Those that do end up yielding in weakness to temptation, doing outwardly what they are enticed to do by the flesh, the Spirit of God in the elect calls them back successfully to be reconciled through a renewal of repentance, faith, and a “new batayle” against sin. According to Tyndale, such persons are the true Church, although Tyndale does later admit that “church” in the Scriptures sometimes refers to the “common rascall of all that beleue,” who are without the Spirit, whose faith is mere profession, and who either ignore the Law altogether or heed it only superficially.288
Tyndale is surprisingly positive toward the use of images in his Answer to More, more so than in the Obedience, and this is important to note in the light of the opinion that Tyndale’s theology was beginning to maneuver in favor of the Swiss Reformed tradition by the 1530s. In actuality, his balanced approach to images as theoretically useful for reflecting on the work of Christ and the piety of the saints seems much more akin to Erasmus, Luther, and even some Lollards, rather than to most theologians within the Swiss Reformed tradition. Although he supports the timely removal of images, this is not because he views them as inherently idolatrous. Rather, an image “is good and not euel untill it be abused.” Tyndale even allows for the act of kneeling before an image, but acknowledges abuses when such kneeling is considered necessary for salvation, as a protection against evil and harmful spirits, or as a means to temporal prosperity. Tyndale even has a somewhat nuanced opinion of pilgrimages, and interprets their value in terms of a journey to hear the Word of God in a place remote from common domestic distractions. The abuse associated with pilgrimages has to do with thinking that God honors devotion to Him only in sacred places, whereas for Tyndale the significance of a pilgrimage is the longing for an environment that stimulates godly meditation, faith toward God, and love toward others: “his pleasure is onlye in the hertes of them that loue his commaundementes.” In all these cases, Tyndale’s more moderate position towards images and pilgrimages (not to mention the Sabbath) is more reminiscent of the tone of Erasmus or Luther.
Tyndale does indeed stress the importance of good works and love toward the Law in his Answer to More, but he is also unapologetic about his position on the doctrine of justification sola fide. Therefore, it is not that Tyndale now considers good works or obedience to the Law as being any more theoretically essential to the Christian life than he did in his previous writings, but he does develop, stress, and explain that point even more fully than before. Although he still does not yet use the explicit concept of “covenant,” his stress on the necessity of repentance and a heart of love and obedience to the Law in connection with justifying faith anticipates this in some manner. Tyndale at one point does specifically describe God’s promises of mercy as being offered only to them who repent of past wrongdoing with the intention to turn from that sin. This agrees with Luther that true justifying faith that partakes of the mercy of God promised in the Gospel cannot coexist with a lust to continue in sin without remorse. This kind of faith is without sorrowful repentance toward the Law of God and is both a false faith and a wicked presumption upon the precious gift of God’s grace as if desiring that God give His divine o.k. to the unbridled satisfaction of sinful lusts.
Among the works of Tyndale listed acrimoniously by More in the Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer (1532) is his exposition on the epistle of First John published in 1531. Trinterud forthrightly states that it proves Tyndale was “not a Lutheran,” highlighting both Tyndale’s covenantal understanding of baptism and his laudatory praise for the Law in the life of the Christian. With regard to the former, Trinterud does admit that “Luther could on occasion use the figure, for it was age-old,” although he asserts that the “figure, or motif, was fast becoming the badge of a non-Lutheran.” Trinterud quotes at length from the “Prologge” to 1 John concerning Tyndale’s description of the profession of baptism, what Tyndale describes as the “key and lyght of the Scripture.” Tyndale’s explanation in effect unfolds Luther’s own covenantal understanding of baptism and his theology of Law and Gospel. The Law, summarized as love toward God and neighbor, can only be fulfilled through love, but love cannot exist except in those who have repented and believed the “promises of mercie.” Tyndale then goes on, as Trinterud quotes, to describe the loving and dutiful submission to the Law that characterizes the profession of baptism “wrytten in thyne herte.” This sort of submission to the Law is neither works-righteousness nor ethical legalism for it is the righteousness of faith that leads to love and this love is the true keeping of the Law. In fact, any law that goes against faith and love is free to be broken, as Luther himself often stated, “For loue is lorde ouer al lawes.”293
That Tyndale stresses the ethical responsibility of the Christian in his exposition of 1 John is hardly surprising since this is a major point stressed in the New Testament book itself, and the fact that Tyndale chose to exposit 1 John is not unique. Luther himself preferred 1 John’s discussion of good works to that of the book of James because the former more explicitly exhorts on the basis of God’s love in the Gospel. In his own series of lectures on 1 John in the late 1520s, Luther clearly identifies one value of good works to be the personal assurance it provides of a faith that justifies. Luther’s lectures were not actually published until centuries later, so it cannot be argued that Tyndale knew of them or was directly influenced by them. Nevertheless, this is not the first time that Luther has identified good works as a means of personal assurance, and Tyndale’s comments are certainly consistent with the theological implications concerning justifying faith and good works that Luther develops in his own lectures.
Tyndale reasserts in the lectures that the nature of the Law is to “utter synne” and that repentance under the Law necessarily precedes, on account of it creating the opportunity for, justifying faith. Even Christians who succumb in weakness to temptation through negligence of spiritual duties (the “life of penaunce”), if they but heed the discipline of God and renew the profession of their baptism through “repentynge faithe,” are forgiven through the blood of Christ. Tyndale does state that God’s mercy promised in baptism is conditional upon the fact that “we will submit oure selues vnto his doctryne and lerne to kepe his lawes.” Yet it is not as if divine forgiveness is merited by repentance or submission to the Law though these “condicyons” are associated with the nature of the faith that alone justifies: “So whether light or darknes be in the hert/ it wyll apere in the walkinge … that it is not possible for hym that knoweth the trueth and consentyth thereto to contynewe in synne.” Though more frequently associated with the sacrament of baptism, Tyndale also speaks of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in a covenantal-like manner, as a confirming of the “testament made betwen God and us of the forgiueness of synnes in Christes bloude/ for oure repentaunce and faith.”
According to his exposition of 1 John, the one “born of God” cannot sin without remorse. The sin of the true Christian is distinguishable from the sin of the false Christian because it is impossible for the former to sin of purpose “without grudge of conscience,” or so as to fall beyond a quick return to God through repentance and faith. For Tyndale, the “elect” are known only by God and, though sinning grievously, will never finally fall beyond a return to repentance, faith, and the consent of their hearts to God’s Law.297 In another work, however, Tyndale does state that through slothfulness it is possible that the Spirit can be lost “agayne” as well as the “rightwesnesse of fayth.” This indicates that Tyndale believed a person could in some sense have the Spirit and even be in righteous standing before God by faith, but, if not among the elect, will ultimately lack perseverance and become lost.
Tyndale also explains in the lectures that Christ and the Christian “make a chaunge.” Christ takes on the sin of the sinner and the Christian receives “mercie” in Christ and “giftes of grace,” becoming “gloriouse with the ornamentes of his riches.” This statement is significant in the light of the fact that Tyndale is often distinguished from Luther on the nature of justification. The concept alludes to 2 Corinthians 5:21 and was also paraphrased in the writings of Augustine, but it is difficult not to recognize in the light of Tyndale’s particular emphasis on faith alone an echoing of Luther’s own depiction of the “great exchange,” or the intimate union with Christ and His righteousness through faith that occurs in justification.
For Tyndale as well as Luther, an important message of 1 John is that the keeping of the commandment to love one another “certifieth us that we be in the state of grace.” Luther says the same in his own lectures to the effect that it “is through works that we learn that our faith is true.” Contrary to Clebsch, Tyndale has not forgotten the central importance of justification before God sola fide, although he does stress the effectual side of justifying faith as “the mother of all love” and the root of the true keeping of the Law from the heart in the life of the Christian. Thus, the one who is capable of showing mercy to others is also the one who at the same time possesses genuine personal trust in the mercy of God in Christ. In turn, he or she will have an even clearer conscience, an even bolder faith, and an even stronger confidence in the benevolence and mercy of God, much like obedient children have greater boldness in the presence of their earthly fathers.304 Luther states in his own lectures: “Faith is established by its practice, its use, and its fruit. For after one has devoted oneself to a life of idleness, it is difficult to raise the heart up to God. Faith alone raises us up. Hence faith must be put into practice, in order that we may be freed from an evil conscience.” Similarly, in a sermon on 2 Peter in the early 1520s, Luther says that: “[faith] is so constituted that through application and practice it becomes stronger and stronger until it is sure of the call and election and cannot be wanting … If your faith is well exercised and applied, you will finally gain assurance.”
There is nothing in Tyndale’s exposition of 1 John to suggest any real differences with Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel, and both reformers expressed in their lectures an accolade for the Law and the obligation expected of every professing Christian to keep it diligently. The Law for Luther as well as Tyndale is summarized in Jesus’ commandment to love one another. Furthermore, although the baptismal covenant never becomes a theological, rhetorical, or hermeneutical motif for Luther, Tyndale is not at all against Luther in describing the sacrament and its promise in terms of a covenant. The unfolding of this covenant motif in justification and the Christian life itself still reflects the foundational influence of Luther’s understanding of Law and Gospel upon Tyndale’s theological assumptions. Thus, it is not self-evident that Tyndale is consciously moving away from Luther theologically, although the extent to which the covenantal rhetoric takes precedence in his thought indeed suggests the possible influence of the emerging Reformed tradition.
In 1533, Tyndale published an exposition on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. Luther had delivered a series of sermons on this text between the years 1530 and 1532 in the absence of Johann Bugenhagen. Trinterud openly acknowledges that Tyndale’s “literary dependence” upon Luther’s sermons is “undeniable.” George Joye had even accused Tyndale of taking too much personal credit for his exposition. Trinterud recognizes Tyndale’s description of the power of the Law in the conviction of sin and in driving the sinner to Christ as the influence of Luther. However, Trinterud also argues that the looming presence of Tyndale’s “conditional-covenant” theology, along with statements allowing for a more positive role for the Law in the Christian life, reveal he “had learned more from Basel than from Wittenberg.”
Like Luther, Tyndale does not view the Sermon on the Mount as a new Law nor is Christ a new Lawgiver. Rather, the truth of the Ten Commandments is unveiled by Christ in its most spiritual sense as it relates to the demands placed upon the human heart. Thus, “the lawe in hir right understandinge is the keye, or at the least waye the first and principall keye to open the dore of the Scripture. And the lawe is the very waye that bringeth unto the dore Christ … the dore, the waye, and the grounde or foundacyon of all the Scripture.” This resonates with Luther’s own way of approaching the Scriptures through Law and Gospel with Christ at the center. Tyndale understands that the express purpose of the Law is to drive the sinner wounded in conscience toward Christ, who alone can do for people what the Law by itself could not do through Moses in only bringing death and judgment.
Tyndale does go beyond Luther in so far as he lays even greater stress on the conditional nature of God’s promises in terms of the “couenaunt.” Though the statements in the “Prologe vnto the reader” echo what Tyndale has already said in discussing the sacrament of baptism as a covenant, they expand, develop, and emphasize more than anywhere else thus far in his writings his knowledge of the certain conditional quality of God’s promises:

All the good promyses which are made vs thorow out all the scripture for Christes sake, for his loue, his passion or sufferinge, his bloude shedinge or deathe all are made vs on this condicion and couenaunt on oure partye, that we henceforthe loue the lawe of God, to walke therin and to do it and fassion oure lyues therafter. In so moche that who soeuer hath not the lawe of God written in his harte, that he loue it, haue his lust in it, and recorde therin night and daye, vnderstondinge it as God hath gyuen it, and as Christ and the Apostles expounde it: The same hath no parte in the promises, or can haue anye true fayth in the bloude of Christ: Because there is no promise made him, but to them onlye that promise to kepe the lawe … Euen so, none of vs can be receaued to grace but vpon a condicion to kepe the lawe, neyther yet continue anie lenger in grace then that purpose lasteth.

As explicit as this passage is in stressing the need for a heart toward good works and submission to the Law in love as certain conditions for partaking in the promises of mercy in Christ, this does not mean that forgiveness actually follows upon, or on the basis of, such love toward the Law. Tyndale is still operating under the theological assumption that to have the love that truly keeps the Law is to have true justifying faith in the sacrifice of Christ and not a false presumption. Nevertheless, this kind of faith also emerges only from a heart of sincere repentance toward the Law. The grace of forgiveness, then, that is promised in Christ and to be received through faith alone is only for the truly repentant who intend to keep the Law and, in response to the receiving of God’s mercy in true faith, will strive with love in the doing of good works and in battle against sin. This striving gives evidence of justifying faith and reassures Christians that they are indeed partakers of the mercy promised in Christ through faith alone.
Tyndale illustrates this by describing a wise king who refuses to pardon any unrepentant criminal who has no intent whatsoever on moral amendment if pardoned. The pardon is always enacted before the Law is actually kept in deeds, yet it is “on that condycyon that thou endevoure thyselfe to synne no moare, is the promyse of forgyuenes made unto the.” Thus, the pardon is not received after the keeping of the Law in outward deeds, although it is conditioned on the “purpose” of the heart to “endevoure thyselfe” and to “henceforthe” keep the Law after being pardoned. This condition, however, is easily met through what Tyndale has already referred to before as a “repentyng faith” in Christ that justifies. In order to remain underneath the protection of that pardon, a certain moral perseverance is required, but this does not mean for Tyndale that moral exertion and good works themselves are what justify, but that moral discipline guards the heart. According to Tyndale, without persistent and diligent dependence upon God in prayer, serving others through the giving of alms, and mortifying the indulgences of the flesh by fasting, the Christian is vulnerable to being overcome by the lure and power of sin. Yet God by His “couenaunt” has promised to forgive all who fall into temptation “if they will turne agayne” and so long as they do not yield to the rule of sin to the degree that they become indifferent to it lacking a heart of repentance. The distinction Tyndale makes between sins committed “vnder grace” in repentance and sins committed “under the lawe and vnder the damnacion of the lawe” without repentance agrees wholeheartedly with Luther’s theology and his own description of the terms of the eternal covenant made in the promise of baptism.
To battle against sin, for Tyndale as well as Luther, is a certain condition of the promise of grace made in the baptismal covenant in the sense that earnestness to obey the will of God reflects a heart truly justified through repenting faith in Christ. True faith in the mercy of Christ produces thankfulness to God and love for the Law, which is the “profession and religion of a Christen man” and the “inward baptime of the hart.” While faith, hope, and love are inseparable from one another, and though each has its own proper “office,” Tyndale is explicit that faith alone justifies. Thus, Tyndale makes a distinction between affirming salvation by “fayth onlye” and salvation by a “fayth that is alone,” or without works that follow.
According to Tyndale, when Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount promises blessings to the merciful, to the peacemakers, and to the faithful in persecution, this refers to people who are already justified and have been converted to God by a repenting faith. Thus, the Beatitudes are not conditions for receiving forgiveness, justification, and eternal life in the sense that forgiveness follows upon obedience to them so much as they are conditions for marking that one has been forgiven, is a child of God already, and is justified with the promise of eternal life. In the case of the promise of heaven and its rewards for patient suffering and well-doing, this is not as if heaven is a wage deserved or merited by works. Rather, God’s promise to bless those works in this life and the life to come is entirely a gift of His mercy, and He would be righteous to command unquestioned obedience even without the promise of a good future. Yet, as Tyndale asserts, God gave these promises and mercifully bound Himself to them to add a comforting incentive to Christians to be “more wyllynge to do that is oure dutie.” One such duty includes forgiveness and mercy owed to an offender, and anyone who presumes to be forgiven of God for his or her own personal offenses by default enters into “couenaunt” with Him to forgive others in like manner as He commands. Yet such righteous action does not merit the forgiveness of God but naturally proceeds from a heart that is forgiven and righteous through a justifying faith in Christ. The righteousness for reconciliation with God is always alien and “cometh of God altogether,” although thereafter the person is divided from “one man, all flesh,” into “two.” The Christian is made righteous in so far as he or she has the beginnings of love through the Spirit, but unrighteous in so far as that love always remains “unperfecte.” The weaknesses and imperfections that remain are forgiven and covered under the mercy of justification in Christ. The idea that the Christian has the beginnings of the Spirit while his or her remaining sin is forgiven or not imputed is found in Augustine as well as Luther, but Tyndale’s emphasis on Christ as the righteousness of the sinner before God in justification reflects more of the influence of the latter. Furthermore, Luther himself was not entirely opposed to speaking of the consolation of heavenly rewards (even “merits”) in the context of greater glory, not eternal life itself, promised in heaven to faithfulness in suffering.
That Tyndale understands the extrinsic righteousness of Christ to be imputed in justification is clear from his statement that “Christ is the fullfillynge of the lawe for us” and that “his fulfillynge is imputed to us.” This “fullfillynge” probably implies the entire righteousness of Christ’s life, but it certainly refers to the culmination of His death as a worthy atonement for sin. In any case, Tyndale states that this “fullfillynge” is just as necessary for the first reconciliation with God as it is for each time a Christian falls “afterwarde.” It is even essential to sanctify “oure best workes all our liffe lange.” The reliance of the Christian by faith on the atoning righteousness of Christ imputed in justification that covers a person and all his or her works throughout life shows the continual influence of Luther on Tyndale’s developing theology. Although Tyndale does often stress the effective side of faith, his strong emphasis on justification as the objective removal of guilt (in Christ) is also reflected in his repeated use of the courtroom analogy and the king’s pardoning of the repentant criminal.
Tyndale describes the office of the preacher as the preaching of the Ten Commandments (“the law naturall”), warning people that disobedience merits both temporal discipline and “everlastinge payne in hell,” while “everlastinge life” is promised to them who submit themselves to keep the Law in love from the heart “thorow fayth in Christ.” The keeping of the Law spiritually from the heart has the greater advantage of being followed by eternal blessings, though only those who have already been justified by faith in Christ can truly keep the Law and partake of these promised blessings. This echoes Tyndale’s earlier statements made in his Parable of the Wicked Mammon, which borrowed from Luther’s own sermon. For both reformers, heaven is not a reward earned by the deeds themselves, which are never perfect, but the promise of heaven is given to a justifying faith in Christ confirmed through good deeds.
Other areas where the influence of Luther is witnessed in Tyndale’s exposition is in his differentiation between the “kyngedome of heaven which is the regiment of the Gospel” and the “kyngedome of this worlde which is the temporall regiment,” in his interpretation of Jesus’ prohibition of personal retribution and popular insurrection, in his understanding that all baptized persons are a “double person and under both regimentes,” and in his allowance for Christian participation in just war.
Tyndale’s exposition of the Sermon on the Mount does not reveal that he is consciously moving away from the influence of Luther in his basic theological assumptions concerning Law and Gospel. However, the “covenaunt” motif and his continued stress on the conditionality of the promises does receive more explicit and prevalent emphasis in Tyndale’s writings of the 1530s than that found in Luther. Tyndale is certainly putting a certain weight on the need for repentance and good works by his intentional use of the rhetoric of covenant conditionality, yet this does not mean that Tyndale thought these were any more necessary than Luther did. Tyndale does often make faith in Christ more implicit in his later writings, but this is not in abandonment of his underlying assumption that to fulfill the terms of the covenant means that justifying faith in Christ by its very nature is preceded by a heart of genuine repentance under the Law of God and followed by submission to that same Law in love and gratitude to God for His mercy. Tyndale’s understanding of the conditionality of the promises was something he had already asserted earlier in the context of speaking about the sacrament of baptism as a covenant. Though his adoption of a covenantal theology of baptism was itself not necessarily the influence of the Swiss or South German Reformed tradition, his elevation of covenant to such a place of rhetorical and hermeneutical prominence in the 1530s suggests this. Yet, though certainly debatable, Werrell recently argues that even this is not self-evident, and he argues that Tyndale’s more Trinitarian, federal theology of covenant and its familial application in the life of the elect sets him significantly apart from a more contractual and jurisprudent framework in the theology of the continental reformers.
Scholars have not appreciated the extent to which Luther often spoke of baptism in terms of an evangelical theology of covenant and this at the same time that his own theology of Law and Gospel was maturing. Furthermore, Tyndale’s understanding of how the covenant works and unfolds in the life of the Christian shows the Law-Gospel influence of Luther. Entering into the covenant of mercy and remaining under the covenant is conditioned by the intentionality of the heart to keep the Law, which is to say that genuine repentance under the Law is necessary as a prelude to the faith in Christ that really justifies and that this is demonstrated through love and a willing submission to God’s Law in response to the kindness of God’s mercy. As Luther himself explained, this intentionality is guarded in the faithful by dutiful meditation upon the Law of God’s Word accompanied by dependence upon God for mercy and help in prayer, resistance to the flesh through fasting, and the discipline occasioned by suffering and affliction.
Tyndale published a revised translation of the book of Genesis in 1534. Whereas his previous Pentateuch of 1530 translated b’rith as “bond,” in the revised edition of 1534 this explicitly becomes the “couenaunte.” Similarly, “couenaunte” replaces all but one reference to “appoyntmente” in 17:9. Tyndale also adds a new gloss to Genesis 3:14, identifying the promise of the coming of Messiah, the seed of Eve who would save all who believe and hate the “deuels workes,” as a “couenaunt.” These textual revisions show Tyndale’s increasing preference for the use of “covenant” as a way of stressing the conditional nature of God’s promises of mercy according to a repenting faith that flows into love, good works, and obedience to God’s Law.
In the prologue to Genesis, Tyndale explicitly states that Christians are to “Seke therfore in the Scripture as thou readest it, chefely and aboue all, the conuenauntes made betwene god and vs.” Tyndale obviously does not refer to Law and Gospel explicitly here, but he does go on to define the covenant in terms of a theology of Law and Gospel, the “lawe and commaundementes which God commaundeth vs to do” and the “mercie promysed vnto all them that submite themselues vnto the lawe.” The latter obviously emphasizes the conditionality of the promises of mercy in the repentance that accompanies and precedes justifying faith and the expected response of that faith in obedience: Tyndale further states that: “all the promyses thorow out the hole scripture do include a couenaunt. That is: god byndeth himselfe to fulfil that mercie vnto the, onlye if thou wilt endeuoure thyselfe to kepe his lawes: so that no man hath his parte in the mercie of god, saue he onlye that loueth his lawe and consenteth that it is righteous and good, and fayne would do it, and euer mourneth because he now and then breaketh it thorow infirmite, or dothe it not so perfectly as his harte wolde.”
The fact that Tyndale here speaks of partaking of the mercy of God without even explicitly referring to faith in Christ lends some credibility to Clebsch’s point that the emphasis on faith alone in the doctrine of justification is often stressed less explicitly in Tyndale’s writings of the 1530s. Yet other scholars are right to argue that underneath this change in rhetoric and what is an even greater emphasis than before on repentance and good works there is yet a fundamental theological consistency that understands obedience to the Law as necessarily flowing from a repenting faith in Christ that justifies. When interpreted in the light of his theological assumptions and other contemporary passages where Tyndale continues to explicitly affirm that justification before God is by faith alone in Christ apart from all works, passages that stress the covenant conditionality of the promise of mercy in repentance, a heart of obedience to the Law, and a life of good works are implying and assuming the faith in Christ that alone justifies.
As he had promised back in 1526, Tyndale published a revised Newe Testament in 1534, now with a prologue for each book with the exception of Acts and Revelation. Laughlin describes the Newe Testament as containing the pinnacle of Tyndale’s “new and sophisticated moralism and legalism.” Though even he admits that Tyndale’s contractual theology of covenant does not reveal a complete break with elements of Luther’s Law-Gospel scheme, Laughlin follows Trinterud in assuming that Tyndale had always reinterpreted this scheme by laying greater stress than Luther did on the ethical implications of the Gospel. Laughlin argues that Tyndale probably borrowed this covenant scheme from the Swiss or South German theologians as a preferable way to express his more positive view of the Law and the necessity of good works in the life of the Christian. Laughlin does not consider Erasmus or Lollardy as rival sources for Tyndale’s covenantal thought, and he does not appreciate the fact that Luther also spoke of a conditionality connected with God’s promise of grace in baptism. He does leave open the possibility, however, that Tyndale’s theology of covenant was a product of his own study and exegesis of the Old Testament.
Clebsch argues that Tyndale still uses Luther literarily in the 1530s but not theologically. Yet, at the conclusion of his discussion, Clebsch still identifies Luther as the single most significant influence on his theology. Trinterud perceives that the biblical scheme of covenant “had been taking form in Tyndale’s earlier writings,” although it “reached its fullest development in the apparatus of this 1534 New Testament.” Daniell, who acknowledges Tyndale’s early debt to Luther more positively, also argues that Tyndale had clearly drifted away from the German reformer by 1534: “these 1534 prologues can show Tyndale markedly less Lutheran, and moving more to something of his own, something English.”
Tyndale opens the prologue to his Newe Testament by stating that: “Here thou hast (moost deare reader) the new Testament or covenaunt made wyth vs of God in Christes bloude.” Tyndale uses the word “Testament” interchangeably with “covenaunt” and that this is established upon the death of Christ. In his Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Luther also speaks of the death of Christ as setting in motion the promise of the “New Testament,” which he translates from the Greek word “diatheke” in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25. The reason for Luther’s choice of “Testament” is largely due to its associations with the death of the testator and thus more appropriate to use in the context of honoring Christ’s sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper. However, Luther acknowledges that the Old Testament frequently made use of the word “compact, covenant, and testament of the Lord” and consistently translates the Hebrew b’rith as “Covenant” (Bund). Luther does emphasize how these ancient promises were really a foreshadowing that “God would one day die” in Christ, but it is inaccurate to simply refer to his use of “testament” in support of the notion that Luther repudiated any idea of conditionality tied to the Gospel promises. Of course, Luther rejected the late medieval scholastic concept of covenant defined as a congruous merit of mercy and the infusion of justifying righteousness in those who are contrite apart from prevenient grace (facere quod in se est), but he spoke openly of the covenant conditionality of God’s promises with regard to repentance and the obedience that comes from faith in struggle against sin in his A Treatise on the Holy Sacrament of Baptism (1519). Furthermore, it is interesting to note that in Tyndale’s revised Newe Testament, he also chooses to translate “diatheke” as “testament.” Like Luther, he makes an important distinction in his revised New Testament between the eternal “new testament” (Tyndale also adds “couenanunt”) seldom spoken of before the first century and the “olde testament” or “temporall couenaunt made betwene God and the carnall children of Abraham/Isaac and Jacob other wise called Israel/ upon the dedes and the obseruynge of a temporall lawe.” Like Luther, Tyndale perceives that the Mosaic Law was essentially a national covenant with the Jews promising certain temporal privileges for outward obedience to the Law.
In the prologue to the Newe Testament, Tyndale does again refer to the “profession of oure baptyme or covenaunts made betwene God and vs” as the “ryght way, ye and the onlye way to understande the scripture vnto oure salvacion.” This basically reiterates what Tyndale stated earlier in his exposition of 1 John. Tyndale’s identification of the covenant as an all-encompassing biblical hermeneutic does not come from Luther, yet Luther also interpreted the promise in the sacrament of baptism in terms of a covenant, and the practical outworking of the premise of covenant as it relates to the justification of the sinner and new obedience of the Christian is essentially Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
Tyndale defines the one covenant made between God and all people past, present, and future as His promise to “be mercifull vnto us/ yf we wilbe mercifull one to another: so that the man which sheweth mercie vnto his neyboure/ may be bolde to trust in God for mercie at all nedes … For God hath promysed mercie onlye to the mercifull.” Tyndale further states that:

The generall couenaunt wherin all others are comprehended and included/ is this. If we meke ourselves to god/ to kepe all his lawes/ after the ensample of Christ: then God hath bounde himselfe vnto vs to kepe and make good all the mercies promysed in Christ/ thorow out all the Scripture … Wherfore I have ever noted the covenauntes in the mergentes/ and also the promises [that is, in the 1534 Newe Testament]. Moreover where thou findest a promyse and no covenaunt expressed therewith/ there must thou vnderstonde a covenaunt. For all the promyses of the mercie and grace of Christ hath purchased for vs/ are made vpon the condicion that we kepe the lawe.

It would be tempting to interpret these statements as Tyndale having completely abandoned the doctrine of justification by faith alone for a doctrine of salvation by works, or that he had at least adopted what Laughlin calls works-righteousness “once removed.” Yet Tyndale is operating under the theological assumption, as elsewhere, that those who genuinely come to Christ to be justified by faith alone come in repentance with every intention “to kepe the commaundementes,” and, though still imperfect, the love and obedience to the Law that their faith produces gives them an even greater confidence in praying for His daily mercy.331 Not that good works merit the favor of God, but kindness and mercy reflect a heart of repentance and the faith in Christ that alone justifies. Luther also spoke of assurance of God’s mercy as dependent in a certain conditional sense upon the ability of Christians to show mercy and forgiveness to others in his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Large Catechism (1529).
Whereas Tyndale defined repentance earlier more explicitly as sorrowful contrition, he defines “repentaunce” in the 1534 New Testament as the “conuersion or turnynge” of the heart to God and His will. These definitions are not necessarily different in substance, and Tyndale continues to maintain that, if “unfayned,” this repentance is characterized by a genuine confession and contrition under the Law followed by faith in Christ for mercy and forgiveness and the amending of all offenses made against others with love from the heart.
According to the prologue of Tyndale’s Newe Testament, a person who lacks the desire to turn from sin and to follow the Law of God has no right to claim the mercy promised in Christ, for a faith that is without repentance is false and a blasphemous presumption upon the kindness of God’s mercy as if His grace condoned the practice of sin. Like Luther, Tyndale states that Christ and the apostles could not improve upon the moral Law of Moses, but they emphasized its internal demands upon the heart. Since love is the fulfillment of the commandments and conversion is ultimately a turning from self to God and to others, the ability to show mercy is for Tyndale the principal self-assurance distinguishing true faith in Christ from a carnal presumption. Thus, reconciliation to God by His mercy through faith always follows genuine repentance and it is a reasonable condition and expectation that such a repentant Christian will henceforth strive to obey God’s Law in love as a response to His mercy: “The gospell is glad tydynges of mercie and grace and that oure corrupt nature shalbe healed agayne for Christes sake and for the merites of his deseruinge onlye: yet on the condicion that we will turne to God/to lerne to kepe his lawes …335
Tyndale does state that “oure awne dedes thorow workynge of the spirite of God/ helpe vs to contynew in the fauoure and grace/ into which Christ hath brought vs/ and that we can no lenger contynew in fauoure and grace than oure herte are to kepe the lawe.” This does not mean, however, that a Christian keeps favor with God by the performance of mere outward deeds or that the intention of those deeds should be to earn the keeping of His favor. Tyndale has mentioned before that devotion to good works is useful in guarding the heart from yielding to the complete consent and control of sin to the loss of repentance, and he makes clear that such devotion is the working of the Spirit and that it is actually the perseverance of the “herte” to keep the Law that reflects a continued position of favor with God established through faith in Christ.
Other prologues and marginal glosses in Tyndale’s Newe Testament of 1534 recapitulate the theme of covenant conditionality:

Though fayth iustifie from synne and though Christ deserued the rewarde promysed yet is the promyse made on the condicion that we embrace Christes doctrine and confesse him with worde and dede … we are iustified to do good workes, and in them to walke to the saluacion promysed … The couenaunt of mercie in Christ is made onlye to them that wyll worke … The promyses of mercye in Christes bloude/ are made vs on that condicion that we kepe the lawe and loue one another as Christ loued vs … As ye be saued from synne thorow faith so worke accordynge to the couenaunt vntyll ye come to the salvacion of glory. For yf ye cease workige/ the spirite quencheth agayne/ and ye cease to be partakers of the promes … All the mercie that is set forth in the two vpper chapters [i.e., Colossians 1–2]/ is promysed to them onlye that will folowe Christ and lyue as herafter foloweth … Here [i.e., 1 Peter 1] Peter (as other true apostles do) fyrst setteth forth the treasure of mercye which god hath bounde himselfe to geue vs for Christes sake and then oure dutie what we are bounde to do agayne yf we will be partakers of the mercie … the promes of Christ is made us upon that condicion/ that we henceforth worke the wyll of God and not of the flessche … therby to be sure that they have the true fayth/ as a man knoweth the goodnes of a tree by his frute … He that hath soche workes maye be sure that he is electe and that he hath the true faith … and kepeth vs in the myddle waye/ that we beleue in Christ to be saued by his workes onlye/ and then to knowe that it is oure dutie for that kindnes/ to prepare ourselues to do the commaundment of god … here ye se that Christ and synne cannot dwell together for Christes spirite fyghteth agaynst synne … By loue we knowe that we are in the truthe and haue quyet consciences to god warde … but how ofte soeuer he synne let him begynne agayne and fyght a freshe/ and no doute he shall at the last ouercome/ and in the meantyme yet be under mercie for Christes sake because his harte worketh and wolde fayne be lowsed from under the bondage of synne … here foloweth oure dutye/ if we will be partakers of the mercye before rehersed … For God promised them onlie forgeuenes of their synnes which turne to god/ to kepe his lawes … And to the mercifull hath God bounde himselfe to show mercie … God hath promysed all mercie to the mercifull onlye … For godes promise partayneth to the mercifull onlye … For God hath promised no mercie: but to him that wyll do his godlye will.

However, in the light of the emphasis that previous scholars place on Tyndale’s explicit stress on the covenant conditionality of God’s promises in repentance and obedience to the Law in the 1530s, it is particularly illuminating to observe that his prologue to the book of Romans in the revised Newe Testament of 1534 remains largely unchanged from its earlier counterpart. This of course challenges the perception that the substance of Tyndale’s theological assumptions has really changed all that much between 1526 and 1534. Except for a few sentence expansions, changes made in grammar and spelling, an additional section on sin as the fruit of unbelief in violation of the First Commandment,339 and some rearranging of the order of the content, the most original contribution in the Newe Testament of 1534 is actually three new folios of additional commentary on the doctrine of justification by faith alone: “The summe and hole cause of the wrytinge of this epistle/ is/ to proue that a man is iustifieth by fayth onlye … And by iustifyinge/ understonde none other thinge then to be reconciled to God and to be restored unto his fauoure/ and to haue thy synnes forgeuen the.” Tyndale defines justification here, as he has before, as the forgiveness of sins and the favor of God through faith only. In fact, Tyndale says quite clearly that without the knowledge of Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone in Romans, “not only this epistle and all that Paul wryteth/ but also the hole Scripture” would be “locked up.” Thus, for all the emphasis Tyndale places on covenant conditionality in the 1530s, he still views the book of Romans and its teaching on justification by faith in Christ alone, much like Luther, as the theological capstone of the Scriptures.
Although Tyndale does refer twice in this new section to the “couenauntes of mercie,” it is rather intriguing that, instead of taking the opportunity to thoroughly revise his Romans prologue according to his new theological motif of covenant, he actually appends more material defining and defending the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith alone as the key to the whole Scripture. In fact, whereas in the prologue to the Newe Testament Tyndale stresses that divine mercy is conditioned upon repentance and submission toward the Law of God and that no one can lay claim to the promises who lacks a heart of mercy toward others, he here emphasizes that works cannot quiet the conscience but only faith in the work of Christ: “For the promyse of mercie is made the for Christes workes sake/ and not for thyne awne workes sake … I cannot once begynne to loue the lawe/ except I be fyrst sure by fayth that God loueth me and forgeueth me.”
Similarly, a marginal gloss on Romans 2 states that “Dedes are an outeward righteousnes before the worlde and testifie what a man is withinne: But iustifie not the hert before god: ner certifye the conscience that the foresynnes are forgeuen.” What appear to be two conflicting points of view can be harmonized by interpreting Tyndale’s prologue statements as stressing the necessary signs that must accompany any profession of justifying faith in Christ to distinguish this from a false presumption and to gird up personal assurance, whereas his statements in the prologue to Romans stress that the person and work of Christ are the sole object, ground, and assurance of justifying faith itself.
Furthermore, despite the obvious increase in emphasis on the covenant conditionality of the promises in the 1530s, Tyndale is still able to contrast the dialectical ministries of Law and Gospel in his marginal glosses on Romans: “The lawe iustifieth not before god/ but vttereth synne onlye … the law encreaseth synne and maketh oure nature more gredie to do euell … Similarly in his prologue and marginal glosses on the book of Galatians, he states: “the lawe is cause of more synne and bringeth the cursse of god vpon us … The lawe vttereth my synne and dampnacion … the lawe curseth: but fayth blesseth.”
Tyndale encourages the reader to follow the order of Paul’s familiar logic, in which contrition under the Law drives the sinner to faith in Christ and is then followed by a heart of diligence against sin: “that Christ made not this atonement that thou shuldest anger God agayne: nether dyed he for thy sinnes/ that thous shuldest lyue still in them …” Tyndale even states importantly that his own emphasis on the necessity of repentance, submission to God’s Law, and a life devoted to obedience in love and good works as covenant conditions for partaking of God’s promises of mercy in no way undermines his persistent conviction that justification is by faith in Christ alone. For Tyndale, it is simply to be expected that repentance under the Law coupled with a true profession of faith and claim upon God’s mercy will result in love and devotion to the will of God in the Law, and Tyndale explicitly acknowledges that being overcome by slothfulness and ingratitude will eventually result in the loss of “this fauoure and mercie agayne.” Interpreting salvation in terms of a conditional covenant, then, is for Tyndale simply to stress how true faith in Christ is concomitant with repentance and manifests itself in a changed heart and a life devoted to the Law and good works. Justification is indeed by faith in Christ alone, but not just any kind of faith. True justifying faith in Christ is defined in relationship to repentance, which creates the necessary conditions for the emergence of such faith, and also to the love and good works inherent to this faith that flow out of it as a natural response to the receiving of grace.
With the exception of the book of Hebrews, a cursory glance of the remaining prologues in the New Testament of 1534 reveals a basic literary and structural dependence of Tyndale upon Luther. Tyndale continues in many of the prologues and marginal glosses to reiterate the moral obligation of the Christian in terms of the covenant conditionality of the promises:

Though fayth iustifie from synne and though Christ deserued the rewarde promysed yet is the promyse made on the condicion that we embrace Christes doctrine and confesse him with worde and dede … we are iustified to do good workes, and in them to walke to the saluacion promysed … The couenaunt of mercie in Christ is made onlye to them that wyll worke … The promyses of mercye in Christes bloude/ are made vs on that condicion that we kepe the lawe and loue one another as Christ loued vs … As ye be saued from synne thorow faith so worke accordynge to the couenaunt vntyll ye come to the salvacion of glory. For yf ye cease workige/ the spirite quencheth agayne/ and ye cease to be partakers of the promes … All the mercie that is set forth in the two vpper chapters [i.e., Colossians 1–2]/ is promysed to them onlye that will folowe Christ and lyue as herafter foloweth … Here [i.e., 1 Peter 1] Peter (as other true apostles do) fyrst setteth forth the treasure of mercye which god hath bounde himselfe to geue vs for Christes sake and then oure dutie what we are bounde to do agayne yf we will be partakers of the mercie … the promes of Christ is made us upon that condicion/ that we henceforth worke the wyll of God and not of the flessche … therby to be sure that they have the true fayth/ as a man knoweth the goodnes of a tree by his frute … He that hath soche workes maye be sure that he is electe and that he hath the true faith … and kepeth vs in the myddle waye/ that we beleue in Christ to be saued by his workes onlye/ and then to knowe that it is oure dutie for that kindnes/ to prepare ourselues to do the commaundment of god … here ye se that Christ and synne cannot dwell together for Christes spirite fyghteth agaynst synne … By loue we knowe that we are in the truthe and haue quyet consciences to god warde … but how ofte soeuer he synne let him begynne agayne and fyght a freshe/ and no doute he shall at the last ouercome/ and in the meantyme yet be under mercie for Christes sake because his harte worketh and wolde fayne be lowsed from under the bondage of synne … here foloweth oure dutye/ if we will be partakers of the mercye before rehersed … For God promised them onlie forgeuenes of their synnes which turne to god/ to kepe his lawes … And to the mercifull hath God bounde himselfe to show mercie … God hath promysed all mercie to the mercifull onlye … For godes promise partayneth to the mercifull onlye … For God hath promised no mercie: but to him that wyll do his godlye will.

It is this repeated rhetorical emphasis on the covenant conditionality of the divine promises of mercy that really sets Tyndale apart from Luther. Yet Luther could be just as adamant that justifying faith cannot be without repentance and good works, that the Law is the positive form of Christian obedience, that love and truly good works are the result of justification and a living faith, and even that God’s promises of justification in baptism come with a certain covenant conditionality in the sense that justifying faith in Christ is never without repentance, a heart for obedience to the Law of God, devotion to love and good works, and a struggle with sin in the Spirit. Tyndale is still under the evangelical influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel in his assumption that good works in keeping with the spirit of the Law are those done from the love of a heart converted through repenting faith in Christ, and that “fayth which hath no good dedes folowinge/ is a false fayth and non of that fayth iustifieth or receaueth forgeuenes of synnes.”
Shortly after Tyndale was arrested in May of 1535, discovery was made in Antwerp of a copy of the widely circulated last will and testament of the Gloucestershire gentleman William Tracy bound with an exposition written by John Frith and another one by Tyndale in Frith’s handwriting. The will itself was dated October, 1530, and was condemned as heretical in March of 1531. Tracy’s body was ordered to be exhumed by the authorities and this actually took place later in October 1532. Both expositions by Tyndale and Frith were completed in their final form sometime after this date, although they probably were not published until after Tyndale’s death in October 1536.
Apart from a treatise on the sacraments, this is the last theological work by Tyndale to be published before his execution. In the will, William Tracy expresses his desire to entrust his soul to the merits of Christ alone and breaks with the religious custom of his day by refusing to donate his temporal goods to the Church for the sake of easing his suffering through purgatory. The will clearly expresses a doctrine of justification by faith alone: “that a good worke maketh not a good man/ but a good man maketh a good woorke/ for faith makethe the man booth good and rightwyse/ for a rightwyse man lyueth by faith …”352 Tyndale expresses open admiration for Tracy as a man of learning and even comments that he was the greatest Augustine scholar in all of England in the 1520s.
Tyndale uses Tracy’s will as a basis for expounding the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that “thy live faith is sufficient to iustification with oute addynge to of any more helpe.” At the same time, true justifying faith by its very nature cannot coexist with a callous consent to continue in sin and there is a certain covenant conditionality connected with the promises. The faith that justifies is:

in the promes made apon the apoyntment betwene god and us/ that we shulde kepe his lawe to the uttermost of our power/ that is he that beleueth in Christ for the remission of synne/ and is baptized to do the wyll of Christ/ and to kepe his lawe/ of loue/ and to mortifie the fleshe/ that man shalbe saued … for God neuer made promes but apon an appoyntment or couenaunt under which who so euer wyll not come can be no partaker of the promes. True faith in Christ/ geueth power to loue the lawe of god … Hast thou no power to loue the lawe so hast thou no faith in Christes bloude.

Tyndale stresses in this passage the explicit conditionality of God’s promises in obedience to the Law with love from the heart but under the assumption that justification by faith alone follows after a genuine repentance under the Law and leads naturally by way of response into a life that is devoted in love and gratitude to the will of God. Tyndale explicitly and adamantly rejects the implication that the covenant conditionality of God’s promises assigns works a role in justification. In fact, a Christian is forgiven before ever having the chance to do any outward deeds. Even if a Christian should fall into some grievous sin, Tyndale states that reconciliation with God is only and always on the basis of a repenting faith in Christ. It is not works that deserve justification and reconciliation with God, but rather vice versa. Tyndale again uses the analogy of a king and the pardoning of a criminal to illustrate that only those who show genuine sorrow for their crimes and desire to correct their ways will receive the pardoning of the king who knows they will receive it with faith and gratitude and will henceforth endeavor to abstain from the very vice that brought down their guilt and otherwise deserved punishment. To remain in the good favor of the king is then conditioned upon the respecting of his pardon through a constant diligence to uphold his laws. With regard to justification and the Christian life, a heart for obeying the Law of God and a perseverance to strive in the keeping of it is reflective of a repentant faith in the merciful pardon promised in Christ.
According to the records of Latomus of Louvain, one of the Catholic theologians commissioned to Vilvorde for the prosecution, Tyndale continued to defend the doctrine of justification by faith alone during his incarceration. These last writings, however, are lost and were never published except what can be inferred from Latomus’ replies.
At the end of his influential essay, Trinterud concludes by stating that Tyndale “was a ‘Lutheran’ only in the contemporary loose sense of the word,” and that it is more accurate to describe him as an Erasmian humanist-turned-evangelical in the tradition of other Swiss and Rhineland reformers. Even while acknowledging that Tyndale was “influenced by Luther” (literarily), Trinterud argues that he did not follow Luther’s “developing thought.” Werrell similarly states that “Tyndale could never have been a follower of Luther,” and that he even changed the German reformer’s doctrine “into his own.”359
It is certain that Tyndale was always confident enough to exercise a certain degree of literary independence from Luther, including those works he obviously translated. The degree to which Tyndale repeatedly emphasizes the covenant conditionality of the Gospel promises in the 1530s does reveal a more significant rhetorical, though not theological, departure from Luther. His underlying theological assumptions concerning justification and the Christian life never really changed and these assumptions were shaped significantly by the influence of Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel. Indeed, many of the themes in Tyndale’s theology reflect Augustinian elements, such as spiritual bondage apart from grace, the effectual side of justifying faith in love and good works through the Spirit, and the non-imputation of sin in the life of the justified Christian, but this could be said of Luther’s theology as well. Furthermore, these themes are interpreted by Tyndale through an emphasis on justification and grace as the favor of God and remission of sins through faith alone in Christ and His atoning righteousness.
As Laughlin argues, a theology of covenant increasingly became Tyndale’s preferred way to stress the need for, or rather expectation of, repentance and a heart of obedience to the Law of God and a life of good works concomitant with truly justifying faith in Christ. However, Tyndale never abandoned Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel according to their proper ministries and he always associated the former with the commands, instruction, and conviction driving sinners to seek the mercy, forgiveness, help, and power promised in the latter. In fact, Tyndale continues to appropriate the themes of Law and Gospel in his description of justification and the Christian life as it plays out under the terms of the covenant.
Although Luther obviously never stressed the covenant conditionality of the promises with such frequent prominence as Tyndale does in the 1530s, previous scholars have not appreciated the extent to which Luther does in fact often speak this way, especially in context of the sacrament of baptism viewed as a covenant. It is interesting to note that Luther’s own description of baptism as a covenant occurs at the very same time of the maturing of his theology of Law and Gospel. Luther did not develop or emphasize the notion of covenant conditionality throughout his writings to quite the extent that Tyndale does, though he does continue to speak of baptism as an eternal covenant later in the 1520s and 30s, but he must not have perceived there to be any inherent theological conflict between baptism viewed as an evangelical covenant and his theology of Law and Gospel. The same could also be said of Tyndale.
Yet even if Tyndale stresses the effectual side of justifying faith in love and good works more than Luther, many scholars have often exaggerated Luther’s dialectical theology of Law and Gospel to such a degree that they underrate the extent to which he also speaks positively about the Law in the context of Christian obedience and even of love and devotion to good works as contributing to a fuller assurance of the grace of God. This misperception has understandably caused many to polarize Luther and Tyndale on the subject of Law and Gospel. It also has led to the undervaluing of the reality that Tyndale, even in the 1530s, continues to speak with as many negative overtones as Luther about the Law when describing the moral and spiritual bondage of the sinner under condemnation before God apart from justifying faith in Christ.
A direct literary indebtedness to Luther’s writings may be more evident in Tyndale’s early career, but even into the 1530s the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel is still readily evident in his understanding that repentance under the preaching of the Law is the necessary antecedent to a genuine faith in Christ alone for the promise of justification, or the remission of sins and imputation of righteousness in Christ, which together result in the power of a new life lived in the Spirit devoted to keeping the Law and the doing of good works in struggle against the flesh with love and gratitude from the heart.
Whiting, M. S. (2010). Luther in English: The Influence of His Theology of Law and Gospel on Early English Evangelicals (1525–35). (K. C. Hanson, C. M. Collier, & D. C. Spinks, Hrsg.) (S. 124–272). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Acts- commentaries- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz







John B. Polhill

Nashville, Tennessee

General Editor


Consulting Editors



Vice-President for General Publishing


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© Copyright 1992 • Broadman & Holman Publishers

All rights reserved


ISBN: 0–8054–0126–1

Dewey Decimal Classification: 226.6

Subject Heading: BIBLE. N.T. ACTS

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 91–21660

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Scripture quotations marked RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952, © 1971, 1973. Scripture quotations marked Moffatt are from The Bible, A New Translation. Copyright © 1954 by James A. R. Moffatt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Polhill, John B.

Acts / John B. Polhill. — (The New American commentary; v. 26)

Includes indexes.

ISBN 0–8054–0126–1

  1. Bible.N.T.Acts—Commentaries.I.Title.II.Series.



To Nancy
who has been,
for 25 years,
my constant
inspiration in
faith, hope, and love.

Editors’ Preface

God’s Word does not change. God’s world, however, changes in every generation. These changes, in addition to new findings by scholars and a new variety of challenges to the gospel message, call for the church in each generation to interpret and apply God’s Word for God’s people. Thus, THE NEW AMERICAN COMMENTARY is introduced to bridge the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This new series has been designed primarily to enable pastors, teachers, and students to read the Bible with clarity and proclaim it with power.

In one sense THE NEW AMERICAN COMMENTARY is not new, for it represents the continuation of a heritage rich in biblical and theological exposition. The title of this forty-volume set points to the continuity of this series with an important commentary project published at the end of the nineteenth century called AN AMERICAN COMMENTARY, edited by Alvah Hovey. The older series included, among other significant contributions, the outstanding volume on Matthew by John A. Broadus, from whom the publisher of the new series, Broadman Press, partly derives its name. The former series was authored and edited by scholars committed to the infallibility of Scripture, making it a solid foundation for the present project. In line with this heritage, all NAC authors affirm the divine inspiration, inerrancy, complete truthfulness, and full authority of the Bible. The perspective of the NAC is unapologetically confessional and rooted in the evangelical tradition.

Since a commentary is a fundamental tool for the expositor or teacher who seeks to interpret and apply Scripture in the church or classroom, the NAC focuses on communicating the theological structure and content of each biblical book. The writers seek to illuminate both the historical meaning and contemporary significance of Holy Scripture.

In its attempt to make a unique contribution to the Christian community, the NAC focuses on two concerns. First, the commentary emphasizes how each section of a book fits together so that the reader becomes aware of the theological unity of each book and of Scripture as a whole. The writers, however, remain aware of the Bible’s inherently rich variety. Second, the NAC is produced with the conviction that the Bible primarily belongs to the church. We believe that scholarship and the academy provide an indispensable foundation for biblical understanding and the service of Christ, but the editors and authors of this series have attempted to communicate the findings of their research in a manner that will build up the whole body of Christ. Thus, the commentary concentrates on theological exegesis, while providing practical, applicable exposition.

THE NEW AMERICAN COMMENTARY’s theological focus enables the reader to see the parts as well as the whole of Scripture. The biblical books vary in content, context, literary type, and style. In addition to this rich variety, the editors and authors recognize that the doctrinal emphasis and use of the biblical books differs in various places, contexts, and cultures among God’s people. These factors, as well as other concerns, have led the editors to give freedom to the writers to wrestle with the issues raised by the scholarly community surrounding each book and to determine the appropriate shape and length of the introductory materials. Moreover, each writer has developed the structure of the commentary in a way best suited for expounding the basic structure and the meaning of the biblical books for our day. Generally, discussions relating to contemporary scholarship and technical points of grammar and syntax appear in the footnotes and not in the text of the commentary. This format allows pastors and interested laypersons, scholars and teachers, and serious college and seminary students to profit from the commentary at various levels. This approach has been employed because we believe that all Christians have the privilege and responsibility to read and seek to understand the Bible for themselves.

Consistent with the desire to produce a readable, up-to-date commentary, the editors selected the New International Version as the standard translation for the commentary series. The selection was made primarily because of the NIV’s faithfulness to the original languages and its beautiful and readable style. The authors, however, have been given the liberty to differ at places from the NIV as they develop their own translations from the Greek and Hebrew texts.

The NAC reflects the vision and leadership of those who provide oversight for Broadman Press, who in 1987 called for a new commentary series that would evidence a commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture and a faithfulness to the classic Christian tradition. While the commentary adopts an “American” name, it should be noted some writers represent countries outside the United States, giving the commentary an international perspective. The diverse group of writers includes scholars, teachers, and administrators from almost twenty different colleges and seminaries, as well as pastors, missionaries, and a layperson.

The editors and writers hope that THE NEW AMERICAN COMMENTARY will be helpful and instructive for pastors and teachers, scholars and students, for men and women in the churches who study and teach God’s Word in various settings. We trust that for editors, authors, and readers alike, the commentary will be used to build up the church, encourage obedience, and bring renewal to God’s people. Above all, we pray that the NAC will bring glory and honor to our Lord, who has graciously redeemed us and faithfully revealed himself to us in his Holy Word.

The Editors

Author’s Preface

This commentary is the culmination of twenty years of teaching the Book of Acts in the twin settings of the seminary classroom and the local church. It has been written with these two groups in mind. The basic commentary is designed for the use of pastors and laity in the preaching and teaching ministries of the church. Its focus is on the meaning and message of the biblical text. The footnotes are aimed at the student, discussing such matters as translation and alternative interpretations and providing bibliography that covers the range of scholarly opinion for the student’s further research. If I have not always succeeded in balancing these two levels of treatment, I would wish to have erred to the advantage of the former setting. The ultimate goal of biblical scholarship should be the application of the text in the witness and ministry of the church.

I have not sought to break any new ground in the interpretation of Acts but rather to preserve the insights of both past and present scholarship. More akin to Luke’s experience in writing his Gospel than his Acts (for which he had no predecessors), I have had “many” to go before me (Luke 1:1). There is a rich heritage of commentary by Baptists reaching back to the classic missionary treatment of W. O. Carver and the thorough Greek exegesis of A. T. Robertson in the third volume of his Word Pictures in the New Testament. Frank Stagg’s emphasis on the “unhindered gospel” has strongly made its impression, both through his commentary and his influence as my teacher. Charles Talbert’s emphasis on Acts as a literary text has likewise had its impact. A particularly fruitful source have been the doctoral students at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who have written dissertations on various subjects in Acts. I have often drawn from their insights and cited their work where possible in the footnotes.

I would be remiss should I fail to acknowledge my heavy indebtedness to the wider guild of Acts scholars. These include the now-classic works of such as William Ramsay, Henry Joel Cadbury, and Kirsopp Lake. The massive commentaries of G. Schneider and R. Pesch have consistently proved their value. I have drawn regularly from many others, and these will be readily apparent from their frequent citation in the footnotes. Two deserve particular mention. The commentary by E. Haenchen has had a strong influence on my work. He and I often disagree on judgments about the historical reliability of Acts traditions, but his constant challenges to old assumptions provoke a reexamination which is of value in itself. Of greatest help, however, have been Haenchen’s careful examination of the literary flow of the Acts narrative and his exposition of its major themes, matters which in no way depend on historical judgments one way or the other.

More compatible with my own viewpoint has been the extensive work of F. F. Bruce on Acts. His New International Commentary on Acts is regularly cited in the footnotes. Fortunately, Bruce completed his major revision of his commentary on the Greek text of Acts (third edition) before his death this past fall. The book was released a few months later and serves as a suitable memorial to this scholar who devoted a lifetime to the study of Acts. Although the published form of his commentary became available only after the manuscript of this commentary was completed, Eerdmans graciously furnished me with the galleys some two years previous to final publication. Consequently, the influence of Bruce’s Greek commentary on the present work is more pervasive than the footnotes might indicate.

A final note of appreciation should be expressed for the many who have encouraged and assisted me in this undertaking. I am especially indebted to President Roy Lee Honeycutt and the Trustees of Southern Seminary for granting me a sabbatical leave the spring and summer of 1990 to complete this project. By continuing my full salary on leave and furnishing the typist, the seminary virtually underwrote the commentary. My typist, Ms. Keitha Brasler, was always prompt and accurate, even in deciphering long, hand-written German references and in catching many of my errors. It would be diffcult to express my gratitude for her industry, support, and cheerful spirit through even the worst of it. My colleagues at Southern Seminary have been uniformly supportive, and for their understanding I am most grateful. This is especially true of Dean Larry McSwain and Provost Willis Bennett, who made adjustments in schedules and assignments to allow the completion of the commentary.

The editorial staff at Broadman Press have gone beyond the call of duty in preparing the published form of this commentary. Mike Smith, the editor of the series in its early stages and a former student in my Acts class at the seminary, played a major role in my invitation to furnish this volume. David Dockery has served as editor during the final publication phase. I would be hard-pressed to express adequate appreciation for his careful oversight of editing, his enthusiastic support, and his accommodation to a somewhat unwieldy manuscript.

It is generally customary to express gratitude to one’s spouse for moral support during such a “birthing” process as this has been. In this case, however, more than the custom is in order. In many ways my wife Nancy was literally co-author of this commentary. She did all the “leg work,” spending many days running down books at the seminary library, looking up journal articles and duplicating them, bringing everything home and freeing me from the many days of time that these duties entail. Without her assistance, the commentary could not have been completed within its deadline.

A word of appreciation should be expressed for the students in my classes at Southern Seminary. They often endured excurses on Acts when that wasn’t the subject for the day, always patiently, generally supportively. And finally there are the millions of Southern Baptists who have through the years supported the Cooperative Program and with it the seminary where I teach, allowing me to pursue God’s calling for my life. Many of them will never visit a seminary. Perhaps this book will give them some glimpse into the ministry they support with their offerings.


Bible Books


Gen Isa Luke
Exod Jer John
Lev Lam Acts
Num Ezek Rom
Deut Dan 1, 2 Cor
Josh Hos Gal
Judg Joel Eph
Ruth Amos Phil
1, 2 Sam Obad Col
1, 2 Kgs Jonah 1, 2 Thess
1, 2 Chr Mic 1, 2 Tim
Ezra Nah Titus
Neh Hab Phlm
Esth Zeph Heb
Job Hag Jas
Ps (pl. Pss) Zech 1, 2 Pet
Prov Mal 1, 2, 3 John
Eccl Matt Jude
Song of Songs Mark Rev


Commonly Used Reference Works

AB      Anchor Bible

ACNT      Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament

AJT      American Journal of Theology

AnBib      Analecta Biblica

ATR      Anglican Theological Review

ATRSup      Anglican Theological Review Supplemental Series

AUSS      Andrews University Seminary Studies

BAGD      W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

Bib      Biblica

BibSac      Bibliotheca Sacra

BJRL      Bulletin of the Johns Rylands Library

BK      Bibel und Kirche

BR      Biblical Research

BT      The Biblical Translator

BTB      Biblical Theology Bulletin

BZ      Biblische Zeitschrift

CJT      Canadian Journal of Theology

CBQ      Catholic Biblical Quarterly

CTM      Concordia Theological Monthly

DSB      Daily Study Bible

DownRev      Downside Review

EBC      Expositor’s Bible Commentary

ExpTim      Expository Times

ETC      English Translation and Commentary

ETL      Ephermerides theologicae lovanienses

EvQ      Evangelical Quarterly

EvT      Evangelische Theologie

FM      Faith and Mission

GNC      Good News Commentary

Her      Hermeneia

HTKNT      Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament

HTR      Harvard Theological Review

IBS      Irish Biblical Studies

ICC      International Critical Commentary

INT      Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching

Int      Interpretation

JAAR      Journal of the American Academy of Religion

JAOS      Journal of the American Oriental Society

JETS      Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

JBL      Journal of Biblical Literature

JJS      Journal of Jewish Studies

JRS      Journal of Roman Studies

JR      Journal of Religion

JSNT      Journal for the Study of the New Testament

JSOT      Journal for the Study of the Old Testament

JSS      Journal of Semitic Studies

JTS      Journal of Theological Studies

LCL      Loeb Classical Library

LouvSt      Louvain Studies

LThQ      Lexington Theological Quarterly

MDB      Mercer Dictionary of the Bible

MNTC      Moffatt NT Commentary

NAC      New American Commentary

NCB      New Century Bible

NIC      New International Commentary

NovT      Novum Testamentum

NRT      La nouvelle revue théologique

NTD      Das Neue Testament Deutsch

NTM      The New Testament Message

NTS      New Testament Studies

NTM      The New Testament Message

PC      Proclamation Commentaries

Proc      Proclamation Commentaries

PRS      Perspectives in Religious Studies

Pol Phil      Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians

RB      Revue biblique

RelSRev      Religious Studies Review

RevThom      Revue thomiste

RHPR      Revue d’histoire et de philosophie religieuses

RSPT      Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques

RSR      Recherches de science religieuse

RTL      Revue théologique de Louvain

RTP      Revue de théologie et de philosophie

RTR      Reformed Theological Review

SBLMS      Society of Biblical Literature Monograph Series

SJT      Scottish Journal of Theology

SPCK      Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge

ST      Studia theologica

TB      Tyndale Bulletin

TBT      The Bible Today

TDNT      G. Kittel and G. Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

TNTC      Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

TLZ      Theologische Literaturzeitung

TRu      Theologische Rundschau

TS      Theological Studies

TSK      Theologische Studien und Kritiken

TZ      Theologische Zeitschrift

VC      Vigiliae christianae

UBSGNT      United Bible Societies Greek New Testament

WP      Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson

WTJ      Westminster Theological Journal

ZNW      Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft

ZRGG      Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte

ZTK      Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie



  1. The Spirit Empowers the Church for Witness (1:1–2:47)
  2. The Apostles Witness to the Jews in Jerusalem (3:1–5:42)

III.     The Hellenists Break Through to a Wider Witness (6:1–8:40)

  1. Peter Joins the Wider Witness (9:1–12:25)
  2. Paul Turns to the Gentiles (13:1–15:35)
  3. Paul Witnesses to the Greek World (15:36–18:22)

VII.     Paul’s Witness Overcomes Opposition in Ephesus (18:23–21:16)

VIII.     Paul Witnesses before Gentiles, Kings, and the People of Israel (21:17–26:32)

  1. Paul Witnesses to Jews and Gentiles without Hindrance (27:1–28:31)

Selected Bibliography




  1. Acts in the Early Tradition

(1)      Earliest Use of Acts

(2)      Explicit References to Acts

  1. The Author of Acts

(1)      Relationship to Gospel of Luke

(2)      “We” Narratives

(3)      Medical Theory

  1. The Date of Acts
  2. The Provenance and Destination of Acts
  3. The Sources of Acts

(1)      Written Sources

(2)      Semitic Source Theory

(3)      “We” Source Theory

(4)      Oral Sources and Local Tradition

  1. The Text of Acts
  2. Luke as a Writer

(1)      Genre of Acts

(2)      Language and Style of Acts

(3)      Speeches of Acts

(4)      Other Forms in Acts

(5)      Luke’s Personal Interests

  1. Luke the Historian
  2. Luke the Theologian

(1)      “Salvation History” and “Early Catholicism”

(2)      Theological Aspects of Acts

  1. The Purpose of Acts
  2. The Themes of Acts

(1)      World Mission

(2)      Providence of God

(3)      Power of the Spirit

(4)      Restored Israel

(5)      Inclusive Gospel

(6)      Faithful Witnesses

(7)      Relationship to the Word

(8)      Triumph of the Gospel

  1. The Structure of Acts

Our knowledge of early Christianity would be greatly impoverished had Luke not conceived of his “second book to Theophilus,” which tradition has designated “The Acts of the Apostles.” Acts is unique among the New Testament writings that deal with the life and mission of the Christian community in the age of the apostles. The Gospels, of course, were written during this period; and Luke contributed his own. The Gospels, however, deal with the ministry and teaching of Jesus and are only at best an indirect witness to the life of the churches during the period of their writing.

Likewise, the epistolary literature of the New Testament comes in large part from this period; but it too provides no real framework for reconstructing the life and growth of the church. Constantly one is driven back to Acts. Take Paul, for instance. Although it has sometimes been advocated, no one has ever succeeded in producing a convincing portrait of the apostle and his missionary activity on the basis of his epistles alone, not to mention the early Jewish Christian church. What would we know about the Jerusalem church without Acts? But Acts is far more than mere history. It contains much solid theology. This is particularly to be found in the speeches, which comprise nearly one-third of its total text. The many episodes from the lives of the apostles present more than a bare chronicling of events. They are rich testimonies in narrative form of the faith of the community and the driving force behind its mission.

In the following introduction, the first six sections are provided to orient the user of the commentary to the “external” matters that assist in interpreting the text, such as traditions about authorship, date, and the like. The final six sections take a more “internal” look at the book and treat such matters as Luke’s characteristics as a writer and the main themes recurring throughout his writing.

  1. Acts in the Early Tradition

Our earliest witnesses to the Book of Acts are for the most part fairly late, dating from the latter part of the second century. These are of two types: (1) works that appear to be aware of Acts and draw from its content and (2) specific references to the book in the writings of the early church fathers.

(1) Earliest Use of Acts

Echoes of Acts possibly are in the Apostolic Fathers. For instance, Clement of Rome, writing ca. a.d. 95–100, spoke of “giving more gladly than receiving” (1 Clem 2:1), which may be an allusion to Acts 20:35 but is more likely an independent quote from the oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings. The same can be said of his reference to the “pouring out of the Spirit” in the very next verse (1 Clem 2:2). This could reflect an awareness of Acts 2:17, but more likely it is an independent quote from Joel. Ignatius, whose writings date from the first decades of the second century, used the phrase “to go to his own place” (Ign. Magn. 5:1), which recalls Peter’s words about Judas in Acts 1:25. The phrase is a common Greek idiom, however, and probably reflects no use of Acts. The phrase “you shall not say anything is your own” is found in Barnabas 19:8 and Didache 4:8, both from the early second century. The phrase is reminiscent of Acts 4:32 but is again a common Greek expression and may simply reflect an independent tradition of the early Christian practice. Other examples could be cited from the Apostolic Fathers,1 but they are all too sporadic, brief, and too “traditional” in nature to establish dependence on Acts. One seems to be on firmer ground with Justin Martyr (ca. a.d. 130–150). In his First Apology (39:3) he referred to the apostles as “illiterate, of no ability in speaking” (cf. Acts 4:13). In his Second Apology 10 he seems to have reflected an acquaintance with Paul’s Areopagus speech in referring to “the unknown God” (cf. Acts 17:23). Clearest of all, however, is the following statement from his First Apology 50:12:

And afterwards, when he had risen from the dead and appeared to them, and had taught them to read the prophecies in which all these things were foretold as coming to pass, and when they had seen him ascending into heaven, and had believed, and had received power sent by him upon them, and went to every race of men, they taught these things, and were called apostles.

This is basically a precis of Acts 1 as well as a general summary of the remainder of the book. It thus seems that by the middle of the second century, Acts was known and being used.

(2) Explicit References to Acts

From the end of the second century come the first explicit references to the Book of Acts and its Lukan authorship.2 In his book Against Heresies (3.14.1) Irenaeus, bishop of the church of Lyons in Gaul, discussed the authorship of both the third Gospel and Acts, stating that both were by Luke, the physician, the traveling companion of Paul. He went into detail in describing those passages beginning at Acts 16:10, where the first-person plural appears in the narrative of Acts, thus establishing the writer as Paul’s associate. He further cited 2 Tim 4:10f. and Col 4:14, which point to Luke as Paul’s companion.

Dating from the same period, the Muratorian canon, an early canonical list generally believed to have come from the church at Rome, also gives testimony to the common authorship of Luke and Acts. Like Irenaeus, it depicts the author as Luke the physician, the traveling companion of Paul, and adds the note that Acts does not relate the deaths of Peter and Paul because Luke restricted his account only to those matters where he was himself present. It also gives the rather strange detail that Luke served as Paul’s legal counsel, something attested nowhere else in the early tradition. Later witnesses confirm the basic testimony of Irenaeus and the Muratorian canon to Luke-Acts being by Luke, Paul’s traveling companion. An occasional additional detail is added, and these tend to become more fanciful with time. Thus Origen (ca. a.d. 230) suggested that Luke was the “brother who is praised by all the churches” Paul mentioned in 2 Cor 8:18. Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 3.4.6), writing in the early fourth century, is the earliest extant witness to the tradition that Luke came from Antioch. In the latter half of the fourth century, Jerome repeated the view of Luke’s Antiochene origin and added that Luke was with Paul during his two-year house arrest in Rome and wrote Acts from that city. He likewise stated that Luke’s tomb was located in Constantinople (De Vir. Ill. 6). Generally reputed as the best Christian linguist of his day, it is significant that he commended Luke’s grammar for its eloquence and considered it to be the most educated Greek of the four Evangelists’ (Comm. on Isa 3:6). In the preface to his commentary on Matthew, he discussed the Gospel of Luke and cited a tradition that it was written in the districts of Boetia and Achaia.

Still later traditions add further details, all of which seem to be primarily speculative. For example, the Monarchianist Prologue to Luke claims that Luke had no wife or son, that he lived to age seventy-four, and that he died in Bithynia. Adamantius, seeking to give him more direct apostolic status, maintained that he was one of the seventy disciples of Luke 10:1; and a marginal note found in several ancient manuscripts identified him as the companion of Clopas and the one who walked with the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35).

In summary, the information listed in the earliest witness (Irenaeus) has the most claim to reliability—that Luke the physician of Col 4:14, the traveling companion of Paul, was the author of the third Gospel and Acts. Some credence can perhaps be given to the tradition that links Luke with Antioch, but that could well have come about as an attempt to find some explicit mention of Luke in his writings (note the Lucius of Cyrene found among the leaders in Antioch in Acts 13:1).

Before leaving the early witnesses, a word should be said about the traditional title “Acts of the Apostles.” Whatever its original title, if any, the work seems to have had no fixed name in the second-century’s earliest witnesses. Irenaeus described it as “Luke’s witness to the apostles” (Lucae de apostolis testificatio). Tertullian referred to it as “Luke’s Commentary” (Commentarius Lucae; de jejunio 10). Perhaps closest to our present title is that of the Muratorian canon—The Acts of All the Apostles (Acta omnium apostolorum). Although of disputed date, the “anti-Marcionite” Prologue to Luke may be our earliest Greek witness to the familiar name “Acts of the Apostles” (praxeis apostolōn).3 In any event, by the third century that title seems to have become fixed in the tradition.

  1. The Author of Acts

Scholars of all persuasions are in agreement that the third Gospel and the Book of Acts are by the same author. There are always a few dissenting voices on any issue, and some would argue for separate authorship of the two volumes.4 The evidence is decidedly against them. Not only is there the unanimous voice of the tradition from Irenaeus on, but the internal evidence of the two books points to their common authorship.

(1) Relationship to Gospel of Luke

For one, a common style and vocabulary run throughout the two books.5 Many common themes also bind the two volumes together (cf. section 11). Above all is the claim of the author himself as reflected in the prefaces to each of the books. Both Luke and Acts are dedicated to the same person, Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1); and Acts 1:1 refers to his “former book,” which dealt with “all that Jesus began to do and to teach”—namely, the Gospel of Luke.

Finally, the conclusion to Luke’s Gospel provides an introduction to the Book of Acts. Jesus’ final words to his disciples are a virtual summary of the main themes of the first chapters of Acts—the waiting in Jerusalem until clothed with the power of the Spirit, the preaching to all the nations beginning with Jerusalem, and the fulfillment of the Scriptures in the death and resurrection of the Messiah, which is the central topic of Peter’s sermons in Jerusalem (Luke 24:44–49). Then there is the ascension. In all the New Testament the ascension narrative is related only in Luke and Acts, though several passages in the epistles refer to Jesus seated at God’s right hand (e.g., Heb 1:3). It closes the Gospel of Luke and opens the Acts of the Apostles, binding Luke’s two volumes together.

(2) “We” Narratives

Beginning with Irenaeus, the tradition has maintained that this single author, whose two volumes comprise nearly 27 percent of the entire New Testament, was Luke. For Irenaeus the occurrence of the first-person plural in the later chapters of Acts pointed to the author of the book as having been a traveling companion of Paul. Often referred to as the “we” narrative, the passages involved are 16:10–17, which relates Paul’s voyage from Troas to Philippi; then 20:5–21:18, covering Paul’s journey from Philippi to Jerusalem; and finally 27:1–28:16, involving the journey from Caesarea to Rome. This “we” has always been a crux in the debate over Lukan authorship. Those who follow the traditional view concur with Irenaeus in seeing it as an indication that the author of Luke-Acts was present with Paul on these occasions. Others argue that the “we” is an indication only that the author of Luke-Acts used a source from a traveling associate of Paul (see section 5).

(3) Medical Theory

Who was Luke? Very little is said about him in the New Testament. He is mentioned three times, all in the “greetings” sections of Paul’s epistles. In Col 4:14 Paul sent greetings from Demas and “our dear friend Luke, the doctor.” In Philemon he is again linked with Demas in the sending of greetings.6 In 2 Tim 4:11, in something of a despondent mood, Paul lamented that everyone had either deserted him or gone to minister elsewhere and noted that “only Luke is with me.” All the direct New Testament testimony to Luke yields but scant information. He was an associate of Paul.7 He was with him when Colossians, Philemon, and 2 Timothy were written—periods of imprisonment for Paul. Finally, he was a physician, which would indicate a person of some education and social standing.

Luke’s status as a physician became the basis for an elaborate argument which was first proposed by W. Hobart in the late nineteenth century.8 The subtitle to his volume is perhaps the best commentary on the purpose of his work: “A proof from internal evidence that the Gospel according to St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were written by the same person and that the writer was a medical man.” Drawing from the Greek medical writers, particularly Galen and Hippocrates, Hobart sought to demonstrate that the author of Luke-Acts used the same “technical” medical terminology and was thus a doctor. In this way he sought to undergird the traditional authorship of Luke and Acts. His work was taken up and refined by one of the leading German scholars of the day, A. Harnack.9 In this country the “medical theory” was strongly advocated by A. T. Robertson.10 The argument, however, was flawed. Hobart and Harnack had failed to examine the frequency of the alleged “medical” terminology in the nonmedical Greek writers. H. J. Cadbury undertook such a comparison and found that all these terms occur in nonmedical writers, such as Josephus, Plutarch, Lucian, and even in the Septuagint. In a close investigation of portions of Lucian, he found the frequency of the “medical” words to be twice that found in Luke-Acts. His conclusion was that Luke used the language of the best Hellenistic writers, not the technical vocabulary of a physician.11 He was quick to point out that this in no way disproved that Luke was a physician. It might be added that for one who assumes the traditional Lukan authorship, it perhaps also demonstrates that Luke was more concerned with communicating his message to as wide a circle as possible than with impressing through his expertise.

A large group of German and American scholars do not find the traditional authorship of Luke-Acts tenable, generally on the grounds that the Paul of Acts is so different from the Paul of the epistles that a companion of the apostles could not possibly have written it. These scholars point out (1) that the Paul of Acts is presented as a miracle worker and a skilled orator, contrary to Paul’s epistles; (2) that the theology of Acts is lacking the central tenets of Paul’s theology, such as justification and the atoning death of Christ; and (3) that the title of “apostle” is denied Paul in Acts, the title he clearly preferred to use for himself.12 Some also argue that the “law-abiding” Paul of Acts who circumcised Timothy and took Nazirite vows was totally incompatible with the grace-centered Paul of the epistles. Likewise, specific incidents recounted in Acts such as the Jerusalem Conference of Acts 15 are seen to be in conflict with Paul’s allusions to the same events in his epistles.13 (Each of these arguments is treated in the commentary at the appropriate places where the issues arise.)

Two things need to be noted in the discussion, however. One is simply that Luke was not Paul, nor was he addressing the same issues Paul treated in his epistles. One would hardly expect Luke’s view of Paul to be the same as Paul’s or Luke’s theological emphases to be the same as those of the apostle. Not even Paul’s own epistles reflect the same emphases one from another—the particular situation directs the emphases. One would never guess Paul’s emphasis on justification as found in Galatians from reading 1 Corinthians. The second point is that those who point to the differences between Acts and Paul’s epistles rarely note the many remarkable coincidences between the two. Again this is pointed out regularly in the commentary.14

Traditional Lukan authorship is assumed throughout this commentary. Having said this, can we know more about the author than the bare bones that he was a physician and a traveling companion of Paul by the name of Luke? The answer is “not much.” A good guess is that he was a Gentile, judging from the quality of his Greek. It has sometimes been suggested that he may have been a freedman, since physicians were often drawn from the slave class; and the name Luke (Loukanos/Lucius) was a common name among slaves. From the time of Jerome on, the tradition that he came from Antioch has been strong. The Western reading of Acts 11:28 introduces “we” into the narrative, which, if genuine, would place Luke in Antioch at the beginning of Paul’s missionary career and would link up quite nicely with the Lucius in the Antioch church at Acts 13:1.15 But a weakly attested Western reading and a Cyrenian by the Latin name of Lucius are a rather slim basis for elaboration of the tradition surrounding Paul’s Greek-named associate Luke. Further, judging from the “we” narrative, the evidence seems to point to Luke’s joining Paul somewhere in the vicinity of Troas (Acts 16:10). A better case could perhaps be made for Luke’s coming from Pisidian Antioch (Rackham) or Macedonia (Ramsay).16 Judging from the external evidence, not much can be said about Luke apart from shaky later tradition and the realm of pure speculation. Internally, a great deal can be known about him because he revealed much about himself, his community, and his faith in the legacy of his writings. (Cf. section 7.)

  1. The Date of Acts

The opinion among scholars about the date when Acts was written varies greatly, ranging all the way from as early as a.d. 57/59 to a.d. 150.17 Though someone represents nearly every point on this ninety-year spectrum, there are in general three distinct viewpoints. First, a large group of scholars date Acts before a.d. 64. This view is always combined with the traditional Lukan authorship and is primarily advanced in an attempt to explain the ending of Acts, which mentions a two-year house arrest of Paul in Rome but says nothing about the outcome of Paul’s arrest (Acts 28:30f.). The abrupt ending would be explained if Luke wrote Acts at precisely this point—two years after Paul’s arrival in Rome and before his case came to trial.18 All this fits quite well, since the “we” narrative has brought Luke to Rome (cf. 27:1–28:16); and the epistles to Colosse and Philemon, which have traditionally been ascribed to Paul’s Roman imprisonment, both mention Luke as being present with Paul during this period. Luke is thus seen to have written Acts at precisely this point and concluded his story after “two whole years” in Rome.

Advocates of this view appeal to other features of Acts, such as the primitive theology of Peter’s speeches, the fact that the Neronic persecution (a.d. midsixties) is nowhere alluded to, and that Luke showed no acquaintance with Paul’s epistles.19 None of these would preclude a later date, however, and the most attractive feature of the early dating remains its giving an explanation for the ending of Acts. This, however, should not be the determining factor in deciding on the date of Acts. Perhaps Luke ended Acts as he did because he had fulfilled his purposes.20

The relationship to the Gospel of Luke has led many scholars to opt for a later dating of Acts.21 These can be described as those advocating a “middle-dating” position. The spectrum runs from a.d. 70 to a.d. 90, with most falling about midway. Luke wrote his two volumes in sequence, which is the most natural assumption and certainly the indication of the preface to Acts (“my former book” means the Gospel of Luke, Acts 1:1). It follows that Acts must be dated subsequent to Luke. Two problems exist with dating the Gospel as early as a.d. 62. First, Luke’s Gospel quite possibly reflects an awareness of the fall of Jerusalem, which took place in a.d. 70. In the Gospel of Luke are three predictions of the judgment that was to befall Jerusalem (19:41–44; 21:20–24; 23:28–31). That Jesus predicted the destruction of the city is related in the other Gospels as well (cf. Mark 13:14), so it is not a question of Luke having introduced something “after the event,” as has often been maintained.22 It is a matter of an emphasis unparalleled in the other Gospels. Luke chose to include in his Gospel a sizable body of oracles against Jerusalem from the tradition of Jesus’ words. The stress they are given lends the impression that Luke had a vivid recollection of the fall of the city and how tragically true the Lord’s predictions had proved to be.23 This remains a matter of impression and in no way could stand on its own as a decisive argument for a date after a.d. 70.

The second consideration that speaks against an early date for the Gospel of Luke is the likelihood that Luke used the Gospel of Mark as one of his sources. In his preface (Luke 1:1), Luke referred to many who had undertaken to compile a gospel narrative before him. Since nearly all of Mark is paralleled in Luke’s Gospel, Mark was likely one of those to whom Luke was referring.24 Irenaeus indicated that Mark wrote his Gospel based on the memoirs of Peter and after the death of Peter.25 Tradition links Peter and Paul together as martyrs during the Neronic persecution in Rome in the midsixties. This thus places the Gospel of Mark sometime after a.d. 65. It is possible that Luke had immediate access to Mark and composed his Gospel shortly after Mark. More likely some time elapsed between the two Gospels. Combining this consideration with the first possibility that the Jerusalem oracles point to a date after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Gospel of Luke seems best dated after a.d. 70. There is no reason to believe that Acts did not follow shortly after it. Of those who advocate a “middle date,” scholars who follow traditional authorship generally date the book toward the earlier end of the spectrum, during the decade of a.d. 70–80.26

Those who would opt for a “late” dating of Acts are in a decided minority. These fall into two groups. First are those who date the book around 95–100. Usually these scholars believe that Luke was dependent on the Antiquities of the Jewish historian Josephus published in a.d. 93. Acts is believed to show dependence on Josephus mainly in the speech of Gamaliel in 5:35–39, the story of Herod’s death in 12:20–23, and Lysias’s reference to the “Egyptian” in 21:38. None of these passages, however, shows the least literary dependence on Josephus; and at most they reflect commonly known Jewish events. It has also been argued that the apologetic emphasis in Acts reflects a situation of persecution such as that of Domitian in the nineties.27 In fact, the picture of the favorable relationship between Christians and the Roman authorities would point in the opposite direction—to an earlier period before imperial persecutions had begun. Other proponents of a late date tend to place Acts between a.d. 125 and 150. These scholars are impressed by language that Acts has in common with the Apostolic Fathers,28 or they see its emphasis on the Jewish roots of Christianity as a polemic against Marcion.29

In Acts too many evidences exist of an earlier period to be convinced by those who would date it later—the primitive Jewish-Christian Christology of Peter’s sermons, the simple organization of the churches, the concern with Christianity’s relationship to Judaism. Of course, it can always be argued that Luke had access to good early sources. More likely the freshness of Luke’s account is due to his own involvement in and proximity to the matters he related in his account of the early Christian witness. There are solid reasons for dating the book after a.d. 70 but no convincing reason for dating it later than sometime during that decade.

  1. The Provenance and Destination of Acts

Where did Luke write from, and to whom did he write? These questions probably are unanswerable. Luke dedicated the book to Theophilus, and Theophilus is a Greek name. Did Luke then write primarily to Gentiles? If so, why did he concern himself so much with Jewish questions? Why the elaborate messianic proofs of Peter’s sermons in Acts 2 and 3 if not to provide his readers with a pattern for witness to Jews? The most likely answer is that Luke intended his work for Christian communities that included both Jews and Gentiles—mixed congregations such as those we encounter frequently in Paul’s epistles.

Can we be more specific and pinpoint an area? Late tradition links Luke with Antioch. Eusebius, writing in the early fourth century a.d., was the first to attest it. As noted under the section “The Author of Acts,” it has much going for it. The remarkable information Acts provides on the Antioch church would be understandable if Luke had roots there.30 But for whom did Luke write? Did he write for the churches in the area of Syrian Antioch? J. Jervell thinks he did, pointing to the strong emphasis in Acts on Jewish Christians and noting that Jewish Christianity was strong in Syria in the period of a.d. 70–80 when Luke most likely wrote Acts.31

Other scholars see Acts as intended for the Christians of Rome. After all, the book ends with Paul preaching in that city. From 19:21 on, the whole narrative of Acts focuses on Paul’s being led to witness in the imperial capital. F. J. Foakes-Jackson and K. Lake show how much the ideas of the Roman apostles’ creed are reflected in the speeches of Acts, and they suggest that this might point to a Roman provenance for Acts.32

Antioch and Rome have been the two usual suggestions for the provenance of Acts. Recently, however, P. Esler has taken an entirely different approach, seeking to determine from the recurring emphases in Acts the sort of social setting for which it seems designed. He concludes that Luke was written for mixed Jewish-Gentile churches in the Roman east in a primarily urban setting.33 “Roman east” is a rather sweeping designation and could refer to anywhere from the Aegean to Syro-Palestine. But perhaps we need not get more specific than that. For the later church Acts has been without boundary in its appeal. Perhaps Luke wanted it so from the beginning. Esler’s suggestions of an “urban” destination for Acts is worthy of consideration. We have been so accustomed to focusing on Paul’s “journeying” in Acts that we perhaps get the picture his main mission thrust was in the highways and hedges. Not so the picture of Acts. Most of Paul’s time was devoted to the large urban centers like Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome—where the masses were.

  1. The Sources of Acts

Where did Luke gather his materials for Acts? Did he have available to him written sources, or was he primarily dependent on oral reports for matters he himself did not witness? The history of investigation in Acts has often preoccupied itself with elaborate source theories. Only the main lines of research and the evidence for Luke’s use of sources will be noted here. Source theories have been of four types: (1) the search for written sources, mainly in chaps. 1–15; (2) the specific question of whether an Aramaic original stands behind chaps. 1–15; (3) theories connected with the “we” narrative of chaps. 16–28; and (4) the possibility that Luke used primarily oral sources and isolated bits of local tradition.

(1) Written Sources

Around the turn of the twentieth century extensive scholarly attention was given to the question of whether written sources could be detected within the text of Acts. It was a natural assumption since Luke seems to have indicated his use of the writings of predecessors in the preface to his Gospel and since source criticism had been carried on for some time in the first three Gospels. But source criticism in the Gospels is an altogether different matter. The first three (“Synoptic”) Gospels all have extensive material in common, and a comparative analysis can be made between them to see if one can detect any sort of source relationship in their use of common material. This is simply not possible for Acts. With no parallels available for comparative study, Acts is unique among the New Testament narratives. Those who undertook a source analysis of Acts were consequently forced to postulate a more subjective methodology for the detection of Luke’s possible sources. Various criteria were established. The centrality of certain places in the narrative was seen as possibly indicative of a source originating in that locale. Another possible pointer to a source was the recurrence of the same character. Sometimes differences in the theological emphases in various portions of Acts were seen as indicative that Luke was using sources.34 For some scholars, however, the most certain hint of a source is the occurrence of supposed “doublets,” or duplicated material, in the text.

Exemplary of the heyday of source criticism in Acts is A. Harnack’s elaborate theory of the sources Luke used in the composition of Acts 1–15.35 Harnack was a strong defender of the traditional authorship of Luke-Acts and argued that as Paul’s traveling companion Luke had his own participation to draw from in the events covered in Acts 16–28. Since the “we” narrative would indicate that Luke did not participate in the events prior to Troas (Acts 16:10), Harnack assumed Luke would have been forced to use sources for all the prior material of Acts.

Using a combination of criteria involving places, characters, and “doublets,” Harnack detected several strands of sources behind Acts 1–15. First, he saw an “Antioch” source behind the material related to that city that came from written records of the Antioch church. This included the traditions about Stephen (6:1–8:4) and the narratives centering in Antioch and its mission (11:19–30; 12:25; 13:1–15:35). A second source is the account of Paul’s conversion (9:1–28), which Harnack saw as based on a separate written tradition. A third source is Harnack’s “Jerusalem Caesarean” tradition, representing the accounts of the Christian mission in Judea and possibly stemming from the Caesarean church. It included the work of Philip (8:5–40), Peter’s witness in the plain of Sharon and the conversion of Cornelius (9:29–11:18), and Peter’s escape from prison (12:1–23).

Harnack’s most controversial source was his “Jerusalem source,” which he divided into two parts, postulating two sources from the Jerusalem church that covered the same events. One he considered reliable, the other legendary and unreliable. It was here that his “doublet” theory came into play. The “unreliable” source, which he called Jerusalem B, contained the account of Pentecost (Acts 2) and the apostles’ second trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:17–42). The reliable Jerusalem A source was seen to cover the events of Acts 3:1–5:16. Harnack considered these two sources to be duplicative of the same events. The outpouring of the Spirit narrated in Acts 4:23–31 (source A) was seen as a doublet of Pentecost (source B). The appearance of the apostles before the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:17–42 (which involves a miraculous escape from prison) was relegated to the unreliable source B and seen as a duplication of the Sanhedrin appearance narrated in 4:5–22 (the historically valuable source A). Frankly one is at a loss to see how Acts 4:23–31 could ever be seen as a doublet of Acts 2. All the passages have in common is the outpouring of the Spirit, and the Spirit “comes” in special outpourings often in Acts. Likewise the two appearances before the Sanhedrin are altogether likely on historical grounds and not “doublets,” as J. Jeremias has shown.36

Harnack’s source-critical reconstruction of Luke’s “sources” in Acts 1–15 has been given at some length to illustrate the basically subjective nature of such attempted reconstructions. A hidden agenda is clearly notable in his two Jerusalem sources. The “doublet” theory betrays his rationalist presuppositions, allowing him to excise the miraculous elements of the Pentecost narrative and the apostles’ escape in Acts 5:17–23. Beyond that, even the sources he considered reliable are not convincing. Such criteria as the centrality of places and characters are simply not adequate for postulating written sources. Luke’s information could as well have come to him through oral tradition. To establish written sources behind the text, one would have to indicate differences in vocabulary and style in portions in Acts, and this has not been done convincingly in any source-critical investigation. A uniformity of Lukan style runs throughout Luke-Acts. If Luke used sources in Acts, he reworked them into his own style so skillfully that it is no longer possible for us to detect them.37

One of Harnack’s sources, however, continues to have a sizeable following—his Antioch source. It was picked up by Jeremias in an article of 1937;38 and in his summary of source-critical research in Acts, J. Dupont judged it as the most viable of Harnack’s suggested sources.39 Perhaps the most surprising advocacy has been that of R. Bultmann, who suggested that it might have been quite a bit more extensive than Harnack suggested and that the author of Acts may have obtained it from the written archives of the Antioch church.40 The centrality of Antioch, however, could be explained on grounds other than a written source—the tradition that connects Luke himself with Antioch or the possibility that Luke received oral reports from that congregation. That there existed a written document from Antioch would have to be established on stylistic grounds, and that has yet to be demonstrated.

In summary, the quest for written sources in Acts has been basically a dead-end. Luke followed the usual practice of Hellenistic historiographers by never explicitly citing any sources he used in Acts.41 He may well have had access to some, but he so incorporated them into his narrative that it is unlikely they could be recovered.42 Still, in two specific areas scholars tend to argue for Luke’s use of sources—the possibility of a Semitic source in Acts 1–15 and of a source behind the “we” passages of chaps. 16–28.

(2) Semitic Source Theory

A more substantial basis for delineating sources in Acts was suggested by C. C. Torrey, who argued that an Aramaic source lay behind Acts 1–15.43 Torrey pointed to a number of difficult Greek constructions in Acts, which he argued were most readily explainable as mistranslations from Aramaic. Others, he reasoned, are best seen as overly literal translations from an Aramaic original. He saw this Aramaic substratum as running homogeneously throughout chaps. 1–15 of Acts but to be totally absent in chaps. 16–28. His conclusion: an original Aramaic document lay behind the first fifteen chapters of Acts. The response to Torrey’s theory has generally not been favorable. H. J. Cadbury pointed out that the Semitic style of the early portions of Acts is probably due to Luke’s skill as a writer, to his deliberate imitation of Palestinian style.44 Others have noted that many of Torrey’s alleged Aramaisms are really Septuagintalisms and that the overall style in chaps. 1–15 is the same uniform Lukan style that runs throughout Luke-Acts.45

Many of the Semiticisms may reflect the language of the Christian churches, a sort of “synagogue Greek” deriving from their Jewish roots.46 In his thorough study of the Semiticisms in Acts, M. Wilcox concludes that there is simply no evidence for an Aramaic source in Acts.47 Small “knots” of Semiticisms are found in the Old Testament material in Acts that do not seem derivative from the Septuagint. These are particularly found in Stephen’s speech and Paul’s address in Pisidian Antioch. They may reflect the Aramaic Targumic traditions. In short, room remains for further examination of the Scripture materials found in the speeches of Acts. The theory of an Aramaic source in Acts, however, has been largely abandoned.48

(3) “We” Source Theory

In general, there are four views relative to the passages in Acts 16–28 where the first-person plural occurs. Those who assume the traditional authorship of Acts view the “we” as indicative of Luke’s presence with Paul at the points where it occurs (cf. section 2.2). Some, who do not maintain that the final author of Acts was a traveling companion of Paul, argue that the author incorporated a source that was from such a traveling companion and from which the “we” derives. A third group believes that the author of Acts utilized a diary or an itinerary from a Pauline traveling associate but rejects the idea of a “we” source. A fourth group accepts neither a source nor a diary and maintains that the “we” is merely a literary device of the author of Acts.

The idea of a “we source” in Acts is not new. Scholars of the “Tübingen school,” who argued that Acts was written in the second century and was as a whole historically tendentious and unreliable,49 nevertheless appealed to the “we passages” to argue that the later author of Acts utilized in these places a reliable historical source from a traveling companion of Paul. This “we-source” theory continued long after the excesses of the Tübingen hypothesis were dead.50 A. Harnack, however, pointed out that the style of the “we passages” is the same style that runs throughout all of Luke-Acts, and it is more natural to conclude that the author of the “we passages” is the same author as the final author of Luke-Acts.51 Harnack was defending the traditional view of Luke as both Paul’s traveling companion and the author of Luke-Acts. The same was true of Cadbury, who argued that Luke’s reference to having “carefully investigated everything” in the preface to his Gospel (Luke 1:3) is best seen as his indication that he participated in some of the events he was narrating, namely, those where the “we” occurs.52

A modification of the “we-source” theory holds that the author of Acts incorporated a diary from a travel companion of Paul, not an extensive source. Various persons have been suggested for the diarist, Timothy being the most popular.53 Silas54 and Epaphroditus55 have also been proposed. M. Dibelius advocated a modified version of the “diary” view, maintaining that it was in no sense a connected narrative but only an “itinerary,” a collection of travel notes on length of journeys, places visited, ports of call, and the like.56 The diary view is open to the same objections raised by Harnack with regard to the full “we-source” view; namely, that regarding the unity of style of Acts, it would be more natural to assume that the author of the whole book was including himself in the “we”—not incorporating a source.

Those who argue that the “we” is a literary device would agree with the last statement—only they would not see it as an indication of the author’s presence with Paul. Some see it as a literary device used by Greek historians to lend an appearance of veracity to their accounts.57 Others point to the fact that the narrative first-person plural is found primarily in the voyage narratives of chaps. 16; 20–21; and 27–28. It is noted that the “we” style is commonplace in Greco-Roman voyage accounts and that Luke seems to have been following this literary convention in Acts.58

Some of the conclusions drawn in these studies are open to serious question.59 For instance, for many Greek historians the first-person style is not employed as a convention but is only used when the writer was actually present. Likewise, ancient sea narratives occur in third person as frequently as they do in first person. Further, the first person is not used with regularity in the sea narratives of Acts, which would seem to be the case where it is merely a stylistic convention. The studies in the literary use of the first-person plural in Greek literature may, however, prove of value ultimately even for those who advocate traditional Lukan authorship. If Luke’s use of “we” is to some extent influenced by literary considerations, such as its frequency in his travel narratives, then it follows that one cannot rigidly assume he was present only where the “we” occurs. He clearly prefers the narrative third person and only shifts to first-person plural in those contexts where “comradery” is an element, such as the “community” aspect of travel narratives. Given that observation, he may well have been present on many occasions in Paul’s missionary activity where third-person narrative occurs.

(4) Oral Sources and Local Tradition

If written sources for Acts cannot be established, what sources are left for Luke’s work? Even if he were present on a large part of Paul’s missionary activity, what was the basis of his account for the history of the early Jerusalem church, the mission of Philip, the conversion of Cornelius, the apostolic conference in Jerusalem, and the many other events of Acts 1–15? The answer must surely be that he had access to the local traditions of the Christian communities, perhaps eyewitness reports and reminiscences that were cherished and passed down in the churches.60 As an example, a “we” passage in Acts 21:8 relates that Paul and his fellow travelers stayed in Caesarea with Philip the evangelist. On such an occasion Luke could have heard the story of Philip’s work among the Samaritans and the Ethiopian eunuch. From the Caesarean Christians he may have heard of Cornelius’s conversion. If one assumes that Luke was the traveling companion of Paul who accompanied the apostle to Jerusalem (21:1–18, “we” narrative) and two years later from Caesarea to Rome (27:1–28:16, “we” narrative), he would have had ample opportunity for exposure to all the traditions recorded in Acts.61

In considering Luke’s information base, one question remains as yet untreated. Did Luke have access to Paul’s letters? Did he use them at all in Acts? The answer to this question seems to be no.62 No quotes from Paul’s epistles occur in Acts. There is an undeniable overlap in material—Paul’s conversion, his churches in Macedonia and Achaia, his desire to visit Rome. Paul’s speeches in Acts are often reminiscent of elements in Paul’s epistles, particularly the “farewell address” of Acts 20. But there is no indication that Luke derived any of this information from Paul’s epistles. Perhaps Paul’s epistles had not yet been collected together and were still at the churches to which he sent them. As Paul’s associate, Luke would surely have been aware of Paul’s letter-writing activity. He evidently either did not have immediate access to them or did not consider them germane to his purposes. Paul’s epistles were mainly occasional letters, addressed to specific problems within individual congregations. Luke had a broader purpose—to tell the story of Paul to the church at large. In any event, Acts and Paul’s epistles are independent witnesses to the apostle. The commentary regularly notes the points at which the two overlap.

  1. The Text of Acts

In the history of the text of the New Testament, Acts poses a special problem. The early witnesses for the text of Acts diverge more than those of any other New Testament writing. Basically, we have two ancient texts for Acts that are generally referred to as the Alexandrian (or “Egyptian”) text and the “Western” text. The “Western” text of Acts differs significantly from the Alexandrian, being almost 10 percent longer. The differences are not apparent in the English translations of Acts. Modern translations of Acts are all based on the Alexandrian witnesses. Likewise, earlier English translations such as the KJV were based on the “majority” (or “Byzantine”) textual tradition, which also tended to follow the Alexandrian text. One would never guess the radically different readings found in the Western text from reading modern versions of Acts. The ancient witnesses, however, provide ample evidence for the longer Western text of Acts from a very early date. The most important witness to the Western text is a major uncial, codex Bezae (designated by text critics as D), a diglot manuscript containing both the Greek text and a Latin translation of the New Testament in parallel columns. Both the Greek and Latin texts in Bezae follow the Western tradition in Acts.63 A number of other Greek witnesses also reflect Western readings. Some are early papyri (P38, P48); others are later minuscules (33, 81, 1175). Among the early versions the Old Syriac and Old Latin are the most significant Western witnesses. Early church fathers show familiarity with the Western tradition, among them Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine. In short, the Western tradition is well-attested in very early witnesses, some of which date back to the second century. In fact, based on the date of its witnesses, the Western text has as much claim to antiquity as the Alexandrian.

There are good reasons, however, for seeing the Western text as secondary and derivative from the shorter Alexandrian tradition. Apart from the time-honored text-critical principle that the shorter text is more likely to be the original, the Western text shows many evidences of being an “improved” or harmonizing text. Gaps in the narrative are filled in. Thus in chap. 3, when the setting jumps from the temple (v. 8) to Solomon’s Colonnade (v. 11), the Western text provides the missing link, adding that they “exited [the Temple].” Sometimes one’s curiosity is satisfied by the Western text. If one should wonder what happened to the other prisoners at Philippi, the Western text adds to 16:30 that the jailer secured them before exiting with Paul and Silas. Sometimes the Western text reflects a greater emphasis on God’s leading. An example is 19:1, where it refers to the Holy Spirit directing Paul to Ephesus, an emphasis lacking in the Alexandrian reading. Finally, the Western text tends to introduce certain biases to the text, among which are a pronounced anti-Semitic element64 and a tendency to downplay the role of women in the narrative.65 When all such things are taken into account, however, there still remain a number of Western readings that are not obvious harmonizings or indicative of any bias but only the provision of additional details not found in the Alexandrian text. Such, for instance, is the additional note in the Western reading of 28:16 that the centurion turned Paul over to the “stratopedarch” in Rome. In such cases there is the distinct possibility that such details might have dropped out in the Alexandrian tradition through scribal error with the Western preserving the original reading.

The general consensus among text critics today is that the Alexandrian text is the more reliable text.66 In some instances the Western witnesses may preserve an original reading. For this reason an “eclectic” method is recommended, calling for an examination of each variant on its own merits and not making a blanket a priori decision to go with any one text.67 Since the unique Western readings are not available in any English translation, the commentary regularly points to the more significant of these at the appropriate places or in the footnotes.

  1. Luke as a Writer

One of the most significant emphases in research into Luke-Acts over the past half century has been a focus on Luke’s own contribution in his two-volume work. One of the pioneers in this area was H. J. Cadbury, who, in his Making of Luke-Acts (1927), set the pattern of study by comparing Luke’s writings with those of his contemporaries and noting the idiosyncrasies of Luke’s style and interests in both Luke and Acts. The emphasis was furthered by the work of H. Conzelmann, who in 1953 emphasized the theological emphases in Luke’s work and started a whole spate of work on “Luke the theologian.”68 Cadbury portrayed Luke as a conscious writer with a deliberate literary purpose. Conzelmann engendered consideration of Luke as a theologian, a person of faith. Both emphases are important for obtaining the full benefit from Luke and Acts. The first will preoccupy our attention in this section; the latter, in the next.

(1) Genre of Acts

Luke obviously set out to produce a two-volume work. His dual prefaces amply testify to this (Luke 1:1–4; Acts 1:1). The Gospel genre had already been established. Luke had his predecessors like Mark and referred to them in his preface (Luke 1:1). But what was his pattern for Acts? For his story of the early Christian mission, he had no predecessor as far as we know. In a real sense his work was without parallel; yet characteristics of his writing link him with other literary currents.

Acts has much in common with other Greek forms of literature. The device of a literary preface with a formal dedication is without precedent in biblical literature; it is a formality of Greek literature. There is certainly a biographical interest in Luke’s Gospel, and to a certain extent this has been carried over into Acts in the treatment of Peter and Paul.69 Most who have studied the genre of Luke-Acts feel that it has more in common with Greek historiography. The use of formal speeches, of voyages, and the episodic style all link Acts with the Hellenistic historical monograph.70

Greek literature, however, was not the only influence on the form of Acts. The Old Testament seems to have had an even more profound impact. Not only does Acts quote the Old Testament extensively, but the form of much of the Acts narrative is based on Old Testament precedents, like the call of the prophets and the divine commissioning narratives. The overall perspective of the book is not that of the Hellenistic histories with their concepts of fate and destiny but the biblical view that all of history is ultimately under the direction of a sovereign God.71

A final form that likely influenced Luke in his conception of Acts was the Gospel form itself. The parallels between the life of Jesus as pictured in Luke’s Gospel and the careers of Peter and Paul in Acts have often been noted. Sometimes they are quite striking—parallel miracles, parallel defenses, parallel sufferings. In some sense Luke saw a continuation of the story of Jesus in the lives of the apostles. What Jesus began to do and teach is continued by his faithful witnesses (Acts 1:1). For Luke the Gospel and Acts represent two stages of the same story.

(2) Language and Style of Acts

Luke has been described as “the most Greek of the New Testament writers.”72 Certainly the vocabulary of Luke-Acts would indicate his proficiency in the language. His vocabulary is the largest of any New Testament writer and one that exceeds some secular Greek writings, such as those of Xenophon.73 He wrote in good Hellenistic Greek and often employed constructions from the classical writers, those “Atticisms” so prized by first-century writers, like an occasional use of the optative mode, of the future infinitive, and of the future participle. He used Greek figures of speech, having an especial love for litotes. Still his language is not that of the neoclassicists, but it is instead good literary koine Greek.

Luke’s writings are steeped in the language of the Old Testament. A full 90 percent of his vocabulary is found also in the Septuagint. There are, in addition, a number of Semiticisms not found in the Greek Old Testament. N. Turner suggests that these may be “Jewish Greek,” expressions that would have been common in the Jewish Diaspora.74 Most frequent in the infancy narratives of Luke 1–2 and in the “Jewish” portions of Acts, chaps. 1–15, these probably indicate Luke’s skill as a writer. Throughout Acts there is a verisimilitude in the narrative. Jews speak with a Jewish accent, Athenian philosophers speak in Atticisms, and Roman officials speak and write in the customary legal style. Luke showed not only a familiarity with such linguistic idiosyncrasies but also the ability to depict them through his style of writing.

(3) Speeches of Acts

One of the most characteristic features of Acts is the presence of many speeches interspersed throughout the narrative. Altogether these comprise nearly a third of the text of Acts, about 300 of its approximately 1,000 verses.75 In all there are twenty-four of these—eight coming from Peter, nine from Paul, and seven from various others.76 Of the twenty-four, ten can be described as “major” addresses: three “missionary” sermons of Peter (chaps. 2; 3; 10); a trilogy of speeches from Paul in the course of his mission (chaps. 13; 17; 20), three “defense speeches” of Paul (chaps. 22; 24; 26), and Stephen’s address before the Sanhedrin (chap. 7).

The trilogy of Pauline mission speeches is particularly striking, with one major address for each phase of the mission, each addressed to a different group. On the first journey Paul addressed the Jews in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch (chap. 13). On the second he addressed the pagans in his famous Areopagus speech (chap. 20). On the third he spoke to the Christian leaders of the Ephesian congregation in the address at Miletus (chap. 20). Luke presented a balanced variety of speeches with regard to both occasion and listeners.

In recent years a major scholarly debate over the speeches of Acts has focused primarily over the question of whether they are wholly Lukan compositions or whether they are based on historically reliable traditions. One consideration involves the manner in which speeches were employed by Hellenistic historiographers. For his Gospel, Luke had the oral tradition and predecessors like Mark for the words of Jesus, which existed primarily in the form of short sayings. There was likely no such “sayings of the apostles” tradition available to Luke; and for Acts he presented their teachings in the form of extended discourses or speeches.77 This speech form links him with the convention of Greek historiographers, who often depicted their characters making major addresses at crucial junctures, such as the eve of a battle. If Luke followed this precedent in his account of the early Christian mission, it is natural to inquire about how the historiographers went about gathering the material for their speeches. Did they employ sources? Did they compose their speeches totally from their own judgment about what might be appropriate to the occasion?

Actually, the evidence from Greek historiography is quite mixed. Speech composition was a major element in ancient rhetorical training. For some historiographers the correctness of form and elegance of the speech was more important than its basis in accurate historical reminiscence; for others, however, this practice was roundly condemned. Polybius, for instance, strongly criticized his predecessors for freely inventing speeches; and in his treatise on history writing, Lucian insisted on facts, fidelity, and accurate reporting.78 Perhaps the most relevant statement is that of Thucydides, who described his procedure in providing speeches in his historical narrative. He remarked that he was unable to reproduce exactly the words delivered on a given occasion either from his own memory when he had been present or from the reports given him from eyewitnesses but that he had endeavored as closely as possible “to give the general purport of what was actually said.”79 It has often been suggested that Luke may have followed the same procedure, gathering information from eyewitnesses, relying on his own memory where possible, and providing as accurately as he could the “gist” of what was said.80

It would be hard to deny that Luke provided the speech material in his own words. Even for the longest of them, the Acts speeches are quite short, taking only a few minutes to read aloud. This is one of the ways they differ from those of the Greek historiographers. The latter are generally quite long, many times longer than the speech of Stephen, the longest speech in Acts. The speeches in Acts are a summary, an example of the things said, not a full report of the address. For example, Peter’s speech in the temple square evidently began around three in the afternoon (3:1) and lasted until sundown (4:3); but Luke provided only a seventeen-verse précis of the sermon.81

Another indication of Luke’s literary contribution in the speeches is that the basic vocabulary and style of the speeches is the same uniform style that runs throughout Acts.82 Likewise, the speeches all tend to follow a common outline and structure.83 Then there is an interdependence among the speeches.84 Peter’s remarks at the Apostolic Conference refer to the account of the conversion of Cornelius; Paul alluded to texts in his Pisidian Antioch address that are only fully expounded in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. Luke assumed the reader is familiar with the earlier accounts and felt no need to give a fuller treatment. As the author of Acts, Luke provided the speeches—in his words, in his selection of material. But does this mean that he created them and that they are not reliable reports of what was actually said?

Is there evidence that the speeches in Acts are based on reliable traditions?85 A number of indications point in that direction. One is the sheer variety of the speeches themselves. One can indeed detect a common structure in many of the speeches, but the content and argument often run in quite different directions. The three missionary speeches to Jews have the most in common (chaps. 2; 3; 13)—Jesus as Messiah, the extensive Old Testament citations, the emphasis on the resurrection. Peter’s speech to the God-fearer Cornelius (chap. 10) follows the same basic pattern. C. H. Dodd long ago argued that the common structure of these sermons reflects the early preaching or “kerygma” of the church.86 Within Peter’s speeches in Acts 2–3 are elements of a very early Christology—unusual titles for Jesus, such as “servant,” “Righteous One,” “prophet like Moses,” and the concept of Jesus as being “designated” by God as Messiah. Such concepts reflect Jewish-Christian thought and testify to the primitiveness of these speeches.87

Stephen’s speech is unique. His emphasis on God’s revelation outside the Holy Land and his temple critique are totally unparalleled in any other speech of Acts. His unusual Scripture traditions are equally without parallel. Such considerations may indicate that Luke was using some sort of Hellenist source—if not a written source, at least an accurate account of their thought gleaned from Hellenist circles.88 The Areopagus speech of Acts 17 and the words to the pagans at Lystra (14:15–17) with their “natural theology” and appeal to Greek philosophical thought are altogether different from the sermons to Jews. The Miletus address is strongly reminiscent of the Pauline Epistles, having particularly much in common with the Pastorals. Suffice it to say, the speeches in Acts are suited to their various contexts; and one need not doubt that Luke based them on reliable traditions and indeed succeeded in giving the “general purport of what was actually said.”

(4) Other Forms in Acts

Luke utilized other forms of material in his narrative of the early Christian witness. One form Acts has in common with the Gospels is that of the miracle story. In Acts the apostles continued the work of Jesus in performing the same kinds of miracles—healings of the lame, exorcisms, raising the dead. A major difference was that Jesus healed by his own authority; the apostles healed through the power of the Spirit “in the name of Jesus.” Unique to Acts are the so-called “punitive” miracles, where someone suffers punishment for resisting, lying to, or attempting to manipulate the Spirit. The tremendous power of the Holy Spirit behind the advance of the Christian witness has its negative side: one simply does not tamper with the divine Spirit. On the positive side the miracles in Acts are always shown serving God’s word. Whether it be the tongues of Pentecost or the healing of a lame man in the temple compound, the miracle prepares the way for the preaching of the word and the “greater miracle” of commitment to Christ.

Another type of material found throughout Acts is the travel narrative. Jesus is often depicted as traveling in the Gospels, but the travelogues are of a different nature in Acts with their extensive notes of cities visited, stopping places, and locations sighted from a ship. On the surface many of these “travel notes” seem almost superfluous, adding no content to the story. This is particularly true of those found in the account of Paul’s mission. The notes, however, play their role in the story of Acts. For one, they are quite accurate and give a certain stamp of reliability, as from one who was actually a participant in the events being related. Second, they picture movement and progress. Many of the travel notes are a form of summary depicting how the gospel first reached a new area, whether it be Azotus and Caesarea (8:40), or the cities such as Lydda (9:32) or Joppa (9:36) on the Plain of Sharon (9:32), or the cities of the Phoenician coast (11:19). The constant note of travel enhances the impression of movement as the Christian mission reached out in ever-widening circles.

A third type of material found throughout Acts is the edifying story. Much of the text consists of short episodes. In fact, a great deal of the account of the progress of the Christian witness is told by means of stories. Chapter 19 might serve as an example. We are told that Paul’s ministry in Ephesus lasted for three years (20:31), and yet only the briefest account is given of Paul’s actual witness in the synagogue and lecture hall (19:8–10). The major portion of the chapter is devoted to a series of episodes, individual encounters with some disciples of John the Baptist (vv. 1–7), some itinerant Jewish exorcists (vv. 13–16), those who had practiced magical arts (vv. 17–19), and the shrine-makers’ guild of Ephesus (vv. 23–41).

One might ask what sort of account this is of a major three-year mission. The answer is that it is a rather full account. Luke chose to illustrate the success of Paul’s mission through these episodes. There are first disciples of John the Baptist—those with an incomplete and inadequate understanding of Christ. Paul led them to a full commitment. Then there were the charlatans and the magical papyri—the marks of pagan superstition. The charlatans were exposed, and the charm books were burned. And finally even those with economic interests in town were thwarted in their effort to overturn Paul’s witness.

Luke has taught us quite a bit about Paul’s work in Ephesus and about Christian witness in general—in its encounter with inadequate understanding, fraudulence, popular religion, and powerful forces in society. The theme in all instances is that truth prevails, and the gospel triumphs; Paul only had to remain true to his witness. Throughout Acts, Luke used this episodic style to portray the dynamic of the Christian witness. He conveyed the inner force of the Christian mission through the medium of these stories. Acts does not chronicle mere events; it is “narrative theology” at its best.89

A final form that characterizes Acts is the summary. Sometimes these summaries are quite brief and point only to the growth of the Christian community (cf. 6:7; 9:31; 12:24). Others point to the inner life of the community—its prayer life (1:14), the hallmarks of its fellowship (2:42–47), its community of sharing (4:32–35), and the healing ministry of the apostles (5:12–16). In form these might be described as the antitheses of the episodes. The episodes teach by means of specific incidents. The summaries generalize, giving a broad impression of the main characteristics of the Christian community. The long summaries are the three found in chaps. 2; 4; 5. They thus belong to the first days of Christianity after the burst of the Spirit at Pentecost. They portray a community marked by mutual prayer and devotion, a total sharing of selves and substance, complete trust in one another, a passion for witness, a sense of the Spirit’s power among them, and a unity of commitment and purpose. They portray an ideal Christian community—the “roots” of the fellowship.90 These summaries are some of the most valuable material Luke provided in his story of the early church.

(5) Luke’s Personal Interests

Before leaving the consideration of Luke as a writer, note a few characteristics of his personality reflected in his writing. Obviously Luke was a good storyteller. The account of Peter’s escape from prison (chap. 12) with little Rhoda leaving him at the gate is a masterpiece of suspense and irony. The same can be said of Philip’s conversion of the eunuch (chap. 8), of Eutychus’s fall from the window (chap. 20), and the narrow escape from the storm at sea (chap. 27).

The latter account illustrates another trait of Luke—his eye for detail. In the storm scene every nautical procedure is carefully described, but this very detail only serves to heighten the suspense of the story. Some of Luke’s details can only be attributed to his own personal idiosyncrasies. He must have traveled a great deal because he showed a decided interest in lodging, whether it be Peter with Simon the tanner (9:43) or Paul with Lydia (16:15), Priscilla and Aquila (18:2), Philip (21:8), Mnason (21:16), or Publius (28:7).91

Another Lukan interest seems to have been shared meals. Note how often Jesus is shown at meals in Luke’s Gospel, and the same continues in Acts. The story begins with Jesus eating with the apostles in the upper room (1:4) and continues right on to the end, with Paul sharing a meal with his pagan shipmates in the storm at sea (27:33f.). One of the hallmarks of the early Christians is described as their breaking bread together and doing so with “glad and sincere hearts” (2:46). And Peter’s acceptance of Cornelius is illustrated by his sharing at table with him (11:3). Perhaps this is the key to Luke’s emphasis. He knew that one of the surest marks of one’s acceptance of fellow human beings is the willingness to share with them at table. This indeed was one of the central issues at the conference in Jerusalem (chap. 15)—making it possible for Jewish and Gentile Christians to express their unity in Christ in table fellowship.92

Luke had other interests as well. In general he had a concern for people who are oppressed and downtrodden—people like Samaritans and eunuchs. He likely made it a special point to include Philip’s activity as he selected his material for Acts. He cared about the poor also, and that interest is amply exemplified in his Gospel. It too carries over into Acts. Part of his portrait of the ideal early community is one in which those who have share with those who have not, where “there were no needy persons among them” (4:34). There is a concern for women also in Acts. True, Luke was a child of his day and often spoke in “male” language, but he did not fail to show the prominence of women in the early church—the women in the upper room who participated in Pentecost (1:14); Sapphira, who was on “equal terms” in receiving her judgment; Lydia, Priscilla, and the “noble women” of Macedonia (17:4, 12).93 One of Luke’s main concerns in Acts was to portray a church without human barriers, a community where the gospel is unhindered and truly inclusive.94

  1. Luke the Historian

It has often been argued that Acts is not a reliable historical document.95 This opinion seems to have first flowered with the so-called Tübingen school in the midnineteenth century. Its name derives from the German university where F. C. Baur, the leader of this school of thought, taught. Baur attempted a full-scale historical reconstruction of early Christianity in which he argued that the first Christian century was marked by a sharp conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christian factions. The Jewish Christians rallied around Peter as their leader and were legalists, maintaining that Christians should live in strict accordance with the Jewish law. The other faction considered Paul their leader and advocated his law-free, grace-centered gospel.

Obviously, if Baur’s reconstruction was at all accurate, Acts could not qualify as a document from this period. Throughout Acts, Peter and Paul are shown to be on good terms. In fact, Peter was the staunchest defender of Paul’s law-free Gentile mission at the Jerusalem Conference (15:7–11). In Acts, Paul is depicted as a law-abiding Jew and well received by the Jerusalem church. This simply does not fit Baur’s reconstruction. Baur and his disciples concluded that Acts could not have come from the early Christian period but was rather an eirenicon, a text concerned with resolving differences in the church, and thus a tendentious document coming from the second-century church when the struggle was long over. The second-century church was labeled the “early catholic” church and was seen as being concerned with unity, peace, and conformity of doctrine. Baur maintained that this second-century Christianity produced Acts—to give the impression that the unity and harmony of its own day had existed in the earlier apostolic period. Acts was thus historically invalid as a document for early Christianity.96

The Tübingen hypothesis was eventually discredited. The British scholar J. B. Lightfoot, more than any other, was responsible for this. He demonstrated the late date of the pseudo-Clementine literature, the main documents Baur had used in support of this thesis of the Jewish-Gentile Christian battle in the first century. About the same time another British scholar, Sir Wm. Ramsay, began to rehabilitate the historical credibility of Acts. Ramsay had himself been inclined toward the Tübingen reconstruction of early Christian history and had originally advocated a second-century dating for Acts. However, as a result of his extensive archaeological excavations in Asia Minor, he became increasingly impressed with the accuracy of detail in the Acts account—the names of local officials, place names, and the like. He became convinced that Acts was so accurate in such details that the whole had to be historically trustworthy.97 The more recent work of W. Gasque and C. Hemer has continued to support historical reliability of Luke’s account through careful scholarship.98 Of special note is the judgment from the German scholar M. Hengel that Luke measures up well to the best canons of reliable Hellenistic historiography.99

Luke seems to have seen himself as something of a historian. His use of the prefaces and the speech form link him with Hellenistic historiography. Of all the Gospel writers he is the only one who consciously connected the story of Jesus with world history (cf. 2:1f.; 3:1f.). This interest continues in the Book of Acts. An occasional note connects the story of the church with the Roman emperor and events of the empire (cf. 11:28; 18:2). Lesser rulers have an important role, like Herod Agrippa I, Agrippa II, and Gallio, the procurator of Achaia. At the end of the story line Paul was set in Rome for his appearance before no lesser figure than the emperor himself. Luke surely was not interested in history for its own sake, but he was interested in world events where they intersected the young Christian movement. He was above all interested in showing that Christianity is of worldwide significance, that the events which transpired in Jesus Christ had not been done “in a corner” (26:26). They are worthy of the note of Gentiles, kings, even emperors; for Christ is Savior of all. Surely something of the historian’s interest is in this; but more than that, the Evangelist was concerned to share the Savior of the world with the world.

  1. Luke the Theologian

If Luke can be called a historian, he is equally qualified for the designation of theologian. All good historians are interpreters of the events they treat. Through selection, emphasis, and analysis they seek meaning in the events. Luke was no exception. He viewed early Christian history through the eyes of faith and saw constant traces of the divine providence that guided those events. In this respect he was also a theologian. He wrote from the perspective of faith. This in no way detracts from his stature as a historian. He wrote his history “from within,” from the viewpoint of faith, and was thus both historian and theologian.

Since the release of H. Conzelmann’s book on Lukan theology in the early fifties, extensive scholarly investigation of the Lukan theological perspective has been underway. The following treatment is designed as a bare introduction to that discussion and is divided into two subsections. The first will deal with two special areas that have dominated the discussion. The second will give an overview of some of the theological distinctives of Acts.

(1) “Salvation History” and “Early Catholicism”

In his seminal work Conzelmann suggested that Luke’s main theological emphasis was that of portraying a divine history of salvation. Taking Luke-Acts together, he saw Luke as dividing holy history into three distinct epochs—that of Israel (the old people of God), that of Christ (the center of all history), and that of the church (the new people of God).100 He maintained that Luke wrote in a time when the original eschatological expectation of the imminent return of Christ had waned, when Christians were settling down to a long wait and needed to come to terms with their existence in the world. Appealing to Acts 1:6–8, Conzelmann saw Luke as replacing the original eschatological fervor with the agenda of the mission of the church. The Spirit then became tied to the history of the church. In all of this are the seeds of institutionalism and a fall from the immediacy of the individual experience of justification through grace in the Spirit which marked Paul’s theology. Justification has been replaced by salvation history.

Many of Conzelmann’s conclusions are questionable. First, the idea of the “delayed Parousia” has been greatly overplayed. Acts often evidences that the original eschatological fervor of the Christian community had not waned.101 The mission of the church was itself born out of the conviction that Christians were the people of God of the end time and were to be the “light to the nations” who bore the message of God’s decisive redemptive act in Christ. Second, it is simply not true that the Spirit is tied to the church in Acts. The Spirit is always transcendent in Acts. The true salvation-historical perspective of Luke-Acts is not that of a three-part periodization of earthly history but a two-part scheme where God in his Spirit continues from transcendence to work among his people on the earthly, historical level.102

Finally, Conzelmann set up an unnecessary either/or. The church exists in the world, in history, and it must come to terms with that reality. Yet the church mediates the living, convicting word of God.103 The church only fails when it is no longer open to the living word, to the convicting, judging, leading Spirit of God but instead ties both word and Spirit to its own dogma and institutions. There is no evidence that this was true of the Christians in Acts. The opposite was the case—their assumptions were constantly challenged anew by their openness to the Spirit at work among them.

  1. Käsemann would disagree with that last statement. He sees strong marks of the institutionalized church in Acts. Somewhat reminiscent of the old Tübingen hypothesis, he labels this “early catholicism,” meaning by this the early manifestations of tendencies that eventually developed into the full-blown “Catholic” church with its elaborate hierarchy and dogma. The “catholic” tendencies Käsemann saw as being present in Acts include such things as the formation of hardened dogma; apostolic succession and transmitted authority; a distinction between clergy and laity; an authoritative tradition of scriptural interpretation; sacramentalism; a concern for unity and consolidation; and a historical, institutional perspective.104 Käsemann’s “early Catholic” thesis has generally not been well received by the scholarly community.105 There simply is no evidence for dogmatism, successionism, sacramentalism, traditionalism, and institutionalism in Acts.

(2) Theological Aspects of Acts

To speak of a “theology” in Acts in any systematic sense probably would not be proper. If one assumes that Luke’s speeches reflect their actual settings, one would expect a certain theological diversity. This does seem to be the case—the primitive Christology in Peter’s speeches to Jews, the “natural theology” in Paul’s addresses to pagans, the cultic-reform element in Stephen’s speech.

Two observations with regard to treatments of the theology of Acts are noteworthy. First, it might be well to drop the hyphen in Luke-Acts and concentrate on each of Luke’s two writings separately in dealing with Luke’s theology, as M. Parsons has suggested.106 A common procedure has been to run an analysis of the theological themes in the Gospel of Luke and then search for confirmation of these in Acts. The result has often been a lopsided picture that omits many of the major emphases in Acts. Acts has a different historical setting from Luke and utilizes different literary genres. It should stand on its own. The second observation relates closely to the first: a theology of Acts should derive primarily from its narrative movement. Acts is basically narrative, and its “theology” is to be found primarily there. What are the recurrent themes in the episodes? What motifs dominate in the movement of the story line? This is where the “theology” of Acts really lies. It is a “narrative theology.” As such, it will be primarily considered in section 11 under the themes of Acts.

A few theological distinctives in the more traditional sense, however, have often been observed in Acts and should be considered. The Christology of Acts might best be described as a “messianic Christology.” Most of the Christological statements occur in the speeches to Jews where the emphasis is on convincing them from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Closely tied to this is the emphasis on the resurrection. Throughout Acts the decisive act of Christ is described in terms of his resurrection.107 The resurrection is the event that demonstrates Christ is Messiah. The messianic emphasis likely explains why atonement is not a major emphasis in Acts. By the resurrection God confirmed the messianic status of Jesus. Less emphasis falls on the death of Jesus. The atonement is present to a limited extent in Acts—in Paul’s reference to Christ’s death according to the Scriptures (13:27–29) and in his description of the church as being “purchased through his own blood” (20:28). It is probably implicit in the “servant” terminology of Peter’s sermon in the temple square as well as in the strong stress on repentance found throughout Acts (cf. 2:38; 26:20).108

Luke is often faulted for not including the idea of justification in the Pauline portions of Acts. The idea is not wholly missing (cf. 13:38f.), and it should be noted that the terminology of justification does not occur in all of Paul’s own epistles, including the Corinthian letters. Still, Acts reveals much in common with Paul’s thought with respect to receiving salvation. It is never through works. Peter’s words about the yoke of the law and his insistence on salvation through God’s grace (15:10f.) could hardly be closer to the thought of Paul.109 Luke was no systematic theologian, and nowhere in Acts is a clear soteriology worked out; but throughout there is a simple gospel that salvation comes by no other name than Jesus (cf. 2:38f.; 4:12; 16:31), a salvation brought by the work of God and solely as a gift.110

  1. The Purpose of Acts

In any consideration of an author’s purpose, the logical starting point would be his own statement on the matter. Luke did in fact provide such a statement in the preface to his Gospel. If the preface was intended to introduce both volumes, as is likely the case, then v. 4 provides Luke’s intent.111 The preface is very general: “that you may know the certainty (asphaleian) of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).112 The preceding verses have described how he went about reaching this goal—by closely following the events as they had come down to him through eyewitnesses and servants of the word and by arranging them in an orderly fashion. The emphasis on literary predecessors, eyewitnesses, and careful investigation would indicate a historian’s interest—to present the events in an accurate and well-arranged manner.113 The emphasis on “certainty” (literally “firm foundation”) would point to his “theologian’s” interest—to give a solid grounding in the faith. His reference to “the things you have been taught” would indicate that he was writing to someone who had already received some instruction in the Christian traditions. To give “Theophilus” a solid grounding in the faith by means of an orderly account was Luke’s stated purpose.114 Can we know more?

Some have seen a clue to a more specific purpose in Luke’s “addressee,” Theophilus. The name is a well-established Greek name. Since its etymology yields “lover of God,” it has often been concluded that Luke intended the name symbolically, perhaps referring to those “God-fearers” who were associated with the synagogues, Gentiles who shared with the Jews their faith in God but who had not undergone full proselyte procedure and converted to Judaism.115 E. Goodspeed suggested that Theophilus may have been Luke’s publisher and that the inclusion of his name would indicate that Luke intended his work for the secular book market.116 B. H. Streeter postulated that Theophilus must have been an influential Roman official since the title “most excellent” is reserved elsewhere in Acts for high-ranking officials. He suggested that Theophilus may have been Flavius Clemens, the cousin of the emperor Domitian, who may have been a secret Christian.117 Recently Agrippa II has been suggested.118 Perhaps the most popular “Theophilus Theory” has been that he was Paul’s legal counsel in Rome, and Luke-Acts was written as a brief for the preparation of his case.119

Of all these theories, the God-fearer suggestion has the most to commend it. Luke’s reference to the things Theophilus had been taught as well as the specifically Christian detail of Luke and Acts was surely intended for those who had significant acquaintance with Christianity and were either strongly inclined toward it or were already (as seems most likely) Christian. It is difficult to conceive of a Roman official or Gentile pagan sorting through all of Luke-Acts for the material of interest.

Some have argued that Luke-Acts was written to counter a particular false teaching. Most often suggested has been Gnosticism.120 Any evidence for Luke fighting Gnosticism in his books is indirect at best. In Acts the threat to the church is not from within the fellowship but always from without.121 The same can be said for Marcion. The emphasis on Christianity’s roots in Judaism can be better explained on other grounds than as a polemic against Marcionism.122 We are thus finally left with Luke’s general statement of purpose. Does Acts offer any more specific indication of Luke’s purpose through its recurring themes? The evidence points to an affirmative answer and to a multiplicity of “purposes.”

  1. The Themes of Acts

In speaking of an author’s “purpose,” two problems arise. One is that this assumes we can pick the author’s brain. I am not sure that we can. We only know him through his works and can ultimately only speak of the emphases that seem to stand out in his writings. The second problem is that attempts to delineate a single purpose of a writing tend to become overly focused and to omit other significant motifs. It seems better to speak of themes and to acknowledge a multiplicity of them in Acts. None of them is distinct. They all interweave and overlap with one another to furnish together the rich tapestry that is the story of Acts.

1 The phrase “judge of the living and the dead” is found in Pol. Phil. 2:1 and Barn. 7:2 (cf. Acts 10:42). Ign. Smyrn. 3:3 refers to Jesus’ “eating and drinking” with the apostles after his resurrection (cf. Acts 10:41). Diog. 3:34 (ca. a.d. 150) uses language similar to Acts 17:24f., and the term παῖς is applied to Jesus in Did. 9:2 and 10:2 (cf. Acts 3:13, 26).

2 For a full treatment of the early tradition with quotes in the original language, see F. J. Foakes-Jackson and K. Lake, eds., The Beginnings of Christianity, vol. 2, Prolegomena and Criticism (London: Macmillan, 1922), 209–64.

3 F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text, 3rd ed. rev. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 1. If the anti-Marcionite Prologue to Luke is dated later than the second century, Clement of Alexandria would be the earliest witness to the Greek title πράξεις ἀποστόλων.

4 A. C. Clark argued for separate authors in his commentary, The Acts of the Apostles (Oxford: Clarendon, 1933), 393–408. Clark argued that Acts uses different words (synonyms) for the same concepts when compared with Luke. His view was revived in more recent years by A. W. Argyle, “The Greek of Luke and Acts,” NTS 20 (1973–74): 441–45. See the rebuttal of this argument by B. E. Beck, “The Common Authorship of Luke and Acts,” NTS 23 (1976–77): 346–52.

5 See the comparative word statistics in J. C. Hawkins, Horae Synopticae, 2nd ed. rev. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968), 174–89. See also E. J. Goodspeed, “The Vocabulary of Luke and Acts,” JBL 31 (1912): 92–94.

6 This is scarcely “additional information” since Colossians and Philemon were most likely both written and delivered at the same time.

7 It can be argued that Irenaeus arrived at the name Luke by a process of elimination. Assuming from the “we” narrative that Acts was written by a Pauline associate, one could go through Paul’s epistles and note all who are mentioned as companions of the apostle. Assuming that the author of Acts is a Gentile because of his elevated Greek style, all Jewish associates can be eliminated as well as all those who are mentioned in Acts, who would be distinct from the authorial “I.” Others like Crescens and Demas can be eliminated as no longer present with Paul in his imprisonment (2 Tim 4:10). Finally, only Luke remains. For this argument see R. Pesch, “Die Zuschreibung der Evangelien an apostolische Verfasser,” ZTK 97 (1975): 56–71. The only response to this kind of argument is that Irenaeus must have done his job well. No one has ever come up with a more suitable candidate in the debate over authorship.

8 W. K. Hobart, The Medical Language of St. Luke (London: Longmans Green, 1882).

9 A. Harnack, Luke the Physician, trans. J. R. Wilkinson (New York: Putnam’s, 1907).

10 A. T. Robertson, Luke the Historian in the Light of Research (New York: Scribner’s, 1920).

11 H. J. Cadbury, Style and Literary Method of Luke, Part 1 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920). See his more tongue-in-cheek article “Lexical Notes on Luke-Acts: v. Luke and the Horse-Doctors,” JBL 52 (1933): 55–56. A recent attempt to revive the medical theory on other than linguistic grounds has not met with much success: W. G. Marx, “Luke, the Physician, Reexamined,” ExpTim 91:6 (1980), 168–72.

12 For a full development of these arguments, see E. Haenchen, The Acts of the Apostles: A Commentary, trans. B. Noble and G. Shinn (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971), 114–16. Particularly influential has been the article by P. Vielhauer, “On the ‘Paulinism’ of Acts,” Studies in Luke-Acts, ed. L. Keck and J. Martyn (Nashville: Abingdon, 1966), 33–50.

13 See H. Windisch, “The Case Against the Tradition,” Beginnings 2:298–348.

14 At base the discussion on authorship is closely tied to the question of the historical reliability of Acts. On this see section 8. For a positive comparison between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the epistles, see F. F. Bruce, “Is the Paul of Acts the Real Paul?” BJRL 58 (1975–76): 282–305.

15 For the problems with the Western text of Acts, see section 6. Lucius is a Latin name; Luke (Loukanos) is Greek, but there is some inscriptional evidence that the forms were interchangeable. See H. J. Cadbury, “Lucius of Cyrene,” Beginnings 5: Additional Notes, 489–96.

16 Cited in Robertson, Luke the Historian, 16–29.

17 F. Blass represents the earliest dating (a.d. 57–59) and H. Koester the latest (a.d. 135) in a list of sixty-nine scholars and their dating for Acts provided by C. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1989), 367–70. The name of J. T. Townsend should be added to Hemer’s list as the latest extreme—a.d. 150: “The Date of Luke-Acts,” Luke-Acts: New Perspectives from the SBL Seminar, ed. C. Talbert (New York: Crossroad, 1984), 47–62.

18 A. Harnack, who had originally dated Acts in the 80s, later changed to the early dating (a.d. 62) on the basis that it alone provided a satisfactory explanation of the ending of Acts: The Date of Acts and of the Synoptic Gospels, trans. J. R. Wilkinson (New York: Putnam’s, 1911), 90–135.

19 See the arguments for the early date in J. Munck, The Acts of the Apostles, rev. W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, AB (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967), xlvi-liv. Hemer (Acts in Hellenistic History, 365–410) suggests a date before a.d. 65 but possibly after Paul’s release, seeing Luke as exercising discretion about Paul’s whereabouts because of his enemies. For the argument that Luke would not have failed to give the outcome of Paul’s trial, whether favorable or unfavorable, see A. J. Mattill, Jr., “The Date and Purpose of Luke-Acts: Rackham Reconsidered,” CBQ 40 (1978): 335–50.

20 See commentary on Acts 28:30f. A less likely solution postulates that Luke proposed to write a third volume to deal with Paul’s subsequent experiences. See W. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), 27f.; J. de Zwaan, “Was the Book of Acts a Posthumous Edition?” HTR 17 (1924): 106–10; W. L. Knox, The Acts of the Apostles (Cambridge: University Press, 1948), 59.

21 A few scholars, noting the problems with the early date in relationship to the Gospel of Luke, have circumvented these by arguing that Acts was written before the Gospel of Luke. As an example, see H. G. Russell, “Which was Written First, Luke or Acts?” HTR 48 (1955): 167–74. A variation of this view argues that Luke wrote an early form of his Gospel (called “Proto-Luke”) in a.d. 60–62 before Mark wrote his Gospel, then Acts after the two years of Paul’s house arrest (early date, ca. a.d. 62), then the final form of his Gospel after he obtained a copy of Mark and incorporated it (a.d. 65–70). As will be seen, this solves the problems for the early date of Acts in relation to Luke’s use of Mark but only at the expense of postulating the purely hypothetical “Proto-Luke.” See P. Parker, “The ‘Former Treatise’ and the Date of Acts,” JBL 84 (1965): 52–58.

22 Many have argued that the references to the destruction of Jerusalem in the Gospels are all vaticinia ex eventu, given “after the fact.” C. H. Dodd has shown that all the predictions are drawn from allusions in the OT prophetic literature, need not be seen as recollections of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, and thus can be viewed as authentic predictions of Jesus: “The Fall of Jerusalem and the ‘Abomination of Desolation,’” JRS 37 (1947): 47–54.

23 F. F. Bruce, who in his earlier commentaries had argued for the early date, in his later commentary changed to a “middle-date” position (ca. a.d. 80), largely on the basis of the Jerusalem oracles and the relationship to Mark: Acts: Greek Text, 12–20.

24 A. T. Robertson argues strongly for Luke’s use of Mark: Luke the Historian, 37–39. He opts for the early date of Luke and Acts and consequently dates Mark early—ca. a.d. 61–63.

25 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 8.1.1. Irenaeus refers to Peter’s “departure,” which is most likely a euphemism for his death.

26 As an example, see D. J. Williams, Acts, GNC (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 26. He dates Acts in the mid-70s. Interestingly, W. Ramsay, who argued strongly for traditional authorship, dated Acts in the 80s (Paul the Traveller, 386–89).

27 D. W. Riddle, “The Occasion of Luke-Acts,” JR 10 (1930): 545–62.

28 J. C. O’Neill, The Theology of Acts in Its Historical Setting (London: SPCK, 1970).

29 J. Knox, “Acts and the Pauline Letter Corpus,” Studies in Luke-Acts, 279–87. J. T. Townsend (see n. 17) dates Acts at a.d. 150 because of certain affinities he sees with the pseudo-Clementine writings.

30 M. Wilcox notes the many similarities in confessional language between Acts and the writings of Ignatius of Antioch and suggests that this might be a further indication of Luke’s Antiochene origin: The Semitisms of Acts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), 183.

31 J. Jervell, “Paulus in der Apostelgeschichte und die Geschichte des Urchristentums,” NTS 32 (1986): 378–92.

32 Beginnings 2:199–204. H. Conzelmann concurs: “Luke’s Place in the Development of Early Christianity,” Studies in Luke-Acts, 298–316. For a Roman provenance, see also J. Roloff, “Die Paulus-Darstellung des Lukas,” EvT 39 (1979): 510–31.

33 P. F. Esler, Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts (Cambridge: University Press, 1987), 30–45.

34 For instance, W. Bousset argued that the manner in which the title κύριος appears in the text can be used as a criterion for delineating sources, “Der Gebrauch des Kyriostitels als Kriterium für die Quellenscheidung in der ersten Halfte der Apostelgeschichte,” ZNW 15 (1914), 141–62.

35 For his source theory, see A. Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles, trans. J. R. Wilkinson (London: Williams & Norgate, 1909), 162–202.

36 Jeremias pointed out that the two appearances follow the proper legal procedure—the first constituting a warning and establishing culpability, the second involving the apostles’ transgression of the interdiction established in the first hearing: “Untersuchungen zum Quellenproblem der Apostelgeschichte,” ZNW 36 (1937): 205–13.

37 For an attempt to verify Harnack’s Jerusalem A and B sources through computer analysis, see A. Q. Morton and G. H. C. MacGregor, The Structure of Luke and Acts (New York: Harper & Row, 1964). The fallacy of the procedure is that the differentiation the computer found was programmed into it from the start.

38 Jeremias, “Untersuchungen zum Quellenproblem,” 213–21.

39 J. Dupont, The Sources of Acts, trans. K. Pond (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1964), 62–72.

40 R. Bultmann, “Zur Frage nach den Quellen der Apostelgeschichte,” Exegetica (Tübingen: Mohr, 1967), 412–23.

41 Greek historiographers rarely cited their sources and seldom quoted them directly. See H. J. Cadbury, The Making of Luke-Acts (New York: Macmillan, 1927), 155–68.

42 This is the final judgment of Dupont after his thorough investigation of source criticism in Acts: The Sources of Acts, 166–68.

43 C. C. Torrey, The Composition and Date of Acts (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1916). See also his defense against his critics in “Fact and Fancy in Theories Concerning Acts,” AJT 23 (1919): 61–86, 189–212.

44 H. J. Cadbury, “Luke-Translator or Author,” AJT 24 (1920): 436–55.

45 H. F. D. Sparks, “The Semitisms of Acts,” JTS, n.s. 1 (1950): 16–28; P. F. Payne, “Semitisms in the Book of Acts,” Apostolic History and the Gospels, ed. W. Gasque and R. Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970).

46 F. L. Horton, Jr., “Reflections on the Semitisms of Luke-Acts,” Perspectives on Luke-Acts, ed. C. Talbert (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1978), 1–23.

47 Wilcox, Semitisms of Acts, 180–85.

48 An exception is an attempt to bolster Torrey’s thesis by arguing for Aramaic influence on the syntax of Acts 1–15 and Luke 1–2 by R. A. Martin: “Syntactical Evidence of Aramaic Sources in Acts I-XV,” NTS 10 (1964–65): 38–59.

49 On the “Tübingen school,” see section 8 on Luke as historian.

50 For instance, the influential German commentator on Acts, H. H. Wendt, not only embraced the idea of a “we source” but even argued for extending it beyond chaps. 16–28 to include the Stephen material (6:1–8:4), the Antioch narrative of 11:19–28, and the first missionary journey (13–14) (“Die Hauptquelle der Apostelgeschichte,” ZNW 24 [1925]: 293–305).

51 Harnack, Luke the Physician, 26–120.

52 H. J. Cadbury, “‘We’ and ‘I’ Passages in Luke-Acts,” NTS 3 (1956–57): 128–33.

53 First suggested by F. Schleiermacher and recently advocated by S. Dockx, “Luc, a-t-il été le compagnon d’apostolat de Paul?” NRT 103 (1981), 385–400.

54 Suggested by E. A. Schwanbeck as cited in Dupont, Sources, 79.

55 James A. Blaisdell, “The Authorship of the ‘We’ Sections of the Book of Acts,” HTR 13 (1920): 136–58.

56 M. Dibelius, “The Acts of the Apostles in the Setting of the History of Early Christian Literature,” Studies in the Acts of the Apostles, trans. M. Ling (London: SCM, 1956), 192–205.

57 E. Plumacher, “Wirklichkeitserfahrung und Geschichtsschreibung bei Lukas: Erwäg-ungen zu den Wir-Stücken der Apostelgeschiche,” ZNW 68 (1977): 2–22. A similar viewpoint is taken by G. Schille, “Die Fragwürdigkeit eines Itinerars der Paulusreisen,” TLZ 84 (1959): 165–74.

58 V. K. Robbins, “The We-Passages in Acts and Ancient Sea Voyages,” BR 20 (1975): 5–18; idem., “By Land and by Sea: The We-Passages and Ancient Sea Voyages,” Perspectives in Luke-Acts, 215–42.

59 See the critiques offered by C. J. Hemer, “First Person Narrative in Acts 27–28,” TB 36 (1985): 79–109, and S. M. Praeder, “The Problem of First Person Narration in Acts,” NovT 29 (1987): 193–218.

60 Dibelius suggested that Luke had access to such isolated bits of local tradition, Studies in Acts, 102–08. Haenchen (Acts, 32f.), though considerably skeptical about their historical reliability, acknowledges the same.

61 Hemer (Acts in Hellenistic History, 335–64) suggests that Luke may have gathered most of his material for the early chapters of Acts by visiting the churches of Judea during the two years of Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment. Even if one assumes a more skeptical stance toward Luke’s involvement in the events, W. Gasque points to the evidence from Paul’s epistles that information was exchanged among the early Christian churches to a greater extent than is sometimes assumed (“Did Luke Have Access to Traditions about the Apostles and the Early Churches?” JETS 17 [1974]: 45–48).

62 This is the judgment of most scholars, including C. K. Barrett, “Acts and the Pauline Corpus,” ExpTim 78 (1976–77): 2–5. A few scholars, however, vigorously argue that Acts shows some dependence on the Pauline Epistles. See M. S. Enslin, “Luke and Paul,” JAOS 58 (1938): 81–91; W. O. Walker, Jr., “Acts and the Pauline Corpus Reconsidered,” JSNT 24 (1985): 3–23.

63 The most ready access to the Western text of Acts is the third volume of The Beginnings of Christianity, which is entirely devoted to the text of Acts and contains the entire Greek and Latin texts of Bezae as well as other Western witnesses, such as the marginalia of the Harclean Syriac (The Text of Acts [London: Macmillan, 1926]).

64 E. J. Epp, “The ‘Ignorance Motif’ in Acts and Antijudaic Tendencies in Codex Bezae,” HTR 55 (1962): 51–62.

65 B. Witherington, “The Anti-Feminist Tendencies of the ‘Western’ Text in Acts,” JBL 103 (1984): 82–84.

66 A minority of scholars have argued for the originality of the Western text. A. Clark argued that it was the original text on the dubious principle that the longer text should be preferred. F. Blass argued that both the Alexandrian and Western texts were by Luke and that the Western text represents his original draft with the Alexandrian being a later refined edition: “Die Textüberlieferung in der Apostelgeschichte,” TSK 67 (1894): 86–119. Blass’s theory has been recently revived in a more complicated theory involving four stages of revision on Luke’s part: M. E. Boismard, “Le Texte Occidental des Actes des Apôtres (à Propos de Actes 27, 1–13),” ETL 63 (1987): 48–58.

67 For advocates of the “eclectic” method, see A. F. J. Klijn, “In Search of the Original Text of Acts,” Studies in Luke-Acts, 103–10; G. D. Kilpatrick, “Western Text and Original Text in the Gospels and Acts,” JTS 44 (1943): 24–36; K. and S. Lake, “The Acts of the Apostles,” JBL 53 (1934): 34–45.

68 H. Conzelmann, The Theology of St. Luke, trans. G. Buswell (New York: Harper & Row, 1960).

69 C. Talbert suggests that Luke patterned both his Gospel and Acts on the biographical “succession narrative” type in which the biography of the founder of a philosophical school is followed by short biographies of the founder’s successors: Acts, KPG (Atlanta: John Knox, 1984), 1–3. D. Barr and J. Wentling suggest that Luke-Acts is not so much a succession narrative (these are usually much briefer in the Greek writings than in Acts) but rather a “serial biography”: “The Conventions of Classical Biography and the Genre of Luke-Acts,” New Perspectives, 63–88.

70 Cadbury, Making Luke-Acts, 133f.; E. Plumacher, “Die Apostelgeschichte als historische Monographie,” Les Actes des Apôtres, ed. J. Kremer (Gembloux: Duculot, 1979), 457–66.

71 G. Krodel, Acts, PC (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981), 2. For a similar view see R. Maddox, The Purpose of Luke-Acts (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1982), 16.

72 J. de Zwaan, “The Use of the Greek Language in Acts,” Beginnings 2:65.

73 Cadbury, The Style and Literary Method of Luke, 2–4. See also Cadbury’s “Four Features of Lucan Style” in Studies in Luke-Acts, 87–102. For Luke’s Atticisms, see G. D. Kilpatrick, “The Historic Present in the Gospels and Acts,” ZNW 68 (1977): 285–362.

74 N. Turner, “The Quality of the Greek of Luke-Acts,” Studies in New Testament Language and Text (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 387–400. See also Turner’s treatment in vol. 4 of J. H. Moulton’s Grammar of New Testament Greek (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1976), 45–63.

75 W. G. Kümmel, Introduction to the New Testament, 17th ed. rev., trans. H. C. Kee (Nashville: Abingdon, 1975), 167.

76 J. Dupont, “Les discours de Pierre,” Nouvelles Etudes sur les Actes des Apôtres (Paris: Cerf, 1984), 58. See also “Le discourse ô l’Aréopage,” Nouvelles Etudes, 382–84.

77 A. Schlatter, Die Apostelgeschichte (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1948), 11.

78 W. W. Gasque, “The Speeches of Acts: Dibelius Reconsidered,” New Dimensions in New Testament Study, ed. R. Longenecker and M. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 244–46; C. J. Hemer, “Luke the Historian,” BJRL 60 (1977–78): 29–34.

79 History of the Peloponnesian War (1.22.1), as cited in Bruce, Acts: Greek Text, 34. Thucydides’s statement τῆς ξυμπάσης γνώμης τῶν ἀληθῶς λεχθέντων is open to interpretation. Dibelius, for instance, argued that Thucydides only referred to the “appropriateness” of the speech to the occasion, not to the facticity of its content: “The Speeches in Acts and Ancient Historiography,” Studies in the Acts of the Apostles, 138–85. For a balanced treatment of the various viewpoints on Thucydides’s statement among scholars of the classics, see S. E. Porter, “Thucydides 1.22.1 and Speeches in Acts: Is There a Thucydidean View?” NovT 32 (1990): 121–42.

80 F. F. Bruce, “The Speeches in Acts—Thirty Years After,” Reconciliation and Hope, ed. R. Banks (Exeter: Paternoster, 1974), 53–68.

81 Luke often pointed to a speech being interrupted (cf. 2:40; 4:1–7; 7:54f.; 10:44–46). This is perhaps a device for indicating that the speech is a summary. See G. H. R. Horsley, “Speeches and Dialogue in Acts,” NTS 32 (1986): 609–14.

82 See E. Richard, Acts 6:1–8:4—The Author’s Method of Composition (Ann Arbor: Edwards, 1978).

83 E. Schweizer, “Concerning the Speeches in Acts,” Studies in Luke-Acts, 208–16.

84 J. T. Townsend, “The Speeches in Acts,” ATR 42 (1960): 150–59.

85 A number of scholars maintain that the speeches in Acts reflect the preaching of the later Gentile church. Among them are U. Wilckens, Die Missionsreden der Apostelgeschichte (1963); and C. F. Evans, “The Kerygma,” JTS, n.s. 7 (1956): 25–41. F. G. Downing argues that they reflect Christianity’s appeal to pagan ethical monotheism: “Ethical Pagan Theism and the Speeches in Acts,” NTS 27 (1981) 544–63.

86 C. H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936).

87 See W. F. Lane, “The Speeches of the Book of Acts,” Jerusalem and Athens (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), 260–72; J. Schmitt, “Les discours missionaires des Actes et l’histoire des traditions prépauliniennes,” RSR 69 (1981): 165–80; E. E. Ellis, “Midrashic Features in the Speeches of Acts,” Mélanges Bibliques, ed. A. Descamps and A. de Halleux (Gembloux: Duculot, 1970), 303–12.

88 M. Simon, St. Stephen and the Hellenists in the Primitive Church (London: Longmans Green, 1958). Cadbury likewise sees a case for tradition standing behind Stephen’s speech, the Areopagus speech, and the Miletus address (Making Luke-Acts, 184–90).

89 R. Pervo has recently drawn attention to this element in Acts and linked it with the popular Hellenistic romance. I would not agree with this classification of the genre of Acts or with Pervo’s skepticism about the historical base of the Acts episodes, but he has rightly drawn attention to the impact that such an episodic style has in conveying a message: Profit with Delight (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987).

90 H. Zimmermann, “Die Sammelberichte der Apostelgeschichte,” BZ 5 (1961): 71–82.

91 H. J. Cadbury, “Luke’s Interest in Lodging,” JBL 45 (1926): 305–22.

92 Cadbury, Making Luke-Acts, 234–51.

93 R. Beck, “The Women of Acts: Foremothers of the Christian Church,” With Steadfast Purpose, ed. N. Keathley (Waco: Baylor University, 1990), 279–307.

94 F. Stagg, The Book of Acts: The Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel (Nashville: Broadman, 1955).

95 For a contemporary advocate of the historical unreliability of Acts, see E. Haenchen, “The Book of Acts as Source Material for the History of Early Christianity,” Studies in Luke-Acts, 258–78.

96 For full treatments of the Tübingen hypothesis, see S. Neill, The Interpretation of the New Testament, 1861–1961 (New York: Oxford, 1966), 19–60; W. G. Kümmel, The New Testament: The History of the Investigation of Its Problems, trans. S. M. Gilmour and H. C. Kee (Nashville: Abingdon, 1970), 120–84.

97 Ramsay, Traveller and Roman Citizen, 7–10. See also Ramsay’s The Cities of St. Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979); W. W. Gasque, “The Historical Value of the Book of Acts,” TZ 28 (1972): 177–96.

98 W. W. Gasque, A History of the Criticism of the Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); Hemer, Acts in Hellenistic History.

99 M. Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity, trans. J. Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979).

100 Conzelmann, Theology, 16, 150.

101 R. Hiers, “The Problem of the Delay of the Parousia in Luke-Acts,” NTS 20 (1973–77): 145–55; A. J. Mattill, Jr., “Näherwartung, Fernerwartung and the Purpose of Luke-Acts: Weymouth Reconsidered,” CBQ 34 (1972): 276–93.

102 H. Flender, St. Luke: Theologian of Redemptive History, trans. R. H. and I. Fuller (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967). See also R. H. Smith, “The Theology of Acts,” CTM 42 (1971): 527–35.

103 E. Lohse, “Lukas als Theologue der Heilsgeschichte,” EvT 14 (1954): 256–75.

104 E. Käsemann, New Testament Questions for Today, trans. W. J. Montague (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969), 214, 236–51; Käsemann, “Ephesians and Acts,” Studies in Luke-Acts, 288–97.

105 Conzelmann, “Luke’s Place in Early Christianity,” 298–316; I. H. Marshall, “‘Early Catholicism’ in the New Testament,” New Dimensions, 217–31; U. Luz, “Erwägungen zur Entstehung des ‘Fruhkatholizismus.’ Eine Skizze,” ZNW 65 (1974): 88–111; L. Morris, “Luke and Early Catholicism,” WJT 35 (1972–73): 121–36; K. Giles, “Is Luke an Exponent of ‘Early Protestantism’? Church Order in the Lukan Writings,” EvQ 54 (1982): 193–205 and 55 (1983), 3–20; J. H. Elliott, “A Catholic Gospel: Reflections on ‘Early Catholicism’ in the New Testament,” CBQ 31 (1969): 213–23.

106 M. C. Parsons, “The Unity of the Lukan Writings: Rethinking the Opinio Communis,” With Steadfast Purpose, 29–53.

107 I. H. Marshall, “The Resurrection in the Acts of the Apostles,” Apostolic History and the Gospel, 92–107.

108 I. H. Marshall, Luke: Historian and Theologian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 188–202. R. Tannehill sees atonement as being implicit in the servant emphasis of the eucharistic account in Luke’s Gospel: “A Study in the Theology of Luke-Acts,” ATR 43 (1961): 195–203.

109 On the complex issue of the law in Acts, see E. Larsson, “Paul: Law and Salvation,” NTS 31 (1985): 425–36.

110 The concept of “grace” in Acts is connected more with Christian witness than with salvation. It is a gift of divine power granted to the faithful (cf. 4:33; 6:8; 7:10; 14:3, 26; 15:40). See J. Nolland, “Luke’s Use of Charis,” NTS 32 (1986): 614–20.

111 For a general introduction to the issues involved in relating the prefaces to the general purpose of Luke-Acts, see S. Brown, “The Role of the Prologues in Determining the Purpose of Luke-Acts,” Perspectives on Luke-Acts, 99–111.

112 D. J. Sneen suggests that ἀσφάλεια should be taken in a Christological sense—to know the firm basis in Christ: “An Exegesis of Luke 1:1–4 with Special Regard to Luke’s Purpose as an Historian,” ExpTim 83 (1971–72): 40–43.

113 L. C. A. Alexander’s research indicates that the references to “eyewitnesses” (αὐτόπται) and accuracy link Luke’s prologue more to Greek scientific manuals than to historiography: “Luke’s Preface in the Context of Greek Preface-Writing,” NovT 28 (1986): 48–74. For καθέξης, see G. Schneider, “Der Zweck des lukanischen Doppelwerks, BZ 21 (1977): 45–66.

114 I. I. du Plessis, “Once More: The Purpose of Luke’s Prologue (Luke 1:1–4),” NovT 16 (1974): 259–71.

115 On the basis of a reader-response methodology, R. Creech has recently concluded that Theophilus represents a God-fearer who is open to Christianity: “The Most Excellent Narratee: The Significance of Theophilus in Luke-Acts,” With Steadfast Purpose, 107–26.

116 E. J. Goodspeed, “Was Theophilus Luke’s Publisher?” JBL 73 (1954): 84.

117 B. H. Streeter, The Four Gospels: A Study of Origins (London: Macmillan, 1924), 535.

118 W. G. Marx, “A New Theophilus,” EvQ 52 (1980): 17–26.

119 Munck, Acts, 55–56.

120 C. H. Talbert, Luke and the Gnostics: An Examination of the Lucan Purpose (Nashville: Abingdon, 1966).

121 J. Knox, Marcion and the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942).

122 W. C. van Unnik, “Die Apostelgeschichte und die Hëresien,” Sparsa Collecta I (Leiden: Brill, 1973), 402–09.

Polhill, J. B. (2001, c1992). Vol. 26: Acts (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (19). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

How to know GOD´s will- by Uwe Rosenkranz

No. 4

Reformation Trust

Can I Know God’s Will?

© 1984, 1999, 2009 by R. C. Sproul

Previously published as God’s Will and the Christian (1984) and as part of Following Christ (1991) by Tyndale House Publishers, and as Can I Know God’s Will? by Ligonier Ministries (1999).

Published by Reformation Trust
a division of Ligonier Ministries
400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher, Reformation Trust. The only exception is brief quotations in published reviews.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 (2nd edition, 1971) by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939–
[God’s will and the Christian]
Can I know God’s will? / R. C. Sproul.
p. cm.–(The crucial questions series)
First published as: God’s will and the Christian. 1984. Following Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, c1991. Can I know God’s Will? Ligonier Ministries, 1999.
ISBN 978-1-56769-179-5
1. Providence and government of God–Christianity. 2. God (Christianity)–Will. I. Sproul, R. C. (Robert Charles), 1939– Following Christ. II. Title.
BT135.S745 2009





Chapter One

Lost in Wonderland, Alice came to a fork in the road. Icy panic stung her as she stood frozen by indecision. She lifted her eyes toward heaven, looking for guidance. Her eyes did not find God, only the Cheshire cat leering at her from his perch in the tree above.

“Which way should I go?” Alice blurted.
“That depends,” said the cat, fixing a sardonic smile on the confused girl.
“On what?” Alice managed to reply.
“It depends on your destination. Where are you going?” the cat asked.
“I don’t know,” Alice stammered.
“Then,” said the cat, his grin spreading wider, “it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

The destination matters to the Christian. We are a pilgrim people. Though we do not wander in a wilderness in route to the Promised Land, we seek a better country, an eternal city whose builder and maker is God. Someday He will take us home to His kingdom.
So the ultimate destination is clear. We are certain that there is a glorious future for the people of God. However, what of tomorrow? We feel anxious about the immediate future, just as unbelievers do. The specifics of our personal futures are unknown to us. Like children we ask: “Will I be happy? Will I be rich? What will happen to me?” We must walk by faith rather than by sight.
As long as there have been people, there have been soothsayers and wizards exploiting our anxieties. If prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, surely fortune-telling is the second oldest. “Tell me of tomorrow” is the plea of the stock market speculator, the competitive businessman, the sports forecaster, and the young couple in love. The student asks, “Will I graduate?” The manager muses, “Will I be promoted?” The person in the doctor’s waiting room clenches his hands and asks, “Is it cancer or indigestion?” People have examined lizard entrails, snakeskins, the bones of owls, the Ouija board, the daily horoscope, and the predictions of sports handicappers—all to gain a small margin of insurance against an unknown future.
The Christian feels the same curiosity, but frames the question differently. He asks: “What is the will of God for my life?” To search for the will of God can be an exercise in piety or impiety, an act of humble submission or outrageous arrogance—depending on what will of God we seek. To try to look behind the veil at what God has not been pleased to reveal is to tamper with holy things that are out of bounds. John Calvin said that when God “closes his holy mouth,” we should desist from inquiry (Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen [reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House. 2003], 354).
On the other hand, God delights to hear the prayers of His people when they individually ask, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” The Christian pursues God, looking for His marching orders, seeking to know what course of action is pleasing to Him. This search for the will of God is a holy quest—a pursuit that is to be undertaken with vigor by the godly person.
The Biblical Meaning of the Will of God

We yearn for simple answers to difficult questions. We want clarity. We desire to cut through the entanglements to the heart of the question. Sometimes the answers are simple enough in themselves, but the process of finding them is laborious and confusing. Sometimes the answers are simplistic, giving us temporary relief from the pressures and the burdens of confusing questions.
However, there is a profound difference between the simple answer and the simplistic answer. The simple answer is correct; it accounts for all the data found in the complex problem. It is clear and can be easily grasped in its fullness. It abides, being able to stand the test of rigorous questioning. The simplistic answer is a counterfeit. On the surface it appears to be the genuine article, but under closer scrutiny it yields its bogus flaws. The simplistic answer may account for some of the data but not all of it. It remains fuzzy. Worst of all, it does not abide; it fails the test of deeper questioning. It does not satisfy in the long haul.
One of the most excruciating questions in theology is, “Why did Adam fall?” The simplistic answer, commonly heard, is that Adam fell by his own free will. Such an answer is satisfying until we probe the question more deeply. Suppose we ask: “How could a righteous creature made by a perfect Creator sin? How could Adam make an evil choice while possessing no prior inclination or disposition to evil? Was he simply deceived or coerced by Satan? If so, why would Adam then be blameworthy?” If he was merely deceived, then the fault is all Satan’s. If he was coerced, then it was not a free choice. If he sinned because he had a prior desire or inclination to sin, then we must ask: “What was the source of his evil desire? Did God put it there?” If so, then we cast a shadow on the integrity of the Creator.
Perhaps the simplest way to expose the weak character of the simplistic answer that Adam fell by his own free will is to ask our question another way: “Why did Adam exercise his own free will to sin?” It simply won’t do to answer, “Because he chose to.” This answer is a mere repetition of the question in a declarative form.
I would like to offer a simple answer to the difficult question of Adam’s fall, but I simply can’t. The only response I can give to the question is that I don’t know the answer.
Some readers will surely chasten me at this point by saying to themselves: “I know the answer! Adam fell because it was the will of God.”
I immediately ask: “In what sense was Adam’s fall the will of God? Did God force Adam to fall and then punish him for doing what he had no power to avoid?” To ask such an impious question is to answer it. Certainly the fall must have been the “will of God” in some sense, but the crucial question remains, “In what sense?”
So here we are, pressed squarely against a biting question that involves the matter of the will of God. We want to know how the will of God worked in Adam’s life; but more personally, we want to know how the will of God works in our own lives.
When questions are difficult and complex, it is a good rule to collect as much data about them as possible. The more clues the detective has to work with, the easier it usually is to solve the crime (note the word usually). Sometimes the detective suffers from too many clues, which only serve to compound the difficulty of the solution. The corporate executive faced with major decision-making responsibilities knows the importance of sufficient data- and record-keeping. His maxim may be: “If you have enough data, the decisions jump out at you.” Again we must add the qualifier usually. Sometimes the data are so complex that they jump out like screaming banshees, defying our ability to sort through them all.
I emphasize the point of data, complexity, and simplicity because the biblical meaning of the will of God is a very complicated matter. To approach it simplistically is to invite disaster. At times, wrestling with the complexities of the biblical concept of the will of God can give us an Excedrin headache. Yet ours is a holy quest, a pursuit that is worth a few headaches along the way. But we must guard against proceeding in a simplistic way, lest we change the holy quest into an unholy presumption.
We note at the outset that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in more than one way. This is the key problem that complicates our quest and serves as a warning against simplistic solutions. In the New Testament, there are two Greek words that can be and have been translated by the English word will. It would seem that all we need is to identify precisely the meanings of the two words and check out the Greek text every time we see the word will, and our problems will be solved. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. The plot thickens when we discover that each of the two Greek words has several nuances of meaning. Simply checking the Greek text for word usage is not enough to solve our difficulty.
However, finding the meanings of the Greek words is a helpful starting place. Let’s examine the two words briefly to see whether they shed any light on our quest. The words are boule and thelema.
The term boule has its roots in an ancient verb that means a “rational and conscious desire,” as opposed to thelema, meaning “an impulsive or unconscious desire.” The ancient subtle distinction was between rational desire and impulsive desire. As the Greek language developed, however, this distinction was softened, and eventually the words became used at times as synonyms, with authors switching from one to the other for purposes of stylistic change.
In the New Testament, boule usually refers to a plan based on careful deliberation; it is used most often with respect to the counsel of God. Boule frequently indicates God’s providential plan, which is predetermined and inflexible. Luke is fond of using it this way, as we read in the book of Acts: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan [boule] and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23).
Here the resolute decree of God is in view, which no human action can set aside. God’s plan is impregnable; His “will” is unalterable.
The word thelema is rich in its diversity of meanings. It refers to what is agreeable, what is desired, what is intended, what is chosen, or what is commanded. Here we have the notions of consent, desire, purpose, resolution, and command. The force of the various meanings is determined by the context in which thelema appears.
The Decretive Will of God

Theologians describe as the “decretive will of God” that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to His supreme sovereignty. This is also sometimes called “God’s sovereign efficacious will”; by it, God brings to pass whatsoever He wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can prevent it from coming to pass.
When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The “lights” came on. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed.
A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, “It is the will of Allah.” We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, “Que será, sera,” or “What will be, will be.” In so doing, we embrace a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices.
Classical theologians insist on the reality of man’s will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works His plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity.
Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than ours. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict His will. When He decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass—whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate.
The Preceptive Will of God

When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken or disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: “the preceptive will of God.” It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.
The preceptive will of God is found in His law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that He delivers to His people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God’s rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed.
It is the will of God that we not sin. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before Him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. The will of God is violated whenever His law is broken.
One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing.
With respect to God’s sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to His preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on His unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness or antinomianism, that despises God’s law and ignores His precepts.
Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God.
Biblical Righteousness

Habakkuk’s famous statement, “the just shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4, KJV), is found three times in the New Testament. It has become a slogan of evangelical Protestantism, whose emphasis has been on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. This slogan, containing a hint of the essence of the Christian life, has its focal point in the biblical concept of righteousness.
One of Jesus’ most disturbing comments was the statement, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). It is easy for us to assume that Jesus meant that our righteousness must be of a higher sort than that characterized by men who were hypocrites. The image that we have of scribes and Pharisees from the New Testament period is that of unscrupulous, ruthless practitioners of religious deceit. We must bear in mind, however, that the Pharisees as a group were men historically committed to a very lofty level of righteous living. Yet Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed theirs. What did He mean?
When we consider the biblical notion of righteousness, we are dealing with a matter that touches virtually every plane of theology. In the first place, there is the righteousness of God, by which all standards of rightness and wrongness are to be measured. God’s character is the ultimate foundation and model of righteousness. In the Old Testament, righteousness becomes defined in terms of obedience to the commandments delivered by God, who Himself is altogether righteous. Those commands include not only precepts of human behavior with respect to our fellow human beings, but also matters of a liturgical and ceremonial nature.
In Old Testament Israel and among the New Testament Pharisees, liturgical righteousness was substituted for authentic righteousness. That is to say, men became satisfied with obeying the rituals of the religious community rather than fulfilling the broader implications of the law. For example, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for tithing their mint and cumin while omitting the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy. Jesus indicated that the Pharisees were correct in giving their tithes, but were incorrect in assuming that the liturgical exercises had completed the requirements of the law. Here, liturgical righteousness had become a substitute for true and full obedience.
Within the evangelical world, righteousness is a rare word indeed. We speak of morality, spirituality, and piety. Seldom, however, do we speak of righteousness. Yet the goal of our redemption is not piety or spirituality but righteousness. Spirituality in the New Testament sense is a means to the end of righteousness. Being spiritual means that we are exercising the spiritual graces given by God to mold us after the image of His Son. The disciplines of prayer, Bible study, church fellowship, witnessing, and the like are not ends in themselves, but are designed to assist us in living righteously. We are stunted in our growth if we assume that the end of the Christian life is spirituality.
Spiritual concerns are but the beginning of our walk with God. We must beware of the subtle danger of thinking that spirituality completes the requirements of Christ. To fall into such a trap—the trap of the Pharisees—is to substitute liturgical or ritualistic practices for authentic righteousness. By all means we are to pray and to study the Bible, and to bear witness in evangelism. However, we must never, at any point in our lives, rest from our pursuit of righteousness.
In justification we become righteous in the sight of God by means of the cloak of Christ’s righteousness. However, as soon as we are justified, our lives must give evidence of the personal righteousness that flows out of our justification. It is interesting to me that the whole biblical concept of righteousness is contained in one Greek word, dikaios. That same Greek word is used to refer, in the first instance, to the righteousness of God; in the second instance, to what we call justification; and in the third instance, to the righteousness of life. Thus, from beginning to end—from the nature of God to the destiny of man—our human duty remains the same—a call to righteousness.
True righteousness must never be confused with self-righteousness. Since our righteousness proceeds from our justification, which is based on the righteousness of Christ alone, we must never be deluded into thinking that our works of righteousness have any merit of their own. Yet as Protestants, zealously maintaining our doctrine of justification by faith alone, we must be ever mindful that the justification that is by faith alone is never by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and the scribes, for it is concerned with the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.
We are called to bear witness to the righteousness of God in every area of life—from our prayer closets to our courtrooms, from our pews to our marketplaces. The top priority of Jesus is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All other things will be added to that.
An Allergy to Restraint

“Everybody do your own thing.” This cliché from the sixties characterizes the spirit of our age. Increasingly freedom is being equated with the inalienable right to do whatever you please. It carries with it a built-in allergy to laws that restrain, whether they be the laws of God or the laws of men.
This pervasive anti-law, or antinomian, attitude is reminiscent of the biblical epoch that provoked God’s judgment because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6). The secular world reflects this attitude in the statement, “Government can’t legislate morality.” Morality is seen as a private matter, outside the domain of the state and even of the church.
A shift has occurred in word meaning so subtle that many have missed it. The original intent of the concept, “You cannot legislate morality,” was to convey the idea that passing a law prohibiting a particular kind of activity would not necessarily eliminate such activity. The point of the phrase was that laws do not ipso facto produce obedience to those laws. In fact, on some occasions, the legal prohibition of certain practices has incited only greater violation of established law. The prohibition of alcoholic beverages is an example.
The contemporary interpretation of legislating morality differs from the original intent. Instead of saying that government cannot legislate morality, it says government may not legislate morality. That means government should stay out of moral issues such as the regulation of abortion, deviant sexual practices, marriage and divorce, and so on, since morality is a matter of conscience in the private sector. For government to legislate in these areas is often viewed as an invasion of privacy by the state, representing a denial of basic freedoms for the individual.
If we take this kind of thinking to its logical conclusion, we leave the government with little to do. If government may not legislate morality, its activity will be restricted to determining the colors of the state flag, the state flower, and perhaps the state bird. (However, even questions of flowers and birds may be deemed “moral,” as they touch on ecological issues, which are ultimately moral in character.) The vast majority of matters that concern legislation are, in fact, of a decidedly moral character. The regulation of murder, theft, and civil rights is a moral matter. How a person operates his automobile on the highway is a moral issue since it touches on the well-being of fellow travelers.
Questions relating to the legalization of marijuana often focus on the fact that a majority of certain age groups are violating the law. The argument goes like this: Since disobedience is so widespread, doesn’t this indicate that the law is bad? Such a conclusion is a blatant non sequitur. Whether or not marijuana should be decriminalized should not be determined by levels of civil disobedience.
The point is that a vast number of Americans reflect an antinomian spirit regarding marijuana. Such disobedience is hardly motivated by noble aspirations to a higher ethic suppressed by a tyrannical government. Here the law is broken as a matter of convenience and physical appetite.
Within the church, the same spirit of antinomianism has prevailed too often. Pope Benedict XVI faces the embarrassing legacy of his predecessors as he tries to explain to the world why a majority of his American adherents tell the pollsters they practice artificial means of birth control when a papal encyclical explicitly forbids such methods. One must ask how people can confess their belief in an “infallible” leader of their church and at the same time obstinately refuse to submit to that leader.
Within the Protestant churches, individuals frequently become irate when called to moral accountability. They often declare that the church has no right to intrude into their private lives. They say this in spite of the fact that in their membership vows, they publicly committed themselves to submit to the moral oversight of the church.
Antinomianism should be more rare in the evangelical Christian community than anywhere else. Sadly, the facts do not fit the theory. So blasé is the typical “evangelical” toward the law of God that the prophecies of doom that Rome thundered at Martin Luther are beginning to come true. Some “evangelicals” are indeed using justification by faith alone as a license to sin; these can be deemed properly only as pseudo-evangelicals. Anyone who has the most rudimentary understanding of justification by faith knows that authentic faith always manifests itself in a zeal for obedience. No earnest Christian can ever have a cavalier attitude toward the law of God. Though obedience to such laws does not bring justification, the justified person will surely endeavor to obey them.
To be sure, there are times when the commandments of men are on a collision course with the laws of God. In those instances, Christians not only may disobey men, but must disobey men. I am not talking here of isolated moral issues but of attitudes. Christians must be particularly careful in this era of antinomianism not to get caught up in the spirit of the age. We are not free to do what is right in our own eyes. We are called to do what is right in His eyes.
Freedom should not be confused with autonomy. As long as evil exists in the world, the moral restraint of law is necessary. It is an act of grace by which God institutes government, which exists to restrain the evildoer. It exists to protect the innocent and the righteous. The righteous are called to support it as much as they possibly can without compromising their obedience to God.
God’s Will of Disposition

While we understand that the decretive will and the preceptive will of God are part of His overall will, other aspects of the mystery of His sovereignty remain. One such aspect is “the will of disposition.” It is tied up with the ability of man to disobey God’s preceptive will.
This aspect of the will of God refers to what is pleasing and agreeable to God. It expresses something of the attitude of God to His creatures. Some things are “well pleasing in his sight,” while other things are said to grieve Him. He may allow (but not via moral permission) wicked things to transpire, but He is by no means pleased by them.
To illustrate how these differing aspects of the will of God come into play in biblical interpretation, let us examine the verse that says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9, KJV). Which of the above-mentioned meanings of will fits this text? How is the meaning of the text changed by the application of the nuances?
Try first the decretive will. The verse would then mean, “God is not willing in a sovereign decretive sense that any should perish.” The implication would then be that nobody perishes. This verse would be a proof text for universalism, with its view that hell is utterly vacant of people.
The second option is that God is not willing in a preceptive way that any should perish. This would mean that God does not allow people to perish in the sense that He grants His moral permission. This obviously does not fit the context of the passage.
The third option makes sense. God is not willing in the sense that He is not inwardly disposed to, or delighted by, people’s perishing. Elsewhere, Scripture teaches that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He may decree what He does not enjoy; that is, He may distribute justice to wicked offenders. He is pleased when justice is maintained and righteousness is honored, even though He takes no personal pleasure in the application of such punishment.
A human analogy may be seen in our law courts. A judge, in the interest of justice, may sentence a criminal to prison and at the same time inwardly grieve for the guilty man. His disposition may be for the man but against the crime.
However, God is not merely a human judge, working under the constraints of the criminal justice system. God is sovereign—He can do what He pleases. If He is not pleased or willing that any should perish, why then does He not exercise His decretive will accordingly? How can there be a hiatus between God’s decretive will and His will of disposition?
All things being equal, God does desire that no one should perish. But all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin should go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness should be vindicated. It is dangerous to speak of a conflict of interests or of a clash of desires within God. Yet, in a certain sense, we must. He wills the obedience of His creatures. He wills the well-being of His creatures. There is a symmetry of relationship ultimately between obedience and well-being. The obedient child will never perish. Those who obey God’s preceptive will enjoy the benefits of His will of disposition. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the application of it.
Yet does this not beg the ultimate question? Where does the decretive will fit in? Could not God originally have decreed that no one ever would be able to sin, thus ensuring an eternal harmony among all elements of His will: decretive, preceptive, and dispositional?
Often the answer to this question is superficial. Appeals are made to the free will of man, as if by magic man’s free will could explain the dilemma. We are told that the only way God could have created a universe guaranteed to be free from sin would have been to make creatures without free will. It is then argued that these creatures would have been nothing more than puppets and would have lacked humanity, being devoid of the power or ability to sin. If that is the case, then what does it suggest about the state of our existence in heaven? We are promised that when our redemption is complete, sin will be no more. We will still have an ability to choose, but our disposition will be so inclined toward righteousness that we will, in fact, never choose evil. If this will be possible in heaven after redemption, why could it not have been possible before the fall?
The Bible gives no clear answer to this thorny question. We are told that God created people who, for better or for worse, have the ability to sin. We also know from Scripture that there is no shadow of turning in the character of God, and that all of His works are clothed in righteousness. That He chose to create man the way He did is mysterious, but we must assume, given the knowledge we have, that God’s plan was good. Any conflict that arises between His commandments to us, His desire that we should obey Him, and our failure to comply does not destroy His sovereignty.
God’s Secret and Revealed Will

We have already distinguished among the three types of the will of God: His decretive will, His preceptive will, and His will of disposition. Another distinction must be established between what is called God’s secret, or hidden, will and His revealed will. This secret will of God is subsumed under the decretive will because, for the most part, it remains undisclosed to us. There is a limit to the revelation God has made of Himself. We know certain things about God’s decretive will that He has been pleased to set forth for our information in Holy Scripture. But because we are finite creatures, we do not comprehend the total dimension of divine knowledge or the divine plan. As the Scriptures teach, the secret things belong to the Lord, but that which He has revealed belongs to us and to our children forever (Deut. 29:29).
Protestant theologians have made use of the distinction between the hidden God (Deus obsconditus) and the revealed God (Deus revelatus). This distinction is valuable and indeed necessary when we realize that not all that can be known of God has been revealed to us. There is a sense in which God remains hidden from us, insofar as He has not been pleased to reveal all there is to know about Him. However, this distinction is fraught with peril since some have found within it a conflict between two kinds of gods. A god who reveals his character to be one thing, but who is secretly contrary to that revealed character, would be a supreme hypocrite.
If we say that God has no secret will and proposes to do only what He commands and nothing more, then we would perceive God as one whose desires and plans are constantly thwarted by the harassment of human beings. Such a god would be impotent, and no god at all.
If we distinguish between the secret aspect of God and the revealed aspect of God, we must hold these as parts of the whole, not as contradictions. That is to say, what God has revealed about Himself is trustworthy. Our knowledge is partial, but it is true as far as it goes. What belongs to the secret counsel of God does not contradict the character of God that has been revealed to us.
The distinction of God’s revealed will and hidden will raises a practical problem: the question of whether or not it is possible for a Christian to act in harmony with God’s decretive (hidden) will and at the same time work against His preceptive will.
We must admit that such a possibility exists—in a sense. For example, it was in God’s decretive will and by His determinate counsel that Jesus Christ was condemned to die on the cross. The divine purpose, of course, was to secure the redemption of God’s people. However, that purpose was hidden from the view of men who sat in judgment over Jesus. When Pontius Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified, Pilate acted against the preceptive will of God but in harmony with the decretive will of God. Does this make nonsense of God’s preceptive will? God forbid. What it does is bear witness to the transcendent power of God to work His purposes sovereignly in spite of, and by means of, the evil acts of men.
Consider the story of Joseph, whose brothers, out of jealousy and greed, sold their innocent brother into slavery in Egypt. At their reunion years later, and upon the brothers’ confession of sin, Joseph replied, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here is the inscrutable majesty of God’s providence. God made use of human evil in bringing to pass His purposes for Joseph and for the Jewish nation. Joseph’s brothers were guilty of willful and malicious sin. By directly violating the preceptive will of God, they sinned against their brother and against God. Yet in their sin, God’s secret counsel was brought to pass, and God brought redemption through it.
What if Joseph’s brothers had been obedient? Joseph would not have been sold into slavery; he would not have been taken to Egypt; he would not have been sent to prison, from which he was called to interpret a dream. What if Joseph had not become prime minister? What would have become the historical reason for the brothers’ settling in Egypt? There would have been no Jewish settlement in Egypt, no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no law, no prophets, no Christ, no salvation.
Can we, therefore, conclude that the sins of Joseph’s brothers were, in fact, virtues in disguise? Not at all. Their sin was sin, a clear violation of the preceptive will of God, for which they were held responsible and judged to be guilty. But God brought good out of evil. This reflects neither a contradiction in God’s character nor a contradiction between His precepts and His decrees. Rather it calls attention to the transcendent power of His sovereignty.
Is it possible for us in this day and age to obey the preceptive will of God and yet be in conflict with the secret will of God? Of course this is possible. It may be the will of God, for example, that He use a foreign nation to chastise the United States for sinning against God. It may be in the plan of God to have the people of the United States brought under judgment through the aggressive invasion of Russia. In terms of God’s inscrutable will, He could be, for purposes of judgment, “on the side of the Russians.” Yet at the same time, it would remain the duty of the civil magistrate of the American nation to resist the transgression of our borders by a conquering nation.
We have a parallel in the history of Israel, where God used the Babylonians as a rod to chastise His people Israel. In that situation, it would have been perfectly proper for the civil magistrate of Israel to have resisted the wicked invasion of the Babylonians. In so doing, the Israelites would have been, in effect, resisting the decretive will of God. The book of Habakkuk wrestles with the severe problem of God’s use of the evil inclinations of men to bring judgment on His people. This is not to suggest that God favored the Babylonians. He made it clear that judgment would fall on them also, but He first made use of their evil inclinations in order to bring a corrective discipline to His own people.
Knowing the Will of God for Our Lives

Pursuing knowledge of the will of God is not an abstract science designed to titillate the intellect or to convey the kind of knowledge that “puffs up” but fails to edify. An understanding of the will of God is desperately important for every Christian seeking to live a life that is pleasing to his or her Creator. It is a very practical thing for us to know what God wants for our lives. A Christian asks: “What are my marching orders? What should my role be in contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God? What does God want me to do with my life?” It is inconceivable that a Christian could live for very long without coming face-to-face with these gripping questions.
Having been a Christian for some fifty years, with the study of theology my main vocational pursuit, I find the practical question of the will of God pressing on my mind quite frequently. I doubt a fortnight passes that I am not seriously engaged by the question of whether I am doing what God wants me to do at this point in my life. The question haunts and beckons all of us. It demands resolution, and so we must ask ourselves, “How do we know the will of God for our lives?”
The practical question of how we know the will of God for our lives cannot be solved with any degree of accuracy unless we have some prior understanding of the will of God in general. Without the distinctions that we have made, our pursuit of the will of God can plunge us into hopeless confusion and consternation. When we seek the will of God, we must first ask ourselves which will we are seeking to discover.
If our quest is to penetrate the hidden aspects of His will, then we have embarked on a fool’s errand. We are trying the impossible and chasing the untouchable. Such a quest is not only an act of foolishness, but also an act of presumption. There is a very real sense in which the secret will of the secret counsel of God is none of our business and is off limits to our speculative investigations.
Untold evils have been perpetrated on God’s people by unscrupulous theologians who have sought to correct or to supplant the clear and plain teaching of sacred Scripture by doctrines and theories based on speculation alone. The business of searching out the mind of God where God has remained silent is dangerous business indeed. Luther put it this way: “We must keep in view his word and leave alone his inscrutable will; for it is by his word and not by his inscrutable will that we must be guided.”
Christians are permitted, in a sense, to attempt to discern the will of God by means of illumination by the Holy Spirit and by confirmation through circumstances that we are doing the right thing. However, as we will discover, the search for providential guidance must always be subordinate to our study of the revealed will of God. In our search, we must also come to terms with the dynamic tensions created by the concept of man’s will versus predestination. Before our inquiry can lead us into such practical avenues as occupation and marriage, we must face the thorny issues involved in the free will/predestination issue. We have seen what the will of God entails. What about the will of man? How do the two relate? How free is man, after all?

Chapter Two

The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing and often conflicting views about it.
The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important is how the fall affected man’s moral choices.
Augustine gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the fall. His classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre—able to sin
2. posse non pecarre—able not to sin (or to remain free from sin)
3. non posse pecarre—unable to sin
4. non posse, non pecarre—unable not to sin

Augustine argued that before the fall, Adam possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability to not sin (posse non pecarre). However, Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness to do what He wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.
Before the fall, Adam did not have the moral perfection of God, but neither did he have the inability to refrain from sin (non posse, non pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the human race into ruin.
As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin, human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partly a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition that reflects the judgment of God on the race.
The Fallenness of Man

Christians differ in their views concerning the extent and seriousness of the fall. However, it is almost universally conceded that in dealing with mankind, we are dealing with a fallen race. Augustine located the depths of man’s fallenness in his loss of original powers of righteousness. No longer does man have the ability to not sin. In man’s fallen state, his plight is found in his inability to keep from sinning (non posse, non pecarre). In the fall, something profoundly vital to moral freedom was lost.
Augustine declared that in his prefallen state, man enjoyed both a free will (liberium arbitrium) and moral liberty (libertas). Since the fall, man has continued to have a free will, but has lost the moral liberty he once enjoyed.
Perhaps the most insightful study of the question of fallen man’s free will is the epic work of Jonathan Edwards, On the Freedom of the Will. Edwards and Augustine differ in terminology, but their meaning is essentially the same. Edwards distinguished between the natural ability of freedom and the moral ability of freedom. Natural ability deals with the powers of action and choice that we possess by nature. Man’s natural abilities include the power to think, to walk, to speak, to eat, and so on. Man lacks the natural ability to fly, to live beneath the sea as a fish, or to hibernate for months without food. We may desire to fly, but we lack the natural equipment necessary to live out our desire. Our freedom has a certain built-in restriction related to the limitations of our natural faculties.
With respect to the making of choices, fallen man still has the natural ability and the natural faculties necessary to make moral choices. Man can still think, feel, and desire. All of the equipment necessary for the making of choices remains. What fallen man lacks is the moral disposition, the desire, or the inclination for righteousness.
Stated simply, man still has the ability to choose what he wants, but lacks the desire for true righteousness. He is naturally free, but he is morally enslaved to his own corrupt and wicked desires. Both Edwards and Augustine said man is still free to choose, but if left to himself, man will never choose righteousness, precisely because he does not desire it.
Edwards took the question a step further. He said man still has not only the ability but the built-in necessity to choose according to his desires. Not only can we choose what we want, we must choose what we want. It is at this point that the protest is sounded: Is free choice an illusion? If we must choose what we choose, how can such a choice be called free? If we are free to choose what we want but want only what is evil, how can we still speak of free will? This is precisely why Augustine distinguished between free will and liberty, saying that fallen man still has free will but has lost his liberty. It is why Edwards said that we still have natural freedom but have lost moral freedom.
Why talk of freedom at all, if we can choose only sin? The crux of the matter lies in the relationship between choice and desire, or disposition. Edwards’s thesis is that we always choose according to the strongest inclination, or disposition, of the moment. Again, not only can we choose according to our strongest desires, we must choose according to our strongest desires of the moment. Such is the essence of freedom—that I am able to choose what I want when I want it.
If I must do something, then in a sense my actions are determined. But if my actions are determined, how can I be free? The classic answer to this difficult question is that the determination of my choices comes from within me. The essence of freedom is self-determination. It is when my choices are forced on me by external coercion that my freedom is lost. To be able to choose what I want by virtue of self-determination does not destroy free will but establishes it.
Choices Flow from Desires

To choose according to the strongest desire or inclination of the moment simply means that there is a reason for the choices I make. At one point, Edwards defined the will as “the mind choosing.” The actual choice is an effect or result that requires an antecedent cause. The cause is located in the disposition or desire. If all effects have causes, then all choices likewise have causes. If the cause is apart from me, then I am a victim of coercion. If the cause is from within me, then my choices are self-determined or free.
Think about Edwards’s thesis that we always choose according to the strongest inclination or desire of the moment. Think, if you will, of the most harmless choice that you might make in the course of a day. Perhaps you attend a meeting of a group and choose to sit on the left side in the third seat from the end of the fourth row at the front of the room. Why did you choose to sit there? In all probability, when you entered the room, you did not engage in a thorough analysis of your seating preferences. You probably did not make a chart to determine which seat was best. Your decision probably was made quickly, with little or no conscious evaluation and with a sense of apparent spontaneity. Does that mean, however, that there was no reason for your choice? Perhaps you sat where you did because you are comfortable sitting on the left side of the room in such meetings. Perhaps you were attracted to that seat because of its proximity to a friend or its access to the exit. In situations like this, the mind weighs a host of contributing factors so quickly that we tend to think our responses are spontaneous. The truth is that something in you triggered a desire to sit in a certain seat, or else your choice was an effect without a cause.
Perhaps your seat selection was governed by forces outside your control. Perhaps the seat you chose was the only seat left in the room, so that you had no choice in the matter at all. Is that completely true? The option to stand at the back of the room was still there. Or the option to leave the meeting altogether was still there. You chose to sit in the only seat available because your desire to sit was stronger than your desire to stand and your desire to stay was stronger than your desire to leave.
Consider a more bizarre illustration. Suppose on the way home from the meeting you encounter a robber who points a gun to your head and says, “Your money or your life.” What do you do? If you accede to his demand and turn over your wallet, you will become a victim of coercion, and yet in some measure you will have exercised free choice. Coercion enters by virtue of the fact that the gunman is severely restricting your options to two. The element of freedom that is preserved stems from the fact that you still have two options and that you choose the one for which you have the strongest desire at the moment.
All things being equal, you have no desire to donate your money to an unworthy thief. You have even less desire, however, to have your brain poured out on the sidewalk by the gunman’s bullet. Given the small number of options, you still choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. We always do what we really want to do.
The Bible teaches, some will say, that we do not always do what we want to do. The apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7 that the good he wanted to do he did not do, and the thing he did not want to do was the very thing he did. Paul’s frustration over the wretchedness of his condition would seem totally to refute Edwards’s thesis of the relationship of choice to desire. Paul, however, was not giving expression to an analysis of the causal relationship between desire and choice. He was expressing a profound frustration that centers on the complex of desires that assault the human will.
We are creatures with a multitude of desires, many of which are in violent conflict with each other. Again, consider the “all things being equal” dimension of our moral choices. As a Christian I have a profound desire to please Christ with my life and to attain righteousness. That good desire for obedience to God is neither perfect nor pure, as it struggles daily with other desires in my sinful personality. If I had no conflicting desires, I would never be disobedient. If the only desire I had, or if the strongest desire I had, was to obey God continuously, I would never willfully sin against Him. However, there are times when my desire to sin is greater than my desire to obey; when that happens, I sin. When my desire to obey is greater than my desire to sin, at that moment I refrain from sinning. My choices reveal more clearly and more certainly than anything else the level of my desire.
Desire, like appetite, is not constant. Our levels of desire fluctuate from day to day, from hour to hour, and from minute to minute. Desire moves in an ebb-and-flow pattern like the waves of the sea. The person who goes on a diet experiences intensifying pangs of hunger at various times of the day. It is easy to make a resolution to diet when one is satiated. Likewise, it is easy to resolve to be righteous in the midst of a moving spiritual experience of prayer. Yet we are creatures of changing moods and fleeting desires who have not yet achieved a constancy of will based on a consistency of godly desires. As long as conflict of desire exists and an appetite for sin remains in the heart, man is not totally free in the moral sense of which Edwards spoke, and neither does he experience the fullness of liberty described by Augustine.
Choice as a Spontaneous Act

Over against the Augustinian view of free will is the classical notion that describes the action or activity of choice in purely spontaneous terms. In this concept, the will chooses and is free from not only external forces of coercion but from any internal rule of disposition or desire. The choice of the moment proceeds freely in the sense that no inclination or prior disposition controls, directs, or affects the choice that is made. It is safe to say that this is the dominant view of free will in Western culture and is the view Calvin had in mind when he stated, “Free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to man.” At bottom it implies that man can make choices that are effects without any causes. Here it is suggested that the power of man to produce an effect without a cause exceeds even the creative power of God Almighty. Moreover, the cardinal rule of causality—ex nihilo, nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”)—is broken. Such a view of freedom is repugnant not only to Scripture but to reason.
To understand freedom as purely spontaneous choice with no prior disposition controlling it is to rob freedom of any moral significance. That is, if I act with no prior motive or no previous inclination toward or away from righteousness, how can it be said that my act is moral at all? Such activity would be without reason or motive behind it; it would be a purely random action, with no moral virtue attached to it.
However, a deeper question remains: Is such a spontaneous action possible at all? If the will is inclined neither to the right nor to the left, how could it choose at all? If there is no disposition toward, or away from, the action, then the will suffers from complete paralysis. It is like the donkey that had set before him a bale of hay and a bucket of oats. The donkey’s inclination with respect to the hay and the oats was exactly equal, with not the slightest degree of preference toward one or the other. The story is told that the donkey in such circumstances starves to death with a banquet feast in front of him because he has no way to choose between the two.
The practical problem that remains with the classical view of freedom is one raised by behavioristic psychology. If man is indeed self-determined or free, does that not imply that if his desires were completely known, man’s action in every given circumstance would be completely predictable? There is a sense in which we must agree that such a predictability would be implied. However, there is no way that any genius short of God and His omniscience could possibly know all the complex factors present in the human mind weighing a choice.
We recognize with psychologists that preferences and inclinations are shaped in many respects by experience and environment, but we cannot predict with certainty what any human being will do. Hidden variables within the complex of human personality make for this unpredictability. It nevertheless remains a fact that there is always a reason for our actions, a cause for our choices. That cause stems partly from ourselves and partly from the forces operating around and over against us.
The Definition of Freedom

The safest course to steer is to define freedom as did the church fathers, such as Augustine: “the ability to choose what we want.” God’s sovereignty does not extinguish that dimension of human personality, but certainly rules over it.
Out of rigid forms of determinism comes the cry of despair: “If the complex factors that make up personality completely determine my choices, then what value is self-improvement or the search for righteousness? If my will is enslaved by my dispositions and desires, what hope do I have of ever breaking out of the patterns of sin that are so destructive to my present mode of behavior?”
In a real sense, the process of sanctification involves a radical reprogramming of the inner self. We are not the victims of blind mechanical forces that control our destiny. As intelligent beings, we can do something to change the dispositions of our hearts and the inclinations of our minds.
It is important to remember that desire is not a fixed and constant power that beats within our souls. Our desires change and fluctuate from moment to moment. When the Bible calls us to feed the new man and starve the old man, we can apply this injunction by taking advantage of the ebb and flow of moods to strengthen the new man when our desire for Christ is inflamed and to kill the old man’s desires by starving him in times of satiation. The simplest way to state the mechanism of sin is to understand that at the moment I sin, I desire the sin more than I desire to please God. Stated another way, my love for the sin is greater at the moment of its intense desire than is my love for obedience to God. Therefore, the simple conclusion is that to overcome the power of sin within us, we need either to decrease our desire for the sin or to increase our desire to obey God.
What can we do to effect such changes? We can submit ourselves to the discipline of a class or a teacher and devote ourselves to a rigorous study of the law of God. Such disciplined study can help renew our minds, equipping us with a new understanding of what pleases and displeases God. The development of a renewed mind is the biblical definition of spiritual transformation.
The mind and the will are linked, as Edwards noted. Understanding more deeply how abhorrent our sin is to God can change or reprogram our attitudes toward sin. We are to follow the biblical injunction to concentrate on whatever things are pure and good. It may be too much to expect that a man in the midst of an attack of profound lust will switch to pure thoughts. It would be difficult for him to push a button and change the inclination of his desire at that moment. However, in a more sober mood, he may have the opportunity to reprogram his mind by filling it with high and holy thoughts of the things of God. The end result is that he may well strengthen the disposition of his heart toward God and weaken the disposition of his fallen nature toward sin.
We need not surrender to a superficial form of rigid determinism or behaviorism that would cause us to despair of any hope of change. Scripture encourages us to work out our salvation “with fear and trembling,” knowing that not only are we applying the means of grace by our own effort, but that God Himself is working within us to bring about the necessary changes to conform us to the image of His Son (Phil. 2:12–13; 1:6).
Sovereignty of God and Freedom of Man

What about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. However, if God is utterly sovereign to do as He pleases, no creature can be autonomous.
It is possible to have a multitude of beings, all of whom are free to various degrees but none of whom are sovereign. The degree of freedom is determined by the level of power, authority, and responsibility held by each being. However, we do not live in this type of universe. There is a God who is sovereign—which is to say, He is absolutely free. My freedom is always within limits. My freedom is always constrained by the sovereignty of God. I have freedom to do things as I please, but if my freedom conflicts with the decretive will of God, there is no question as to the outcome—God’s decree will prevail over my choice.
It is stated so often that it has become almost an uncritically accepted axiom within Christian circles that the sovereignty of God may never violate human freedom in the sense that God’s sovereign will may never overrule human freedom. The thought verges on, if not trespasses, the border of blasphemy because it contains the idea that God’s sovereignty is constrained by human freedom. If that were true, man, not God, would be sovereign, and God would be restrained and constrained by the power of human freedom. As I say, the implication here is blasphemous because it raises the creature to the stature of the Creator. God’s glory, majesty, and honor are denigrated since He is reduced to the status of a secondary, impotent creature. Biblically speaking, man is free, but his freedom can never violate or overrule God’s sovereignty.
I and my son are free moral agents; he has a will and I have a will. However, when he was a teen living in my home, his will was more often constrained by my will than was my will constrained by His. I carried more authority and more power in the relationship and hence I had a wider expanse of freedom than he had. So it is with our relationship to God; God’s power and authority are infinite, and His freedom is never hindered by human volition.
There is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Those who see a contradiction, or even point to the problem as an unsolvable mystery, have misunderstood the mystery. The real mystery regarding free will is how it was exercised by Adam before the fall.
Options for Considering Adam’s Sin

If Augustine was correct that pre-fall Adam possessed an ability to sin and an ability not to sin, and that he was created with no prior disposition or inclination toward sin, then the question we face is, “How was it possible for such a creature with no prior disposition toward evil actually to take the step into evil?” As we grapple with this mystery, let me present several options that have served as explanations in the past.
First, we can hypothesize that Adam fell because he was duped by the craftiness of Satan and simply did not know what he was doing. The inspiration for this hypothesis is the biblical emphasis on the craftiness of the Devil. Satan, in his guile, was able to seduce Adam and Eve by confusing their thought patterns. Thus, the weakness of our primordial parents was not moral in nature, but intellectual, inasmuch as they failed to perceive the chicanery of the serpent. What complicates the picture is the fact that the Scriptures in this instance do not describe Adam and Eve as having been completely duped by their adversary; rather, they had full knowledge of what God allowed and did not allow them to do. They could not plead ignorance of the command of God as an excuse for their transgression.
There are times when ignorance is excusable, namely when such ignorance cannot possibly be helped or overcome. Such ignorance is properly described by the Roman Catholic Church as “invincible ignorance”—ignorance that we lack the power to conquer. Invincible ignorance excuses and gives one a reprieve from any accusation of moral wrongdoing. However, the biblical record gainsays this option in the case of Adam and Eve, for God pronounces judgment on them. Unless that judgment was arbitrary or immoral on the part of God Himself, we can only conclude that what Adam and Eve did was inexcusable. A just God does not punish excusable transgressions. Indeed, excusable transgressions are not transgressions.
A second option is that Adam and Eve were coerced by Satan to disobey God. Here we see the original instance of the statement “The Devil made me do it.” If, however, Satan, in fact, fully and forcibly coerced Adam and Eve to transgress the law of God, then once again we would find an excuse for their actions. We would have to conclude that they did not act with a reasonable measure of freedom, a measure that would at least have delivered them from moral culpability. Such a theory violates the clear teaching of the biblical text, which hints at no coercive manipulation on the part of Satan.
Consistently, the Scriptures place the responsibility, the blame, and the full culpability on Adam and Eve themselves. They committed evil. Their choice was an evil one.
By what means did Adam and Eve make an evil choice? If we apply the analysis of choice common to Augustine and Edwards to pre-fall Adam, we face an insoluble dilemma. If Adam had been created with a purely neutral disposition (with no inclination toward righteousness or evil), we would still face the same rational impasse that Edwards notes for those who would impose it for post-fall man. A will with no predisposition would have no motivation to choose. Without motivation, there could be no choice. Even if such a choice were possible, it would have no moral import to it.
We must examine the other two alternatives—that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil or with a singular predisposition toward good. Both of these options end at the stone wall of intellectual difficulty. If we assume that Adam was created with a predisposition toward evil, we cast a horrible shadow over the character of God, for this would mean that God created man with a predisposition toward evil and then punished man for exercising the disposition that God Himself had planted within his soul. In a real sense, this would make God the author of, and the one ultimately responsible for, human wickedness. Every page of Holy Scripture recoils from such a thesis, as it would transfer the blame from man to God Himself, who is altogether good. Still, many take this option, following in the footsteps of the implied criticism of the first man, Adam, who excused himself before the Creator by saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12, emphasis added). Men from Adam onward have manifested their fallenness by trying to transfer the blame for that fallenness to the Creator.
A third option is that God created man with a disposition toward only righteousness. If this were the case, then we have an effect without a sufficient cause. How is it possible for a creature created with the disposition toward only righteousness to have chosen a wicked act?
Other Inquiries into the Mystery of Adam’s Sin

I have a built-in antipathy to dialectical theology—theology that proclaims the beauty of contradictions and nonsense statements. Thus, I must swallow hard to agree with one neoorthodox theologian about the origin of Adam’s sin. Karl Barth calls the sin of Adam the “impossible possibility.” Barth, of course, is calling attention to the utterly inexplicable mystery of Adam’s transgression—what was rationally impossible and inconceivable happened, and remains a bona fide and impenetrable mystery to us.
Other attempts have been made to seek a complex and sophisticated answer to the mystery of iniquity. One suggestion is that the sin of Adam was like all sin, namely, a privation, a corruption, or a negation of something that was inherently and intrinsically good. In other words, Adam was created with a good moral disposition. His appetites and desires were continuously good, and as a result, one would expect his activities to have been equally good. However, it is suggested that in the complexity of moral choices, sometimes a good will (which has a desire that in itself is good) can be misused and abused toward an evil end. The supreme example of such a twisting occurred at the temptation of Jesus, the second and new Adam.
In Jesus’ temptation experience in the wilderness, Satan came to Him in the midst of a prolonged fast. It is probably safe to assume that at that point Jesus had a consuming passion for food. That natural human desire to eat carried no immoral overtones in and of itself. One expects a hungry man to have a disposition to eat. However, Jesus wanted to obey God through this act of self-deprivation. When Satan came to Jesus and suggested that He turn stones into bread, Satan was appealing to a perfectly normal appetite and desire within Jesus. However, Jesus’ desire to obey the Father was deeper than His desire to partake of food. Thus, filled with an altogether righteous desire, He was able to overcome the temptation of Satan.
Now the theory goes like this: Perhaps it was something good that caused Adam to fall—something that in and of itself was good, but which could have been misused and abused by the seductive influences of Satan. Such an explanation certainly helps make the fall more understandable, but it goes only so far before it fails. At its most vital point, the explanation does not account for how this good desire could have become distorted, overruling the prior obligation to obey God. At some point before the act of transgression took place, Adam must have had to desire disobedience to God more than obedience to God; therein the fall already had taken place because the very desire to act against God in disobedience is itself sinful.
I leave the question of explaining the fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, though not because God or anyone else forced him. Man chose out of his own heart.
Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it. We must never attribute the cause of our sin to God or adopt any position that would excuse us from the moral responsibility that Scripture clearly assigns to us.
Some have criticized the Christian faith for its inability to give a satisfying answer to the question of sin. The fact is that other religions must come to terms with this same question. Some respond simply by denying the reality of evil—a convenient but absurd way out. Christianity alone deals head-on with the reality of sin by providing an escape from its consequences.
The Christian solution to the problem of sin is a radical departure from what other religions provide, for it is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through His perfect sacrifice, which has the efficacy of blotting out believers’ sins, we have become righteous in God’s eyes. However, that righteousness does not give us the license to do as we please. We must still seek to do God’s preceptive will, especially as we swim through the perilous waters of the moral, ethical, and social dilemmas of our age.
While we have discussed the more theological aspects of man’s will and God’s will, two other topics now beckon us: God’s will for our jobs and for our marital status. These two practical concerns take center stage in the drama of our personal lives. What can we learn about God’s will and man’s will in relation to these vital aspects of living? The next chapters offer guidelines to facilitate our decision making in these all-important areas.

Chapter Three

When we are introduced to people, the following three questions are generally asked: “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” The third question is the one that concerns us in this chapter.
“What do you do?” is obviously a question about one’s occupation, career, or vocation. People want to know what task or service constitutes our livelihood or helps fulfill our personal aspirations.
We are all familiar with the aphorism, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” We understand that life is more than work. We devote periods of time to recreation, sleep, play, and other activities not directly part of our principal employment or labor. However, the portion of our lives that is taken up by work is so encompassing and time-consuming that we tend to understand our personal identity in the light of our work.
Whatever else we are, we are creatures involved in labor. This was the design of creation—God Himself is a working God. From the very moment of creation, He conferred on our original parents the responsibilities of work. Adam and Eve were called to dress, till, and keep the earth, to name the animals, and to have dominion by way of managerial responsibility over the earth. All of these activities involved the expenditure of time, energy, and resources—in short, work.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that work is a punishment that God gave us as a result of Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. We must remember that work was given before the fall. To be sure, our labor has additional burdens attached to it because of the fall. A mixture of thorns and thistles is found among the good plants we seek to cultivate. Our labor is accomplished by the sweat of our brow. These were some of the penalties of sinfulness, but work itself was part of the glorious privilege granted to men and women in creation. It is impossible to understand our own humanity without understanding the central importance of work.
Most of us spend the early years of our lives preparing and training for a lifelong activity of work. The sensitive Christian understands that in the labor of his occupation, he is responsible to make a contribution to the kingdom of God, to fulfill a divine mandate, to embark on a holy calling as a servant of the living God. Such a Christian is keenly interested to discover how best to serve God through his labor.
Vocation and Calling

The idea of vocation is based on the theological premise of a divine call. The word vocation comes from the Latin word meaning “calling.” In our secular society, the religious meaning of the term has lost its significance, having become merely a synonym for career. I will be using the term vocation in its original sense: a divine call, a holy summons to fulfill a task or a responsibility that God has laid on us. The question we as Christians wrestle with is, “Am I in the center of God’s will with respect to my vocation?” In other words, “Am I doing with my life what God wants me to do?” Here the question of the will of God becomes eminently practical, for it touches on that dimension of my life that fills most of my waking hours and has the greatest impact on the shaping of my personality.
If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is a calling God. The world was created through the call of the omnipotent Creator: “ ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:1). God also calls His people to repentance, to conversion, and to membership in His family. In addition, He calls us to serve Him in His kingdom, making the best possible use of our gifts and talents. Still, the question faces us: “How do I know what is my particular vocational calling?”
One of the great tragedies of modern society is that, although the job market is vast and complex with an infinite number of possible careers, the educational systems that train us tend to guide and direct us to a very small number of occupational choices. When I was a high school graduate embarking on college, a great deal of discussion centered on one’s major and career aspirations. At that time, it seemed as if everyone was setting out to become an engineer. The mechanized culture of the 1950s was opening up thousands of lucrative positions in engineering. College campuses were flooded with young aspirants for degrees in the field of engineering.
I also remember the engineer glut on the market that occurred in the 1970s. Stories circulated about people with doctorates in engineering who were collecting unemployment or washing dishes in the local diner because there simply were not enough engineering jobs available. The same could be said for education majors. Positions in education became fewer and fewer while the number of applicants became greater and greater. The problem was heightened by misguided publicity and counseling that steered people into occupational roles that society already had filled.
In the early twentieth century, the choices were much less difficult since the vast majority of American children spent their time preparing for a life in agricultural labor. Today, roughly two percent of the population is employed in farming—a radical decrease in one occupation that has opened the door for a vast number of other occupations.
Finding Your Vocation

The question of vocation becomes a crisis at two major points in life. The first is in late adolescence, when a person is pressured into deciding what skills and knowledge he should acquire for future use. Some college freshmen feel pressured to declare a major in their first year, before knowing the available options and the limits of their ability.
The second period in life when vocation becomes critical is in midlife, when a person experiences a sense of frustration, failure, or lack of fulfillment in his current position. He may ask: “Have I wasted my life? Am I sentenced forever to a job that I’m finding meaningless, unfulfilling, and frustrating?” Such questions highlight the fact that vocational counseling is a major part of pastoral counseling in America, second only to marital counseling.
We must also consider the fact that vocational frustration is a major contributing cause of marital disharmony and family strife. Thus, it is important to approach the matter of vocation with great care, both in the early stages of adolescent development and in the latter stages, when the sense of frustration hits home.
The problem of discerning one’s calling focuses heavily on four important questions:

1. What can I do?
2. What do I like to do?
3. What would I like to be able to do?
4. What should I do?

The last question can plague the sensitive conscience. To begin to answer it, we need to take a look at the other three questions because they are closely linked to the ultimate question, “What should I do?”
What can I do? Reasonably assessing our abilities, skills, and aptitudes is a crucial and basic part of the decision-making process in choosing a vocation. We need to ask: “What are my abilities? What am I equipped to do?”
We may object that Moses and Jeremiah both protested against God’s call by saying that they were not equipped for the task. Moses protested that he had limited speaking ability, and Jeremiah reminded his Creator of his youthfulness. Both experienced God’s rebuke for seeking to evade a divine calling on the basis of the flimsy claim that they lacked the ability to do the job.
Neither Moses nor Jeremiah had a full understanding of what was needed to carry out the summons God gave him. Moses, for instance, protested that he lacked speaking skill, but God had prepared Aaron to help Moses with that part of the task. What God was looking for was obedient leadership from Moses; public speaking could be delegated to another. God certainly took into consideration Moses’ gifts, abilities, and aptitude before He called him.
We must remember that God is the perfect Manager. He is efficient in His selection, calling people according to the gifts and talents that He has given them. Satan’s strategy is to manipulate Christians into positions for which they have no ability or skill to perform well. Satan himself is very efficient in directing Christians to inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
What can I do? This question can be answered by proficiency examinations, analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, and a sober evaluation of our past performance. Abilities and performances can be, and are, measured in sophisticated ways in our society. We need to know the parameters of our abilities.
People often apply for positions for which they have no skill. This is particularly and sadly true within the church and in related Christian service. Some hunger and thirst to be in full-time Christian service but lack the ability and the gifts required for the particular job. For example, they may have the academic training and credentials for the pastorate, but lack the managerial skills or the people skills to be effective pastors.
Perhaps the most important principle in Scripture regarding abilities is found in Paul’s injunction that we ought to make a sober analysis of ourselves, not thinking too highly of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Through sober analysis, we can make a serious, honest, and clear evaluation of what we can and cannot do, and we should act accordingly.
The young person has a different question: What would I like to be able to do? Such a person may have developed very few skills or have little educational background, but he realizes that he has enough time to acquire skills and talents through education or vocational training.
At this point, the concept of aptitude is relevant. Aptitude involves a person’s latent abilities as well as his acquired abilities. A person may have a certain aptitude for mechanical things and have no aptitude whatsoever for abstract things. This person may desire to be a philosopher but would make a far better investment of his time by learning to be an airplane mechanic. However, preferences are still important. Here we tread into that critical and frightening area of human experience called the realm of motivation.
Motivated Abilities

Research indicates that most people have more than one ability, and that their abilities can be divided into two basic types: motivated abilities and non-motivated abilities. A non-motivated ability is a skill or a strength that a person has but is not motivated to use. Some people are very good at doing certain things, but find no particular fulfillment or enjoyment in doing them. Performing them is sheer drudgery and pain. They may be proficient in what they do, but for one reason or another they find the task odious.
I know of one young woman who in her early teenage years attracted national attention because of her proficiency at the game of golf. While still a teenager, she won a national tournament. Yet when the time came for girls her age to turn professional, she chose a different vocation, not out of a higher calling to seek a more spiritual enterprise than professional athletics, but because she found golf to be very unpleasant. Her displeasure came as the result of fierce pressure her father had placed on her in pushing her to become a proficient golfer at a young age. When she became of age and was out from under parental authority, she decided to do something else. She had the ability to become a professional golfer, but she lacked the motivation.
We might ask, “How could she have become so proficient in the first place if she had not been motivated to perform well in golf?” We have to realize that she had been motivated to become proficient, but the motivation was largely based on fear of her father’s wrath. In order to please him, she disciplined herself to acquire a skill that she never would have pursued on her own. Once free from the driving force of his authority, she turned her vocational pursuits in another direction. The moral to the story is obvious. The person who gives his full measure of time and energy to a non-motivated ability is a walking pressure cooker of frustration.
It is true that, as Christians, we don’t always have the luxury of doing the things we want to do. God calls us to sacrifice and to be willing to participate in the humiliation of Christ. To be sure, we live in the midst of warfare, and as Christians we have signed up for the duration. We should never neglect our awesome responsibility to the kingdom of God. Called to be servants, we are also called to obedience. Sometimes we are called to do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing. Nevertheless, the overriding consideration is to bring our motivation into conformity with our call and our call into conformity with our motivation.
All things being equal, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, as He expressed in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet at the same time, He had an overarching desire and motivation to do the will of His Father. That was His “meat and drink,” the focus of His zeal. When it was confirmed to Him that it was the Father’s will that He lay down His life, Jesus was, in a very real and vital sense, motivated to do it.
Let us extend the concept of service and obedience to the analogy of human warfare. A crisis besets a nation, and people are summoned to the cause of national defense. Leaving the security and comfort of their homes and jobs, they make sacrifices by enlisting in the armed services. Are not Christians called to do the same? Certainly there is a sense in which we are. Yet within the context of the earthly military, there are a vast number of jobs, some for which we would be suited and others for which we would not. Some military tasks would be in line with our motivated skills and patterns of behavior, while others would be completely at odds with our motivated skills and behavior. Even within the context of sacrificial service, a consideration of motivation is a vital ingredient in determining our vocation.
Some rugged individualists in our society are self-employed and find it totally unnecessary to fit into an organizational working structure that involves supervisors, bosses, and lines of authority. Most of us, however, carry out our working lives within the context of an organization. Here we face the problem of fitting. Do our jobs fit our gifts, talents, and aspirations? Do our motivated abilities fit our jobs? The degree to which our job requirements and our motivated abilities fit often determines the usefulness of our contribution and the extent of our personal satisfaction.
When personal motivations do not fit job descriptions, many people suffer. The first to suffer is the individual, because he is laboring in a job that does not fit his motivated abilities. Because he is in a job for which he is unsuited, he tends to be less efficient and less productive. He also creates problems for others in the organization because his frustration spills over and has a negative effect on the group.
Some of us are “sanctified” enough to perform assigned tasks for which we lack motivation, doing them as proficiently as we do tasks that are more enjoyable. However, people who are that sanctified make up an infinitesimal minority within the workforce. Research shows again and again that there is a strong tendency for people to do what they are motivated to do, regardless of what is called for in their job description. That is, they spend the majority of their time and effort doing what they want to do rather than what the job, in fact, calls them to do. Such an investment of time and energy can be quite costly to a company or an organization.
The following simple diagrams show the relationships between motivated ability patterns and job descriptions. They have been borrowed from People Management, a Connecticut-based organization. People Management helps people to discern their motivated ability patterns and helps organizations to coordinate people’s gifts and motivations with the needs and aims of the organizations. This kind of guidance works not only in secular industry but also within the structures of the church and sacred vocations.

Job Description
Unused Abilities
Tasks Not Performed
Motivated Abilities
Job Fit

In this diagram, the top left block represents the job description of the employee, including the tasks required for optimal organizational functioning.
The lower right block represents the motivated abilities of the employee. The shaded area represents the area of job fit. It is not in balance. A large portion of the employee’s motivated abilities are not being used. This produces frustration for the employee.
Also, a large portion of the organizational job description is either left unperformed or performed at a low degree of proficiency. The result is organizational frustration. This pattern spells problems for both the individual employee and the organization. Changes must be made.
The diagram below represents an ideal matchup between job description and motivated abilities. The result is fulfillment for both the employee and the organization.


Through the influence of the world-denying spirit of Manichaeism, early Christians got the idea that the only way they could possibly serve God would be by living their lives on a bed of nails. It was assumed that to embark on a pathway of service involved self-denial. Real virtue could be found only in being as miserable as possible in one’s job. However, if God indeed called us to devote ourselves to the most unpleasant tasks possible, He would be the cosmic Chief of Bad Managers.
The Scriptures describe God’s management style differently. God manages by building us into a body according to our abilities and our desires. He gives gifts to each one of His people. Every Christian is gifted of the Lord to fulfill a divine vocation. Along with the gift, God gives a desire or a motivation to make use of that gift.
What Should We Do?

This brings us to the final and paramount question: “What should I do?” The most practical advice I can give is for you to do what your motivated ability pattern indicates you can do with a high degree of motivation. If what you would like to do can be of service to God, then by all means you should be doing it.
One vital constraint is at work: the preceptive will of God. If a woman’s great ability and motivation were to be a prostitute and a man’s motivated ability were to be the world’s greatest bank robber, then obviously vocational goals would have to be adjusted. To fulfill such motivated abilities would bring individuals into direct conflict with the preceptive will of God.
If we carefully analyzed the root causes for the motivated ability of the bank robber and the motivated ability of the prostitute, we probably would find root abilities and motivations that could profitably and productively be channeled into godly enterprises. We must not only bring our motivated abilities into conformity with the law of God, but also make sure that the vocation we choose has the blessing of God.
There is certainly nothing wrong, for example, with devoting one’s life to the practice of medicine, for we see the good that medicine can do in terms of alleviating suffering. We also understand that the world needs bread to eat and that the vocation of baker for someone who is motivated and able to bake is a godly enterprise. Jesus Himself spent many of His years not in preaching and teaching but in being a carpenter, a craftsman in a legitimate trade. During those years, Jesus was in “the center of God’s will.”
Any vocation that meets the need of God’s world can be considered a divine calling. I underscore this because of the tendency in Christian circles to think that only those who go into “full-time Christian service” are being sensitive to divine vocation—as if preaching and teaching were the only legitimate tasks to which God calls us. A cursory reading of the Bible would reveal the flaw in such thinking. The temple was built in the Old Testament through not only the wise oversight of Solomon but also the craftsmanship of those who were divinely gifted in carving, sculpting, and so on.
David’s vocation as a shepherd, Abraham’s vocation as a caravan trader, Paul’s vocation as a tentmaker—all were seen as part of God’s plan to bring about the redemption of the world. When God made Adam and Eve, neither was called to be a full-time professional worker in the ecclesiastical structure; they were basically called to be farmers.
A vocation is something that we receive from God; He is the one who calls us. He may not call us in the way that He called Moses, by appearing in a burning bush and giving a specific set of marching orders. Instead, He usually calls us inwardly and by giving us certain gifts, talents, and aspirations. His invisible sovereign will is certainly working in the background to prepare us for useful tasks in His vineyard.
The External Call from People

In addition to the inner call of God, we recognize that there is such a thing as an external call to labor, a call that comes from people who request our services for their particular mission or purpose. We may be called by the church to be preachers or by a company to be foremen or shippers. Every time an organization places a want ad in a newspaper, a human call is going out for able workers to come and match their gifts and talents to a presented need.
Some Christians have argued that the need always constitutes the call. They say that there is a need for evangelists in the world and therefore everyone should be an evangelist. I agree that we must consider the needs of the kingdom of God as we make vocational decisions. However, the very fact that the world needs evangelists does not necessarily imply that everyone in the world is called to be an evangelist. Again, the New Testament makes it clear that not all are called to be preachers or administrators. The church is composed of people with a diversity of gifts, talents, and vocations. We must not make a simplistic, passive assumption that the need constitutes the call.
Certainly the presence of a need requires that the people of God strive to meet that need. However, it does not necessarily mean that people who are not equipped to meet the need are thereby forced into the gap. For example, it is every Christian’s responsibility to help carry out the mandate for evangelism. It is not every Christian’s responsibility to be an evangelist. I am not an evangelist, though I contribute to evangelism by teaching evangelists theology and by contributing money for the church’s task of evangelism. I do those things so that those who do have the gift and the motivation can be called out, trained, equipped, and sent into the world as evangelists. I participate in the responsibility of the body of Christ to see that the task is met, but I myself am not the one who delivers the goods as the practicing evangelist. I could say the same regarding a host of other vocations.
How do others affect our vocational calling? We do need to listen to the community of believers and friends. Sometimes our gifts and abilities are more evident to those around us than they are to us. The counsel of many and the evaluation of the group are important considerations in our search for our vocations. However, we must put up a red flag of warning. The group’s judgment is not always correct. The fact that a particular individual or group thinks we should be doing a certain task is not a guarantee that it is the will of God.
I went through a period in my life of being unemployed for six months. During that time, I had five different job offers in five different cities in the United States. Five different friends came to me and said out of sincerity and urgent zeal that they were sure God wanted me to take each of the particular jobs. This meant that if all five of them had a direct pipeline to the will of God, God wanted me to hold five full-time positions and live in five different cities in the United States at the same time. I explained to my friends that I knew I was iniquitous (full of sin), but had not yet discovered the gift of being ubiquitous (being everywhere at the same time). I simply could not possibly do all five jobs. Somebody was wrong in their estimation of the will of God for my life.
I find it very difficult to resist the pressures that come from people who are sure they know what God wants me to do with my life. We all experience that kind of pressure, so we must be careful to pay attention to those whose judgment we trust. We must be able to discern between sound judgment and the vested personal interests of other people.
As it turned out, I accepted a sixth position for which no one came to me in the middle of the night with a telegram from God. I was convinced that the sixth position was the one that matched my abilities with the job that needed to be done.
Considering Foreseeable Consequences

One last consideration that is often neglected but is of crucial importance is the foreseeable consequences of the job. To take a job simply for money or for geographical location is a tragic mistake. All things being equal, I would like to have a salary of a $1 million a year, to be a teacher of theology, and to live where the climate is mild twelve months of the year. At the present time I am a teacher of theology living in Florida, but I make far less than $1 million a year. Somewhere along the way, I had to make a decision about my priorities. Did I want to make a million dollars or did I want to heed my vocational calling? My residence was determined by the locale of my vocation.
Job decisions have both short-range and long-range consequences. Consider the case of Abraham and his nephew Lot, who lived and worked together in the Promised Land. Conflict between their hired hands made it necessary for them to divide the territory they were occupying. Abraham gave Lot the first choice, offering any half that he chose. Lot gazed toward the barren area of Transjordan and then looked toward the fertile valley near the city. He thought for a moment: “If I take the fertile valley, my cows can graze there and become fat. It’s a short distance to the city market. My profit will be great.” In consideration of his business, Lot opted for the fertile areas around the city and left Abraham the barren land. Lot’s choice was brilliant—from the perspective of raising cattle. He didn’t ask himself, “Where will my family go to school? Where will my family go to church?” The city he chose was Sodom—a great place to raise cows. The short-term consequences were fine, but long-term living in Sodom turned out to be a disaster in many ways.
How will our job decisions be conducive to fulfilling our other responsibilities? The person who chooses a vocation purely on the basis of money, location, or status is virtually guaranteeing his later frustration.
Much of the confusion we often experience in the job arena would be dispelled by asking ourselves one simple question: “What would I most like to do if I didn’t have to please anyone in my family or my circle of friends?” Another good question is, “What would I like to be doing ten years from now?” These questions are good to keep in mind even after one has settled into a particular job. Another thing to remember is the promise of God’s Word that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. As His children, that includes the area of our work.
While God’s decretive will may not always be clear to us even in our occupational pursuits, His preceptive will is more easily discerned. Wherever we are, in whatever work we find ourselves, His preceptive will must be done.
Finally, what does God expect of us in relation to our work? As Christians, we have been called to be spiritual salt in a decaying world, to be spiritual light in the midst of darkness. We are to be wise stewards of God’s gifts and talents. That means striving to be the most honest, patient, hardworking, and committed workers we can be. It means settling for nothing less than excellence. God help us to live up to His high call for each of us.

Chapter Four

Besides our work, the other topic of perennial concern is our marital status. Should we marry or remain single?
It is possible that Christians expend more decision-making energy over the subject of marriage than any other area of human existence. No wonder, since the decisions relevant to the marital relationship have such far-reaching effects on our lives. How a person feels about his marital status determines, in large part, his sense of fulfillment, his productivity, and his self-image. The reality and the seriousness of the marital relationship are brought home when we realize that the one who knows us most intimately, the one before whom we are the most fragile and vulnerable, and the one who powerfully shapes and influences our lives is our marriage partner. That is why entering the marital relationship is not something anyone should undertake lightly.
Before we tackle the general question, “Is it God’s will for me to marry?” several specific questions need to be considered.
Should I Get Married?

The answer to this question has often been assumed by our culture, at least until recent years. Even today, most of us absorb the idea while growing up that marriage is a natural and integral part of normal life. In many ways—from the fairy-tale characters Snow White and Prince Charming, the romantic plays of Shakespeare, and some mass media heroes and heroines—we receive signals that society expects us to be numbered among the married. Among individuals who fail to fulfill this cultural expectation, those of a more traditional mindset are left with the nagging feeling that perhaps something is wrong with them, that they are abnormal.
In earlier generations, if a young man reached the age of thirty without getting married, he was suspected of having homosexual tendencies. If a woman was still single by thirty, it was often tacitly assumed that she had some defect that made her unattractive as a marriage partner or had lesbian preferences. Such assumptions are by no means found in the Scriptures.
From a biblical perspective, the pursuit of celibacy (as Scripture expects for the unmarried) is a legitimate option in some instances. Under other considerations, it is viewed as a definite preference. Though we have our Lord’s blessing on the sanctity of marriage, we also have His example of personal choice to remain celibate, obviously in submission to the will of God. Christ was celibate not because of a lack of the masculine traits necessary to make Him desirable as a life partner. Rather, His divine purpose obviated the destiny of marriage, making it crucial that He devote Himself entirely to the preparation of His bride, the church, for His future wedding.
The most important biblical instruction that we have regarding celibacy is given by the apostle Paul in a lengthy passage from 1 Corinthians:

Now concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor. 7:25–40, RSV)

Paul’s teaching in this matter of marriage has been subjected to serious distortions. Some observe in this text that Paul is setting forth a contrasting view of marriage that says celibacy is good and marriage is bad, particularly for Christians called to service in the interim period between the first advent of Christ and His return. However, even a cursory glance at the text indicates that Paul is not contrasting the good and the bad, but rival goods. He points out that it is good to opt for celibacy under certain circumstances. Moreover, it is also good and quite permissible to opt for marriage under other circumstances. Paul sets forth the pitfalls that a Christian faces when contemplating marriage. Of prime consideration is the pressure of the kingdom of God on the marriage relationship.
Nowhere has the question of celibacy been more controversial than in the Roman Catholic Church. Historically, Protestants have objected that the Roman Catholic Church, by imposing on its clergy a mandate beyond the requirements of Scripture itself, has slipped into a form of legalism. Though we believe that Scripture permits the marriage of clergy, it indicates, at the same time, that one who is married and serving God in a special vocation does face the nagging problems created by a divided set of loyalties—his family on one hand, the church on the other. Unfortunately, the dispute between Protestants and Catholics over mandatory celibacy has become so heated at times that Protestants have often reacted to the other extreme, dismissing celibacy as a viable option. Let us return to the focus of Paul’s word, which sets forth a distinction between rival goods. His distinction, in the final analysis, allows the individual to decide what best suits him or her.
Paul in no way denigrates the honorable “estate” of marriage, but rather affirms what was given in creation: the benediction of God over the marriage relationship. One does not sin by getting married. Marriage is a legitimate, noble, and honorable option set forth for Christians.
Just a Piece of Paper?

Another aspect of the question, “Should I get married?” moves beyond the issue of celibacy to whether a couple should enter into a formal marriage contract or sidestep this option by simply living together. In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.
Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”
The signing of a piece of paper is not a matter of affixing one’s signature in ink to a meaningless document. The signing of a marriage certificate is an integral part of what the Bible calls a covenant. A covenant is made publicly before witnesses and with formal legal commitments that are taken seriously by the community. The protection of both partners is at stake; there is legal recourse should one of the partners act in a way that is destructive to the other.
Contracts are signed out of the necessity spawned by the presence of sin in our fallen nature. Because we have an enormous capacity to wound each other, sanctions have to be imposed by legal contracts. Contracts not only restrain sin, but also protect the innocent in the case of legal and moral violation. With every commitment I make to another human being, there is a sense in which a part of me becomes vulnerable, exposed to the response of the other person. No human enterprise renders a person more vulnerable to hurt than does the estate of marriage.
God ordained certain rules regulating marriage in order to protect people. His law was born of love, concern, and compassion for His fallen creatures. The sanctions God imposed on sexual activity outside marriage do not mean that God is a spoilsport or a prude. Sex is an enjoyment He Himself created and gave to the human race. God, in His infinite wisdom, understands that there is no time that human beings are more vulnerable than when they are engaged in this most intimate activity. Thus, He cloaks this special act of intimacy with certain safeguards. He is saying to both the man and the woman that it is safe to give oneself to the other only when there is a certain knowledge of a lifelong commitment behind it. There is a vast difference between a commitment sealed with a formal document and declared in the presence of witnesses, including family, friends, and authorities of church and state, and a whispered, hollow promise breathed in the back seat of a car.
Do I Want to Get Married?

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The distinction is between the good and the better. Here Paul introduces the idea of burning, not of the punitive fires of hell, but of the passions of the biological nature, which God has given us. Paul is speaking very candidly when he points out that some people are not made for celibacy. Marriage is a perfectly honorable and legitimate option even for those who are most strongly motivated by sexual fulfillment and relief from sexual temptation and passion.
The question, “Do I want to get married?” is an obvious but very important one. The Bible does not prohibit marriage. Indeed, it encourages it except in certain cases where one may be brought into conflict with vocation, but even in that dimension, provisions are left for marriage. So to desire marriage is a very good thing. A person needs to be in touch with his own desires and conscience.
If I have a strong desire to marry, then the next step is to do something about fulfilling that desire. If a person wants a job, he must seriously pursue employment opportunities. When we decide to attend a college or a university, we have to follow the formal routine of making applications and evaluating various campuses. Marriage is no different; no magic recipe has come from heaven that will determine for us the perfect will of God for a life partner. Here, unfortunately, is where Christians have succumbed to the fairy-tale syndrome of our society. It is a particular problem for young, single women. Many a young woman feels that if God wants her to be married, He will drop a marriage partner out of heaven on a parachute or will bring some Prince Charming riding up to her doorstep on a great white horse.
One excruciating problem faced by single women—more so in past generations than today—is caused by the unwritten rule of our society that allows men the freedom actively to pursue a marriage partner while women are considered loose if they actively pursue a prospective husband. No biblical rule says that a woman eager to be married should be passive. There is nothing that prohibits her from actively seeking a suitable mate.
On numerous occasions, I’ve had the task of counseling single women who insisted at the beginning of the interview that they had no desire to be married but simply wanted to work out the dimensions of the celibacy they believed God had imposed on them. After a few questions and answers, the scenario usually repeats itself: the young woman begins to weep and blurts out, “But I really want to get married.” When I suggest that there are wise steps that she can take to find a husband, her eyes light up in astonishment as if I had just given her permission to do the forbidden. I have broken a taboo.
Wisdom requires that the search be done with discretion and determination. Those seeking a life partner need to do certain obvious things, such as going where other single people congregate. They need to be involved in activities that will bring them in close communication with other single Christians.
In the Old Testament, Jacob made an arduous journey to his homeland to find a suitable marriage partner. He did not wait for God to deliver him a life partner. He went where the opportunity presented itself to find a marriage partner. But the fact that he was a man does not imply that such a procedure is limited to males. Women in our society have exactly the same freedom to pursue a mate by diligent search.
What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?

A myth has arisen within the Christian community that marriage is to be a union between two people committed to the principle of selfless love. Selfless love is viewed as being crucial for the success of a marriage. This myth is based on the valid concept that selfishness is often at the root of disharmony and disintegration in marriage relationships. The biblical concept of love says no to acts of selfishness within marital and other human relationships. However, the remedy for selfishness is nowhere to be found in selflessness.
The concept of selflessness emerged from Asian and Greek thinking, where the ideal goal of humanity is the loss of self-identity by becoming one with the universe. The goal of man in this schema is to lose any individual characteristic, becoming one drop in the great ocean. Another aspect of absorption is the notion of the individual becoming merged with the great Oversoul and becoming spiritually diffused throughout the universe. But from a biblical perspective, the goal of the individual is not the annihilation or the disintegration of the self, but the redemption of the self. To seek selflessness in marriage is an exercise in futility. The self is very active in building a good marriage, and marriage involves the commitment of the self with another self based on reciprocal sharing and sensitivity between two actively involved selves.
If I were committed to a selfless marriage, it would mean that in my search for a marriage partner I should survey the scene to find a person for whom I was willing to throw myself away. This is the opposite of what is involved in the quest for a marriage partner. When someone seeks a mate, he should be seeking someone who will enrich his life, who will add to his own self-fulfillment, and who at the same time will be enriched by that relationship.
What are the priority qualities to seek in a marriage partner? One little exercise that many couples have found helpful is based on freewheeling imagination. While finding a marriage partner is not like shopping for an automobile, one can use the new car metaphor. When one purchases a new car, he has many models from which to choose. With those models, there is an almost endless list of optional equipment that can be tacked onto the standard model.
By analogy, suppose one could request a made-to-order mate with all the options. The person engaged in such an exercise could list as many as a hundred qualities or characteristics that he would like to find in the perfect mate. Compatibility with work and with play, attitudes toward parenting, and certain skills and physical characteristics could be included. After completing the list, the person must acknowledge the futility of such a process. No human being will ever perfectly fit all the possible characteristics that one desires in a mate.
This exercise is particularly helpful for people who have delayed marrying into their late twenties or early thirties, or even later. Such a person sometimes settles into a pattern of focusing on tiny flaws that disqualify virtually every person he or she meets. After doing the made-to-order mate exercise, he can take the next step: reduce the list to the main priorities. The person involved in this exercise reduces the number of qualifications to twenty, then to ten, and finally to five. Such a reduction forces him to set in ordered priority the things he is most urgently seeking in a marriage partner.
It is extremely important that individuals clearly understand what they want out of the dating and eventually the marital relationship. They should also find out whether their desires in a marriage relationship are healthy or unhealthy. This leads us to the next question, regarding counseling.
From Whom Should I Seek Counsel?

Many people resent the suggestion that they seek counsel in their selection of a marriage partner. After all, isn’t such a selection an intensely personal and private matter? However personal and private the decision might be, it is one of grave importance to the future of the couple and their potential offspring, their families, and their friends. Marriage is never ultimately a private matter, because how the marriage works affects a multitude of people. Therefore, counsel can and should be sought from trusted friends, pastors, and particularly from parents.
In earlier periods of Western history, marriages were arranged either by families or by matchmakers. Today, the idea of arranged marriages seems primitive and crass. It is totally foreign in the American culture. We have come to the place where we think that it is our inalienable right to choose one whom we love.
Some things need to be said in defense of the past custom of arranged marriages. One is that happy marriages can be achieved even when one has not chosen his own partner. It may sound outrageous, but I am convinced that if biblical precepts are applied consistently, virtually any two people in the world can build a happy marriage and honor the will of God in the relationship. That may not be what we prefer, but it can be accomplished if we are willing to work in the marital relationship. The second thing that needs to be said in defense of arranged marriages is that in some circumstances, marriages have been arranged on the objective evaluation of matching people together and of avoiding destructive parasitic matchups. For example, when left to themselves, people with significant personal weaknesses, such as a man with a profound need to be mothered and a woman with a profound need to mother, can be attracted to each other in a mutually destructive way. Such negative mergings happen daily in our society.
It is not my intention to lobby for matched or arranged marriages. I am only hailing the wisdom of seeking parental counsel in the decision-making process. Parents often object to the choice of a marriage partner. Sometimes their objections are based on the firm conviction that “no one is good enough for my daughter [or son].” Objections of this sort are based on unrealistic expectations at best and on petty jealousy at worst. However, not all parents are afflicted with such destructive prejudices regarding the potential marriage partners of their children. Sometimes the parents have keen insight into the personalities of their children, seeing blind spots that the offspring themselves are unable to perceive. In the earlier example of a person with an inordinate need to be mothered attracting someone with an inordinate need to mother, a discerning parent might spot the mismatch and caution against it. If a parent is opposed to a marriage relationship, it is extremely important to know why.
When Am I Ready to Get Married?

After seeking counsel, having a clear understanding of what we are hoping for, and having examined our expectations of marriage, the final decision is left to us. At this point, some face paralysis as the day of decision draws near. How does one know when he or she is ready to get married? Wisdom dictates that we enter into serious premarital study, evaluation, and counseling with competent counselors so that we may be warned of the pitfalls that come in this new and vital human relationship. With the breakdown of so many marriages in our culture, increasing numbers of young people fear entering into a marriage contract lest they become “statistics.” Sometimes we need the gentle nudge of a trusted counselor to tell us when it is time to take the step.
What things need to be faced before taking the actual step toward marriage? Economic considerations are, of course, important. Financial pressures imposed on a relationship that is already besieged with emotional pressures of other kinds can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. That is why parents often advise young people to wait until they finish their schooling or until they are gainfully employed so that they can assume the responsibility of a family.
It is not by accident that the creation ordinance of marriage mentions that a man shall leave his father and mother and “hold fast to” his wife, and the two shall become “one flesh.” The “leaving and cleaving” dimensions are rooted in the concept of being able to establish a new family unit. Here, economic realities often govern the preparedness for marriage.
Entering into marriage involves far more than embarking on new financial responsibilities. The marriage commitment is the most serious one that two human beings can make to each other. A person is ready to get married when he or she is prepared to commit to a particular person for the rest of his or her life, regardless of the human circumstances that befall them.
In order for us to understand the will of God for marriage, it is imperative that we pay attention to God’s preceptive will. The New Testament clearly shows that God not only ordained marriage and sanctified it, He regulates it. His commandments cover a multitude of situations regarding the nitty-gritty aspects of marriage. The greatest textbook on marriage is sacred Scripture, which reveals God’s wisdom and His rule governing the marriage relationship. If someone earnestly wants to do the will of God in marriage, his first task is to master what Scripture says that God requires in such a relationship.
What does God expect of His children who are married or thinking about getting married? God expects, among other things, faithfulness to the marriage partner, provision of mutual needs, and mutual respect under the lordship of Christ. Certainly the couple should enhance each other’s effectiveness as Christians. If not, something is wrong.
While celibacy is certainly no less blessed and honorable a state than marriage, we have to recognize Adam and Eve as our models. God’s plan involved the vital union of these two individuals who would make it possible for the earth to be filled with their “kind.”
Basically, I cannot dictate God’s will for anyone in this area any more than I can or would in the area of occupation. I will say that good marriages require hard work and individuals willing to make their marriages work.
What happens in our lives is cloaked ultimately in the mystery of God’s will. The joy for us as His children is that the mystery holds no terror—only waiting, appropriate acting on His principles and direction, and the promise that He is with us forever.
Sproul, R. C. (2009). Can I Know God’s Will? (Bd. 4, S. i–102). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

WHAT IS A Healthy CHURCH MEMBER? -via Archbishop Dr. Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Rosary Prayer Chain

What Is a Healthy Church Member?

Copyright © 2008 by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Published by Crossway Books
a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton, Illinois 60187

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except as provided for by USA copyright law.

Cover design: Josh Dennis

Cover illustration: iStock

First printing 2008

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Mobipocket ISBN 978-1-4335-0457-0

PDF ISBN 978-1-4335-0456-3

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Anyabwile, Thabiti M., 1970–
What is a healthy church member? / Thabiti M. Anyabwile; foreword by Mark Dever.
p. cm.—(IX marks series)
ISBN 978-1-4335-0212-5 (hc)
1. Church—Marks. I. Title.
BV601.A59 2008

For Jesus Christ, the Head of the church,
For his body and each member doing its part,
For local churches that have shaped me:
First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman,
Capitol Hill Baptist Church,
Church on the Rock
For the church that lives in my home:
Kristie, Afiya, Eden, and Titus


Series Preface

Foreword by Mark Dever


Mark 1
A Healthy Church Member Is an Expositional Listener

Mark 2
A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Theologian

Mark 3
A Healthy Church Member Is Gospel Saturated

Mark 4
A Healthy Church Member Is Genuinely Converted

Mark 5
A Healthy Church Member Is a Biblical Evangelist

Mark 6
A Healthy Church Member Is a Committed Member

Mark 7
A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline

Mark 8
A Healthy Church Member Is a Growing Disciple

Mark 9
A Healthy Church Member Is a Humble Follower

Mark 10
A Healthy Church Member Is a Prayer Warrior

A Final Word

Appendix: A Typical Covenant of a Healthy Church

Scripture Index

The 9Marks series of books is premised on two basic ideas. First, the local church is far more important to the Christian life than many Christians today perhaps realize. A book called What Is a Healthy Church Member? might also be called What Is a Healthy Christian? We at 9Marks believe that a healthy Christian is a healthy church member.
Second, local churches grow in life and vitality as they organize their lives around God’s Word. God speaks. Churches should listen and follow. It’s that simple. When a church listens and follows, it begins to look like the One it is following. It reflects his love and holiness. It displays his glory. A church will look like him as it listens to him.
By this token, the reader might notice that all “9 marks,” taken from Mark Dever’s 2001 book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway Books), begin with the Bible:

• expositional preaching;
• biblical theology;
• a biblical understanding of the gospel;
• a biblical understanding of conversion;
• a biblical understanding of evangelism;
• a biblical understanding of church membership;
• a biblical understanding of church discipline;
• a biblical understanding of discipleship and growth; and
• a biblical understanding of church ledership.

More can be said about what churches should do in order to be healthy, such as pray. But these nine practices are the ones that we believe are most often overlooked today (unlike prayer). So our basic message to churches is, don’t look to the best business practices or the latest styles; look to God. Start by listening to God’s Word again.
Out of this overall project comes the 9Marks series of books. These volumes intend to examine the nine marks more closely and from different angles. Some target pastors. Some target church members. Hopefully all will combine careful biblical examination, theological reflection, cultural consideration, corporate application, and even a bit of individual exhortation. The best Christian books are always both theological and practical.
It’s our prayer that God will use this volume and the others to help prepare his bride, the church, with radiance and splendor for the day of his coming.

“Beloved.” On Sunday mornings, that was the way Thabiti always greeted the congregation that we pastored together. And he meant it. He loved them, and they loved him. Some of the older members couldn’t pronounce his name (thuh-BEE-tee), but they knew that Thabiti meant it when he called them “Beloved.”
“Good morning, Beloved.” I can still hear it.
That’s also the word that the apostle John used again and again in his letters to some of the earliest churches. In God’s providence, John’s letters, together with the rest of the New Testament, tell us a lot about what it means to be Christians together. They tell us what it means to be a church member, which is what this little book is about, too.
Thabiti knows from experience that living the Christian life is not something that we’re supposed to do alone. Being a Christian is a personal matter, not a private one. When you are born again, you are born into a family. And that family is not only the great extended family of Christians throughout the world, but also the particular nuclear family of a local congregation.
As a fellow church member for a number of years, I had the joy of knowing Thabiti and his wife, Kristie. I remember the first Sunday I met Thabiti. I was struck by how interesting (he worked at a “think tank”), how distinguished (he just looks the part), and how thoughtful (he was measured with his words) he was. But he wasn’t simply a fascinating brain. The brother has a heart! He quickly began involving himself in the lives of other people in the church. Within a few weeks Thabiti was already helping to pastor the congregation. Though it would be several years before he was recognized as an elder, he was eldering.
All of this shows that Thabiti understands the idea that sheep are to be in a sheepfold, and I have seen him be both a great member of the sheepfold and an outstanding undershepherd.
I’ve spent enough of your time now. This is supposed to be a short book. Now I invite you to jump into it and profit. But take a moment to pray before you do. Pray that God might use Thabiti in your life, as he has used him in so many other lives. Pray that God would use this book to help you know and love your local church in a way you never have before. And pray that, as you come to know and love your church, you would increasingly come to know and show God’s love.
God bless and happy reading, Beloved.

Mark Dever,
Washington DC
September 2007

Jenny surprised me when she started crying during our membership interview. The first twenty minutes of the interview were fairly routine. She recounted her childhood growing up in a Christian home, her high school years filled with fear, and a period of living as a prodigal during college. Then she recalled with some joy her conversion experience in a hometown local church.
So I did not expect her to sob at the question, “How was that church for you spiritually? Did you grow there?”
After pausing for a moment, she explained, “I expected that after my conversion someone would have helped me to grow as a Christian.” She continued with a distinct trace of confusion and anger: “But it was as if people put me in a corner somewhere, as if they expected me to figure things out on my own. It was a terrible and lonely time.”
How many Jennys have you met in your lifetime? Perhaps you are a Jenny. Perhaps you have spent considerable time in a local church, or several churches. And perhaps your Christian life is not too dissimilar from Jenny’s. You came to the faith bright eyed and bushy tailed, bouncing with energy and zeal to do great things for the Lord. But soon you found yourself wondering, “What exactly am I supposed to be doing as a member of this local church?”
If so, this book is written for you. And if not, this book is written for you, too.
Whether your Christian life began yesterday or thirty years ago, the Lord’s intent is that you play an active and vital part in his body, the local church. He intends for you to experience the local church as a home more profoundly wonderful and meaningful than any other place on earth. He intends for his churches to be healthy places and for the members of those churches to be healthy as well.
This little book is written in the hope that you might discover or rediscover what it means to be a healthy member of a local church, and what it means to contribute to the overall health of the church.
In 2007, Crossway Books published Mark Dever’s What Is a Healthy Church? That book offered one definition of what a healthy church looks like biblically and historically and, along with his prior work Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, has shaped the thinking of many pastors and church leaders in the years since it was first published.
This book takes its cue from What Is a Healthy Church? though it attempts to answer a slightly different question: “What does a healthy church member look like in the light of Scripture?” While Nine Marks of a Healthy Church primarily addressed pastors in the task of church reform, this book seeks to address the people that pastors lead and to encourage those people to play their part in helping the local church to increasingly reflect the glory of God.
How can you, an individual member of a local church, contribute to the positive health of your church?
A lady named Mrs. Burns cornered me after the church service one Sunday morning. She was a little hot and bothered about some of the things that were changing in the church as well as some of the things that were remaining the same. I tried to greet others as they were leaving while at the same time nodding politely to Mrs. Burns as she complained of her dissatisfaction.
When she paused in her litany, my first thought was to ask her, “So what exactly would you have me to do about these things?” But in a rare moment of insight I thought better of asking that question. Instead I asked her, “So what are you going to do about the state of the church? How will you become a better member and contribute to the health of God’s family in this place?”
Those questions belong to every Christian, not just the ones who complain like Mrs. Burns. The health of the local church depends on the willingness of its members to inspect their hearts, correct their thinking, and apply their hands to the work of the ministry.
The chapters that follow present one proposal for becoming a healthier member of your local church. The chapters assume that you’re already a member of a local congregation and that perhaps you just need a little nudge or the opportunity to think through a few key issues.
Chapter 1 encourages “expositional listening” to the Word of God. Healthy church members are those who listen in a particular way to the Word of God as it is preached and studied—they let God set the agenda by seeking always to hear the true meaning of the text so that they can apply it to their lives.
In chapter 2, church members are encouraged to dedicate themselves to learning the overarching themes of the Bible. In other words, they are asked to become “biblical theologians” in an effort to protect themselves and the church from false and unsound teaching.
Chapter 3 invites church members to be saturated in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that saves us (Rom. 1:16), and it is the gospel that will sustain and motivate us in our daily Christian lives.
There is no way to listen expositionally to the Scripture, to master its overarching narrative and themes, and to live a gospel-saturated life without also desiring and endeavoring to become a biblical evangelist. Chapters 4 and 5 offer some suggestions for thinking about conversion and evangelism in a biblically healthy way.
Chapter 6 is a call to make a serious and active commitment to membership in the local church. Then chapter 7 provides one reason why committed church membership is important: the local church is where Christians experience the shaping and correcting discipline of the Lord.
Chapter 8 examines spiritual growth from a biblical perspective, while chapter 9 includes some recommendations for effectively supporting the leadership of your local church.
Chapter 10 is a call to consider prayer an essential aspect of becoming and being a healthy church member. A brief discussion of the biblical basis of prayer is offered along with some suggested things for healthy church members to include in their prayer lives.
Each chapter also includes some recommended readings for further study. These are not the only things that make for a healthy church member; other things are important as well. But I hope these stir us all to love and good deeds for the glory of Christ and the beauty of his bride.

O Sovereign Lord, we beseech you to bless your people with an unusual humility, unity, joy, peace, and care for one another. We pray that you would increasingly make all of your people spiritually healthy and fruitful, not only as individuals but as one body, one new man, laboring together to grow up into Christ, even the fullness of his stature. Bless the reading, hearing, and study of your word for the glory of your name. And, O Lord, be pleased to use even this little book in some way to advance your kingdom and beautify your bride. Father, we ask these things knowing that nothing is too hard for you, with the full assurance of faith, in Jesus’ name. Amen.


What is “expositional listening”? Before answering that question, we need to define “expositional preaching.” The first and most important mark of a healthy church is expositional preaching. “Expositional preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of Scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the main point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture.” If churches are to be healthy, then pastors and teachers must be committed to discovering the meaning of Scripture and allowing that meaning to drive the agenda with their congregations.
There is an important corollary for every member of a local church. Just as the pastor’s preaching agenda should be determined by the meaning of Scripture, so too should the Christian’s listening agenda be driven by the meaning of Scripture. When we listen to the preaching of the Word, we should not listen primarily for “practical how-to advice,” though Scripture teaches us much about everyday matters. Nor should we listen for messages that bolster our self-esteem or that rouse us to political and social causes. Rather, as members of Christian churches we should listen primarily for the voice and message of God as revealed in his Word. We should listen to hear what he has written, in his omniscient love, for his glory and for our blessing.
So what exactly do I mean by “expositional listening”? Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians.
What Are the Benefits of Expositional Listening?

Expositional listening benefits us, first, by cultivating a hunger for God’s Word. As we tune our ears to the kind of preaching that makes the primary point of the sermon the primary point of a particular passage of Scripture, we grow accustomed to listening to God. We become fluent in the language of Zion and conversant with its themes. His Word, his voice, becomes sweet to us (Ps. 119:103–4); and as it does, we are better able to push to the background the many voices that rival God’s voice for control over our lives. Expositional listening gives us a clear ear with which to hear God.
The second benefit follows from the first. Expositional listening helps us to focus on God’s will and to follow him. Our agenda becomes secondary. The preacher’s agenda becomes secondary. God’s agenda for his people takes center stage, reorders our priorities, and directs us in the course that most honors him. The Lord himself proclaimed, “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Listening to the voice of Jesus as it is heard in his Word is critical to following him.
Third, expositional listening protects the gospel and our lives from corruption. The Scripture tells us “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4). The failure to listen expositionally has disastrous effects. False teachers enter the church and hinder the gospel. Ultimately, the truth is displaced by myths and falsehoods. Where members cultivate the habit of expositional listening they guard themselves against “itching ears” and protect the gospel from corruption.
The fourth benefit, then, is that expositional listening encourages faithful pastors. Those men who serve faithfully in the ministry of the Word are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). Few things are more discouraging or dishonoring to such men than a congregation inattentive to the Word of God. Faithful men flourish at the fertile reception of the preached Word. They’re made all the more bold when their people give ear to the Lord’s voice and give evidence of being shaped by it. As church members, we can care for our pastors and teachers and help to prevent unnecessary discouragement and fatigue by cultivating the habit of expositional listening.
Fifth, expositional listening benefits the gathered congregation. Repeatedly, the New Testament writers exhort local churches to be unified—to be of one mind. Paul writes to one local church, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there may be no divisions among you, but that you may be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10; see also Rom. 12:16; 2 Cor. 13:11; 1 Pet. 3:8). As we gather together in our local churches and give ourselves to hearing the voice of God through his preached Word, we’re shaped into one body. We are united in understanding and purpose. And that unity testifies to the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 17:21). But if we listen with our own interests and agendas in mind, if we develop “private interpretations” and idiosyncratic views, we risk shattering that unity, provoking disputes over doubtful matters, and weakening our corporate gospel witness.
How Can Church Members Cultivate the Habit of Expositional Listening?

Well, if expositional listening is so vital to the health of individual church members and the church as a whole, how does a person form such a habit? At least six practical ideas can foster more attentive listening to God’s word.

Several days before the sermon is preached, ask the pastor what passage of Scripture he plans to preach the following Sunday. Encourage him by letting him know that you’ll be praying for his preparation and preparing to listen to the sermon. Outline the text in your own daily devotions and use it to inform your prayer life. Learning to outline Scripture is a wonderful way of digging out and exposing the meaning of a passage. You can then use your outline as a listening aid; compare it to the preacher’s outline for new insights you missed in your own study.

Add to your quiet times some of the greatest minds in Christian history. Study the Bible with John Calvin or Martin Lloyd-Jones by purchasing commentaries on books of the Bible as you read and study through them. If your pastor is preaching through John’s Gospel, pick up D. A. Carson’s or James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on John. Let these scholars and pastors help you hear God’s Word with a clear ear and discover its rich meaning. The Bible Speaks Today commentary series is an excellent starting place for those wanting to build a library of good commentaries. Also, you might want to purchase an Old Testament and New Testament commentary survey to help you sort through the range of commentary options available. Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey and D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey are excellent resources.

Instead of rushing off after the service is over, or talking about the latest news, develop the habit of talking about the sermon with people after church. Start spiritual conversations by asking, “How did the Scripture challenge or speak to you today?” Or, “What about God’s character most surprised or encouraged you?” Encourage others by sharing things you learned about God and his Word during the sermon. Make particular note of how your thinking has changed because of the meaning of Scripture itself. And pray with others that God would keep the congregation from becoming “dull of hearing” and that he would bless the congregation with an increasingly strong desire for the “solid food” of his Word (Isa. 6:9–10; Heb. 5:11–14).

We can cultivate the habit of expositional listening by listening to the sermon throughout the week and then acting upon it. Don’t let the Sunday sermon become a one-time event that fades from memory as soon as it is over (James 1:22–25). Choose one or two particular applications from the Scripture and prayerfully put them into practice over the coming week. If your church has an audio ministry or a website that posts recent summaries, take advantage of these opportunities to feed your soul with the click of a mouse. With your pastor’s support, establish small groups that review and apply the sermons. Or, use the sermons and your notes as a resource in one-on-one discipleship relationships. I know of several families that have a regular sermon-review time as their Sunday evening family devotional. There are a hundred ways to keep the sermon alive in your spiritual life by reviewing God’s Word throughout the week. Be creative. It’s well worth the planning.

Jonathan Edwards resolved that he would never let a day end before he had answered any questions that troubled him or sprang to mind while he was studying the Scripture. How healthy would our churches be if members dedicated themselves to studying the Scripture with that kind of intentional effort and resolve? One way to begin is to follow up with your pastor, elders, or other teachers in the church about questions triggered by the text. Moreover, don’t be passive in your private study; seek answers by searching the Scripture yourself and by talking with accountability partners or small groups. But don’t forget that the pastor has likely spent more time than most in thinking about that passage and is there to feed you God’s Word. Follow up the sermon with questions and comments that would be an encouragement to your pastor and a blessing to your soul.

As you dig into God’s Word, listening for his voice, you will no doubt begin to grow and discover many wonderful treasures. But as you grow, do not become a “professional sermon listener” who is always hearing but never learning. Beware of false knowledge that “puffs up” (1 Cor. 1:8; Col. 2:18) and tends to cause strife and dissension. Mortify any tendencies toward pride, the condemnation of others, and critical nit-picking. Instead, seek to meet Jesus each time you come to the Scripture; gather from the Word fuel for all-of-life worship. Instead of exalting ourselves, let us remember the apostle Peter’s words: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

It is hearing the message and the Word of God that leads to saving faith (Rom. 10:17). Church members are healthy when they give themselves to hearing this message as a regular discipline. Expositional listening promotes such health for individual members and entire churches.
For Further Reflection

1. How would you rate your ability to listen for the meaning of the Word during private devotions? During sermons?

2. How do you plan to strengthen your listening ability?


Ignorance of God—ignorance both of His ways and of the practice of communion with Him—lies at the root of the church’s weakness today.” That’s how J. I. Packer began the 1973 preface to his classic volume Knowing God. Packer reasoned that one trend producing such ignorance of God and weakness in the church was “that Christian minds have been conformed to the modern spirit: the spirit, that is, that spawns great thoughts of man and leaves room for only small thoughts of God.”
Sadly, Packer’s observation rings true more than three decades later. Ignorance of the ways of God and of communion with him is rampant in too many instances. Members of Christian churches continue to think small thoughts of God and great thoughts of man. This state of affairs reveals that too many Christians have neglected their first great calling: to know their God. Every Christian is meant to be a theologian in the best and most intimate sense of the word. If churches are to prosper in health, church members must be committed to being biblical theologians in whatever capacity they can. This is the second mark of a healthy church member.
What Is Biblical Theology for the Church Member?

To practice biblical theology is to know God himself. I’m using the term “biblical theology” with two things in mind. First, we must keep in mind that the Bible is the self-revelation of God; it is the source material for developing great thoughts about God. The Christian who is interested in knowing his God is the Christian who wants to know what God says about himself in the Bible. Such a Christian will not begin sentences with “I like to think of God as …” She has learned not to blend together a little New Age or a little Hinduism with a little Christianity in order to yield a custom-fitted deity for herself. No, the Christian church member who is serious about knowing God is the member who is committed to what the Bible says about God, because the Bible is where God tells us about himself.
To practice biblical theology is to know God’s macro story of redemption. Second, the biblical theologian is a person committed to understanding the history of revelation, the grand themes and doctrines of the Bible, and how they fit together. In other words, healthy church members give themselves to understanding the unity and progression of the Bible as a whole—not just isolated or favorite passages. They approach the Bible knowing that they are reading one awesome story of God redeeming for himself a people for his own glory. And in that story, they see that God is a creating God, a holy God, a faithful God, a loving God, and a sovereign God as he makes and keeps his promises to his people, beginning with Adam and Eve and progressing to the final consummation of all things.
How Does Biblical Theology Work to Promote Health in a Church Member?

In his popular Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem outlines several benefits to studying systematics. Many of those benefits come with doing biblical theology as well. Grudem’s proposed benefits are worth summarizing here.
First, practicing biblical theology helps us grow in our reverence for God. As we encounter the God of Scripture who establishes and keeps his covenant promises with his people, we see something of God’s majesty. The Lord’s working of all things together for good comes into clearer focus, from his promise to the woman that her Seed would bruise the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), to the opening of barren wombs so that the Seed would be preserved (Gen. 17:15–19; 21:1–2; 29:31; 30:22; Isa. 7:14), to the actual birth of that Seed (Matt. 1:20–23). When we see that God is, always has been, and always will be the same creating, holy, faithful, loving, and sovereign God for us that he has been for others, we are stirred to faith and awe in God. If we want to know and reverence God truly, we will dedicate ourselves to becoming biblical theologians who understand the narrative and themes of Scripture.
Second, practicing biblical theology helps us to overcome our wrong ideas. All of us encounter various teachings in the Bible that challenge, confuse, or provoke us. Often, we refuse to accept these teachings because of dullness and sin in our hearts. We can evade one verse here or there that displeases or confronts us. But when we give ourselves to understanding the grand sweep of biblical revelation and the total weight of Scripture’s teaching on a particular subject, we are more readily convinced of our wrong ideas. Biblical theology helps us to see how God has consistently spoken the same message to his people in diverse places and diverse ways (Heb. 1:1), a message that we will all one day bow to and accept (Isa. 45:22–24; Rom. 14:10–12; Phil. 2:9–11). As we prayerfully study biblical theology, we’re led to joyfully submit to God and to jettison our wrong ideas about him.
Third, practicing biblical theology helps inoculate the church against doctrinal controversies. Church history is replete with controversies rising within and between congregations. Churches are better able to withstand and productively resolve such controversies when they maintain a good understanding of biblical, systematic, and historical theology. This is true because whatever the Bible has to say about one thing is related to everything else the Bible says. Biblical theology helps to maintain the continuity and consistency of the Bible’s teaching. Engaging in biblical theology is akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When one piece of the puzzle appears unfamiliar, we can search for its proper place in the puzzle by relating it to the bigger picture on the puzzle box. The more pieces we have in place to begin with, the easier it is to evaluate and fit in new pieces and the less apt we are to make mistakes. Adequately grasping biblical theology is much like having the picture of the completed puzzle, allowing us to accept or reject errant theological pieces. The Scriptures “were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11), and knowledge of Scripture protects the church from clever wives’ tales and endless disputes.
Fourth, the practice of biblical theology is necessary to fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus commands us to teach all believers to observe all that he commands (Matt. 28:19–20). Without a well-formed theology, including an accurate understanding of how God’s commands are to be understood in their historical development and context, it is difficult indeed to obey the Lord’s command to teach others to obey. What shall we teach? What shall we obey? How shall we know what to apply to our lives? These questions are better answered when Christians are knowledgeable of biblical theology and know their God.
But perhaps the most compelling benefit for doing biblical theology is that it deepens our understanding of and facility with the gospel. Jesus and the apostles did not need the New Testament to proclaim the gospel. They relied on the Old Testament and understood that the Old Testament Scriptures pointed to Jesus (Luke 24:27, 44–45). The biblical theologian follows in the steps of Jesus and the apostles by mastering the unity of Scripture, seeing Christ and the gospel throughout.
How to Become a Healthy Church Member by Becoming a Biblical Theologian

How can a Christian become a healthy church member conversant with the themes of biblical theology? Several strategies may be helpful.
Dever, M. (2008). Foreword. In What Is a Healthy Church Member? (S. 3–31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


One obvious way to become a biblical theologian is to read a good book on biblical theology. Several works have proven useful over the years. For a good reference work, readers should try The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. For helpful introductions consider:

• Vaughn Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible;
• Mark Strom, The Symphony of Scripture: Making Sense of the Bible’s Many Themes;
• Peter Jensen, At the Heart of the Universe: What Christians Believe;
• Graeme, Goldsworthy, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible; and
• Graeme Goldsworthy, The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel and Kingdom, Gospel and Wisdom, and The Gospel in Revelation.

The New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D. A. Carson provides an excellent series of studies in biblical theology. These works provide solid and readable overviews of the unity and diversity of Scripture. And for more advanced readers, Dutch-born Princeton theologian Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments7 is still a classic. Use these works in your devotional or free reading times. Suggest to your small-group leader that you read one or more works like these as a group.

Allot some portion of your private devotions to study the Scriptures thematically. The main diet of Scripture intake should probably be a study of books of the Bible verse-by-verse in their redemptive historical context. Supplement this main diet with a study of major themes that run throughout the Bible. Spend some time considering the revelation of the character of God; the unity and diversity of the covenant of God with his people; the prophethood, priesthood, and kingship of Jesus; and the kingdom of God in both the Old and New Testaments. Trace these themes throughout Scripture and make note of the continuities and discontinuities across various periods of redemptive history. As you do this, the excellencies of God and the glories of redemption will come into view in a more nuanced and brilliant way.

As we stated earlier, the Bible is one story about God’s redeeming for himself a special people. When studying the New Testament, train yourself to link what you learn there to the Old Testament. Ask questions like these:

• How is this passage a fulfillment of something promised in the Old Testament?

• How is this New Testament idea different from or similar to an Old Testament teaching?

• In what way does this New Testament passage clarify, unveil, or amplify something from the Old Testament?

Asking these questions will help to underscore the unity and diversity of the Bible and its message. An excellent book to study with these questions in mind is the book of Hebrews. Study Hebrews and be amazed at the supremacy of Jesus Christ demonstrated in the Old Testament.

As you read and study the Old Testament, ask yourself how it fits together with the revelation of the New Testament. For example, ask:

• Where does this passage fit in the time line of redemptive history?

• How does this passage point us to Jesus?

• How does this truth about Israel relate to the New Testament idea of the church?

• How is this passage foundational for an understanding of New Testament Christianity? How is this idea or teaching in the Old Testament continuous or discontinuous with the New Testament?

• Which New Testament passage help me to answer these questions?

A student of biblical theology is well versed in the continuing drama of Scripture.

Perhaps the most neglected books of the Old Testament are the books of prophecy, especially the unfortunately named “Minor Prophets.” The prophets contain some of the richest material in Scripture about the life, ministry, and supremacy of Jesus Christ. As you study Isaiah or Zechariah, for example, remember that their prophecies could be fulfilled on multiple horizons. Any given prophecy could have been fulfilled, in one respect, in the prophet’s own day. The same prophecy could also be “christologically” fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And then it could be “eschatologically” fulfilled, that is, occurring at the end of time in the consummation of all things. Studying and understanding prophecy in this way helps to emphasize the big picture of the Bible and to deepen our knowledge of God.

When we join a church, we should know what the church believes and whether we agree with its teaching. Therefore, commit yourself to studying the church’s statement of faith. Is it doctrinally sound? Is it a statement with a special history in that local church? Does the statement of faith agree with or depart from the broader Christian tradition? Do you understand the statement? Some churches have a healthy practice of requiring new members to sign the church’s statement of faith as an indication of their agreement with and willingness to defend the truths expressed therein. Could you in good conscience sign your church’s statement of faith? If so, commit yourselves to upholding the doctrinal integrity of your church.

From time to time, doctrinal differences will arise in a local church. The key question for members is, “How will you participate in the resolution of such differences?” The old maxim is useful here: “In all things essential, unity; in all things nonessential, liberty; and in all things, love.” A healthy church member, committed to becoming a biblical theologian, will work to know the difference between beliefs that are essential to biblical Christianity and beliefs that are nonessential to the integrity and continuance of the faith. Healthy church members will commit themselves to defending the essential things of the gospel (Phil. 1:27; Jude 3), while avoiding strife and contention over things that are not essential to the gospel. The apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy are appropriate:

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. (2 Tim. 2:14–17a)

On the one hand, we are to be workmen who are skilled in correctly handling the word of truth; on the other hand, we must be innocent of engendering disagreements over things of no value. Quarreling about petty and inconsequential things “only ruins those who listen” and, like a gangrenous growth, leads to more and more ungodliness. Let us work for unity in belief and peace in our churches, remembering that “it is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling” (Prov. 20:3).

According to J. I. Packer, knowing God starts with knowing about him, about his character. It also involves giving yourself to God based upon his promise to be your God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, his Son. Consequently, knowing God means following Jesus as a disciple. And, ultimately, knowing God means being “more than a conqueror” by exulting in the adequacy of God in all things. Such knowledge of God comes only from drinking deeply from the message of the Bible with all of its rich themes. And such knowledge of God belongs especially to those Christian church members who commit to becoming biblical theologians.
For Further Reflection

1. How familiar are you with biblical theology? Do you think you have an adequate grasp of the major themes and developments of the Bible? Could you explain to a new Christian or a non-Christian how the entire Bible fits together as one book?

2. What specific plans could you make to strengthen your knowledge of biblical theology?


The greatest need in the world today is the gospel. It is the greatest need of the world because men, women, and children are perishing without a vital knowledge of God through the good news of our Savior and his Son, Jesus.
The greatest need in the church today is the gospel. The gospel is not only news for a perishing world, it is the message that forms, sustains, and animates the church. Apart from the gospel, the church has nothing to say—that is, nothing to say that cannot be said by some other human agency. The gospel distinguishes the church from the world, defines her message and mission in the world, and steels her people against the fiery darts of the evil one and the false allurements of sin. The gospel is absolutely vital to a vibrant, joyous, persevering, hopeful, and healthy Christian and Christian church. So essential is the gospel to the Christian life that we need to be saturated in it in order to be healthy church members.
Becoming Gospel Saturated

How then do we immerse ourselves in the gospel? What path might lead to greater spiritual health?

The first order of business is to know the gospel. This seems so obvious that stating it can feel silly. But, in point of fact, many professing and believing Christians possess a shallow understanding of the gospel as a result of years of hearing short “gospel presentations” tacked onto the ends of sermons. Still others who know the message of Christ find themselves feeling awkward and incapable of sharing the good news clearly with family and friends. Taking steps to be sure we know the gospel with some clarity and depth, then, is necessary.
It’s helpful to rule out some ideas frequently presented as the gospel. The gospel is not simply that (a) we are okay, (b) that God is love, (c) that Jesus wants to be our friends, or (d) that we should live right. Neither is the gospel simply that all our problems will be fixed if we follow Jesus, or that God wants us to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. All of these ideas may be true in some sense, but only in a partial sense and never as a solely sufficient statement of what the gospel is.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is literally “good news.” As news it contains statements of fact and truths derived from those facts. As good news the gospel holds out hope based upon promises of God and grounded in the historical facts and truths that vindicate those promises.
The gospel or good news of Jesus Christ is that God the Father, who is holy and righteous in all his ways, is angry with sinners and will punish sin. Man, who disobeys the rule of God, is alienated from the love of God and is in danger of an eternal and agonizing condemnation at the hands of God. But God, who is also rich in mercy, because of his great love, sent his eternal Son born by the Virgin Mary, to die as a ransom and a substitute for the sins of rebellious people. And now, through the perfect obedience of the Son of God and his willing death on the cross as payment for our sins, all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, following him as Savior and Lord, will be saved from the wrath of God to come, be declared just in his sight, have eternal life, and receive the Spirit of God as a foretaste of the glories of heaven with God himself.
It is this message—briefly stated here—that we must imbibe and delight in if we are to be healthy church members.

We must cultivate and protect a ravenous desire for this message. Regularly hearing and plumbing the depths of the gospel increases our knowledge of the message, our affection for the Savior, and our skill in sharing the message.
So we should listen actively for the gospel and gospel implications in sermons. Don’t turn off your ears when the pastor begins to appeal to non-Christians with the gospel message. Listen to it afresh. Reaffirm your belief in its truth, promises, and power in your life. Appropriate it for any sins that you become conscious of through the sermon or self-examination. See your sins nailed to the cross as you hear the good news. Consider whether there are any new promises or aspects to the gospel included in the sermon. How will you hold onto those truths?
Listen so actively and longingly for this news that you feel your poverty and malnourishment when it’s missing in a sermon. And when you find yourself dissatisfied or longing, preach the gospel to yourself. It’s a message that comes to you, for you. Own it. Rather than merely listening to others, or listening to that voice that plagues you with doubts, worries, and fears, listen to the voice of God in the gospel by proclaiming it to yourself when the need arises. C. J. Mahaney, in his excellent and helpful book Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, suggests that we memorize the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel, review how the gospel has changed us, and study the gospel.

As you reflect on the events and promises of the gospel, press forward to the conclusion of the gospel. John Piper reminds us that God is the gospel, that the gospel is a message about God giving himself to us in love:

Until the gospel events of Good Friday and Easter and the gospel promises of justification and eternal life lead you to behold and embrace God himself as your highest joy, you have not embraced the gospel of God. You have embraced some of his gifts. You have rejoiced over some of his rewards. You have marveled at some of his miracles. But you have not yet been awakened to why the gifts, the rewards, and the miracles have come. They have come for one great reason: that you might behold forever the glory of God in Christ, and by beholding become the kind of person who delights in God above all things, and by delighting display his supreme beauty and worth with ever-increasing brightness and bliss forever.

As church members, our aim is to understand the gospel so deeply, so intimately, that it animates every area of our lives. We want the gospel central to our communication with others, central to how we encourage and correct, central to individual career and relationship decisions, central to the decisions the church makes corporately, and central to all our habits of life. We want the gospel, the God of the gospel, to take priority in every area of life. Gospel-saturated church members should consider any number of strategies for organizing their lives around the good news of Jesus Christ:

• intentionally frequenting the same stores (cleaners, restaurants, etc.) with the aim of building relationships and familiarity with store personnel, and hopefully having gospel conversations;
• using vacations for short-term mission trips;
• volunteering in community organizations to influence for the gospel;
• hosting home discussions regarding religion and philosophy;
• inviting neighbors over for dinner or for holiday parties and talking with them about Christ;
• hosting Bible studies in the work place;
• joining neighborhood clubs (garden clubs, cycling clubs, etc.) to build relationships and further gospel opportunities;
• inviting friends to church and special religious events where the gospel is sure to be center stage.

We want to recognize that there is no risk in sharing the gospel, only the reward of faithfulness. We want to be “at the ready” with the words of life.

It sometimes appears as though some Christians believe the gospel was meant to be preached widely until it reached them and then stored safely in the vault of their personal history, away from everyone else. Christians can suppose that just sharing their testimony or living a good Christian life is as effective a witness as doing evangelism. No doubt such a life is a witness of sorts. But is it a witness to the cross of Jesus Christ? Does “witnessing” through our personal testimonies and good deeds point effectively enough to the cross and the Savior?
In too many cases such attempts leave only a vague impression of religiosity, not a brilliant display of the glories of God in the redemption of sinners through the sacrifice of his Son. If we would contribute to the health of our local congregations, we must be committed not only to harvesting the gospel for ourselves but to shipping it to others as well. We must do the work of an evangelist. With urgency and love we must tell the non-Christians among us to repent of their sins and to believe on Jesus Christ. We must tell them that turning to God does not result in an easy life, but the decision is well worth it. The forgiveness and satisfaction their souls long for is found only in the person of Jesus Christ.
We have an opportunity to improve the work of our pastor by planting and watering gospel seeds even as he plants and waters through his pulpit ministry. We can greet and talk with visitors to our churches and invite our non-Christian family and friends. We should use the occasion of their visit to discuss spiritual things, particularly their understanding of and their acceptance or rejection of the good news. We can meet together with other Christians specifically to plot and pray for evangelistic opportunities. A gospel-saturated life is a life that splashes out onto others with the good news. A healthy church is built, in part, on healthy gospel-motivated members.

Finally, a healthy church member takes seriously the responsibility of guarding the gospel from corruption and abandonment. The New Testament seems to place this responsibility ultimately on the congregation rather than on the pastors alone. When the churches at Galatia were unsettled by false teachers who were trying to add circumcision to the demands of the gospel, the apostle Paul wrote not to the pastors and elders but to the churches themselves. He addressed the membership and called them to guard the gospel he had preached to them. His instruction is strong:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be eternally accursed. (Gal. 1:8–9)

The Galatians, indeed all Christian church members, are to be careful concerning what they entertain in gospel preaching. The apostle John warns his readers that “if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked work” (2 John 10–11). Peter reminds his readers that those who follow the “shameful ways” of false teachers cause “the way of truth to be blasphemed” (2 Pet. 2:2). So it’s understandable, then, that Jude exhorts his audience to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). The healthy church and church member fight for and protect the apostolic gospel delivered and preserved in the pages of Scripture. When we don’t accept that responsibility and are not vigilant in understanding and applying the gospel, we leave it to be corrupted, abused, and abandoned by unscrupulous teachers and the forces of the evil one.

In the gospel of Jesus Christ, God offers himself for sinners and to sinners. It is the gospel that makes us aware of the love of God, of our depravity and need for redemption, and of the possibility of eternal joy through worshiping God. It is this same gospel, and a healthy understanding of it, that creates health and strength in members of the Christian church. Let us be saturated in it!
For Further Reflection

What strategies will you put into place to keep yourself thinking about, applying, and sharing the gospel?

For Further Reading

Bridges, Jerry. The Gospel for Real Life. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003.
———. The Discipline of Grace. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1994.
Mahaney, C. J. Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2006.
Piper, John. God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005.
Spurgeon, Charles. The Power of the Cross of Christ. Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 1996.
Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2006 (twentieth anniversary edition).


My friend Curtis possesses a contagious Christian joy. He loves the Lord and is zealous in evangelism. Curtis’s zeal is marked by a willingness to “do whatever it takes” to have someone “profess faith in Christ.”
One day Curtis, with his usual joy, told me of a mutual friend, Kenny, who “got born again.” I was struck by Curtis’s choice of words. Pressing past his excitement, I asked, “How do you know he was ‘born again’?”
Curtis withdrew slightly, head tilting with the curiosity puppies sometimes display at odd human behavior, “What do you mean?”
“Well, how can you be so confident that spiritual rebirth occurred?”
Relief washed over Curtis’s face and shoulders. “Oh. That’s easy. He came down front after the service and prayed to receive Christ—the way lots of people get saved.”
About a year after my conversation with Curtis, he telephoned, quite concerned. A problem that periodically troubled him was again causing him discomfort—only this time it was our friend Kenny. Curtis told me how Kenny began the Christian race well, attending public services, praying fervently, going out with evangelism teams, and sometimes showing great emotion during public services. “The first year was great,” Curtis reported. “But then,” his voice quieting, “Kenny just faded away. It’s like he just petered out … and now he’s having marital problems and considering leaving the faith.”
Silence occupied the phone line for a moment. Then Curtis asked, “Do you think Kenny was ever really saved? How can you tell if someone is born again?”
Getting Conversion Correct

As we’re thinking through a list of things a healthy church member must be, a good case can be made for beginning right here—with the fact that a healthy church member must be genuinely converted. The healthy church member—the true church member—must know the work of God’s grace in his or her own soul. We must be converted ourselves. This may sound obvious, but probably 40 percent of the people I interview for membership in our local church tell me of a time when they were church members but did not understand the gospel and were not, by their own assessment, converted people. The experience is widespread. Even famous Christians like John Wesley tell such a story.
Understanding Biblical Conversion

Surely one of the reasons for the vast number of nominal Christians—those who hold to the faith in name only—in the history of the Christian church is that churches have failed to embrace and teach a biblical understanding of conversion. If we want to understand conversion rightly, we must begin with the Bible’s diagnosis of fallen man. To apply the proper treatment and cure, we must recognize the illness.
All men suffer the illness of sin. Not only do men sin, but men are sinners by nature (Eph. 2:1–3). At his root, his core, his heart, man is alienated from and hostile toward God. He prefers to satisfy his sinful cravings and desires more than to honor and worship God—so much so that he is a slave to sin.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom. 8:5–8)

Because man is a sinner by nature, he is guilty before God and deserves the punishment God promises. Unless there is a radical and profound change in his spiritual condition, man is doomed to judgment. With his mind set on evil, he cannot and does not even desire to please God. He desperately needs to be changed. He needs a new heart.
This radical change is what Christian theology calls “conversion.” Conversion is the radical turn from an enslaved life of pursuing sin to a free life of pursuing and worshiping God. Conversion is a change of life, not merely a decision. This change is not a matter of moral rectitude, self help, or mere behavior modification. It is not accomplished by outward displays or religious practices like “walking the aisle.” It cannot be accomplished by human effort but only by the power of God.
Conversion is a change so dramatic that it requires the intervention of God the Holy Spirit. In conversion the Spirit of God grants the twin graces of repentance and faith to sinners who turn from sin and turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith’s eighth article defines biblical conversion well:

We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on Him alone as the only and all sufficient Saviour.

Conversion, then, requires genuine conviction of sin that leads to turning around (repentance) and relying only on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation (faith).
Knowing Our Own Souls

How then will a biblical understanding of conversion affect what we do in our churches practically? It’s worth thinking about both the inward and the outward implications.
So start by looking inward. We need to ask ourselves if we have received a changed heart by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This sort of self-examination is a spiritually healthy thing to do. In fact, this is what the apostles often exhorted their readers to do (2 Cor. 13:5; Phil. 2:12; 2 Pet. 1:5–11). The first order of business is to know our own souls. Are we trusting in the finished work of Christ alone for our salvation? Is there evidence of God’s grace in our lives? Are we growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–24), and in the virtues mentioned in Christ’s beatitudes (Matt. 5:3–12)?
The book of 1 John is a helpful book to study when examining the work of God in our souls. John offers several tests to help Christians know if they have savingly come to faith in Christ. In an effort to know our soul’s standing before God, we might examine ourselves with the following proofs.

“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:6–7). Genuine converts to Christ grieve at their sin. They hate their sins, and they desire the light of life in Christ, which is to say they desire and work to walk in integrity and righteousness. Persons habitually and unrepentantly living in sin, who deny that they are sinners (vv. 8–10), are not genuinely converted. “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:5).

Some people appear to love Jesus “meek and mild” but show no affection for God the Father, whom they reckon to be the unloving God of the Old Testament. Thinking of Jesus as a God of love and tolerance allows some people to believe that God will not judge sin or condemn the sinner. They may view God the Father as an Old Testament tyrant and reject the Bible’s teaching about God because they find it out-of-date, unsatisfying, or repulsive. But the apostle John makes love for the Father a test of genuine faith. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22–23). There is but one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no way to love both the world and the Father. And there is no way to embrace Christ without embracing the Father, or to come to the Father without believing on Christ. Love for God the Father is a test of genuine conversion.

Many people appear to live without genuine affection or concern for other Christians. They think of the Christian walk as a “solo sport.” However, “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him” (1 John 5:1). “Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:14b–15). “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” (1 John 3:18–19). John teaches that the commandment is to believe in the name of Jesus Christ and to love one another. If our love of other Christians is cold, we need to examine whether or not we have savingly believed on Christ Jesus the Son of God.

“And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (1 John 3:24b). The Father has not left us without a testimony of his love. We may be assured of our adoption into his family by God himself, the Holy Spirit, assuring us. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ ” (Gal. 4:6; see also Rom. 8:15). “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). We know that we live in God and God in us because we received the Holy Spirit when we believed the gospel (1 John 4:13–14).

“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4–5). Those who believe and continue to believe are those who overcome the world by faith in Christ. Genuine faith is a persevering faith. This doesn’t mean that hard things in life don’t sometimes cause doubt or discomfort. But it does mean that the genuine Christian presses onward in faith, trusting God and his good plans and will. After all, the same Spirit whom the true believer receives also seals and keeps the believer until that day (Eph. 1:13–14; 1 Pet. 1:3–5).
Asking these kinds of questions is best done in the fellowship of the local church, among committed and growing Christians who can help us see ourselves accurately. Some people are given to an “easy believism” that resists careful curation of their own souls, while others are too easily tempted to doubt and despair. In a church culture, we can love each other both by pointing out evidence of God’s grace in each others’ lives and by asking tough questions about our profession and walk. By doing both, we help one another avoid the extremes of despair and complacency, and we encourage one another to see ourselves in the light of God’s saving work in our souls.
Implications for Evangelism

In addition to looking inside (and helping others to do the same), we want to look outside, as it were, at our understanding of conversion and how it affects our church’s approach to evangelism. When it comes to the work of evangelism, the healthy church member must properly understand who it is that actually converts the sinner; it is God the Holy Spirit. And the healthy church member must recognize, then, that evangelism is not a matter of clever technique but of relying on the Spirit of God to bless the Word of God to effect spiritual rebirth and the radical change of conversion. We’ll consider biblical evangelism further in the next chapter.

Over the years I’ve lost touch with Kenny. I don’t know if he is living a Christian life or if he has turned from the truth to the world. I do know that it is absolutely essential that he search himself to know whether he is in the faith. And I know that that search will only be fruitful if he looks to discover the proofs of conversion that God spells out in his Word.
For Further Reflection

With a group of mature Christian church members and friends, use the following questions to consider and cite evidence of God’s grace among you and, if necessary, identify areas where grace is needed.

1. Do we walk in the light or in the darkness (1 John 1:6–7)?

2. Do we love God the Father or do we appear to love the world (1 John 2:15)?

3. Do we love other Christians (1 John 3:14–15, 18–19; 5:1)?

4. Do we have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15–16; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24b)?

5. Are we persevering in the faith (1 John 5:4–5)?
For Further Reading

Murray, John. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.
Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990.
Dever, Mark E. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004 (see chap. 4).
Smallman, Stephen. What Is True Conversion? Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005.
Whitney, Donald. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002.


In the last chapter, we discussed the important doctrine of conversion. We began that chapter with the story of Kenny, a friend who “made a profession of faith” but subsequently turned away from Christ.
What is painfully obvious now to my friend Curtis and me is that “the gospel presentation” that Kenny heard some years ago was the shallowest message possible. It was not a biblically faithful proclamation of (1) the holiness and righteousness of the sovereign God who created all things; (2) the sinfulness of man and the judgment due to him for rebelling against God; (3) the need of man for a radical change, for a new heart and perfect righteousness; (4) the fact that only Jesus Christ has provided the righteousness we need and made the atonement for our sins that satisfies God the Father; and (5) Kenny’s need to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance and to rely solely on Christ Jesus.
I’m certain some of those things were presented to Kenny. But I’m also certain that biblical faithfulness required more than what Curtis shared and more of Kenny than Curtis asked. It’s frightening to think about how many people have not tasted the goodness of God and his salvation, not because Christians have not had opportunity to share, but because we have been so shallow in what we did share. A healthy church member works to make sure that he himself is converted, but he also works to make sure that his evangelistic efforts are informed by a biblical understanding of conversion.
A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism

Apart from a biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism, a church member will be most unhelpful in completing the church’s mission of making disciples. Yet with the contemporary church’s fascination with pragmatic (“if it works, do it”) methods and techniques, it is easy for members to be led in unhealthy directions if they don’t understand conversion and evangelism. “Unprincipled pragmatism is in the end not only unfaithful, but also unpragmatic.”
The encouraging news is that when we have a good grasp of conversion, we realize that evangelism does not depend on eloquence, using the correct mood lighting, emotionally sappy stories and songs, or high-pressure sales pitches. We are free to simply and deeply trust God and the power of the gospel to produce the fruit he desires (Rom. 1:17). We realize that, though we are ambassadors for Christ pleading with men to be reconciled to God, it is God himself who makes the plea through us, his fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:20; 6:1), and his Spirit who guarantees that his Word will not return void (Isa. 55:11). We are to plant and water faithfully, confidently trusting that God will give the increase (1 Cor. 3:7).
So biblical evangelism requires of us one thing primarily: that we be faithful to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people God places in contact with us (1 Cor. 4:1–2). Specifically, faithful evangelism must (1) be content specific, presenting the truth about “who God is, who men are, what sin is, who Jesus is, what Jesus has done about sin, and what we must do about what Jesus has done;” (2) “include the notion that Christ is the exclusive way of salvation,” barring the idea that there are multiple paths leading to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12); and (3) call the hearer to repentance and faith in Christ.
Biblical evangelism requires sharing the wonderful news that Christ died for sinners and then calling our hearers to repent and believe. John the Baptist preached this message (Matt. 3:1–2). Jesus proclaimed this same gospel (Matt. 4:17). And the apostle Peter at Pentecost heralded this same good news (Acts 2:38). The healthy church member makes this message central as he or she seeks to be a faithful biblical evangelist.
Doing the Work of an Evangelist

Several writers have written to help us with the work of faithfully proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Some have given very helpful and practical suggestions. Mark Dever outlines six things church members should keep in mind in evangelism.

1) Tell people with honesty that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but it will be costly.
2) Tell people with urgency that if they repent and believe they will be saved—but they must decide now.
3) Tell people with joy that if they repent and believe the good news they will be saved. However difficult it may be, it is all worth it!
4) Use the Bible.
5) Realize that the lives of the individual Christian and of the church as a whole are a central part of evangelism. Both should give credibility to the gospel we proclaim.
6) Remember to pray.

Michael P. Andrus offers some additional helpful advice. In order to keep a healthy view of conversion in mind in our evangelistic efforts, he suggests:

1) Counsel seekers in a way that focuses on deeds, not words; a change of life, not just a change of beliefs. The last thing we should communicate is that by merely saying yes to a proposition, they can be assured of eternal life.
2) Focus on a biblical, serious view of sin and guilt.
3) Teach the Bible and Christian doctrine so that potential converts grasp that the plan of salvation is God’s counsel, not human wisdom.
4) Abandon the facile language of decisionism (“just believe,” “pray to receive,” “invite Jesus into your heart”) in favor of the more rigorous language of conversion (“surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ” or “turn from sin, accept the forgiveness purchased by Jesus through his death, and live a life of obedience to him”).
The Local Church in Evangelism

In addition to these excellent recommendations, a church member should recognize the centrality and usefulness of the local church in evangelism. Where we are involved in gospel-preaching churches, then by God’s grace the gospel will be preached in each Lord’s Day gathering. Inviting our non-Christian friends to church services is an excellent way to expand on the personal conversations you have had with them about the gospel.
It’s also an opportunity for them to see the gospel “fleshed out” in the lives of an actual congregation of believers. In the church, non-Christians should see the kind of unity and love that testifies to the truth and power of the gospel and God’s love (John 13:34–35; 17:20–21). Our friends will see the gospel with their eyes as they witness Christians observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Both in the way we live together as a church and in the ordinances of the church, we display the gospel in ways that complement the preached word of the gospel.
Moreover, involving our non-Christian family and friends in our church life is a helpful preview of the life they will be called to live should the Lord bring them to repentance and saving faith. Making the local church a central part of our evangelistic efforts helps to cut the root of spiritual individualism at the beginning of the Christian life.
Finally, in our local churches we have at our disposal perhaps dozens or hundreds of allies—fellow Christians—each with their own conversion experiences and resources, who can build relationships with our friends and families. The Lord is often pleased to use our fellow members in sharing the pivotal word or living the compelling example that brings another person to saving faith. Don’t leave the local church out of your efforts to win the lost!

I once attended an evangelism conference sponsored by a local church. The main speaker for the conference asked the audience what they thought was the number-one reason for Christians not doing the work of an evangelist. The audience gave a number of good answers, ranging from fear, lack of knowledge, and indifference. The speaker stunned the audience when he suggested that those are certainly problems, but that the number-one problem is that too many Christians do not believe Romans 1:16. They do not believe the gospel is the power of God for salvation. They lack confidence in the gospel.
How about you? Are you confident that the gospel is the power of God to save? Does your work as an evangelist demonstrate such confidence? I pray that we all can answer “yes”to these questions.
For Further Reflection

1. Does the way you speak to others about Jesus include all the essential ideas of the gospel?

2. Does the way you speak to others about Jesus demonstrate confidence in the gospel message itself, that it is the power of God for salvation?

3. How would a church with members deeply committed to each other change the perception of the church in the community?
For Further Reading

Carson, D. A., ed. Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
Dever, Mark E. The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007.
Metzger, Will. Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.
Packer, J. I. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1991.
Stiles, Mack. Speaking of Jesus: How to Tell Your Friends the Best News They Will Ever Hear. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995.


As a young man, Joshua Harris’s attitude toward the church reflected that of many people today. Harris writes:

When I graduated from my church’s high school youth group, I started visiting around. I loved God and had big dreams for how I wanted to serve Him, but I didn’t see any reason to get too involved in one church. By then, I thought I knew all there was to know about church, and I wasn’t impressed. Most churches struck me as out-of-date and out-of-touch. There had to be better, more efficient ways to accomplish great things for God.

He considered the church secondary, outmoded, inefficient, and a hindrance. It wasn’t that he didn’t love God or God’s people. He just didn’t think that belonging to a particular church was important, and might even be a hindrance.
Joshua is not alone. Many people think that church—especially church membership, that is, actually signing up and joining—is a spiritual relic destined to hinder spiritual freedom and fruitfulness.
The reasons for this view of church membership are many. Some Christians are just plain indifferent to church membership. They can take it or leave it; they’re neither excited nor negative toward the church. It just doesn’t matter to them.
Others are ignorant. They are uninformed. They’ve never considered the Bible’s view of the local church.
Still others are indecisive. They can’t make up their minds about joining. Perhaps they’re the kind of people who never really make decisions; decisions tend to happen to them.
And there are the independent types. They are “Lone Ranger Christians” who don’t want to be saddled with the burdens of church membership. They don’t want people “in their business.” They want to come into a church, consume what they need, and leave unattached.
Finally, there are those who are slow to commit to a local church because their affections are inverted. They have strong attachments to a “home church” in the town they grew up in, and yet their bodies are hundreds of miles away. They can’t bring themselves to join a church where they live because they’ve never emotionally left a church from their past.
At root, all of these perspectives on the local church stem from the same problem: a failure to understand or take seriously God’s intent that the local church be central to the life of his people. People don’t become committed church members—and therefore healthy Christians—because they don’t understand that such a commitment is precisely how God intends his people to live out the faith and experience Christian love.
Is “Church Membership” a Biblical Idea?

When people who encounter for the first time the idea that church membership is necessary and important, many want to know, “Is the idea of church membership important? Where can I find it in the Bible?”
As with so many things, you can’t turn in the Bible to “the Book of Church Membership” or to a chapter conveniently labeled by Bible publishers, “On Becoming a Member.” The biblical data isn’t as obvious as that, yet the idea of membership is nearly everywhere in Scripture.
Have you ever considered how many practices and commands given to the New Testament church lose all their meaning if membership is not practiced, visibly identifiable, and important? Here are a few essential things commanded in Scripture for the local church that would lose their meaning without an operational concept of membership.

Two classic passages in Scripture outline for the church the qualifications its leaders must have (1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9). In addition to these qualifications, there are explicit commands for leaders to shepherd the flock and for Christians to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:17). Yet if there is no identifiable membership, there is no one for leaders to lead. Submission to their authority as Hebrews 13:17 requires becomes nonsense if the leaders are not responsible for a group, and that group is not attached to them in some way.

In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul instructs the believers in Corinth to “put out of their fellowship” a man involved in sexual immorality. The Lord Jesus commanded a similar action in Matthew 18:15–17. Part of the reason the Bible commands the practice of church discipline is so that clear distinctions can be maintained between God’s people, the church, and the surrounding world (1 Cor. 5:9–13). If there is no practical, visible way of determining who belongs to the church and who belongs to the world, this distinction is lost, and “putting out of fellowship” is an impossible feat since there is no real way of being in the fellowship.

There is slight evidence that the early church kept some lists associated with its membership. For example, lists of widows were kept (1 Tim. 5:9). Also, Christians in the local church voted for some actions. It was the “majority” who voted to remove the man from membership in the church at Corinth (2 Cor. 2:6).
Electing leaders, submitting to them, regulating membership, keeping lists, and voting only make sense if a known, identifiable, and distinct body is recognized. So while the Bible doesn’t provide us with a biblical treatise on membership per se, there is enough evidence in the inspired record to suggest that some form of membership was practiced and was necessary to the church’s operation. Church membership is no less important in our day.
The Essence of Membership: Committed Love

Our Lord Jesus specified one defining mark for his disciples. Of course, there are many marks of true discipleship, but one mark is singled out as signifying to the watching world that we belong to Christ:

A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35)

The mark of Christian discipleship is love—love of the kind that Jesus exercised toward his followers, love visible enough that men will recognize it as belonging to those people who follow Jesus.
Not surprisingly, then, a healthy Christian is one who is committed to expressing this kind of love toward other Christians. And the best place for Christians to love this way is in the assembly of God’s people called the local church. Is it no wonder then that the author of Hebrews instructs us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” and then right away says “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25)? Faithful church attendance is associated tightly with stirring each other to love and good deeds. The local church is the place where love is most visibly and compellingly displayed among God’s people. It’s where the “body of Christ” is most plainly represented in the world.
What Does a Committed Church Member Look Like?

In one sense the question “What does a committed church member look like?” is what this entire book is about. But here we want to explore this question in relation to the essential command and mark of love. Below are ways committed membership expresses itself.

This is the first and most important ministry of every Christian in the local church. Being present, being known, and being active are the only ways to make Christian love possible (Heb. 10:24–25).

A committed church member is committed to the maintenance of peace in the congregation. “Let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).

The one consistent purpose or goal of the public meeting of the church is mutual edification, building each other up in the faith (1 Cor. 12, 14; Eph. 4:11–16). A healthy and committed member comes to serve, not to be served, like Jesus (Mark 10:45); to provide, not to be a consumer only.

This is discussed at greater length in chapter 6, “Seeks Discipline.” A committed member is committed to speaking the truth in love to his brothers and sisters, to helping them avoid pitfalls, and to encouraging them in holiness and Christian joy. A committed member will not be wrongly intrusive in the lives of others—a busybody—but he also will not be “hands off” when it comes to caring for and counseling others.

Christians are people who are reconciled to God through Christ. As a consequence, we have been given “the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18–21). So, a committed member strives to repair breaches as quickly as possible, even before continuing in public worship (Matt. 5:23–24).

Ministers of reconciliation must be patient and longsuffering. They must be characterized by meekness such that they do not think more highly of themselves than they ought (Matt. 5:5). They must hold up under the weight of disappointments, frustrations, loss, attack, slander, and offense (Matt. 18:21–22; Rom. 15:1). By carrying each others’ burdens we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).

One privilege of church membership is participating in Christ’s ordinances—baptism and communion. Moreover, these privileges give us visible proclamations of the good news that Christ died for sinners and rose again to eternal life. So it’s a great tragedy that many Christians neglect the ordinances that Jesus himself established 2,000 years ago. A committed member rejoices at the baptism of new believers, and he examines his heart in preparation for joining the family of God at the Lord’s Table. He receives these spiritual exercises as means of grace, means that give visible testimony to the effect of the gospel in his life and the life of the gathered church.

A committed member gives resources, time, and talent to the furtherance of the gospel in the local church. He lives out the Bible’s call to the body of Christ. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12:6–8). A healthy, committed church member receives and applies the grace of God by working to support the ministry of the local church and excels in giving what he has already received from God to gospel work. He should follow the example of the Macedonians, who committed to a financial giving strategy that was sacrificial, generous, increasing over time, and fueled by faith in God despite present circumstances (2 Cor. 8–9). What do we have that we did not first receive from God? What do we have that we should not be willing to give back to him in worship?

To fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart. We who have the privilege of living in countries where we may freely join a local church should keep this admonition from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind:

It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude … to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday (Ps. 42:4).… Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.
For Further Reflection

1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your commitment to membership in your local church? If your rating is not a 10, why?

2. In general, does your local church give appropriate attention to church membership? Can you cite particular passages of Scripture to support your answer?

3. How would a church with members deeply committed to each other change the perception of the church in the community?
For Further Reading

Harris, Joshua. Stop Dating the Church. Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2004.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: Harper and Row, 1954.


Life needs to be ordered. That’s a simple truth too often forgotten or overlooked. In order to thrive and grow, all life needs order.
Chaos, then, is the enemy of growth. Disorganization, sloppiness, and inattention generally introduce the kind of instability that weakens rather than strengthens. Where there is no order there will likely be little in the environment that sustains and nourishes. Life needs to be ordered.
Young married couples discover this when God gives them children. Their lives up to this point may have been characterized by a “foot loose and fancy free” attitude, but they soon realize that in order to properly care for and raise a child they will need to maintain a certain amount of order. Sleep and feeding routines must be established. Small and dangerous objects must be removed. Outlets must be covered. Diaper changes, baths, fresh clothing all must be provided at the right times. Order must reign if growth is to occur. It’s a fact of life.
Well, order is also necessary in spiritual matters. Without the proper establishment of routines, boundaries, and patterns, thriving spiritually most likely will not occur or will be haphazard at best. Another word for the order needed to grow spiritually is discipline.
What Is Discipline?

Today, when people hear the word discipline, they most likely think of negative forms of punishment, like spanking a rebellious child. To many, discipline sounds harsh, something to be avoided or something that only unkind or unmerciful people pursue. For others, it sounds restrictive of freedom and joy. To be sure, discipline is not always a pleasant experience. The writer in Hebrews makes this point: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant” (Heb. 12:11).
But actually, the word discipline has a much broader and more positive meaning than “unpleasant punishment.” Discipline and disciple share the same Latin root and are tied closely to the idea of education and order. The disciple is a student, one who participates in a certain discipline, who learns a profession, or who masters a body of thought. Such a person has his or her life ordered under or by the rules of a trade. So, professional athletes abide by the rules of their sports. Psychology professors dedicate themselves to this or that school of thought. Doctors adhere to the principles of the American Medical Association or the Hippocratic Oath. All of these are disciples of and disciplined by the principles of their field.
The same is true with the church. The church is a place where everything in the gathered services should “be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). That order is necessary for edification.
And discipline is necessary in the lives of individual believers as well. Jay Adams summarized the connection between orderly discipline, learning, and the Christian life well: “When we are baptized into the church, we thereby matriculate into Christ’s school. Then, for the rest of our earthly life, we are to be taught (not facts alone, but also) to obey the commands of Christ. This is education with force, education backed up by the discipline of good order that is necessary for learning to take place.”2
So discipline is about education and learning, order and growth. It is discipline in the life of the congregation and the healthy church member that provides an atmosphere for growth and development. It leads to the rare polished jewel of Christlikeness.
What Does Discipline Look Like in the Life of a Healthy Church Member?

Two forms of discipline occur in the life of healthy congregations and church members. Both of these approaches to discipline have their origin in the Word of God, and, in fact, are two ways of understanding the purpose and effect of God’s Word in the life of his people.
The apostle writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
In other words, the Scripture, which is “breathed out” or inspired by God, has two general purposes: formative discipline and corrective discipline. When Paul writes that the Scripture is “profitable for teaching” and “for training in righteousness,” he is describing positive or formative discipline. Formative discipline refers to how Scripture shapes and molds the Christian as he or she imbibes its teaching and is trained to live for God. While medical doctors are governed by the standards and oaths of their profession; Christians are shaped and governed by the Word of God.
Likewise, when Paul refers to the Scriptures as profitable “for reproof, for correction” he is describing how the Word of God confronts us and turns us away from error to righteousness. This is corrective discipline.
The vast majority of discipline in any church will be positive or formative discipline as people grow from the preached Word, as they study the Scriptures in personal devotion, and as they are shaped by fellowship and encouragement from brethren in Christ. But from time to time a brother or sister will indulge in sin and need loving reproof or correction from other members of the church who are committed to the welfare of his or her soul. Moreover, the Scriptures address various situations requiring correction. Our Lord Jesus outlined a process for corrective discipline in cases where one brother sins against another (Matt. 18:15–17). The apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian church to confront and expel from membership a brother taken in scandalous sexual sin (1 Corinthians 5). And not only is the church’s correction necessary for the “really bad” sins like sexual immorality, but even the seemingly more mundane, disorderly sins such as laziness and false teaching warrant correction (2 Thess. 3:6, 11; Titus 3:10).
No one lives an entire life without the need of discipline, whether positive or corrective. So the healthy church member embraces discipline as one means of grace in the Christian life.
How Do We Joyfully Seek Discipline?

The topic of church discipline may be new to you. Or maybe the topic isn’t new, but the practice of discipline in your local church may be quite new or nonexistent. Some people will have to simultaneously grow in their understanding of this important topic, confront fears or wrong impressions, and contribute to their church’s health. What follows are a few suggestions for cultivating a desire for both positive and corrective discipline so that we might be healthy members of our churches.

James calls Christians to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Implicit in James’s instruction is a distinction between an ungodly life of filthiness and wickedness and the Christlike life of humility or meekness. Christians should receive the Word of God with meekness. That is, in the preaching of God’s Word and in Bible study, Christians should remain lowly and gentle before the Scripture, acknowledging it as the source of salvation and instruction in godly living. As we come to the Scripture, we are to do so as people knowing our sinful nature, our spiritual poverty before God, and our need for the molding influence of God, which comes normally by his Word.
How can we know if we are receiving God’s Word with meekness? Perhaps the following questions will help:

• As we read the Bible, are we reading for information only or with faith that God actually speaks through his Word?

• When we hear the Word preached, are we generally looking to have a need met (for example, to be entertained or to gather some practical advice) or are we primarily desiring to understand the original meaning of the text and apply it to our lives?

• Is our first reaction to the Scripture “how does this make me feel?” or “do I accept this as true?” Do we allow our feelings to determine what’s true, or do we allow the Scriptures to determine our feelings?

• Is our listening posture during sermons or Scripture readings defensive or combative, as though we demand someone to “prove it to us”?

• Do we tend to judge other philosophies and viewpoints by the Scripture, or do we try to either reconcile or judge the Scripture by other philosophies and views?

Receiving the Word with meekness means accepting the Bible by faith, with a friendly and submissive heart, and with the testimony of God’s Spirit. Specifically, we accept the fact that the Bible is true, that it’s the only sufficient authority for shaping our lives, and that it must govern how we feel and think. By doing so, the healthy church member prepares himself for the formative discipline of Christ’s church.

If you are troubled by the perception that church discipline is unkind or unloving, consider the fact that the Bible tells us that God himself is a loving Father who disciplines his children: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:5–6).
Receiving discipline at the hand of God is evidence of his love for us. Wherever he reproves and chastises us, we can be certain that he is treating us as a father would treat a son. Discipline is an act of love, not of vengeance or hatred. The writer in Hebrews goes on to state, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb. 12:7).
And what is the goal of this loving Father’s discipline? He does it that we might “be subject to the Father of spirits and live” and “share his holiness” (Heb. 12:9–10). In love, the Father is protecting our lives and conforming us to his holiness as he corrects and chastises us. A healthy church member recognizes this chastisement as love and accepts it as one source of assurance, since those who are not so chastised are “illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8).

Not only do healthy church members accept the Lord’s chastisement, but they humbly accept correction from others. They recognize that often the Lord’s correction comes through other members in the church, saints who care enough not only to encourage in good times but to confront and correct when necessary. Healthy church members agree that “better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:5–6).
Many churches that take membership seriously ask new members to review, support, and sometimes sign their church’s covenant. A church covenant is a document that briefly summarizes the commitment church members make before the Lord and to each other to live out the Christian faith in a manner ordered by Scripture.
One of my favorite lines in a typical church covenant addresses this important issue of accepting love and correction from others:

We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church, exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.

“Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7), but it is the nature of true godliness, maturity, and health in church members to accept the loving instruction and rebuke of others.

A fourth way we may cultivate a healthy desire for godly discipline is to take seriously our responsibility to care for others in this way. Here’s another line in a typical church covenant that addresses this responsibility: “We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines.” It is a basic responsibility and privilege of every church member to help sustain the discipline of the local church. This is why the classic passages, such as Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5, dealing with unrepentant sin conclude with a final and decisive action by the congregation. But not only does correction belong to the congregation as a whole; it begins as each individual is proactive in love and seeks to restore those who are caught in sin.

It may be easy to think of church discipline only in terms of the grief and sorrow that accompany sin and the loss of a brother or sister. And such grief has its place (Matt. 5:4; 1 Cor. 5:2). But the entire process of discipline, from the formative work of the Word to the corrective work of the church in sometimes removing an unrepentant member, should be undertaken with hope and the goal of repentance that leads to rejoicing and comfort (2 Cor. 2:6). We are endeavoring to win our brothers and sisters to the truth (James 5:19–20), and when that happens we are to rejoice along with the courts of heaven. Perhaps nothing is quite as sweet as seeing a person who is deceived and being destroyed by sin break free from sin’s merciless grip and discover afresh the freedom and forgiveness of our merciful Savior. As healthy church members endeavoring to strengthen our churches, we can participate in the discipline of the church with joy and faith, knowing that our loving Father graciously and faithfully corrects those whom he loves. It’s our delight to see the tracings of God’s handiwork displayed in the growth, repentance, and restoration of those who receive the grace of discipline.

It is impossible for members of a church to care effectively for each other if only a few people own the responsibility of correcting or instructing brothers or sisters in need of it. If members don’t give themselves to serving others by teaching the Word in Sunday school or leading small groups, if members shy away from getting to know one another so that there is no context for meaningful fellowship, then neither positive nor corrective discipline will occur. The house of God will be inadequately ordered, his children poorly taught, and the witness of the church tarnished by unrepentant and uncorrected sin.
For Further Reflection

With a group of Christian friends and church members, consider and discuss the questions listed on pages 77–78.
For Further Reading

Adams, Jay. Handbook on Church Discipline: A Right and Privilege of Every Church Member. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974.
Lauterbach, Mark. The Transforming Community: The Practice of the Gospel in Church Discipline. Ross-shire, Christian Focus, 2003.
For Pastors

Dagg, John L. Manual of Church Order. Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1990; first published 1858.
Dever, Mark E., ed. Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. Washington, DC: 9Marks Ministries, 2001.
Wills, Gregory. Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785–1900. Oxford University Press, 2003.
Wray, Daniel. Biblical Church Discipline. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1978.


A healthy church member is a growing church member.
It is impossible to separate the health of a local church from the health of its members. And it’s impossible to divide the well-being of a church member from his or her spiritual growth and discipleship.
When Christians Do Not Grow

This is speculation on my part, but it may be the case that the most chronic problem facing churches and Christians is the lack of consistent spiritual growth and progress in discipleship. We all know Christians who have confessed faith and repentance, yet who sadly admit that they have not grown in some time. This situation comes in two varieties. There is the temporary plateau or spiritual rut that every Christian experiences and must overcome from time to time. This is normal and shouldn’t cause too much alarm. Perhaps routines need to be changed or focus renewed, but the problem isn’t chronic yet.
But then there is the chronic variety. Here, people may not be able to perceive much growth over a prolonged period of time. They’ve fallen into something deeper than a rut. They’re not just “stuck,” struggling to get free; they’ve settled into a spiritual slumber. If they have been in this sleep for some time, perhaps they believe that there is no more growth to be had or even that following Christ is a shallow, hollow thing. The expectation of growth may be abandoned. Pride may be asserting, “I’ve arrived spiritually and there’s really not much more growing to do.”
Where this happens there should be great alarm! In our largely individualistic and privatized spiritual worlds, such trouble can go unnoticed, unspoken, and uncorrected for some time.
Advancement in the knowledge and likeness of Christ, spiritual maturity and progress toward it, are supposed to be normal for the Christian. So Hebrews exhorts us to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (Heb.6:1). The writer assumes that these Christians should have progressed “by this time … to be teachers,” having moved from “milk” for the unskilled child to “solid food … for the mature” (Heb. 5:11–13).
Speaking of himself, the apostle Paul modeled how to maintain humility when it comes to spiritual growth:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it on my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12–14)

Then he gives this exhortation to his readers, “Let those of us who are mature think this way” (v. 15a).
It is normal for Christians to grow, to work for growth, and to expect increasing spiritual maturity. Those who do are healthy church members.
Problems in Our Thinking about Growth

But saying that a Christian should expect, work for, and experience growth isn’t the end of the issue. For the Christian to grow in a healthy way, we must clarify what growth is and is not. Ours is a superficial culture that lays emphasis on the outward signs and neglects the inward reality. We’re far too vulnerable to settling for being thought of as mature rather than actually being mature.
Jesus’ teaching in Luke 18 helps us to identify at least two attitudes that hinder solid biblical growth and discipleship:

He … told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)

Three problems in the Pharisee’s thinking prevented him from growing in godliness.
1) The performance trap. In all major sports, statistics are recorded for player performance—batting percentage, field goal percentage, number of stolen bases, home runs, touchdowns, assists, and on and on. Often the worth of an athlete is summed up by these statistics. And those who can “stuff the stat sheet” with big numbers are celebrated, heralded as “marquis players,” and given awards.
Our idea of Christian growth can be influenced by a “stuffing the stat sheet” mindset. Notice the Pharisee spoke with God about himself and all he had done. He measured growth in observable goals and objectives—fasting twice a week and giving tithes of all he received. We can do this too. We emphasize the number of times we completed “quiet times”this week, the number of times we passed Christian literature to others, or how often we shared the gospel. We can fall into the performance trap, thinking that spiritual growth and discipleship look like good performance and success. When this happens our sense of growth and worth become wrongly tied up with our “stats.”
2) Judging by the wrong standards. Another thing that often misguides Christians when it comes to growth is the tendency to judge our well-being by comparing ourselves to others. Many Christians are relativists in this way. The Pharisee was proud before God that he “was not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” Imagine that! Kneeling to pray before God and simultaneously judging and denouncing the man praying right next to him! Jonathan Edwards’s eighth resolution is a better approach. Edwards wrote:

Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others, and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

If we’re focusing on others in an attempt to justify ourselves before God or to “exalt ourselves” as “giants of the faith,” we will not only not grow as we ought, but we will also delude ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are. And we may be sure that God will humble us. So it is better to humble ourselves and trust in the grace of God than to be opposed by God because of pride (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5).
3) Depending on personal strength or effort in spiritual growth. This is another of the Pharisee’s mistakes. As far as he is concerned, all that should commend him before God is a result of his effort and ability. But self-effort is not the source of true spiritual growth. After the writer to the Hebrews exhorts them to “leave the elementary doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity,” he adds, “And this we will do if God permits” (Heb. 6:1, 3). Holy Scripture tells us that our progress in discipleship and spiritual maturity depends on the grace and will of God, not on our self-effort and strength. This is why the apostle Paul praises God for the growth of Christians (2 Thess. 1:3) and prays to God for continued growth (1 Thess. 3:11–13; Col. 1:10). We are commanded to grow and to cultivate maturity and godliness (2 Pet. 1:5–8, 3:18, for example), but all of our efforts are exercised in dependence upon God and with faith in him for the growth we seek.
So biblical growth should not be confused with outward performance alone, nor is it measured by using others as our standard. And it does not finally depend on our self-effort and attainments. What, then, is growth and how does the healthy church member pursue it?
The Growth We Want to See

A healthy church member has a pervasive concern for his or her own personal growth and the growth of other members of her or his church. As Mark Dever correctly notes, “Working to promote Christian discipleship and growth is working to bring glory not to ourselves but to God. This is how God will make himself known in the world.” Since a concern for God’s glory should be uppermost in our lives as believers, our concern for growth should be pervasive.
Several passages of Scripture outline for us the kind of growth healthy church members should hope to see in themselves and others. For example, Galatians 5:22–25 lists for us the fruit of the Spirit, evidences of Spirit-wrought virtue and character that typify those who live not according to their own power and sinful nature but by the Spirit. We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Ephesians 4:11–13 reminds us that the Lord gives gifted men to the church for the purpose of growth “for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
We can sum up all of these pictures and exhortations with either the term “godliness” or “holiness.” The growth we wish to see, the growth that is not finally external and superficial, is growth in godliness or holiness, growth in “the stature of the fullness of Christ.” A growing church member is someone who looks more and more like Jesus in attitude of heart, thought, speech, and action. That’s what we long to be and long for our churches to be.
Growing to Be Like Jesus

How do healthy church members cultivate such growth? The following are some suggestions for continuing to develop godliness or holiness in life.

Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5–8)

The key to growth in godliness is ramaining in the True Vine, who is Christ Jesus. Here, remaining in Christ and bearing fruit is “nothing less than the outcome of persevering dependence on the vine, driven by faith, embracing all of the believer’s life and the product of his witness.” And this fruitfulness comes as the Word of the Lord remains in the disciple. “Such words must so lodge in the disciple’s mind and heart that conformity to Christ, obedience to Christ, is the most natural (supernatural?) thing in the world.”4 Abiding in Christ, remaining in his Word, is essential to proper Christian discipleship and growth.

Many Christians seem to believe advancement in spiritual maturity must come through some extraordinary or “breakthrough” experience. For them, it’s the fantastic that produces growth. But as we’ve just seen in John 15, it is the ordinary means of grace that ordinarily produces growth and maturity. In fact, while the sensational and extraordinary can and often does lead people astray, the Word properly taught and understood never will. The “ordinary means of grace” include the study of the Word of God, participation in the ordinances of baptism and communion along with the gathered church, and prayer. These are the customary ways in which the grace of God is proclaimed, displayed, and appropriated in the Christian life. By the Word of God, we hear Christ revealed and glorified, and there we “learn Christ” most clearly. But in the ordinances of baptism and communion, we see Christ and the gospel as we picture his death, burial, and resurrection for us and for our salvation.
A healthy Christian does not neglect these ordinances and means of grace but rejoices in them, prepares for them, and is reminded through the senses of the glories of Christ our Savior. She or he remembers that grace “teaches [or trains] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). A healthy Christian relies more and more on the grace of God as it is communicated through the Word and the ordinances.

Hebrews 10:25 instructs us not to neglect the assembly of the saints. Instead, we are to gather and encourage one another more and more as we await Jesus’ return. The public assembly is meant for the edification, the building up, the growth of the Christian. Neglecting to participate in the corporate life of the church or failing to actively serve and be served is a sure-fire way to limit our growth. Ephesians 4:11–16 offers a pretty strong argument that participation in the body of Christ is the main way in which Christ strengthens and matures us. When we serve others in the church, bear with one another, love one another, correct one another, and encourage one another, we participate in a kind of “spiritual maturity co-op” where our stores and supplies are multiplied. The end result is growth and discipleship.

Finally, we grow in holiness by meditating on and looking forward to the coming of Jesus. Most of the New Testament references to Jesus’ return are connected with some exhortation to holiness and purity. For example, in Matthew 25 when Jesus finishes teaching the disciples about his second coming, he concludes with the simple exhortation to “be ready,” to look for his return, and to live a fitting life in the meantime. Matthew 26 follows with three parables, all exhorting his hearers to watch and to be faithful until he returns. The Lord taught that his second coming is something for us to meditate upon consistently, and that that meditation should lead us to guard our lives and to grow.
Titus 2:13–14 refers to the “blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” with this explanation of Jesus’ mission: “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” In other words, we look to the cross and the second coming of Christ and remember that Christ has done everything for our redemption, purity, and zeal—our holiness. The apostle John includes a very similar statement in one of his letters. He writes:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2–3)

Our yearning to be with Jesus and to see Jesus is intended to make us more like Jesus in holiness. Looking forward to Christ will produce growth in healthy church members.

The healthy church member is a growing church member. Specifically, she or he is a church member that grows in Christlikeness, holiness, and maturity. That maturity and holiness are developed in dependence upon Christ, his Word, and others in the local church. And most wonderful of all, we will not stop growing until we reach the fullness of Christ!
For Further Reflection

1. Are there any wrong ways you have been measuring or thinking about growth? If so, what are they? What would you say needs to change in your thinking? What counsel do group members give you on this matter?

2. With a group of Christian friends and church members, discuss ways in which you all have been growing lately. In what ways are holy desires and habits being cultivated by God’s grace?

3. Which of the strategies for spiritual growth are most needed in your life right now? How will you put them into action?
For Further Reading

Bridges, Jerry. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1978.
Ferguson, Sinclair B. The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1981.
Piper, John. Don’t Waste Your Life. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003.
Sproul, R. C. Knowing Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1977.
Tripp, Paul David. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002.


The health of a local church may ride exclusively on the membership’s response to the church’s leadership. How the congregation receives or rejects its leaders has a direct effect on the possibilities of faithful ministry and church health. Does a congregation appreciate and accept sound preaching? Will its members trust and follow a leader in difficult or unclear situations? Do they rally behind or tear apart the leadership when plans and ideas fail?
In the final analysis, church members are the people who generally make or break a local church. And making or breaking a church has a lot to do with the membership’s attitudes and actions toward its leaders.
So no serious attempt to define a healthy church member can neglect reflecting on the interaction between church members and church leaders. And not surprisingly, the inspired Word of God provides ample instruction regarding the attitudes and actions of church members who wish to contribute to the health of their local congregations by following the leadership of the church.
A Healthy Church Member’s Attitude toward Leadership

At least three attitudes characterize a healthy church member’s when it comes to following a local church’s leaders.
1) Honors the elders. Several passages of Scripture instruct church members to honor the elders and leaders of the congregation. For example, 1 Timothy 5:17 tells us, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” What does such double honor include? The apostle Paul brings attention to two things in the following verses. In verse 18, honoring the elders includes caring for their financial and physical needs.
A congregation and a member that honor its leadership provide appropriate and sufficient wages for its leaders, particularly those whose full-time labor is ministry to the body.
In verse 19, the apostle indicates that honoring our leaders includes protecting their reputations. We are not to “admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” The apostle understands better than anyone how the ministry is open to charges, criticisms, and complaints from outside and inside the church. A healthy church member will help to shelter the shepherd from unwarranted slings and arrows. Rumors and backbitings die at the ears of a healthy church member who refuses to give consideration to unedifying and uncorroborated tales.
A healthy church member honors the elder’s office. He or she esteems it highly, is thankful for it, and respects those who serve the Lord’s people as elders. We honor our pastors because on the day of the Lord they shall be our boast (2 Cor. 1:14).
2) “Shows open-hearted love to the leaders. The honor and respect a church member gives an elder is not the distant and official honor a soldier gives a commanding officer. Coupled with the honor due a shepherd is an open-hearted love. Repeatedly, Paul called the Corinthian church to open their hearts to him as one who cared for them spiritually:

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Cor.6:11–13)

There should be a sweet exchange of affection between pastor and congregation. As they live, grow, and labor together, their hearts are to open increasingly wide to each other. A healthy church member does not “withhold” his affection from the pastor; rather, he gives it freely and liberally.
A healthy church member doesn’t want to hear his or her faithful pastor plead like the apostle did with the Corinthians, “Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together” (2 Cor. 7:2–3).
A healthy member first gives himself to the Lord and then to the minister of the Lord, knowing that this is God’s will (2 Cor. 8:5). Such a member sees how the faithful pastor will spend himself for the body in love. And he would be ashamed to hear the pastor ask, “If I love you more, will you love me less?” (2 Cor. 12:15). Unrequited love is fit for Shakespearean tragedy, not the local church. Our rejoicing in and love for our pastors should “refresh their hearts in the Lord” (Philem. 20).
3) Is teachable. A healthy church member should also have a teachable spirit. A teachable spirit evidences humility of heart and a desire to grow in Christ. Without it, a people grow stiff-necked and incorrigible.
The leader’s job may be boiled down to one task: teaching. If a member or any significant portion of the membership proves unteachable, the shepherd’s task becomes a burden, even undoable, since it’s opposing him at this most essential point. Writing to Timothy, Paul provides wonderful instruction for pastors that contains good instruction for members as well. Speaking of the role of elder, Paul writes:

The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24–26)

Several things from this passage are useful for church members to observe. First, the pastor’s instruction is meant to be gentle, kind, and for our good. We should not take sinful advantage of that God-ordained disposition. Rather, we should accept that kind instruction as a rebuke and a call to repentance. A healthy church member doesn’t mistake godly kindness for weakness in a pastor, but uses the occasion to examine his or her own heart for areas needing repentance. Second, we should recognize how easy it is to “oppose” the pastor as he instructs us. As a regular part of our spiritual life, we should ask ourselves, “Am I in any way opposing the teaching of the pastor?” Third, we should pray for knowledge of the truth, clear-mindedness, and protection from the devil’s schemes whenever we discover even a kernel of opposition to pastoral instruction. The pastors watch over our souls as a man who must give an account to God; we should then trust and accept their leadership joyfully as a gift from God for our everlasting benefit. Be teachable.
A Healthy Church Member’s Actions toward Leadership

In addition to these basic attitudes or dispositions, there are some specific actions a healthy church member will take in order to effectively follow the leadership of a local church.

Perhaps the most important decision a congregation makes—assuming a congregational polity—is the selection of its leaders. By choosing leaders, a congregation sets the spiritual tone and direction of the church, sometimes for generations. Perhaps this is why the apostles instructed the early church to look for spiritual qualities and maturity in its leaders (Acts 6:1–6; 1 Timothy 3). Selecting a leader is to be done with patience and prayerful deliberation. “Lay hands on no man hastily” is the apostle’s instruction to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:22a). The first deacons were to be “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3). Discerning these qualities requires prayer, observation, and patience. And if the Lord’s church is to be healthy, church members must call and ordain leaders who are spiritually minded and mature in Christ.
Healthy church members do not overlook the importance of this essential task. They may invite the prospective leader and his family to lunch or dinner in order to know him better. They will want to hear more about the man’s testimony, about his desire to serve in a leadership capacity, and about his previous ministry in churches. Some churches allow two months between a man’s nomination for leadership and the actual vote in order for members to participate in precisely this way.

Here’s a good reason to prayerfully and patiently participate in the recognition of church leaders: a healthy church member must obey and submit to her or his leaders. Obey and submit are not only “bad words” at weddings, they’re bad words to many church members. Yet the Bible couldn’t be clearer: “Obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17). Our obedience is to make their work a joy, not a burden. And our obedience redounds to our benefit, since it would be of no advantage for us to call men as leaders and then disobey them. A healthy church member orders himself under the leaders of the congregation as a soldier orders himself in the rank and file beneath a military general. We are to joyfully, eagerly, and completely submit to our leaders for our good, their good, and the good of the entire body.

One reason the Lord appoints men to leadership in the church is to provide a flesh-and-blood example of faithful, godly living to the congregation. Our leaders are the “motion picture” of following Jesus. They are called to be an example in everything (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). That’s why the apostle Paul says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil. 3:17). A healthy church member patterns his or her life after the godly lifestyle of the elders of the church. We are to follow our leaders’ example with the expectation of conformity to Christ.
For many in our day, this very idea of imitation sounds cultish. There are too many personality cults where people parrot all that the celebrity pastor says or does. We’re correct to be concerned with such an unbiblical notion of example setting and mentorship. Yet the Bible’s picture of following the pastor’s example points to genuine godliness “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12) by doing what is good (Titus 2:7). Pastors are called to be such models, and healthy church members wisely follow their pattern of holiness.

Given all that church leaders must do and contend with, can you think of a more important thing to do than to pray for them? Even the apostle Paul understood his need for the saints’ faithful prayer:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Col. 4:2–4; see also Eph. 6:19–20)

We should pray for our leaders’ boldness, clarity, and consistency with the gospel message, and for opportunity for them to proclaim Christ. Healthy church members are devoted to prayer on behalf of their leaders. They heed Jesus’ exhortation to pray and not give up (Luke 18:1), and they do that on behalf of their shepherds.
In our local church, a faithful band of members meets every Tuesday night for the purpose of praying for leadership. Weekly they solicit prayer requests and updates on previous requests. When they meet, they lift up all kinds of prayers for the personal, public, and ministry lives of the elders. God has produced great fruit in our body through their prayers.

This is perhaps the least obvious of the actions that a healthy church member takes in following leadership. There is a great tendency among church members to be fairly possessive of their pastors—“he’s our pastor.” There are positive aspects to this possessiveness. It shows, for example, an open-hearted attachment to the shepherds.
However, this possessiveness can become selfishness if the congregation refuses to support a pastor’s involvement in ministry outside the local congregation. The person most often hurt in such selfishness is the pastor himself, who, without outside stimulation and refreshment from fellow pastors and leaders, tends to dry and shrivel on the vine. A healthy church member contributes to a leader’s ongoing health and vigor in the ministry by encouraging participation in outside conferences, speaking opportunities, and fellowship with other church leaders.
The Bible provides ample illustration of one congregation’s support of another. A local church’s generosity to other churches is commended in 2 Corinthians 9:13. And such generosity, when it takes the form of “loaning” a shepherd in ministry to others, hopefully expands the regions in which the gospel is proclaimed (2 Cor. 10:15–16). A healthy church member wants to see the gospel advanced and wants to contribute to the health of other congregations if possible. Supporting a leader’s outside ministry is one way to fulfill this desire.

Leadership in the local church is established by God for the blessing of his people. However, for leadership to be effective, it needs to be encouraged and supported by the members of the church. Many faithful men have shipwrecked on the rocky shoals of incorrigible and resistant members. It ought not to be so among God’s people. Rather, healthy members of a local church should strive and encourage others to strive to follow their leaders with wide-open hearts, eager obedience, and joyful submission.
For Further Reflection

1. Consider the instruction to church members in Hebrews 13. In what way has submission to your church leaders brought you advantage or blessing?

2. In what specific ways can you pray for your leaders?

3. How can you encourage other church members to place greater trust in the church’s leaders as they follow Christ and teach the word?
For Further Reading

Mahaney, C. J. Humility: True Greatness. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005.
Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books Books, 2003.


When I was a little boy, we used to celebrate our friends’ birthdays by giving them spankings, a wallop for each year of their birthday. And then we’d conclude with one extra lick, saying, “… and one to grow on.” In keeping, the first nine chapters of this book correspond to the nine marks in its companion volumes, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and What Is a Healthy Church? while this tenth chapter is “one to grow on.”
I can’t think of a single Christian I’ve met who did not believe that prayer is important, and not only important but a vital part of the Christian life. Odd indeed would be the Christian who attempts to live the Christian life without prayer.
But despite its universally accepted status, prayer remains for many Christians a difficult task, a duty without joy and sometimes seemingly without effect. Christians may waver between the poles of neglect and frustration when it comes to prayer.
Why should this be? Why should otherwise healthy Christians and members of churches find prayer such a difficult exercise?
A House of Prayer for All People

Difficulty in prayer becomes all the more disconcerting when we realize that the church is to be a place of prayer. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when eunuchs and foreigners would find a welcome home among the people of God. Those from nations outside of Israel would keep the covenant of God, and the Lord promised of these foreigners:

These I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
For my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples. (Isa. 56:7)

The Lord Jesus quoted this promise when “he entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple,” reasserting that God’s house was no place for thieves but for people of prayer (Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17).
When we survey the activities of the early church recorded for us in Scripture, we discover that one of the central things early church members devoted themselves to was prayer. As they awaited the promise of the Holy Spirit, they assembled in the upper room and “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer” (Acts 1:14). After Pentecost, when God added to their number those who were being saved, the earliest members of the Christian church “devoted themselves” to four things: “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The earliest Christians’ engagement in prayer was so strong it could only be called “devotion.”
As a spiritual discipline, prayer is so important that it’s the only devotion given as a reason for interrupting normal marital devotion between husband and wife (1 Cor. 7:5). Can you imagine the revival in spiritual lives that would break out if Christian bedrooms were to find spouses saying, “Not now, honey, let’s devote ourselves to prayer” instead of “Not now, honey, I have a headache.” From the home to the church, prayer is essential.
What Is Prayer?

But simply pointing out the importance and centrality of prayer in the early church does not make us prayer warriors. Not only that, we can often be confused as to what prayer really is. Wrong ideas abound. For example:

• Unless we pray, God cannot act in the world.
• God has already decided everything; he’s sovereign, so why pray?
• God is too busy to listen to my prayers.

At root, most misunderstandings about prayer stem from a misunderstanding about the nature of God and our relationship to him. It’s easy to turn prayer into a me-centered stage show where our claims and needs hog the spotlight and God is a stagehand changing the settings at our request. Yet it’s also easy to fall off the other side of the wagon by making God a cosmic chess player deterministically moving all the pieces without regard to the actions of his people.
What we need is a gospel-centered understanding of prayer. Theologian Graeme Goldsworthy offers this understanding:

The gospel is primarily about the work of the Son. How we know the Son will determine how we view our relationship with the Father who speaks to us through his word. How we view that relationship will determine, in turn, how we come to God in prayer and with what confidence. Prayer will never again be a sentimental excursion or an instinctive hitting of the panic button. Nor will it be the presumption of an innate right to demand God’s attention. Rather it will be the expression of our entry into God’s heavenly sanctuary, which has been procured for us by our Great High Priest.

Believing the gospel changes our status from outsiders to members of the family of God, adopted sons of God through faith in Christ. On this basis—our sonship through faith in Christ—we may speak to God as his redeemed children. “Prayer is our response to God as He speaks to us,” first in the gospel of Christ, and subsequently in his Word.
Prayer is “not pleading a cause before an unwilling God,” and neither is it acting as a surrogate for a god too impotent to effect anything without us. In prayer, as children united with Christ, our advocate and high priest, the heir of all things, we stand before God receiving a full hearing. Because we are before God in Christ, there is no ceiling that blocks our prayers, though we often imagine there is. Rather, “we involve ourselves in the business that God has with the world” by praying “towards the fulfillment of God’s revealed purposes for the whole universe” through “the gospel and its God-ordained outcome.” Prayer is “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”4—thoughts that will always be heard and answered.
How and When Shall We Pray?

A lot of books have been written on the subject of prayer. Some prescribe certain methods for prayer. Others examine the prayer lives of people in the Bible or great saints from church history. With so many books on prayer, and knowing how much progress I need to make in my own prayer life, I’m hesitant to offer suggestions for others to consider. But, in God’s kindness and mercy, he has told us how and when to pray.
The how and when of prayer boil down to two biblical teachings: pray constantly and pray in the Spirit.

The apostle Paul frequently encouraged the churches to which he wrote to pray constantly. He exhorted the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome to “be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). And to the Colossians he wrote, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2). This was one way those in the Colossian church could set their minds on and “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1–2). As an example, Paul held up Epaphras, who was “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers” (Col. 4:12). In view of the temptations, dangers, and needs of the Christian life, the healthy church member heeds God’s command for constancy in prayer.

Not only is the healthy church member constant in prayer, she or he also prays in the Spirit. “Praying in the Spirit” is variously understood by different Christian groups, and much confusion exists on this point. But, again, Paul’s letter to the Romans is helpful, where he writes: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26–27).
The unfortunate result of so much speculation over a passage like Romans 8:26–27 is that the wonderfully encouraging and plain emphasis is overlooked. And there is great teaching here to encourage us in our prayers. Notice that the Spirit “helps us in our weakness.” We’ve already noted that prayer is one area where Christians readily admit their weakness.
How kind it is for God the Holy Spirit to help us in precisely this area! Ever find yourself at a loss for knowing what to pray? The Spirit himself intercedes for us. Ever wish you knew exactly what the will of God was so that you could ask for it? It is precisely “according to the will of God” that the Spirit intercedes for us.
All this is a pivotal clue for what it means to pray in the Spirit. Prayer in the Spirit is prayer controlled by the Spirit. And prayer controlled by the Spirit is prayer according to the will of God. It is when we pray in accord with God’s will, which is revealed in his Word, that we pray in the Spirit. Such prayer is the birthright of everyone born of the Spirit and adopted as sons of God (Rom. 8:14–17). It is by such prayer that we wage our warfare as Christians (Eph. 6:18).
For What and for Whom Shall We Pray?

As we saw in Romans 8:26–27, one of the ways the Spirit of God helps our weakness in prayer is by interceding for us when we do not know what to pray. Nevertheless, the Lord has also told us some things for which we should pray.

Matthew’s Gospel records for us an instance when Jesus was moved with compassion for the harassed and helpless people of Israel who appeared “like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus immediately instructed his disciples to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:36–38). Perhaps only Christians who have been in churches that have suffered through prolonged periods without a pastor know the urgency of this prayer. The Lord’s people need shepherds, and healthy church members petition him to send shepherds to their churches and other churches in need of pastors. And not only do they pray that shepherds and laborers would be sent, they also pray that the Lord would help and strengthen those who labor in the Word during times of distress, suffering, and weakness (Phil. 1:19–20); grant boldness to pastors in proclaiming the gospel (Eph. 6:19–20); and grant opportunity for the spread of the ministry and the gospel (Col. 4:3–4).

Praying for other Christians is a tangible expression of love and care (see Eph. 6:18). Christianity is not a solo sport, and prayer is not a trip through the Burger King drive-thru, where we shout into an inanimate receiver, wait a few moments, and then receive the bag of goodies we ordered to “have it our way.” The Christian life is a family life, and our prayers are to focus on the entire family, esteeming others more highly than ourselves. One way to do this is to pray regularly through your local church’s membership directory, if they publish one. Pray through one page or one letter of the alphabet per day. Another way of praying for all the saints is to pray for other churches in your neighborhood and churches where other family and friends are members. As we meet with the Lord to study his word each day, we can love other Christians by praying the truth of God’s Word over their lives each day. We can pray for their sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3); we can pray against temptation and for watchfulness (Matt.26:41); we can pray that they would be filled with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16–25) and nearly anything else the Bible commends for Christians.

The young pastor Timothy received these words from his mentor, the apostle Paul: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1–3). Given that God ordains all authority in life, from government leaders (Rom. 13:1–2) to parents (Eph. 6:1–3), and given the blessings that God bestows on those who follow the authorities he has ordained, it makes sense that Christians should pray for those in authority. Healthy church members regularly remember in their prayers elected officials, government employees, school teachers, their own employers, parents, and others with authority. It’s helpful to keep a list of such persons in your Bible or your prayer journal as an organized reminder to pray for those in authority.

This is the Lord’s charge: “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:28). It is natural to pray for people we love. Even unbelievers manage such “prayers.” But the love of Christ compels us to pray even for those who abuse, slander, and injure us (Matt. 5:46–47). Amazingly, such prayers give evidence that we are sons of God (Matt. 5:45), even as persecution for righteousness is cause for rejoicing because of Christ’s promised reward in his kingdom (Matt. 5:10–12). We’re not to be like the unmerciful servant, who, though forgiven by his creditor, roughly treated others who owed him (Matt. 18:21–35). We’re to fight the fleshly impulse to not love our persecutors and to neglect them in prayer, and we’re to choose instead the superior joy and righteousness of the sons of God who pray even for their abusers.

Can there be a more marvelous privilege than that which has been afforded to Christians through Christ: to stand before God our Father and respond in prayer by his Spirit to his Word spoken to us? If we would be expositional-listening, gospel-saturated, biblical theologians, we should pray with the confident knowledge of what God is doing in the world through Christ his Son and pray for the worldwide advancement of his gospel and will.
For Further Reflection

1. Do you have a specific plan for prayer? Review your current plan or write a new plan for prayer that includes:

a) private and group/public times of prayer;
b) times and places of prayer;
c) specific individuals and groups of people to pray for;
d) gospel and church concerns;
e) passages of Scripture you find encouraging and helpful in prayer.
For Further Reading

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Prayer and the Knowledge of God: What the Whole Bible Teaches. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003.
Mack, Wayne A. Reaching the Ear of God: Praying More … and More Like Jesus. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004.
Packer, J. I., and Carolyn Nystrom. Praying: Finding Our Way Through Duty to Delight. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006.
Ryken, Philip Graham. When You Pray: Making the Lord’s Prayer Your Own. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000.
Carson, D. A. A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992.

Writing this book was a blessing and a privilege. I owe much to the teams at 9Marks and Crossway for giving me the opportunity to write it, and especially to Jonathan Leeman and Lydia Brownback for providing help and guidance that cannot be monetized. Thanks are also owed to my fellow laborers in the gospel at First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman; the congregation, staff, and leaders all offer Godward encouragement and model much of what is written here. And without Kristie, a helper suitable for me and a far richer blessing than I deserve, my labors would be less fruitful, joyous, and adventurous. I am deeply grateful to God for his grace and guidance as I penned these chapters. Everything worthwhile in the book results from his work, not mine, and all the dross appears because of my weakness and inability.
As I reflect on my own weaknesses as a Christian, pastor, and church member, I am reminded that you, too, may have weaknesses that affect your reading of this book. Two come to mind in particular.
First, it is entirely possible to read this book and assess yourself while completely losing sight of Jesus Christ and the cross. That is, you may read this book and go away thinking “work, work, work” instead of “grace, grace, grace” or “trust, trust, trust.” Each of the chapters may have become for you a roadmap for self-improvement and self-effort, duty and perhaps drudgery.
The counsel of this book is offered not as a prescription to be taken independent of God’s grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither condemnation and judgment nor practical atheism are the hoped-for results of this book. Rather, I pray that you’ve been able to read What Is a Healthy Church Member? with a pleading heart, desiring that the Lord of the church might supernaturally awaken each of his saints to serve in extraordinary ways. I pray that a deep dependence upon the True Vine—apart from whom we can do nothing—grows in each of our hearts as we long more and more to be what Christ is making us to be. However the Lord moves you to put the suggestions of this book into practice, I pray that you would do so with an increasing understanding of and reliance upon the life of Christ now at work in you and the Spirit who seals and empowers the Christian for every good work.
Second, it is entirely possible to read this book with the spirit of individualism. You may finish this book and think, “Let me get to work on me.” And to be sure, there is a great deal of growth we all need to make, and by God’s grace will make, until Christ returns. But this book is about the church, the whole of Christ’s body in a particular place. Much is said about your role and my role in it, but you and I are meant for and belong to all the others who assemble as God’s people (Rom. 12:5). So, the best way to put this book into practice is to do so with the partnership, support, and love of other Christians in your local church. Don’t be a “Lone Ranger Christian,” exclusively or myopically concerned with you. Lock arms with others who love the Lord and love his church and together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Author Jerry Bridges recalls his understanding of the local church during the early years of his Christian walk. He writes:

For many years I took an individualistic approach to the Christian life. I was concerned about my growth as a Christian, my progress in holiness, my acquisition of ministry skills. I prayed that God would enable me to be more holy in my personal life and more effective in my evangelism. I asked God’s blessing on my church and the Christian organization I worked for. But as I learned more about true fellowship, I began to pray that we as the Body of Christ would grow in holiness, that we would be more effective witnesses to the saving grace of Christ. It is the entire Body—not just me—that needs to grow.

My hope is that the same switch from “I” to “we” that Jerry Bridges describes would be true for more and more of God’s people. I pray that this small contribution would play some part in increasing our love for the body of our Savior and in so doing would lead the church to greater strength, vitality, and health.

Having, as we trust, been brought by Divine Grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to give up ourselves to Him, and having been baptized upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on His gracious aid, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.
We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
We will walk together in brotherly love, as becomes the members of a Christian Church; exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.
We will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.
We will endeavor to bring up such as may at any time be under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.
We will rejoice at each other’s happiness, and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.
We will seek, by Divine aid, to live carefully in the world, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that, as we have been voluntarily buried by baptism and raised again from the symbolic grave, so there is on us a special obligation now to lead a new and holy life.
We will work together for the continuance of a faithful evangelical ministry in this church, as we sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline, and doctrines. We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.
We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.


17:15–19 29
21:1–2 29
29:31 29
3:15 29
30:22 29

119:103–104 20
42:4 71

1:7 80
20:3 36
27:5–6 79

45:22–24 30
55:11 58
56:7 106
6:9–10 24
7:14 29

1:20–23 29
3:1–2 59
4:17 59
5:3–12 51
5:4 81
5:5 69
5:10–12 113
5:23–24 69
5:45 113
5:46–47 113
9:36–38 111
18 80
18:15 120 n. 7
18:15–17 66, 76
18:17 120 n. 6
18:21–22 69
18:21–35 113
21:13 106
25 91
26 92
26:41 112
28:19–20 31

10:45 68
11:17 106

6:28 113
18 85
18:1 102
18:9–14 85
24:27 31
24:44–45 31

10:27 20
13:34–35 61, 67
14:6 59
15 90
15:5–8 89
17:20–21 61
17:21 22

1:14 106
2:38 59
2:42 106
4:12 59
6:1–6 99
6:3 99

1:16 16, 62
1:17 58
8:5–8 49
8:14–17 110
8:15 53
8:15–16 55
8:16 53
8:26–27 110, 111
10:17 25
12:5 116
12:6–8 70
12:12 109
12:16 22
13:1–2 112
14:10–12 30
14:19 68
15:1 69

1 Corinthians
1:10 21
1:8 25
3:7 58
3:9 58
4:1–2 59
5 66, 76, 80
5:2 81
5:4–5 120 n. 6
5:9–13 66
7:5 107
10:11 30
12 68
14 68
14:40 74

2 Corinthians
1:14 97
2:6 66, 81
3:9 58
5:18–21 69
5:20 58
6:1 58
6:11–13 97
7:2–3 97
8–9 70
8:5 97
9:13 103
10:15–16 103
12:15 98
13:11 22
13:5 51

1:8–9 45
4:6 53, 55
5:16–25 112
5:22–24 51
5:22–25 88
6:1 120 n. 7
6:2 69

2:1–3 49
4:11–13 88
4:11–16 68, 91
6:1–3 112
6:18 110, 111
6:19–20 101, 111

1:19–20 111
1:27 35
2:9–11 30
2:12 51
3:12–14 84
3:15a 85
3:17 101

1:10 87
2:18 25
3:1–2 109
4:2 109
4:2–4 101
4:3–4 111
4:12 109

1 Thessalonians
3:11–13 87
4:3 112
5:17 109

2 Thessalonians
1:3 87
3:6 76
3:11 76

1 Timothy
2:1–3 112
3 99
3:1–13 65
4:12 101
5:9 66
5:17 96
5:18 96
5:19 96
5:22a 99

2 Timothy
2:14–17a 36
2:24–26 98
3:16 75
4:3–4 21

1:5–9 65
2:11–12 91
2:13–14 92
2:7 101

20 98

1:1 30
5:11–13 84
5:11–14 24
6:1 84, 87
6:3 87
10:24–25 67, 68
10:25 91
12:5–6 79
12:7 79
12:8 79
12:9–10 79
12:11 74
13 103
13:17 65, 100

1:21 77
1:22–25 24
3:18 68
4:6 87
5:19–20, 81

1 Peter
1:3–5 54
3:8 22
5:3 101
5:5 87
5:6 25

2 Peter
1:5–8 87
1:5–11 51
2:2 45
3:18 87, 88

1 John
Book of, 51
1:6–7 51, 55
1:8–10 51
2:15 52, 55
2:22–23 52
3:2–3 92
3:5 51
3:14–15 55
3:14b–15 52
3:18–19 52, 55
3:24b 53, 55
4:13–14 53
5:1 52, 55
5:4–5 53, 55

2 John
10–11 45

3 35, 45
Anyabwile, T. M. (2008). What Is a Healthy Church Member? (S. 31–120). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Saint Augustine, Melanchton, Neander- Biographies- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz

Saint Augustine et al.

Church Saints


ROSARY strategic teaching tools


Seed, Fruit and HARVEST



IMAGINE the figurative word of JESUS about Sawer, seed and fruit:
concerning to our teachings about the fishermen´s principles (archiv), we find the fructification rule of bringing fruit 30 – 60- and 100 times.
So, what is true and can be proofed in material world, even has a spiritual element.
We have established BIOSEAL to fix quality in that harvest.
So it can be seen in spiritual developement of RMI (ROSARY Ministries International
Who throws out much seed, will have much fruit!
So we see in internet platforms, social and economical websites (