Zwingli: Human Nature and God’s Clear Word

“Now, if we have found that the inward man is as stated, and that it delights in the law of God because it is created in the divine image in order to have fellowship with him, it follows necessarily that there is no law or word which will give greater delight to the inward man than the Word of God” (67).

He gives an interesting argument, though I think it needs to be modified.   His preceding discourse sought to establish that God’s image is found more closely in man’s soul than body (and here he largely follows Augustine’s view).  Zwingli does not see current, fallen man as twisted and depraved beyond rational hope.  Man is a fallen sinner, to be sure, but sin has not so marred man’s constitution to make rational discourse impossible.

An Augustinian Continuation of Zwingli’s Argument

Augustine famously said, “Thou has made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions, I.1).    If God indeed has made us for himself, then it seems odd that he made us in such a way that he cannot communicate to us clearly.  Therefore, in some sense the Scriptures have to be clear.   To be sure, sinful man twists the Scriptures and rejects them, but he has to know God’s claim in order to suppress it.   Our consciences know this to an extent.   It seems odd that something as ephemeral as a conscience can clearly reveal God’s truth, but something as objective as words on a piece of paper is “just too mysterious and has to be interpreted by a church.”

Therefore, if God made us for himself, then he can communicate to us.  If he can communicate to us, then there must be something in our nature that can receive that communication.  Therefore, reading the Bible is not necessarily a hermeneutical free-for-all.  If God’s revelation in nature is objectively clear, then how much more so is his Word?!?

Why Have a Middle Man?

Zwingli gives a very penetrating and cogent response to those who say we can only know the Scriptures as the magisterium (or its like synonym) interprets them for us.   The problem, Zwingli notes, (and this is far more aggravated today with the myriad of exclusivist communions like RCC, EO, True Orthodox, Coptic, Nestorian, etc; asking which “true church” left the “true church” first is akin to asking which siamese twin left first after the surgery, to borrow Doug Wilson’s phrase).  I well remember my own frustration.  I kept asking God, “Show me the true path!  Reveal which communion has the proper truth for me so I can know the truth.”  I long suspected something was wrong with that, but a classicist like Zwingli exposed the irony:

“You fool, you go to God simply that he may distinguish between men, and you do not ask him to show you that way of salvation which is pleasing to him and which he himself regards  as sure and certain.  Note that you are merely asking God to confirm something which men have told you.  But why do you not say:  Oh God, they all disagree amongst themselves, but you are the only, unconcealed Good; show me the way of salvation” (84).

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2 comments on “Zwingli: Human Nature and God’s Clear Word

  1. Daniel says:

    Given your methodological tendencies (as revealed in this post), on what grounds do you take issue with someone like Joseph Smith? He simply did what you’re talking about here. Why is “making up a new faith” incorrect given your presuppositions here?

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