Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine


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In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books, or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures.

In short, it must be said that our authors knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation. Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. For some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not years have yet passed.

According to Augustine, God, in his creative decree, has expressly excluded every order of things in which grace would deprive man of his liberty, every situation in which man would not have the power to resist sin, and thus Augustine brushes aside that predestinationism which has been attributed to him.

In his sermons he says to all: "It depends on you to be elect" In Ps. You, if you wish it" In Ps. The opening paragraphs sol. The soliloquia lack the power and assurance of the Confessions , and they have accordingly found little modern audience. We are fortunate in having one passage from before the Confessions that shows Augustine doing exactly that - recounting his life story, howbeit briefly, and howbeit veiled as a hypothetical case.

The veil indeed is so heavy that the passage has not been noticed by earlier students of the Confessions , but once the pattern is detected it cannot be ignored. The text in question is lib. The passage may not antedate the Confessions by more than a couple of years, 93 but it reflects a rehearsed narrative that would be developed more fully in the writing of the Confessions. From Cassiciacum or perhaps from the writing of the de pulchro et apto : see on 4.

There are places where Augustine writes about the idea of the mind's ascent to God, and places where in his writings he is himself clearly attempting an elevation of that sort: so the episodes recounted in Bks. The success of the Confessions , seen in those terms, is that the work integrated the private intellectual and religious experience of Augustine with the public responsibilities of the bishop. How far the discipline of the pulpit 98 helped Augustine find this voice can only be a matter of speculation.

The Confessions are the last product of Augustine's youth and the first work of his maturity. His familiar pattern of the six ages of life see on 1. His narrative of infantia , pueritia , and adolescentia ends in the first years of iuventus with a clarification and strengthening of will; the narrative was written just on the cusp between iuventus and the variously named fifth age. All other impulses that gave rise to the Confessions notwithstanding, it is not surprising that Augustine would have found the years around his forty-fifth birthday congenial to renewed introspection.

It is impossible, then, to take the Confessions in a vacuum, and it is impossible to give any single interpretation that will satisfy. Even these few paragraphs of summary give a misleading impression of simplicity and directness, for a work that draws its rare power from complexity, subtlety, and nuance. In uncovering one or another device of construction or suggestion that Augustine employed, it may be that we do neither him nor his intended readers - if there are many such yet with us - any favor.

He was assuredly the heir of an ancient rhetorical tradition that did not write to prove but to persuade, that knew that a work must have its effect on a reader or hearer directly or it is unlikely to have the desired effect at all. To take the Confessions apart piece by piece is to run the great risk that when all the pieces are put back together the marvelous machine will not run as it did before. But that is the task of the philologist: to take texts already in danger of demise from great age and remoteness, dismantle and study them, and then reassemble them and set them ticking.

The only goal of interpretation is reading: exegesis leads to the Word, and not the other way round. If it often seems depressingly otherwise, then a renewed attention to our greatest master of exegesis, hermeneutic, reading - call it what you will - cannot fail to be instructive, even especially? The textual tradition of the Confessions is generally sound.

All critical editions of the last century have been based on the same i. The fullest description of the manuscripts utilized by editors is found in the preface of the CCSL edition by L. Verheijen, though it should be borne in mind that no modern editor has seen all the manuscripts he cites, and that they have not been collated afresh since Skutella. The description and discussion that follow are derivative. The script is half-uncial and difficult to date. Lowe CLA 4. Early ninth century, southern France. Early ninth century, western Germany.

Reported by the editors together with two eleventh-century manuscripts Bambergensis 33 [B] and Turonensis [Z] with which it is closely related. Mid-ninth century, Auxerre. C and D are virtual twins, but both are conventionally reported because C lacks the last two-thirds of book VII and the first third of book VIII, where D is the sole witness to their common exemplar. Part from the late ninth century and part from the early tenth, from Tours. E and G are the two best representatives of a common tradition.

End of the ninth century, eastern France. Toward the middle of the ninth century, near Lyons. Late ninth century, northern Italy. AHV taken together represent another common tradition, of which V is the least reliable witness. Gorman's stemma reproduced below represents the most developed view of the tradition. No one manuscript may be ascribed preeminent authority. Where S has the advantage of great age, it has the disadvantages of haste and carelessness; it not only omits and iterates words and phrases, but it substitutes synonyms particularly particles and conjunctions.

It is the work of a man in a hurry. O is perhaps the best single MS, and presents a perfectly readable text. It was the favorite of Verheijen. There is general consent that CD provide independent testimony that can be used to control the differences between S and O. The family EG offers further control, which Verheijen largely neglected. The Maurist edition of the Confessions appeared in the first volume of their great edition in the whole completed in There have been five and a half critical editions in the last century.

Mention should be made of the edition of E. Pusey at Oxford in , emending the Maurist textus receptus in light of a few Oxford manuscripts; it is now of interest mainly as a document of the Tractarian movement's interest in the fathers. As was the practice in the Vienna Corpus of the early days, collation of manuscripts and preparation of the actual editions were carried out by different hands, with long delays. The Sessorianus collation was begun by a hand unknown to the Vienna editor, P. The Vienna text was reprinted at Cambridge with some judicious corrections in rev.

An edition by P. Skutella's Teubner edition of marked a real advance. Skutella looked systematically at all the ninth century manuscripts and was wise enough to see that manuscripts other than S could throw light on the text, and even to look at Eugippius though this latter task he did in no systematic way. He attempted a stemma, but the result was little more than a declaration in graphic form that S was unrelated to all the other manuscripts at which Skutella looked; hence he accepted in principle though not always in practice any reading shared by S and any other MS.

Unfortunately, while this allowed him to abandon many of S's errors, it also reinforced many of its most vulgar ones, where one or more of the other manuscripts' scribes had fallen into the same trap of easy omission or iteration. But his text was easily the best the world had seen to that date, and it has been reprinted often since. Teubner with careful vetting by H. Juergens and W. In , L. Verheijen began in Augustiana a series of articles on the text of the Confessions , culminating in his edition volume 27 of Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina.

Verheijen discussed the relationships of the manuscripts at length, essentially jettisoning Skutella's families BPZ, AHV, and GEMF, and relying entirely for the constitution of his text on S, especially O, and also CD while continuing to report the readings of the rest of Skutella's manuscripts. The effect was to move further away from S and closer to the Maurist textus receptus. The CCSL volume differs from Skutella's text on dozens of points catalogued in Verheijen's preface , but it cannot be called an independent new edition.

The apparatus is essentially identical, save for typography, with Skutella's. The text given here offers no advance in recensio , and prints no apparatus criticus - there is discussion of textual issues in the commentary instead. It has however been re-examined word by word, and numerous corrections made. Divergences from Skutella and from Verheijen are noted in the commentary except for orthographical variants. The text as printed below is perhaps susceptible of amelioration; but it contains nothing indefensible, and the points of real doubt are clearly signposted and discussed.

The punctuation has been reviewed and revised throughout. This follows and refines Verheijen's practice; earlier editions e. What expectations Augustine had for the ability of his readers to recognize his other citations, allusions, and echoes of biblical language cannot now be accurately judged. Orthography is an even more vexed question, but less exegetically important. Whenever readings are reported in the commentary, those of SOCDG are always given; others are presented as interest warrants; where no readings of editors are reported, it may be presumed that the majority agrees with the reading printed in the text.

But to be safe no argument from silence should be taken from the non-report of a given manuscript or edition at any point. The first principle of exegesis is heuristic, to do for the text what needs to be done and what can be done for that text at the present moment. The present work seeks to fill a distinct gap, both in the absence of a formal commentary and in the presence of several long-neglected tasks for interpretation of the work itself.

Issues of history and doctrine raised by the Confessions have preoccupied scholars in modern times, to the neglect of the questions of the philologist, who examines the nexus between narrative and event not to determine what really happened, but what strategies shaped the narrative to its final form and marshalled upon the page the particular words we encounter, and how best we may understand the relation of parts to whole and whole to parts. The way forward for students of the Confessions lies in renewed and assiduous attention to the most minute details of the text.

The principal tasks set for itself by this exegetical commentary are these: 1 To provide a representative selection of the evidence illustrating the use and interpretation in the Confessions of scriptural citations and scriptural language. The method has in the main been to allow Augustine to be his own commentator. Few authors of antiquity allow us this luxury, but if we had another , lines of Vergil beyond the Aeneid , we would not be slow to take advantage of those riches to throw new light on the epic; to perform this function in some obvious and straightforward ways for Augustine is an opportunity too long neglected.

This is not the full philological, source-critical, historical, and philosophical commentary that has been a declared desideratum of scholars for more than a generation. At the same time, it must be admitted that the commentator's job is to make facts where none existed before, and in so doing to make the text itself a new thing. We must respect the text, and those who have worked on the text before us; and in this case, we must respect Augustine as well. Augustine has his limits, but it takes a very long time of living with him and with his limits to be sure that you are perceiving those limits in the right way, from the inside, with full awareness of the achievement implied by the vast range of territory that Augustine does embrace.

One area of investigation has been reluctantly foresworn: the stylistic study of Augustine's prose. This commentary differs from most Confessions scholarship of the last generations in its relative inattention to questions of more remote Quellenforschung. First, that task has been so exhaustively undertaken that, whatever riches remain to be discovered, it is undeniable that other tasks have been comparatively neglected, and it is those that have drawn my attention. What Augustine himself may have read and known is what is most important; what there may be in other early Christian writers that resembles, and even illustrates, what Augustine has to say, has been sought out much less diligently.

Augustine's debt to Ambrose and Cicero has been pursued with some care and some new and useful material has been found. This commentary assumes that where there is no evidence to the contrary, it is fruitful to expect that what Augustine says explicitly in interpretation of a verse of scripture at one time in his career may be juxtaposed with the use he makes of it without explicit interpretation elsewhere.

Certainty in such juxtapositions is only rarely reached and then usually when the passages cited from outside the Confessions come from periods close in time to the writing of the Confessions and preferably include citations both before and after , but there are many fruitful probabilities this side of certainty. Where Augustine quotes or alludes to a verse of scripture in the Confessions , and where another of Augustine's works provides an explicit interpretation of that verse of scripture that is not prima facie incompatible with its employment in the Confessions , then surely it would be irresponsible for the commentator not to set the explicit interpretation found elsewhere alongside the passage of the Confessions and to let the reader judge how far the two texts throw light on one another.

This is not, alas, a commentary for the general reader, and neither is it a commentary for a passive reader. My practice has been to refrain from commentary in my own voice wherever possible, and to allow the texts to speak for themselves. Wherever possible, quotation has been preferred to paraphrase, evidence to interpretation. The aim is to give the reader the material with which to interpret rather than obtrude my own views. True enough, selection and arrangement have a way of directing exegesis, but the active reader will find ample resources for independent judgment.

The works of Augustine are cited according to the following abbreviations, and from the editions indicated. Where a given edition, however, introduces a novel system of references, the conventional one has been preferred, to facilitate consultation of various editions, and the fullest form of reference book, chapter, and section is given to reduce ambiguity.

The dates given for each work are meant only to provide an estimate for the reader of the place each work holds in the chronology of Augustine's life. There are many controversies. Frede, Kirchenschriftsteller Freiburg, and later supplements has further details e. A baker's dozen of Augustine's works have still not been seriously edited since the Maurists of most interest: mus. Moreover, some editions of the last century most notably: en. The defects of the editions are most trying when we attempt to determine the scriptural text A.

CSEL 43 cont. CSEL 41 dial. CCSL 44B qu.

CCSL 33 quant. CCSL 46 trin. How best to cite scriptural texts that offer illumination or analogy to Augustine's words is a vexing problem. There are certainly many inconsistencies in the commentary, and there are probably places where a better i. The general principle employed and decisive in cases of choice among more than one possibility has been to find the text closest to what Augustine seems to have had in mind as he wrote the Confessions.

What can be said beyond that is this:. For books of scripture for which there exist volumes of the Beuron Vetus Latina or of A. But where, e. For the Psalter we are in the best position. Augustine's enarrationes in Psalmos comment on the whole of every Psalm, quoting the text, then frequently paraphrasing, analyzing, re-quoting, and re-quoting again. The exact version of the Psalter on which Augustine based each of the sermons could be reconstructed with very high accuracy, especially because we have the further resources of Knauer's Psalmenzitate and of R.

Weber's Le Psautier Romain et les autres anciens Psautiers latins Rome, , meticulously presenting the evidence for pre-Jerome Latin Psalters verse by verse. There is no guarantee that the text Augustine had in mind in is the same as that on which he preached in , when the determining factor in the text of his sermon would have been the liturgical usage of the local church.

But nowhere are we better off than with the Psalms. For the book of Job, we are in the happy position of having a complete Latin translation that closely matches what Augustine would have known, and we have Augustine's own testimony ep. This is a translation based originally on the Greek Septuagint, and revised and corrected against the Greek text by Jerome, printed at PL This translation differs dramatically from Jerome's later, better version. For the remainder of the books of the Old Testament, notably including the Apocrypha thrown into limbo in modern times, we possess no complete pre-Vulgate Latin version, but we know that the Latin versions that existed were assiduous renderings of the Septuagint LXX.

The Greek text itself will be quoted from A. Many other individual texts of scripture are cited expressis verbis by Augustine in works other than the Confessions. When all else fails, which is often, the Vulgate is cited, following the most recent critical edition, that of R. Occasionally a reading is chosen from the apparatus criticus of the Vulgate if it seems closer to what Augustine had in hand on comparison with his text.

Listed here are the compendia that facilitate concise citation; these works are by and large the most important and generally useful for the student going further. In general, titles of articles are omitted. The latest edition noted is the one actually consulted by me. Alfaric Alfaric, P. Paris, Arts Arts, M. The Syntax of the Confessions of Saint Augustine.

Washington, DC, Atti Congresso internazionale su s. Rome, Augustinus-Lexikon Aug. Augustine of Hippo. London and Berkeley, Brown, Body and Society Brown, P. The Body and Society. New York, Burnaby Burnaby, J. Amor Dei. London, CL Classical Latin. Wedeck; Cambridge, Mass. Courcelle, Recherches Courcelle, P. Recherches sur les Confessions de saint Augustin. Paris, ; second ed.

Courcelle, Les Confessions Courcelle, P. Paris Decret, L'Afrique Decret, F. De Marchi De Marchi, V. Guardini Guardini, R. The Conversion of Augustine. Hagendahl Hagendahl, H. Augustine and the Latin Classics. Hrdlicka Hrdlicka, C. Isnenghi Isnenghi, A. Oxford, Keil Keil, H. Grammatici Latini Leipzig, repr. Hildesheim, Knauer Knauer, G. Psalmenzitate in Augustins Konfessionen. Kunzelmann Kunzelmann, A.

Augustinus' , MA 2. Kusch Kusch, H. Recherches de la chronologie augustinienne. Biblia Augustiniana. Augustine of Hippo and his Monastic Rule. Palermo, LHS Leumann, M. Hofmann, and A. Lateinische Syntax und Stilistik. Munich, Lieu, Manichaeism Lieu, S. Manchester, MA Miscellanea Agostiniana. Madec, Saint Ambroise Madec, G. Saint Ambroise et la philosophie. Mandouze Mandouze, A.

Mandouze, Pros. Mandouze, A. Marrou Marrou, H. Saint Augustin et la fin de la culture antique. Paris 4, Mayer, Zeichen 1 Mayer, C. Die Zeichen in der geistigen Entwicklung und in der Theologie des jungen Augustinus. Mayer, Zeichen 2 Mayer, C. Die Zeichen in der geistigen Entwicklung und in der Theologie Augustins. Meijering Meijering, E. Leiden, Milne Milne, C. Cambridge, O'Daly O'Daly, G. Augustine's Philosophy of Mind.

O'Meara O'Meara, J. The Young Augustine. London, ; corr. Leipzig, ; repr. Pellegrino, Les Confessions Pellegrino, M. Les Confessions de saint Augustin. Perler Perler, O. Les Voyages de saint Augustin. Pincherle, Formazione teologica Pincherle, A. La formazione teologica di Sant' Agostino.

Rome, n. Poque, Le langage symbolique Poque, S. Signum Pietatis: Festgabe. SLA Hensellek, W. Specimina eines Lexicon Augustinianum. Vienna, Sorabji, Time Sorabji, R. Ithaca, Souter Souter, A. A Glossary of Later Latin. TeSelle TeSelle, E. Augustine the Theologian. Testard Testard, M. Saint Augustin et Ciceron. Theiler, P. Theiler, W.

MARTIN LUTHER

Porphyrios und Augustin. Halle, repr. Recherches sur la christologie de saint Augustin. Fribourg, Suisse, Augustine the Bishop. Verbraken Verbraken, P. Steenbrugge and the Hague, Verheijen, Eloquentia Pedisequa Verheijen, [L. Eloquentia Pedisequa. Nijmegen, Weber, Biblia Sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem Stuttgart, 3 Freiburg, VL alone indicates a reading attributed to pre-Vulgate Latin scripture for a book of scripture not yet treated by Beuron.

Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies

Thou hast returned home, but Abel has not returned. The flock is without their shepherd. Tell us therefore, where thy brother is. Upon this, Cain, becoming abusive, makes answer to his parents, by no means with due reverence, "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? But it happened to Cain as to all the wicked, that by excusing himself he accused himself, according to the words of Christ, "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant," Luke 19, Also the heathen had a striking proverb among them, "A liar ought to have a good memory.

And true it is that liars run much risk of being discovered and unmasked. Hence the Germans have the proverb, "A lie is a very fruitful thing. And yet it is impossible, after all, to prevent conscience from arousing and betraying itself at times, if not in words, then in gestures. This is proved by numberless examples. I will cite only one example here:.

In Thuringia there is a small town in the district of Orla, called Neustadt. In this town a harlot had murdered her infant, to which she had secretly given birth, and had thrown it, after the murder, into a neighboring fishpond. Accidentally the little piece of linen in which she had wrapped the infant, brought the horrid deed to light. The case was brought before the magistrate; and as the simple men of the place knew no better means of investigating the crime, they called all the young women of the town into the town hall and closely examined them, one by one.

The face and the testimony of each one of these proclaimed her innocent. But when they came to her who was the real perpetrator of the deed, she did not wait for questions to be put to her, but immediately declared aloud that she was not the guilty person. The contrast she presented to the others in making such haste to defend herself, confirmed the suspicion of the magistrates. At once she was seized by the constables and put to death. Indeed, instances are innumerable and of daily occurrence which show that people, in their eagerness to defend themselves, accuse themselves.

Sin may, indeed, lie asleep, but that word which we have just heard, is true. It lies at the door. Just so in the present case. Cain thinks he has made an effectual excuse for himself by saying that he is not his brother's keeper. But does he not confess by the very word "brother" which he takes upon his lips that he ought to be his keeper?

Is not that equal to accusing himself, and will not the fact that Abel is nowhere in evidence arouse the suspicion in the minds of his parents that he has been murdered? Just so also Adam excuses himself in paradise, and lays all the blame on Eve. But this excuse of Cain is far more stupid; for while he excuses his sin he doubles it, whereas the frank confession of sin finds mercy and appeases wrath. It is recorded in the history of St. Martin, that when he absolved certain notorious sinners, he was rebuked by Satan for doing so.

Martin is said to have replied, "Why, I would absolve even thee, if thou wouldst say from thy heart, I repent of having sinned against the Son of God, and I pray for pardon. For he persists in committing sin and defending the same. All liars and hypocrites imitate Cain their father, by either denying their sin or excusing it. Hence they cannot find pardon for their sins.

And we see the same in domestic life. By the defense of wrong-doing, anger is increased. For whenever the wife, or the children, or the servants, have done wrong, and deny or excuse their wrong-doing, the father of the family is the more moved to wrath; whereas, on the other hand, confession secures pardon or a lighter punishment.

But it is the nature of hypocrites to excuse and palliate their sin or to deny it altogether and under the show of religion, to slay the innocent. But here let us survey the order in which sins follow each other and increase. First of all Cain sins by presumption and unbelief when, priding himself on the privilege of his birthright, he takes it for granted that he shall be accepted of God on the ground of his own merit.

Upon this pride and self-glorification immediately follow envy and hatred of his brother, whom he sees preferred to himself by an unmistakable sign from heaven.

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Upon this envy and hatred follow hypocrisy and lying. Though he designs to murder his brother, he accosts him in a friendly manner and thereby throws him off his guard. Hypocrisy is followed by murder. Murder is followed by the excusing of his sin.

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And the last stage is despair, which is the fall from heaven to hell. Although Adam and Eve in paradise did not deny their sin, yet their confession was lukewarm, and the sin was shifted from the one to the other. Adam laid it on Eve, and Eve on the serpent. But Cain went even farther, for he not only did not confess the murder he had committed, but disclaimed responsibility for his brother.

And did not this at once prove his mind to be hostile against his brother? Therefore, though Adam and Eve made only a half-hearted confession, they had some claim to pardon, and in consequence were punished with less severity. But Cain, because he resolutely denied his sin, was rejected, and fell into despair. And the same judgment awaits all the sons of Cain, popes, cardinals, and bishops, who, although they plan murder against us day and night, say likewise, "I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? There was a common proverb of old, "What is it to the Romans that the Greeks die?

But how does this principle agree with the commandment of God? For his will is that we should all live together, and be to each other as brethren. Cain, therefore, by this very saying of his, heavily accuses himself when he makes the excuse that the custody of his brother was no affair of his.


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Whereas, if he had said to his father, "Alas, I have slain Abel, my brother. I repent of the deed I have done. Return upon me what punishment thou wilt," there might have been room for a remedy; but as he denied his sin, and, contrary to the will of God, disclaimed responsibility for his brother altogether, there was no place left for mercy or favor. Moreover, Moses took special pains in the preparation of this account, that it might serve as a witness against all hypocrites, and as a chronicle containing a graphic description of their character and of the ire to which they are aroused by Satan against God, his Word and his Church.

It was not enough for this murderer that he had killed his brother, contrary to the command of God, but he added the further sin that he became filled with indignation and rage when God inquired of him concerning his brother. I say, "when God inquired of him," because, although it was Adam who spoke these words to his son Cain, yet he spoke them by the authority of God and by the Holy Spirit.

In view of so great a sin, was it not quite gentle to inquire, "Where is Abel thy brother? For the reply of Cain is the language of one who resists and hates God. But to this sin Cain adds one still worse. Justly under indictment for murder, he presently becomes the accuser of God, and expostulates with him: "Am I my brother's keeper?

He did not say, "Lord, I know not. But he answers with pride as if he himself were the Lord, and plainly manifests that he felt indignation at being called to account by him who had the perfect right to do so. This is a true picture of all hypocrites. Living in manifest sins, they grow insolent and proud, aiming all the while to appear righteous. They will not yield even to God himself and his Word when upbraided by them. Nay, they set themselves against God, contend with him, and excuse their sin. Thus David says, that God is judged of men, but that at length he clears and justifies himself, and prevails, Ps 51, 4.

Such is the insolence of the hypocrites Moses has here endeavored to paint. But what success has Cain with his attempt? This, that his powerful effort to excuse himself becomes a forcible self-accusation. Christ says, "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant," Lk 19, Now, this servant wished to appear without guilt, saying: "I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow; and I was afraid, and hid thy talent," Mt 25, Could he have brought a stronger accusation against himself, in view of the fact that Christ immediately turns his words against him?

Thereby Christ evidences the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Such illustrations help us to learn not to contend with God. On the contrary when you feel in your conscience that you are guilty, take heed with all your soul that you strive neither with God nor with men by defending or excusing your sin.

Rather do this: When you see God point his spear at you, flee not from him; but, on the contrary, flee to him with a humble confession of your sin, and with prayer for his pardon. Then God will draw back his spear and spare you. But when, by the denial and excuse of your sin, you flee farther and farther from him, God will pursue you at close range with still greater determination, and bring you to bay. Nothing, therefore, is better or safer than to come with the confession of guilt.

Thus it comes to pass that God's victory becomes our victory through him. But Cain and hypocrites in general do not this. God points his spear at them, but they never humble themselves before him nor pray to him for pardon. Nay, they rather point their spear at God, just as Cain did on this occasion. Cain does not say, "Lord, I confess I have killed my brother; forgive me. His reply was certainly equal to the confession that he cared naught for the divine law, which says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," Lev 19, And again, "Do not unto another that which you would not have another do unto you," Mt 7, This law was not first written in the Decalog; it was inscribed in the minds of all men.

Cain acts directly against this law, and shows that he not only cares nothing for it, but absolutely despises it. In this manner, Cain represents a man who is not merely wicked, but who occupies such a height of wickedness as to combine hypocrisy with bloodshed, and yet is so eager to maintain the appearance of sanctity that he rather accuses God than concedes the justice of the accusation against himself.

And this is what all hypocrites do. They blaspheme God and crucify his Son, and yet wish to appear righteous. For after their sins of murder, blasphemy and the like their whole aim is to seek means whereby to excuse and palliate the same. But the result always is that they betray themselves and are condemned out of their own mouths. While Cain makes an effort to clear himself, he exhibits the foulest stains.

He thinks he made a most plausible excuse when he said, "Am I my brother's keeper? The maxim of Hilary, that wickedness and stupidity always go hand in hand, finds unvarying application. If Cain had been as wise as he was wicked, he would have excused himself in quite a different manner. Now, under the operation of the divine rule that wickedness and stupidity are running mates, he becomes his own accuser. The same principle operates in favor of the truth, and makes her defense against all adversaries easy. Just as Cain betrayed by word and mien his indifference and hate toward his brother, so all adversaries of the truth betray their wickedness, the one in this way, the other in that.

Facts of importance and apt for instruction are, therefore, here set before us. And their general import is that God does not permit hypocrites to remain hidden for any length of time, but compels them to betray themselves just when they make shrewd efforts to hide their hypocrisy and crime. Moses does not exhibit in his narrative the verbose diction characteristic of pagan literature, where we often find one and the same argument embellished and polished by a variety of colors. We find by experience that no human power of description can do justice to inward emotions.

In consequence, verbosity, as a rule, comes short of expressing emotion. Moses employs the opposite method, and clothes a great variety of arguments in scant phraseology. Above the historian used the expression, "when they were in the field. All the circumstances plainly show that Abel was not idle at the time; for he was in the field, where he had to do the things his father committed to him.

From Moses' statement we may infer that Abel's parents felt absolutely no fear of danger. For, although at the outset they had feared that the wrath of Cain would eventually break out into still greater sin, Cain, by his gentleness and pretended affection, prevented all suspicion of evil on the part of his parents. For had there been the least trace of apprehension, they certainly would not have permitted Abel to go from their presence alone.

They would have sent his sisters with him as companions; for he no doubt had some. Or his parents themselves would have prevented by their presence and authority the perpetration of so great a crime. As already stated, also the mind of Abel was perfectly free from suspicion. For, had he suspected the least evil at the hand of his brother, he would doubtless have sought safety by flight.

But after he had heard that Cain bore the judgment of God with composure, and did not envy the brother his honor, he pursued his work in the field with a feeling of security. What orator could do justice to the scene which Moses depicts in one word: "Cain rose up against his brother? It is as if he had said, Cain rose up against Abel, the only brother he had, with whom he had been brought up and with whom he had lived to that day.

But not only the relationship Cain utterly forgot; he forgot their common parents also. The greatness of the grief he would cause his parents by such a grave crime, never entered his mind. He did not think that Abel was a brother, from whom he had never received any offense whatever. For Cain knew that the honor of having offered the more acceptable sacrifice, proceeded not from any desire or ambition in Abel, but from God himself. Nor did Cain consider that he, who had hitherto stood in the highest favor with his parents, would lose that favor altogether and would fall under their deepest displeasure as a result of his crime.

It is recorded in history of an artist who painted the scene of Iphigenia's sacrifice, that when he had given to the countenance of each of the spectators present its appropriate expression of grief and pain, he found himself unable to portray the vastness of the father's grief, who was present also, and hence painted his head draped.

Such is the method, I think, Moses employs in this passage, when he uses the verb yakam , "Rose up against. But not even in that way can justice be done to the subject. Moses, therefore, pursues the right course, when he portrays, by a mere outline, things too great for utterance. Such brevity tends to enlist the reader's undivided attention to a subject which the vain adornment of many words disfigures and mars, like paint applied to natural beauty. This is true also of the additional statement, "He slew him. Murderers of this kind immediately afterward are filled with distress; they grieve for the deeds they have done and acknowledge them to be delusions of the devil by which he blinded their minds.

Cain felt no distress; he expressed no grief, but denied the deed he had done. This satanic and insatiable hatred in hypocrites is described by Christ in the words, "When they kill you, they will think that they do God service," Jn 16, 2. So the priests and the kings filled Jerusalem with the blood of the prophets and gloried in what they did as a great achievement; for they considered this as proof of their zeal for the Law and the house of God.

And the fury of popes and bishops in our day is just the same. They are not satisfied with having excommunicated us again and again, and with having shed our blood, but they wish to blot out our memory from the land of the living, according to the description in the Psalm, "Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof," Ps , 7. Such hatred is not human but satanic. For all human hatred becomes mellow in time; at all events, it will cease after it has avenged our injury and gratified its passion. But the hatred of these Pharisees assumes constantly larger dimensions, especially since it is smoothed over by a show of piety.

Cain, therefore, is the father of all those murderers who slaughter the saints, and whose wrath knows no end so long as there remains one of them, as is proved in the case of Christ himself. As for Cain, there is no doubt of his having hoped that by putting Abel to death he should keep the honor of his birthright. Thus, the ungodly always think that their cruelty will profit them in some way. But when they find that their hope is vain they fall into despair.

Now, when the fact of this shameful murder was made known to the parents, what do we think must have been the sad scenes resulting? What lamentations? What sighs and groans? But I dwell not on these things; they are for the man with the gifts of eloquence and imagination to describe. It was certainly a marvel that both parents were not struck lifeless with grief. The calamity was rendered the greater by the fact that their first-born, who had aroused so large hopes concerning himself, was the perpetrator of this horrible murder.

If, therefore, Adam and Eve had not been helped from above, they could never have been equal to this disaster in their home; for there is nothing like it in all the world. Adam and Eve were without that consolation which we may have in sudden and unexpected calamities, namely, that like evils have befallen others and have not come upon us alone. Our first parents had only two sons, though I believe that they had daughters also; and therefore they lacked such instances of grief in the human family as we have before our eyes.

Who can doubt, moreover, that Satan by this new species of temptation increased greatly the grief of our first parents? They no doubt thought, Behold, this is all our sin. We, in paradise, wished to become like God; but by our sin we have become like the devil. This is the case also with our son.


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We loved only this son, and made everything of him! Our other son, Abel, was righteous before us, above this son; but of his righteousness we made nothing! This elder son we hoped would be he who should crush the serpent's head; but behold, he himself is crushed by the serpent! Nay, he himself has become like the serpent, for he is now a murderer. And whence is this? Is it not because he was born of us, and because we, through our sin, are what we are?

Therefore it is to our flesh; therefore it is to our sin, that this calamity must be traced. It is very probable, accordingly, and the events of the series of years which followed strengthen this probability, that the sorrowing parents, shaken to the core by their calamity, abstained for a long time from connubial intercourse. For it appears that when Cain committed this murder he was about thirty years of age.

During this period some daughters were born unto Adam. In view of the subsequent statements, verse 17, that "Cain knew his wife," he no doubt married a sister. Moreover, since Cain himself says in verse 14, "It shall come to pass that everyone that findeth me shall slay me", and as it is further said in verse 15, "The Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him"—it appears most probable from all these circumstances that Adam had many children besides Cain and Abel, but these two only are mentioned, on account of their important and memorable history, and because these two were their first and most remarkable children.

It is my full belief that the marriage of our first parents was most fruitful during the first thirty years of their union. Somewhere Calmana and Dibora are mentioned as daughters of Adam, but I know not whether the authors are worthy of credence. Inasmuch, therefore, as the birth of Seth is recorded as having taken place a long time after this murder, it seems to me very probable that the parents, distressed beyond measure at this monstrous crime in the bosom of their family, refrained for a long time from procreation.

While Moses does not touch upon all these things, he intimates enough to arouse in the reader a desire to dwell upon the noteworthy events which the absence of detailed information permits us to survey only from a distance. But I return to the text before us. Cain is an evil and wicked man, and yet, in the eyes of his parents, he is a divine possession and gift. Abel, on the contrary, is in the eyes of his parents nothing; but in the eyes of God he is truly a righteous man; an appellation with which also Christ honors him when he calls him "righteous Abel"! Mt 23, This divine judgment concerning Abel, Cain could not endure, and, therefore, he thought that by murder not only the hatred against his brother could be satisfied, but also his birthright be retained.

But he was far from thinking that was sin; as the first-born he thought he had exercised his right. He killed Abel, not with a sword, as I think, but with a club or a stone, for I hold that there were as yet no iron weapons. After the murder, Cain remained unconcerned, for he thought the deed could be concealed by hiding the body, which he buried, or perhaps cast into a river, thinking that thus it would surely remain undiscovered by his parents.

When Abel, however, had been from home a longer time than had been his habit, the Holy Spirit prompted Adam to inquire of Cain concerning Abel, saying, "Where is Abel thy brother? Cain thought he had laid his sin to rest, and all would thus remain hidden. And true it was that his sin did lie at rest, but it lay at rest "at the door. None other than the Lord himself! He arouses the sleeping sin! He brings the hidden sin to light! The same thing must come to pass with all sinners. For, unless by repentance you first come to God, and yourself confess your sin to God, God will surely come to you, to disclose your sin.

For God cannot endure that any one should deny his sin. To this fact the psalmist testifies: "When I kept silence, my bones wasted away through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me; my moisture was changed as with the drouth of summer. For, although sin has its sleep and its security, yet that sleep is "at the door"; it cannot long last, and the sin cannot remain hidden.

When Moses introduces Jehovah as speaking, I understand him to mean, as above, that it was Adam who spoke by the Holy Spirit in the place of God, whom he represented in his relation as father. The expression of the Holy Spirit, therefore, is intended to set forth the high authority of parents; when children dutifully hear and obey these, they hear and obey God. And I believe Adam knew by the revelation of the Holy Spirit that Abel had been slain by his brother; for his words intimate the commission of murder at a time when Cain still dissembled as to what he had done.

If Eve overheard these words, what think you must have been the state of her mind! Her grief must have been beyond all description. But the calamity was brought home to Adam with even greater force. As he was the father, it fell to him to rebuke his son and to excommunicate him for his sin. Since, according to the ninth chapter, the law concerning the death-penalty for murderers was not promulgated until afterward when the patriarchs beheld murder becoming alarmingly frequent, Adam did not put Cain to death, but safeguarded his life in obedience to the prompting and direction of the Holy Spirit; still, it is a fact not to be gainsaid that the punishment ordained for him and all his posterity was anything but light.

For in addition to that curse upon his body he suffered excommunication from his family, separation from the sight of his parents and from the society of his brothers and sisters, who remained with their parents, or in the fellowship of the Church. Now, Adam could not have done all this, nor could Eve have heard it without indescribable anguish. For a father is a father, and a son is a son.

Oh no, there's been an error

Gladly would Adam have spared his son and retained him at home, as we now sometimes see murderers become reconciled to the brothers of their victims. But in this case no place was left for reconciliation. Cain is bidden at once to be a fugitive upon the face of the earth. The pain of the parents was doubled in consequence. They see one of their sons slain, and the other excommunicated by the judgment of God and cut off forever from the fellowship of his brethren.

Moreover, when we here speak of excommunication from the Church, it stands to reason that not our houses of worship, built in magnificent style and ample proportions out of hewn stone, are meant. The sanctuary, or church, of Adam was a certain tree, or a certain little hill under the open heaven, where they assembled to hear the Word of God and to offer their sacrifices, for which purpose they had erected altars.

And when they offered their sacrifices and heard the Word, God was present, as we see from the experience of Abel. Also elsewhere in the sacred story, mention is made of such altars under the open heaven, and of sacrifices made upon them. And, if we should come together at this day under the open sky to bend our knees, to preach, to give thanks, and to bless each other, a custom would be inaugurated altogether beneficial. It was from a temple of this kind and from such a church, not a conspicuous and magnificent church at a particular place, that Cain was cast out.

He was thus doubly punished; first, by a corporal penalty, because the earth was accursed to him, and secondly, by a spiritual penalty, because by excommunication, he was cast out from the temple and the church of God as from another paradise. Lawyers also have drawn upon this passage, and quite properly brought out the fact that Jehovah first investigated the matter and then passed sentence. Their application is, that no one should be pronounced guilty until his case has been tried; until he has been called to the bar, proved guilty and convicted.

This, according to a previous statement, was also done with Adam: "The Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him. Where art thou? And further on: "I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know," Gen 11, 5; 18, However, dismissing the matter in its bearings upon public life, let us view its more attractive theological features. The element of doctrine and of hope is found in the fact that Jehovah inquires concerning the dead Abel. Clearly there is pointed out to us here the truth of the resurrection of the dead.

God declared himself to be the God of Abel, although now dead, and he inquired for the dead, for Abel. Upon this passage we may establish the incontrovertible principle that, if there were no one to care for us after this life, Abel would not have been inquired for after he was slain.

But God inquires after Abel, even when he had been taken from this life; he has no desire to forget him; he retains the remembrance of him; he asks: "Where is he? My meaning is that even the dead, as we here see, still live in the memory of God, and have a God who cares for them, and saves them in another life beyond and different from this corporal life in which saints suffer affliction.

This passage, therefore, is most worthy of our attention. We see that God cared for Abel, even when dead; and that on account of the dead Abel, he excommunicated Cain, and visited him, the living, with destruction in spite of his being the first-born. A towering fact this, that Abel, though dead, was living and canonized in another life more effectually and truly than those whom the pope ever canonized!

The death of Abel was indeed horrible; he did not suffer death without excruciating torment nor without many tears. Yet it was a blessed death, for now he lives a more blessed life than he did before. This bodily life of ours is lived in sin, and is ever in danger of death. But that other life is eternal and perfectly free from trials and troubles, both of the body and of the soul. God inquires not after the sheep and the oxen that are slain, but he does inquire after the men who are slain. Accordingly men possess the hope of a resurrection. They have a God who brings them back from the death of the body unto eternal life, a God who inquires after their blood as a most precious thing.

The Psalmist says: "Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints," Ps , This is the glory of the human race, obtained for it by the seed of the woman which bruised the serpent's head. The case of Abel is the first instance of such promise made to Adam and Eve, and God showed by the same that the serpent did not harm Abel, although it caused his murder. This was indeed an instance of the serpent's "bruising the heel" of the woman's seed.

But in the very attempt to bite, its own head was crushed. For God, in answer to Abel's faith in the promised seed, required the blood of the dead, and proved himself thereby to be his God still. This is all proved by what follows. And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground. Cain's sin hath hitherto lain at the door. And the preceding circumstances plainly show how hard he struggled to keep his sin asleep.

For being interrogated by his father concerning his brother Abel and his whereabouts, he disclaimed knowledge of the matter, thus adding to murder lying. This answer of Cain is sufficient evidence that the above words were spoken by Adam in his own person, and not by God in his divine Majesty. For Cain believed that the deed was hidden from his father, as he was a mere man, while he could not have thought this of the divine Majesty. Therefore, had God spoken to him in his own person, he would have returned a different answer.

But, as he thought himself dealing with a human being only, Cain denied his deed altogether, saying: "I know not. How numerous are the perils by which a man may perish. He may have been destroyed by wild beasts; he may have been drowned in some river; or he may have lost his life by some other death. Thus Cain thought that his father would think of any other cause of death than the perpetration of murder. But Cain could not deceive the Holy Spirit in Adam. Adam therefore, as God's representative, arraigns him with the words, "What hast thou done? Thou thinkest the blood of thy brother is hidden by the earth.

But it is not so absorbed and concealed thereby as to prevent the blood crying aloud unto God. The text before us, then, provides much consolation against the enemies and murderers of the Church; for it teaches us that our afflictions and sufferings and the shedding of our blood fill heaven and earth with their cries. I believe, therefore, that Cain was so overwhelmed and confounded by these words of his father that, as if thunderstruck, he knew not what to say or what to do.

No doubt his thoughts were, "If my father Adam knows about the murder which I have committed, how can I any longer doubt that it is known unto God, unto the angels, and unto heaven and earth? Whither can I flee? Which way can I turn, wretched man that I am? Such is the state of murderers to this day. They are so harassed with the stings of conscience, after the crime of murder has been committed, that they are always in a state of alarm. It seems to them that heaven and earth have put on a changed aspect toward them, and they know not whither to flee.

A case in point is Orestes pursued by the furies, as described by the poets. A horrible thing is the cry of spilled blood and an evil conscience. The same is true of all other atrocious sins. Those who commit them, experience the same distresses of mind when remorse lays hold of them. The whole creation seems changed toward them, and even when they speak to persons with whom they have been familiar, and when they hear the answers they make, the very sound of their voice appears to them altogether changed and their countenances seem to wear an altered aspect. Whichever way they turn their eyes, all things are clothed, as it were, in gloom and horror.

Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine

Related Biblical Interpretation: Martin Luther’s Commentary on Genesis / The Confessions of Saint Augustine



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