Johannes Oecolampadius as Biblical Interpreter
by Diane M. Poythress
[The following is a pre-publication manuscript that is to be included in the Oxford Handbook of the Bible and the Reformation, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2020 or 2021. Used with permission.]
God began a new work in His Church in the 1500s. Individual men received fresh understanding of Scripture’s meaning. One of the most influential of these men preached in Basel, Switzerland. His name was Johannes Oecolampadius (1482-1531). The manifold aspects of his scholarship, publications, debates, sermons, and piety of life can be pursued elsewhere. These would include his clear influence on men such as Bucer and Calvin, as well as on whole people groups, such as the Waldensians. Much of today’s Reformed doctrine, liturgy, catechism, and hermeneutics can be traced to his hand. It is this latter area that is explored here.
By the time of the Reformation, the interpretation of Scripture had become a mixture of many past contributors. Late Middle Ages laid its emphasis on a scholastic method of analysis and disputation. In particular, church scholars studied Peter Lombard’s Sentences. Select statements were to be presented with pro and con arguments, ending with a concluding analysis. Normal doctoral studies required this discipline as part of the graduation requirements. Oecolampadius fulfilled this requirement by early 1516.1
However, the Basel Reformer had early in life been influenced by humanist teachers. His own love for God guided him into a revolutionary approach to Scriptural interpretation through the Holy Spirit. In order to study his methodology, we will look first at his purpose in understanding the Bible. Then we will dissect his hermeneutical approach. Lastly, we will examine his uniqueness.
Section 1 Purpose
Johannes Oecolampadius could not be called ambivalent about his goal. Quite clearly, on multiple occasions, he stated his thoughts. First, Scripture itself has one goal: Christ. The point of Scripture was to unfold the person and work of Christ. In Him was the summing up of all creation as Scripture made clear.
In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph. 1:7-10, ESV)2
This Scriptural observation shapes his Christocentric hermeneutics, as we shall see later. Here he clearly delineates his purpose in the following explanation: “Because the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit, I am unable not to affirm that in all places the Spirit of the Scriptures has regard for Christ Jesus in purpose, goal, and method.”3
Second, aside from the Scripture’s imperative to exalt Christ, we find Oecolampadius’ corollary purpose: he desired Christ to be exalted particularly among His people. He longed for Christ’s body, the Church, to be built up in faith in the Lord Christ. This he believed came through God’s Word. As Wolfgang Capito explained in his epitaph for his friend, “He hoped at last that through this his work even the unlearned could without any trouble not only be led into the holy of holies of Sacred Scripture, but even be drawn [into it] by a certain wonderful sweetness.”4 Thereby, as Johannes wrote to Martin Bucer in 1531, God’s people could be “adorned in the mystical garments of righteousness” which enabled them to exalt in God’s glory.5
The Bible is the quasi-sacramental means by which God communicates Himself, and thereby communicates faith. In his Exhortation into the Bible, Oecolampadius commends the Bible as the only source for 1.) exposing, convicting, and refuting error, 2) teaching true virtue, 3.) bringing hope, and 4.) revealing God.6 Faith comes through the Word, and only faith receives the Word. “The sense of Scripture is opened to none except those who seek Christ, and to whom Christ reveals Himself. For He has the key of David, He closes and no one opens, He opens and no one closes, Rev. [3:7]. Indeed also, if you say that the Holy Spirit is the door-keeper, he opens to no one except the one who enters through the door which is Christ.”7 However, this assurance of entrance into understanding Scripture, through faith in Christ by means of the Bible itself, also came with a warning. He repeatedly cautions, as we will note later, that to intrude upon the holy writings of the Bible without faith, is to invite condemnation.
Section 2 Hermeneutics
Goals must be implemented. Goals as lofty as these require diligence and precision. Oecolampadius provides both. Here follows a summary of his biblical approach to hermeneutics, particularly his use of Patristic sources, language, grammar, authorial intent, historical background, parallel Scripture, genre, typology, style, and application.
Who taught Oecolampadius how to interpret the Bible? His early humanistic teachers, beginning in elementary school and continuing through Jakob Wimpfeling and Johann Reuchlin, certainly opened new vistas of approach and emphasis. The scholastic method faded into the background in favor of ad fontes, original Hebrew and Greek textual exegesis. The Basel Reformer, in fact, criticized this Medieval strategy as a human invention. “He [St. John] wants us to preserve what the apostles taught us, and reject the innovations and subsequent traditions. For whoever has spoken after the apostles and introduced innovations has spoken such things as a human. We have not heard the Popes and canonists, Thomas and Scotus, from the beginning. Therefore, we only want to do that which the Lord has commanded.”8 No longer did he take a previously cited observation from earlier commentators and argue it in a legalistic, casuistic fashion. He went directly to the text, employing all of the scholar’s tools to uncover the original meaning. The interpretation came fresh from the words themselves through the Holy Spirit, and not as a repetition of the Glossa Ordinaria commentary, which had been used for centuries.
Some have caricatured the hermeneutics of the pre-Reformation church as belonging to either the Antiochene or Alexandrian camp. In actuality, the two streams often intertwined. Oecolampadius leaned mainly on two Church Fathers; Chrysostom and Augustine. From the former he gleaned expositional methods; from the latter, theology. However, he did not follow either slavishly, avoiding simplistic literalism and Platonism, as well as Origen’s mysticism and Medieval scholasticism. He disagreed with Chrysostom’s dismissal of original sin, while also disagreeing with Augustine’s tripartite image of God in man.
With Chrysostom he emphasized salvation history, typology, Christ’s humanity, covenant continuity, Christocentricity, moral application, and the necessity of punctilious attention to the inspired Scriptural text through faith. He similarly avoided philosophizing and speculation.
With Augustine he taught the sovereignty of God, nature of man, election, Christ’s mercy, bondage of the will, salvation by grace alone, consummation, and the distinction between sign and reality. Augustine’s logical argumentation from a text set his model for biblically contained discussions of the text.
As quoted above, he included the goal of exalting Christ as intrinsic to the method of interpretation. True academic scholarship connected man’s heart to the Lord and to His glory.
The ad fontes slogan of humanism ushering in the Reformation returned scholarship to original source material. For biblical studies, that meant in particular a reexamination of the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. Among all the Reformers, Oecolampadius claimed the premiere position as the biblical language expert of Europe. As early as 1518, he published a Greek grammar which continued to see use even two hundred years later. In addition, he was considered a Latin expert, causing some of his enemies to refer to him as the three-headed Cerebus.9 His mother tongue was German, and it is said he also knew Italian and French, along with the previously mentioned Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic. These abilities were weighty at the time. Few men had access to training in these languages at university level until the early 1500’s. Fewer conquered this task. Most churchmen were held captive to a semi-literate knowledge of the Latin translation completed over a thousand years previously.
This language facility opened to him the use of the Septuagint, Targum of Jonathan, the Vulgate, and all the Patristic literature, not to mention the original Greek manuscripts which he helped Erasmus prepare for the 1516 New Testament.
Oecolampadius always sought out the original language in its precise form. For the Old Testament, this meant a preference for the Hebrew, over the Greek Septuagint. He even criticized Jerome for relying too heavily on the LXX and thereby making mistakes in his Latin translation. His insistence on the original language led him to creating his own translations, and thereby unique interpretations, which sometimes opposed the church’s standard explanations. At a time when many churchmen did not know Greek or Hebrew, or indeed little of the Bible itself, his fresh exposition sprang with a vibrant life into the church. He fluently translated and expounded Scripture into Latin and German, making its message clear to both scholars and laymen.
Following a sensus literalis requires concentrated attention to the syntax. So Oecolampadius carefully noted idioms, synonyms, metaphors, poetic phrases, synecdoches, tropes, cohortives, personifications, metonyms, hyperboles, anthropomorphisms, and a multiple of other literary tools common to the language at hand. Larger structures of subordinate clauses, parallel or chiastic arrangements, and logical argumentation were all noted. In his sermons on 1 John, he particularly expounds one verse after another, showing the rational connection that causes the discussion to progress from one thought to the next.
For him, the grammar of the original language never appeared accidental. It always performed the exact role which the Holy Spirit intended for a correct interpretation. A clause came subordinately, because it actually was subordinate. Words such as “therefore,” “since,” and “because” showed inspired causal relationships. Grammar directed correct interpretation. To disregard this meant to disregard the true meaning intended by God Himself. It was God who had men write the words as they were originally spoken or breathed out by Him.
Grammar was no mere academic exercise, but a key to delving into God’s truth. He demonstrated in all his writings that he scoured the biblical and extrabiblical literature in order to discern the proper meaning . Seemingly small variations could lead to huge differences, so for example, the determining of whether a phrase might be metaphorical or literal. Oecolampadius as an exegete proved to be sensitive to textual details without being literalistic. This Basel academic showed himself to be no novice in handling Scripture, especially as demonstrated in his confronting Luther about the meaning of the words in Communion. The controversy’s apparently small grammatical variance split the church, even until today.
Some modern theologians would separate the topic of authorship into human and divine categories. But Oecolampadius saw these two as a seamless garment, in some ways reflective of the incarnation. He understood the human author to be inspired by God in such a way that God guided a man’s mind along the lines of grammar already familiar to him.
The one question surrounding the human author, and therefore the canonicity of his writings, involved actual inspiration. Did this man speak by the power of the Holy Spirit? An author such as Isaiah could be tested. Oecolampadius inquired if the writer evidenced piety. Did other Scripture and extra-biblical sources agree concerning his credibility? Were his prophecies fulfilled? Did his words concur with other inspired Scriptures? What did Jesus Himself say? If the examination of the evidence established the inspired authenticity of the writer, then this conclusion followed: these words were God’s words, requiring attention and awe.
The original author for all Scripture is God. He spoke for all time to all men, which reinforces the double literal hermeneutic. That is to say, that no eternal word of God is constrained necessarily by time. There can be an immediate and distant fulfillment. The human writer does not invent any word, but all canon comes through God’s breathed out inspiration. Oecolampadius imagined Isaiah declaring, “I have the words of the Lord, which He spoke to me: I speak nothing that the Lord has not said before, let me invent nothing out of my head: not from other men or counselors let me take commands, but greater and greatest commands which the Lord ineffably showed.”10
Man as the interpreter is enabled to understand Scripture only if the author Himself reveals His meaning. Man does this through the Holy Spirit via the means of faith. If you have no faith, then the meaning remains veiled. To approach Scripture is to approach God Himself whose Word is powerful and alive. The necessary implication is that the reader or listener must devote diligent attention. The biblical promise accompanies the Christian believer that God will open to him Christ. And by opening Christ, He also will open the Word of Christ. Consistently, Oecolampadius taught that the author of all Scripture, inerrantly and eternally was God Himself. The human author wrote as he was directed through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Author must be the interpreter, which can only occur if He indwells the reader.
A corollary, was the fencing of the Word. That is to say, that the Word can bring life to the believer and death to the unbeliever, therefore the unbeliever should be warned. In commenting on the fact that Hezekiah’s representatives kept silent before the one who mocked God in Isaiah 36, he advises: “More merciful are those who remove the Word from them lest they become occasions of some even greater [guilt] and [lest] they burst forth into more serious blasphemies.”11 The paradox of course is that faith comes by hearing the Word, and yet to hear, but not respond in faith, results in greater condemnation.
We should delve further into Oecolampadius’ use of sources. The printing press came into use only about seventy years before he began publishing. Most original resources had not yet been printed, nor were they widely dispersed. Availability of manuscripts impacted even the 1516 NT of Erasmus and Oecolampadius. These circumstances make all the more astounding, the varied use and quotations by Oecolampadius in his writings. These include Strabo, Ptolemy, Herodotus, Josephus, Plato, Alexander the Great, Homer, Jerome, Chrysostom, Augustine, Tertullian, Origen, the Targum of Jonathan, Saadja, Salomen ben Isaac, Abulwalid Merwan ben Gannach, Abraham ibn Esra, Moses Kimhi, Jesus ben Sidrach, Dionysius, the Septuagint, Onkelos, Gregory of Nyssa, Marcion, history of Queen Semiramis, Pliny, Pomponius Mela, Pelagius, Suetonius, Mercury, Ambrosius, Berosus, Sybil, and many Greek writers. All of these former listings could be found as references in just seven chapters of his Isaiah commentary. These references ranged over the fields of geography, history, theology, philosophy, poetry, and rabbinical literature. It should be noted that he not only referenced these sources, but clearly had read and understood and remembered them. This astounding breadth and apt implementation grounded his hermeneutics in an unrivaled scholarship.
The usage of historical background material was determined by the higher goal of explaining the text correctly. Background information intentionally clarified a meaning or assisted in strengthening faith. Geographical or historical evidence could reaffirm the veracity of a biblical account. For example, a war strategy could be explained by looking at the geography of the site. When ancient customs intruded on a text, they could be explored without their dominating the textual meaning. One instance of this comes in Rabshakeh’s accusation against Hezekiah for removing hillside altars. “In fact there had been high places erected in the honor of God, but not according to the law, and consequently abominable in His eyes”.12
After having worked with Erasmus on the NT Greek edition of 1516, he clearly understood textual variants and how to weigh the difference between the original Greek and the German and Latin. For instance, he indicates his familiarity with various German and Latin translations of a particular word in 1 John 1:5a, but states his preference for the Greek.13
The primary Reformation tool employed by Oecolampadius for hermeneutical work was the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. Exegesis begins with careful parsing of individual words, observing the larger contextual phrase which might be idiomatic, expanding to the pericope, chapter, book, testament, and entirety of revelation. Any questionable interpretation submitted itself to other Scriptural occurrences and usage. This aligns well with the Reformation cry of sola Scriptura. In fact, the Basel Reformer suggested that God purposely repeated phrases and words within the Bible so as to teach us more plainly. “[The interpreter is] helped in this [exegesis] by the diligent comparison of Scriptures. For it cannot be denied, everything that is written, is written for our instruction, 1 Cor. 10.”14
Each word and phrase can receive clarification or deeper, intensified meaning by consulting the whole Bible. For example, in Luke 21:28 we find the expression, “your redemption is drawing near.” By referencing Genesis 15:14-16, Zephaniah 1, Matthew 22:32, Romans 2, and Revelation 18:2, fuller significance can be noted. Thus Oecolampadius identifies the Lukan verse as a parallel identification with the Day of the Lord. The wider Scriptural referencing brings implications, including the reason and mode of judgement which comes to all that day, and the fact that all will see that day.
His commentaries and sermons are filled with so many implicit and explicit Bible quotes that it is nearly impossible to identify them all. This can be noted in the final quotation of this chapter. It would not be unusual to count ten parallel referenced verses employed in the explanation of one verse.
Where Scripture is open to layers of interpretation, he might mention other men’s assessments, but returns to what he understands as the Bible’s own emphasis. His ability in the classical languages enabled his exegesis. However, his piety and obvious Biblical saturation, not mere memorization, enabled his discernment.
To do Biblical theology, according to the Basler divine, always involved the heart as well as the mind. Delving into God’s Word in pursuit of meaning, required personal “humility, of course, which teaches us to worship divine things and to think soberly, and a zealous spirit that shuns no exertion or danger by means of which the glory of God might be increased.”15
The idea of identifying genre, rather than using a literalistic methodology, is actually as old as the Church. Oecolampadius recognized the typical categories of didactic, prophetic, and poetic genre. They could be further subdivided into history, epistles, visions, double literal fulfillments, hymns, prayers, and symbols. A mature understanding of a device known since Ambrosius as persona was also discerned. These could characterize an entire book, or merely a few verses within that book. As mentioned above under grammar, other uses of language could be discerned, including accommodation. The Basler scholar drew attention to all of these modes.
According to Oecolampadius, genre could be discerned by its self-affirmation or context. For example, the careful dating of the reign of Hezekiah in Isaiah 36, reaffirmed its historicity. He firmly declares Genesis 1 and John 1 as clearly historical with no room for the idea of sign. This contrasts with such language as is found in the establishing of the Lord’s Supper.16
He noted that Hebrew poetic parallelism affected interpretation, even in the New Testament. For example, the coming of John the Baptist in Luke 3:4 is informed by Isaiah 40:3. The similar ideas between the two passages as seen in the words “wilderness” and “desert;” “prepare the way” and “make straight … a highway”; “of the Lord” and “for our God” echo each other. Therefore, the proper reading of the Gospel should be: a voice crying, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord”.17
A double fulfillment of prophecy is sometimes the case in that there could be a near and a distant form of fulfillment. In addition,”[I]t is the case that histories, which are true in themselves, also prefigure the mysteries either of Christ or of the antichrist, by a certain hidden type. Therefore, the diligent interpreter overlooks neither.”18 A future fulfillment or typological aspect did not lessen the inerrant, word-for-word inspiration, but rather augmented its richness. The historical aspect received attention first because it gave the setting and direction for interpretation. “He may first compose the history, then he may also uncover the coverings of the mysteries, mentioned by the Apostles, and [he may show] what the Spirit wants us either to imitate, or to raise up”.19 This aspect of typology is discussed next below.
How does this coincide with accommodation? In one sense, Oecolampadius perceived all of Scripture as providing a merciful accommodation by God to man. Historical sections communicated the being and plan of God in Christ for us. The Word applied at the time it was given, connected with the first revealed Word, pointed towards a future time, and applied to every individual believer for all of time. “For what love would it be to set forth strictly future things after many ages, and to flatter those walking about before [our] eyes?”20 History, prophecy, and poetry all revealed God’s mercy and warning to all men for all time, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, deserving His just wrath and punishment.
For Oecolampadius, the main focus, no matter the genre, was Christ. In history, when Hezekiah turned his sickened face to the wall, he turned towards the wall of the Temple which symbolizes Christ Himself. In prophecy, when God promised restoration of fruitful crops to Judah in three years, that third year showed Christ coming as the first fruit, whose crucified and resurrected body would feed His people. In poetry, as mentioned, a “highway for God” referred to the coming of Christ. All Scripture found its meaning in Christ.
The topic of typology overlaps with a Christocentric emphasis in Oecolampadius’ hermeneutics. As mentioned previously, Christ is the goal and means through which all other aspects of interpretation are to be filtered. The Basel Reformer’s sophisticated exegesis did not follow the mechanics of the four-fold method of the Middle Ages. Instead, he sought the text itself and the God who spoke it. That means he did not seek an allegory that Scripture itself did not teach. Speaking of the bronze serpent in the wilderness, he notes, “And although now history clearly is being narrated, it is nevertheless itself also a type pregnant with great mysteries, but as the history of the bronze serpent which Moses lifted up is true, and we are not able to confess but that the serpent itself also was no less a figure of Christ.”21 Meaning is circumscribed by Scripture, and yet all Scripture points to Christ according to the Lord’s own teaching on the road to Emmaus. Therefore Oecolampadius concludes, “Because the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit, I am unable not to affirm that in all places the Spirit of the Scriptures has regard for Christ Jesus in purpose, goal [scopus], and method.”22 Since Christ Himself is the Word of God, He authored both the law and the promise of grace, which He supplied by His substitutionary death for sinners, taking the punishment of broken law on Himself. It is this revelation of the beatific vision of the Savior which engenders love out of faith. Therefore, the interpreter has failed if he has not held forth Christ in all His glory. All of God’s promises and prophecies find fulfillment in Christ. “In vain, therefore, they waste all labor who in the prophets seek anything except Christ and the Christian life.”23
On a human level, he adhered to a brief, clear, and concise style. He tended to abstain from tangential discussions, contemporary arguments, speculations, and long logical proofs. Nor did he casuistically reference scholars (or popes), or literary classics for the purpose of proving his own viewpoint. No word of man could bear the same perfect power or authority as God’s living breath. Faith came by hearing the Word of God. Therefore why be impeded by the imperfect, when the perfect Word could be accessed? His sermons were often preceded by scholarly expositions presented by others. Thus his recorded homilies tended to contain more practical applications than his commentaries. These pragmatic exhortations most often focused on urging listeners to faith.
One particular device adopted by Oecolampadius, and found in only a few other Reformers’ writings, is the epexegetical dialog. This contrivance normally began with the words, “as if he were to say”. Then a paraphrase or imagined speech would follow. The restatement of text provided another avenue by which to clarify or annotate in contemporary speech what the Scripture said. Therefore the imagined speech could draw the reader into the exegesis without diluting the message.
Exegesis begs for an application. For the Basel Reformer, this practical side often arranged itself around particular themes. For Oecolampadius, the main focus of life integration was the increase of faith through seeing the mercy of God in Christ. “I should like, as often as in sacred letters the divine mercy is commended to us, it [God’s mercy] should be diligently pondered, and minimally weakened.”24 The emphasis follows cohesively with the goal of all Scripture, which is Christ. Mercy is properly understood through the eyes of a repentant sinner who sees the deserved gulf of Hell being spanned only by the love of God. Christ is the mercy seat to which the sinner flees for forgiveness by faith. The more a sinner sees the glory of Christ, the more he sees his own wretchedness and loves his merciful Savior. Oecolampadius’ simple application followed the example of Chrysostom’s simple language in this manner.
The necessary foundation for increasing faith is the a priori of faith’s existence being created. This monumental resurrection of a dead soul to life could only be performed by the Holy Spirit, who nevertheless chose to use men. Proclaiming the Word of God through the lips of a mere man was the Holy Spirit’s methodology. Oecolampadius, in using evangelism, did not intend to spread the corrupt traditions or thoughts of men. Rather, he meant to apply the Word of God itself, spoken by a mere mortal. He taught that God intended Scripture, especially in Genesis, to be used to teach man “three main things which are divinely given to humankind, and which are all abundantly handed down in Scripture.”25 Those three things are that God created all things for us; that God restored creation through Christ; and that God has created a future good beyond our understanding.
Section 3 Uniqueness
Briefly, a hermeneutical commonality among all Reformers derived itself from the five solas (sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solo deo, solus Christus). The exegetical implications of these principles led to eschewing scholasticism, traditions, popes, councils, and anything else that contradicted the Scripture itself. It pursued, instead, an intense study of Hebrew, Greek, and sometimes Aramaic, as well as Latin. Somewhat uniquely, Oecolampadius applied his familiarity with Hebrew to the evangelization of the Jew, employing transliterations from Tanakh renderings, and interacting with rabbinical discussions.26
Returning to the original conventions of Scripture meant a change in liturgy, mariology, purgatory, mass, sacerdotal interpretations, auricular confession, intercession of saints, hermeneutical authorities, source material, clerical celibacy, indulgences, penance, sacraments, church state relations, ecclesiology, merit, justification, imputation, free will, the perspicuity of Scripture, pharisaical church membership, and preaching language and content. These changes also accompanied the Basel Reformer, either directly or indirectly from his teaching. Reverberations in Basel took their usual civil effect of more biblical courtship and marriage, women receiving property and being allowed to sue for divorce (especially when a husband never returned from war), and purging of graft, injustice, usury, bribery, plus the dissolution of monasteries.
However, Oecolampadius contributed some very original and unique aspects. Fencing the word is particularly distinctive to him. His high view of Scripture as the living presence of God in His Word, implied that a rejection of this Word was rejecting Christ and therefore tantamount to inviting a curse. Therefore proclaiming the Word came with a warning to the unbeliever.
He strove for a church united by the Holy Spirit, not institutionalism. This meant that members had to be born again by faith and exhibit fruits of rebirth. To maintain a body bereft of nominalism required the discipline of excommunication, administered by a group of elders (not merely clergy or government officials), and oversight by a larger group of elders. This resulted in a presbyterian structure of elders, session, presbytery, and general assembly, which Calvin had the freedom to develop later. It also required that the Church be allowed independence from the State to judge who is a member of Christ’s body, who had spiritual authority over the means of grace. In these matters, he stood unique among the first generation of Reformers. No one for centuries had reinstituted the biblical concept of elders.
Whereas other Reformers touched on covenant concepts tangentially, Oecolampadius espoused a fully mature development of covenant theology in his writings. This seemingly included the covenant of redemption between the Father and Son as implied in his commentary on Isaiah 53:9-10.27 Other Reformers may have incorporated Christocentric exegesis, but he saturated his exegesis with this approach, overflowing into carefully monitored, discerning typology.
It might be argued that he established the first Reformed liturgy, although the full research remains to be established. He initiated a reformed liturgy in 1522 while serving as a castle chaplain. This was printed in 1523 as The Testament of Jesus Christ. A later amended version was implemented and circulated in 1525 as Form and Manner.28
Oecolampadius’ early liturgy concerning the Lord’s Supper reflected his own hermeneutical view of the elements as being signs of the essential redemptive work of Christ applied to the heart of the believer. These means of grace were not mere remembrances, but a participation in the living presence of Christ. As early as 1521, he spoke of the believer being taken into Christ’s heavenly presence in Communion, which Calvin later quoted.29 He further instructed parishioners, “Our mystery is that Christ is the Bread of Life for us, to which we testify with thanksgiving by this sacramental bread. Above all, therefore, every participant of the supper should know that his sins are forgiven through the suffering of Christ.”30 Although he championed this view, particularly at Marburg, it was his unique ability in language and Patristics that led to a full apologetic for the reformed sacrament in De Genuina Verborum Domini.31 In this great tome, Oecolampadius proved the romish interpretation to be an innovation.
What uniquely characterized Oecolampadius’ hermeneutics and life was his astounding mastery in every area of his vocation. Peers attributed highest accolades to him in the areas of scholarship, linguistics, writing, theology, polemics, administration, speaking, preaching, shepherding, piety, not to mention a hermeneutical exegesis which remains unrivaled. The reader may himself assess many of such commendations as evidenced in the ensuing quote. The following charge to a believer embedded in his Isaiah commentary encapsulates many of the foregoing observations concerning Johannes Oecolampadius’ exegesis.
Observe here, whoever acts as a preacher, [the nature of] your office. For the task is, that with Isaiah you may first be a disciple rather than a teacher, and may be among those who have seen God, whom Scripture calls “theodidaktous” [taught by God]. May you also be called by God, as was Aaron, and not like Nadab and Abihu, and Korah, and others. May the desire of Uzziah first die to you, who intruded into sacred things from his own audacity. [Such desire] dies, however, if you do not receive glory from people. For from arrogance is born in the mind the contagious disease of leprosy, which is a symbol of heresy. That you also may see, with Moses, that earthly filthiness and dirtiness of passions, for you will not be fitting to them, in order that you may be sent or may teach. That you also may be a surety of election, the task is, that in you may be prostrated Saul, and may rise up Paul; that you may no longer seek the things which are of the flesh, the things which belong to pharisaical righteousness, the things which are yours, but those of Jesus Christ, and those of others [who are] in Jesus. Withdraw, you also, with Ezekiel to the river Chebar, lest you seek to be praised by people and to be called “rabbi”. And when you know God and see how great is His majesty, beyond profound and inscrutable judgement, and how great is His goodness, then, if the vision be to that [such a calling], teach, lest you be among those who run but are not sent, and instead of the Word of God you offer the trash of your dreams. In Scripture, however, if you search them, you will see God. And when Uzziah has died, you may at once declare God fullest and best. This is not a perceptible unction to you, nor a rite consisting in ceremonies, nor were bishop’s hands furnishing [it]. But the sincere heart will be fit for the Holy Spirit and heavenly unction.32
As therefore the Seraph was sent to Isaiah, in order that he might be cleansed, might learn, and might teach: so Isaiah or another [is sent] to us, that we might be cleansed, might learn, and after that we might undertake the office of teacher.33
… we worship the Lord, asking that He bring us to the apostolic spirit, that is, the doctrine of the Apostles, which, sitting in the chariot of our heart, and revealing deep things, He may preach to us in Isaiah that Jesus is the Christ, by which we also may be made learned and joyful.34
- Diane Poythress, Reformer of Basel: The Life, Thought, and Influence of Johannes Oecolampadius (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011), 6.
- Scripture quotations are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Johannes Oecolampadius. In prophetum Ezechielem commentarius (Basel: Apiarius, 1534), 73v, ad loc. Ezekiel 10.
- Johannes Oecolampadius. D. Io. Oecolampadii in Genesim Enarratio (Basel: Bebel, 1536), 2r. Trans. Mickey L. Mattox, Johannes Oecolampadius: An Exposition of Genesis, in series Reformation Texts with Translation, No. 13, Kenneth Hagen, ed. (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2013), 31. The quote is from “An Epitaph for Iohannes Oecolampadius,” prefacing the 1536 publication.
- Oecolampadius, Genesim, 3r. Trans. Mattox, Genesis, 37.
- Oecolampadius, Genesim, 4r. Trans. Mattox, Genesis, 41.
- Johannes Oecolampadius. In Iesaiam Prophetam Hypomnematon, hoc est, commentariorum, Ioannis Oecolampadii Libri VI (Basel: Cratander, 1525), 2r, ad loc. preface. Trans. Diane Poythress. Reformer of Basel, 63.
- Johannes Oecolampadius, In Epistolam Ioannis apostoli Catholicam primam, Ioannis Oecolampadii demegoriae, hoc est homilae una &XX (Basel: Cratander, 1524), 44v, ad loc. 1 John 2:24, sermon no. 9. See trans. Timothy Matthew Slemmons, Sermons on the First Epistle of John (A Handbook for the Christian Life) (Lexington, KY: n. p., 2017), 131, ad loc. 1 John 2:30-35.
- Ernest Gordon Rupp, Patterns of Reformation (London: Epworth, 1969), 15.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 4v, ad loc. Isa. 1:10. Trans. Diane Poythress.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 197a-198a, ad loc. Isaiah 36:11-21. Trans. Diane Poythress. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 183.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 196b, ad loc. Isaiah 36:7. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 177.
- Oecolampadius, In Epistolam Ioannis apostoli Catholicam primam, 11v, ad loc. 1 John 1:5a. Trans. Slemmons, Sermons on First John, 70 and 232.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 5r, ad loc. Isa. 1:1. See Poythress. Reformer of Basel, 72.
- Oecolampadius, Genesim, 5r. Trans. Mattox, Genesis, 43. From Johannes Oecolampadius “An Exhortation into the Bible.”
- Johannes Oecolampadius. Das der miszverstand D. Martin Luthers uff die ewighstendige wort Das ist mein leib nit beston mag.3 (Basel: Cratander, 1527), ad loc. C1r and C4v-D1r. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 74.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 211r, ad loc. Isa. 40:3. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 75.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 5v, ad loc. Isa. 1:1. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 75.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 5r-5v.
- Ibid., 5r, ad loc. Isa. 1:1. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 76.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 194r, ad loc. Isa. 36:1. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 75.
- Oecolampadius, Ezechielem, 73v, ad loc. Ezekiel 10. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 82.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 2r, ad loc. preface. See Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 82.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 6v, ad loc. Isa. 1:2. Poythress, Reformer of Basel, 80.
- Oecolampadius, Genesim, 5v, ad loc. introduction. Trans. Mattox, Genesis, 43.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 263r-263v, ad loc. Isa. 53:5. Trans. Diane Poythress, “Johannes Oecolampadius: Exposition of Isaiah 53,” The## ## Confessional Presbyterian 13 (2017): 89-96 .
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 263v-264r, ad loc. Isa. 53:5. See Poythress, “Isa. 53,” 93-94, 96.
- Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey, eds., Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 137-159. See also Johannes Oecolampadius. Das Testament Jesu Christi, das man bissher genent hat die Mess verteutscht durch Joannes Oecolampadion, Ecclesiasten zu Adelnburg, zu hayl allen Euangelischen (Augsbutg, Ulhart(?), 1523).
- Diane Poythress, “Johannes Oecolampadius’ Exposition of Isaiah, Chapters 36-37,” Ph.D. dissertation, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1992, 1.140. See also Ernst Staehelin, Das theologische Lebenswerk Johannes Oekolampads. (Leipzig: M. Heinsius Nachfolger Eger & Sievers, 1939), 144.
- Johannes Oecolampadius, Form and Manner of the Lord’s Supper, Infant Baptism, and the Visitation of the Sick as They are Used and Held in Basel, [Form und gstalt wie das Herren nachtmal, der kinder Tauff, der Krancken haymsuchung zu Basel gebraucht und gehalten werden.] (Augsburg: Ulhalt, 1526). See Gibson and Earngey, eds., Reformation Worship, 153.
- Johannes Oecolampadius, Ioannis Oecolampadii De Genvina Verborum Domini, Hoc est corpus meum, iuxta uetustissimos authores, expositione liber (Straßburg, 1525).
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam. 56v-57r, ad loc. Isa. 6:1. Trans. Poythress, Reformer of Basel, post contents page. Also, Poythress, “Johannes Oecolampadius’ Exposition of Isaiah, Chapters 36-37,” 1.5.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 60r, ad loc. Isa. 6:6.
- Oecolampadius, In Iesaiam, 2v, ad loc. preface. Trans. Poythress, “Johannes Oecolampadius’ Exposition of Isaiah, Chapters 36-37,” 1.5.