Lutheran Clarion — Why Dr. John Warwick Montgomery is Right

The Montgomery – Kloha debate is scheduled for Saturday, October 15th at Concordia University-Chicago in River Forest Illinois. This is another article in preparation for the debate and to bring a better understanding of the issues to the public. Be sure to watch our page (see the icon on the sidebar) for up to date information on the debate. Further announcements of livestreaming and other items of interest will be posted in the weeks leading up to the debate.


This article is the second 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.



In November 2013, a conference of confessional Lutherans from Europe, the Americas, and South Africa was held at Oberursel, Germany. Oberursel is where the seminary of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK, i.e., Selbständigen Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche) is located. Some of the papers and responses were given by the exegetical professors at our LCMS seminary in Saint Louis, including David L. Adams, James Voelz, Paul Raabe, Timothy Saleska, and Jeffrey Kloha. Dr. Kloha’s paper at Oberursel was later titled “Theological and Hermeneutical Reflections on the Ongoing Revisions of the Novum Testa-

Dr. Kloha’s paper became the center of controversy even before it was published. Lutheran blogs and papers accused Dr. Kloha of all sorts of things, including false doctrine. I made my own small contribution early on with a blog article on the Saint Louis seminary’s blog-site. 2 In that blog article I stated “Dr. Kloha raises issues that need to be addressed by the church. There are problems to be solved here, the solutions are not obvious, and they cannot be resolved overnight.” 3

Dr. John W. Montgomery joined this highly charged controversy with an article in summer 2015 titled “The Problem of a Plastic Text: the Kloha Essay on ‘Text and Authority.’” 4 I have enjoyed the writing and scholarship of Dr. Montgomery since I first encountered it in the mid 1970s while in college. I highly respect his work and his careful and reasoned approach to theological issues. When he speaks or writes, Lutherans should listen.

On the matter of the method and criteria for determining which textual variants 5 are authentic, Dr. Montgomery is right. Lutherans should always give first priority to external, objective criteria in making such judgments. The Lutheran pastor or theologian should not select poorly attested variants just because they seem to him to fit the literary context or style of the biblical author. 6 In other words, the subjective judgment of the text critic, of a theological faculty, or even the church-at-large, should not supersede the witness of the best ancient texts.

This all seems to be straightforward. How could any Bible -believing Protestant disagree with this approach? I think the problems have occurred because the Lutheran doctrine of the canonicity of Scripture seemed to Dr. Kloha to be an answer to the problems posed by 21st century textual criticism. But there is no consistent Lutheran doctrine of canonicity in the history of Lutheran theology. 7 Very few living Lutheran theologians, besides Dr. John W. Montgomery and Dr. David P. Scaer at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, are aware of this problem and might know how to solve it.

I became aware of the problem of the external and internal evidences for the divinity and canonicity of Scripture in seminary (ca. 1979-1982) when I read the essay by Dr. Montgomery titled “Lutheran Theology and the Defense of the Biblical Faith.” 8 I was kind of shocked that, as Dr. Montgomery pointed out, LCMS theologian J.T. Mueller (1887-1965)—one of the most conservative of the orthodox theologians of his generation—was against apologetics and the use of historical, external evidences to demonstrate the divinity of Scripture. Montgomery observed that the orthodox Lutheran theologians of the 16th to 18th century did use such external evidences, but he gave no explanation why J.T. Mueller did not. Further work on this matter for my M.Div. theses resulted in my conclusion that it was not J.T. Mueller, but Francis Pieper who had been responsible for the belittlement of the external evidences of the canon in orthodox Lutheran theology. Or at least Pieper had made that the position of the Missouri Synod through his seminary lectures and the publication of his dogmatics. 9 What does this mean for the current controversy? If it is true, as Pieper argued, that the chief evidence for the canonicity of a book of Scripture is the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit,” then it logically follows that the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” will also guide the believing text critic in a subjective manner to select those textual variants which are the most authentic. If this is Dr. Kloha’s position, which I cannot say for sure, he is simply following the religious epistemology that he was taught from Francis Pieper’s dogmatics by his conservative professors at Saint Louis. 10

Dr. John W. Montgomery has pointed out the error in J.T. Mueller’s position and thereby also by extension Francis Pieper’s and Adolf Hoenecke’s position. Is the Missouri Synod ready to consign these esteemed orthodox theologians to the dustbins of heterodoxy? I think not. I am not ready to do that. But as long as we accept Mueller, Pieper, and Hoenecke’s position on the canon and its external and internal evidences, students who study these dogmatics at seminary will continue to carry these ideas to their logical conclusion. If it is a choice between Dr. Montgomery on one side, and Mueller, Pieper, and Hoenecke on the other, I will have to vote for Dr. Montgomery, because he agrees in this matter with the majority of the greatest orthodox Lutheran dogmaticians 11 in our long and venerable history.

Rev. Dr. Martin R. Noland
Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, Evansville, Indiana



Endnotes —

1 In Achim Behrens and Jorg Christian Salzmann, eds., Listening to the Word of God: Exegetical Approaches (Göttingen: Edition Ruprecht, 2016), 169-206; see also the response to this essay in the same book by Vilson Scholz, pp. 207-210.

2 See Martin R. Noland, “A Response to Dr. Jeff Kloha’s ‘Text and Authority,’” December 12, 2013, available here.

3 Some folks who have followed this controversy may wonder how I could state about Dr. Kloha’s revised essay in Behrens and Salzmann (cited above, note 1) that ”I find nothing in it that is false doctrine” (“Noland Replies to Christian News,” Christian News 54 #19 (May 9, 2016): 3, col. 1) and at the same time disagree with some aspects of that essay or see such aspects as “problems.” That is because I agree with the LCMS about what constitutes a “doctrine.” In LCMS Constitution Article II, we define our “doctrine” as that which agrees with the Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. In the Brief Statement (1932), Article 44, the LCMS also stated what is not doctrine: “Those questions in the domain of Christian doctrine may be termed open questions which Scripture answers either not at all or not clearly.” Neither Scriptures nor the Lutheran Confessions answer the questions raised by textual variants, therefore we have no formal or official “doctrine” in the Lutheran church with regard to the matter of textual criticism. This is affirmed by the “Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” (1973, under “The Infallibility of Scripture”) which states “We recognize that there are apparent contradictions or discrepancies and problems which arise because of uncertainty over the original text.” BUT – even though we don’t have an official doctrine in the field of textual criticism, it therefore does not follow that every philosophical assumption, method, criteria, or statement made in that field is congruent with our doctrine of Scripture. My concern in the present article is the lack of such congruence, and I share that concern with Dr. Montgomery. For more on the LCMS approach to open questions and theological problems, see Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1 (St Louis: CPH, 1950), 93-102; and C.F.W. Walther, “On Syncretism,” “The False Arguments for the Modern Theory of Open Questions,” and “Theses on the Modern Theory of Open Questions,” in Church Fellowship, Walther’s Works (St. Louis: CPH, 2015), 81-143.

4 In Modern Reformation 24 #4 (July/August 2015): 29-35); see also Dr. Montgomery’s later contributions and letters: “Kloha Revised” Christian News 54 #1 (January 4, 2016), n.p.; and “Beyond the Plastic Text: The Plot Thickens” Christian News 54 # 8 (February 22, 2016).

5 “Textual variants” refers to words, phrases, or sentences that are not identical when one compares ancient manuscripts of the same language to each other. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 3:2, the NIV reads “We sent Timothy who is our brother and God’s fellow worker.” The last three words are not found in the same form in all manuscripts. Some ancient manuscripts instead have: “fellow worker”, “God’s servant”, “servant and God’s fellow worker,” or “God’s servant and fellow worker.” The NIV Concordia Self Study Bible (St Louis: CPH, 1984) indicates some of these variants in its footnotes, p. 1835. A list of the most significant variant readings of the Greek New Testament can be found here.

6 One qualification should be noted here, i.e., that if variants are equally attested in terms of external criteria, then the impasse in deciding which is the most likely original reading can be overcome by employing internal criteria, such as paleographic details, habits of scribes, literary context, or author’s style. The basic method and criteria for the evaluation of textual variants were described by Bruce Metzger in The Text of the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), 207-212.

7 For the best overview of the varied and sometimes conflicting positions of the orthodox Lutheran fathers on the canon, its external and internal evidences, and the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit,” see Robert Preus, The Inspiration of Scripture, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1957), 106-118.

8 In John W. Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1978), 129-153; originally published in English as “The Apologetic Thrust of Lutheran Theology,” in Lutheran Synod Quarterly 11 no. 1, special issue (Fall 1970): 16-39; available for free here; accessed July 29, 2016.

9 My M.Div. thesis was: Martin R. Noland, 1983, The Doctrine of the Testimonium Spiritus Sancti Internum as a Calvinistic Element in Lutheran Theology, M.Div. thesis, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. The relevant sections in Pieper are: Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: CPH, 1950), 4-5, 110-111, 308-309, 313-315. Since that time, I have found Pieper’s position also in the Wisconsin Synod’s dogmatician, Adolf Hoenecke in his Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics, vol. 1 (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2009), 505-506. Both Hoenecke and Pieper belittled the external evidences for the divinity and canonicity of Scripture on the basis of a distinction between fides humana and fides divina. I can’t find that distinction in C.F.W. Walther or the J. W. Baier (1647-95) dogmatics used by and edited by C.F.W. Walther. I think that Pieper and his orthodox peers developed that distinction through conversations or debates with the “mediating theologians” of the late 19th century like F. H. R. Franck (1827-94) of the Erlangen school of Lutheran theology; see Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, 1:110-129.

10 Dr. Kloha studied at the Saint Louis seminary from 1988-92, under such luminaries in the dogmatics department as Ronald Feuerhahn and Norman Nagel.

11 For a quick proof of Montgomery’s agreement with the orthodox fathers, see Johann Gerhard, On the Nature of Theology and Scripture, tr. Richard J. Dinda, Theological Commonplaces (St Louis: CPH, 2006), 68-69.

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