A Jagged Contention: The External Word


“Therefore we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of his external Word and sacrament. Everything that boasts of being from the Spirit apart from such a Word and sacrament is of the devil. For God even desired to appear to Moses first in the burning bush and by means of the spoken word; no prophet – not even Elijah or Elisha – received the Spirit outside of or without the Ten Commandments; John the Baptist was not conceived without Gabriel’s preceding Word, nor did he leap in his mother’s womb without Mary’s voice; and St. Peter says: the prophets did not prophecy ‘by human will’ but ‘by the Holy Spirit,’ indeed, as ‘holy people of God.’ However, without the external Word, they were not holy – much less would the Holy Spirit have moved them to speak while they were still unholy. Peter says they were holy because the Holy Spirit speaks through them.”

– Martin Luther, “Smalcald Articles” (III, 8)


Does Luther go too far when he insists that God does no want to deal with us except by means of his external Word? How is this confession received today?

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