An African Lutheran Perspective on the Gospel of Matthew

Dr Mahali in discussion with another conference participant. Photo: LWF/I. Benesch
Dr Mahali in discussion with another conference participant. Photo: LWF/I. Benesch

By Faustin Leonard Mahali

Having recently participated at the third LWF international conference on hermeneutics, hosted at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, it has become increasingly clear to me that, through the Reformation, Martin Luther opened up the possibility to interpret the Bible and the Christian faith in ways that respond to diverse conditions and life situations.

Throughout the conference we discussed questions such as: How does what happened during the Reformation influence my Lutheran identity? What does it mean to be a Lutheran in my context today? What can my locally shaped identity contribute to the identity of the global Lutheran communion?

We wrestled with Martin Luther’s and, hence, the Lutheran interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew. At face value the gospel appears highly legalistic. Upon closer reading we observed that it invites us to take seriously the demands of the law. Luther, who is generally regarded as being critical of the law, highly regarded the Sermon on the Mount which actually demands faithfulness to the law. This calls for a nuanced reading of Luther.

As an African Lutheran theologian I appreciate Luther’s interpretation of Matthew’s Gospel which goes beyond the “law-gospel” dichotomy. In a context of lawlessness, one appreciates the function of the law in ordering society. In reading Luther, we recognize the importance of relating Matthew’s reference to the law to the Pauline perspective in the awareness that Luther understood both in light of questions emerging from his conversations with the Roman Catholic Church, the Anabaptists and other contemporary religious movements.

I learnt from this conference that the formulas sola fide, sola gratia and sola scriptura have differentiated functions in biblical interpretation. In the African context, and indeed in other contexts, it is important to highlight sola fide as it regards trust in God as well as trusting relationships among people. I hope that as we continue to share in this on-going dialogue, these important Lutheran themes continue to provide us with lenses through which we can read the Scriptures.

Dr Faustin Leonard Mahali, is a senior lecturer at the Department of Biblical Studies (New Testament), Faculty of Theology, Tumaini University, Makumira, Tanzania.

Conference Event Page

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.