I follow Paul!

Peter Davids makes a great point in the Introduction to his commentary on the letters of Jude and Second Peter (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2006):

For many since the Reformation Paul’s letters have been more central than the Gospels. They have been a canon within a canon (1).

I’m not sure what Davids’ background is but this observation is supported by the fact that the majority of Lutheran pastors (not sure about other heirs of the Reformation) over the last century have preached on the appointed Epistle for the Day rather than the Gospel, as was Luther’s recommendation. I can’t help but think that this lack of focus on Jesus and His teaching in the main sermons of the Church has taken its toll over the years on people’s ability to see how doctrine is connected to Christ. I think there is actually a big disconnect in the general piety of church goers (at least, Lutheran ones) between Jesus and the Sacraments, Jesus and the Liturgy, Jesus and ________ you fill in the blank.

That’s not to say that I am against preaching on Epistles or even the Old Testament. The Old Testament needs to “take on flesh” by our preaching of Christ, but this was meant to be done at other times of the week. Of course, we all know how well it would go over to tell people to come to church more than once a week! I am lucky to get a handful for midweek services during Advent and Lent.

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About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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2 Responses to I follow Paul!

  1. Rev. Benjamin Mayes says:

    I’m reading a book now that I’ll review for Concordia Theological Quarterly: Marcel Nieden, Die Erfindung des Theologen: Wittenberger Anweisungen zum Theologiestudium im Zeitalter von Reformation und Konfessionalisierung (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006). He points out that from the time of Luther and Melanchthon through Lutheran Orthodoxy, the professors at Wittenberg emphasized that students especially study the epistles of Paul intently, because that’s the prime place where the doctrine of justification is dealt with (along with a lot of other doctrines). Of course, Paul has so much about Christ as well. My hunch is that Lutheran theologians have loved Paul’s epistles so much since they are packed with so much clear doctrine in such a short space. With the Gospels, you have quite a lot of “facts,” which are crucial, but in need of explanation. Paul is that explanation, which is why the Lutheran professors wanted their students to study him so intently. Of course, Orthodox Lutherans preached on the liturgical pericopes handed down to them from antiquity. Scores of Gospel postils are extant. The modern “Lutheran” aversion to preaching on the Gospels is regrettable.

  2. Rev. Paul Beisel says:

    Good points. Certainly the Epistles are filled with Christ, and a wonderful explanation of the chief doctrines of Christianity. Couldn’t agree more.

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