It is well known that Martin Luther questioned the canonicity, or authority of 4 books of the New Testament. Those same four books are the four books make up the antilegomena of Lutheranism, the books which are ‘not used to establish doctrine’. Furthermore, Lutheranism does not have a closed canon of Scriptures.
I have tried to understand how this does not lead to a reduction of the authority of Holy Scripture, and also how doctrines can be defined at all when the canon of Scripture is left undefined. Possibly the best way to flesh out the subject is with an article from an LCMS Pastor, who I think does an excellent job of pointing out the potential problems associated with the Lutheran approach to Scripture.
Excerpts from Moeller’s “Missouri’s Critical Issue” (taken from The Christian News, Oct. 14, 1974) are in black. My comments intersperced within Moeller’s text will be in blue.
“In the doctrinal conflict within The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, beneath the charges and counter-charges, beneath the cash of two admittedly district theologies, is there any single issue which can be Isolated as the crucial one? The writer, a clergyman of The Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, believes there is, and will attempt to demonstrate it. Furthermore, he believes that the same issue exists for every evangelical, conservative Christian individual, congregation, and church body.
In formalized statements of faith the historical Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the modern Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, have never articulated a complete doctrine of Scripture as set forth in Scripture. This lack has permitted, as will be demonstrated, an incomplete statement with a frequently-occurring erroneous, extra-Scriptural and therefore anti-Scriptural, doctrinal addition. Consequently the Missouri Synod now experiences the tragic division in its midst. “**
According to Moeller, a ‘tragic division’ within the LCMS is the consequence of having ‘never articulated a complete doctrine of Scripture’. The consequences of this problem, according to this LCMS Pastor has resulted in ‘frequently-occurring erroneous, extra-Scriptural and therefore anti-Scriptural, doctrinal addition(s).’
“In the New Testament church of the** third and fourth centuries certain books were not accepted **in some geographical areas as being God’s New Testament Word **because there was not unanimous evidence from previous generations that the book had been written by an apostle. **
Hebrews was accepted in the Eastern churches as the product of Paul; it was not considered Paul’s epistle in the West and was not accepted there. John’s Apocalypse was accepted in the West as from the hand of John the Apostle; in the East the author was not so identified and the book was not accepted. The apostolic authorship of James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude was similarly doubted.
Meanwhile, the Mediterranean world in the fourth century, under the blessing of a Roman government that sponsored Christianity, proved to be a fertile field for the growth of a unified church. The councils and church leaders agreed on canonical” books, in the practice accepting the evidence “for” as outweighing the objections “against” authorship by apostles. The subsequent lists of New Testament books carried Hebrews by Paul, James by James the Less, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and the Apocalypse by John the Apostle and Evangelist, and Jude by the Apostle Jude.
The “disputed” character of these books surfaced at the time of the Reformation.** Luther, for instance, placed Hebrews, James, Jude, and the Apocalypse at the end of his New Testament, as books from which one did not draw doctrine. He felt that certain of their teachings could not have come from apostles, since some teachings disagreed, he thought, with what e.g. Paul had written in his undisputed letters. **(The apocryphal books of the Old Testament, the surplus of the Alexandrian canon as compared to the Palestinian canon, were likewise not to be considered canonical. In general, when Lutheran teachings were later delineated, the antilegomena books were not used to establish doctrine in the church. In the Missouri Synod up through the 20’s this same attitude and approach prevailed.”
Moeller mentions 7 books that were doubted by some in the ancient Church. Yet Luther, (and now subsequently Lutheranism) include only four books in the antilegomena, “books from which one did not draw doctrine.” Not surprisingly, Luther’s antilegomena match up exactly to that of Lutheranism.
Why were the other three doubted (2 Peter, 2 & 3 John) not incorporated into the antilegomena by either Luther or the Lutherans?
Furthermore, Moeller indicates that in the 1920’s the LCMS changed its approach to the antilegomena. From what to what? Is the LCMS done changing it approach to what is and what it not Scripture yet? Or are there more changes to come? One would think that after 1900 years, Christianity would sort of ‘settled down’ and quit changing the canon of Scripture and how we are to deem the canonicity of the 27 books that most Christians consider to be the NT. But then, to Lutherans, the NT is only ‘relatively closed’. I am very interested to learn what it is, specifically and exactly, that changed in the LCMS approach to the canon in the 1920’s. Could a member of the LCMS please explain?
God Bless, Topper