Dr. Becker’s Ever Shrinking Word of God

Dr. Matthew L. Becker[1] is known for teaching publicly that qualified women should be ordained as pastors.[2] Many wonder how he can reach this conclusion, since they believe God’s Word plainly says pastors should be qualified men. The explanation lies in his perspective on the Word.

When laypeople just don’t like something the Bible says, they casually cast it off. For an ordained theologian, there are restraints against casting it off as casually. For them, it takes a lot more work because they need to justify false teaching professionally and theologically.


Therefore Dr. Becker’s view of the Word is involved and tedious. Through a series of stages, some of which are orthodox and others of which are not, he gradually shrinks the Word of God until it is so small that it no longer has anything to say against women as pastors.

In this article we will take an overview Dr. Becker’s use of:

  • Jesus as the Word versus Scripture as the Word
  • Canonical disagreement
      • Pseudepigrapha (false writing)
      • Apocrypha (hidden writing)
      • Antilegomena (spoken against writing)
      • Homologoumena (agreed upon writing)

Two subsequent posts will further demonstrate Dr. Becker’s minimization of Scripture under the following headings:

  • Contains the Word; A witness to the Word
  • Canon within the canon
  • Gospel reductionism
  • Science
  • Culture
  • Provisionalist concept of truth

Jesus as the Word versus Scripture as the Word

To begin, Dr. Becker rightly points out that Jesus is the Word. On the single, glitteringly attractive premise that Jesus is the Word, he spins a false conflict between Jesus as the Word and Scripture as the Word. This is to give us a wary stance toward Scripture where we always are to question whether, by believing Scripture, we might be opposing Jesus, or in the alternative, that by misidentifying a text as part of Scripture, we are opposing Jesus. This is something of a defection from the Lutheran understanding of the means of grace. It heads in the direction of an immediate (without means) knowledge of Jesus by which we would test and qualify Scripture.

He says, quoting Luther twice and then Paul Althaus once:

If necessary, for the sake of the gospel, Christ and Scripture can even be pitted against each other.  “Scripture is to be understood, not against, but for Christ: either it must be referred to him, or else it must not be held to be true Scripture…  If my opponents have urged Scripture against Christ, we urge Christ against Scripture.” “You urge the slave, that is, Scripture—and only in parts…  I urge the Lord, who is King of Scripture.” “Thus if the text of Scripture is opposed to Luther’s gospel-centered interpretation of Scripture, his interpretation becomes gospel-centered criticism of Scripture…  Sacred Scripture is its own critic.”[3]

In the context where Luther said that, he had a reason. Luther was writing with a pointed pen for that reason, which Dr. Becker omits from his discussion. Dr. Becker spreads the ink of Luther’s statements with a roller brush, well beyond the use Luther was making of it.

Dr. Becker pits Jesus and Scripture against each other despite what Jesus himself says about Scripture. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” John 5:39 “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27 “Scripture cannot be broken.” John 10:35 Jesus sounds unaware of the supposed conflict between himself and Scripture.

As Dr. Jack D. Kilcrease said in an online discussion, “The larger point is that [Becker] doesn’t really believe fully in the implications of the incarnation. If God can fully communicate himself in Jesus, then He should have no trouble doing it in the words of a book!”[4]

Canonical Disagreement

In the early church, various writings were treated as new scripture. For some time, however, there was no general agreement. Different people drew up lists of writings they accepted as the canon of the New Testament. The lists varied.

For example, the church at Laodicea rejected the book of Revelation. That might not be so hard to understand considering what it says about them in 3:14-22. The difficulty is not as bad as some people make it.

Dr. Becker says:

The first person to identify the 27 writings that would eventually be included in most NT canons was Athanasius, whose 39th Festal Letter (written in ad 367) contains such a list. Nevertheless, that letter was not a formal decision. It merely indicates for those who read it which NT writings were in use among mainstream Christians in Egypt at that time.[5]

He says the first formal decision did not occur until the 16th century when the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent identified which writings are to be used in Roman churches.[6]

The Roman canon is coterminous with the Latin Vulgate translation, a list that contains some apocryphal writings. Apocrypha means “hidden.” Protestants are accustomed to hearing about 400 years of God’s silence between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of John the Baptist during which God never spoke by any prophet. The Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, include additional books written between 300 BC and 100 AD that were hidden in the sense that the Jews rejected them as scripture. The Council of Trent, however, accepted them.

The apocryphal books often are printed between the Old and New Testaments or after the New Testament. They include Judith, The Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach), Baruch, The Letter of Jeremiah, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Old Greek Esther, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Azariah, The Song of the Three Holy Children, The Prayer of Manasseh, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Maccabees (Ptolemaika), 4 Maccabees, Psalm 151.

The Reformed churches also established a canon, a list of 66 books familiar throughout Protestantism.

The Lutheran church never has drawn up a canonical list nor assented to anyone else’s canon. Dr. Becker notes: “The evangelical-Lutheran Confessions never identify the Bible per se as ‘the word of God.’”[7]

Books rejected from mainstream canonical lists are called pseudepigrapha, “false writings.” They are deemed false either as to who their author is purported to be, as to their content being irreconcilable with the mainstream canonical scriptures, or as not having been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Various pseudepigraphal writings are accepted as scripture, however, by various people. Among the more familiar of these are Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Paul, Shepherd of Heermas, Revelation of Peter, and Epistle of Barnabas.

In review, look at the trajectory toward shrinkage. At its widest, Scripture would be the writings Protestants usually think of, together with the Apocrypha and all of the pseudepigrapha. But because of flaws in the pseudepigrapha, some obvious, some more subtle, we reject those writings. That leaves us with the Reformed cannon of 66 books plus the Roman Apocrypha. But Protestants (not necessarily including Lutherans) reject the Apocrypha for reasons more or less the same as when the Jews rejected those writing. That brings us down to the 66 books of the Reformed canon that Americans and Canadians usually see.

Most of us have no great problem with that because we are used to it. But the trajectory does not stop there. Within the 66 books, there are still more problems.

It may come as a surprise or even a shock that within the 66 books of our familiar Bibles, there are some called antilegomena, “spoken against.” These are books that made the 66 book canonical list, but that still were spoken against by some from early times, and continue to be noted by many as having a lesser assurance of being Scripture. The antilegomena are: Hebrews, James, 2nd Peter, 2nd John, 3rd John, Jude, and Revelation.

Some NT documents that claim to be apostolic and authoritative remain within the antilegomena and thus they are always open to the possibility that they are non-apostolic, non-canonical.[8]

What that leaves is the homologoumena, the “agreed upon” books. These are: the 4 Gospels, Acts, the 13 letters of Paul, 1st Peter, and 1st John.

For the lay people, if this is making your head spin, I recommend the article, “Canon of the New Testament,” in the Lutheran Bible Companion, vol. 2, pp. 156-64 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014).

As to canonical disagreement, so far, Dr. Becker has said nothing that does not accord with orthodox Lutheran teaching. The problem is not what he has said this far, but the use he is making of these orthodox observations. He uses them to create a momentum of reduction. He deploys the observations to set a trajectory of shrinkage not just to either the 66 books or the agreed upon books, but a trajectory of perpetual shrinkage. His trajectory continues the shrinkage even in the agreed upon books. His review of the shrinkage up to this point is for the purpose of making us comfortable with shrinkage as a principle. After establishing comfort with shrinkage, he can leave the realm of orthodox observations to his own shrinkage of even the homologoumena – shrinkage of the agreed upon books – so that only parts of them remain normative or authoritative. While denying to the Church any authority to establish the canon, he will himself exercise an authority to apply new criteria of canonicity by which more and more of the Bible become rejected. He applies criteria such as Gospel reductionism, science, and culture.

He says: “The evangelical-Lutheran Confessions never identify the Bible per se as ‘the word of God.’”[9]

He says:

What is meant by the word “Scripture” here? It appears to be a reference to “the Bible.” Which “Bible?” Which biblical books? The Canon of Trent? Luther’s Bible, which included the Apocrypha (and which contained the antilegomena in the back on unnumbered pages and unlisted in the table of contents)? Or the typical Reformed Bible that omits the OT Apocrypha and makes no distinction between the homolegoumena and the antilegomena?[10]

He says:

No church or sect, neither the Roman one nor any other, is in a position to define the canon. For this reason, too, as is well known, the evangelical-Lutheran Confessions contain no article on the Bible or its authority. The Formula of Concord merely underscores that “the only rule and guiding principle according to which all teaching and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone” (FC Epitome, Preface, 1). The Formula does not identify those writings nor does it clarify their attributes or the nature of their authority. More helpful for understanding that authority is the use to which the Scriptures are put in Apology IV, to sharpen the distinction between the law and the gospel in service to faith in Christ. Only later did some Lutheran theologians seek to counter the development of an infallible teaching office in the Roman Church by developing specific attributes for Holy Scripture and by dwelling at length on what it means to say that Holy Scripture is “the inspired word of God.”

The church has no right to coin new doctrines, not even when they concern the authority of Holy Scripture. The church’s doctrinal authority resides solely in its responsibility to set forth the evangelical sense of the prophetic and apostolic words in Scripture. On occasion, too, Luther acknowledged that not everything in the Scriptures, not even everything that the apostles taught, is of binding and normative authority for contemporary Christians. That position, too, which is reflected in the twenty-eighth article of the Augsburg Confession, has surely contributed to further disagreements among latter-day Christians about what is and is not normative in the NT.[11]

He says:

Is there a single verse or set of verses in whichever Bible is being referenced here that makes reference to the contents of the Christian Bible as a whole? Is it not the case that the first person to refer to the writings of the Old Testament and the New Testament collectively as “the Bible” was Chrysostom, who lived in the fourth century? While the prophetic and apostolic writings certainly contain passages that refer to “the word of the LORD” and that make reference to “God-breathed” writings (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), can anyone be absolutely certain which writings are being referred to here? Or what the phrase “pasa graphe heopneustos” really means? Because of the presence of the OT Apocrypha and the NT antilegomena within most Lutheran Bibles, the application of the above two biblical passages to the entire Bible is problematic. At best 2 Tim. 3:16 refers to the Septuagint (which included the OT Apocrypha), but we cannot be certain of this. Because there are legitimate concerns about the canonical character of some OT and NT biblical writings, the traditional Protestant biblical canon as such cannot serve as the “rule and guiding principle” of Christian theology, nor is the totality of this canon “the pure, clear fountain of Israel” (FC SD, Preface, 3), as Martin Luther’s prefaces to the biblical books also make clear (see LW 35:235ff.). Not every biblical book or biblical passage is of equal canonical, theological weight.[12]

He says:

While the Lutheran Church has refrained from identifying an authoritative list of canonical writings, it has been concerned to maintain the ancient and venerable distinction between the homologoumena and antilegomena and to keep open the question about the margins of the canon. One cannot avoid the fact that the antilegomena within the NT itself cannot shirk questions about their apostolicity, antiquity, catholicity, and especially their orthodoxy. It was because of questions about the latter that Luther famously passed judgment on some antilegomena books in the OT Apocrypha and in the NT (especially James, but also Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation). To be sure he did not exclude these antilegomena from his edition of the Bible, but it is interesting to note that his 1522 edition of the NT did not list these writings in the table of contents and these books themselves were put in the very back of the book on unnumbered pages! He clearly did not want people focusing on these writings, which he, like the ancient biblical scholars, thought contained teaching that was at least inconsistent with authentic apostolic teaching, if not outright contradictory to the gospel.[13]

He says, “For Christians today, only the homologoumena writings in the NT serve as the principal source and norm of Christian teaching.”[14] With all the preparatory observations recounted above, he has conditioned his students to be ready to accept that overstatement. Academics may support that statement, but he said, “for Christians today,” not “for academics today.” Christians hear texts of the antilegomena in the One-Year Lectionary and the Three-Year Lectionary. They pray texts of the antilegomena in the liturgy. As to his claim of “today,” a notable example is the relatively new and highly popular “This is the Feast” stemming from the antilegomena Revelation 5:12-13, 19:5-9. Popular Bible verses that ordinary Christians can recite or closely paraphrase are antilegomena. For example, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” is the antilegomena 2 Peter 1:21.

Dr. Becker also fails to account for Luther’s own use of antilegomena at critical points. For example, when Luther realized that he was going to have to reform the canon of the Mass or the Reformation would be lost through corrupted, anti-evangelical liturgy, he gained the core insight of his reform from the antilegomena Hebrews. From various passages in Hebrews, he zeroed in on the paramount idea of his reform, that the Mass is a testament of forgiveness, a sacrament God gives to us, not a sacrifice we give to God.[15]



[1] Dr. Becker is on the roster of ordained clergy of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He is an impressively accomplished Professor at Valparaiso University. He has done fill-in or vacancy work in congregations, including teaching confirmands. He publicly teaches a variety of doctrines that are, to put it politely, at variance from those of the Synod. These teachings touch on the office of public ministry, creation, the order of creation, the fall, sin, Scripture, and I don’t know what all (but I keep reading more of it, and it’s voluminous). See of his writings, e.g., Curriculum Vitae of Dr. Matthew Becker (DOC format | PDF format). See, for example, Fundamental Theology: A Protestant Perspective (New York: T & T Clark, 2014); “The Scandal of the LCMS Mind” (revised), The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2010), 165-184. “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013) (also at Transverse Markings here, August 20, 2013) ; “A Case for Female Pastors and Theologians,” in The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2010), 126-140; “An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 1), Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, July 8, 2014; “An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 2), Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, July 8, 2014; “An Arbitrary Confessional Basis in the LCMS (Pt. 3),” Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, July 8, 2014; “A Letter from President Harrison to the CTCR,” Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, June 12, 2013; “Creationism and the Doctrine of Creation in the LCMS,” Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, May 14, 2013; “The Being of Adam, the New Adam, and the Ontology of Pastors,” Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, August 1, 2011; “Further Comments on the Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Ministry,” Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, June 18, 2011; “Concern over the Ordination of Women to the Pastoral Ministry in the LCMS,” Transverse Markings: One Theologian’s Notes, May 18, 2011. “For the Record,” The Daystar Journal, March 22, 2015. Also see, Matt Harrison, “Regarding a recent decision of a panel not to proceed with charges regarding a public false teacher in the LCMS,” Witness, Mercy, Life Together, January 26, 2015. “When a public teacher on the roster of Synod can without consequence publicly advocate the ordination of women (even participate vested in the installation of an ELCA clergy person), homosexuality, the errancy of the Bible, the historical-critical method, open communion, communion with the Reformed, evolution, and more, then the public confession of the Synod is meaningless. I am saying that if my Synod does not change its inability to call such a person to repentance and remove such a teacher where there is no repentance, then we are liars and our confession is meaningless. I do not want to belong to such a synod, much less lead it. I have no intention of walking away from my vocation. I shall rather use it and, by the grace of God, use all the energy I have to call this Synod to fidelity to correct this situation.” Scott Diekmann, “Rev. Dr. Matthew Becker: Nature Interprets Scripture,” Stand Firm, April 16, 2012. Larry Beane, Quid Est Veritas? Gottesdienst Online, March 23, 2015.

[2] See, e.g., Matthew Becker, “An Argument for Women Pastors and Theologians,” in The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2010), 126-140.

[3] Matthew Becker, “For the Record,” The Daystar Journal, March 22, 2015.

[4] Dr. Jack D. Kilcrease, comment in thread on Confessional Lutheran Fellowship, Facebook, April 8, 2015, 11:11 a.m. used from the closed group by permission of Dr. Kilcrease.

[5] Fundamental Theology , Kindle Locations 6467-6469).

[6] Fundamental Theology (Kindle Locations (6459-6461).

[7] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013) (also at Transverse Markings here, August 20, 2013).

[8] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 6639-6640).

[9] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013).

[10] Matthew Becker, “The Scandal of the LCMS Mind” (revised), The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2010), 165-184.

[11] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013) (also at Transverse Markings here, August 20, 2013).

[12] Matthew Becker, “Talking Points about Doctrinal Authority in the LCMS,” The Daystar Reader (Portland, Ore.: Daystar.net, 2013) (also at Transverse Markings here, August 20, 2013).

[13] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 6648-6656).

[14] Fundamental Theology, (Kindle Locations 6616-6617).

[15] Bryan Spinks, Luther’s Liturgical Criteria and His Reform of the Canon of the Mass. Bramcote, Notts.: Grove, 1982. p. 28.

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