A Jagged Contention: The Living Word

“Since God has given us his Word in a living voice, we can see why Luther, although intensively concerned with the text and every letter of the Bible, rates the oral character of the Word more highly than its written form…[It] is through preaching the gospel that ‘Christ comes to us, or we are brought to him.’ Communication takes place. The gospel ‘signifies nothing else than a sermon or report concerning the grace and mercy of God merited and acquired through the Lord Jesus Christ with his death. Actually, the Gospel is not what one find in books and what is written in letters of the alphabet; it is rather an oral sermon and a living Word, a voice that resounds throughout the world and is proclaimed publicly, so that one hears it everywhere.'”

– Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification. pg. 48


What do you make of Bayer (and Luther for that matter) “rating” the proclaimed Word over the written Word? How can such a rating be helpful? How can it be harmful? Discuss both the benefits and dangers inherent in this distinction.

Share your thoughts in the comments below


8 thoughts on “A Jagged Contention: The Living Word

  1. “Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God!'” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

    There is nothing deficient about the written Word. However, it was written to be proclaimed. A preacher makes God’s plea directly to me. He plants the Word in the seedbed that is my heart.


  2. Isn’t Luther’s thinking on this to stress the oral delivery of the literal word in its inherent power, rather than trying to imply the equality of the proclamation of a preacher? There is no possibility of error or sin in the first, and every manner of confusion available to human beings bringing a sermon. Preachers are working under the discipline of the church, but the oral presentation of the Biblical witness is objectively given by God himself. On the other hand, a faithful witness from a preacher is powerful inasmuch as it presents the Biblical witness. Is that what Bayer is getting at, or is he just messing with Luther’s statements on the subject?


  3. When we attend divine service, the Gospel is read. Were we only meant to hear the Word (or read along), as written, the sermon would be superfluous. Preaching would merely be the same as sitting home and reading the Bible or merely reading aloud, at most. When Jesus preached, he did not merely recite the scriptures, he brought their meaning to life in parables and in questionable actions, meaning acts that elicited questions and arose from actual circumstances in life. Further, he opened his apostles eyes to the meaning of scripture so that they could relate the Gospel to others and show the fulfillment of the Word in Christ and the relevance of that fulfillment. I think too often people figure that the oral usage was merely a function of timing and literacy, something we have outgrown.

    Preaching is the Word made relevant and related to us. We are not left with what God told the Israelites or what Jesus said from the hilltop or what Paul said to the Corinthians and told that we may or may not relate to these things. Rather, preaching gives us the relationship and we have God speaking to us through His interactions with these people in the past. The Word proclaimed is the Word related to us in human voice and in timeless ways.

    I would agree with Luther and Bayer that this is superior to seeking a private, personal understanding. It brings us together in one hearing so that we can respond as one people, the Church. If there are pitfalls, I imagine it might be that some very fine pastoral folks are not always fine preachers and our church does not split down tasks of ministry as the Church often did in the past. A proper hermenuetic requires a proper confession and that is not always present in the Church, it can lead to poor preaching and poor Law & Gospel distinction, unmerciful fire & brimstone sermons, Pharisaic accusations of sins being committed outside the congregation and self-congratulatory sermons for those in the pews. But, as He has since the Fall, God has decided to let these things happen, let us remain in error, and has preserved His Word despite our best efforts to pervert it.


  4. “The only way to get a gracious God is for God’s silence to end, and so your predestination must involve a preacher,” Steven Paulson from Lutheran Theology


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