How do You Read and Apply the Bible? The Key is Understanding the Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel
I’m very excited to tell you about a project my colleague here at Concordia Publishing House, Rev. Charles Schaum, has been working on diligently for quite some time. It is a new edition of CFW Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. It will be out by this July. You can place your order here to be first in line to receive your copy.
This is a book known to many confessional Lutheran pastors in this country, but not much beyond them, since the translations of this book are intimidatingly obscure and inaccessible to most people. And this is most definitely not “just a book for pastors” but every layperson will be deeply moved by Walther’s poignant and powerful explanation of the very key to understanding the Bible. Our Lutheran Confessions put it this way:
“The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of rightly dividing God’s Word and properly explaining and understanding the Scr8iptrues of the holy prophets and apostles. We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other, or a law be made out of the Gospel. When the happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely. For by the Gospel they can support themselves in their most difficult trials against the Law’s terrors.”(Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article V.1; Concordia, pg. 552).
“These two doctrines, we believe and confess, should always be diligently taught in God’s Church forever, even to the end of the world. They must be taught with the proper distinction.” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article V.24; Concordia, pg. 557).
Note also what Melanchthon states in the Apology, Article IV.5-6:
“All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics, the Law and the promises [the Gospel]. For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification,
and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal. Moreover,in this discussion, by Law we designate the Ten Commandments, wherever they are read in the Scriptures.”
But all this will change with Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible—A Reader’s Edition. For the first time in English, we will “hear” Walther in a way that those who first heard this collection of evening lectures, heard him in German. The most widely used translation of Law and Gospel has some serious deficiencies. William Dau took great liberties with Walther’s text, and tried to sanitize him . This new translation sparkles and the real Walther comes through loud and clear. Dau took it upon himself to recast Walther into the image of a British academician, not the Saxon German Lutheran pastor/theologian that he was. The challenge is that Walther’s work consists of notes based on his oral lectures. Dau was not content to let the lectures stand as presented, but tried to turn them into a loftier, literary work. He made three general decisions: First, he changed or deleted Walther’s language when he believe it was necessary, including changing how Walther phrased theological terms and concepts. Dau also did not like it that Walther was in places rough with his language. Second, Dau forced on Walther a flowing, flowery literary British style that was common in the academic era of Dau’s era. Third, Dau introduced extensive editorial changes and additions within the main text of the lectures, rather than using footnotes to help the reader.
This new edition offers a translation by Rev. Christian Tiews, a native German speaker, which is lively and full of the energy that Walther exuded throughout his life. Here are other features of the new edition, from the book’s product description on our web site.
[By the way, well intentioned professors who have given their students the impression that "the two kinds of righteousness" is somehow, in any way, a better and more useful distinction than Law and Gospel have done them a grave disservice. The fact is, as Luther himself makes clear in his many lectures on the subject, and as we Lutherans confess it throughout the Book of Concord, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is the most important distinction and the far most useful doctrine since it is the very key to understanding the Scriptures, and therefore, the very Gospel of our Lord Christ itself. So far have some attempted to push this new pet notion that they have referred to a focus on the proper distinction between Law and Gospel as a "preoccupation"! See this post from some time back where I share my concerns with this unsettling trend.]