Friday, July 29, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 11: The Invisible God...

Last post, we outlined steps to secure Esther in its place in the Jewish and Christian canon.   Lets now move to step 2:
(2) "We must demonstrate that the kind of theology presented in Esther is not foreign to Jewish literature as found in the rest of the Bible, but wholly compatible and consistent with it."
The first part of such a step will be in establishing how God is presented in the rest of the OT.

The OT view of God is unique in literature.  Not any 'God', but a specific God, objectively known by His modus operandi and His personal traits.

The Invisible God...

The first striking thing about the Biblical God is that He is invisible.  From His first interaction with Adam in the book of Genesis, He makes Himself known, not by appearance, but by His voice: 'And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden ...'

In every interaction between God and man, we find God introduced by His voice; He speaks His way into the scene, and his presence and nature is known by His communication.  

Abraham also hears God's voice (Gen 12:1), but he does business through the Priest Melchizedek (Gen 14:18), or must 'see God' and communicate only via God's angels (Gen. 18:1-2, esp. Gen. 22:11). 

Isaac also must discover God's by indirect sign (Gen. 24:66), in fact a fortunate coincidence! (Gen.24:43-44).  

Jacob too must spend the first half of his life as an ignorant agnostic, then encounter God indirectly, by a dream (Gen. 28:16-21).  In passing, Jacob seems to have learned that God is not detectably omnipresent (contra Pantheism), but only choses to reveal Himself via signs and supernatural effects.

Joseph also discovers God via dreams (Gen 37:5), and most importantly, God's actions are revealed to him through Providence, the hidden hand of God, directing fate for a miraculous (i.e., an improbable) outcome (Gen. 45:5-8).

Even Moses is not introduced to God by a direct view:  He sees instead a sign; the burning tree, and hears God's voice only. (Exod. 3:2-6).  Even when Moses seems to 'see God', again, the view and staging is severely limited, and is most strange (Exod. 33:20-23), certainly an exception to any rule one could draw from the O.T. generally.  The people of Israel and indeed the world must experience God indirectly through frightening signs alone (Exod. 13:15, 19:16), and must hear His voice through appointed prophets only (Exod. 7:1, 19:21).

Appearances by Angels are tantalizing but brief and puzzling.  As God's agents, they are treated to all intents and purposes as if one were dealing directly with God (cf. Gen. 32:25-32, Gen. 18:1-16 etc.)   Abraham and Jacob don't quibble about their obvious authority. 

But the prevailing doctrine is not affected by any apparent 'exceptions':
"You cannot see my face: 
For no man shall see me and survive." (Exod. 33:20, cf. Judges 6:22)
Nor has the doctrine changed in any way, long after the coming of the Messiah, in spite of all the miracles and signs surrounding that event:
"No man has seen God at any time." (John 1:18)
Thus there is complete harmony between OT and NT on these crucial points.

The God of Improbability and Impossibility...

Perhaps because of these limitations of human access to the Most High and Living God, we find God compensating by showing His action in history through the improbable and the impossible:

Moses witnesses a tree burning that never actually burns up, remaining unharmed (Exod 3:2).   No explanation is given, and the reader is expected to recognize indeed the impossibility of it, marking the event as God-caused.

Abraham likewise is given a sign with a message, in the birth of Isaac:
"Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen 18:14)
 Gideon requests the impossible twice from God for certainty (cf. Gen. 41:32) and he gets a highly improbable (miraculous) answer for his test both times (Judges 6:36-40).

The same teaching is repeated in the NT:
"For with God nothing shall be impossible!" (Luke 1:37)

The examples could be multiplied from both Testaments, but the point is clear:

The Biblical God is a God who reveals Himself through highly improbable and even impossible (miraculous) events.   His hand is the invisible Hand of Providence.   This is precisely the same God who is quietly revealed in the book of Esther (on both counts; invisibility, and improbability).

(to be continued).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 10: The Providential Aspect

At this point, the task before us can be outlined:

(1)  We must show that Esther is not merely secular or non-religious literature (in the best inclusive sense of religious), but is actually profoundly religious in character. 

(2) We must demonstrate that the kind of theology presented in Esther is not foreign to Jewish literature as found in the rest of the Bible, but wholly compatible and consistent with it.

(3)  We must show that the book is authentic Jewish historical literature, and not merely an imitation or forgery of the same.

Lets look at number 1.   The very subtlety of Esther makes revealing its religious character a challenge.  But thankfully, many have labored in this area, and made quite a clear case that Esther as story utterly depends upon what we call God's Providence, His unseen hand working invisibly in the turn of events.
"The whole book could be taken as nothing more than chance and luck. It can be seen as a literary tale of how a young Jewish orphan just happened to become queen and be in the right place at the right time to save her people. Or is there more to it than that?"  - S. Atteberry, "God Uses Harem Girls: Esther"

A Series of Coincidences

What is a coincidence?   An unlikely coordination of circumstance.  The key word, the essence, is "unlikely".  The improbable, the unusual, the strikingly odd, and out of the ordinary, is what is meant, and what will be recognizable in a legitimate and significant 'coincidence'.

Those who understand the science of Probability Theory know that probabilities can be estimated, and calculated from other probabilities by strict rules of combination:  Probabilities are expressed as fractions between 0 and 1, and the probability of two different events happening is calculated by simply multiplying the probability of each event together.   The probability of a string of events happening is calculated by multiplying the fractional probability of each event together.

It becomes apparent that the chances of ALL the events in a long sequence happening becomes very small, even if the chances of each individual event are reasonably probable.  For instance, the chances of "heads" in a fair coin toss is 50% or as a fraction, 1/2.   The chances of flipping "heads" twice in a row however, is (1/2 x 1/2) or 1/4 (25%).   The chances of 3 in a row are (1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2) = 1/8 (12.5%), that is the overall chance is halved again.  Consequently, you have only about a 1 in 1000 chance of throwing 10 "heads" in a row!

Now look at the story of Esther:
"The book begins on a whim of a king. King Ahasuerus had given a great banquet for all the leading officials and dignitaries of his kingdom. After much revelry, the king ordered for his queen, Vashti, to be brought before everyone, so he could show her off. Vashti refused. In a fit of drunken rage Ahasuerus for all intents and purposes divorced her to set an example that wives are to obey their husbands. After he sobered up and cooled down, he realized that he had no queen. The decree could not be changed so the search began for a new queen.  All the beautiful young virgins were brought in, and one of the virgins was Esther." (ibid.

The probability of the first event happening is unknown.  We might even posit that it was inevitable, bound to happen sooner or later, given the propensities of the characters.   Technically, the probability of the event could be set to 100% (i.e., certain).  This means the first factor in our probability equation is simply 1.  This would not really yet be a 'coincidence'.  Nothing particularly unlikely here.

But Atteberry goes on to list the sequence of following events:

(1) Out of "a harem that likely numbered in the 1000s", in the first coincidence of the book she won the contest!   She found favour and was crowned queen.  It would be fair to say, since such choices are fickle, that even if beautiful or intelligent, Esther had less than a 1/100 shot in such a contest, and that may be too generous.

(2) "Mordecai found out about an assassination plot and warned Esther who told the king."  Another fortunate, but honestly unlikely occurance.  Even supposing the discovery was probable, give it less than 50-50 that it would be Mordecai who chanced to do it: 49/100.  Again we 'err' on the conservative side.

(3)  Haman rises to power, and Mordecai foolishly refuses to bow to him.  A rash act, even predictable in the sense that at least one Jew among tens of thousands might openly act in such a way (cf. Daniel).   But since it is but one person, how is it Haman determines to exterminate every Jew in the Babylonian Empire?  Even granting the first event likely, we must view the second unlikely.  Give the cause 99/100, and the effect 49/100.   Again we estimate odds cautiously.

(4)  Esther risks appearing to the King unsummoned.  Anyone who goes to the king without being called risks being killed, and the king had not sent for her for thirty days.
"This was the king who commanded the engineers of a bridge he was building be thrown off the end of the bridge when they fell behind due to a horrible storm. When a father requested this king not to send his last son off to war (he had lost his 3 other sons to this king’s war), the king commanded the last son be killed in front of the father, then had the father blinded so that was the last thing he saw. This was the king to which Esther was going, without an invitation."  (ibid)
Beautiful or not, Esther is dealing with a psycho, she's going against his second in command, and the subject matter is hardly pleasing.   We have to assess the risk negatively, even if close to 50-50, so set it again at 49/100.

(5)  "Now another coincidence happens: the king had insomnia. He commanded the book of the annals be brought to him and heard the re-telling of how Mordecai saved his life."    The reader will pardon me if I again set the probability for this event below 50-50.   The insomnia is an independent event; the narrow window for the nick of time, the luck of the reading selection, all conspire to call for a significantly negative probability for this set of events: Call it a one in three chance, again too generous, at 1/3.

What now is our estimated probability for this series of events?

1/100 x 49/100 x 99/100 x 49/100 x 49/100 x 1/3 = .0004 or 4 in 10,000!

That is, by the most generous estimate, a 0.004 % chance of occurring.

"...It is truly a book of coincidences. That is why we need Esther. Too often we think that just because there is no obvious working of God in the world that God is not working. Esther’s discreet witness says otherwise.
And we need these reminders. We need reminders that God working in our world is not always obvious—even to those in the church. We also need reminders that God uses harem girls to accomplish His purposes. Sometimes God uses the small things, the little things, the things that could be easily overlooked to accomplish His purposes.
Paul reflects this truth in 1 Cor. 1:25-29:
 'For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.   Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,   so that no one might boast in the presence of God.'
There are always those times in life when we wonder where God is. Esther reminds us that there are times that God is firmly behind the scenes, and we may not see how He has been working till well after what is taking place now. Part of our walk with God is realizing that God is with us regardless of circumstances or how we feel. The Jews had to have felt abandoned as they saw the decree that would take all of their lives. But seven years before they even realized they were going to need a deliverer, a Jewish queen came to the palace. ... God used those events to deliver his people. Even in the worst the world can throw at us, God continues to walk with us and provide ways of deliverance for His people. He walks with us through the messes as well as the celebrations.

The book of Esther seems to be driven by whims, accidents, and coincidence. But is it? The underlying, almost invisible, current running through Esther is that God is working in the world to accomplish his purposes. He can even use a harem girl and an arrogant, pagan king to do this. The book of coincidences is really a book of grace. In one of the most pagan places possible—the palace of a pagan king who does not even know that he has married a Jew, nor does he know that a decree has went out in his name to destroy his wife and her people, God is working."
Many have claimed that the content of Esther is 'unlikely'.  There is no point in denying this.  Because that actually is the point of the book.  With God nothing is impossible.  This is a theme that runs throughout all Holy Scripture, especially the O.T.   Esther goes out of its way to show the hidden hand of God in the Providential and unlikely events surrounding the Jewish people.

This is not a flaw of the book, but rather its central theme.

(to be continued)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 9: Luther's Contradictory Platform

Before passing to other issues, we need to re-examine Martin Luther's radical position on Esther.
The observation of Peter J. Leithart  (2005) nails the problem squarely:
"Luther was famously hostile to the book of Esther. Luther was also famously enamoured of the idea of the Deus absconditus, the hidden God. These positions are inconsistent: No book of the Bible better narrates the power and providence of the hidden God than Esther, which refrains even from naming Him."
 Leithart notes that Luther's strong advocacy of Providence, the idea of God acting behind the scenes in history with a hidden hand, ought to have caused Luther to embrace the book as the center-piece of his platform!  In fact, the idea of God's Providence was a fundamental part of the Reformation.

The question of the authenticity and/or historicity of the book is not relevant to the point before us, because Luther didn't question the fundamental point that it was indeed a Jewish book, originally written in Hebrew.  He did not deny that it was part of the Jewish canon, accepted by Jews everywhere and included in the Tanach (Holy Scripture).  Luther did not doubt that the book had been adopted by the entire Jewish nation since the 200 B.C., and was the basis of the annual celebration of the Festival of Purim, or that Esther was publicly celebrated as a historical document, and had been since time immemorial.

Luther instead attacked the book on the two points already discussed:
(1) That the book (Hebrew version at least) didn't openly use God's name [YHWH], and that no specific prayers are recorded in the book;
(2) And infamously, because the book was too Jewish.

The whole basis of the attack is that somehow Esther is different than all  the other accepted Holy books, because it presents a different God, or  has a different way of presenting God.  i.e., the claim is that either :
 (1) After the captivity of Babylon, Jews had now become non-religious and had abandoned worship of the God of Israel for Babylonian paganism, and so their writings from this period are simply not inspired, or,
(2) God ceased to inspire Hebrew writers during and/or after the Babylonian Captivity.
This is not a natural Christian or Jewish position on the OT canon, and Luther's attitude seems rather based on criticisms by various opponents of both religions, ancient and modern.  There is indeed some substance in these claims regarding the book's superficial appearance.   The problem was noticeable enough that  some early Christians felt moved to rectify the alleged lack by adding sections to give the book a more overtly 'Godly' look.  The Jewish scribes however,  lthough aware of the claims, felt no such need, and continued to copy the book verbatum.

The point is not that the claim had no superficial reality, but that the two  conflicting ideas in Luther's position are in fact ultimately incompatible:   The book can't be too Jewish, and at the same time not Jewish enough.  But recognizing this contradiction is not enough to solve the problem.  We have to decide which side of the fence to come down on.  

The essential issue is this:

I.  Is Esther qualitatively different from, and thus incompatible with, recognized Holy Scripture?

For this is the core challenge thrown down by Luther and others who would reject the book from the canon of Holy Scripture.

(to be continued...)

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 8: The Facts about Hebrew Narrative

Our easily stunned commentator, Deffinbaugh, quoted in Part 6, asked the following second question:
(2) "Why is prayer never specifically mentioned in the book?"   
This also sounds like a damning flaw in the literary work.  But it also sounds a little like the first thing the Serpent said in Genesis, designed to instill doubt and a kind of excited panic.

But lets look around a little before declaring the sky might be falling:
"But, for many readers [of Esther], the story's canonical context - the way it invites comparison between Esther and Moses or Daniel, for example, - invites also the possibility that we should think of an unseen God of Israel at work 'behind the scenes' in the narrative.  Textual support is often claimed in Mordecai's cryptic words to Esther that if she stays quiet 'deliverance will stand up for the Jews from another place' (Esther 4:14).  
This mode of reasoning is similar to a 'providential' reading of Ruth - so that Ruth's 'chancing to chance' upon the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:3) is viewed not, indeed, as 'chance' but as the doing of YHWH. 
Yet the only action of YHWH explicitly recounted by the narrator in the whole story is YHWH's gift of conception to Ruth at the very end (Ruth 4:13)." 
 - Gunn & Fewell, Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford, 1993)

Again we have confirmed that Esther is hardly unique in its oblique and indirect reference to YHWH.   But even more interesting is the second claim about the book of Ruth:   We get the impression that like Esther, Ruth is lacking appropriate references to God, presumably including prayers.  
But as is typical in scholarly commentary, the description and impression left by the commentary is actually miles away from the text itself!  Every argument sounds clinching and 100% true of course, until we hear the other side! 

Turning to Ruth, we are confronted with an immediate prayer from Naomi for her daughters in law:
"May the LORD [YHWH] deal kindly with you,
as ye have dealt with the dead, and also with me.
The LORD grant that ye may find rest,
each in the house of her husband." (Ruth 1:8-9)
Ruth suddenly doesn't seem like the 'Godless and secular narrative' we expected!  At least one character prays openly for her kin, before we even get out the door.   Even when enduring deep grief and hardship, our Naomi stoically attributes her misfortune to YHWH:
"the hand of the LORD has gone out against me." (Ruth 1:13)
Nor has the topic of the God of Israel even gotten started before we are treated to the most moving and profound statement about the LORD in the entire Bible, from the youngest character in the story:
"Do not plead with me to leave you,
or turn back from following you!
For wherever you go, I will go:
and where you stay I will stay.
Your people shall be my people,
and your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried:
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
if anything but death parts me and you!" (Ruth 1:16-18)
There is probably nothing more dramatic and heart-gripping than this in the whole OT, other than the overwhelming revealing of Joseph to his brothers, and the shock of Jacob in Genesis 45, "Joseph is yet alive! (Gen. 45:26)

What we learn from these stunning discoveries is that nothing can be more misleading than a scholarly commentary, or more eye-opening than the text itself.  We must constantly be on guard not to let others do our thinking, and our checking for us.

It is likewise in the book of Esther regarding prayer:  Nothing could be absolutely more clinching and slap-in-the-face obvious than these two critically important portions:
'When Mordecai perceived all that had been done, he tore his clothes, and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the middle of the city, and wailed with a loud and bitter cry.' ...
'And in every province, wherever the King's commandment and decree came, there was a great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.' (Esther 4:1-3)
One has to wonder just how stupid, or how maliciously misdirecting a commentator has to be, to suggest that 'prayer is not specifically mentioned' in the book of Esther.  And really, just consider the ludicrousness of the assertion:
What uneducated fool, what unknowing island native, would not, upon seeing a large gathering of Jews anywhere in the world, fasting, weeping, wearing sackcloth and wailing, - would not interpret the scene as heart-rending prayer?

Deffinbaugh and his ilk need to be publicly ridiculed for such nonsense as this, as a deterrent to future historical revisionists.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 7: Questions of Fact

The first "theological" problem with Esther is the one raised in the following question:
"(1) Why is the name of God
       never mentioned in the Book of Esther?"
 This actually is a loaded question, for several reasons:
(a) To an English reader, it sounds as if the question suggests that God is never mentioned, and that this is a legitimate test for either "Inspiration", Canonicity or status as Holy Scripture.   The first thing we need to ask then, is really,
"Is this a valid test?"
 To find out, we can test the test, on other Canonical books already accepted as Holy Scripture both by Jews, and Christians (Catholic and Protestant). But we have to take note that there are quite a few different names for God in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages.

Book of Lamentations This book only mentions "God" once, in the standard translation.  How is it that a five-chapter prayer to God, some eight full pages long, only mentions God once?   The answer is that the text instead has "LORD", used to render the unspeakable Name of the true God (YHWH) some 28 times!  Lamentations also has "Adonay" (also rendered, "Lord") 14 times.   So the "God" test is at best misleading in the English translation. 

Well, lets turn our attention to "LORD" (YHWH).  Perhaps that is a better test.

Ecclesiastes: Oops!  Solomon, the wisest king in Israel, never uses "LORD" in his entire book on wisdom.  How can that be?  Solomon only uses "God" ('El').  In fact he uses it over 40 times.

But the historical-critical school is hardly consistent in any case:  They pretend to divide up the book of Genesis, based on the presence of either "God" ('El/Elohim') or "LORD" (YHWH) in any given paragraph.  This makes for quite a few chops, cuts and regrouping of the text(s).   According to this methodology, Solomon would be of the "Elohist" school, while Jeremiah would be of the "Yahwist" school, each with their own preference for addressing God.  Problem is, they are obviously both familiar with and able to use both words, so the theory itself is unreliable and unstable.

Ruth:  Here "God" ('El/Elohim') is only mentioned twice, and "Adonay" only once.  But "LORD" (YHWH) is mentioned 18 times.   But the frequency here seems based entirely on the speaker.

Song of Solomon:  This work uses neither "God" ('El/Elohim') or "LORD" (YHWH) anywhere.  What shall we make of it?  Is this book a foreign work, masquerading as Hebrew scripture?  No.  Its written in Hebrew!   Perhaps there is something wrong with the whole approach.

The real explanation is far simpler, but requires intelligence.

What is really controlling the presence or absence of various words used to address God?   It is wholly dependent upon at least three important factors:

(1) The various names and titles of God are synonyms, but each emphasizes perhaps different aspects of God.  He is LORD, He is Almighty, He is ever-existing, He is Creator of the Universe, the Great I AM.    Different writers, in speaking of God are free to use titles and adjectives as they feel moved by worshipful awe, and to communicate their thoughts on the Almighty One.
There is no set rule for how many times one should expect one title vs. another.

(2) The mention of God in narrative is led by the subject-matter.   God is mentioned when God acts, intervening in history.  The LORD is named when the LORD is identified or addressed, or when the LORD speaks.   It all depends on what is going on and who is speaking.  There can be no preconceived expectations, or special rule.

(3)  The mention of God is determined by the author.   Priests and prophets use the names and titles of God frequently in their business.  Those narrating the stories of ordinary people, or telling their own story, normally don't dare throw the names of God about.  All Israelites are familiar with the great Commandment concerning taking the LORD's name in vanity.  Religious Jews go out of their way to avoid using the name(s), as an effort in humility and caution, to this very day.  A Jewish narrator is simply not going to use God's name without a very strong necessity.

(4)  The use of God's names are governed by the Genre.  A love-poem like Song of Solomon, addressed to a betrothed person is simply not a psalm to the Most High and Living God.   A narrative by a farmer like Boaz (Ruth) is simply not priestly handbook (Leviticus) or a prophetic utterance (Isaiah).  And a narrative by a bureaucrat like Mordecai (Esther) is simply not an account like Samuel

The "God" test (vocabulary test) fails because it simply can't accommodate the the literary reality of the O.T.

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 6: Martin Luther (cont.)

We must carefully distinguish between Luther's actual reasons for rejecting Esther, from Luther's arguments against it, which he used to justify its rejection, and convince other to do so.

There is indeed an obvious difference:  Luther's rejection of Esther, as stated by him is probably honest enough:  the book is too Jewish.  He finds further fault with it in that it promotes Judaism.  This is an important observation, not that the book necessarily promotes Judaism, but that Luther perceived it that way.

For it is a reasonable admission that the book does portray Judaism in a positive light.  We make this point, because others have attempted to interpret the book as casting Jews and Judaism in a negative light.
For instance, in his article on Bible.Org, entitled  Miss Persia ,
 Bob Deffinbaugh
Ezra and Nehemiah are the account of the godly Jews who returned to the promised land and who sought to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple amidst great difficulty and opposition.
Esther, on the other hand, is an account of those who became too attached to the land of their sojournings and thus disobeyed God by not returning when it was not only allowed, but commanded.

...While Ezra and Nehemiah focus on the return to the land by the faithful remnant, Esther depicts the fate of those who remain in the land of their captivity. We should not expect Mordecai and Esther to be godly Jews, for they are living in disobedience. No wonder there is no mention of God, and no wonder that Esther’s Persian name is the name of a heathen God, Ishtar."
(- Deffinbaugh, Miss Persia )
Thus we have the ironic situation of Luther rejecting Esther for its vindication of Judaism, while modern commentators who claim to embrace the book's Scriptural status interpret it in the most negative way possible.

One can't help feeling that anti-Semites have become quite sophisticated in their use of Esther.  It is now clung to, almost revelled in, and held up as yet another piece of "evidence against the Jews",  and so is willingly accepted as Canon, provided the anti-Judaism diatribe be allowed to continue.

No wonder ordinary Christians are utterly confused about the book of Esther.

Luther's open rejection of Esther has itself been abandoned, in favor of a new interpretation, denigrading Esther, Mordecai, and pretty much all the Jews in the Babylonian empire!   Although safely hiding behind a "high view of Scripture", and the methods of 'rational-historical criticism', its the same old anti-Semitism, this time more sinister, and camera-shy.

The reasons which Luther initially gave for rejecting Esther, have become tools to be used in its new interpretation.
Observe Deffinbaugh's clever performance here:
"What a wonderful, heart-warming story. It could have begun, “Once upon a time . . .” and ended “. . . happily ever after.” But before we feel too good about what we have read, we should give the matter a little more thought. Here are a few questions with which to begin:
(1) Why is the name of God never mentioned in the Book of Esther?
(2) Why is prayer never specifically mentioned in the book?
(3) Why does the New Testament never mention or refer to anything concerning the Book of Esther?
(4) The Book of Esther gives the historical basis for the feast of Purim. Why is this feast never mentioned in the New Testament?
(5) Why have neither Calvin nor Luther chosen to write a commentary on the Book of Esther, and why did Luther indicate he wished the book did not exist?
(6) Why is the Book of Esther the number one favorite of all the Old Testament books among the Jews?
(7) Why do later Greek translations add so many verses (107) to the Hebrew text (157) and try so hard to change our understanding of the earliest texts?
(8) Since the book concerns Jews living outside the promised land, why is there never any mention of God’s Law, of the Holy Land, or of Jerusalem and the temple?
(9) Why are we so easily inclined to look upon King Ahasuerus as evil and to view Mordecai and Esther as godly?
(10) Why are we happy to see Esther on the throne, even though she has misrepresented her nationality and kin, is living outside the promised land, and is married to a heathen king, the winner of a contest which included sleeping with the king?
Something is drastically wrong with God’s people as represented in the Book of Esther. We should not delight in Esther’s “success” in becoming queen; we should be distressed."
 Deffinbaugh actually does us a small favor, listing some of the main historical objections to the book of Esther.

Questions (3) and (4) are illegitimate, because they are anachronistic.  The OT Canon was established before the NT was written.
Question (5) is a ludicrous innuendo, given Luther's rampant anti-Semitism.  Calvin too is another anachronistic "authority".  If the NT must be legitimized by the OT, how much more so does a 16th century critic need to be set straight by the word of God, and not vice versa?
(6) is the most remarkable attempt at 'guilt by association'.  Why wouldn't a people or tribe be enthusiastic about their own national literature?  Do the Greeks like Homer?  Could a question be stupider?
Question (9) is something better left for psychology students, but of no concern to commentators or interpreters.

Question (10) attempts to impose some kind of 19th century Victorian moral standard upon an ancient Biblical story.  We doubt any Biblical story would survive that standard of measure.

We are left with perhaps 3 or 4 historical and textual questions worth investigating.   After all, if the book of Esther is being accepted or rejected based upon historical-critical methods, we had best have a look at evidence.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 5: Martin Luther (cont.)

James Swan, apologist for Martin Luther,  has admitted:
"from John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk ... Luther is recorded as saying, “I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities.”  In regards to the English edition of Luther’s Works, there is at least one instance in which Luther spoke negatively about Esther. In responding to Erasmus, Luther said, “…Esther…which despite their [the Jews] inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical.”
Swan likes detailed references, so we are happy to quote the following from Jesus' Words Only:
Luther also said Esther was "without boots or spurs." In one discussion, Luther lumped it with 2 Maccabees (a book in the Apocrypha) and said: "I am so hostile to this book and to Esther that I could wish they did not exist at all; for they judaize too greatly and have much pagan impropriety." (Luther, Tischedren (Weimar Edition, 1912) Vol. I at 208; Floyd V. Filson, Which Books Belong in the Bible (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1957) at 10.)
 Believe it or not, this is the same quotation.  For some reason, Swan has deleted the reference  "judaize too greatly" and replaced it with "they have too many heathen unnaturalities.”.  We just can't help feeling that once again the Nazi-sympathizing historical revisionists have covered up the main thrust of Martin Luther's words.

 Does centrality of the Jewish faith in 400 B.C. in the book of Esther disqualify it as Holy Scripture?    This is how Luther saw it, since he seems to have believed that Judaism was completely invalid as a religion, and so any 'holy book' that gave legitimacy to Judaism must be either false or dated.   Even today, less extreme Christians tend to think that Esther must be dated, and essentially  made obsolete by the new Christian Covenant, even for Jews.

However, if Esther is a bona fide historical record,  it plainly has a place in the O.T. Canon, both for Jews and Christians, as a record of God's action in history.  Its place then would be legitimate and secure, even if, like some other O.T. documents, it might not have practical application today, other than for spiritual encouragement and edification.   Thus for some, the validity of Esther will be based on its historical integrity and accuracy, not necessarily its national content or the viewpoints held by its characters.

This would be a reasonable approach, if it were not for the obvious bias and distortion, as well as the anti-Semitic undercurrents affecting the results of typical analysis of its contents.    Martin Luther was not the only person to doubt or reject the book of Esther as Holy Scripture, although he may have been the first to ignite mass-confusion surrounding the book.   Following Luther's lead, 19th century German scholarship continued an strongly anti-Jewish assault on both the Old and New Testaments, attacking the authorship, date, authenticity, historicity, and accuracy of the whole Bible.

This wave of skepticism was infectious, and quickly spread to other centers of learning like England and America.   But was what the Germans said about Esther really historically credible or scientifically valid?

(to be continued...)

Comment, Originally Posted by David Lamb:
"If Luther rejected the book of Esther, it seems rather odd that he should have included it in his translation of the bible..."
Nazaroo's Response:

No one denies that Luther's German bible included Esther.

The fact remains that Luther openly published many disparaging and doubtful comments on various books of the bible, including, James, Jude, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and of course Esther.

The German Bible was not solely Luther's project, and others involved in subsequent printing and distribution probably censured Luther and  later removed his original prefaces which were printed at the beginning of each OT and NT book in his translation.

Luther obviously cooperated in the removal of his original comments from the Bible, but on some issues it is very doubtful that he changed his opinion, especially on books like Esther, given his later extended program of hate-literature against the Jews.

The Germans wanted a Bible, and Luther did not have the power to delete books from the Bible. Luther's original bible even included the Apocrypha.

But that didn't stop Luther from propagating his views on various books in the bible, both before and after he removed his comments from printed German Bibles.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 4: Martin Luther (cont.)

James Swan, in his defense of Martin Luther, makes the following point:
"Yet, Luther still translated it [Esther] and allowed it in his Bible."
Again however, the attitude of Luther is being minimized.
Although this is denied by apologists like James Swan,
Martin Luther did deliberately translate the Book of Esther in a biased fashion
(into German), as well as add inappropriate commentary:
"In his translation of the book, he introduced anti-Semitic undertones, depicting Esther as the typical despicable Jew, eager to shed gentile blood. Luther advises the Christian not to enter into discussions with Jews, but to tell them: 
"Do you know, Jew, that Jerusalem and your kingdom, together with the Temple and the priesthood, were destroyed over a thousand years ago?... The exile shows that G-d is not their G-d and they are not His people ... By the destruction of Jerusalem G-d, already showed that the merits of the Patriarchs did not save them." (Yehezkel Kaufman, "Goleh Venechar", Vol. 1, p. 299).
The main argument used by the Christian anti-Semites was that the exile is eternal.

It should be noted that Luther did not understand the exact contents of the Book of Esther. Indeed, not all synagogue-goers understand that the decree of annihilation was not annulled, as Esther had requested. King Achashverosh did no more than write an edict, which he sealed with his ring, granting the Jews permission to defend themselves.

In reality, a battle was fought between the Jews and their enemies. (The Scroll of Esther and Anti-Semitism
by Prof. H. Gavriyahu)

This shows that Luther had an agenda in his use of Esther.  He did not treat the book in a neutral fashion, with reverence as Holy Scripture, for he acted in an opportunist fashion in the translation and notes he provided.

It should be noted that Luther was not the only one who raised questions about the Canonicity and holiness of the Book of Esther.  The ancient Talmud itself, the oral tradition of the Rabbis, discusses the question of the status of Esther, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes.
But in this case, the discussion was somewhat moot, since the Jewish Canon had been settled long before the Rabbinical debates, probably before 200 B.C.

But it still must be asked, regarding Martin Luther, "Why Esther?"
The answer is probably in his intellectual approach to all Holy Scripture:  He was quite willing to challenge canonical NT books, such as James and Jude, although there is some suspicion that part of his motive here is his inability to reconcile the teaching of James with his own extremely exaggerated Pauline soteriology.  In the case of both James (Jacob to the 12 Tribes), and Jude, (Judah), his anti-Semitic bias may also be coloring his dislike for these books.  With a lower, more permissive treatment of the traditional Canon of both the Christians and the Jews, it is not surprising that Luther found himself free to criticize other O.T. books not in serious dispute by either Jews or Christians.

The book of Esther was a natural target to Luther in his later years, when he had become embittered against the Jews of Europe for not enthusiastically flocking to his plan of converting them to Lutheranism.


Esther, Star of the OT: Part 3: Martin Luther (cont.)

"the book of Esther...has been more attacked and sneered at than any other book of the Bible." 
 - W.J. Beecher, Reasonable Biblical Criticism, (1911) ch. 21, p.292

So far, (previous post) we have noted that Martin Luther (c. 1500s), leader of the German Reformation movement, definitely had a lower view of parts of Holy Scripture than many evangelists and fundamentalists would accept today, particularly in regard to the Canon, or books to be included in the Bible, and Esther's status in it.

Luther's position on the O.T. Apocrypha was not particularly abnormal, since many previous Christian writers from the time of Jerome had often separated out the Apocrypha as a secondary category of writing.   One can consult William Webster's webpage for details on the variety of opinion on the Apocrypha.

However, what was novel in Erasmus and Luther was their willingness to dismiss actual Canonical writings in both the Old and New Testaments as secondary or relatively uninspired, questionable, and even of little use.

Examples range from Luther's view on NT books like  James and Jude,  to his view of OT books like Song of Solomon and Esther.

Recently, apologists and defenders of Martin Luther have attempted to minimize or reason away some of the less attractive aspects of the man.   For instance, James Swan's page, Luther's View of the Canon (2004) attempts to downplay Luther's critical prefaces, originally printed before each book in his German Bible.  It may indeed be that Luther later tempered some of his views on some books, or that others rightly dropped them from later reprints.
Yet even James Swan hasn't much a rebuttal to Martin Luther's wild statements on Esther:
4. “...Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness . .

The quote is probably also from John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk.  Luther is recorded as saying, I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities.”  In regards to the English edition of Luther’s Works, there is at least one instance in which Luther spoke negatively about Esther. In responding to Erasmus, Luther said, “…Esther…which despite their [the Jews] inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical.” 
Yet, Luther still translated it and allowed it in his Bible. Curiously, Roger Beckwith (author of the outstanding book The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church) has said, 
It is sometimes said that Luther, following certain of the Fathers, denied the Canonicity of Esther, but Hans Bardtke has questioned this, as not taking into account of all the evidence (Luther und das Buch Esther, Tubingen Mohr, 1964).” 
One can only hope that this work will one day be available in English."
James Swan's page, Luther's View of the Canon (2004)
 Swan's concession here is welcome, but his final downplay appears quite lame.  However one might regret Luther's opinion on Esther, it is a historical fact nonetheless.  Quoting Beckwith's reference to an unavailable and obscure German work can only be viewed as an act of desperation.   This is not a case where his opponents have misrepresented him, or  "the real Luther" had later recanted a few rash words spoken as a youth.  Luther held his negative opinions on Jews and Judaism to the end of his life.

Luther's Later Anti-Semitism

But for certain aspects of Luther, perhaps the most disturbing ones, the timeline runs the opposite way.  At first, in appealing to Jews for assistance in translating the O.T., and with high hopes of converting them to Christianity, Luther befriended them:  
'Before he was infected by the bacillus of anti-Semitism, Luther was something of a defender of Jews, condemning their persecution and recommending greater tolerance of them.
In a pamphlet entitled That Christ Was Born a Jew, Luther expressed understanding that Jews had rebuffed the conversionary overtures of the Roman Catholic church, which he considered spiritually lax and corrupt.
"For they have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs and not human beings," he wrote indignantly. "They have done nothing for them but curse them and seize their wealth. Whenever they converted them, they did not teach them either Christian law or life but only subjected them to papistry and monkery." '
 - Sheldon Kirshner, The Canadian Jewish News, February 15, 1996

But in the latter half of his life, because Jews politely turned down his program for conversion, Luther became filled with a vitriolic hatred for the Jews, publishing slanderous hate-literature against them.
'Once it was apparent to Luther that the children of Israel were resistant to the call of Christianity, he performed a volte-face, turning his wrath on Jews.
In the first glimmerings of his growing antipathy, Luther upbraided Jews for their misguided interpretation of Scripture. Later, Luther's condemnation of usury took on an anti-Jewish cast, while his mean-spirited characterization of Jews as "stiff-necked, iron-hearted and stubborn as the devil" drove him further into fanaticism.
In 1543, Luther's animus probably reached its apotheosis in a vituperative pamphlet, Concerning the Jews and Their Lies, in which he urged the authorities to act against Jews with the utmost severity.' (ibid
 This behavior is not a minor indiscretion, or excusable character quirk:  it is viewed by most historians as a large factor in creating the climate of bigotry and hate that led to the Holocaust.

Nonetheless apologists for Luther downplay even this side of Luther to this day.  They claim he wasn't a racist, and/or that he was just reflecting the culture of his day.  But this is a ludicrous rationalizing away of Luther's part as a world-leader in setting the stage for what was to follow.

But Luther himself wouldn't have pretended for a minute that he had no influence in the world he lived in; he was one of the founders of the successful Reformation!  Nor can we excuse him as if he was just a product of his culture:  Long before he wrote his hate-literature, he had already written an excellent pamphlet taking the opposite view!  He was obviously capable of independent thought and of choosing the right side on politically tough issues.

This is damning evidence that Martin Luther was simply not a truly converted, born-again Christian as Bible-believing Christians have come to understand the term.  Other evidence substantiates the claim, that Luther, in rejecting key aspect of the full Gospel, such as good works as signs of regeneration, Luther prevented himself from fully realizing a Spirit-filled born-again life of holiness.

Remarkably, even racially oriented Christian groups have openly recognized the basic apostacy and lack of Christian spirit in Martin Luther:
"It is obvious that the faith that Martin Luther made so much of was not saving faith, or he never would have done and said the things he did. He would have had the heart of the Apostle Paul towards the Jews, for the Savior whom Paul served is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow."

It is in this light that Luther's worldly reasoning and assessment of the book of Esther must be viewed.   He cannot be taken as a rational authority or clear-headed, non-emotional source for any explanation of the book's contents.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part 2: Martin Luther (cont.)

Why did Martin Luther reject Esther?

As we saw, Martin Luther did not especially single out Esther from other O.T. books which had been historically accepted and used by the Church. He in fact rejected several books in one fell sweep, including the Apocrypha, the Song of songs, and Ecclesiasticus.

Old Church Canon versus Jewish Canon

Some may think that Luther simply rejected books not found in the Jewish canon, i.e., books that the Jews had not officially recognized as Holy Scripture.

For instance, the Church had adopted the Greek O.T. (called the Septuagint or LXX), apparently because the Jewish people in the diaspora had translated it already and Jesus and the Apostles quoted from it. This translation was already circulating throughout the Roman Empire, in the common language, Greek.

But the Greek O.T. also contained books not found or used by Palestinian Jews who continued to work in Hebrew and Aramaic, and these books were not accepted as Holy Scripture by the Rabbis.

Thus Martin Luther did reject books that had been traditionally accepted by the Church as part of the O.T., but not recognized by non-converting Jews.

Rejection of the Apocrypha by Jerome

The early Christians had been aware of this since the time of Origen (c. 200 A.D.), who carefully compared the Hebrew and Greek versions in his Hexapla (a 6-column parallel O.T.). But the Church continued to keep the translation and canon given to them by the Apostles.

It was not until Jerome (c. 400 A.D.) that the Apocrypha, the disputed books were openly rejected, or separated and set to a lower value in the opinion of this father.
 In Jerome's preface to Samuel and Kings, he says:

"...The first class:...five books of Moses, they formally call 'Torah', that is law.
...The second class is composed of the Prophets, ...
... To the third class belong the Hagiographa ['writings', histories]....
...And so there are also 22 books of the Old Testament; that is, five of Moses, eight of the prophets, nine of the Hagiographa, though some  also include Ruth and Kinoth (Lamentations) amongst the Hagiographa, and think that these books ought to be reckoned separately; we should thus have 24 books of the Old Testament. ...
This preface to the Scriptures may serve as a " helmeted " introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so that we may be assured that what is not found in our list must be placed amongst the Apocryphal writings. Wisdom, therefore, which generally bears the name of Solomon, and the book of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, and Judith, and Tobias, and the Shepherd are not in the [Jewish] canon. The first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style. Seeing that all this is so, I beseech you, my reader, not to think that my labours are in any sense intended to disparage the old translators. For the service of the tabernacle of God each one offers what he can; some gold and silver and precious stones, others linen and blue and purple and scarlet; we shall do well if we offer skins and goats' hair. And yet the Apostle pronounces our more contemptible parts more necessary than others. Accordingly, the beauty of the tabernacle as a whole and in its several kinds (and the ornaments of the church present and future) was covered with skins and goats'-hair cloths, and the heat of the sun and the injurious rain were warded off by those things which are of less account."
 Augustine (c. 400 A.D.)  and Thomas Aquinas (13th cent.) accepted the other Apocryphal books as Holy Scripture:
"Jerome designates a fourth division of books, namely the apocrypha. Apocrypha is named from 'apo', which means 'very', and 'cryphon', which means obscure, because their teachings and authors are in doubt. But the catholic church has received these books in the category of holy scriptures, whose teachings are not in doubt, though its authors are; not because the authors of these books are unknown, but because these men were not of known authority. Hence the books have their power not from the authority of the authors, but rather from the reception of the church." 
(Thomas Aquinas, Principium Biblicum, Opera Omnia (Index Thomisticus), vol. 3, p. 647. Translation by Dr. Michael Woodward).

 The Western Church  
"In the Western Church, opinions among theologians varied on the extent of the canon and the status of the Apocrypha. Some followed Augustine while others followed Jerome. Cassiodorus, the sixth century Roman writer, statesman, and monk, related the opinion of both Augustine and Jerome without rendering a judgment as to which was correct.  But an examination of the historical record reveals that though some followed Augustine, and the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, the majority followed the judgment of Jerome."
(W. Webster, The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha Part 3: From Jerome to the Reformation)

Martin Luther was plainly influenced by the opinion of Jerome, who had translated the O.T. from the Hebrew and the N.T. from the Greek into Latin afresh, creating the Latin Vulgate. Jerome had also noted the lack of some books and portions of books (e.g. the extra chapters of Daniel in the Greek), and had put them aside as separate.

Martin Luther's Idea of "Canon"

But this was not all that was going on in the head of Martin Luther. He had also noticed the attitude toward certain canonical books expressed by Erasmus, the liberal humanist who had published the Greek New Testament and gave his own parallel Latin translation, corrected more closely to the Greek text.

Luther also wrote in Bondage of the Will:
"Though I could rightly reject this book [Ecclesiasticus], for the time being I accept it so as not to waste time by getting involved in a dispute about the books received in the Hebrew canon. For you poke more than a little sarcastic fun at this when you compare Proverbs and The Song of Solomon (which with a sneering innuendo you call the “Love Song”) with the two books of Esdras, Judith, the story of Susanna and the Dragon, and Esther (which despite their inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical).

(LW 33:110)
When we look again at this quote, we see that two actual canonical books are also being de-rated as "Apocryphal" by Erasmus, duly noted without objection by Luther, and used to bolster his own dismissal of Esther, also a canonical book accepted as Scripture by the Jewish canon.  
We see here then a total of three Canonical books, judged by Luther (and Erasmus) as not worthy of canonical status.

It should be noted that neither Erasmus nor Luther had any warrant from Jerome for doubting the status or canonicity of these particular books.  Jerome had noted that two canonical books had been variously classed (he does not give the basis for this) but these were the books of Ruth and Lamentations.  Nor had Jerome cast any doubt upon their canonicity, only their relative position in the three sub-classes, Torah, Prophets, Writings.

Erasmus and Luther were indeed up to something novel in regard to the canon.

Dave Armstrong explains this as follows:

"The example of Esther is thus seen as merely one example of many, of biblical books that Luther felt free to judge wholly based on his subjective opinion. This folly flows from his prior erroneous presupposition, as described by the respected Lutheran scholar and Luther expert Paul Althaus:
He thereby established the principle that the early church's formation and limitation of the canon is not exempt from re-examination . . . the canon is only a relative unity, just as it is only relatively closed. Therewith Luther has in principle abandoned every formal approach to the authority of the Bible. It is certainly understandable that Luther's prefaces were no longer printed in German Bibles.
One may characterize his attitude in this way: The canon itself was, as far as Luther was concerned, a piece of ecclesiastical tradition and therefore subject to criticism on the basis of God's word.

(The Theology of Martin Luther, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966, 85, 336)
(to be continued...)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Esther, Star of the OT: Part I: Martin Luther

Here is a great summary of Martin Luther's position given by Dave Armstrong (Did Martin Luther Deny the Canonicity of Esther?):

"Martin Luther's words will be in green.

* * * * *

There is a famous citation from Luther:

"The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe [river]"

Or are these really the words of Luther? Apparently this is indeed a misquote. The John Aurifaber version of Table-Talk, translated by William Hazlitt, available online, reads in its section XXIV: "The third book of Esdras I throw into the Elbe."

Mea culpa on behalf of all those (including yours truly) who have wrongly used this false citation in the past or present. Falsehood of any sort (whether inadvertent or not) does no one any good. Mine was an honest mistake. And as we shall see, scholars have done the same. it is one of those errors that got passed down through history.

This one erroneous citation doesn't mean, however, that Luther didn't denigrate and even deny the canonicity of the book of Esther (only this particular "proof" was -- by all appearances -- a botched citation at some point in the textual history; the question of who made the error will be further discussed below). For the very same section of Table-Talk also includes the following words from Luther:

I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities. The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains.

Even this quotation, however, gives support to the accuracy of the second mention of Esther above, as genuine ("Oh, how fond they are of the book of Esther, . . ." -- from LW, 47:156 -- cf. above: "The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets"). It gives a correlation to a statement of Luther that does quite arguably question the canonicity of Esther. Luther also wrote in Bondage of the Will:

[T]hough I could rightly reject this book [Ecclesiasticus], for the time being I accept it so as not to waste time by getting involved in a dispute about the books received in the Hebrew canon. For you poke more than a little sarcastic fun at this when you compare Proverbs and The Song of Solomon (which with a sneering innuendo you call the “Love Song”) with the two books of Esdras, Judith, the story of Susanna and the Dragon, and Esther (which despite their inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical).

(LW 33:110)

Here is a second rendering:
Though I might with justice repudiate this book [Ecclesiasticus], yet for the present I receive it, so as not to lose time by entangling myself in a dispute about books received into the Jewish canon. You are somewhat biting and derisive yourself about that canon, when you compare the Proverbs of Solomon and the Love-song (as with a sneering innuendo you term it) to the two books of Esdras and Judith, and the History of Susanna and of the Dragon, and the book of Esther (though they have this last in their canon; in my opinion, however, it is less worthy to be held canonical than any of these).

The Bondage of the Will, J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston translation, Grand Rapids: MI: Revell, 1957, Reprint October 1999, 143)
So now we have the evidence of Luther saying he is an "enemy" of Esther; wishing that it "had not come to us at all" and that it is "less worthy to be held canonical" than "Esdras and Judith, and the History of Susanna and of the Dragon": books universally regarded by Protestants as non-canonical. 

    - Dave Armstrong


Armstrong's article should be read in full.  It shows that it wasn't simply Counter-Reformation Roman Catholics who noted this problematic aspect of Martin Luther.  In fact Luther's opinion was most underlined and objected to by Protestant commentators and analysts.  (RCs mostly write for themselves, and hardly penetrate the awareness of the non-Catholic public).

The question now is, on what basis did Martin Luther reject the book of Esther, and what grounds, if any, does anyone have for questioning its authenticity, canonicity, and authority?

This is what we shall explore in the next few articles in this series on Esther: Star of the OT.


Monday, July 4, 2011

Zwingli was also a murderer

Zwingli and Zurich - 1523

Zwingli apparently worked out his doctrinal view independently of Luther.

Both Zwingli and Luther wanted reform by realignment with the Bible, and held that the church had no authority other than the Bible. But Zwingli was closer to Erasmus in his ideas of education and moral reform. Zwingli claimed the Bible could interpret itself in all important matters.  Like Erasmus, he insisted on appeal to the original languages and the assistance of knowledge of grammar, literary forms, dictionaries etc.

Zwingli and Luther parted ways over the interpretation of the Eucharist (the meaning of the bread-sharing ritual). Luther, although distancing himself from Roman Catholic doctrine on other things, continued to believe in the bodily presence of Jesus at the "mass", retaining its magical, almost superstitious content.
Luther was crudely literal: although rejecting medieval 'transubstantiation' as Aristotelian, he believed Christ was indeed 'present' in the Eucharist. He believed that Christ's words at the Last Supper must be interpreted literally: "this is my body" (Matt. 26:26). For if not, according to Luther, then the Bible could not be interpreted reliably.

Zwingli allowed other interpretations: He saw that the Bible was full of statements that superficially suggested one thing, but on closer inspection meant another. For him "this is my body" did not mean the bread was identical with Christ, rather it pointed to Christ's sacrifice, as a symbol, a remembrance.

The question was, did the Protestant position have the means to resolve the problem of Biblical interpretation?

If the Bible was the ultimate authority, who had the right to interpret it? Some rule or principle had to stand above the printed word itself (a paradox repugnant to simple Biblical authority).
Who would interpret the Bible for all? The Pope? An ecumenical council?
Zwingli's and Zurich's solution was the city council.
They decided first that the city was bound to be obedient to the "word of God". Now the council, duly elected representatives of Zurich's Christians, claimed the right of interpretation. Authority was transfered from Pope and bishops to elected representatives.
The danger of interpretation based on politics rather than its own merits was ignored by Zwingli.

Luther tolerated images and icons, while Zwingli held that the O.T. ban on images was binding on all Christians. In 1524 Zurich city banned all religious imagery, and iconoclastic riots spread throughout the region.

Inevitably power corrupts, and when confronted with a growing threat from more radical reformers, Zwingli got personally involved in their suppression and execution, including the 1527 public execution of Felix Manz, formerly an ally, but one who held there was no warrant for infant baptism.  Refusing to recant his views, he was tied up and drowned in the Limmat River .

Shortly afterward, internal threats to Zwingli's platform were rendered insignificant by external threats. The five Catholic cantons of Switzerland, alarmed at the rise of Protestantism, declared war on Zurich in Oct. 1531. The other Protestant cantons acted like cowards, or were frozen by divisions over doctrine, and in the unfortunate battle of Kappel, Zwingli was mortally wounded.

Zurich's experiment abruptly collapsed into confusion and obscurity.

Thus in the history, a correlation has apparently been maintained between stepping way over the line in terms of arrogant authority, and turning the Gospel inside out, persecuting others and approving of murder and torture, and ultimate humiliating downfall.

Luther was not in the Spirit of Christ when he ultimately denigrated the authority of Holy Scripture, and began to maliciously persecute the Jewish people, publishing nasty tracts and pamphlets, and contributing hugely in fanning the flames of bigotry, ignorance and anti-Semitism. Nor was Luther able ultimately to shake of Roman errors. Finally, Luther's philosophy of taking sin lightly, even embracing it so that grace and salvation might abound and be more certain, was directly opposed to Paul's real teaching in Romans.

Zwingli was not in the Spirit of Christ when he hounded and persecuted his theological opponents, right or wrong, and ended up murdering them. Nor was he right in the idea that a council could dictate the meaning of Holy Scripture for men. Nor was it right that a city council should impose death and torture on opponents and conscientious dissenters. Nor was Zwingli right in opposing the simple Baptist Felix Manz, and having him murdered.

Calvin was not in the Spirit of Christ when he too angrily pursued his opponent Servetus over the Trinity, and was instrumental in his being horribly burned alive. Nor was he teaching sound doctrine when he embraced a philosophy of predestination which ultimately turned the true Gospel upside down and made it a cartoon caricature of itself.

Each of these Religious leaders had some points, and may have started out sincerely enough, but each, through corrupting power and human arrogance went wildly astray, abandoning the simple Gospel of Christ.

None of these Religious leaders was guided by the Holy Spirit
, but instead they were guided by what Paul calls "the natural man", and were incapable of truly grasping the Spiritual truth of the simple Gospel.