The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Response to Donfried

I agree with almost all of Karl Donfried’s informative article, “Reading Paul (& Luther) today” (The Lutheran, September 2005, page 12). But at one point, perhaps the most important, he too easily dismisses “two readings of the apostle” he judges are “blatantly misguided” (page 15). Since I have advocated one of those readings, I’d have preferred a different choice of words, like “implausible” or “unconvincing,” to describe my views and those of a number of respected and respectable biblical scholars.

Donfried’s phrase implies that these views are either obviously or deliberately and unashamedly “misguided,” and either foolish or wrong. I am open to correction, but I wish to show that, if in the end Lutherans should come to believe these views are foolish or wrong, they are not “blatantly” so—certainly not deliberately and unashamedly “misguided” but also not obviously so. Quite to the contrary, I wish to sketch how these views support and strengthen core Lutheran theological themes.

The first “reading” Donfried dismisses is that “the death of Jesus isn’t essential for our justification” (page 15). I don’t know of any scholar who has given this reading of Paul’s theology. If someone has, I’d like to see how they came up with this reading, which would be so strongly against the grain of Paul’s letters as to make it implausible (though it may be plausible as a reading of the earliest layer of the Jesus traditions in the Gospels, e.g., in “Q”).

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