This article is one of two that is to be published in the September 2016 issue of The Lutheran Clarion, published here with the permission of the LCA.
The book, Texts and Traditions: Essays in Honor of J. Keith Elliott (2014), a Festschrift coedited by Professor Dr. Jeffrey Kloha that honors Elliott, his former mentor, has a chapter by Kloha titled “Elizabeth’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46).” And in a more recent chapter, Listening to the Word of God: Exegetical Approaches (2016), he now says “Elizabeth may well have sung the Magnificat, not Mary” (p. 203). This recent change does not correct his former statement that clearly states Elizabeth sang the Magnificat. This is an insignificant change. It does not renounce the former title, nor does it repudiate the arguments he has previously made in support of the title. Both actions are necessary.
But is it realistic to think Kloha will publicly (in writing) make a renunciation and a repudiation? Would he be willing to shock Elliott, his former mentor, whose teaching, known as “thoroughgoing eclecticism,” he had fully accepted when he wrote that Elizabeth sang the Magnificat in 2014? Here it is important to remember that Kloha approvingly quotes Elliott’s argument that an exegete should “select freely from among the available fund of variants and choose the one that best fits the internal criteria” (Texts and Traditions, p. 200), an approach that ignores external textual evidence. Moreover, what about the numerous Festschrift volumes that are now on library shelves that contain the chapter’s title “Elizabeth’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46),” and the erroneous arguments made in support of this spurious title? Needless to say, that chapter with its title has escaped the proverbial Pandora’s box and cannot be retrieved.
Although Kloha in his most recent chapter in the book Listening to the Word of God (2016) now does not accent the term “plastic text,” as he did previously, he does, however, still say, “the Greek text is in a constant state of revision and indeed plasticity” (footnote, p. 181, emphasis added). Thus, in this footnote he is still clinging to his idea of a plastic text.
As already noted, Kloha operates with what he calls “thoroughgoing eclecticism” of Professor Elliott. David Alan Black in his book, New Testament Textual Criticism (1994), calls it “radical eclecticism” (p. 37). And Black states, “This view, held by a minority of British scholars, has been criticized for ignoring the value and importance of the external evidence, particularly the Greek manuscripts” (p. 37). The latter is what Kloha does in order for him to say Elizabeth sang the Magnificat. This type of literary criticism, of course, is highly subjective, for it ignores the historical veracity of the divinely inspired biblical text of Luke 1:46. Here the words of the Synod’s sainted William F. Arndt come to mind. He has stated, “Scholars of naturalistic tendencies, like Bultmann, who is followed by Hauck, believe that Mary did not speak these words . . .” (See Arndt’s Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to St. Luke (1956, p. 62). In short, confessional Lutheran exegetes do not say Elizabeth sang the Magnificat.
It is also helpful to note what Stephen Farris, the British theologian, says in his The Hymns of Luke’s Infancy Narratives: Their Origin, Meaning and Significance (1985). He states, “There are, therefore, no certain witnesses to the reading ‘Elizabeth said’ outside the Latin tradition . . . The external evidence, therefore, is almost entirely in favour of the reading “Mary said” (Ibid., 110, emphasis added). Kloha clearly ignores this scholar’s argument.
In Kloha’s Oberursel paper, “Text and Authority: Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on a Plastic Text” (2013), he states that II Timothy 3:16 “refers only to what we now call the Old Testament” (p. 9). This statement ignores what Luther, Chemnitz, Gerhard, and other Lutheran theologians have taught, namely, that Paul’s words in this text also apply to his epistles that he wrote before II Timothy, his last letter. Thus, πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος (all Scripture is God-breathed) does not only refer to the Old Testament, but also to Paul’s previous epistles and also to the extant Synoptic Gospels, as Johann Gerhard shows (See his On The Nature of Theology And On Scripture (2009:332)). Gerhard further states, “those books of the New Testament that were already extant when the apostle [Paul] wrote this are not less God-breathed than are the books of the Old Testament” (Ibid., 333).
In Kloha’s paper, “Text and Authority: Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on a Plastic Text” (presented at Oberursel, Germany, 2013), he says the church decides what biblical writings are canonical (p. 13). This is contrary to what Lutherans have taught, believed, and confessed, ever since the time of Chemnitz, who said, “The canonical Scripture has its eminent authority chiefly from this, that it is divinely inspired, 2 Tim. 3:16 . . .” (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I, 1971, p. 176). Chemnitz also stated, “the church by no means has this authority, for in the same way she could also either reject canonical books or declare spurious books canonical … the church does not have such power, that it can make true writings out of false, false out of true, out of doubtful and uncertain, certain, canonical, and legitimate, without any certain and firm proofs which, as we have said above, are required for this matter” (Ibid., 181). Chemnitz’s argument is also supported by the renowned, non-Lutheran scholar Bruce Metzger. In his book, The New Testament: Its Background, Growth, and Context (2003), he states, “neither individuals or councils created the canon; instead they came to recognize and acknowledge the self-authenticating quality of these writings, which imposed themselves as canonical upon the church” (p. 318). Thus, to say, as Kloha does, that the church decides what books are canonical is unmitigated Roman Catholic dogma, contrary to five centuries of Lutheran theology.
In Kloha’s paper, “The Authority of the Scriptures” (presented at Concordia Seminary’s symposia in 2010), he states, “I can live without a perfect Bible.” And three years later in his paper at Oberursel he says this is not problematic so long as the less-than-perfect Bible conveys the Gospel. Thus, he says, “The church heard the voice of the shepherd even though poorly copied, mistake-ridden manuscripts, because in spite of the mistakes, the Spirit still worked.” Or, as he says, so long as the Scriptures “preach Christ.” This is clearly echoing the erroneous hermeneutics of Gospel reductionism espoused by Seminex in the early 1970s.
And it also needs to be noted that although Kloha in his 2010 paper says the Scriptures are “the infallible Word of God,” he fails to tell us what he means by “infallible.” Does he mean they are infallible (inerrant) because they are ////God’s verbally inspired Words in light of the promise Jesus made to His disciples in John 14:25-26? In these two verses Jesus clearly stated, “These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Or does Kloha mean the Scriptures are only functionally infallible, meaning they accomplish God’s intended purposes apart from specifically inspired words? The latter was the position held by the Seminex adherents.
In Kloha’s most recent chapter in Listening to the Word of God (2016), he sees “the Scriptures as both divine and human.” And then he adds, “This has profound implications for how we view them” (p. 181). This view of Scripture echoes Zwingli’s alloeosis that he, for example, invoked to say Christ’s suffering and death referred only to his human nature. Luther denounced the alloeosis as the devil’s mask, for it denied Christ’s divine nature (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article VIII: 38-40). Similarly, C.F.W. Walther saw the divine-human concept of Scripture in the light of Zwingli’s alloeosis. Said he, “We must say the same about the so-called divine-human view of Scripture (‘Gottmenschlickeit der Schrift’) taught in modern theology.” And he warned, “Beware, beware, I say, of this divine-human Scripture. It is the devil’s mask, for it ultimately gives us a Bible that I would not want as a Bible Christian (Bibelchrist). Such a Bible is no better than any other good book that I may read and constantly have to examine so I might not be deceived by its errors. For if I believe that the Bible also contains errors, then it is no longer for me the touchstone . . . In brief, words cannot express what the devil seeks to do with
the concept of ‘divine-human Scripture’” (Lehre und Wehre, March 1886, 76-77, my translation).
Nota Bene: Do we in the LCMS want to go back to the days that preceded the Seminex faculty walkout in February 1974? For as George Santayana reportedly said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
A Solemn Observation: Kloha’s ideas or conjectures are not just a matter of scholarly difference-of-opinion. By his teaching and writings, he is influencing students who will become pastors in the LCMS. Some of them will go on to do graduate studies and become professors in Synod’s colleges and the seminaries. History shows that many students of a professor often carry his ideas to their logical conclusion, even when the professor himself has hesitated to do so, or that he does not seem to recognize the dire implications of his lectures. Many of Kloha’s arguments are clearly incompatible with the Scriptural position held and taught by confessional Lutheran professors and pastors.
Given that he personally says the Scriptures are “infallible” (a term he does not define) is irrelevant if his philosophy of textual criticism, “thoroughgoing eclecticism,” and his seeing the Bible as a divine-human book, makes the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture logically impossible and thus contradicts the longstanding commitment of the LCMS to the total truth of the Bible. (For this observation, I am largely indebted to Dr. John Warwick Montgomery.)
Alvin J. Schmidt, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Illinois College, Jacksonville, IL Author of How Christianity Changed the World (Zondervan, 2004)