Melanchthon As Interpreter Of The New Testament -- By: Robert L. Plummer

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 62:2 (Fall 2000)
Article: Melanchthon As Interpreter Of The New Testament
Author: Robert L. Plummer


Melanchthon As Interpreter Of The New Testament

Robert L. Plummeri

Just as modern scholars often praise F. C. Baur for being one of the first NT scholars to treat Romans as an occasional letter, they regularly pillory Melanchthon for treating Romans as an abstract summary of the gospel. In such attacks on the Preceptor of Germany, references to his writings are frequently brief and undocumented. Typical of this approach is the following quote from J. C. Beker’s article in The Romans Debate: “Although the tendency persists to view Romans as a dogmatics in outline, or as a version of a compendium doctrinae Christianae (Melanchthon), Romans is actually a profoundly occasional letter.”1 Karl P. Donfried, Peter Stuhlmacher, Arland J. Hultgren and Lucien Legrand make similar references to Melanchthon’s compendium quote, though none of the above authors cites the source of his quotation.2 Do these brief undocumented references to Melanchthon’s writings accurately convey the reformer’s view of Romans? The purpose of this short essay is to investigate Melanchthon’s compendium quote, and more broadly his hermeneutical approach, to determine if modern NT scholarship has represented him accurately.

I. The Famous Compendium Quote

Eduard Schweizer is one of few scholars who correctly notes that Melanch thon’s compendium quote is from the introduction to the reformer’s 1521

edition of the Loci Communes.3 The quote is found in section 2.1.7 of Melanchthons Werke in Auswahl and page sixty-nine of the English rendering of the Loci by Charles Leander Hill. What exactly is the context of this quote and what did Melanchthon mean in referring to Romans as a compendium of Christian doctrine? Let us begin by providing a fuller version of the quotation:

In the Epistle to the Romans, when he drew up a compendium of Christian doctrine, did Paul the author philosophize about the mysteries of the Trinity, the mode of the Incarnation or about “creation active and passive?” On the contrary, what does Paul do? He reasons most certainly about the Law, Sin, and Grace. Topics, I say, on which alone the knowledge of Christ depends.4

The above passage comes soon after another frequently quoted portion of Melanchthon’s Loci:

I do not see how I can call that man a Christian who is ignorant of the remaining topics such as the powe...

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