As our Reformation Commentary feature nears the end of the Historical Books series, Sapientia asked Derek Cooper and Martin Lohrmann, editors of our source volume, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles (published by InterVarsity in April), a few questions about working on the project.
Martin Lohrmann, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Lutheran Confessions and Heritage at Wartburg Theological Seminary. He describes the amount of work that went into the volume as similar to entering a 16th-century lecture hall and finding a lively tradition of reflection and argument.
Members of a Lively Tradition
Sapientia: Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you got involved in this project?
Lohrmann: I teach church history at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. When I started this project, I had recently finished my Ph.D. and was serving as a pastor at a Lutheran church in Philadelphia. I got involved when my colleague and friend Derek Cooper asked if I would be willing to take part in this monumental commentary on six books of the Bible. Derek had started the project earlier; I came on board in 2011. From then, the project took five years of translating, writing, and editing until publication.
Sap: What did you expect going into the project, and what did you learn from the reformers as you actually got into the research?
Lohrmann: I expected there would be more access to resources in modern languages like English or German. It turned out that most of the commentaries I worked with had only been written in Latin, often as published lectures. I felt like this brought me into the lecture hall with sixteenth-century teachers and theologians, which was a great treat. I developed a strong sense of respect for the serious thought and personal passion these people brought to the biblical text.
Sap: What surprised you in this process?
Lohrmann: Being used to contemporary Bible commentaries, I was surprised to see how differently the reformers read the Bible than we often do today, simply because of our different times and contexts.
This is my favorite thing about this commentary: I learned all kinds of insights and perspectivespeople in the past had a strong sense of community and the meaning of life that never would have even occurred to me otherwise. People in the sixteenth century had very different ideas about justice, government, the role of the individual, and how the physical universe worked, for instance. Their ideas show that people in the past had a strong sense of community and the meaning of life that we can continue to learn from.
Also, some commentators like Victorin Strigel and Konrad Pellikan were true Renaissance scholars who brought a wealth of classical learning to their interpretations, frequently sprinkling their biblical commentary with relevant stories from antiquity.
Sap: How have Reformation hermeneutics come to inform your own reading of the Bible?
Lohrmann: Since I translated a lot of our Lutheran writers, I learned the great extent to which Lutheran reformers read the Bible through the lens of faith: the people of ancient Israel did well when they trusted God and acted wrongly when trust in God did not come first. By focusing on the First Commandment in that way, the Lutherans engaged the ancient Israelites as fellow companions on the road of faith, despite the great distance of time and geography. It’s a way of interpreting the Bible that can still be very helpful for today.
Fittingly, Lutherans saw faith and the theology of the cross everywhere in these books.
I was also impressed by the attention that scholars in the Reformed tradition paid to textual details; they had great eyes for detail and grammatical nuance. This kind of care for the text was a way of honoring the Bible as the “school of God,” as Calvin put it. From that point, Reformed theologians looked for lessons and principles to apply to daily life in their time.
Sap: What do you think the church today can learn from reading these commentaries?
Lohrmann: First, it is okay for us to bring our contemporary questions to the Bible; people have been reading the Bible through their own contexts and experiences for centuries.
Second, we can learn a lot about a life of faith, both from people in the past and from other Christians who read the Bible from their unique cultural perspectives; we are members of a lively living tradition, not a static one.
Third, the reformers simply had a lot of fascinating things to say and teach about the Bible that we can keep learning from.
N.B.: Read our interview with volume editor Derek Cooper here.