The Apocalyptic Luther: His Noahic Self-Understanding -- By: Michael Parsons

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 44:4 (Dec 2001)
Article: The Apocalyptic Luther: His Noahic Self-Understanding
Author: Michael Parsons


The Apocalyptic Luther:
His Noahic Self-Understanding

Michael Parsons*

[* Michael Parsons is lecturer in systematic theology at Murdoch University and the Baptist Theological College, 20 Hayman Rd., Bentley, Perth, Western Australia 6102.]

I. Introduction

In defining apocalypticism in the period of the European reformations R. B. Barnes suggests that its main element, its most salient feature, is the expectancy of the imminent end of history. On the basis of that teaching apocalypticism seeks to offer insight into “the crucial role of the present in a cosmic struggle.” 1 He suggests also that apocalyptic thinking is prophetic. It is so because “it undertakes to warn evildoers and to console the righteous, and it seeks definite insight into God’s plan for the world.” 2 And of course, in a sense, this has to be true of such an eschatological framework of thought. In many ways, apocalypticism becomes prophetic as a necessary corollary to its own belief in the imminence of the end time, it is that which gives its urgency and which impels its search for divine perspective. Similarly, Heiko Oberman singles out three elements of the traditional apocalypticism of the period, namely, the belief in the approaching end time, the struggle between God and the devil, and the appearance of antichrist. 3

Society at the time of the Reformation was permeated by fervent apocalyptic ideas and expectation, as was the Medieval period previously. This is well documented. 4 Robert Kolb expresses it as follows: “Luther’s was an age of urgent and ardent expectations. Humanists longed for the restoration of good learning—and thus for societal order and wellbeing. Exhibiting various degrees of apocalyptic dreaming, the common people yearned for a new age. A crisis of pastoral care also gripped Western Christendom, and many

were listening and looking for God’s direct intervention in their lives.” 5 This, in itself, underscores an interesting conjunction between apocalypticism and pastoral crisis, a conjunction noted below from Luther’s writing. Kolb speaks further in the same context of the “deeply felt hopes of peasants and humanists alike” and of “the apocalyptic restlessness of the late Middle Ages.” 6

There seems to be no argument concerning apocalypticism in general terms. However, when we specify Martin Lu...

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