Martin Luther’s Interpretation of the Royal Psalms: The Spiritual Kingdom in a Pastoral Context

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This study examines Martin Luther’s interpretation of the royal psalms – Psalms 2, 45, 82, 110, 118 – by demonstrating the pastoral heart of Luther’s theology in which he underlines the importance of the spiritual kingdom, the centrality of Jesus Christ, faith, preaching and a tenacious grasp of the word of God. Each chapter examines Luther’s exposition of a specific psalm against his theological understanding of the two kingdoms.


“Over a half-century ago a well-known adage from the so-called New Criticism held that “a poem should not mean, but be.” The argument, correct to an extent, was that poetic discourse ought not be forced — nor can it be reduced — into mere propositions. Philosophers of language rightly taught us that, besides signifying, statements affect power. Luther understood that keenly, and to read him is to experience the Spirit’s power at work in the Word, for Luther never wrote many words of his own without reverting to scripture. He himself was, to quote Ulrich Bubenheimer, “word possessed.” Reading Michael Parsons’ new book will bring Luther’s discourse back to life, and off dusty shelves to which it has been confined for too long.” – Prof. Neil R. Leroux, University of Minnesota

“Parsons’ rich scholarly study has dug deep into Luther’s theology—the detail is rich, the scholarship strong, and the overall message is one that is important both theologically and pastorally. He has both listened to and learned from the reformer. The insights that emerge are sources of nurture for all Christians today in the midst of much that can disturb—but which can also lead us back to the kingship of Jesus Christ as the one who stands at the center of our faith.” – Dr. Donald McKim, Westminster John Knox Press
“Those who see Luther’s primary call as a pastor-theologian, deeply committed to the majesty of God’s word and pastoral care of human souls, will treasure this book.” – Prof. Dennis Ngien, Tyndale Seminary, Toronto

Table of Contents

Foreword by N. R. Leroux
1. ‘God grant me grace to catch hold of its just use.’
The Psalter, Luther and this study
Luther and the Psalms
Luther, the pastor, and royal psalms
The study’s purpose
The Spiritual Kingdom in Context
2. ‘We must divide all ... into two classes.’
Luther on the two kingdoms
The two kingdoms
The commonality between the two kingdoms
The common origin of the two kingdoms
The common purpose of the two kingdoms
The dichotomy between the two kingdoms
The habitancy of the two kingdoms
3. ‘There is need for another kingdom.’ Luther on Psalm 82
Luther’s exposition
Divine involvement in temporal government
Human failure in temporal government
Christ’s spiritual kingdom Reflections
The Spiritual Kingdom and Comfort
4. ‘Already King over Zion.’
Luther on Psalm 2
Psalm 2 (1513)
Psalm 2 (1518)
Psalm 2 (1532)
The eschatological framework
Appearance and reality
The centrality of Christ’s kingdom
Luther’s application
5. ‘The eternal one rules.’
Luther on Psalm 45
Luther’s exposition
He is worthy to reign
His wisdom
His fruitfulness
His power
His success
His everlasting throne
His justice
His splendour
His progeny
Luther’s application
1st argument: forget your people
2nd argument: Christ is God and king
3rd argument: the increase of the church
6. ‘Everlasting King and Priest.’
Luther on Psalm 110
Luther’s exposition
The person and power of the king
The place and manner of his rule
His subjects and their conduct
The Lord’s priesthood and ours
The world’s attitude and end
Luther’s application
7. ‘Christ, the King of grace.’
Luther on Psalm 118
Luther’s exposition
The spiritual government
The true assembly
Christ and grace
Renewed gratitude to God
8. ‘Cross and persecution are taught.’
Luther, the spiritual kingdom and comfort
The pastoral problem
Luther’s pastoral method
Appropriate vulnerability
The spiritual kingdom
Appearance and reality
Eschatological perspective
Rigorous application
Author index
Scripture index
Subject Index

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