Exegetical Brief: Philippians 2:12b

By Pastor Holger Weiß

Translator’s Preface

This translation is especially unique to the translator in two ways. First, this is the first time he has attempted to translate an article written by someone still living. He met Pastor Weiß at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon during Summer Quarter of 2011. Pastor Weiß is the spiritual shepherd of Emmausgemeinde (Emmaus Church) in Schönfeld by Annaberg-Buchholz, a member congregation of the Evangelisch-Lutherische Freikirche (ELFK; Evangelical Lutheran Free Church) in Germany. He also serves as a professor of New Testament studies at the Lutherisches-Theologishes Seminar (Lutheran Theological Seminary) in Leipzig on the side. In his conversations with Pastor Weiß, it struck the translator that never did the title pastor suit a man better than it did Pastor Weiß.

Secondly, after laboring over the translation and then sending it to Pastor Weiß for approval before publishing it, the translator was amused to learn that Pastor Weiß had originally written it to fulfill an assignment for a class on Philippians during Summer Quarter of 2009. “Just let me know if I should send you the English paper,” he wrote. After all the work and with Pastor Weiß’s blessing, what is presented here is not the original English paper, but an English translation of a German translation by Pastor Weiß of the original English paper by the same.

This article was printed on pages 2-4 of the February 2011 edition of Theologische Handreichung und Information, the theological quarterly of the ELFK, under the title “Schafft, dass ihr selig werdet… Wie ist Philipper 2,12 zu übersetzen und zu verstehen?” (see below for translation).

It is the translator’s prayer that what follows will not only clearly communicate Pastor Weiß’s fine exegesis of Philippians 2:12, but that it will also showcase the unity in the truth that the Holy Spirit, working through Scripture, produces even when the two parties thus united (WELS and ELFK) live thousands of miles away from each other. God grant both these petitions for Jesus’ sake.

Work out your salvation…

How should Philippians 2:12 be translated and understood?

As confessional Lutherans we have been solemnly entrusted with the three solas of the Lutheran Reformation: We are justified by grace alone, through faith in our Savior Jesus Christ alone, and this is communicated to us through Holy Scripture alone (sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura).

Justification by grace alone is the beating heart of the Bible’s teaching. The apostle Paul teaches it in many passages (e.g. Eph 2:8f; Ro 3:23f). Hence it could seem very strange indeed when Paul appeals to his readers, “Work out your salvation…” (Php 2:12). Isn’t he leading us back into Catholicism with its work-righteousness? Or is he suggesting that Jesus’ redeeming work is not sufficient by itself for our redemption? Do we still have to add our own merits (“do” something1) in order to reach heavenly glory one day? Clearly the translation and especially the correct understanding of this apostolic exhortation in the original text is of critical importance.

The original Greek text of this verse reads: τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε. To translate the verse correctly, we first need to analyze the verb. The predicate κατεργάζεσθε is a present, middle, imperative, second person plural form of κατεργάζομαι. This verb means “to accomplish [something], to carry [something] out.” Paul uses this verb, for example, when he confesses, “For I do not know what I do (ὃ γὰρ κατεργάζομαι οὐ γινώσκω). For I do not do what I want, but what I hate, that I do” (Ro 7:15). The congregation in Corinth had neglected to practice church discipline with a member who had fallen into sexual immorality. To these Christians Paul testifies, “But I, I who am not with you bodily but in spirit, have already decided about the man who has done this, just as if I were with you (ἤδη κέκρικα ὡς παρὼν τὸν οὕτως τοῦτο κατεργασάμενον)” (1 Co 5:3).2 The imperative form expresses a requirement for the readers (second person plural). The readers in this case are primarily the Christians in Philippi. In a wider sense, however, Paul is also addressing all other Christians who read the letter to the Philippians. The present tense expresses a durative aspect. In other words, it does not have to do with a one-time requirement, but with a lasting, continuing one.3 Gordon Fee says about the meaning of κατεργάζομαι:

Its basic sense is to “accomplish” something, not in the sense of “fulfillment,” but of “carrying out”4 a matter… Under no circumstances can it be stretched to mean “work at,” as though salvation were something that needed our work (as in good works) in order for it to be accomplished.5

That which should be carried out is expressed by the accusative object. The noun σωτηρία is occasionally used in the New Testament for preservation in danger or deliverance from deadly peril. So Paul, for example, appeals to his traveling companions in the ship, “Therefore I urge you to eat something, for this will serve to preserve you (τοῦτο γὰρ πρὸς τῆς ὑμετέρας σωτηρίας ὑπάρχει)” (Ac 27:34). But it predominantly refers to our eternal salvation and can be joined with various verbs. Hebrews 1:14, for example, says about the angels: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation (κληρονομεῖν σωτηρίαν)?” The accusative object is modified by a genitive, masculine, plural pronoun, ἑαυτῶν. Exegetes variously interpret it as reflexive or possessive. Both are grammatically possible. Gordon Fee, however, makes it clear that, when the pronoun should be understood reflexively, it usually arises from an inherent contrast in the sentence:

While the reflexive at times does stress what belongs especially to the subject of a sentence (cf. e.g., [Php 2:]3-4 above), that is usually made clear by some inherent contrast in the sentence. In other cases it functions very close to a normal possessive, except that by use of the reflexive it slightly intensifies the possessive as being one’s own.6

Hence one could render the exhortation from Philippians 2:12 as, “Work out your salvation” – not in the sense of achievement or completion, but in the sense of the “carrying out [Durchführung]” of salvation.

How are we to understand this apostolic exhortation to work out or carry out our salvation? We must first note that Paul begins the entire statement in Philippians 2:12 with the conjunction “so” or “therefore” (ὥστε), which connects the exhortation with the section that precedes. That entire section, Philippians 2:5-11, forms the essential basis for the requirement in Philippians 2:12. In it Paul praises our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who humbled himself and became obedient to death. Through his obedience Jesus has won our eternal salvation, which God gives us as a gift of his grace through faith in Jesus Christ. “Therefore,” because Jesus has humbled himself and become obedient in order to redeem us, Paul now urges us to “carry out” this salvation.

We must also note that the exhortation from Philippians 2:12 is inserted into an even greater context. In Philippians 1:27—2:30, Paul is encouraging his readers to live in a manner worthy of the gospel about Christ.

And finally, we should not overlook the fact that the apostolic exhortation in Philippians 2:12 follows two prepositional phrases in the dative which refer to the Philippians’ obedience. Paul here uses the verb ὑπακούω, which means “to listen to” in the sense of “obey, follow.”7

All these observations make it clear that the apostolic exhortation from Philippians 2:12 does not belong in the realm of justification, but in the realm of sanctification, which flows from justification. In this passage Paul is not addressing how people are saved. His concern is how saved people “live out” the salvation that God has given them solely out of his grace through faith in Christ, that is, how their salvation is realized in everyday life.8

Paul makes this exhortation as a result of the serious dangers that threaten our faith on a daily basis. He exhorts us as those who are already on the path to heaven, but still have to conduct our lives as Christians in this world. We face temptations from the devil, the unbelieving world, and our own sinful flesh. False teachers are spreading in our midst and have already become a serious spiritual challenge [Anfechtung] for many Christians. Satan wants to lead us astray so that we turn our backs on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As believers we must be vigilant so that we do not lose the eternal salvation that God has given to us through baptism out of his grace. We have this salvation only through faith in our redeemer Jesus Christ. If we fall away from the faith and die as unbelievers, we will suffer the punishment for our sins in hell for all eternity. Lenski’s explanation of σωτηρίαν in Philippians 2:12 is worth noting:

The saving effected by God at the time of our conversion does not place us into the salvation of heaven at one stroke; it makes us σεσῳσμένοι, “those who have been saved” (Eph 2:5). But until we attain the safety of heaven we must be kept safe in this dangerous world; the great salvation that is now ours must be kept ours, our heart’s hold upon it must be made ever stronger.9

We certainly cannot manage this with our own strength. So just as the Holy Spirit alone can bring us to faith through the means of grace, so also only the Holy Spirit can keep us in the faith through Word and sacrament. Hence Lenski rightly explains:

Paul refers to the constant, faithful use of Word and Sacrament (“life’s word,” v. 16). These means of grace renew and increase our hold on salvation, for the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16). This use of the means is the vital part of the working.10

Thus to “work out” or “carry out” one’s salvation means, first of all, that one makes regular use of the means of grace. Through them the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and enables us to lead a way of life worthy of the gospel. Strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit we will then, in “fear and trembling,” do our level best not to do anything which God forbids or to omit anything which God commands, since we jeopardize our salvation through such misbehavior. By conducting ourselves in this way, we follow Paul’s exhortation and live out the salvation that God has given to us by grace alone through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.


In connection with this matter, the reader might be interested in knowing how the newer German Bible translations render this passage (Php 2:12b). Here is a brief sampling:

  • The way the Gute-Nachricht-Bibel (GNB; “Good News Bible”) renders this phrase appears to be unsuitable: “Work on yourselves with fear and trembling, so that you are saved.” It makes the requirement to work on oneself a prerequisite for salvation. Yet Holy Scripture plainly says in many passages that we do not actively cooperate in our salvation, but receive our redemption by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • The Hoffnung für alle (Hfa; “Hope for all”) seems much better here: “You are saved, and this should show itself in your life. Therefore also live now in reverence for God and in complete devotion to him.” Here it is first established as a fact that we are already saved. From this then proceeds the encouragement to live in reverence for God and in complete devotion to him.
  • On the other hand, the Neues-Leben-Bibel (NL; “New Life Bible”) shows itself even more removed from the original text: “Now, in my absence, you must see to it even more that God’s love is on display in your life. Therefore obey God with full respect and reverence.” Here it is certainly mentioned that God’s love should be on display in our lives. The reference to salvation is completely cut out though, so that it is not at all clear why we should obey God with full respect and reverence.
  • The Neue Genfer Übersetzung (NGÜ; “New Geneva Translation”) seems quite acceptable at first glance: “So, as you have always been obedient to God up till now, you should also continue to submit yourselves to him (Christ) with respect and deep reverence and to do everything in your power so that your salvation works itself out in your life fully and completely.” The note added to this translation, however, is highly problematic: “Literally: ‘So, as you have always been obedient, you should complete your salvation with fear and trembling.’ ” What is well rendered in the actual translation – that salvation should work itself out in life – is completely ruined by this note. For the note says that the Christian should “complete” his salvation. But if this is true, then salvation would be at least partially an achievement of man that he still has to produce.
  • The same goes for the new Basis-Bibel (“Basic Bible”) from Stuttgart: “Your salvation is at stake. Put all you have into it—even if you are overcome with fear and trembling in the process.” Here too the impression is given that man should work on his salvation, and that he should do so full of anxiety, with “fear and trembling.”
  • The Neue evangelistische Übersetzung (NeÜ; “New Evangelist’s Translation”) by K. Vanheiden appears to be more useful: “Now, in my absence, you must see to it even more that you work hard with all reverence and conscientiousness so that your salvation works itself out.” He makes clear that Philippians 2:12b has to do with salvation working itself out in the Christian’s life and not with prerequisites which people have to fulfill themselves in order to be redeemed.


  • Bauer, Walter. Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der frühchristlichen Literatur, 6th ed. Ed. Kurt und Barbara Aland. Berlin und New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1988.
  • Hoffmann, Ernst G. and Heinrich von Siebenthal. Griechische Grammatik zum Neuen Testament, 2nd ed. Riehen/Basel: Immanuel-Verlag, 1990.
  • Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. Fee. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.
  • Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians. Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1946.


1 Luther translated the passage under discussion: “Schafft, daß ihr selig werdet” (the German title of this article), literally, “Make [it] so that you are saved,” or more freely, “Do what needs to be done so that you are saved.” It is this meaning of schaffen, make or do, that Pastor Weiss is working with in this parenthetical comment.

2 Walter Bauer, Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der frühchristlichen Literatur, 6th ed., ed. Kurt und Barbara Aland, (Berlin und New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), p. 857.

3 Ernst G. Hoffmann und Heinrich von Siebenthal, Griechische Grammatik zum Neuen Testament, 2nd ed. (Riehen/Basel: Immanuel-Verlag, 1990), §194a.

4 Pastor Weiss translated this for his German readers as durchführen. He refers back to this word a little later when talking about how to translate the passage. The German word has been included in brackets there to make this connection clear.

5 Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), p. 234.

6 Fee, op. cit., 234.

7 Bauer, op. cit., 1668.

8 Fee, op. cit., 235.

9 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press, 1946), p. 798.

10 Ibid., 798f.


Not Ashamed of the Cross

By Johann Gerhard, Th.D.

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Adnotationes ad Posteriorem D. Pauli ad Timotheum Epistolam, in Quibus Textus Declaratur, Quaestiones Dubiae Solvuntur, Observationes Eruuntur, & Loca in Speciem Pugnantia quam Brevissime Conciliantur (Commentary on St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, in Which the Text Is Explained, Difficult Questions Are Answered, Observations Are Drawn, and Seemingly Contradictory Passages Are Reconciled as Concisely as Possible) by Johann Gerhard (Jena: Steinmann, 1643), pp. 18-25, with an insertion from pp. 8,9; available from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. A later edition (3rd ed. [Leipzig, 1712]; available from Lutheran Legacy) was also consulted.

The translation was originally presented as a supplement to an exegesis prepared for a pastoral circuit meeting. Everything is Gerhard’s except the footnotes and formatting. With regard to these, the reader may note the following:

  • Each entire verse in both Greek and Latin (Vulgate) has been placed at the head of Gerhard’s comments on that verse.
  • Gerhard’s sources have been more precisely cited when possible. Many of them are available for free download on Google Books.
  • The Greek variants – words, not punctuation – of Gerhard’s text have been retained, but noted.
  • Gerhard used italics whenever he was either quoting or paraphrasing the interpretation of another. In the case of quotations, I have used quotation marks followed by a footnoted reference. In the case of paraphrases, the commentary itself identifies the paraphrase just fine without italics; the work(s) paraphrased has been referenced in a footnote when possible.
  • The map “The Roman Empire in AD 69” below was obtained from the Ancient World Mapping Center. It is copyrighted (Ancient World Mapping Center, 2004), but “may be reproduced and redistributed freely for non-profit, personal or educational use only.”

The translator owes a debt of gratitude to a professor at Martin Luther College for help with an obscure reference, a few difficult phrases, and some final polishing touches.

He owes his deepest appreciation, however, to his God and Savior, without whose free salvation, abundant gifts, and daily blessing neither Gerhard’s work nor his would have any worth, usefulness, or existence.

His prayer is that this work, long bound up in a tongue increasingly (and sadly) foreign to many, will redound to the reader’s spiritual benefit and the glory of Christ. God grant it for the sake of his Son.

Commentary on 2 Timothy 1:11-18

11. εἰς ὃ ἐτέθην ἐγὼ κῆρυξ καὶ ἀπόστολος καὶ διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν

in quo positus sum ego praedicator et apostolus et magister gentium

  • Εἰς ὃ ἐτέθην ἐγώ

The Vulgate reads, “in which…” But the Greek says, “into which” or “to which I was appointed,” that is, by Christ.

  • Κῆρυξ καὶ ἀπόστολος καὶ διδάσκαλος ἐθνῶν

The apostle describes his office with three names. He calls himself:

  1. κήρυκα, a public herald presenting commands in the name of the King of heaven;
  2. ἀπόστολον, an ambassador of Christ discharging the office of apostleship, an office entrusted to him by God; and
  3. τῶν ἐθνῶν διδάσκαλον, sent primarily to teach the gentiles and call them to the fellowship (consortium) of the kingdom of Christ. For he and Peter had reached an agreement, that he would preach the gospel with Barnabas among the gentiles, and Peter with James and John among the Jews. Yet this should not be taken in an exclusive way. Galatians 2:9 in particular is simply mindful of the divine call described in Acts 22:21: “Go, because I will send you to the gentiles far away.”

12. δι᾿ ἣν αἰτίαν καὶ ταῦτα πάσχω ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἐπαισχύνομαι οἶδα γὰρ ᾧ πεπίστευκα καὶ πέπεισμαι ὅτι δυνατός ἐστιν τὴν παρακαταθήκην1 μου φυλάξαι εἰς ἐκείνην τὴν ἡμέραν

ob quam causam etiam haec patior sed non confundor scio enim cui credidi et certus sum quia potens est depositum meum servare in illum diem

  •  Δι᾿ ἣν αἰτίαν καὶ ταῦτα πάσχω

With ταῦτα he has in mind the prison in which he was being detained and the fetters with which he was being restrained. The sense is: “Because I have been appointed by God as a herald of the gospel and an apostle and a teacher of the gentiles, therefore I have been thrown into this prison and these chains.”

  • Ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἐπαισχύνομαι

Paraphrase: “I do not feel ashamed of these chains, which I am enduring on account of the preaching of the gospel.” He is alluding to verse 8 in which the same verb ἐπαισχύνεσθαι is used. It’s as if he were saying, “Therefore do not be ashamed of either the gospel or my chains.”

  • Οἶδα γὰρ ᾧ πεπίστευκα

He cites the reason why he regrets neither the gospel nor his chains.

Some want πιστεύειν here to have the sense of entrusting, since mention of a deposit immediately follows. This would yield the sense: “I know how powerful, faithful, kind, and truthful the Lord is, to whom I have committed my deposit for preservation.” But it is more proper to take πιστεύειν in the customary sense of believing: “I know in whom I have had faith ever since I was converted. My faith does not rest on a sandy and slippery foundation, but on a sure and immovable one.”

  • Καὶ πέπεισμαι ὅτι δυνατός ἐστιν τὴν παρακαταθήκην μου φυλάξαι

Concerning the verb πέπεισμαι, see what was said at verse 5.

***** [The following are Gerhard’s comments on 1:5] *****

  • Πέπεισμαι δὲ ὅτι καὶ ἐν σοὶ (sc. ἐνοικῇ ἀνυπόκριτος πίστις)

The Vulgate has rendered the verb πέπεισμαι, certus sum, “I am certain.” Others have rendered it, persuasum habeo or persuasus sum, “I am convinced or persuaded.”

The papists wish to prove from this passage that the certainty of grace is unable to be proved from Romans 8:38, since it is used here only of a moral certainty and not of an immovable certainty of faith, as also in Romans 15:14.

We respond:

  1. The verb πέπεισμαι is taken in two ways. First, it is taken abstractly, in which case it often signifies any kind of likely opinion. Secondly, it is taken concretely or in a material sense. When it is taken this way, it receives various meanings in keeping with the various subject material. For words ἐκ τῶν πολλαχῶς λεγομένων (taken from expressions used in many ways) obtain various meanings in keeping with the various subjects. When the word πέπεισμαι is understood about others, it is understood not ἀποδεικτικὴν2 but τοπικήν.3 It does not signify a certainty of faith and infallible truth, but a charitable persuasion, i.e. a likely opinion, because we are not able to determine anything about our neighbor a priori,4 but only a posteriori,5 i.e. from what he has produced or done. But when it is used about us, it denotes a sure and immovable persuasion, which is the certainty of faith and of the truth, because it rests on an immovable and immutable foundation, namely the promise of God and the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The papists themselves are compelled to acknowledge that Paul uses this verb about himself in verse 12 of this very chapter: πέπεισμαι ὅτι δυνατός ἐστιν. (But then they teach that Paul was sure about the grace of God and his own salvation only through some special revelation of God [s. Pistorius, In Hedeg., p. 201; Duraeus, Contra Witaker., f. 259].) Therefore when Paul uses the verb πέπεισμαι about himself, he is using it with a different meaning than in this passage [vs. 5] about Timothy.
  3. Consequently Guilielmus Estius reflects on this passage:6

[T]he word [πέπεισμαι] is generally used to denote a persuasion by which something is regarded as certain, either with what they call a moral certainty or with a certainty produced by divine authority, that is, the certainty of faith. For by faith the apostle was certain that God was able to guard his deposit [vs. 12]. However, he did not know in the same way that an unfeigned faith was dwelling in Timothy, but he had learned it by long experience and therefore was humanly sure of it.7

***** [This ends Gerhard’s comments on 1:5] *****

Some take παρακαταθήκην to mean the deposit that God had entrusted and committed to Paul, namely the deposit of grace and preaching, and the people who were already converted and were yet to be converted by his work. (In approximately this sense the apostle John is said to have spoken about a young man whom he had entrusted to someone else.8) They cite Acts 20:32, “παρατίθεμαι you to God,” as an example of this meaning. But it is more properly understood as the deposit of eternal life and happiness which God had laid aside for Paul in heaven or, as it is called in 4:8, “the crown of righteousness,” which God promises to faithful heralds of the gospel. The following interpretations run along the same lines:

  1. Some take deposit to mean Paul’s life, health, and safety (cf. 1 Peter 4:19).
  2. Others take it to mean good works, done with the hope of eternal reward.
  3. Others understand the payment for the works itself, which is said to be laid aside with God, seeing as a person does not receive his payment immediately after his work is done, but he patiently awaits the time when he will be paid. This takes place in full on the day of judgment.
  • Φυλάξαι

Paraphrase: “Neither the devil nor the world are able to snatch away that glory promised to me.”

  • Εἰς ἐκείνην τὴν ἡμέραν

He means the last day, Judgment Day, on which God will distribute to faithful heralds of the gospel the rewards he has promised.

13. ὑποτύπωσιν ἔχε ὑγιαινόντων λόγων ὧν παρ᾿ ἐμοῦ ἤκουσας ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

formam habe sanorum verborum quae a me audisti in fide et dilectione in Christo Iesu

  • Ὑποτύπωσιν ἔχε ὑγιαινόντων λόγων

He moves on to the second part of his exhortation about preserving the deposit of the pure doctrine.9

Some translate ὑποτύπωσιν, “distinct pattern” (expressam formam); others, “likeness or sketch” (imaginem & delineationem); still others, “representation” (informationem). The Vulgate translator used this last rendering in 1 Timothy 1:16.10

Most take this noun to mean a brief outline, description, or document that Timothy has in front of him, which is also the guideline he conforms to in his teaching. We grant that it is a metaphor, taken from artists who, when setting about to paint a picture, first make a rough sketch of it. Then, when they want to add the living colors, they follow the guidance of those lines, so that the ὑποτύπωσις is the same as the σκιαγραφία.11 But the noun ὑποτύπωσις here does not just mean the pattern and method of teaching, but also the actual foundation of the doctrine.

  • Ὑγιαινόντων λόγων

Estius remarks that the apostle has made mention of words “because the doctrine of the gospel was being handed down through words and discourses more than in writing. That is also why the apostle adds, ‘which you heard from me.’ ”12

We respond:

  1. The second letter to Timothy was written not long before Paul’s death. By that time both the four writings of the Evangelists and the apostolic letters were available to the Church. Therefore at that time the doctrine of the gospel was not only handed down through the living voice, but also in writing.
  2. What the apostles first heralded with the living voice they later handed down to us in the Scriptures by the will of God as the foundation and pillar of our faith for the future. Therefore there is no real difference whatsoever between apostolic preaching and the apostolic Scriptures.
  • Ἐν πίστει καὶ ἀγάπῃ

There are three interpretations given for this phrase:

  1. Some connect it with the words immediately preceding, “which you heard from me,” so that the sense is: “which you heard from me with faith and charity. Not only were you applying faith to my discourses, but you were also adding the affection of charity, in which you were seeking out not what belongs to you, but what belongs to Christ.”
  2. Others connect it with the words that are more removed, “Have the pattern of sounds words.” They explain it this way: “Have the pattern of sound words with faith and charity. These two things will prove that you are not departing from that pattern.”
  3. Still others also connect it with those more removed words, but they bring out a different sense, which they express this way: “Keep the pattern of sound words, that is, sound doctrine, which deals with faith and love. Keep the pattern in such a way that you preserve the integrity of faith and the sincerity of love.” For faith and love are the two chief divisions of Christian doctrine. Luther translates: “Halte an dem Vorbilde der heilsamen Worte…vom Glauben und von der Liebe [Hold to the pattern of the wholesome words…about faith and love].” This sense best fits the context.
  • Τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ

The Vulgate has rendered this phrase, in Christo Iesu, “in Christ Jesus.” But the article τῇ in Greek should not have been skipped over: “which is in Christ Jesus.” The same Vulgate translator expresses this article in this way in 1 Timothy 1:14.13

14. τὴν καλὴν παρακαταθήκην14 φύλαξον διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν

bonum depositum custodi per Spiritum Sanctum qui habitat in nobis

  • Τὴν καλὴν παρακαταθήκην φύλαξον

The noun deposit in this passage is not used here in same sense it was used in what just preceded (vs. 12), but in the sense it was used in 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard the deposit, avoiding contemporary jargon…”15 There this noun was understood to mean the gospel’s doctrine which he had entrusted to Timothy.

Here he calls the doctrine of the gospel about Christ “the good deposit,” not just on account of its good author, good material or contents, or good purpose, but also on account of its good effect, namely that this doctrine makes humans good.

Καλὴν can also be translated, “beautiful, excellent, or splendid (deposit).” What he had a little earlier called the sound discourses which had been heard from him (vs. 13), he now calls the splendid deposit.

Estius comments on this passage:

This passage should be noted in opposition to the heretics, who cannot produce any deposit of this kind, i.e. the doctrine handed down and received from the apostles through successors in an unbroken series from that time to the present, unless perhaps they say that this deposit is Holy Scripture. But this cannot be said. For Paul had not deposited Holy Scripture with Timothy, but the doctrine handed down by himself through word of mouth. Besides, what sort of deposit is it, if it is shared by nearly every heretical sect? So then Scripture, which itself we also have handed down from the apostles, is one part of the deposit, but not the whole and complete deposit, which the Catholic Church alone preserves.16

The necessary response to this argument we have set forth in On the Nature of Theology and Scripture, § 406,17 and in The Catholic Confession, Book I, Part 2, Chapter 5, Arguments of the Adversaries, no. 6.18

  • Διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν

He shows the way to guard the deposit he just mentioned, namely through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Estius thinks that ἐν ἡμῖν refers to “the overseers of the Church, by whose ministry that deposit is preserved in the Church through the Holy Spirit promised to them.”19

But it is more proper to take it as referring to the whole Church and all her true and living members. The preservation of this deposit is entrusted also to them, and the Holy Spirit’s grace is promised also to them.

15. οἶδας τοῦτο ὅτι ἀπεστράφησάν με πάντες οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ ὧν ἐστιν Φύγελος καὶ Ἑρμογένης

scis hoc quod aversi sunt a me omnes qui in Asia sunt ex quibus est Phygelus et Hermogenes

  • Οἶδας τοῦτο ὅτι ἀπεστράφησάν με πάντες οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ

He recalls this occasion of many people deserting him in order that he might cheer Timothy up and encourage him, for Timothy might have been disturbed by that occurrence when he heard about it.

  • Ἀπεστράφησάν με

The Vulgate has rendered this phrase, aversi sunt a me, “they have turned away from me.” Properly speaking, the Greek phrase means, aversati sunt me, “they have turned me away or rejected me.”

  • Οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ

Some, especially the Greek commentators,20 take τοὺς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ to mean those originally from Asia who were at Rome when the apostle was being held prisoner there, so that the preposition in stands for from.21

But others retain the natural meaning of the particle ἐν and still understand those who were from Asia, since the apostle says οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ in an indefinite way. Therefore they judge that the apostle is speaking about those who seemed to put their confidence in the apostle and to adhere to him when he was preaching in Asia, but abandoned him when he came to Rome and they saw him thrown into prison.

Others want the apostle to be talking about those who were in Asia when the apostle was writing this letter. The fact that οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ is preceded by οἶδας τοῦτο favors this interpretation. For Timothy was occupying himself in Asia and could have known what was happening there, but not what was happening at Rome.

The Roman Empire in AD 69

By τοῖς ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ he understands Asia Minor and converts from the Jews, but not from the gentiles. Whether they rejected the faith or person of Paul is not expressed, but the latter seems more likely, for they seem to have been somewhat fearful that they would get involved in danger together with him.22 Of course, this aversion to his person could easily lead to abandoning the faith.

  • Ὧν ἐστιν Φύγελος καὶ Ἑρμογένης

These two men were doubtlessly more harsh and deceitful toward Paul than the rest.

Tertullian in The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 3, counts Phygelus and Hermogenes among the deserters of the Church.23

Concerning Phygelus, Symeon Metaphrastes relates in his sermon about the apostles Peter and Paul that he was appointed by Peter as bishop for the Ephesians, but later turned believing Jews away from the faith. But the faith of the renowned Metaphrastes himself is exceedingly slippery.

Tertullian wrote Against Hermogenes. But it is clear from those very words of Tertullian that he was a different Hermogenes. He says, “[N]or has he, an apostolic Hermogenes, continued steadfastly in the rule [of faith].”24 He calls him “an apostolic Hermogenes,” namely the one whom the apostle has mentioned in this letter.

16. δῴη ἔλεος ὁ κύριος τῷ Ὀνησιφόρου οἴκῳ ὅτι πολλάκις με ἀνέψυξεν καὶ τὴν ἅλυσίν μου οὐκ ἐπαισχύνθη

det misericordiam Dominus Onesifori domui quia saepe me refrigeravit et catenam meam non erubuit

  • Δῴη ἔλεος ὁ κύριος τῷ Ὀνησιφόρου οἴκῳ

Paraphrase: “May God be kind and well-disposed toward him. God grant that he find mercy.”

This is an exception to the general clause, “all who are in Asia have rejected me.” For Onesiphorus was a native of Asia, as can be gathered from the end of this letter where he says, “Greet the household of Onesiphorus” (4:19). Indeed, it is thought that he was an Ephesian on account of that which immediately follows: “And you know well to what great extent he ministered in Ephesus” (1:18).

  • Diagram of the etesian winds in southeastern Europe

    Ὅτι πολλάκις με ἀνέψυξεν

Paraphrase: “He refreshed me with his beneficence.” The kind acts and encouragements shown to the pious are like the etesian winds during the dog days of summer.

  • Καὶ τὴν ἅλυσίν μου οὐκ ἐπαισχύνθη

Paraphrase: “He did not feel ashamed of my chains like the rest of the Asians.”

17. ἀλλὰ γενόμενος ἐν Ῥώμῃ σπουδαιότερον25 ἐζήτησέν με καὶ εὗρεν

sed cum Romam venisset sollicite me quaesivit et invenit

Paraphrase: “It is so far from the truth that he was ashamed of my chains that, when he was here in Rome, he became aware that I was being held a prisoner in chains on account of the preaching of the gospel, searched for me very eagerly, and did not rest until he found me.”

Question: Why did he need to do all that searching?

Answer: First, there was not just one, but several prisons in which those waiting to appear before Caesar’s tribunal were being detained. Secondly, “Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with a soldier guarding him” (Acts 28:16).26

18. δῴη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος εὑρεῖν ἔλεος παρὰ κυρίου ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ καὶ ὅσα ἐν Ἐφέσῳ διηκόνησεν βέλτιον σὺ γινώσκεις

det illi Dominus invenire misericordiam a Domino in illa die et quanta Ephesi ministravit melius tu nosti

  • Δῴη αὐτῷ ὁ κύριος εὑρεῖν ἔλεος παρὰ κυρίου ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ

The apostle looks back at what he just wrote. “Just as Onesiphorus sought and found me in Rome, so may the Lord grant that he also find mercy.”

Estius thinks that there is a Hebraism in the words, “The Lord grant that he find mercy from the Lord,” such as is also supposedly found in the words of Genesis 19:24: “The Lord rained down from the Lord,” so that the sense is: “The Lord grant that he [Onesiphorus] find mercy from himself [the Lord].” “For Hebrews are accustomed to repeat the antecedent where one would expect a reflexive pronoun.”27

We respond:

  1. We are neither ignorant of nor deny that Hebraism, but we deny that it fits this passage.
  2. For we are not compelled by any necessity to depart from the customary and natural meaning, as though we did not consider it to be in utmost conformity with the analogy of faith.
  3. For, since Christ has been appointed by God the Father to be the judge of the living and the dead (Jn 5:22; Ac 10:42), the apostle is praying for Onesiphorus that God the Father would allow him to find mercy with Christ the Lord on the day of judgment.
  4. In contrast to the Calvinist and Photinian28 perversion of the Mosaic text in Genesis 19:24, we promote the clear distinction of the Lord the Son from the Lord the Father, the emphatic addition of the preposition, a comparison with other passages of Scripture, the Aramaic version, and the consensus of Christian interpreters. In Canon 16 of the Council of Sirmium, referred to by Socrates Scholasticus in Ecclesiastical History, Book 2, Chapter 30, an anathema is pronounced on Estius and everyone else who advocates this distortion of the text.29 Cf. On the Nature of God and on the Trinity, Commonplace III, § 155.30

Chrysostom and Theophylact note that the apostle prays for mercy for Onesiphorus on that day of judgment because many mercies will be needed even for all the saints, and no one will be saved except through mercy.31 Augustine writes in On Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 13, that mercy will be necessary on that day for the saints about to be crowned by God.32

Tertullian, in On the Resurrection of the Flesh, Chapter 23, explains that mercy in this way, that on the day of judgment all the elect will be freed from the misery of mortality and corruption through the blessed resurrection.33

The noun mercy is most simply taken as gracious beneficence, just as it is taken in many passages of Scripture. For eternal life is a χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ in Christ (Ro 6:23).

Estius suspects that, at the time when Paul wrote this, Onesiphorus “was already deceased by then,” for the following reasons:

  1. The apostle does not say, “The Lord grant mercy to Onesiphorus,” but, “to the household of Onesiphorus.”
  2. Paul says about Onesiphorus, “The Lord grant that he find mercy from the Lord on that day,” “namely desiring for him what Christians usually desire for the faithful departed – rest and mercy.” Estius later adds, “If the apostle prays this for Onesiphorus, that he would find mercy from the Lord, when his life is already completed, then prayer for the departed faithful is powerfully established from this passage.”
  3. “[A]t the end of the letter, he tells Timothy to greet the household of Onesiphorus, not Onesiphorus himself, as if he were now no longer alive.”34

We respond:

  1. Estius does not dare to affirm for certain that Onesiphorus was already deceased. “[I]t can probably be said…,” he says.35
  2. Earlier he writes, “As for Onesiphorus, it should be known that this good prayer of the apostle for him was not without effect. For, according to both Greek and Latin martyrologies, Onesiphorus was at last crowned with martyrdom in the Dardanelles for the sake of Christ’s name – assuming that he is the same man they are commemorating.”36
  3. We also pray the blessed requiem for the piously departed in our churches, but we do not ask for them to be liberated from purgatory. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession explains how such petitions are to be understood.37
  • Καὶ ὅσα ἐν Ἐφέσῳ διηκόνησεν βέλτιον σὺ γινώσκεις

Some explain ὅσα thus: quanta, i.e. quam multa, “how many things.” But this phrase is more properly explained this way: in quam multis rebus Ephesi ministraverit, “in how many affairs he ministered in Ephesus,” i.e. quam fuerit in ministerio officiosus, “how dutiful he was in the ministry.” This is also how the censor understands it in the addition to Estius.38

In some codices mihi, “to me,” is added, but that lacks the credibility of the most reliable Greek and Latin texts. This addition also fights against the context. For if Paul had added, “to me,” he would not tell Timothy, “as you well know.” For it is only reasonable that Paul himself would know the most about services rendered to himself. ✠


1 Most manuscripts read παραθήκην.

2 I.e., in a way that is clearly established or beyond dispute; cf. English apodictic.

3 I.e., in a way that is not demonstrative, but probable.

4 I.e., in a way based on theoretical deduction rather than empirical observation; could be rendered here, “before the fact.”

5 I.e., in a way based on reasoning from known facts or past events rather than by making assumptions or predictions; could be rendered here, “after the fact.”

6 Gerhard cites this eminent Roman Catholic theologian (1542-1613) throughout the commentary, usually to refute him. Here, however, he displays the charitable tact for which he was known by citing an interpretation with which he agrees.

7 Guilielmus Estius, In Omnes Pauli Epistolas, Item in Catholicas Commentarii, vol. 5 (Mainz: Kirchheim, Schott, & Theilmann, 1843), p. 279. Gerhard himself would have referred to the original Douai edition (1614-16).

8 The reference is to a story Clement of Alexandria told which Eusebius included in his Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Chapter 23. The apostle John allegedly entrusted a promising young boy to a bishop and left. The bishop looked after the boy, brought him up, educated him, and baptized him. After that the bishop lost track of him, and the boy fell in with some bad characters and became a violent, bloody, and cruel leader of a band of robbers. Eventually John returned and said, “Come, O bishop, restore to us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you.” The bishop was initially confused, and wondered when John had deposited money with him, but it quickly became evident that “the deposit” John was seeking was the young man. Upon learning that the bishop had not kept the young man’s soul safe, John boldly sought him out and brought him to repentance.

9 In his Prolegomena, Gerhard divided 2 Timothy into three parts – preface, treatise proper, and conclusion. He wrote: “The actual treatise contains 1) an exhortation a) to patience and endurance under the cross (1:6-18), and b) to steadfastness in doctrine and faith (2:1-14)…” (pp. 1,2). He seems to be modifying that outline somewhat in his comments here.

10 A number of Vulgate manuscripts read informationem in 1 Timothy 1:16 instead of deformationem, the reading preferred by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft edition. Both essentially have the same meaning.

11a sketch or rough painting, such as to produce an effect at a distance, scene-painting, Plat.” (An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford University Press, 1889], p. 733.2)

12 Estius, op. cit., p. 286.

13 Vulgate: superabundavit autem gratia Domini nostri cum fide et dilectione quae est in Christo Iesu.

14 See footnote 1.

15 Vulgate: O Timothee, depositum custodi vitans prophanas vocum novitates. This reading is based on the Greek variant καινοφωνίας, new talk, for κενοφωνίας, empty talk; cf. BDAG sub κενοφωνία.

16 Estius, op. cit., p. 287.

17 Johann Gerhard, On the Nature of Theology and Scripture, vol. 1 of Theological Commonplaces, 1st ed., trans. Richard J. Dinda (St. Louis: CPH, 2006), pp. 379,380.

18 Johann Gerhard, Confessionis Catholicae, in Qua Doctrina Catholica et Evangelica, quam Ecclesiae Augustanae Confessioni Addictae Profitentur, ex Romano-Catholicorum Scriptorum Suffragiis Confirmatur, book 1, Generalis (Jena: Ernest Steinmann, 1634), pp. 384,385.

19 Estius, op. cit., p. 287.

20 This label usually refers to John Chrysostom (347-407), Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c.393-c.458), and Theophylact of Ochrida (c.1050-c.1109); see footnote 21.

21 Homily 3 on 2 Timothy: “It is likely that there were many people in Rome at that time from the regions of Asia. ‘But no one came to help me,’ he says, ‘no one knew me; everyone alienated me’ ” (John Chrysostom, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 62, S. P. N. Joannis Chrysostomi, Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani, Opera Omnia Quae Exstant [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1862], pp. 613,614).

Interpretation of 2 Timothy: “Rome was once the center of royal affairs. For that reason many people were traveling there, some for the sake of trade and others because of other needs. Therefore we may reasonably suppose that some of those who had come to faith in Asia went abroad [to Rome] during that time, but avoided the company of the apostle because they were afraid of Nero” (Theodoret, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 82, Theodoreti Cyrensis Episcopi Opera Omnia [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864], pp. 837,838).

Commentary on 2 Timothy: “For, after he was arrested by Nero, all those in Asia abandoned him, that is, those from Asia who were present in Rome” (Theophylact, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 125, Theophylacti, Bulgariae Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani, Opera Quae Reperiri Potuerunt Omnia [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864], pp. 97,98).

22 Jena edition: “videntur enim subveriti, ne uni cum ipso periculo involverentur…” Leipzig edition: “videntur enim subveriti, ne una cum ipso periculo involverentur…” The translation follows the latter.

23 Tertullian, Patrologia Latina, vol. 2, Tertulliani Presbyteri Carthaginiensis Opera Omnia cum Selectis Praecedentium Editionum Lectionibus Variorumque Commentariis (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1844), p. 15.

24 Tertullian, op. cit., p. 198.

25 Most manuscripts read σπουδαίως; cf. BDAG sub σπουδαίως 2.

26 Either Gerhard is erroneously identifying Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, mentioned in Acts 28, with the writing of this letter, or he is assuming that, if Paul was allowed to live by himself the first time, he likely was allowed to do so the second time also.

27 Estius, op. cit., p. 289.

28 The Photinians were “the early modern Unitarians who are sometimes called ‘Socinians.’ Lutherans and others called these Unitarians ‘Photinians’ because they held beliefs similar to the ancient heresy of Photinus, who viewed Christ basically as a mere man and denied the personality of the Holy Spirit” (Johann Gerhard, On the Nature of God and on the Trinity, vol. 2 of Theological Commonplaces, trans. Richard J. Dinda [St. Louis: CPH, 2007], p. ix).

29 “If anyone does not understand, ‘The Lord rained from the Lord’ (Gen 19:24), as referring to the Father and the Son, but says that he has rained down from himself, let him be anathema. For the Lord the Son rained down from the Lord the Father” (Socrates, Patrologiae Graecae, vol. 67, Socratis Scholastici, Hermiae Sozomeni Historia Ecclesiastica [Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1864], pp. 283,284).

30 Gerhard, op. cit., pp. 404,405.

31 Homily 3 on 2 Timothy: “If Onesiphorus, who exposed himself to danger, is saved through mercy, how much more so we!” (John Chrysostom, op. cit., p. 615).

Commentary on 2 Timothy: “‘He had mercy on me,’ he says. ‘May he therefore receive his reward on that terrible day when there will be need of much mercy for all, even for the saints.’ If Onesiphorus, who exposes himself to danger for the sake of Christ, is saved through mercy, how much more so we!” (Theophylact, op. cit., pp. 99,100).

32 Patrologia Latina, vol. 44, Sancti Aurelii Augustini, Hipponensis Episcopi, Opera Omnia (Paris: J.-P. Migne, 1865), p. 941.

33 Tertullian, op. cit., pp. 825-27.

34 Estius, op. cit., p. 291.

35 Estius, op. cit., p. 291.

36 Ibid., p. 291.

37 Article XXIV, § 89-99.

38 Estius, op. cit., pp. 291,292. At the conclusion of Estius’ commentary on 1:18, a section is appended, titled Additiuncula Censoris (“Little Additions by the Censor”).

Not Against Flesh and Blood

By Doctor Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das Sechste Capitel der Epistel S. Pauli an die Epheser, Von der Christen harnisch und woffen, gepredigt durch D. Mart. Luther (The Sixth Chapter of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Concerning the Armor and Weapons of Christians, Preached by D. Martin Luther) on October 29, 1531, taken from D. Martin Luthers Werke, vol. 34, part 2 (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1908), pp. 385-388.

The translation was inspired by, but not copied from, the devotion titled “The Importance of Truth and Unity” found in the Luther devotional Day by Day We Magnify You (Marshall D. Johnson, ed. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2008], p. 379). The reader will find it to be, among other things, an excellent treatise on the biblical article of church fellowship. It was originally prepared as the opening devotion for a pastoral circuit meeting.

God graciously preserve the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s unity in the truth that we may afford an unrelenting assault on the devil and all his works and ways.

Ephesians 6:12a.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Now he goes on to paint our enemy, to whom we are subject here on earth. He makes the painting truly terrifying enough, so that we don’t disregard it so casually and blithely, but rather know what kind of a struggle we’re engaged in and what sort of danger we should expect. For whoever is going to struggle and fight and plans on emerging victorious must first know what kind of enemy he is up against – what he is plotting and how strong and mighty he is – and what kind of trouble and danger the struggle holds for him.

When he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” we must not understand the words “flesh and blood” to mean the evil lusts or enticing of the flesh, such as enticing to sexual immorality, anger, hatred, pride, greed, etc. – as though one need not struggle against those. No, St. Paul uses “flesh and blood,” as he customarily does, to refer to the state and condition of the world or of the people on earth who live in flesh and blood (although it is finely and commendably arranged and God wants it to be preserved). He calls it “flesh and blood” because it is not spirit or the Holy Spirit’s business and work. He speaks the same way in Galatians 1, where he says about the apostles, “When I went up to Jerusalem, I did not deliberate over it with flesh and blood…,” which is to say, “I didn’t care what kind of people they were, what great apostles they were, or what great disciples of the apostles they were.” So in this passage it does not mean anything bad in man, but something that separates and distinguishes between our army and warfare and the world’s.

In the world there is no struggle except that of flesh and blood against each other – one prince, city, or people against another. But none of that has anything to do with us, for it is not the Holy Spirit’s cause preached or revealed and given from heaven. No, the struggle of flesh and blood has its origins with the creation in Genesis 1, when we became flesh and blood and God gave man authority over every creature and confirmed it as an essential part of his existence. Man needed no Holy Spirit for that purpose. Instead, whatever is ordered according to reason and human ordaining is in place in order that everyone may have and protect his house, home, wife, child, and servants, which the heathen also have, and they know of no Spirit.

Thus he teaches us Christians not to take up at any time such a war as the world wages and engages in. Nor should we do as Muentzer, our prophet of the devil, would do together with his rabble-rousers. They take the government into their own hands and fight with the sword and root out the godless. But this type of warfare belongs to flesh and blood between the two, that is, to human authority, powers, and wisdom, to rule and government on earth. We should rather be armed against enemies different from earthly ones, enemies who battle with us for a different life, kingdom, country, and rule, where it means eternal life or death, the kingdom of heaven or the fires of hell. Something more than what flesh and blood is and is capable of is involved here. For flesh and blood only has to do with mere temporal and transitory goods and affairs. For us, however, eternal blessing or harm is at stake. Therefore we also do not have such an enemy whom we could slaughter and strangle, as is done in the world. For he is a spirit who does not have flesh and blood. So too we are not flesh and blood insofar as we are Christians, although we are flesh and blood on account of the body and this life.

Now you might ask, “But aren’t we supposed to fight against our factions, fanatics [Schwärmer], and heretics, and aren’t they flesh and blood?” Certainly, but we do not fight against them as against flesh and blood, but as against the abominable devil, who through them does not struggle against us and attack us in a fleshly or bodily way. No, he attacks our faith, the dear Word, baptism, the Sacrament, and all articles of faith, none of which are given or instituted by flesh and blood or belong to the government of this earth. These are shown from heaven and belong to eternal life. Therefore we do not fight against them that we may take body, possession, or anything else from them, or that we may keep what is ours safe from them. Rather, we fight to preserve our doctrine and faith, Christ and God, to repel them to the devil and prevail over them to that end, and to gain eternal life, of which the world knows nothing.

So he shows us here with these words what our situation is and what we’re facing, namely that we must stand in battle here and that a Christian who wants to believe should arm himself. A Christian must fight and contend, if not outwardly with factions and deceiving tongues, then inwardly in his heart against unbelief and deceiving thoughts and influences. He must expect the attacks at every hour, both from others and within himself, when the devil strikes his heart with terror, sorrow, and despair. It cannot be otherwise, for this spirit cannot rest. He is enemy to God and to eternal life. Therefore he also plans how to rout you from it and wants to have everyone dead who seeks after it. He does not seek our money or other transitory goods, but how he can get us to lose eternal life. When he has taken that, he has taken everything and it is all his very own. And he has taken away eternal life when he takes away the Word, which brings it.

Now this is certainly a dangerous affair, and it sounds so dreadful that a person might very well become anxious and fearful. After all, he has to expect this spiritual struggle continually, and his mangy little neck is not at stake, but the one treasure that is impossible to retrieve once it is lost. This struggle means eternal life or death.

The reward is so great that no human heart can comprehend it, and for this reason it calls for an even greater, harder struggle. Yet it has been contested so lightly wherever people do not cling to the dear Word with all their powers, so that they lose it eternally. Indeed this struggle must not be regarded so trivially, as the world does. With regard to the Sacrament or some other error, some imprudent spirits who are deceived by the devil assert, “People should not contest so fiercely and get bent out of shape over one article of faith and tear apart Christian love over it. Nor should they hand each other over to the devil over it. Instead, even if someone errs in a minor point, if he otherwise agrees in the others, it should not be a big deal to yield somewhat and let the matter go and still maintain brotherly and Christian unity or fellowship just as well.”

No, my dear man, I want no part in a peace and unity that people get by losing God’s word, for in so doing eternal life and everything else would already be lost. Here yielding or conceding anything to oblige yourself or any person is not permitted. Instead, everything must yield to the Word, be it friend or foe. For God has given his word not for the sake of an external or earthly unity and peace, but for the sake of eternal life. The Word and its doctrine must establish Christian unity or fellowship. Where doctrine is one and the same, there Christian unity will follow as a matter of course. If it is not the same, then no unity will ever remain. Therefore don’t even speak to me of any love or friendship where people want to break up the Word or the faith. For it says that the Word, not love, brings eternal life, God’s grace, and all heavenly treasures.

We will gladly maintain outward peace with them, as we must do with everyone while we are in the world, even with our worst enemies. Let that go its own way in this life and in worldly affairs. We have nothing to contend for there. But when it comes to doctrine and Christian fellowship, we want nothing to do with them nor want to regard them as brothers, but as enemies, because they deliberately persist in their error. We want to fight against them through our spiritual struggle. Therefore it is only a devilish and deceptive, cunning attack which asserts such a thing and demands that we should yield something and make allowance for an error for the sake of unity. With this attack the devil seeks to lead us away from the Word so cunningly. For when we accept this and agree on this point, then he has already won a place. And soon he will have taken an entire yard if you give him just an inch, and – just like that – he’s torn up everything.

It certainly does not seem that this struggle contains such great danger and power, but St. Paul makes it truly great because it is not a matter of money or possessions, human love or affection, worldly peace or ease, or what flesh and blood is and is capable of or what the world can give and take. In this struggle we stand to lose God and eternal life. Therefore let all that stay or go where it stays or goes, for the devil still hasn’t won anything thereby. But if you make the mistake of letting him take from you this article, namely the Word, then you have lost everything and there is no more help or counsel for you. For the Word is paramount, and without it no possession, life, or anything you are capable of avails or endures before God. And does the devil ever wish and seek to deprive you of it with such fine pretense and appearance! For he has in mind to take everything from you. Therefore it does no good to joke or be carefree about it.

If you had to fight for your house and home, wife and child, and finally for your own body and life, you would certainly not be lazy, but would seek out your enemy and let him have no peace. You would not accept anything from him or yield anything to him, but would take care to anticipate him and have the mastery over him. But now you have other enemies, who have quite different plans for you and have sworn your eternal death, enemies who will not cease until they have overpowered you, and yet who attack you with such cunning (as already mentioned), as if they were pursuing love and friendship for you. See, that is why St. Paul earlier so earnestly exhorts us to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty strength, that is, not to let ourselves be moved to retreat a hair’s breadth from the Word, but to be confident against such cunning attacks of the devil.  ✠