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Excerpts from “Word of God, Theology of the Cross, and Language of God” for Christ Lutheran’s Adult Forum, 3/20-4/11/2011

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Adult Forum Christ Lutheran, March 20 – April 11, 2011

Pastor Peter D. S. Krey, Ph.D.


In March 2011, Pastor Sharon Lubkeman of Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, California, asked me to join her Adult Forum Bible Study working through Genesis, when they started with the Joseph story in chapter 37, so that I should share some of the insights from my Joseph Book. The title of my as yet unpublished book is The Word of God, the Theology of the Cross, and the Language of God: Luther’s Commentary on the Joseph Narrative. I wrote it in the Spring of 1993 right while I was beginning graduate school and trying to make sense of a very difficult sixteen year inner-city ministry in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York.[1] I could list a catalog of suffering, much like Luther does for Jacob and Joseph, let it merely suffice, however, to say that we had been broken into 46 times, counting the times every piece of glass on our church bus was broken, thieves had broken the organ with a crow bar to open it, stolen my beloved trumpet from behind the altar, or broken a hole in the wall of the office, even making off with the church seal. Then there was the time two young girls were shot with a high velocity bullet, while Pr. Maria Lopez and I were having a bible study in their building in the Mermaid Housing. I wasn’t going to start the catalog, so I’ll just finish by saying the two girls, eight and fourteen years of age, recovered miraculously. Some crazy fellow was doing target practice on the roof of one of the buildings!  I knew the concept of Luther’s Theology of the Cross and this work was my attempt to find out more about it.


We have often called Luther’s teaching a Word of God Theology. We know that the Word of God does not only mean Scripture, but the Word become flesh, that is, God becoming a human being in Jesus Christ our Lord. In the “Freedom of a Christian” of 1520, Luther writes that we all become Christs to one another.[2] When we are baptized and receive Jesus Christ into our hearts, we also become Words of God to one another, sent by God out ahead of God’s people to preserve them (Genesis 45: 5 and 7).

Luther calls this sending the language of God. (Bring to mind that in Latin “mission” means “sending” and Luther is writing these academic lectures in Latin.) As God’s words, therefore, we become the vocabulary of the Language of God. That language takes us out of our own selves, outside of our comfort zones into places replete with suffering. As strangers, like Joseph in a strange land (having to learn Egyptian), we try to understand God’s heavenly speech, which, according to Luther, is as necessary as it is impossible for us to understand.

Luther’s last lectures expounding the Joseph story in the last chapters of Genesis illustrate his Theology of the Cross in narrative form. Hopefully studying these chapters of the Joseph Novella, which Luther amplifies into an epic drama, will provide insights about our pilgrimage, our journey here in life through the Word of God, the Theology of the Cross, and the Language of God.

1. We already read chapter 37 where the story of Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, begins. There we watched Reuben attempt to save Joseph from the wrath of his brothers. In birth order, Reuben had the rights of the first born, but he had some serious boundary issues.  He slept with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, his father’s concubine, perhaps to affirm his first born status. By default Simon and Levi may have wanted this status, because they were born next. Why? Look at the difference between Esau’s story and Jacob’s story. You can see who lives the abundant life. But Luther teaches that birth-order is only a human consideration. Faith makes us inherit the first born status in the eyes of God. Our faith envelopes us in the Gospel, in which God’s promises become true for us, like Joseph’s dreams became true for him. Dreams often deceive us, but God’s Word was in Joseph’s dreams. Another consideration is that blessings are performative: they bring about what they express.[3]

2. Judah derails his brothers’ desire to murder Joseph, by having them sell him into slavery to the caravan of traders heading for Egypt. (Luther maintained that physical death was preferable to the unmitigated social death of slavery.) Judah occupies the next chapter, 38, where he sleeps with Tamar, who acting like a prostitute and using a ruse, deceived Judah so that he fulfilled her rights according to Levirate marriage law.

Because we were basically dealing with the Joseph story, we skipped Chapter 38 about Judah and his sordid affair with Tamar, his daughter-in-law. Luther writes about this chapter in his first 50 pages of LW VII and it is worthwhile reading. He asks why the Holy Spirit would put such a story into the Scriptures. He responds that the Holy Spirit wants to console us by showing us that even great men like Judah were sinners. No one should despair because of sin, nor become presumptuous because of righteousness. When Luther describes the birth of Tamar’s twins, the empathy, compassion, and sheer humanity of Luther, especially for women enduring child-birth, is exceptional. To provide just one quote: “For we are all born into this light from a woman’s womb through birth, that is, through death, since mothers together with infants, are put in most certain danger of death” (LW VII: 46). Luther empathizes with Judah and Tamar struggling with feelings of condemnation or punishment or grace for their sinful affair as the difficult birth of their twins is proceeding (LW VII: 47).

3. The Hebrew word for Joseph’s coat, literally, the robe of many threads, pasim, in Hebrew, polumiton in Greek, comes up only one other time in the Bible, when it is used for the garment worn by Tamar, who was defiled by her brother Amnon, one of David’s sons (2 Sam 13:18, 19). When a word appears in the Scriptures only once it is called a hapax logomenon. The word for Joseph’s robe appears only twice. Tamar in David’s time should not be confused with Tamar, who deceived Judah in the next chapter. The musical about Joseph refers to the robe as his “techni-colored dream coat.” But Luther thinks it was actually a beautiful white smock made of fine linen, because white was the color that was used by royalty in the Orient, in much the same way as the color purple delights royalty in the West (LW 6: 323). If you wanted to continue to think of it as Joseph’s many colored coat, Luther said, he would not disagree.

4. The Joseph story foreshadows the Gospel story of Christ. Like Mary, Jacob kept Joseph’s words in mind (Gen 37:11). Christ is sold for 30 shekels, while Joseph was sold for 20. And the robe dipped in blood foreshadows the blood of Christ shed for us. Luther’s catalog of troubles represents Joseph’s passion story, Joseph’s cross. Thus Joseph is a Christ figure. When Joseph’s dream comes true and his brother bow before him, he prefigures Christ to whom all knees shall bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth (LW VII:224). Now Joseph came perhaps 1200 or more years before Christ. Why should he be called a Christ figure? Socrates died 400 years before Christ, why shouldn’t Christ be called a Socratic figure? It is because we do not think of Christ in human terms anymore. He came to us out of eternity and said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).

5. The first eight volumes of Luther’s Works contain his Lectures on Genesis. Volumes 6, 7, and 8 are about Joseph. When we read the Joseph story from the perspective of the last lectures that Luther wrote in his life [He died about three months after completing them.] then we have to keep four times in mind:

a. That of Joseph

b. The time of Christ

c. That of Luther’s

d. And our time.

6. The name of my book is Word of God, Theology of the Cross, and the Language of God. I hope to introduce you to some of the insights of my book as we read along in the Joseph story. This Joseph Novella, as it is also called, never fails to move me. In the climax of the drama, when Joseph finally reveals himself and his brothers recognize him, I have often been reduced to tears. The author of this narrative skillfully draws readers into intense visceral feelings. The question to ask is how do words get into the heart and move the heart? That will require us to consider Luther’s Language of Address, which is really biblical, when we hear God speaking to us. (I wonder how language of address is related to performative language? I imagine it is performative in a more personal way. Language of Address brings assurance to the one spoken to. It speaks faith, comfort, and hope, so that they are pronounced in the soul, undoing the doubt, fear, and despair that was lurking there.)

7. Martin Brecht, who wrote Luther’s three volume definitive biography, described Luther as having rich sense of empathy.[4] He has the capacity to get inside the characters of the story in a vicarious way. That way Luther is able to enter this story, identifying for example, with Jacob, who was now deceived by a lie of the brothers and remained in the delusion of their lie for 22 years. Talk about Jacob, the deceiver, being deceived! Imagine the climate around this family, where the brothers were living a lie for 22 years! Now here is old Jacob, Luther says, who was deceived by his father in law, grieved by the early death of Rachel, his beloved; discovered that Reuben, his son had intercourse with his concubine, Bilhah; grieved over the rape of Dinah; and he does not realize that the most difficult trial of his life was yet to come (cf. LW VI:312). This is quite a catalog of suffering, like Joseph’s, like St. Paul’s. It’s the cross.

8. The first-born and the father filled with love, find that their blessing is preceded by the cross. The Word of God, Joseph, is sent out ahead to save God’s people. “The trouble with heaven is that you have to go through hell to get there.”[5] At the end of the dramatic life of promise, we learn the language of God, the redemption and salvation it pronounces, as God’s speaking, brings creation out of nothing, changes suffering into love, changes a crime into a blessing, and melts hearts of stone, so that waters gush out of human eyes in the form of tears.

9. Oswald Bayer now one of the most respected interpreters of Luther resolves many issues in Luther’s theology that we will have to discuss. For now, let me quote him, “To live life theologically, to live as a Christian in the church catholic, we enter into the word of Holy Scripture, driven by spiritual attack [Anfechtung], pray for illumination, and let scripture interpret us.[6] To expand somewhat, Oswald states, “A theologian is a person who is interpreted by Holy Scripture, who lets himself or herself be interpreted by it and who, having been interpreted by it, interprets it for other troubled and afflicted people.”[7]

10.  Thus we enter into the passion story of Joseph, the way Luther in his lectures enters the story, inviting us all to come with him in what Luther describes as an epic drama of the theology of the cross. Thus we too find ourselves in a drama and on a journey of faith. Completely enfolded in Christ, our biography becomes a theography.

11.  Chapter 39. What Potiphar’s wife says in order to frame Joseph, Luther calls a “diabolical dialectic.” A feminist scholar, Joy Schroeder, criticized Luther saying that his harsh representation of this woman made men use it ever after to blame women, whom they themselves had raped.[8] But I believe Luther would have declared such men guilty of the same diabolical dialectic, because they too were placing the guilt of their crime on the victim. Another scholar, Mickey Mattox, points out that slaves were used for sex in those days and Joseph would have been no different – The story itself points out that Joseph was good looking. Potiphar was a eunuch and Luther should have considered that a mitigating factor in Joseph’s plight with Potiphar’s wife.[9] That’s a sad state of affairs. Luther, however, argues that the eunuchs who served the king would not have been castrated. Only those who served in the harem were (LW VII: 51-53). Luther does not cover this problem up as Mattox claims. Such a thing points out even more how completely vulnerable Joseph was.[10] Thus Mattox’s argument plays into Luther’s purposes of magnifying Joseph’s nobility and the evil that he is up against.

12.  In the Theology of the Cross, Luther states that God fulfills God’s promises to a person of faith in the form of their opposites. In his dreams God promises Joseph he will become a king. (The robe, according to Brueggeman, is also a royal garment Jacob gave to Joseph.) But God chooses a funny way to make him a king: he is almost murdered by his brothers, thrown down into a pit, sold down the river into slavery, gets framed by a woman, gets thrown down into a dungeon, where for many years, he is really buried alive and under the death sentence.

We, of course, know how this story will turn out, but you have to realize that Joseph did not know, just like we are in the middle of our life-stories and we don’t know how ours will come out. God puts Joseph through the Schola Sheola, the school of hell, Luther says.[11] We would say, the school of hard knocks, to prepare him for the role he will play in the plan of God’s salvation: to save all the people from the famine, save the lives of his father and brothers, and melt the hard hearts of his brothers (Genesis 45: 5 and 7).

13.  Luther is said to have a Theology of the Word, a Theology of the Cross, which he compares with a Theology of Glory. I argue that Luther’s can also be viewed as an In-Depth Theology. Does Luther have many theologies? Oswald Bayer argues that Luther depicts God as doing theology when we passively receive the formation, we might say, the number God is doing on us to prepare us for the part we have in the divine plan of salvation. When we passively receive the works of God, the whole works, then we ourselves lead a theological life. Theology proper is what God is doing in this divine service and the worship service, and academic theologies have to be derived from what God is doing in the Church. The object of theology or subject matter is about sinful human beings and the God who justifies them.[12]Thus we can see that Jacob was a cheat and a liar, Joseph was a tattle-tale, an obnoxious kid, really, his brothers were murderous liars. [See footnote 5.] Just think of the murderous brothers between Reuben and Judah, Simeon and Levi, who killed all the men of Shechem after they were circumcised. But God has consigned us all under sin, so that God could have mercy on all of us. We are all sinners fallen short of the glory of God. But then, what saints God makes out of us!

14.  That the theological life is a passive and receptive one should not make us think that we have to be passive, do-nothing people. Luther’s theology is dialectical depending upon the forum of our life in which we happen to be. We are passive and receptive before God, coram deo, in Latin, but that does not make us passive or quietist in the human forum, coram hominibus. Not at all, God works through us doing all kinds of things for neighbors. Luther describes four “fora” in which we live: in the eyes of God, coram deo, before others, coram hominibus, in our own eyes, before ourselves, coram meipso, and the image we present to the world, coram mundi. The image a person presents to the world can be very different from the real person. Luther’s theology is relational and what holds true in one forum does not have to hold true in another. Gerhard Ebeling writes a whole chapter explaining the interrelationship of these “fora.”[13]

15.  So much of the Joseph story involves dreams. But Luther prefers the Word of God over dreams, prophesies, visions, and angels. When he says that the scriptures also condemn dreams, he may have Deuteronomy 13: 1-5 in mind, where false prophets, who “divine by dreams,” lead people astray to serve other gods. Here dreams are placed in a very negative light and these dreamers are condemned. Jeremiah also condemns false prophets, who identify God’s Word with their dreams and merely communicate the deceit of their hearts that way.

“Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? (23: 28)”

Luther finds that the Holy Scriptures are enough for him. He wants to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, like Moses, to whom God spoke “mouth to mouth,” we would say, “face to face.” For Luther the Scriptures were sufficient and he made a pact with God not to send him dreams and visions. Luther delights in the Word of God rather than dreams, prophecies, visions and angels: The Word of God is at once the work of God creating, redeeming and sanctifying the hearers. The Word of God is the Scriptures tested and proven by faith and found trustworthy. Finally the Word is Jesus Christ, the shield of protection impenetrable by evil and temptation.

Luther quotes Isaiah: a hungry man dreams he is eating and a thirsty man dreams he is drinking and wakes up faint, his hunger unsatisfied and his thirst unquenched, [deceived by a dream] so, Isaiah continues, it will be with the nations that fight against Mt. Zion (Isaiah 29:8). Luther adds that a dreamer seems to himself to find a sack full of gold or to be playing with a beautiful girl, but on waking he discovers that he is deceived. In this same way, this whole life is night and sleep (LW 6:335). This metaphor is about awakening in God’s new reality. Night and sleep leave us in the grasp of wanting our own thing, while getting up in God’s new day we receive the wonderful gifts of God.

The devil has exact grasp of all the deliberations of kings, wise men, jurists, and theologians, with this exception, namely, what my faith and hope in God is and how I stand with God; for faith and God’s Word is a dark cloud to the devil into which he cannot penetrate with his light (LW 6:336). The devil mocks people and at the same time acknowledges that he cannot look into their hearts. Here he burns his mouth and his nose (Ibid.)! The beam of diabolical light does not penetrate into the Word and the believing heart, [thus Luther is] more delighted in the Word and faith than with a dream, which can be deceptive (Ibid.). “But the Word is a sure shade and darkness, which evil spirits, however lofty they may be, cannot look into. Before all things we [need] to have the pure Word and its true understanding. From that we will be able to interpret all visions, dreams, and prophesies, and indeed, also to judge the good and evil angels alike” (Ibid.).

Luther’s idea is that the devil cannot get into the Word of God, because Christ overcomes him in a person’s heart. But he can get into our dreams to deceive us.

According to Luther, only, as in the case of Joseph, when God gives the dreams, the Son interprets them, and the Holy Spirit carries them out, only when they are analogous to the Word of God, are dreams prophetic and not deceptive.[14]

16.  The complexity of the Old Testament characters is truly remarkable. Robert Alter, a Hebrew scholar, who has translated many books of the Hebrew Bible describes their nuanced personalities like this:

“What is it like, the biblical writers seek to know through their art, to be a human being with a divided consciousness – intermittently loving your brother but hating him even more; resentful or perhaps contemptuous of your father but also capable of the deepest filial regard; stumbling between disastrous ignorance and imperfect knowledge; fiercely asserting your own independence, but caught in a tissue of events divinely contrived; outwardly a definite character and inwardly an unstable vortex of greed, ambition, jealousy, lust, piety, courage, compassion, and much more?”[15]

Erich Auerbach puts it this way, “Jewish writers are able to express the simultaneous existence of various layers of consciousness and the conflict between them.”[16]

Luther therefore could speak of us as sinner and saints at one and the same time, because he had a more profound understanding of the complexity of human nature.

In an early letter, Luther wrote that he wanted a theology that went to the meat of the nut, the kernel of the grain and into the marrow of the bone.[17] Jeremiah may have thought about what the Hebrew narrators had in mind when he wrote:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt. Who can understand it?”[18]

When considering this character complexity, consider the relationship of Jacob with Leah and Rachel. Finally it is in his grave, in his tomb, that he takes his place with Leah. He seems to have recognized the troubled heart of Rachel only at Benjamin’s birth. Or compare Reuben and Judah, especially in relation to their father Jacob and their brother Joseph. Their characters receive marvelous development by the Biblical narrator.

17.  Joseph, the believer, suffering the theology of the cross does not yet understand that this “schola sheolah” is designed to make him a king.  That he must be put into the place, from which he can save the Egyptian population, and more importantly the Hebrew people of the promise from starvation.[19] That he will be given an ascension from the depths, the pit, the abyss and be given the name above all other Egyptian names: Zaphenath paneah! (Savior of the World! Nourisher of the Land, Diviner of secret mysteries, [Decipherer of what is concealed,] God spoke and he lives!)[20] All will have to bow their knees when he comes in his royal chariot and shout “Abrek! Abrek!” And he will also be able to reverse the tables on his cruel brothers, and whittle them down inch by inch, until they are broken by remorse, by which Joseph saves them from their sins. Bringing his brothers to repentance was perhaps a greater feat than saving the teaming populations from starvation. Out of a heart full of love, he changed into a devil before them and harassed them from behind his Egyptian mask.

Until he said: “I am Joseph!”

Just after Judah said: “I am responsible for I have sinned.”

Joseph, doing the Theology of the Cross on his brothers, is playing cat and mouse with them, playing the same game God is playing with us. God uses precisely the same Theology of the Cross upon us. What Joseph does to his brothers, God does to his saints, to shape them for their mission.

18.    We first depicted the consternation of the Theology of the Cross with, “God first fulfills God’s promises to us in the form of their opposites.” Using other words, we could say, “steadfast faith in the providence of God is nothing but the human struggle for an enduring faith continually confronted by contraries, disappointments, and set-backs which we experience while anticipating the fulfillment of the promises of God.”[21]

19.   “In his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Luther described his Theology of the Cross discursively, while in his commentary on the Joseph Novella he presents a master narrative of it. To review Luther’s earliest description of the Theology of the Cross it is necessary to read the relevant theses of this disputation:

Thesis 18 It is certain that [one] must utterly despair of one’s own ability before [one] is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.[22]

When we read the story of Joseph at the end of Genesis, we see how Joseph needed to despair at his own ability (or strength) before he was prepared to receive the grace of God.[23] When Joseph was reduced to nothing by God, he could be recreated ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing. When he reached his end, God made a new beginning – Luther believed in God’s continuous creation – and Joseph’s evening and morning became another day. Behold the person!

Paradoxically when there is still human hope, it is against divine hope: hope against hope. During Joseph’s suffering and despair, he learned to hope in God.

Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation continues:

Thesis 19 And that person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks on the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened (Romans 1:20).

God’s ways are hidden from us. Let me quote extensively from my book (page 11).[24] Traditionally, Luther’s theology has been characterized as a Theology of the Word. It is the Word of God declared, i.e., in the justification by faith; the Word of God’s effect, in its forms of Law and Gospel; and finally of the scandal of the hiddenness of the Word in the flesh, which characterizes the Theology of the Cross.[25]  God is hidden and revealed as the crucified God; therefore in suffering, dying, in darkness, and there it is where God meets us! Alister McGrath maintains that all thinking comes to an abrupt halt at the foot of the cross. Crux probat omnia (the cross tests everything). The cross becomes the foundation and criterion of thought about Christ. If God is present on the cross, then God is a hidden God to be sought in disgrace, poverty, death, and everything else shown us in the suffering Christ – nevertheless, God is there hidden and revealed for those who wish to search for him.[26]

Thesis 20 [One] deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

Thesis 21 A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.[27]

The theologian of glory is fooled by surface appearances. S/he does not see the hope that is against hope, for example. The theologian of the cross knows that the experience of suffering and the cross make visible and manifest the things of God. The human reversal of good and evil, the human distortion of God’s creation, is itself reversed by suffering and the cross of Christ. Not only does the theologian of the cross tell it like it is, but also catches a glimpse of God’s miraculous creation. Because the Joseph narrative is all about suffering and the cross, things of the heart become articulated, and the language of God as I will argue comes to speech, Luther says, ‘if only we could understand it.’”

20.  Chapter 42-44. Walter Brueggemann emphasizes the Egyptian empire and the ruthless ruler Joseph has become when he receives power and the dream moves forward.[28] Perhaps Brueggemann has too much distance from the heart of the story and how the Gospel, God’s promise to Joseph, a son of promise, goes forward. Brueggemann keeps a political distance; Luther’s heart is fused with Joseph’s.

21.  Here forgiveness is described as a process. Joseph does not just gather his hard hearted and deceitful brothers around himself and quickly forgive them. He practices tough love in order to bring them around, change their hearts, redeem them, because they are locked in guilt and they are living lies.

22.  Luther’s interpretation is very much more personally theological than politically so. He speaks of a divine diabolical dialectic, where previously with Potiphar’s wife he spoke only of a human one. The diabolical dialectic means that God can appear in the form of the very worst devil to those opposed to his will, while the devil can appear in the disguise of Christ as the best way to deceive those believing in and following the promises of God. Joseph changes into a devil to drive the devil out of his brothers, negating the negation.

23.  Joseph may want to see his brother Benjamin, but he is not into a power struggle with his father for him, the way Brueggemann presents it. According to Luther, in the theology of the cross God plays a number of different games. In this one, Luther speaks of the game of cat and mouse, a pleasure for the cat but the death of the mouse. In that way, Joseph is playing this game with his brothers, a role play, which recapitulates what the brothers did to him and it all becomes very real very quickly, because Joseph touches precisely the place that will hurt them the most and bring out the issue once again. They will have to take Benjamin, Jacob’s beloved son from their father once again.

24.   Foolishly, first the brothers think he wants to steal their donkeys. But Joseph soon makes them mindful of their sin. “Shouldn’t we have listened to the heart rending and anguished cries of our brother, when we sold him into slavery?” Reuben comes in with an incredible, “I told you so!” Joseph has, Simeon, one of the murderous brothers bound up and taken away right in front of them. (Later Jacob’s blessing on him and Levi is really a curse on their anger and they will not have a share of the Promised Land like their brothers, but will become scattered among them.) And then the money in their bags on their return home really scares them. It is a gift, but their guilt frightens them, just like a rustling leaf in the Garden of Eden frightened Adam and Eve out of their wits, after they had sinned. (See Leviticus 26:36.)

25.    God does not act in one way with us, but in four different ways, according to Oswald Bayer’s understanding of Luther.[29] First let’s consider the ways by the law and gospel. 1/ The proper way God works with us is by the Gospel, by the promise of our salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ. The law functions in two ways. 2/  First it brings order to creation, our society, and our personal lives. (The sea used to be a symbol for chaos. The recent Tsunami in Japan is a fine illustration of how apt the sea is for this symbol.) 3/ Secondly, it is the way God disciplines us and drives us to the freedom of the Gospel. The law is no longer a way of salvation. Sent to us from God, Jesus Christ has become the way, the truth, and life, which means, the way of the world’s salvation. 4/ But there is also the strange work of God, according to Luther. We avoid that side of God by approaching God through his Son, our savior Jesus Christ, the Word become a human being for us. In this way we come to know the heart of God which is filled with love. To approach God on our terms outside of the way God wants to be approached is to be confronted by the hidden God of frightening majesty. Perhaps outside of the Gospel, where we confront the majesty of God pride-fully and disrespectfully, is where Luther’s divine diabolical dialectic also comes into play. In his commentary on Psalm 117 Luther writes, because the world is covered by two layers of darkness, “Ultimately God cannot be God unless God becomes the devil beforehand and we cannot come to heaven unless we’ve first gone to hell and we cannot become the children of God unless we have first become the children of the devil….The devil is not and does not become the devil without first being God….and does not become an angel of darkness without first having been an angel of light. What the devil says and does, must have been said and done by God, that is what the world believes and on the whole it motivates us as well.”[30]

26.     Partly, these incredible statements come from Luther’s own experience. When he proclaimed the Gospel it was called heresy and his truth was called a pack of lies. Jesus Christ himself was called Beelzebub, the prince of all the demons by the authorities of his day (Matthew 10:25). Martyrs are demonized by those who do them in and later they build monuments in their honor. But perhaps the hidden God is also a monster in our sky until we stop our rampage of hate and destruction and become converted to the way of life found in the Word become flesh. In the same way, Joseph became the very worst devil, not because he had become ruthless after tasting power, but in order to save his brothers and his dear father from the prison house of the sin and guilt they were locked in.

27.     The negative relationship they had with each other is obvious: Jacob says, “Why do you stand around looking at each other?” That is not a very kind thing to say. He also does not trust them with Benjamin, so he probably suspects his sons of having done something wrong with Joseph.

28.     Judah demonstrates real responsibility in chapter 43: “Send the boy with me,” he says to Father Jacob, “I myself will be surety for him and you can hold me accountable for him” (43:9). He continues that if he does not bring Benjamin back, he will bear the blame forever. Compare that response to Reuben’s: “You may kill my two sons if I don’t bring him back to you” (Gen 42: 37). The Father could not take him seriously. Simeon and Levi aren’t saying anything. The first is of course imprisoned in Egypt; but Levi, Judah’s older brother, is as quiet as a mouse. Jacob cannot accept letting Benjamin go, but starving of hunger is the only alternative and he relents and laments, “As for me, I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved!” (43:14) Jacob did not seem to accept the other brothers as his sons.

29.    When the brothers stand before Joseph and are taken to his house, it will be for a banquet, but they do not know that. Joseph keeps them in suspense. They say to each other, “They want to make us slaves and take our donkeys!” (43:18) The Egyptian official is presented as very God-fearing: “Your God and the God of your father must have put the treasure in your sacks for you. I received your money” (23). When Joseph reenters the house at noon to join them there is the most heart-wrenching and touching of scenes. What follows is just a good story. Joseph completely overcome with emotion has to go into his room not to let them see him weeping. Luther says that the new life in Christ does not cut off natural human feelings, but completely accepts them. He works extensively with the Greek word φιλοστοργής (philostorges) for these feelings.

30.    Joseph continues his cat and mouse game with them, however, and plants his silver cup into Benjamin’s sack. Joseph himself identifies with this cup, which is an apt symbol for representing him. He himself divines what is hidden in secret and it is the cup that he divines by. In the whole of chapter 44, Joseph makes the brothers have to face and own up to what they had done to him and it is only in the next chapter that he says, “I am Joseph!” and that shocks them even more.

Luther has a great deal to say about Judah’s speech, describing it as his “prayer before Joseph – [saying that he] himself [is] willing to enter perpetual slavery that Benjamin not be held in Egypt. ‘His father’s life is bound up with that of the lad’s, and if he sees that the lad is not with us [when we return] he will die.’ Judah is speaking. Saying all this with weeping, sobs, and outstretched hands in the manner of suppliants:”[31]

Luther’s empathy allows him to witness the scene and he takes us with him into the story.

“For this is the last part of speech, in which there was the greatest agitation in the heart and in the hearts of his brothers. They are very serious and weighty words, full of feeling. No one not even one whose heart is calm, could read it without tears.

“Cicero says somewhere: ‘I am embarrassed by tears.’  But those are not true tears – tears shed for the most serious reasons and feelings – as when words and weeping are mingled and speech is broken off.”[32]

At this point the Joseph story is very moving, and Luther draws us into it, so that we accept our emotionality, our bodies,[33]  and the powerful natural bonds [and attachments] that God created us to live in.

31.    Judah’s integrity and mature responsibility come through, making it impossible for Joseph to continue concealing who he is. “He weeps so loudly that the Egyptians outside his house heard it and even the household of Pharaoh heard it.” When he said, “I am Joseph” his brothers were so dismayed that they could not answer him. Then Joseph tells them about the hidden and surprising ways of God. “God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5). And again Joseph has to repeat for them the marvelous ways of God: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God, who has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (45:7-8).

32.      Luther calls this sending the language of God. To repeat, he writes in Latin so that the mission of Joseph and our mission is the incomprehensible language of God. He compares our dreadful experience of suffering with God’s moving the divine plan of salvation forward: as it says in Psalm 105:

“When God summoned a famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread; he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. His feet were hurt with fetters, his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord kept testing him.” (16-19)

Luther asks, “Where are those magnificent promises of God?…He sent a man ahead of them to save Jacob (cf. Psalm 107:17).  But of what kind is this mission? What is this idiom, to send a savior into Egypt to save Jacob and his whole house? How is he sent? He is thrown into a pit; he is sold; his father is killed. Is this sending a savior? It is indeed, but in accordance with God’s idiom. For he is appointed king, but God alone sees it. Jacob and Joseph do not see it inasmuch as they are involved in the greatest trouble and grief. This then is a special heavenly language, to send a savior and to appoint a king by hurling him into a pit and hell. We should therefore accustom our hearts to this language.”[34]

Luther continues that God already sees our being lifted up, but we don’t. God already laughs at those persecuting the ones he sends. But we can’t see it. “We are afflicted, are chosen, loved, cared for, and regarded, but in a hidden manner, as Isaiah says, “Truly, Thou art a God who hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (45:15).

33.   What does Luther mean by calling mission, God’s sending, the language of God? We have to consider that God creates by speaking. God’s speech accomplishes what God says. As far as the heavens are above the earth, so much higher is the language of God over ours. We can speak of speech acts, language acts, and language events that make language stream through history, shape it, and chart its course. But mission, the sending of God’s Words, the Christs ahead of those whom God is saving, is the language of God. Thus, the Words of God, those, whom God chooses are vocabulary in the language of God. The people of promise are the vocabulary of the language of salvation.

34.    A glimpse of what happens via the language of God can be understood when we learn about performative language. J.L Austin discovered the performative in his lectures: How to Do Things with Words but Luther discovered efficacious language long before. For example, Luther discovered that the Word of God was filled with everything in creation and with all our hopes and dreams and God’s speaking shapes and moves our very lives. “Behold the Word of God!” he exclaimed. And the Word of God had to be understood most importantly of all in the sense of God’s promise to us. God gave us his Word in Jesus Christ, and we can believe God, because Jesus was a man of God’s Word. The promises of God ignite our faith. God’s promises were the Gospel and the commands of God were the law. Thus Luther had his finger on the main reality-changing, performative speech acts that Austin discovered. A performative does not try to reflect a reality, but brings the reality about that it is pronouncing. Thus the blessings of Isaac and Jacob were coveted because they brought about the wonderful things pronounced in the blessing.[35]

We are the poems of God, the songs of God, the words spoken out of the mouth of God and sent off by God in mission to be the vocabulary in the language of God’s salvation.

And like for Joseph of old, those who are sent, God’s words, will not return empty, but save God’s people from the disasters to come and change hearts with the spirit of repentance and forgiveness.

35.    “Why have you stolen the cup, my silver cup that I divine by?” Joseph has a special cup that he identifies with. His Egyptian name, Zaphenath paneah means “diviner of secret mysteries,” and “decipherer of what is concealed.” Interestingly enough, David Whitford in his new book about the life and thought of Luther, explains the theology of the cross this way: “According to Luther, God works in ways that human wisdom cannot comprehend or understand: [Luther] calls these the ‘invisible things of God.’ Only faith can perceive the invisible things of God.”[36] Thus Joseph’s Egyptian name spells out the meaning of the theology of the cross itself. Almost killed by his brothers, sold into slavery, languishing down in a dungeon, he attained knowledge of human beings as well as self-knowledge in all that suffering. But when he interprets a dream, he gives all the honor to God and God allows him to discern the secret things hidden from us. Joseph also discerns that God used all his sorrows to send him out ahead to save and preserve the lives of people from the famine as well as the family of Israel, which had responded to God’s promise.

36.   Interestingly, chapter 45: 21, the brothers are called the sons of Israel, almost for the first time, because their crime has come out into the light and they are forgiven. Now they are on their way and will have to tell the truth to their father. The great skeleton in the closet is now completely out in the open, no longer hidable. Forgiven by Joseph, they will be able to live in the truth again. Laden with wagons full of gifts and grain, they set off to their father. Joseph reminds them not to quarrel on the way. He still sees through human nature. Old Jacob is stunned and cannot believe that his son is alive, until he sees the wagons, and then Israel says, mind you not Jacob, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go see him before I die” (45:28).

Robert Alter speaks of the narrative skill of the biblical writers that, in this story, is so very great indeed:

“The entire dialogue between Joseph and his brothers is remarkable for the way that words, creating the fragile surface of speech, repeatedly plumb the depth of moral relation of which the brothers are almost completely unaware and which even Joseph grasps only in part.”[37]

What do these statements about searching for the depth mean? Alter speaks of “obtruding the substratum.”[38] Heschel uses the same word in proposing his depth-theology to explore the depth of faith, the substratum out which belief arises.[39] The depth refers to going out where the waters are no longer shallow, refusing to remain superficial, plunging below the surface, penetrating to the in-most depth of the heart below.

Going into the depth is involved with pain, suffering, and adversity. Luther compares it to the painful, life-threatening throes experienced by a woman in labor. Luther is searching for the “force” of the word (yetzev)עצב .[40] Luther observes how Joseph forgives his brothers from the heart:

“No desire for vengeance is apparent in his words, no ill will or desire to harm them, but pure mercy and goodness, which came from the bottom of his heart.”[41]

But confronted with the unexpected existence of Joseph, they enter the dis-ease and suffering of their burdened conscience, bothering them because of the crime against him they committed so long ago. It is possible to be an “actor,” in order to avoid the harrowing and painful experience of facing up to one’s past, of facing up to ourselves, our own worst enemy.  But acting from our heart, acting from the chore of our being, receiving “char-actor,” requires dealing with our evil conscience. Embarking on that course of action first multiplies our sorrows. Without confession of our sin, and the resolution of our guilty conscience, however, our joys cannot go to the heart. They remain superficial and shallow. They remain sensual without the underlying refreshment of the spiritual.[42] Feelings remain titillation, rather than richly human, flowing from the depth. For that a cheerful conscience is necessary, which is a continual feast:

“The other joys are not full; they only tickle. But they do not penetrate to the inmost part of the heart.”[43]

Evil consciences make actors out of one and all. (For 22 years the Israel brothers were a bunch of “actors.”) Joseph put them through the kind of hell that made their act soon come to an end. Otherwise their hearts would still ride on the shallow surface of life: empty sensuality, false materialism, titillating joys that are only skin deep and merely “tickle.” The evil conscience blocks access to the heart.[44] Our hidden sin obstructs the fullness of our lives. A cheerful conscience of a forgiven person, drenched with tears, receives the joyful feast of human emotions, because the blockage to the inmost heart has been penetrated. A person enters the spiritual heights and depth of his/her whole being, in its whole trust and commitment before God, beyond all roles, fronts, facades, and masks.[45]

37.    Luther thinking about what God put Joseph through, said that Christ was like a carpenter planing and shaving the rough hewn wood smooth (evening the sinful natures of old Adam and Eve). “Be still and be formed by Him.” This also calls to mind the metaphor of God as a sculptor. But God needs to work on us, because we refuse to take responsibility for our actions, even our past, refuse to let God be God, and accept the “terms” of God’s language.

But for us that is a real battle. To close our eyes and shut out the world so it can be nothing that can hinder our faith, takes being able to detach ourselves from the world and attach ourselves by faith to God. Luther writes:

“For the Word, which created all things, must be compared with the creature, which, in comparison with it, is nothing at all.

“He commanded and they were created,” says Ps. 148:5. It is always God’s wonderful practice to make all things out of nothing and again to reduce all things to nothing. And one should always accustom oneself to cling to the Word, in order that those things which disturb and hinder faith, no matter how great and splendid they are, may be removed from our eyes.”[46]

Luther continues with the ex nihilo theme:

“[God] is the kind of God who not only makes everything out of nothing, but makes nothing out of everything, just as He first reduced Joseph to nothing.”[47] And when it seemed that Joseph was ruined and lost, he makes everything out of him….[48]

Luther uses the Word of God like striking the anvil of the pope, cardinals, bishops, and usurers. But he felt he did so in vain. But those whose hearts are touched and bound by God’s Word, finally experience the truth of Jer. 23:29 “Is not my Word…like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?” And Paul, Luther continues, was a very hard rock, but when the light of heaven shines around him, and the divine voice resounds:

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5) he suddenly falls to the ground like one who is dying.[49]

Luther makes a parallel here with Joseph’s brothers, who are hit by the lightning bolt: “I am Joseph, whom you sold into slavery!” with the message that Paul hears from heaven on the road to Damascus that has the same form: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Then Paul also has to endure the catalog of troubles, all of which he suffers participating in the passion of Christ, his Lord. (2 Cor. 11:23-33 – the list runs ten verses long!) When my mother read what St. Paul went through in our family’s evening devotions, I saw her cry.

38.    Chapter 45: 26-28. Jacob was stunned and could not believe his sons when they told him that Joseph was alive. Only when he saw the wagons from Egypt, that Pharaoh had sent to carry him, (46:5) did the spirit of old Jacob revive. Imagine his hearing that his son Joseph was alive after 22 years – after believing all that time that he was dead! The brothers had made him draw the dreadful conclusion from Joseph’s bloody tattered coat that his son had been eaten by a wild animal. He had vowed he would die for grief. For years he had refused to be comforted. Slowly he resigned himself to the lie that Joseph was no more and now after 22 years, the brothers inform him that he is not only alive, but he was even the ruler over all of Egypt! It was only the array of wagons outside his tent, finally convinced poor Jacob. Luther mentions the significance of these wagons and I found an old German poem, probably from medieval times, which I translated. It refers to the Promised Land or heaven as the Land of Laughter. In short:

Christ is our blessed wagon,

the one God sent us, to persuade us, to convince us,

the wagon, in which we hide and safely ride, hereafter

into the Land of Laughter.

The Poem follows:

The Wagons of Egypt by Peter Krey, June 23, 2008

Christ is the wagon God sent us hereafter

to carry us

into the land of laughter.

I’ll work the poem above twice to capture its two meanings, because the old German words have a double meaning:


O God, of you it’s said,

“You weigh us on a blessed balance.”

Your grace is baffling,

because Christ takes us,

to the place, we’re forever laughing.


O God, of you it’s said,

“You send us Christ,”

the sacred wagon,

in whom we hide

and safely ride,


into the Land of Laughter.

Got, von dir sagen

kan rihten ûf der saelden wagen

der uns sol tragen

da man sol iemer lachen.  

(Lobgesang 77 in Middle High German)

39.   The wagons carry old Jacob and the little company of people, who had been chosen to continue God’s plan of salvation, to the most fertile part of the Land of Egypt. This is the celebrated entrance into Egypt as opposed to the Exodus.

Joseph tells his brothers: “When you are before Pharaoh, say that you are keepers of livestock” – Because shepherds are abhorrent to the Egyptians (46:33).  They promptly tell Pharaoh, “We are shepherds” (47:3).

Jacob blesses Pharaoh and Pharaoh asks him how old he is. “The years of my earthly sojourn are 130 years; few and hard have been the years of my life. They do not compare with the years of the life of my ancestors during their long sojourn.” (47:9)

40.   The Land of Ramses is an anachronism, because Ramses was probably the Pharaoh of the Exodus (47:11). Jacob became 147 years old and he does not want to be buried in Egypt, but in the cave of Machpelah, where his ancestors were buried (47:30). They had a different way of swearing an oath in those days, i.e., not raising their right hand.

41.    Joseph’s intermarriage with his Egyptian wife, Asenath, is accepted. Later there will also be the celebrated marriage between Ruth, the Moabitess, and Boaz. Luther lists many more cases. Jacob censures Reuben and Simon and their places are given to Ephraim and Manasseh, giving Joseph a double portion. Rachel was buried in Bethlehem. It was called Ephrath, in those days. Jacob crosses his hands while blessing Joseph’s two sons, to the consternation of Joseph, giving the firstborn status to Ephraim, the younger. For a good while in their history all the tribes go by the name, Ephraim. In an old tradition, Jacob says that he will give Joseph one more portion, the one that he took from the hand of the Amorites with sword and bow! Things happened that are not recorded.

42.    An important prophecy is Judah’s blessing (49:10). I wonder if the embalmed bodies of Jacob and Joseph could be found? I wonder what it meant that Joseph’s grandchildren were also “born on his knees”? Joseph became 110 years old!


In this Adult Forum, I was grateful for the opportunity to introduce some of the insights from my book entitled, The Word of God, Theology of the Cross, and the Language of God. Even though it is unpublished, it has already had four or five editions. Each time I rewrite the book, I try to grasp the meaning of this little trinity of concepts in the title somewhat better. Perhaps it should read “Words of God,” because by the grace of God we become Christs to one another, we thus also Words of God.

The way it turned out that Joseph’s Egyptian name, Zaphenath Paneah spelled out the meaning of the Theology of the Cross.  By another theory about its meaning, it also pronounces us Words of God. Dave Whitford wrote that for the Theology of the Cross only faith can perceive the invisible things of God, while the name means: the one who deciphers what is concealed. (See section 35.) Robert Alter chooses the meaning of Zaphenath Paneah to be, “God speaks, he lives!”[50] Thus Joseph is a living Word of God, a promise, because he, like all of us believers, in our theography, undergo our passion stories following Christ. Perhaps another theoretical meaning of the Egyptian name, “Savior of the World,” the one chosen by St. Jerome for the Vulgate translation, could even be associated with the Language of God, because the continuous creation of God via speaking all things into existence, also includes the new heavens and earth of salvation. God speaks and behold: the children of God are sent to preserve life, to be the saviors of the world.

The Word of God can also be understood as the promise of God. In Jesus Christ, God gives us his word. but in the Theology of the Cross, the promises of God are fulfilled in the form of their opposites, because before God we are often oxymorons. Thus it takes the suffering experienced in the Theology of the Cross to justify our crooked hearts and right our devious ways. St. Peter was a confessor who denied Christ, as well as a courageous coward. St. Paul was later a persecuted persecutor. Luther was certainly a sinful saint, almost like one of the Old Testament patriarchs, whom he describes. Jacob and his mother, Rebekah’s ruse on old Isaac and Esau, may have given Jacob the coveted blessing, but Jacob’s justification by grace was certainly by the Theology of the Cross. That morning in his marriage bed he discovered Leah, the sister he did not love. He loved Rachel who stole her father’s household idols; and talk about a deceived deceiver! The brothers, whom he refuses to name his sons, show him the bloodied and tattered many colored coat. “This we found. Recognize, pray, is it your son’s tunic or not?” They let Jacob lie to himself. “A vicious beast has devoured him, Joseph is torn to shreds!” (Gen 37:32-33)[51]

So God’s promises are filled in the form of their opposites, because God has a great deal of work to do justifying his saints so that they become ready to be sent for the mission that is the language of God. Their self-contradiction has to be resolved, the tension between their opposites integrated, because they are God’s words, who do not live the Gospel, even while bearing the promise of it.  With that the number God does on Jacob is perhaps as excruciating as the one he did on Abraham and Sarah. Struggling with infertility, they finally receive the son of promise when they are as good as dead and then God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son, his son of promise, whom he loves. Luther asks poignantly, what kind of a cruel game is that? It’s the game of the cat and the mouse; a great deal of pleasure for the cat, but the death of the mouse. In order to fashion and cut out the words sent for God’s mission, God uses a plane on some rough-hewn wood, shaving it smooth. The sculptor sets the hammer and chisel to the marble, to free the sculptured servant of God from inside it. And the suffering hurts, dreadfully.

Thus the Theology of the Cross also means that God continues creation from nothing, making somebodies from nobodies. God bring the chosen ones down to nothing in order to create the children of God, the words of God.

Then as the vocabulary in the Language of God, they speak God’s words, the ones that come out of the mouth of God, by which we live and not by bread alone. Changed from oxymorons, the saints are given pure hearts with which to see God, given single-mindedness doing the will of God; they are completely under the influence of the Holy Spirit, like leaves blown in the wind.

Joseph was nothing, if not arrogant with his brothers, riding on his high horse. God used his brothers to throw him down into a pit, let him experience slavery, let a woman throw him way down into a dungeon. But the whole time, in his falling descent, even before his ascent, he could have affirmed what his father Jacob said, “The God in whose presence my fathers walked, Abraham and Isaac, the God who looked after me all my life until this day, the messenger rescuing me from evil”[52] was with me. Like Joseph, whether descending or ascending, that faith sustains us, because we know we are never outside of the love of God.

In the Language of God, sometimes the cadence of the sentence drops and sometimes it rises, but God is always there, getting us ready for his sending, for God’s mission. God has to send us out ahead of the people that need to be saved. It was the same for his Son. “For God so loved the world that that He sent his only Son, so that all who believed in him should not perish but receive everlasting life” (John 3:16). Christ had to leave heaven and after showing us all God’s love, had to endure the torture of the Roman cross. We said that the only trouble with heaven is that you have to go through hell to go there. But Christ came from heaven and freely endured hell to show us the way of life.

Perhaps being sent out ahead, means being sent into God’s future to sustain and provide for those who need trail-blazers to go before them to show them the way. “Hate traps us in the past, while love opens the future.” (N. Berdyaev) So the suffering that Jacob and Joseph had to go through, is of course, that of all the saints, who shoulder their cross and follow Jesus. By reading about Jacob and Joseph we hear and begin to understand the heavenly language, discerning the things hidden from us in the Theology of the Cross. Had Jacob understood that God was making Joseph a great ruler, he would have been enraptured rather than so very desperately downcast. But they did not know the end of the story, nor do we know how our stories will end. We are still in medias res, the middle of it all.

But this master narrative of the Theology of the Cross shows us God’s ways, which are hidden and we cannot yet understand, but we can know and understand that with an increased faith in the loving God behind the dark cloud, we will ultimately penetrate and breakthrough. “The only way through it is through it,” we used to say when ministry was really tough in the streets of Cincinnati, during the race riots of the sixties. “Your suffering becomes translated into a deeper quality of love,” we said, “and it all adds to the music of your witness.” It is through increasing our faith, which is God’s power working through us, that we can also receive the mind of Christ, who with the Theology of the Cross, better than Joseph, can discern the secret things, known but to God. Living the Theology of the Cross will help us have the faith to learn the Language of God, as God pronounces each one of us, lovingly, liltingly, into the divine word order of the sentences of the Language of God, sending us to our places in the history of God’s salvation.

In his last lectures Luther composed an epic drama of the Theology of the Cross for his students. He ends by saying: “This is now the dear Genesis. God grant that after me others will do better. I can do no more. I am weak. Pray God for me that He may grant me a good and blessed last hour.” (LW VIII: 333) He died three short months thereafter, while reconciling a conflict between two princes in his hometown.

[1] I have revised the book many times since 1993. In the following pages and footnotes LW stands for the 55 volume set, English edition of Luther’s Works, published by Concordia in St. Louis and Fortress Press in Philadelphia. WA stands for the definitive Weimar Edition of Luther’s Works in German and Latin.

[2] Oswald Bayer, Martin Luthers Theologie, (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 2003), page 58: Jesus’ life and story become yours; it’s as if you did what Jesus did, as if you were who Jesus was. It’s your story there in the Bible. Let me translate directly: “Before thinking of Christ as an example, you receive him as a present, as a gift given by God to you as your own…so don’t doubt, if Christ himself does something or suffers, his doing and suffering is yours and you can count on it not less than if you had done it, as if you yourself were Christ.”

[3] Ibid., page 48, footnote 15: Blessings are cases of promises for faith and are present gifts and not only wishes…. They bestow and bring about exactly what the words say (WA 43:525.3-9). Also see Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2007), page 269, footnote 211.

[4] Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Volume III, Die Erhaltung der Kirche 1532 – 1546, (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1987), page 143.

[5] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), page 142.

[6] Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), page 15.

[7] Ibid., page 36.

[8] See footnote no. 10.

[9] Again see footnote no. 10.

[10] See Joy Schroeder, Dinah’s Lament, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), pages 204-205. Luther intentionally magnifies good and evil in this story. Joy Schroeder claims that Luther soars to great heights in the hagiography of Joseph while demonizing the woman. She is surprised that Luther would then use St. Agnes as an example with which to compare Joseph.  The problem here is identity thinking versus thinking with the sheer moral issues involved. Luther is thinking about chastity versus promiscuity, while Joy Schroeder is thinking about the long oppression of women by men. But on occasion a man can be virtuous and a woman promiscuous and trying to use a slave for sex even under those circumstances, does not mitigate the immorality of Potiphar’s wife, and even Jacob and Abraham, for that matter, who use their slaves in the same way. Also see Mickey Leland Mattox, Defender of the Most Holy Matriarchs, (Boston: Brill, 2003), pages 231-237. Perhaps Potiphar’s wife should not be demonized, but there is the slide she represents into corruption, much like the “Graduate” and Mrs. Robinson.

[11] LW VI: 407.

[12] Oswald Bayer, Theology the Lutheran Way, page 18.

[13] See Ebeling, Luther, an Introduction to his Thought, R. A. Wilson, translator, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), pages 192-209. (N.B. Just because the existential interpretation of this great Luther scholar is superseded, does not mean that some of his insights do not remain highly significant.)

[14]L.W., v. VI / 333. W.A. v. 44 /251.

[15]Robert Alter, ­The Art of Biblical Narrative, (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1981), p. 176.

[16] Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1957), page 10.

[17] See Preserved Smith and Charles Jacobs, trs. and eds., Luther’s Correspondence, Vol. I, (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1918), page 24. The letter of Luther to John Braun of March 17, 1509 is not in L.W.  W.A.Br. v. I/ 17, No. 5: “ea inquam theologia, quae nucleum nicis et medullam tritici et medullam ossium scrutatur.” [He wished to study] that theology, in which he searched out the meat of the nut and kernel of the wheat and marrow of the bone.”

[18] Jeremiah 17:9.

[19] Paul Ricoeur speaks of breaking open symbols. Perhaps a person needs to broken open for new usage as much as a symbol, to extend his thought. See Freud and Philosophy: an Essay on Interpretation, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970), page 551.

[20]J. Vergote, Joseph en Égypt, (Louvain: Publications Universitaires, 1959), p. 151, 152,204,205. Actually Vergote includes another theory about Joseph’s Egyptian name: “God spoke; he came alive!” “Salvatorem Mundi” comes from Jerome’s Vulgata Gen. 41:45. The precise meaning of Abrek is not known. It may mean “Pay homage!” or “Bow down!” or “Make way!”

[21]  Note that I am not arguing that the Theology of the Cross is the center of Luther’s theology, while others might argue that it is justification by grace through faith. In the last lectures of Luther the center seems to become believing in the promises of God, the promise understood as the Gospel and commands as the Law. But the Theology of the Cross can be understood in terms of justification by faith, because there is suffering involved in being made righteous by God, because God fashions us for the sake of God’s mission.

[22]Timothy Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 31 or L.W. v. 31/ 40. W.A. v. I/ 353-374.

[23] Robert Alter writes, “The first revelation of Joseph’s character suggests a spoiled younger child who is a tattletale. The next revelation, in the dreams, intimates adolescent narcissism, even if the grandiosity is later justified by events.” The Five Books of Moses: a Translation with Commentary, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004), page 206.  By the Theology of the Cross, God, of course, has to cook this immaturity out of Joseph, but Luther points to a far more radical process.

[24] Much of the surrounding material also comes from my book, of course.

[25]From Timothy Wengert, Lectures On Luther and the Law, Held in the Fall of 1990 at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

[26]Alister E. McGrath, Luther’s Theology of the Cross, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985), p.1-2. The young Luther’s discursive presentation of the Theology of the Cross from Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 is also here presented.

[27] Timothy Lull, Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, page 31. Also LW 31:40 and WA I: 353-374.

[28] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982). I react to Brueggemann because Pastor Sharon Lubkeman presented his notes relevant to each chapter in our Bible study.

[29] Oswald Bayer, Martin Luthers Theologie, page 38. Bayer deepens the previous delineation of how God works by T. Wengert on page 14.

[30] Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), page 142.

[31] L.W., v. VII/375.  W.A., v. 44/579.

[32] Ibid.

[33]Luther is quite uninhibited about the body and its joys and functions: he mentions playing with a beautiful girl in one’s dream (VI/335 WA.44/251) and the difficulty of strong and healthy males in retaining their semen, perhaps an allusion to wet-dreams (LW VIII/210. WA 44/732). Also see LW VIII/ 152, where     Luther translates El Shaddai from shad, meaning “breast.” Luther had the openness and courage to translate such a name of God. The breasts of God!

[34] L.W., v. VI/397.  W.A., v. 44/297.

[35] For performative blessings see footnote 3.

[36] David M. Whitford, Luther: a Guide for the Perplexed, (London: T&T Clark International, 2011), page 78.

[37] Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, page 164.

[38]Ibid., page 70.

[39] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man, (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, Inc., 1987), page 7.

[40] Luther often speaks of the “force” of a word here in the Latin, instead of the “meaning” of a word, i.e., vis verborum rather than significatio. Note that the Hebrew wordyetzev” here means pain, such as that of a woman in labor, see Gen. 3:16, also grief of mind, or a word pronounced with anger; a bitter, sharp word.

[41] L.W. v. VIII/ 24. W.A., v. 44/ 597.

[42] The sensual has to go farther and farther never being satisfied. Only the spiritual can quench the thirst of the sensual.

[43] L.W. v. VIII/ 25.  W.A. v. 44/ 597. A cheerful heart is a continual feast. Prov. 15:15.

[44] Sometimes we think we hide our sins, but they are really hiding us!

[45] A sermon by this author of 5/2/93, “The Cross and the Crown” was inspired by the above passage from Luther.

[46] L.W. v. VII/105.  W.A. v. 44/377.

[47] Theology of the Cross is like sanctification, but it is shaping a person by the schola sheola into an instrument of God’s mission, ready for being used for the concrete needs of the neighbor, not for the intrinsic holiness of the saint.

[48] L.W. v. VIII/ 20.  W.A. v.44/ 593.

[49] L.W. v. VIII/ 29.  W.A. v.44/ 599. Da ist kein fels zu hart, er muss prechen. “There is no rock too hard; it must break.” Luther exclaims in German in the midst of the Latin. But Luther does not break the papacy.

[50] Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses, page 236.

[51] Ibid., page 212-213. Also see his book, The Art of Biblical Narrative, page 4.

[52] (Genesis 48:15-16) from Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses, page 279.


Written by peterkrey

July 7, 2011 at 12:17 am

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