Lutheran Clarion — Theological Problems in Some of Dr. Kloha’s Recent Publications

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.

Any typos are our fault in transcribing the text from a PDF file. If you notice errors in the below that aren’t in the original please contact us.



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.)

Prayerfully Submitted,
Alvin J. Schmidt, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Illinois College, Jacksonville, IL Author of How Christianity Changed the World (Zondervan, 2004)

About Norm Fisher

Norm was raised in the UCC in Connecticut, and like many fell away from the church after high school. With this background he saw it primarily as a service organization. On the miracle of his first child he came back to the church. On moving to Texas a few years later he found a home in Lutheranism when he was invited to a confessional church a half-hour away by our new neighbors.

He is one of those people who found a like mind in computers while in Middle School and has been programming ever since. He's responsible for many websites, including the Book of Concord,, and several other sites.

He has served the church in various positions, including financial secretary, sunday school teacher, elder, PTF board member, and choir member.

More of his work can be found at


Lutheran Clarion — Theological Problems in Some of Dr. Kloha’s Recent Publications — 17 Comments

  1. Dr. Schmidt makes some very disturbing and well referenced observations; much of what gave me the creeps about Dr. Kloha’s work, he has put into much better formal analysis. It will be interesting to see if anything is done about it, since as I read the discussions around the Convention, Dr. Kloha has been given a clean bill of theological health by the LCMS bureaucracy.

  2. >>given a clean bill of theological health

    It is one thing to say that favoring a vastly inferior textual tradition — actually with no Greek exemplars, so that the proposed Greek text has to be conjecturally reconstructed from manuscripts in translation, and those dating from the 9th century or later — which would have Elizabeth rather than Mary speaking the Magnificat does not in and of itself rise to the level of false doctrine per se.

    However, that does not preclude the objection that such an opinion represents very poor scholarship and questionable judgment, nor the issue of whether or not a man holding and defending such a position disqualifies himself on the basis of such poor scholarship and questionable judgment from being a professor of theology at one of our Synod’s institutions.

  3. This is one of the best articles I’ve seen THE LUTHERAN CLARION feature. Dr. Schmidt is to be commended, as par usual, for his well-researched and plain spoken correct stance. Once again, laymen and pastors alike are shown why we need to care about how Holy Scripture’s inerrancy is being taught in our synod’s colleges and seminaries.

  4. As a point of order, the digital version of the September Lutheran Clarion was emailed to digital subscribers on August 10th, and the snail mail version went out the door on August 22nd. You can subscribe to either version by emailing Ginny Valleau at [email protected].

  5. One argument has it that thanks to research and technology we have a far greater understanding of Scripture than they did in Luther’s day. If this is the case are the Lutheran Confessions undergoing textual scrutiny as well?

  6. @LW #7

    Do you have any objective data to substantiate the claim that “we have far greater understanding of Scripture than they did in Luther’s day”? From my various forays into textual criticism, I find that claim objectively false, since significant deviations in the texts account for less than 1% of the total, and none of them impact doctrine. On the other hand, textual criticism has contributed to shaking the faith of millions of Christians, as heretics of every stripe use it to convince people that the Scriptures they read are untrustworthy. To my observation, the cost-benefit analysis of textual criticism over the last 100 years or so has been exceptionally negative on the whole (i.e., it has provided far less benefit than it has brought harm.) Of course, lots of academics get to publish lots of books on the subject, and compel many students to buy them, so there’s no end to this crap’s over-emphasis.

    But yes, the Lutheran Confessions go through various strains of textual criticism, too, including comparisons of German and Latin copies. If you get your hands on an academic quality copy of them, you’ll see various notes describing those comparisons.

  7. @Brad #8

    I should have specified that I don’t agree with that argument, but it’s out there. Apparently the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament makes choosing the variant texts easily more arbitrary. I figure that if variants are chosen over texts the Lutheran confessors used in the confessions people may take the opportunity to claim the confessions are in error because they are based on an errant text.

    I hope you are right about the minimal amount of deviations.

  8. @LW #10

    There are scholars who can speak to the subject much better than I, but the textual variant question has been pretty settled for a long time. There are a handful of manuscripts of the NT which have more significant deviations, and they are pretty easy to regulate / adjudicate against the majority representations. As for the OT, the Masoretic Hebrew of the 9th/11th centuries AD comports very well with the text dug up at Qumran (the various Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from a couple hundred years BC), which aren’t really much different than the various copies of the Greek Septuagint we have from around the 2nd century BC. So really, the only significant tempest that heretics can take from the teapot, is to present minority readings of particular manuscripts, and foist them on everyone as if they should have equal standing with the rest… As if somehow the Church went through a complete multi-millenia brain fart until modernity set it straight. Balderdash.

    I’m not trying to say that no good has come of textual criticism… Only that it’s been pretty minor compared to the hay made by the liberal nuts who look for every excuse to undermine Scripture’s authority. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle, but really, there’s not much value to the pursuit as far as I can tell. A person is just as well off using a majority Greek text of the NT and a majority Hebrew or Greek OT text that’s cheap or even free in the public domain, than chasing the endless update manifestations of Nestle-Åland or the UBS which provide more wasted time and money than they do benefit.


  9. Dr. Schmidt’s article is excellent, and I thank him for his excellent work. I’ve become far more aware of the problems in the LCMS courtesy of Pastor Philip Hale’s book, “Confessing the Scriptural Christ against Modern Idolatry.” I would encourage everyone who loves God and loves His Word to read it. I doubt that this book or our efforts to shine the light of truth on the problems in the LCMS will change things in the right direction. However, Confessional Lutherans need to be aware of the snakes and scorpions among us so that we are aware of the dangers. In this way, with God’s help, we will not fall prey to their evil and lies.

    God continues to preserve His Word as He always has, and in spite of those who try to destroy the faith of those who put their trust in His Holy Inerrant Word, God will continue to be victorious.

  10. @Brad #11

    I agree with what you write.

    I am obviously not a scholar, let alone a biblical scholar. Biblical criticism is a confusing topic to me. As I understand it the question comes down to the inerrancy of Scripture. A changing Scripture implies an erring scripture. If the our church body accepts the notion of a changing scripture we are doomed to go down the road of those who place themselves above Scripture instead of under it.

    I was always taught that Christ and his word are a strong foundation, immovable and unchanging. They are like a rock. They’re not malleable like saran wrap. If we go along with the philosophy that the biblical text is not really set. If we can’t be sure that what has been handed down is what God really intended to give us, can we be sure of anything? Luther had great confidence in God and his word. That’s where I want to stand too.

  11. @LW #13

    LW, you can have great confidence in the Word of God, as it is the strong and eternal foundation for His people. Nothing uncovered or examined by textual critics overthrows this, and you are right to make your stand with Luther, the ancient Church Fathers, and the saints and martyrs of every age.

    While the constant publishing of new editions of critical texts can give the impression that the Scriptures are changing, that’s not really what’s happening. Rather, it’s the changing opinions and analyses of various scholars which are changing, not a little influenced by the “publish or die” culture of modern academia, and the monetary advantage of getting people to replace older editions of their text every few years. What we really have are a few major “families” of the sacred texts, handed down in particular geographical regions, and copied down with better and worse success in various places over time. Because we have so many copies to compare, it’s pretty easy to see where copyist errors occur from certain places and times. The broad swath of Scripture is absolutely rock solid, and the very few places that are a bit fuzzy when compared between various “families” don’t affect any points of doctrine.

    There are a few spurious texts (compared against hundreds, or even thousands of other, more reliable texts) that show serious deviations… and most of these few, we can tie to specific areas and times when certain heretical movements dominated that region. Some liberals like to take those few spurious texts and prop them up to undermine the trustworthiness of the whole, but to my mind, the attempt never passes muster. Think of having 1000 solid and consistent hand written copies of the US Constitution, and a couple weird copies you found buried in known Communist enclaves… which would you think are the more reliable? Similarly, no one should value a few hacked up old manuscripts likely butchered by Arians or Gnostics and unused by the main body of Christians for centuries, to unsettle the consensus of thousands of other traditional texts orthodox Christians have been using all along.

    Anyway, no reason to doubt the inerrancy and infallibility of Holy Scripture, particularly as it reveals everything necessary unto salvation in Jesus Christ. The Prophets and Apostles believed it was breathed out by God, and so have the faithful down through the centuries. No amount of modern academic kvetching can change that.

  12. I found this in Dr Kloha’s paper “A Textual Commentary on Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians” Where he explains what “thoroughgoing eclecticism” is. He also points out the subjective nature of the alternative “documentary” method. The textual critic has to determine using external evidence what manuscript is “best”. he says “The subjective nature of such criteria as ‘character’ and ‘weight’ calls into question how this evidence can actually be ‘external.'”

    In order to move beyond the limiting nature of a primarily documentary methodology, this project will use “thoroughgoing eclecticism’ to evaluate the text of 1 Corinthians. G. D. Kilpatrick summarizes the methodology in a few sentences:

    “No readings can be condemned categorically because they are characteristic of certain manuscripts or groups of manuscripts. We have to pursue a consistent eclecticism. Readings must be considered severally on their intrinsic character. Further, contrary to what Hort maintained, decisions about readings must precede decisions about the value or weight of manuscripts. By the time that we can appreciate the manuscripts all or nearly all our decisions about the readings will have to be made.”

    A documentary method, such as Zuntz used, relies on the comparison of manuscripts to each other. For this reason Zuntz compares all other witnesses to iY6, the earliest Greek manuscript of the Corpus Paulinum. Once similar manuscripts are grouped together, a loose stemma of groups can be created, which then allow the judgment of readings. Zuntz, of course, does not simply declare one group of witnesses the “best,” and accept its readings without question. But he does permit his conclusions regarding which witnesses are “better” to determine at least some readings, and reconstructs his history of the manuscript tradition on that basis. As a result, cp,46 B 1739 are generally given what we might call “the benefit of the doubt” when evaluating difficult textual problems.

    A thoroughgoing eclectic methodology forces one to evaluate every reading, regardless of its source. “External evidence” plays no role in the determination of the archetypical reading.” It precludes any prejudgement regarding which witnesses are “best.” Moreover, in evaluating every reading, one is able to compile lists of similar examples of a given type of alteration. In this way, it can be determined if a given witness is prone to making such alterations, and is therefore not to be relied on for that particular type of variation. In other words, rather than comparing manuscripts to each other, thoroughgoing eclecticism allows a manuscript to be compared to itself.

    Furthermore, the types of changes made in the witnesses should be compared to their contexts. While we know the provenance of only a handful witnesses,” we do know a great deal about the linguistic, theological, and ethical concerns of those who produced the earliest extant copies of the Corpus. As Ehrman has argued, at least some passages of the NT manuscripts have been altered in light of the christological controversies with which the scribes, presumably, would have been familiar.”

    Only after every meaningful place of variation has been analyzed may we develop a picture of the development of the text of 1 Corinthians in its earliest period of transmission. At that point, an assessment of the witnesses is possible. One conclusion of this study is that the witness of D F G and the Latin tradition has been misunderstood. Because these witnesses carry a unique form of the text, and many of their alterations fall into similar patterns, a lengthy concluding chapter on these witnesses is provided rather than repeating the arguments at each individual place of variation.

    It is only on the basis of these hundreds of places of variation that a coherent understanding of transmission of the text can be developed. As Zuntz says:

    “Every variant whose quality and origin has in this way been established must serve as a stone in the mosaic picture of the history of the tradition, for there is next to no other material from which it could be built up. At the same time the evaluation of individual readings depends to a large extent upon their place within this picture. This is another instance of that circle which is typical of the critical process; it is a fruitful and not a vicious circle. The critic may, indeed he must, aim at a comprehensive picture of the whole tradition: he reaches this goal by an untiring attention to detail.”

    However, once individual pieces of the mosaic are demonstrated to have been put in the wrong place, the picture begins to lose its focus. Some pieces may need to be removed and others added. The text of the epistles must be examined in its individual witnesses and their many places of variation. Only then may we create a sharper, or perhaps entirely new mosaic.

    –From Footnotes–

    “A classic definition of “external evidence” is given in B. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), pp. 11*-12*: First, the “Date and Character of the Witness,” including the assumption that “earlier manuscripts are more likely to be from those errors that arise from repeated copying,” as well as the “character of the text that it embodies” and “the degree of care taken by the copyist.” Second, the “geographical distribution” of witnesses. Third, the “genealogical relationship of texts and families.” And fourth, that witnesses are “weighed and not counted.” The subjective nature of such criteria as “character” and “weight” calls into question how this evidence can actually be “external.”
    Unless otherwise noted, citations from B. Metzger, Textual Commentary will be from the second edition (1994), not the first edition (1971). (Page 24-27)

  13. Dear Andrew,

    Thanks for this quote. It might be helpful in the future to use the italics functions of hypertext to set apart a quote from other uses of quotation marks. Dissertations typically quote extensively from sources, and often from sources that the dissertator disagrees with–that is the nature of this sort of research.

    Also you should be aware that highly technical fields such as textual criticism use common terms with technical definitions (aka “technical terms”). So you should help your reader when quoting by inserting a brackets sign giving the technical definition–or give the definition before offering the quote. I know that is a pain, but dissertations are not written for a general audience, only for the committee and scholars with specialties in that field.

    I see a few quotation marks that are not paired in your comment, so I don’t know if they are affecting a single word, an entire paragraph, or what. Thanks!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. I believe in LCMS infallibility, especially as arrived at by majority vote.

    Kinda like papal infallibility, only more inerrant.

    Keep throwing those stones!

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