- Luther's Lectures on Genesis and the Formation of Evangelical Identity
In 1936, Peter Meinhold in Die Genesisvorlesung Luthers und ihre Herausgeber challenged the veracity and reliability of the published editions of Martin Luther's lectures on Genesis. Luther remained, throughout all his controversies with Rome and others, a professor of the Old Testament at the University of Wittenberg. In 1535, he embarked on what would be a ten-year journey in the classroom through the book of Genesis. He completed the lecture series just three months before his own death. The lectures on Genesis dominated the last decade of his life. Meinhold argued that these lectures could not be trusted because they were edited by his students and were distorted by them in order to enlist Luther in the debates between different Lutheran factions of the late 1540s and 1550s. The Meinhold Thesis, as it came to be known, dominated the scholarly approach to the Genesis lectures throughout the twentieth century and significantly, in my opinion, diminished the amount of attention devoted to this massive work. Meinhold's thesis has withered under more intense scrutiny over the last two decades. This withering has led to an emerging renaissance in the use of and examination of the Genesis lectures. John Maxfield's new volume is a welcome addition to this renaissance.
Maxfield's subtitle orients the focus of the book. Maxfield is not examining [End Page 1304] the Genesis lectures to determine Luther's exegetical method or his fidelity (or lack thereof ) to the exegetical tradition. Instead, Maxfield uses the Genesis lectures to examine how Luther used the classroom to help form a new Christian self-identity in his students who would after graduation serve as pastors in the emerging Evangelical Church. To reinforce this message, Maxfield has replaced the old-fashioned referent to Luther as "the Reformer" with "the professor."
The book begins with an assessment of the Genesis lectures and the Meinhold thesis. Maxfield helpfully reminds the reader that whatever else might be said about the Meinhold thesis one ought not forget that Luther was alive when the first set of lectures were published and even wrote the preface for them! He then demonstrates why the lectures provide a helpful entré e into Luther's attempts to form his student's identity as Evangelical pastors. In chapter 2, he continues the introductory work of the book by examining Luther's approach to scripture generally and Genesis specifically. Here, Maxfield seemed to be highlighting differences with other scholars in an attempt to demonstrate the uniqueness of his approach. I was left unconvinced at times and felt that some of the footnotes were strained in their assessment of others. Chapter 3 begins the true meat of the volume and looks at how Luther used the patriarchs and matriarchs of Genesis to help reframe contemporary discussions of life and home. It was interesting to note that while he seemed to disagree with Mickey Mattox's approach to these same matriarchs (Defender of the Most Holy Matriarchs, 2003) in chapter 2, in chapter 3 Mattox shows up in the footnotes often. Thus demonstrating the point that at times chapter 2 is a bit exaggerated. Chapter 4 highlights Luther's approach to Genesis as history and as an image of the early church. Here Luther uses the lives, troubles, and triumphs of the patriarchs to assure his students that God is the master and author of history. The book ends with a discussion of the apocalyptic vision of Luther and how that apocalypticism informed Luther's exegesis of Genesis and his sense of time and place among his students.
As chapter 2 most clearly demonstrates, Luther's Lectures on Genesis is a revision of Maxfield's 2004 Princeton Theological Seminary dissertation. It, like almost all of its kind, still reads like a dissertation at times. This fact and my critique of chapter 2 are minor criticisms and should be...