Before his death, Luther famously scribbled a few notes. He wrote: Wir sein Pettler. Hoc est verum. (Translation: We are beggars. This is true.) Less well-know, but even more intriguing, is the sentence immediately preceding it.
No one can think that they have tasted the Holy Scriptures thoroughly until they have ruled over the churches with the prophets for a hundred years. (Luther)
We remember Luther for many reasons. He was a Reformer. A father. A publicist. A man of his time, a man who made his time. He wrote a crazy lot of things (a stack of all his books would reach about 20 feet tall), including his last book, titled: Against the Asses at Paris and Louvain.
But Luther devoted his life above all to teaching and preaching Scripture. Volume after volume of sermons. A five volume commentary on Genesis. Not just one but two commentaries on Galatians. So if anyone could have claimed knowledge of Scripture, it was Luther. Yet at the end of his life, he confesses he has fallen short of the time needed by about 40 years.
And he teaches the proper context for the study of Scripture: in/with/over the church, in the company of the prophets.
In other words, Scripture is designed not to be understood, but to stand under… to engage in community over a lifetime.
I preach from Scripture weekly, study it daily, yet it constantly surprises me how little I know of it, how much there is yet to discover. I’ve preached some texts over twenty times now and not exhausted them. And the Scripture regularly turns me around to a new point of view when I engage it.
I recently came across this great little quote in Raymond Gawronski’s book Word and Silence: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West.
“All natural humanity seeks God: Biblical humanity is found by the God who seeks, and is sent out on a renewed search. (Gawronski)
This is to say, unless it’s not clear, that we approach the Bible trying to find God, only to discover that the Bible grasps us, that God seeks us in and through Scripture, then turns us out and around towards the neighbor, joining God in the search.
The radical nature of Scripture is this turning, where we cease being the seeker, and instead become the sought.
Which then reminds me of that last great quote from Augustine in his On Christian Doctrine, that if the text doesn’t mean love, you’re not reading it right.
So anyone who thinks that they have understood the scriptures, or any part of them, but cannot by their understanding build up this double love of God and neigbour, has not yet succeeded in understanding them. (Augustine)
If indeed you can accomplish this double love of God and neighbor on your own, then there is no longer need of Scripture. In the meantime, I refer myself and others back to Luther’s rule, that it takes at least 100 years, in the right context, among the right prophetic community.
Which is just one, and perhaps the central reason, that Scripture is Scripture. It’s inexhaustibly transformative.