Tag Archives: Francis Pieper

Lutheran Confessional Subscription

Francis Pieper wrote this about confessional subscription in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) of his day:

This same truth — that the Lutheran Church does not set up in its Symbols a second norm alongside of Scripture — is evidenced by its insistence on the quia form of subscription.   It binds its teachers to the doctrine contained in the Confessions not because it is the doctrine of the Confessions, but because it is the doctrine of Scripture. (Christian Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 354)

You’ll recall that quia is the Latin word for “because.”  We subscribe the Confessions because they are biblical, not insofar as (quatenus) they are biblical.

From this beautiful volume entitled Concordia: the Lutheran Confessions, we find that the LCMS still apparently holds to this position:

Needless to say, confessional subscription in the nature of the case is binding and unconditional.  A subscription with qualifications or reservations is a contradiction in terms and dishonest. (Concordia, xxix)

Now what strikes me is the sheer volume of the Lutheran confessional writings.  Concordia is a big book!  Lutheran pastors subscribe a lot more content than Reformed pastors do.

I raise that because sometimes it’s said (and I’ve said it too) that Presbyterians have to take a different approach to subscription of their confessions because they’re much more bulky and detailed.  You can’t expect a Presbyterian to hold to every single detail of the Westminster Standards.  So, we find things like “good faith” and “system” subscription.  I find it interesting that Concordia is probably ten times bigger than the Westminster Standards and yet the LCMS apparently holds to full, quia subscription.

Luther and Inerrancy

I’m continuing to read through the first volume of Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics.  His cavils against Calvinism can be frustrating at times, but there is a lot of worthwhile material here.  In the chapter on Scripture, he discusses Luther’s position on inerrancy.  It is interesting how inerrancy is often pegged as a fundamentalist concept, but here we have a confessional Lutheran holding to inerrancy whilst harbouring no sympathies for fundamentalism.  He notes that Luther and subsequent orthodox Lutherans did not hold to inerrancy as a conclusion to be reached (a posteriori), but as a presupposition (a priori).  Here’s what Pieper says:

…Luther has no thought of ascertaining the inerrancy of Scripture by human investigation (a posteriori), but before all investigation he is convinced that there can be no error in Scripture.

Luther maintains this throughout.  If there seems to be a conflict between Scripture and human science, he is firmly convinced from the outset that human science is in error and Scripture in the right.  Thus Luther says of the hexaemeron [six days of creation]:  “If you cannot understand how it could have been done in six days, then accord the Holy Ghost the honor that He is more erudite than you.  When you read the words of Holy Scripture, you must realize that God is speaking them.”  Luther maintains this also with regard to all chronological data in Scripture, and he thus places himself in direct opposition to all modern theology.  (281)


In connection with Gen. 11:11 Luther deals with the question how Arphaxad could have been born two years after the Flood.  He points out possible ways of harmonizing, but then adds that our faith is not endangered if the attempts at harmonizing have no assured result.  The reason why faith is not endangered is given in these words:  “For that is certain that the Scriptures do not lie.” (282)

That is the approach of faith and even a Calvinist can appreciate that.

How to Create Zeal for Good Works

“Luther: ‘The lawmonger compels by threats and punishments; the preacher of grace persuades and incites men by setting forth the goodness and mercy of God.’  Learn to preach the Gospel, and you have learned the art of making your people zealous for good works.”  F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (Vol. 1), 79

AxiomLex necat peccatorem, non peccatum; evangelium necat peccatum, non peccatorem.

The law destroys the sinner, not the sin.  The gospel destroys sin, not the sinner.

F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics (Vol. 1), 80.

The Categorical Distinction (Archetype/Ectype) in Lutheran Theology

I have written on the categorical distinction before.  Here I introduced Schilder’s thoughts on it.  Here you can find what S. G. De Graaf and F. M. Ten Hoor wrote on this subject.

The Lutheran theologian Francis Pieper discusses this as well in Volume 1 of his Christian Dogmatics.  This is how he introduces it:

Nothing must be injected into the corpus doctrinae [body of doctrine] of the Church which is not contained in Scripture.  And in order to accentuate this characteristic feature of the Christian doctrine, they have called objective theology theologia ektupos, ectypal, or derived, theology, that is, a reproduction, re-presentation, of the theologia archetupos, the archetypal, or original, theology, which is that knowledge of God and divine things originally found only in God, but which God has graciously communicated to man through His Word. (58)

It is interesting that Pieper locates archetypal theology in God’s Word, thereby making it accessible to human beings.

Against theologians like Bretschneider who argued that this terminology serves no purpose and is outmoded, Pieper insisted that this distinction is thoroughly scriptural.  Up till this point in his dogmatics, he has been adamant that nothing can be introduced into theology that does not come from the Word of God.  This is his big complaint about the Reformed: at key points they abandon Scripture for reason.  So, to be consistent, one would expect that Pieper would defend his formulation of the categorical distinction from Scripture.  And so he does, building on the work of older Lutheran theologians such as Rudelbach, Scherzer, Gerhard, and Quenstedt.

So, what kind of biblical evidence does Pieper marshall for the categorical distinction?  The starting place is Matthew 11:27, “All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father.  Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”  Things develop further from there:

  • Only God knows God; God dwells in a light which no man can approach unto (1 Tim. 6:16; 1 Cor. 2:10-11; John 1:18a; Matt. 11:27).
  • God stepped out of this unapproachable light and revealed himself to man, so that man can, in a measure, know God.  He reveals himself to man in the realm of nature and through his Word.  God’s self-revelation in nature (Rom. 1:19ff, 32; 2:14-15; Acts 14:17; 17:26-27) is the source of natural theology, of the natural knowledge of God. God’s revelation of himself in the Word (John 1:18b; 8:31-32; Eph. 2:20) is the source, and the only source, of Christian theology, of the saving knowledge of God.  Since man can know God only as he has revealed himself, and since he has revealed himself as the God of salvation in the Word, Christian theology must be ectypal; it cannot be anything else than an exact replica of the divine doctrine contained in Scripture. (58)

So, in Pieper’s theology, the distinction serves to draw theologians back to the source.  Our goal is to conform our theology to God’s.  Our aim is to bring our thoughts in line with the thoughts of God revealed in Scripture.  This seems to be somewhat of a different formulation than in many Reformed writers.  For instance, Scott Clark writes in Recovering the Reformed Confession, “So, in Reformed theology, archetypal theology s theology of the first order or original theology, and the revelation we have from God and our account of that revelation is theology of the second order or derivative” (143).  In other words, Clark (and other Reformed theologians would concur, I think) describes Scripture as being ectypal, whereas Pieper seems to say that it is archetypal.

I do not know if Pieper represents the consensus in confessional Lutheran theology on this point.  He has a footnote in which he quotes the post-Reformation Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard,

The archetypal, or prototypal, theology is in God the Creator, inasmuch as God knows himself in himself and knows the universe through himself by one immutable act of knowing.  Ectypal theology is the outgrowth of archetypal theology (a copy, so to say, of it), communicated to man through God’s grace. (59)

That sounds more like the Reformed formulation.  Scripture is part of ectypal theology.  However, he also has another footnote in which he quotes Scherzer:  “So far as it [the theology of the ‘pilgrims’] reproduces and expresses the archetype revealed to us in the Word, it is true theology” (59).  And that sounds more like Pieper.

The categorical distinction grows out of biblical soil and two related biblical convictions:  the creator/creature distinction, and the distinction between God hidden and God revealed (Deus absconditus/Deus revelatus).  I can see why Pieper formulated it the way he did, but I am inclined to think that the Reformed formulation does more justice to that last distinction, one which was key not only for Luther, but also for Calvin.  However one might formulate it, there can be no question (at least in my mind) that it is biblical to distinguish between the things of God that are hidden and those which are revealed (Deut. 29:29).  Recognizing that in theology keeps us humble.

New Acquisitions

Back in the mid-90s, there was a decent used book store on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton.  Alhambra Books had a fairly good selection of Christian books.  One time I was browsing there on my way home from university and another customer struck up a conversation with me.  We were both browsing through the Christian books and he caught on that I was of the more confessional ilk.  He said, “If you like good, solid biblical theology, you need to check out Francis Pieper.”  I’ve never forgotten that comment.

Flash forward nearly twenty years later and I was at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids on Saturday.  For those who’ve never been, this is one of the biggest Christian book stores in the world.  They have an enormous selection of used books.  There I found volume 1 of Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics for $10.  Nice deal.  I’ve been flipping through it — it does look rather enticing.  A prominent Missouri Synod Lutheran, Pieper has been called “the twentieth-century Luther.”   The only thing that bugs me about what I’ve seen so far is that Pieper blames a lot of the problems of modern theology on the Reformed.

Another book that I picked up was R. B. Kuiper‘s As To Being Reformed.  Kuiper (no relation to Abraham Kuyper) wrote this book in 1926 as an appeal to the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America regarding some trends that concerned him.  He wrote it after spending a short period as a RCA minister in Kalamazoo.  I hope to share some of Kuiper’s concerns in the days ahead.  In the late 1950s, he wrote a follow-up volume which was entitled, To Be or Not to Be Reformed.  I wonder what Kuiper would say today at the sight of what has become of the CRC.  My guess is he would say nothing, but everyone else around him would be saying, “Come on, R. B., come back to consciousness!”