Martin Luther (1483–1546) was adamant that Christ as the Lord of Scripture must also be the Lord of our exegesis.
“Every passage of Scripture,” he said at his table in 1532, “is impossible to be interpreted without knowledge of Christ.” Still, he gladly included grammar, history and culture as handmaidens to a Christocentric reading of the Bible. In this explanation of Psalm 23, Luther through his own knowledge of and experience with sheep unpacks the beloved biblical metaphor of human beings as sheep and Jesus of Nazareth as their Shepherd:
This metaphor is one of the most beautiful and comforting and yet most common of all in Scripture, when it compares his divine Majesty with a pious, faithful or—as Christ says—“good Shepherd,” and compares us poor, weak, miserable sinners with sheep. We can, however, understand this comforting and beautiful picture best when we consider the creature itself—out of which the Prophets have taken this and similar images—and diligently learn from it the traits and characteristics of a natural sheep and the office, work, and diligence of a pious shepherd. Whoever does this carefully will not only readily understand this comparison and others in Scripture concerning the shepherd and the sheep but also will find the comparisons exceedingly sweet and comforting.
A sheep must live entirely by its shepherd’s help, protection, and care. As soon as it loses him, it is surrounded by all kinds of dangers and must perish, for it is quite unable to help itself.A sheep must live entirely by its shepherd’s help, protection, and care. The reason? It is a poor, weak, simple little beast that can neither feed nor rule itself, nor find the right way, nor protect itself against any kind of danger or misfortune. Moreover, it is by nature timid, shy, and likely to go astray. When it does go a bit astray and leaves its shepherd, it is unable to find its way back to him; indeed, it merely runs farther away from him. Though it may find other shepherds and sheep, that does not help it, for it does not know the voices of strange shepherds. Therefore it flees them and strays about until the wolf seizes it or it perishes some other way. . . .
This Shepherd, however, whom the prophet foretold so long before, is Christ our dear Lord, who is a shepherd much different from Moses. Moses is harsh and unfriendly toward his sheep. He drives them away into the desert, where they will find neither pasture nor water but only want. Christ, however, is the good, friendly Shepherd who goes after a famished and lost sheep in the wilderness, seeks it there and, when he has found it, lays it on his shoulder rejoicing. He even “gives his life for his sheep.” He is a friendly Shepherd. Who would not be happy to be his sheep?
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