Jesus speaks today, saying:
What you are to take away from today’s Gospel reading, if you take nothing else, is that Jesus will be the one to take on temptation and the devil. You are not to go out looking for Satan and pick a fight. You are not to starve yourself in hopes of spiritual clarity and you are not to place yourself in life threatening danger in order to prove yourself.
Now, you may still do those things, but know they offer no spiritual increase. Maybe, if you survive, you gain a bit of wisdom, as in never do it again, but other than that, it is not your fight. Your fight is making sure you hear the Gospel preached in its purity and the Sacraments administered according to it.
However, with both Jesus and Satan quoting the Bible, how do you know you’re not listening to demons right now? So, today, you are going to hear of two very important phrases that will help you interpret the Bible especially in the face of someone else interpreting it in front of you.
The first of these phrases is “norma
normans” and the second is “norma normatta”.
We’ll tackle these one at a time. The first one, “norma normans” quite literally means, “the norming
norm” or the “ruling rule”. You hear the word normal in there and that’s good.
It means that the thing that makes for what is normal in the Church is Holy Scripture. When anything comes up in the Church as to what’s going on and why, we should ask for what is normal, as in “how does the Church normally do things?” Thus, we start with the norm, that is Holy Scriptures, and work from there.
It is at this point that the Christian runs into the problem of, “how do you know your holy scriptures are any truer than others?” And the dutiful Christian would say, because God said so. Then the dutiful criticizer would ask how he knows God said so. And the faithful Christian would answer, because the Bible says.
That just won’t do, because that is called circular reasoning. Thus there must be something more to back up the claim that the Bible makes of itself as the true Word of God, and there is.
It is our second phrase, “norma normatta”, or the “norm that is normed” or the “ruled rule”. What this means is that everything the Christian does and everything the Church does is conformed to Scripture. The normal life of the Christian is dictated by the Bible and the normal life of the Church is, too.
Examples of “norma normattas” would be the Creeds, Divine Service, and the Book of Concord. Though, they all have Biblical proofs, they are not found in the Bible, yet they are a life lived in the Spirit and under the Bible.
The way this helps with our circular reasoning dilemma, is that we do not just appeal to a book, but a life lived. We do not just appeal to imaginary faith that anyone can make up, but to a living, breathing Spirit inhabiting us all. Thus, the key to the “norma normatta” is the Holy Spirit and faith.
Life doesn’t stop after Jesus gives His Word and life is a lot denser than He has spoken about to us. He left out whether its more godly to own a Chevy or a Ford. He left out how to get grass stains out of clothes. He left out how to heal broken hearts.
It seems like it, but really He didn’t. What we must see as normal is what Jesus presents us with today. It is normal for the Christian to be assaulted by the devil. It is normal for the Christian to suffer. It is normal to memorize the Bible and it is normal to have Jesus fight for us.
This is because there is only one victor in this battle and it is Jesus. There is only one giver of the faith and it is Jesus. There is only one “normal” person out there and it is Jesus. Jesus Who gives us the Spirit and who gives us the Faith, also gives us the Church and her norma normattas. And it is in those things that we find a true interpretation of Scripture.
Not because we have them more than others or not even because the Spirit is really speaking to us and not them, but because the Word of God is not simply written pages, but a man.
There are things certainly believed among us and those things were believed before pen and paper. Before creeds, before the book of the Bible, was the confession; the opening of the lips through baptism. Jesus wasn’t walking around writing books and letters and papers. He was speaking.
He spoke and things happened. If He said, get up and walk, whoever it was, got up and walked. If He said, Satan get, Satan got. Thus, when the Lord spoke to people, even the Apostles, something happened. And, what happens when the Lord speaks to you is you speak back.
In this way the Church is born, from speaking, and then produces things such as bibles, creeds, and confessions. But it was in baptism that the Church saw her promises come to life and the proof she wanted from God. It is in the sacraments that the circular reasoning stops.
For, the sacraments don’t just tell you how to judge someone else or how to change your life for the better. They are the change. They judge you as guilty of sin and innocent in Christ. They change your life from one of sin and death to one of righteousness and life. They are the place where the spiritual and the physical are combined in the same way that Jesus is both God and man.
Thus, what puts the devil in his place is not the wittiest answer Jesus could give, but a confession of faith in the correct way to interpret God’s Word: through the sacraments Christ promises. Because if the Bible is sacramental and not just spiritual or physical, then everything the devil tries to accomplish is a lie.
Notice all he offers. Bread, only physical. Spiritual help, only physical. Worship, only physical. The sacraments confound the devil because he doesn’t see the physical and the spiritual nor the benefits of both. This is because the benefits are all wrapped in Jesus, Himself.
Jesus is the spiritual benefit, giving His Holy Spirit. Jesus is the physical benefit, giving His Body and Blood. Jesus is the One Who will be worshipped, because He suffers and dies on the cross, both spiritually and physically. Neither stones, nor heights, nor kingdoms rescue a person from death, but the devil just can’t fathom that.
More important than the Book is the God-man, Jesus Christ.