Now this is something which is impossible in Catholicism – or at least in a very limited way only possible there. It is impossible in Islam – Prof. Jeffery once told the faculty that every Islamic scholar who would try to do what he did with the text of the Koran, would be in danger; research into the original text of the Koran would imply historical criticism of the present text, and this is impossible in a legalistic religion. So if we are legalists with respect to the Bible, in terms of dictation, we fall back to the stage of religion which we find in Islam, and we have felt nothing of the Protestant freedom which we find in Luther.
Now that is the main thing I wanted to say. There are many other problems. There is one with which you often probably deal when you discuss the relationship of systematic theology to the historical departments, especially to the Old and New Testament departments. There the question is: What has the biblical department to do with the systematic, and vice versa? And I don’t know that this is very often in your minds. Let me say one thing about it. Luther was able to interpret the ordinary text already in his translation, and then in his preaching and writings, generally, in such a way that he did not have to take refuge in a special pneumatic, let us say, or spiritual interpretation besides the philological interpretation. The ideal of a theological seminary – against which the historical departments are sinners as much as the systematic departments, including myself – would be to give biblical interpretations in such a way that the philological exactitude, including all that we call higher criticism, is combined with an existential application of the biblical text to the questions which we have to ask, and which are supposed to be answered in systematic theology. The separation into “experts” is a very unhealthy state of things – where the New Testament man tells me “I cannot discuss this problem with you because I am not an expert,” and I say – -which is always sinful – sometimes to an Old and New Testament colleague, “I cannot say that because I am not an expert in Old or New Testament.” And insofar as we all do it, we rally against the original meaning of Luther’s attempt to remove the allegoric interpretation and to return to a philological interpretation which is at the same time Spiritual.
So you see these problems are very actual ones, even today, and I think here the student body can do a good deal: you can simply not accept that from us, that we are “experts” and not theologians any more – only “experts.” Don’t accept that. Ask the biblical man about the existential meaning of what they give you, and the systematic theologian about the biblical foundation – in the real biblical texts, as they are philologically understood.