Friday, February 4, 2011

Bullinger and the strategic role of prophets

Bullinger rightly understood that the primary role of the prophet in Old Testament times was to be a covenant mediator in calling the people of God back into a right covenant relationship with God.

In De Testamento (1534) Bullinger declared that the covenant is “the source of our religion and the first chapter of it” (haec nimirum religionis nostrae origio & illiud caput primarium est). Furthermore, in his De propetae officio (printed 1539 but based on works written in 1528 and 1529) he wrote: “For testament, which is also the title for all of Scripture, surely stands for the content of all Scripture. Neither is this to be wondered at as something recent and devoid of meaning. For by the word testament we understand the covenant and the agreement by which God agreed with the entire human race, to be himself our God, our sufficiency, source of good and horn of plenty. And this he would abundantly prove by the gift of the fertile earth and the incarnation of his son. Man, however, ought to pursue integrity, that he may stand before this God with a perfect and upright mind, that he may walk in his ways and commit himself totally to him, as to the highest and most loving Father.”

Bullinger saw parallels between the idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness of Israel in Old Testament times with the idolatry and unfaithfulness of the church of the Middle Ages. Thus, Bullinger saw Zwingli in as a prophet in continuity with Moses, Isaiah, Paul and Athanasius.

Of Zwingli, Bullinger wrote: “For it was this one who restored the principle of the testament and the eternal covenant and renewed what was worn out. It is this one who restored to its former splendor the omnipotence and goodness of the unity of God which invocation and veneration of other gods had obscured” (De propetae officio, sig. Ei r-v). Bullinger also regarded Luther as a prophet. Just as Elijah had combated the prophets of Baal, so Zwingli performed the work of Elijah in Zurich in the 1520’s.

These ideas are also reflected in Bullinger one hundred sermons on the Apocalypse where he writes the the work of the prophets and apostles continues in the work of (D. Luther and D. Zwingli and other faithful witnesses of God” (huic agemus gratias, quod diu multi praedicatores boni & hodie D. Luthurus & D. Zwinglius, & alii testes Dei fideles, in tam conscelerato seculo, & in tanta Antichristi potentia, tot annis, inuitis etiam inferorum portis, ministerio suo defungi potuerunt).

This post is based on Rodney L. Petersen's article "Bullinger's Prophets of the 'Restitutio'" which is found in Mark S. Burrows and Paul Rorem (eds.) Biblical Hermeneutics in Historical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp245-260. At the Refo 500 Conference to be held in Zurich 8-10 June 2011. Petersen will present a paper entitled: "The apocalyptic Luther - exegesis and self-identification".

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