Concordia: A Reader’s Edition (Review Article)

By Matthew Becker

Concordia: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, ed. Paul McCain et al. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005).

The editors of Concordia state in an appendix that their “text for the Book of Concord is not a new translation from the original German and Latin texts” (p. 680).  Rather, Concordia is merely “an updated version of the translation originally prepared” (ibid.) by Dr. W. H. T. Dau and Dr. F. Bente for the Concordia Triglotta (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921).  The only times the editors consulted the German and Latin originals were when they “could not see a clear method of updating Dau’s and Bente’s translation” (ibid.).  They then “referred to the German and Latin texts for help in providing a simpler, clearer text.”

This handsome volume is written in a pleasing font style and size.  It also contains some beautiful color plates, some handy charts of dates/events, and a few helpful annotations.  While the updating has greatly simplified the Dau/Bente translation, it has also created many new problems, as will be highlighted below.  Aside from its few benefits, there is not much to commend about this new edition of the Book of Concord.  In fact, Concordia contains many erroneous translations and editorial annotations.

The errors and weaknesses of Concordia fall into three main areas: (1) the textual basis for the “updated” translations in Concordia; (2) the editorial headings, notes, and additions; and (3) the actual paraphrases/translations. 

1) Problems with the Textual Basis of the Paraphrases/Translations in Concordia

The editors’ introduction implies that Concordia accurately reproduces and renders the Lutheran Confessions into English.  “Lutherans have used the Confessions of faith contained in this book for nearly five hundred years as their public witness and testimony of what the Bible teaches.  These Confessions give clear, unambiguous, and certain witness to the Christian faith” (Concordia, 9; cf. 17-18, where the editors clearly assert that their edition is identical to the Lutheran Confessions).  Unfortunately, Concordia does not accurately reproduce the original texts of the Lutheran Confessions.  The Dau/Bente edition, on which this new edition is based, was itself partly based on inferior texts, and is thus outdated.  The important copies that Dau and Bente used for their book, namely, versions of the German Book of Concord of 1580 and the Latin Book of Concord of 1584, do not necessarily contain the authoritative texts of the Lutheran Confessions.

In the case of the “Preface” to the Book of Concord, the authoritative text is that of the Dresden German edition of 1579/80, and yet Concordia (following Bente/Dau) follows the Latin of 1584.  (The translation at p. 33 is inaccurate.  “…und hernach beide, das lateinische und deutsche Exemplar allenthalben gleicher Meinung befunden” does not equate to “We are sure that our copies, both the Latin and the German, correspond to the original [Augsburg Confession] in all things, with like meaning” [33].  This is an exaggeration, to say the least, in light of the differences between the German and Latin textual traditions of the CA.  Cf. the more accurate translation in the best edition of the Book of Concord in English: The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. by Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, trans. by Charles Arand, Eric Gritsch, et al [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000].) 

In the case of the Augsburg Confession (CA), the authoritative texts are the ones read (German) and presented (Latin) to the emperor on June 25, 1530, as the Formula of Concord and the “Preface” (sec. 7-8, 16) to the Book of Concord make clear.  Dau/Bente followed the Latin almost entirely.  While it is true that the original texts of the CA have been lost or destroyed, there are now more than 55 copies that date from 1530 (only 39 copies were known at the time of the Dau/Bente project).  Even though there is much agreement among these copies, there is not perfect agreement.  Furthermore, as even Bente admits in his “Historical Introductions” (Concordia Triglotta, 21-22), the German copies of 1580 and the Latin copies of 1584 have been shown to contain changes to the CA that Melanchthon made after the official presentation.  (The Bekenntnisschriften des evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 11th ed. [Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998, hereafter abbreviated as BSLK] and the footnotes in Kolb/Wengert identify these important differences between the original CA and the German and Latin editions of the Book of Concord.)  Not even Melanchthon’s “Editio Princeps,” printed in 1531, whose Latin text was embodied in the 1584 “textus receptus” (the text used by Dau and Bente) is identical to the one delivered to the emperor in 1530.  In short, copies of the German Book of Concord of 1580 contain versions that are close to the original German, but different from all Latin versions.  The Latin versions of the Book of Concord (1584) contain versions of Melanchthon’s “Editio Princeps,” but these versions are different from the original Latin and all German versions.

Anyone who has studied both textual traditions of the CA knows that there are some rather significant differences in wording and content between them.  See, for example, the significant differences between the German and Latin versions of CA IX: it is one thing to say that Baptism “is necessary”; it is quite another to say that Baptism “is necessary for salvation.”  (The difference here helps to make clear that the necessity of Baptism is not absolute but ordinate.  Some contend that the difference in language here is similar to the later distinction between the idea that “good works are necessary” and “good works are necessary for salvation.”)  See also the differences between the Latin and German texts of CA V, XX, XXIII, XXIV (e.g., the German text does not include the sentence “No one is admitted to the Sacrament without first being examined,” a rather free paraphrase of the Latin, I might add), XXVII, and XXVIII (esp. par. 50-52 and 60). 

The Dau/Bente English translation covers over these important textual differences by mixing the two textual traditions into one, though generally following the less authoritative Latin tradition.  Concordia freely does this too.  Following Henry Jacobs’ project to translate the CA and the other confessions into American English, Dau’s and Bente’s efforts to create a single English version resulted in a kind of Diaduon, a melding of two textual traditions into one (similar to Tatian’s Diatessaron).  The resulting translation is misleading, since it occasionally distorts both textual traditions and creates a kind of tertium.  A paraphrase of this tertium, i.e., the English paraphrase of the CA in Concordia, is even further removed from the original texts!  (For just one example among many that could be cited, see how freely Concordia jumps back and forth between the Latin and the German texts of CA XXVIII.)

In the case of the Apology, the authoritative text is disputed.  Dau/Bente (following Jacobs) generally followed the Quarto Latin edition, the original text that Melanchthon published in April/May 1531, though they occasionally inserted material from Jonas’s German “paraphrase” (e.g., Apol. II, 44; IV, 2, 20, 37)  (A. C. Piepkorn considered the Quarto text to be the authoritative text as well: cf. his “Suggested Principles for a Hermeneutics of the Lutheran Symbols,” Concordia Theological Monthly 29 [January 1958], 9.)  But there are good reasons for holding the second edition, the so-called Octavo edition, as authoritative.  (See the discussion in Kolb/Wengert, 108-9.)  An examination of the footnotes in Kolb/Wengert indicate the many textual differences between the Quarto and Octavo editions.  (These footnotes alone make this most recent English edition of the Book of Concord much superior to the Dau/Bente edition on which Concordia is based.)  In any case, by creating one English translation from the Quarto and Jonas’s paraphrase, Dau/Bente and Concordia again created a kind of tertium.  Far better is the approach of Kolb/Wengert, which allows the reader to see which sections Melanchthon added to or omitted from the second edition.  (Several of these sections are very important theologically, e.g., after Apol. IV, 58; the expansion of Apol. IV 159-60; after Apol. IV, 179; reworking of Apol. IV, 227ff, 269ff, 356ff., omission of IV, 383-84, 386-93; Apol. X, 1ff; XII, 28ff, 148ff; and so on).

In the case of Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Authority and Primacy of the Pope, the authoritative text is the 1537 Latin, though the German translation is also cited in the Formula of Concord.  (As an example of a textual error in the copy of the Treatise used by the editors of Concordia, see Tr 66, the original of which reads “enemies of the gospel,” whereas Concordia has “enemies of the Church.”  See the note at BSLK, 10th ed., 491.)  Though Dietrich’s 1537 translation is generally faithful (Piepkorn: “substantially faithful”), the more authoritative text is the Latin.  In Concordia, however, one finds that the “updaters” have occasionally moved between these two textual traditions, instead of sticking with the Latin text.  As evidence for this, one notes the following sections wherein the German translation was used instead of the Latin original: 11 (“Paul makes ministers equal.  He also teaches that the Church is more than the ministers”), 49 (“the death penalty”), 66 (“to ordain their own ministers”), 67 (“This authority is a gift that in reality is given to the Church.  No human power…”), and 72 (“bishops are heretics”).  The impression one gets from reading at least the above sections in Concordia is that the editors, in navigating Dau/Bente and (at least on occasion) their copies of the 1580 and 1584 editions of the Book of Concord, merely picked which textual copy at a given point best suited their purposes.  There is no rhyme or reason given for jumping back and forth between the various German and Latin textual traditions.

In at least two places the editors of Concordia have included material that is neither in the original Confessional text nor in the editions of the Book of Concord that they used as resources for their edition.  Under the “Table of Duties” in Dr. Luther’s Small Catechism, the editors have included a section from a 1540 edition entitled “What the Hearers Owe to Their Pastors” (p. 372).  Naturally, there is not a problem with the content of this section, since it merely cites scriptural passages, but the fact remains that it was neither in the original text nor in any copy of the Book of Concord.  (For some unknown reason, the editors fail to include the other scripture references listed in this 1540 edition: Luke 10:7; Gal. 6:7; 1 Thess. 5:12-13.)  Likewise, in the same “Table of Duties” section, the editors have included “What Subjects Owe to the Rulers,” material that is neither in earlier editions of the Small Catechism nor in the Book of Concord.  (This material first appears in a 1542 edition of the Small Catechism.)

Following Dau/Bente, the editors have not included A Marriage Booklet for Simple Pastors, even though this pamphlet was included in editions of the Small Catechism already from 1529 and throughout Dr. Luther’s lifetime, as well as in at least one 1580 copy of the Book of Concord.  Even though some copies of the Book of Concord (1580) also include Dr. Luther’s Baptismal Booklet (in the second and subsequent editions of the Small Catechism), it too is absent from Concordia.

On occasion Dau/Bente include a section or phrase from the Latin edition of Dr. Luther’s Large Catechism, even though the authoritative text is the Jena edition:  See, for example, Ten Commandments, 36 and 46.  (In the latter section, both the Latin and German editions of the Book of Concord add a “not” that is not in the original German.  Kolb/Wengert is more accurate: “Just leave it to the devil and the world to deceive you with their appearance; it may last for a while, but in the end it is nothing at all.”  Concordia, following Dau/Bente, misunderstands the passage: “Just let not the devil and the world deceive you with their show which indeed remains for a time, but finally is nothing” [389]).

A felicitous inconsistency in Concordia is the inclusion of Dr. Luther’s “Exhortation to Confession” (p. 466ff.), which was not included in the Dau/Bente edition.  So the editors of Concordia cannot claim that they were merely updating the language of Dau/Bente in every instance.

The authoritative text of the Formula of Concord is that of Andreae’s final draft, as edited by him for publication in the Dresden German edition of 1579/80, and yet at several places the editors of Concordia have made a paraphrase from the Latin: Cf. FC Ep VI, 4; FC Ep. X (in numerous places in this section, apparently to try to bolster an unsupportable assumption in the editors’ introduction, namely, that the article has in view the German territorial churches and not individual congregations).

Finally, Concordia, following Dau/Bente, includes paraphrases of texts that are not integral parts of the Lutheran symbols: The Catalog of Testimonies and the Saxon Visitation Articles.  While the former is identified as having been included in some editions of the Book of Concord, the latter has no such introduction, and thus the novice reader has no idea of its tenuous place in the Book of Concord.

When Lutheran pastors, teachers, and church-workers make their public vows to teach in accordance with the Lutheran Confessions, they pledge themselves to the original, best texts contained in the best copies of the Book of Concord, not necessarily to the specific copies used by Dau and Bente and the editors of Concordia.  The best available scholarly means for identifying the original texts remains the Bekenntnisschriften der evang.-luth. Kirche (11th ed.), the resource used by our LCMS scholars when they recently participated in the new Kolb/Wengert edition.  LCMS pastors and teachers and other church workers certainly do not pledge to teach in accordance with the Dau/Bente translation or its paraphrase in Concordia.

(2) Problems in the Editorial Headings, Notes, and Additions in Concordia

 Perhaps in an effort to assist readers, the editors of Concordia have inserted headings and subheadings.  These additions, of course, are not original, though there is no clear indication of this fact in Concordia (aside from the title page, which indicates the editors have provided annotations).  Each of the articles in the CA, for example, has an editorial introduction, which is intended as a summary of the doctrinal content of that article, but at no point is the reader clearly informed that these introductions are merely editorial comments and thus not original to the CA.  The annotation entitled “Controversies and the Formula of Concord” (pp. 521-31) is in the same font size and style as the Formula of Concord and is printed between the Epitome and the Solid Declaration.  Thus the novice reader will not likely know that the material on pp. 521-31 is from the editors and not original to the Book of Concord.

Furthermore, several of the introductions and editorial notes contain material that is questionable at best, false doctrine at worst:

(a) The introduction to CA IV (cf. introduction to Apol IV, 108) states, “To justify means ‘to declare righteous’” (58).  The German, of course, states, “…wir Vergebung der Sunde bekommen und vor Gott gerecht werden aus Gnaden umb Christus willen durch den Glauben…” (“…we become righteous…”), stressing the gift of righteousness.  The Augustana did not intend a purely forensic doctrine of justification.  The images that are used here (German: “receive forgiveness of sins,” “become righteous,” “righteousness and eternal life are given”; Latin: “in gratiam recipi” [“received into grace”]) push one beyond a mere forensic understanding.  The editors have overstated a forensic understanding that is not necessarily supportable by the CA texts themselves.

(b) The introduction to CA V seems to present a clerical view of the Holy Ministry that many scholars in the LutheranChurch do not find in CA V (cf. the textual notes in BSLK, 10th ed., 58; Mauer’s Historical Commentary on the Augsburg Confession [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986], 354-66).  CA V stresses the active, gerundive means of grace (i.e., preaching the gospel and administrating the Sacraments according to the gospel), not the institutional nature of the “Predigtamt.”  “The emphasis in CA 5 falls entirely on the effect of preaching in creating faith [cf. Schwabach 7: the ‘office of preaching or oral word’]; there is no immediate basis for thinking about constitution and order here…” (Mauer, 355).  At no point does this article use the expressions, “the office of pastoral ministry,” “shepherds,” or “overseers,” which the editors use in their introduction.  “Predigtamt” may very well be more broadly understood than the narrow focus of this introduction on “the office of pastoral ministry,” as Mauer and other scholars have noted (cf. Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], 229ff).

(c) The introduction for CA VII is very misleading when it attempts to restate the teaching of CA VII as follows: “Outward unity in the Church is shaped, defined, and normed by biblical truth [teaching], not the other way around” (60).  This is not what CA VII states.  “For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree on the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments” (Cf. the Formula’s stress on “the doctrine of the Gospel and all its articles” or “the evangelical pattern of doctrine” or “the truth of the Gospel”).

(d) The introduction to CA XIV includes the sentences, “When this article speaks of a rightly ordered call, it refers to the Church’s historic practice of placing personally and theologically qualified men into the office of preaching and teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments.  This is done by means of a formal, public, and official call from the Church to do so” (64).  These sentences are ambiguous and potentially misleading.  First, in the history of western Christianity there have been multiple ways in which people receive God’s call to the “public” service (“office”) of preaching and administering the Sacraments.  Not every authoritative “minister” in the church, not even in the time after the apostles, received “a formal, public, and official call from the Church.”  And what does “official call from the Church” mean?  Why is “Church” capitalized?  This statement could be understood in a hierarchical, clerical sense, which is contrary to the theological thrusts of CA 5 and 28 (Cf. Mauer, 188ff).  Second, in the history of western and eastern Christianity the criteria for being “personally and theologically qualified” have varied (e.g., celibacy only of bishops [eastern] or celibacy of all priests; uneducated “prophets” [e.g., as in the Didache]; uneducated priests; even uneducated Lutheran pastors ordained in the time of Luther, etc.).  The not-so-subtle implication of this introduction is that “theologically qualified” means “seminary-trained,” and such a condition is a recent development in the history of the church.  This “introduction” to CA XIV also includes the sentence, “When this article was presented, it was understood that a call into the preaching office would be confirmed and formally recognized by means of the apostolic rite of ordination [with prayer and the laying on of hands]” (64-65).  The Lutheran Confessions never refer to “the apostolic rite of ordination,” nor do they ever attempt to define what that supposed “apostolic rite” entails. 

(e) Particularly disturbing are the frequent editorial “comments” interspersed throughout Apology IV.  Although they are set in a different font size, they are unnecessary intrusions into the text of the Apology.  For example, some of these comments (e.g., the one on p. 121) assert a narrow definition of justification as solely forensic.  While the Bible does indeed teach that “’to justify’ is to declare righteous” (121), the Bible and the Confessions also use other metaphors to describe justification (e.g., gratia gratum faciens, Apol. IV, 116; “reconciliation by which we are accepted by God,” “regeneration,” justification as “making alive” or justification as “making righteous,” Apol. IV, 151; “reborn by the gospel” or “reborn by faith,” Apol. IV, 247, etc.).  To speak of justification as solely forensic, and to do so in a book that purports to be an authoritative presentation of the Lutheran Confessions, is to distort the actual language and content of the Confessions.

(f) While the editions used as the basis for Concordia indeed treat “Love and the Fulfilling of the Law” (BSLK Apol. IV, 122ff) as a separate article, it is clear that this section and the next (“Reply to the Arguments of the Opponents”) are subsections of Apol. IV, as all other modern editions of the Book of Concord indicate.  Concordia will thus likely be confusing to the lay reader at this point if he/she should read any other modern edition of the Apology.  In addition, the paragraph sections will be numbered differently from the standard numbering system used in the previous two standard editions of the Book of Concord in English.

(g) The introduction to the Smalcald Articles (SA), following Bente’s extreme anti-Philippism, includes an unfair caricature of Philip Melanchthon (“Philip’s tendency to compromise, even at the cost of watering down essential doctrinal truths, would cause great problems after Luther’s death” [282]) and an unhistorical and thus inaccurate presentation of the Formula’s view toward Melanchthon’s theology and positions taken by some of the so-called Gnesio-Lutherans (“It should be noted as well that by 1577 the compromising doctrinal position of Philip Melanchthon and his followers had been thoroughly exposed and rejected”).  Not only is this latter statement inaccurate with respect to Melanchthon’s theology, it fails to note that some of the Gnesio-Lutheran positions were themselves also rejected by the Formula.  One could argue that the Formula itself represented a compromise between the competing parties on at least a few of the controverted theological topics (e.g., on good works, on the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature).  The same unfair characterization of Melanchthon’s theology repeatedly occurs in the editors’ introduction to the Formula (476ff; “There are tragic ironies in the history of the development of the Formula of Concord.  Greatest among these is the fact that Philip Melanchthon was most responsible for nearly destroying Lutheranism after the death of Luther.  Melanchthon tended to compromise and embrace what clearly was contrary to the Lutheran Reformation” [530]).  These unfair judgments have been refuted by Wengert’s and others’ studies of Melanchthon’s theology.  While certainly Melanchthon bears some responsibility for the problems that arose among Lutherans after the death of Luther, he cannot bear full or even “greatest” responsibility.

(h) The editors’ introduction to SA III, 10 (“Ordination and the Call”) includes the sentence, “Only men who have been judged capable of discharging the ministerial office should be ordained.  Even the practice of the early church demonstrates that pastors can, and should, ordain other men to be pastors, without bishops” (308).  SA III, 10 says nothing about the qualifications or sex of the ministerial candidates, nor does it say anything about “judging” such candidates.  While discerning and evaluating the qualifications for ministerial office is biblical and necessary, these concerns were certainly not Dr. Luther’s concerns in SA III, 10.  In their introduction to this article, the editors’ own contemporary concerns have taken central place.  (The same is true on p. 318, where the editors again write, “Placing men into the pastoral office through ordination is something the church can always do through its pastors.  The Gospel is what is at stake in these issues.”)  Luther’s concerns were only that the Church should not be deprived of ministers due to the insistence that all ministers be ordained by a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.  The modern debates about the gender of ministerial candidates is foreign to the confessional texts and ought not appear in the editors’ annotations.

(i) The editors’ introduction to SA III, 14 (“Monastic Vows”) ends by stating, “[Luther] asserts very plainly that monastic vows are, in fact, blasphemy against God” (309).  Dr. Luther says nothing of the sort here.  Rather he merely says, “Boasting that monastic vows are equal to Baptism is blasphemy” (SA III, 14, 3). 

(j) Even if the content of the editors’ note on p. 326 is accurate (and some might quibble with it, given Pelikan’s history of the papal and Marian dogmas in western catholicism), do critical comments about dogmatic developments in 19th– and 20th-Century Roman Catholicism really belong in an edition of the 16th-Century Book of Concord?  The editors’ comment here seems woefully inadequate as an attempted summary of the papal and Marian dogmas, especially in light of the decrees of Vatican II.  Furthermore, no attention is paid here to Melanchthon’s important signatory note at the end of the SA.

(k) In their introduction to Luther’s explanation to the Eighth Commandment, the editors state, “Communicating in ways that do not uphold our neighbor’s name and reputation break this commandment.  The greatest violators are false preachers who, by their false doctrine, speak ill of God and His name” (414).  At no point in his explanation does Dr. Luther ever express the thought of this last sentence.  Why would the editors write this, when Dr. Luther says nothing of the sort?  (Is not the Benke matter the real motivation for this sentence?)  In addition, over half of this same introduction is the following:  “If we are aware of something negative about our neighbor, but have no authority to act, we should remain silent and not speak of it.  However when the proper authorities call upon us to speak to the matter, we will do so honestly.  Also, if we are aware of something that requires the attention of public authorities, we will share it with them.  Luther clearly states that civil magistrates, pastors, and parents must act upon hearing of something requiring their attention.  Luther carefully distinguishes between secret sins and open, public sins.  Secret sins should not be made public.  However, when the error is open we have every right, even the duty, to speak publicly about it and to testify against the person involved.  Speaking publicly about another person’s public error or sin is not bearing false witness, nor is it a violation of Matthew 18” (414).  (Again, the Benke matter seems to be the focus behind the comments here.)  The editors’ introduction totally distorts what Dr. Luther states in his explanation to the Eighth Commandment.  In only one section (out of nearly fifty!) does Luther say, “Where the sin is so public that the judge and everyone else are aware of it, you can without sin shun and avoid those who have brought disgrace upon themselves, and you may also testify publicly against them.  For when something is exposed to the light of day, there can be no question of slander or injustice or false witness” (LC III, 284).  This one brief comment must be understood in the much larger context of Luther’s explanation.  This brief comment, almost an aside, is not a major premise in Luther’s explanation, as the editors’ introduction would seem to indicate.  Rather, Luther is talking about public sinners, e.g., murderers, adulterers, and the public errors in the published books and writings of the pope.  Elsewhere in his explanation Luther states very clearly: “Every report, then, that cannot be adequately proved is false witness.  Therefore, no one should publicly assert as truth what is not publicly substantiated” (271-2).  In addition, he writes, “To avoid this vice, therefore, we should note that none has the right to judge and reprove a neighbor publicly, even after having seen a sin committed, unless authorized to judge and reprove… God forbids you to speak evil about another, even though, to your certain knowledge, that person is guilty” (265-269; cf. Luther’s additional admonitions which are meant to save each person’s dignity: 270ff; and his comments about Matthew 18 in 276ff).  Luther’s explanation here is totally oriented to avoiding the sins that often result from those who follow the counsel given here by the editors of Concordia.  In order to keep the spirit and letter of Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18:15-16, as summarized correctly by Dr. Luther, even if one thinks a fellow Christian has committed a so-called “public sin,” one still has the responsibility to seek out that person in a private manner and pursue conversation (on-going and extended conversation, if necessary) in order to set the matter straight.  Just because someone thinks a fellow Christian has committed a sin that is public is no condition for publicly testifying, speaking, or writing against him or her, according to the Large Catechism.  Untold harm and sin has occurred because some zealous Christian has been convinced a fellow brother or sister has sinned “publicly” and, on the basis of that conviction alone, has proceeded to slander the brother or sister publicly, even though the brother or sister has not committed a public sin.  Clearly, such “slandering” does little “to gain the brother,” if in fact he needs to be “gained.”  Much more helpful than the editors’ introduction here is Fritz’s comment about this one, brief aside on “public sins” by Luther: “Speaking to the individual by way of Christian admonition is the first step necessary for the introduction of church discipline in its fullest extent in accordance with the express command of Christ, Matthew 18” (John Fritz, Pastoral Theology 2d ed. [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1945], 231).  “Let this, then, be your rule, that you do not too readily spread evil concerning your neighbor and slander him to others, but admonish him privately that he may amend his sinful life. Likewise, also, if someone report to you what this or that one has done, teach him, too, to go and admonish him personally if he has seen it himself; but if not, that he hold his tongue… But if we gossip about another in all corners and merely stir up the filth, no one will be reformed, and afterwards when we are to stand up and bear witness, we deny having said so. Therefore it would serve such tongues right if their itch for slander were severely punished as a warning to others” (Fritz, 229-230).  This kind of counsel, the primary concern of Dr. Luther in his explanation, is missing in the editors’ introduction to Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment.

(l) The editors’ introduction to the Formula of Concord (FC) states, “What is the sole source of doctrine in the Church?  The Bible, and the Bible alone” (491).  In the same introduction one finds the similar statement, “…the Bible alone is the source and norm of doctrine.”  At no point in the Lutheran Confessions, let alone in the Formula, do the confessors say that the Bible is the “sole source” of doctrine.  In the Formula, the first line of the preface is, “We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and norm [Regel et Richtschnur; regula et norma] according to which all teachings and teachers are to be evaluated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments alone…” (FC, Ep, intro., 1).  Holy Scripture “remains the only judge, rule, and norm” [Richter, Regel, und Richtschnur; judex, norma et regula] (FC, Ep., preface, 7).  (The editors of Concordia mistranslate FC SD, preface: “In ancient times the true Christian doctrine, in a pure, sound sense, was collected from God’s Word into brief articles or chapters…”  The German here is better translated: “the true Christian teaching as it was correctly and soundly understood was summarized on the basis of God’s Word in short articles…”)  While many dogmaticians in the century after the Reformers expanded the scriptural principle to stress that Holy Scripture is the sole source of theological knowledge (cf., e.g., Quensted, Theologia Didactico-Polemica [1685], 1:32-38), the Confessions, let alone the Scriptures themselves, make no such claim.  In fact, the Scriptures teach otherwise, since there is a certain natural knowledge of God that is revealed through the creation itself apart from Holy Scripture: Romans 1:19-21; 2:14-16; John 1:4, 9; Acts 17:24-31.  Contrary to Scripture, the editors’ introduction in Concordia (491) reduces the possibilities of a natural knowledge of God to zero.  Scripture teaches that God’s eternal power is comprehensible by all human beings, so that all people are without an excuse before God.   The being and attributes of God thus can be inwardly perceived by human beings apart from Scripture.  This “natural” knowledge ought to lead all people to recognize that they are creatures of God and that creation is not God.  Furthermore, God reveals, and continues to reveal, to all human beings knowledge of his law and knowledge of his wrath against sin, apart from Holy Scripture, e.g., in the conscience (cf. Rom. 2:15).  While certainly the clearest and surest, most promising knowledge of God is given in the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, this other knowledge, given outside of the Bible, is also true knowledge of God, though not saving knowledge which only comes from the gospel (cf. LC, The Creed, 66).

(m) Nearly half of the introduction to FC II is the following:  “In addition to discussing free will, this article emphasizes the care we are to take when explaining biblical truths.  We should stick to the pattern of sound doctrine and refrain from introducing novel ways of speaking about Bible teachings.  We should use the very words and phrases used in the Lutheran Confessions to explain the Bible.  It is very unwise to take time-tested words explaining one thing and use them to explain another.  This only leads to confusion and error” (495).  FC II (Ep and SD) makes no such claims as those in the above statement.  Perhaps the editors are referring to FC Ep. II, 16, where the confessors reject cases where the expressions of ancient and modern teachers of the Church are used without explanation, but at no point does FC II “emphasize” that one should “refrain from introducing novel ways of speaking about Bible teachings” or that one should only “use the very words and phrases used in the Lutheran Confessions to explain the Bible.”  This is a repristinating view that is foreign to FC II and to the Lutheran Confessions.  (Cf. FC SD, preface, 10, which judges a book, not by its language or phraseology, but by its agreement or disagreement with an evangelical pattern of doctrine [Fuerbild der Lehre] or an evangelical form of doctrine [Form der Lehre].)

(n) In the introduction to “The Antinomian Controversy” (521-22), one finds the following: “From the standpoint of forgiveness and justification in Christ, believers can encounter God’s Law, yet not regard it as a threat.  Instead, under the renewing of the Holy Spirit they recognize in God’s unchangeable will the way they freely and spontaneously want to live.  It is not possible for a person to deny the third use of the Law and be regarded as genuinely Lutheran” (522).  This section is false in one place and misleading in another.  In the first place, FC VI (Ep. and SD) never states that “from the standpoint of forgiveness and justification in Christ, believers can encounter God’s Law, yet not regard it as a threat,” as if the Law could ever be purely informative for the life of the Christian.  Throughout the Confessions, including FC VI, one rather is reminded that the Law always accuses, even in the life of the Christian, since “the old Adam clings to them down to the grave” (FC SD VI, 18; cf. the numerous places in Apology IV where Melanchthon stresses that the “law always accuses”).  “Therefore, they indeed desire to perform the law of God according to their inner person, but the law in their members struggles against the law of their mind.  To this extent they are never without the law…”  Because the law “demands total, perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God” and because believers must “constantly do battle against the old creature,” the law is always a threat for Christian believers; it is constantly accusing them before God’s just judgment.  While the law does inform the life of the Christian, insofar as he/she remains a sinful creature until death, the law informs under or within the two main “uses” of the law.  “For the old creature, like a stubborn, recalcitrant donkey, is also still a part of [the regenerate], and it needs to be forced into obedience to Christ not only through the law’s teaching, admonition, compulsion, and threat but also often with the cudgel of punishment and tribulations until the sinful flesh is completely stripped away and people are perfectly renewed in the resurrection” (FC SD X, 24).  At no point do the Confessions ever assert that “believers can encounter God’s Law, yet not regard it as a threat.”  Precisely by not regarding God’s law as a threat do Christians fall under the sinful delusion that they are God-pleasing in their supposed obedience to the Law and not because of the righteousness of Christ alone.  The editors’ introduction is misleading by asserting that “it is not possible for a person to deny the third use of the law and be regarded as genuinely Lutheran.”  If this assertion were actually true, then Dr. Luther himself could not be regarded as “genuinely Lutheran,” since he did not teach a “tertium usum legis.”  Those who simply cite Luther’s explanations to the Ten Commandments as evidence that he did teach such a “third use” do not recognize the inescapable dialectic in the two uses that Luther stressed.  Luther’s study of Paul and Luther’s reflection on his own Christian existence led him to the conclusion that there are primarily two “uses” of the law, a political-social use and a theological use.  (Luther did not always employ the word “use” to talk about the effects and workings of the law, though in the history of Christian doctrine he is the first to coin the expression, “uses of the law.”  While he did use the expression “three-fold use of the law” [triplex usus legis] in only one place in his writings, both Elert and Ebeling argue convincingly that for Luther even this “third use” merely reverts to the first two uses for the Christian.  Truly un-Lutheran is the false notion that believers might encounter God’s law without fear of threat, since believers remain sinful creatures unto death.

Particularly troubling are the numerous Scriptural references that the editors have freely inserted into the confessional texts: e.g., pp. 29-37, 53, 57,58-61, 63-64, 66, 69, 72, 76, 87, 118, 295, 300, 305, 309, 324, 327-28, 330, 379-80, 385-86, 388-89, 391-96, etc.)  These editorial additions to the confessional texts are troubling for several reasons.  First, the editors have simply inserted into the confessions scriptural references that the original authors may or may not have had in mind.  Such additions are willful tampering with the original texts.  To add Scripture references to the Confessional texts is to change those texts.   If the confessors had wanted to cite a Scripture passage to support their claim, they would have done so—as they do in many places.  Second, and more importantly, many readers of Concordia will assume that said Scripture references are original to the confessional texts and thus mean what Concordia says or implies they mean.  In other words, by linking Scripture references to the Confessional texts, the editors of Concordia have forced their edition of the Confessions to interpret the meaning and/or implications of these Scriptural passages.  How easy it will be for someone now to cite a scriptural reference in Concordia and (wrongly) conclude, “Oh, this is how the Confessions understand this Scriptural passage.”

3) Problems with Actual Translations/Paraphrases

 While the “updaters” who produced Concordia generally did an adequate job of re-phrasing the Dau/Bente translation, they obscured the original sense at many points.  On every page the editors have attempted to convert dependent/subordinate clauses into main/independent clauses, something Dau/Bente did not generally do.  The net effect of this frequent practice is to conceal important nuances and emphases in the original texts.  (Another result is a very wooden and simplistic translation.)  While undoubtedly the editors did this to simplify the sentence structures in the Confessions (and such simplifying is often necessary when working with the complex syntactical structures in Latin and German), they often oversimplified.  One example will suffice, from FC Ep X, 3:  “For settling this controversy, we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that some ceremonies or Church practices are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but have been introduced only for the sake of fitting and good order.  Such rites are not in and of themselves divine worship.  They are not even part of it” (Concordia, 514).  A more accurate translation is found in Kolb/Wengert: “To settle this dispute, we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that ceremonies or ecclesiastical practices that are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word, but have been established only for good order and decorum, are in and of themselves neither worship ordained by God nor a part of such worship” (Kolb/Wengert, 515).  (I’ll refrain from analyzing the subtle assumption of Concordia’s paraphrase here, namely, that other ceremonies, rites, and Church practices are commanded in God’s Word and are thus part of divine worship, even though this idea is not a thrust in FC X, which is about the truth of the gospel and Christian freedom. Cf. the same mistranslation at FC SD X, 1, p. 626)

To see additional simplifying on the part of Concordia’s editors, all one needs to do is to compare any page in Kolb/Wengert with any page in Concordia.  This simplifying also leads to some strange paragraph breaks, which are different from Dau/Bente, not to mention the Bekenntnisschriften themselves.

A strength of the Kolb/Wengert edition is its use of inclusive language, where the German and Latin texts allow for such use.  Such a strength, however, is totally missing in Concordia.  This supposed “modern” updating of Dau/Bente sticks with male-centered language throughout, even when the German and Latin would allow for a more inclusive translation (e.g., Mensch, homo).  The use of such non-inclusive language does not help to make the confessional texts understandable to a contemporary American audience.

Despite their avowed goal of merely “updating” the Dau/Bente translation, the editors of Concordia have occasionally attempted a new translation or paraphrase of their own or have neglected to correct the errors of translation in Dau/Bente.  Here are a few examples of mistranslation I have detected through a fairly cursory reading of Concordia:

(a) CA, Preface: “and do everything according to God’s truth” (53) [Concordia mixes the German and Latin texts together in this paragraph, as it does in several other places]

(b) CA XIII:  “Our churches teach that the Sacraments were ordained.”  Elsewhere Concordia translates “eingesetzen” as “institute.”  Why not here?  The Latin is “instituta sint.”  “Ordained” (“to enact by law, to decree, to select or appoint to office”) is not the same as “instituted” (“to establish, to set up, to initiate, to set in operation”).

(c) CA XXVIII, 5: “commandment” (84) is not an accurate translation of “Befehl” (“mandate,” “order,” “instruction”), especially in the context of the Lutheran Confessions where the evangelical concern to distinguish the law (“commandment”) from the gospel is preeminent.

(d) CA XXVIII, 66: Concordia (88) omits the important qualifying phrase “for a time,” i.e., “The apostles forbade the eating of blood for a time (Ger. “Zeitlang”; Lat. “ad tempus”) to avoid offense.”  Clearly, the implication of this confessional statement (“for a time”) is that at least some of the apostolic mandates were temporary.

(e) CA XXVIII, 67: “canon laws” (88) is a narrow interpretation of “ancient canons” (Ger.) and “the canons” (Lat.), especially when Melanchthon has just been talking about apostolic mandates (e.g., observance of Sunday, eating blood), which may also be included in “ancient canons” or “human traditions.”

(f) Apol. IV, 5: Concordia, following Bente/Dau, needlessly mixes Jonas’s paraphrase into the Latin original and thus implies that the law is only communicated in the Old Testament and the gospel only in the New.

(g) Apol. V (III), 7-8 [Actually Apol. IV, 129]: “igitur” (“therefore”) is left untranslated.

(h) Treatise 11 is translated as: “Paul makes ministers equal.  He also teaches that the Church is more than the ministers.”  As noted above, the editors have switched from the authoritative Latin to the German, for no apparent reason.  Even Dau/Bente continue to follow the Latin at this point.  Why this switch to the German?  Furthermore, one could argue that the Dietrich paraphrase here does not accurately reflect the meaning of the Latin original.  In this context, “mehr dann” (“more than”) is not quite the same as “supra” (“above,” “over”).  The hermeneutical rule that ought to be followed is: the sense of the translation must be determined by the sense of the original, not the other way around (as in Concordia).  Thus, Kolb/Wengert fairly accurately translate the sentence, “…Paul regards all ministers as equals and teaches that the church is superior to its ministers…”  Even Dau/Bente translate this as “the church is above [its] ministers.”

(i) The “hominibus” (“to human beings”; cf. Greek “Anthropois”) in Eph. 4:8 is needlessly translated as “to men” at Tr. 67 (p. 330).  The Lord gifts female teachers and church workers, just as he does male ones, for service in the church, as numerous Pauline and other apostolic texts indicate.  (Even in the 16th Century there were evangelical deaconesses!)

(j) “by having their pastors do it” is a very free and tenuous translation of “adhibitus suis pastoribus” (Tr 72, p. 330).  [Dau/Bente, like Kolb/Wengert, simply translate this sentence as “the churches are in duty bound before God, according to divine law, to ordain for themselves pastors and ministers.”

(k) “these men” (Tr 79, p. 331) is not in the Latin or the German texts.

(l) Large Catechism, The Ten Commandments, 172: “civil and spiritual government,” not “civil and Church leadership.”

(m) LC, The Ten Commandments, 179: To translate “you shall not kill” as “you shall not murder” is to paraphrase the commandment too narrowly.  If Dr. Luther had wanted to say, “You shall not murder,” he would have written, “Du sollst nicht morden.”  That is not what Dr. Luther wrote.  The same error in translation occurs at sec. 188.  Even Dau/Bente translate this as “You shall not kill.”

(n) LC, The Creed, sec. 66 is translated as: “Even if we were to concede that everyone outside Christianity –whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites – believe in and worship only one true God . . .”  Neither the German nor the Latin originals support this paraphrase.  At the crucial point the German reads: “ob sie gleich nur einen wahrhaftigen Gott glaeuben und anbeten…”  The Latin reads: “quamquam unum tantum et verum Deum esse credant et invocent…”  The German use of “ob…gleich” is obsolete.  In that 16th-century setting, “ob…gleich” only means “although” or “even though.” (In contemporary German “obgleich” has replaced the obsolete construction.  It, too, always means “although” or “even though.”)  Thus, a more accurate translation of LC, Creed, 66 is: “…although they believe in and call upon the one and only true God.”  While the Latin is slightly less authoritative than the German, it nonetheless assists in uncovering the obsolete use and meaning of “ob…gleich” in this section. Like “ob…gleich,” “quamquam” is best translated as “although” or “even though.”  “Although they believe and call upon the only one and true God.”  Of course the theological issue in this mistranslation concerns the apostolic teaching (cf. St. Paul [Rom. 1-2; Acts 17] and St. John [John 1:4, 9]) that all human beings have a natural knowledge of the one true God.

(o) At FC Ep VI, 4 one finds the following free paraphrase of the Latin:  “It is necessary that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, so that they may not start evil and self-created forms of worship from human devotion” (504).  Even Dau/Bente, which also includes this line from the Latin as a parenthetical addition, translates it as “it is needful that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, in order that they may frame nothing in a matter of religion from the desire of private devotion, and may not choose divine services not instituted by God’s Word” (Concordia Triglotta, 807).  The latter is a closer rendition of the Latin (“ut homini lex Dei semper praeluceat, ne quid privatae devotionis affectu in negotio religionis confingat et cultus divinos verbo Dei non institutos eligat.”)  Certainly the phrase “start evil and self-created forms of worship” has no basis in the Latin (which is not the authoritative text anyway).  The original German simply reads, “damit sie nicht aus menschlicher Andacht eigenwillige und erwaehlte Gottesdienst vornehmen, ist vonnoeten, dass ihnen das Gesetz des Herrn immer vorleuchte…,” which is best translated, “In order that they [human beings] not undertake a self-willed and arbitrary service to God from human devotion, it is necessary for the law of the Lord always shine before them” (cf. Kolb/Wengert, 502).  Has the editors’ bias against new forms of biblical worship perhaps led them to paraphrase an arbitrary selection from the Latin text?  As proof of this bias, one notes the unnecessary and misguided comment in the introduction to FC, Ep., X: “This article has in view territorial churches, not simply individual congregations, when it talks about making changes in the Church’s ceremonies.  Therefore, Article X is not used properly if it is used to justify significant diversity in the worship practices of the congregations in the same church, or area…” (514; cf. the critical comment about pastors writing a new liturgy from Sunday to Sunday on p. 524).  These comments, including the editors’ observation about worship forms/practices in 16th-century German consistories, seem to be guided by a “maximalist” understanding of doctrinal and practical agreement for church fellowship, which position is not properly grounded in AC VII (“satis est”), Apol. VII, or FC X.  It simply does not follow that liturgical variety from Sunday to Sunday equates to disunity in doctrine or to inconsistent and weak teaching/preaching of God’s Word (as the editors insinuate on pp. 524-25).  The imposition of the editors’ view here about traditional worship forms is itself an example of that which FC X opposed, namely, the imposition of matters deemed necessary but which in fact are adiaphora.

(p) Formula of Concord Ep. VI , 5 contains a mistranslation:  “These works are done by believers because they are regenerate” (505).  The original German reads: “…soviel sie wiedergeboren sind…”  (“insofar as they [the believers] are reborn”) [Latin: “quatenus”]

(q) Concordia paraphrases FC Ep. X, 7 as follows: “We believe, teach, and confess also that no church should condemn another because one has less or more outward ceremonies than the other, for those are not commanded by God.  This is true as long as they have unity with one another in the doctrine and all its articles and in the right use of the holy sacraments” (515).  Aside from bad English grammar (“less…than” should be “fewer…than”), Concordia mistranslates the German:  “wann sonst” means “when otherwise” [Latin: “si modo,” = “provided that”].  A more accurate translation is:  “No church should condemn another…, when otherwise there is unity with the other in the doctrine and all the articles of faith and in the proper use of the holy sacraments…”  The way Concordia rephrases this sentence puts the focus differently, namely, on a condition wherein it might be acceptable to condemn another church.  FC X merely stresses that no church should condemn another when there is doctrinal and sacramental unity. 

(r) FC SD, Preface, 10 is paraphrased as:  “What has been said so far about the summary of our Christian doctrine is only intended to mean this: we should have a unanimously accepted, definite, common form of doctrine.  All our evangelical churches should confess it together and in common” (539).  This paraphrase is yet another instance where the translators have twisted subordinate clauses to make them say what they want to stress.  The German text is better translated: “Speaking of this summary of our Christian teaching in this way only indicates that there is a unanimously and commonly held, reliable form for teaching to which all our churches commonly pledge themselves.”  There is no basis in the original for the phrases “we should have” or “All our evangelical churches should confess it together and in common.”

(s) FC SD, VI, 22 is paraphrased as: “Although in this life the good works of believers are imperfect and impure because of sin in the flesh, nevertheless they are acceptable and well pleasing to God.  This is not taught by the Law, which requires a completely perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God.  But the Gospel teaches how and why our spiritual offerings are acceptable to God through faith for Christ’s sake” (591).  The German reads: “Wie aber und warumb die guten Werke der Glaeubigen, ob sie gleich in diesem Leben vonwegen der Suende im Fleisch unvollkommen und unrein sein, dennoch Gott angenehm und wohlgefaellig sind, solches lehret nicht das Gesetz, welches einen ganz volnkommen, reinen Gehrosab, wo er Gott gefallen soll, erfordert, sondern das Evangelium lehret, dass unswere geistliche Opfer Gott angehehm sein durch den Glauben umb Christus willen.”  Concordia totally mistranslates this sentence in its efforts to paraphrase Dau/Bente.  A more accurate translation is:  “However, how and why the good works of believers are pleasing and acceptable to God (even though in this life they are in fact imperfect and impure because of the sinfulness of the flesh), the law does not teach.  The law demands total, perfect, pure obedience if it is to please God.  Instead, the gospel teaches that our spiritual sacrifices are pleasing to God through faith because of Christ” (cf. Kolb/Wengert, 591).

(t) To paraphrase “den hohen Artikel unser Christlichen Glaubens” as “the outstanding article of our Christian faith” is ambiguous (FC SD X, 628).  “Chief article” is usually how this is translated.  “Eminent article” is how Dau/Bente have it.

In conclusion, an apparent assumption of those who have produced this paraphrase of Dau/Bente is that scholarly translations of the original texts are so difficult to understand that they must be re-worded for lay people (and rephrased on the basis of an inferior edition of the Book of Concord).  This is a faulty assumption. The most recent edition of the Book of Concord in English, co-edited by LCMS theologian Robert Kolb and inclusive of translations made by other LCMS scholars, is proof-positive that the Lutheran Confessions are an eminently understandable set of documents that do not need to be re-phrased for English-speaking readers.

If CPH wanted to produce a paraphrase of the Book of Concord, why not get a true LCMS scholar of the Confessions to do that project?  But more significantly, why the need for a paraphrase when an excellent and understandable, contemporary and accurate edition of the Book of Concord is already available in English, co-edited and produced by LCMS scholars?

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