Session 1: Introduction
By Reverend Jean Lebbert
I had a dream years ago. I am kind of sure that it was post-seminary, but not too post. In the dream, I was at a garage sale and I found a box with the complete set of Luther's Works for TEN DOLLARS!!!
Sometimes-just often for us to keep hanging on to thrilling hopes-sometimes waking life turns out better than dream life. A while later, the way I remember it, Pastor Pieper had a water leak over his bookshelves and had to box up all his books and while boxing up books he hadn't looked at for a while and realizing he would probably never look at them, he decided to get rid of them. And among those was his set of Luther's Works, which he offered to me FOR FREE!!!
I have had them sitting all pretty and organized and everything on my shelves-oh, looked at a couple of them-but not until now have I had a venue to thoroughly use them.
I plan to enjoy this study as much as you, as we journey through the Bible and through Luther's Works, and wherever else this study leads us. Blessings.
In Volume 1 of Luther's Works: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5, in the Introduction, we read, "It is usually supposed that on Thursday of the week of June 3, 1535, Luther began his great Lectures on Genesis." 1535! May Spirit bless us with insight into 16th century theology and our very own, five centuries later.
Our text this week is:
Genesis 1:1 (NRSV) "In the beginning when God created* the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God** swept over the face of the waters."
(*Other translations state this as "when God began to create" and others as "In the beginning God created"
**Other translations state this as "while the Spirit of God" or "while a mighty wind")
Luther writes, "The first chapter is written in the simplest language; yet it contains matters of the utmost importance and very difficult to understand. It was for this reason, as St. Jerome asserts, that among the Hebrews it was forbidden for anyone under thirty to read the chapter or to expound it for others."
What? Anyone under THIRTY forbidden to read Genesis 1? And we call OUR GENERATION biblically illiterate.
Luther is referring to Jerome's letter to Paulinus, Epistle LIII, Patrologia, Series Latina, XXII, 547. (For those of you who have rolled up your sleeves and happen to be reading this in a seminary library).
Luther continues, "They wanted one to have a good knowledge of the entire Scripture before getting to this chapter. Not even with this practice, however, did the Jewish Rabbis achieve anything worthwhile; for in their commentaries men twice thirty and even older prattle most childishly about these extremely important matters."
Well, Luther rants on and on, sans political correctness. But I have to ask, "How is one supposed to get a good knowledge of the Scriptures if they can't start at the beginning?" It reminds me of one of my favorite Bible verses, Proverbs 4, verse 7, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight."
Here's one insight (to start getting wisdom): when I took Old Testament at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, I got this book that breaks the Pentateuch down to the four storytellers that biblical scholars know perpetuated the sacred stories during the oral eras, and Genesis chapter one comes to us from the last storytellers, the Priestly tellers, who were giving wisdom and insight to the kings and queens and providing sacred mortar to the priests and high priests who were expounding on the Laws of Moses and doing all the rituals of worship. God gets less and less human in the Priestly stories, and the heavenly throne gets farther and farther from earth. Take a quick peek at Genesis, chapter 2, the last half of verse 4-it's another creation story. Notice that God is called LORD God-that's a sign of another storyteller we will get to later in this study. Now, read verse 8-LORD God is planting a garden! Quite a difference from the disembodied voice that speaks and everything comes to be that we have in Genesis 1.
Wait! Luther is speaking up again, "Indeed, human reason cannot avoid being overwhelmed by the grandeur of this subject matter and coming into conflict with it. . . Thus among the Hebrews, the Latins, or the Greeks there is no guide whom we could follow with safety in this area. In view of this we likewise shall deserve indulgence if we do the best we can. For apart from the general knowledge that the world had its beginning from nothing there is hardly anything about which there is common agreement among all theologians."
In the 21st century, we can add "scientists" to Luther's comment. Put scientists and theologians in a room together to hash out what actually happened "In the beginning" and they'll sound like a room full of theologians-or scientists, for that matter!
Maybe those ancient Hebrews had something. Let's wait until we are thirty, when we have experienced the grandeur and chaos of life-how all of life is real and good and awful and awe full, then let's come to the notion of the power from whence we came.
Interesting that the Hebrews chose "thirty" because that's such a holy number in our sacred stories. I wonder if they meant literally thirty or the sacred-metaphorical-God's-time thirty.
Luther goes on (bet his students needed coffee to get through his lectures), explaining that there were controversies among Hilary and Augustine* about Genesis 1:1-if it tells us that God created everything instantaneously on that first act, and then spent 5 days giving the formless void shape and distinction or if God created successively in the course of six day. Was it a big bang or a long week?
(*Hilary, On the Trinity, XII, ch. 40, Patrologia. . . and Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram libri XII, IV. . .)
Not to mention Nicholas of Lyra who claimed that God did "the work of separating in the first three days, and the work of adorning in the following three days."
Phew. If you are still with me, I have to conclude now. Luther said this chapter (and we are only at the first verse) has the simplest of language, is of the utmost important, and is very difficult to understand.
Hang in there, though. We have only just gotten to the formless void, aka, chaos. Tune in next week.
Session 2: Genesis 1:1
"In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And darkness was over the face of the abyss."
Luther: "Everything that is, was created by God. At the beginning of the first day were created the crude mass of mire or of earth, and the mists or waters. Into these, within the remaining space of the first day, God introduced light and made day appear, in order to expose to view the crude mass of heaven and earth, rather like an elementary seed, but one suited for producing something."
My favorite Bible study buddy, Dr. Rev. Margie Brown, paraphrases this verse this way:
"In the beginning, there was nothing, and God said, "Let there be light" and there was still nothing, but now you could see it."
I find it interesting that science and religion are at odds over creation vs. evolution instead of coming together in agreement that in beginnings there is chaos. There is everything all at once, but no shape until there is a direction or a goal.
Genesis 1:1 contains all the Good News. "Everything that is necessary is at hand." It would be good to start each day with that mantra and to do every day giving shape and to everything that is at hand, instead of wanting for something else. What exists outside of everything? Why do we think that we need that too?
Luther writes: (and herein is one of my favorite Luther quotes)
"The Arians have fancied that the angels and the Son of God were created before the beginning. But let us pass over this blasphemous idea. Let us also disregard another question: "What was God doing before the beginning of the world? Was He in a state of rest or not? Augustine relates in his Confessions that someone had answered to this effect: "God was making hell ready for those who pried into meddlesome questions."
It is a difficult concept to get a hold of, that before ANYTHING existed, God existed. So, is God an existence or something other? Brain wants to know. Brain wants knowing control. Luther writes, "It is folly to argue much about God outside and before time."
Isn't it good to know that Augustine was harsher than Luther sometimes? I don't know much about Augustine. Perhaps you don't either. This study will benefit us in that lacking.
Isn't it enough to know that out of chaos beginning takes shape? We certainly know chaos in life, and we certainly know ending. Beginning, we have a hard time with. Too much pain in endings. Beginnings occur without our being able to pay attention.
"And the Spirit hovered over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light'"
Luther sees the revelation of the Trinity at Creation. 1) Creator/Father creates everything; 2) Spirit hovers (Luther: "As a hen broods her eggs, keeping them warm in order to hatch her chicks, and, as it were, to bring them to life through the heat, so Scripture says that the Holy Spirit brooded, as it were, on the waters to bring to life those substances which were to be quickened and adorned. For it is the office of the Holy Spirit to make alive.") The third revelation is the word: 3) "Let there be light." Creator using stuff of creation (i.e. speech) to enlighten. Word incarnate in speech; word incarnate in Jesus.
It is not a big step, then, for us to fathom word incarnate in us as the body of Christ today.
Session 3:Tackling Genesis 1:3
And God said: Let there be light, and there was light.
Martin Luther gives a lengthy discussion about God speaking and the Word coming into existence, about word as verb vs. word as noun. He wrestles with how Creator differs from Word/Savior and when God spoke, did the Word come into being at the same time or was it with Creator before time. And believe me, it is beyond my skill to condense Luther's discussion, so I am going to just pick out some highlights.
First about God speaking. Isn't that putting God into human terms-like, incarnation in the beginning?
During Luther's time, there was a sect called "Audians" who were accused and condemned by the Pope of teaching a gross form of anthropomorphism. But Luther writes, "The condemnation is unjust. Indeed, how could men speak otherwise of God among men?" (Just as still exists in much writing today, "men" is supposed to be inclusive-but that's another subject for another day-back to Luther) "If it is heresy to think of God in this manner, then a verdict has been rendered concerning the salvation of all children, who think and speak of God in this childlike fashion. But even apart from the children: give me the most learned doctor - how else will he teach and speak about God?
I have to agree. I try hard to talk about God in non-human terms, in terms like The Divine, The Source of Life, Power Most High, but when I really get into storytelling, it is just way so much easier to be anthropomorphic about the Divine. I understand that Power Most High is not a more-than-human person dwelling in the sky, but when my heart wants to get to the story, it gets tired of my tongue trying to be flawlessly generic and inclusive. The point is, Creation came from The Source of Life. How did it come? Well, um, er, "God said. . ." The trouble with putting God in human terms is that it becomes practice to use the pronoun "He", which, over time, cements the image of God as male and any Goddess images as heresy.
Nevertheless, back to Luther's Works: "It seems to us that He begins to speak because we cannot go beyond the beginning of time. But because John and Moses say that the Word was in the beginning and before all creatures, it necessarily follows that He always was in the Creator. . . This Word is God; it is the omnipotent Word, uttered in the divine essence. . . And when it was spoken, light was brought into existence, not out of the matter of the Word or from the nature of Him who spoke but out of the darkness itself. Thus the Father spoke inwardly, and outwardly light was made."
My goodness, I am thankful that people have wrestled and wrestled over every detail. This is the first time I have paused for such a long time simply over "God said".
And I am understanding why every pastor I've ever met who has a set of Luther's Works has hardly read any of the volumnes.
Let's get on to the conclusion of Luther's discussion of Genesis 1:3.
Luther writes, "Here a famous question is raised: "Of what sort, then, was that light by which the unformed mass of heaven and earth was illuminated? Although neither sun nor stars had been created, the text makes it clear that this light was true and physical."
Apparently lots of folks asked this famous question, and lots of guesses proliferated. One guess that Luther alludes to was that the light was an angelic creature and when God separated the light from the dark (Genesis 1:4-yay! We've moved onto the next verse), it meant that God was separating the good angels from the bad. (Although God called the Light "good", God didn't call the Darkness "bad").
I love this next thing Luther says, "But this is toying with ill-timed allegories (for Moses is relating history); it is not interpreting Scripture."
Why, Luther, why? You would be accusing the church of heresy were you to return to earth today!
If you are still with me, here's a quote from a newspaper clipping that I have tucked in the beginning of Genesis in my study Bible. It says (but not literally talking), "Physicists have taken some of the most precise measurements so far of the behavior of matter and antimatter, and their findings could help explain why the universe is filled with something rather than nothing. Researchers have long known that during the Big Bang 13 billion years ago, equal amounts of matter and antimatter (noun and verb) were created. And researchers also know that when these two forms of matter collide, they annihilate each other. But there is almost no antimatter in the universe today. This raises a question that has fascinated and perplexed physicists: Why is the universe still filled with matter - stars, planets and people? Why isn't the cosmos a complete void?"
In other words, how come matter matters more than nothing matters?
Theologians aren't the only ones who can obsess.
Here's the scary conclusion designed to bring you back for session 4: Will our next President be a fundamentalist who actually believes that creation took place merely 10,000 years ago? Tune in next time when God separates heaven from earth.
Session 4: Beginning at Genesis 1:6
6. And God said, "Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." 7. So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
Luther begins his discussion on this verse: "Here it must be noted that the Jews begin their day in a way different from ours. For them the day began in the evening with the setting of the sun." He follows this observation with a word study of the Hebrew word for 'evening' the root of which he observes means "to mix or confuse."
His Hebrew dictionary differs from my 20th century one in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. The root for 'evening' in my dictionary means "to cover, become dusky" however, it is identical with another root which means "to braid or intermix" and there is something akin to confusion in braiding and intermixing.
I LOVE the idea, however, of starting off with confusion and dusky darkness and moving into the light, which allows for identification and organization. The marking of time as a revelation of the Creator and Creation!
Genesis 1:6 "God said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide waters from waters."
Luther begins his discussion on this verse with a page about the fall of evil angels. "Here," he writes, "Moses seems to be forgetting himself, because he does not deal at all with two very important matters, namely, the creation and the fall of the angels, and relates only the state of affairs of physical things, although there is no doubt that the angels were created."
There must have been lots of ideas about the fallen angels that were an issue in Luther's day. He mentions some, "Since people were without definite information, the result was that they invented something, namely, that there were nine choirs of angels and that they fell for nine entire days. They also invented an account of a very great battle and how the good angels withstood the evil ones. This idea, I think, is patterned after the battle of the church; as pious teachers battle the wicked and the fanatics, so they also dream that there was a battle against the wicked angels, who wanted to claim deity for themselves."
Luther wasn't much plagued with subtlety, was he.
He concludes his angel discussion, "Let us now return to Moses." It seems to me that in this statement, Luther is closing the door on doctrines that don't have much basis in Scripture.
Here Luther gives us an explanation of what happened in the creation of heaven in the midst of waters: "The unformed mass of mist, which was created on the first day out of nothing, God seizes with the Word and gives the command that it should extend itself outward in the manner of a sphere. . . The heaven was made in this manner, that the unformed mass extended itself outward as the bladder of a pig extends itself outward in circular form when it is inflated - if I may be permitted to make use of a coarse comparison in order to make the process clear."
Permitted? Where can I obtain a pig's bladder? This would make a great children's sermon!
From here, Luther reflects more on the creative process, maybe throwing out all the ideas to see which will provide a feeling of understanding what is ultimately beyond comprehension. He brings up the influences of his university teachers, philosophies, Aristotle, mathematicians, a Moslem expositor Ibn Rushd (1126-98).
He draws a conclusion for us, "We Christians must, therefore, be different from the philosophers in the way we think about the causes of these things. And if some are beyond our comprehension, we must believe them and admit our lack of knowledge rather than either wickedly deny them or presumptuously interpret them in conformity with our understanding."
What a grace-filled conclusion - permission to believe without understanding.
I remember one time when I had said, "I don't know" in response to somebody asking me something (I don't remember what it was they were asking), they said, "You don't know! But you're a pastor; you're supposed to know." That was a heavy trip. Just like the time somebody asked me to promise that I would never make another mistake, and when I could not make that promise, they left the church!
Granted, understanding is a good feeling. Equally good is the feeling that it's okay to not understand. I don't think we can credit Luther with originating this concept, but he was certainly a proponent.
Well, we are up to page 33 in Luther's Works, Vol. 1.
Thank you and bless you for doing this journey with me. It is good to dwell in the Scriptures for a while. So often, we whisk through it, being driven by the time it tells us God created for us to live in. It is good to take time when we find that it is taking us.
Until Session 5 then.
Session 5: Beginning at Genesis 1:9
Genesis 1:9 And God said: Let the waters which are under the heaven be gathered together in one place, and let the dry land appear.
Luther concludes from the beginning of this verse, "Therefore heaven, in the diction of the Sacred Scriptures, denotes the entire upper structure together with all the air and all the spheres. . . So, then, what in philosophical terminology we call air with all its spheres here has the name 'heaven'."
It seems a bit of a jump to me, like Luther is trying to be literal and yet find meaning outside of language. And is he trying to avoid all those ancient sacred stories that clearly tell of an above and a below? Maybe monks back in those days were cloistered from getting to know other sacred myths. We are fortunate today that we can investigate, compare, appreciate other faiths, other perspectives.
We start to see where the notion of heaven as being up in the sky comes from.
Luther definitely travels with the likes of St. Paul in thinking heaven so much better than earth, for he says, "By the term 'waters' he [Moses} means our waters, the seas and the rivers, which also come from that first and formless water and are the dregs which remained behind after the heaven had been made from it by the Word. I believe that the quality of this water is far below that of the upper waters. . ." He reasons they are inferior because they are thicker. They can be gathered, and in air, we can breathe, but in water, we cannot breathe.
My 21st century neck hairs are bristling. Water is amazing, just as air is amazing. Would you want to swim around in air if you were a whale or a jellyfish? I know I cannot fly in the air, but I have flown with sea turtles in water! Oh well,
At least Luther and I can agree on his next statement: "He calls the earth dry because the waters had been removed."
He concludes that in the beginning, then, the formless mass consisted of water and earth and that there was a mass of earth submerged by the waters. Luther says, "Otherwise why would He [God] say, 'Let there appear,' unless it was surrounded by the abyss and was completely covered by those first mistlike waters?"
Then Luther avers that it is "through divine power that the waters do not pass over us", that "until today and until the end of the world God performs for us the well-known miracle which He performed in the Red Sea for the people of Israel. . .We live and breathe just as the Children of Israel did in the midst of the Red Sea."
We do have the story in Noah of God letting go so that the entire earth was covered in water. I am charmed by the concept of God containing the waters, but it sure makes crossing God terrifying.
Genesis 1:10 And God saw that it was good.
Luther writes, "Here Moses adds this favorable comment in spite of the fact that nothing had been done beyond the separating of the waters and the bringing forth of the insignificant bit of earth."
Jean reacts, "Eegad, YOU try merely separating water from air and gathering water!"
But Luther is referring to the day before, when God creates heaven but doesn't say it's good. "Perhaps this is because God wanted to indicate to us that He was more concerned about our dwelling place than about His own, and thus to arouse our gratitude."
Luther concludes his discussion of this verse, "Thus He makes a superb beginning with the foundations and the roof of this house. Now let us see how He also adorns it."
Which brings us to the 11th verse, the start of Session 6.
Now that Holy Week is over, I hope to make the sessions shorter and more frequent.
I am thankful that I get to do this web-study, to visit with Martin Luther and his time. May all be blessed by this time together.
Session 6: On the Work of the Third Day
Genesis 1:11 And God said: Let the earth sprout herbage that is green and produces seed, and fruit trees.
Luther starts his expounding on this verse with a delightful metaphor:
"God has built the first parts of the house. It has a most elegant roof, the heaven, though this is not yet fully adorned. Its foundation is the earth. Its walls on every side are the seas. Now He also makes provision for our sustenance, so that the earth brings forth herbs and trees of all kinds."
Luther then claims that "our bodies would have been far more durable if the practice of eating all sorts of food - particularly, however, the consumption of meat - had not been introduced after the Deluge. . .Indeed, it is clear that at the beginning of the world herbs served as food and were created for this use, that they might be food for man."
Martin! It seems to me that you have jumped to two conclusions. First, you assume that the earth's flora were created for humans, that the whole work of creation was just for us. I can't say that I agree. What makes us assume we are the pinnacle of the story of creation? I had a microbiology teacher who gave a lecture on how the microbes would be the last life forms to survive. Far many more microbes live off "herbs and trees" than humans.
Secondly, who's to say that this wasn't just the first course and that it's okay to eat meat? There are FLOWERS that eat insects, insects and birds that eat meat. Have you never seen a meat-eating wasp go at it?
I received a brochure in the mail recently advertising the release of a writing by Emanuel Swedenborg. The work is called Secrets of Heaven. In the first chapter, this late 19th century spiritualist corresponds the six days of creation with six stages of a person's spiritual regeneration. Here is a quote from the brochure.
"Before we regenerate, or achieve a spiritual life, we are in darkness and void, ignorant of the ways of the Lord. In the first stage, we realize that goodness and truth come from the Lord. In the next step, we realize the distinction between our inner and outer being; that is, between our spiritual lives and our secular lives. We begin to seek knowledge of truth and goodness and behave in a devout way. In the fourth stage, this 'faith of the intellect' is replaced by faith of the heart-emotion trumps understanding. In the fifth stage, we start to speak and act from faith, to truly manifest the love of God. Finally, in the last stage, we become spiritual beings."
Swedenborg was the spiritual teacher of Helen Keller - someone who amazes me.
So, I am challenged to wonder how our two creation stories are spiritual instruction. I was never, ever (well, that is before NOW) taught to wander over to that conclusion for consideration.
Back to Luther.
"Here," Luther continues, "the question is raised about the time of the year when the world was created, whether in spring of in fall."
Now, THAT'S not something I was ever, ever challenged to wonder about either!
The footnote in Luther's Works gives explanation of the two opinions, which come from rabbinical exegetes.
The first, Rabbi Joshua, maintained that the world was created in March and cites Exodus 12:2: "The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 'This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.'"
So, apparently Rabbi Joshua (sorry, I don't have a resource to find out anything about this teacher; maybe I'll get a brochure in the mail) was one of the ancient Israelites who reinterpreted an ancient nomadic spring festival to create the memorial of Passover and their deliverance from slavery. The spring month is Nisan. On our calendar, it falls between March and April. In the Exodus passage, there is a reference to hyssop (v. 22); to get a bunch of it, it would have to be springtime. Hyssop was presumed to have magical powers!
In the second opinion in the footnote, a Rabbi Eliezer held the belief that heaven and earth were created in September. Supporting texts include Exodus 23:16 and 34:22, which instruct the "month of ingathering of the harvests", which would be springtime, shall be celebrated at the end of the year. Apparently, this tradition comes from an older agricultural calendar than the spring festival that Rabbi Joshua observes.
By the way, I gleened the details for the previous two paragraphs from the footnote to Exodus 12 in my Oxford Annotated Bible, RSV.
Sure makes me realize that I sure don't know a whole bunch of stuff.
I do know that we reinterpreted ancient spring festival symbols and practices to memorialize Jesus' resurrection and that we did the same with ancient winter solstice practices to celebrate Jesus' birth.
Luther settles the argument by claiming that the text supports both views, "Therefore we declare that it was a miracle of the first world that suddenly all these plants came into existence in such a way that the earth sprouted and the trees bloomed, and suddenly also fruits followed. . .It must be granted that in the first work of creation the Creator speeded up the functions of spring and fall so far as the herbs and the fruits of the trees were concerned."
Next Luther takes up the debate of his day about "when the fruitless or sterile trees were created, likewise the sterile herbs."
Here is a great prelude to use in any argument; it's Luther's. "Although I have no conclusive answer, I shall nevertheless give my opinion."
In short, it is Luther's opinion that all plants were good for food until after the Fall.
Luther concludes his teaching on the third day of creation by returning to his opening metaphor:
"He provided such an attractive dwelling place for the future human being before the human being was created. Thus afterward, when man is created, he finds a ready and equipped home into which he is brought by God and commanded to enjoy all the riches of so splendid a home."
And, of course, Luther punctuates with Christ:
"There is a similar beneficence of God toward us in His spiritual gifts. Before we were brought to faith, Christ, our Redeemer, is above in the Father's house; He prepares mansions so that when we arrive, we may find a heaven furnished with every kind of joy. (John 14:2)."
Well, another delightful session. It has inspired me to want to work slowly through all of those instructions in Exodus and Leviticus someday, to learn a little more about the Jewish calendar. Maybe I'll reread Spong's Liberating the Gospels, in which he lays the Christian lectionary alongside the Jewish lectionary to see how we reinterpreted Jewish practices to memorialize Christ events.
Next time, we will contemplate what Luther thinks about the stars and sun and moon, the lightbulbs of the household.
Until then, eat an herb and give thanks.
Session 7: The Work of the Fourth Day
Genesis 1:14 And God said, "Let there be luminaries in the heaven, and let them divide the day and the night. And let them be signs and times and days and years."
To begin this discussion, Martin Luther poses the question: What happened to the light that was created on the first day?
Luther says, "I for my part indeed simply believe that the procedure of all the works of God is the same. Thus on the first day the crude heaven and the crude earth were created and then perfected and made elegant. . .I believe that the crude light of the first day was perfected by the addition of new creatures: the sun, the moon, the stars, etc.
Sort of a God the potter idea, perhaps. Start with a lump; make a work of art.
I have wondered lately what it looked like on the first day BEFORE the light was separated from the dark. Was it dark or light? What is the dark? I wonder in this volume if Luther will talk about that. (I have a brain that likes to wonder more than to know). But back to Luther.
He then nods to the science of astronomy, which was pretty much in its infancy in the 16th century, wasn't it?
Luther writes, "The astronomers assert that the stars are lighted by the sun. . . They also say that the moon derives its light from the sun" and concludes, "For me it is enough that in those bodies, which are so elegant and necessary for our life, we recognize both the goodness of God and His power, that He created such important objects and preserves them to the present day for our use. These are views which are proper to our profession; that is, they are theological, and they have power to instill confidence in our hearts."
In the discussion following, about these luminaries being for signs and times and days and year, Luther concedes that a "natural day" consists of twenty-four hours and the "artificial day" is that time during which "the sun is above the horizon" and "the moon is the sovereign of the night."
Regarding the function as signs, Luther discusses how some interpret the scripture to mean that these lights can be signs of weather. "The Gospel declares the red dawn to be a sign of rain, and, in contrast, a clear evening to be a sign of clear weather. Therefore so far as the claim is concerned that the rising of the Pleiades indicates rain and the like, I neither voice my utter disapproval nor express my direct agreement, because I see that these claims are not reliable in every instance.
Here's an interesting idea of Luther's, in his discussion of what Moses says of the sun, moon, and stars being blessed with ability to mark the times (rather, the seasons): "Thus at a certain time of the year houses are rented out, day laborers are hired, interests are collected, etc. All these are services which the sun and the moon render us, so that we divide the times according to the tasks and other conveniences."
Moses would be mighty put out by the light bulb, which introduced the inconvenience of being able to do all the above tasks at practically any time of the year and day, thus humans invented the 24/7 - turning the "natural day" into an "artificial day."
And I love this idea of Luther's: "We recall our early childhood to some extent; but we do not remember nursing at our mothers' breasts, although we did have life at that time. The reason is that we lacked the ability to count. This is also why beasts have no knowledge of time, just as infants have no knowledge of it either. Therefore counting indicates that man is an extraordinary creature of God."
Fantastic! Our ability to count makes us extraordinary! Now that is a glorious attitude. A little later, Luther says, "Here the immortality of the soul begins to unfold and reveal itself to us . . . A pig, a cow, and a dog are unable to measure the water they drink; but man measures the heaven and all the heavenly bodies. And so here there gleams a spark of eternal life, in that the human being busies himself by nature with this knowledge of nature. This concern indicates that men were not created to live permanently in this lowest part of the universe but to take poss4ession of heaven, because in this life they admire, and busy themselves with, th4e study of, and the concern about, heavenly things."
Luther does address astrology, but not, so to speak, in very good light, "I shall never be convinced that astrology should be numbered among the sciences. And I shall adhere to this opinion because astrology is entirely without proof. . . .The experts have taken note of and recorded only those instances which did not fail; but they took no note of the rest of the attempts, where they were wrong. . .Aristotle says that one swallow does not make a spring. . .Hunters have a similar saying: A hunt may be carried on every day, but the hunt is not successful every day."
Luther may not have much to do with astrology, but he makes a claim that mathematics is divinely revealed as a means to bring us to heaven. Enjoy Luther's logical progress to reach this claim:
The first human being was made from a clod by God. (I love that! Clod by God) Then the human race began to be propagated from the male and female semen, from which the embryo is gradually formed in the womb, limb by limb; and it grows, until at last, through birth, man is brought out into the light of day. Thereafter begins the life of sensation, and soon that of action and motion. When the body has gained strength, and mind and reason are fully developed in a sound body - only then does there come a gleam of the life of the intellect, which does not exist in other earthly creatures. With the support of the mathematical disciplines - which no one can deny were divinely revealed - the human being, in his mind, soars high above the earth; and leaving behind those things that are on the earth, he concerns himself with heavenly things and explores. Cows, pigs, and other beasts do not do this; it is man alone who does it. Therefore man is a creature created to inhabit the celestial regions and to live an eternal life which he has left the earth.
Saved by math! Well, although I wouldn't call getting to heaven Luther's definition of salvation.
I conclude this session with Luther's conclusion of the work of the fourth day:
From this fourth day our glory begins to be revealed: that God gives thought to making a creature which may understand the motion of the bodies created on the fourth day and may take delight in that knowledge as part of his nature. All these facts should stir us to an expression of thanks.
So, when you behold the sun and moon and stars today, send God a prayer of thanks for making the extraordinary lights of this world and for making you!
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