Commentary on Genesis, Vol. II - Luther on Sin and the Flood
by Martin Luther
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31. In the light of this passage the frequent and emphatic application of the principle is justified that we should neither design nor do anything, especially in respect to God's service and worship, without the initiative and command of the Word. As above narrated, Noah enters the ark upon God's command; and he leaves the ark upon God's command to leave it. He does not follow superstitious notions, as we see the Jews do, who, when they establish anything temporary by command, endeavor to retain it forever, as if it were essential to salvation.

32. Noah might have argued thus: Behold, I built the ark by the command of God; I was saved in it while all other men perished: therefore I will remain in it, or keep it for a place of divine worship, since it has been sanctified by the Word of God and the presence of the saints, the Church. But the godly man did nothing of the kind. The Word had commanded him to go forth, therefore he obeyed. The ark had done its service during the flood and he left it, assured that he and his children were to live on the earth. So must we undertake nothing without the Word of God. In a holy calling, which has the Word and command of God, let us walk! For whosoever attempts anything without the command of God, will labor in vain.

33. To deny this, some one might cite as example the act of Noah, described below, when he built an altar without God's command, and offered a burnt-offering thereon to God from the clean animals. If this was permitted to Noah, why should we not be permitted to choose certain forms of worship? And, in truth, the Papacy has heaped up works and forms of worship in the Church without measure, just as it pleased. But we must hold fast to the principle, which is a theorem of general application, that whatsoever is not of faith, is sin, (Rom 14, 23). But faith cannot be separated from the Word; hence, whatsoever is done without the Word, is sin.

34. Furthermore, it is plainly dangerous to take the acts of the fathers as models. As individuals differ, so also do their duties differ, and God requires diverse works according to the diversity of our calling. Accordingly the epistle to the Hebrews fitly refers the various acts of the fathers to the one faith, in order to show that each of us must imitate, in his calling, not the works, but the faith of the fathers. Heb 11.

35. Hence works peculiar to the holy fathers must by no means be considered as models for us each to imitate as the monks imitate the fasting of Benedict, the gown of Francis, the shoes of Dominic and the like. Men become apes who imitate without judgment. The monks try to ape the works, but know nothing of the faith of the fathers.

36. Abraham was commanded to slay his son. Afterward his descendants most wickedly believed they should follow his example, and they filled the earth with innocent blood. In a similar manner the people worshiped the brazen serpent and offered sacrifices before it. In both instances the people wanted to justify themselves by the example of their forefathers; but since they established these forms of worship without the Word, they were righteously condemned.

37. Let us, therefore, remember not to establish anything without the Word of God. Duties differ, and so must the works of individuals. How foolish it would be for me to proclaim that I must follow Caesar's example, and that others must obey my laws! How wicked it would be for me to assert that I must follow the example of a judge, condemning some to the cross, others to the sword! Then, we must look, not upon the works, but upon the faith of individuals; for the faith of all saints is one, though their works are most diverse.

38. Think not that because Noah built an altar, you may do likewise; but follow the faith of Noah, who thought it right to show his merciful Savior that he understood his beneficent gifts, and was grateful for them. Follow Abraham, not in slaying your son, but in believing the promises of God, and in obeying his commandments. The epistle to the Hebrews fitly refers the deeds and acts of the fathers to their faith, setting forth that we should follow their faith.


1. Whether Noah was commanded to offer a sacrifice and in what way sacrificing is justified 39-41.

* Have monks divine command to support their order 40.

* Shall we find fault with the works of saints, for which they apparently had no command 41.

* How in all works we should have respect for God's command 42.

* Lyra's unfounded thoughts on the words, "Be fruitful" etc. 43.

* Why Moses said so much about their leaving the ark 44.

2. Noah's sacrifice proves Moses did not originate the idea of sacrifice 45-46.

3. Why Noah's sacrifice was pleasing to God 47-48.

* The meaning of "sweet savor" 47-48.

4. How it can be said God "smelled the sweet savor", and why this form of speech used 49-50.


39. The objection under consideration can be invalidated by the rejoinder that Noah did have a command to erect an altar and offer sacrifices. God approved the rite of sacrifice by ordering that more of the clean animals—suitable for sacrifice—should be taken into the ark. Nor was Noah permitted to cast aside the office of the priesthood, which had been established by the Word before the flood and had come down to him by the right of primogeniture. Adam, Seth, Enoch and others had been priests. From them Noah possessed the office of the priesthood as an inheritance.

40. Therefore Noah, as priest and prophet, was not only at liberty to offer sacrifice, but he was under obligation to do so by virtue of his calling. Since his calling was founded on God's Word, in harmony with that Word and by God's command he built an altar and offered sacrifices. Therefore let a monk prove it is his office and calling to wear a cowl, to worship the blessed Virgin, to pray the rosary and do like things, and we will commend his life. But since the call is lacking, the Word is not the authority and the office does not exist, the life and works of the monks in their entirety stand justly condemned.

41. Finally, even if all other arguments should fail, this argument, according to which man judges the cause by the effect, remains; namely, that God expresses approval of Noah's deed. Although such reasoning from effect to cause may not be unassailable, it yet is not without value in respect to such heroic and uncommon men, who meet not with rejection but approval on the part of God, although they appear to do what they have not been expressly commanded. They possess the inward conviction that they are guilty of no transgression, though the disclosure of this fact is delayed until later God expresses his approval. Such examples are numerous and it is noteworthy that God has expressed approval even of the acts of some heathen.

42. Let this maxim, then, stand, that everything must be done by the command of God in order to obtain the assurance of conscience that we have acted in obedience to God. Hence they who abide in their divinely assigned calling, will not run uncertainly nor will they beat the air as those who have no course in which they have been commanded to run, and in consequence may not look forward to a prize. 1 Cor 9, 24.

But I return to the text. Noah, with his sons and the women, is commanded to leave the ark, and to lead forth upon the earth every species of animals, that all his works may be sanctified and found in keeping with the Word. Concerning the animals Moses now expressly states:

Vs. 17-19. Be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth. And Noah went forth, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him: every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, whatsoever moveth upon the earth, after their families, went forth out of the ark.

43. The Lord speaks of the propagation of Noah and his sons in the ninth chapter and that, I believe, is the reason why he speaks here only of the propagation of the animals. From the expression here used, Lyra foolishly concludes that cohabitation had been forbidden during the flood and was now again permitted after the departure from the ark, since God says, "Go forth, ... thou and thy wife." Such thoughts belong to monks not to God, who plans not sinful lust, but propagation; the latter is God's ordination, but lust is Satan's poison infused into nature through sin.

44. Moses here uses many words to illustrate the overflowing joy of the captives' souls, when they were commanded to leave their prison, the ark, and to return upon the earth now everywhere open before them. In recounting the kinds of animals, however, he arranges them in a different order, distinguishing them by families, as it were, to let us see that only propagation was God's aim. It must have been a glad sight when each one of the many beasts, after leaving the ark, found its own mate, and then sought its accustomed haunt: the wolves, the bears, the lions, returning to the woods and groves; the sheep, the goats, the swine, to the fields; the dogs, the chickens, the cats, to man.

V. 20. And Noah builded an altar unto Jehovah, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean bird, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar.

45. This text shows conclusively that Moses was not the first person to introduce sacrifices but that, like a bard who gathers chants, he arranged and classified them as they had been in vogue among the fathers and transmitted from the one to the other. Thus also the law of circumcision was not first written by Moses but received from the fathers.

46. Above (ch 4, 4-5), where Moses mentioned the sacrifice of Abel and Cain, he called it minchah, an offering; here, however, we find the first record of a burnt-offering, one entirely consumed by fire. This, I say, is a clear proof that the law of sacrifices had been established before the time of Moses. His work, then, consisted in arranging the rites of the forefathers in definite order.

V. 21. And Jehovah smelled the sweet savor.

47. It is set forth here that Jehovah approved Noah's sacrifice which he offered by virtue of his office as a priest, according to the example of the fathers. However, the differences of phraseology is to receive due attention. Of the former sacrifice he said that Jehovah "had respect" to it; here he says that "Jehovah smelled the sweet savor." Moses subsequently makes frequent use of this expression. The heathen also adopted it; Lucian, for example, makes fun of Jove who was conciliated by the odor of meats.

48. The word in the original, however, does not properly signify the "savor of sweetness," but "the savor of rest", for nichoach meaning "rest", is derived from the verb nuach, which Moses used before, when he said that the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. Therefore it is the "savor of rest," because God then rested from his wrath, dismissing his wrath, becoming appeased, and, as we commonly say, well content.

49. Here the question might be raised why does he not say, Jehovah had respect to Noah and his burnt offering, rather than, Jehovah smelled the savor of rest, which latter certainly sounds shocking, as though he were not commending the man for his faith, but merely for his work. This objection is usually answered by saying that the Scriptures speak of God in human fashion. Men are pleased by a sweet savor. But it seems to me there is still another reason for this expression, namely, that God was so close at hand that he noticed the savor; for Moses desires to show that this holy rite was well-pleasing to God: Solomon says (Prov 27, 9) that perfume rejoiceth the heart. Physicians sometimes restore consciousness by sweet odors. On the other hand, a violent stench is extremely offensive to our nature, and often overpowers it.

50. In this sense, one may say that God, having been annoyed by the stench of wickedness, was now refreshed, so to speak, when he saw this one priest girded himself to perform holy rites in order to give proof of his gratitude, and to manifest by some public act he did not belong to the ungodly, but that he had a God whom he feared. This is the real meaning of a sacrifice. As it had pleased God to destroy mankind, he is now delighted to increase it. Moses uses this expression for our sake, that we, through the experience of God's grace, may learn that God delights to do us good.


1. God solemnly and earnestly means it 51.

* How understood "it repented God that he had made man" 52-54.

* Experiences in spiritual temptations and how God helps us to bear them 54.

2. The meaning of "God will not again smite the earth" 55.


V. 21b. And Jehovah said in his heart.

51. Moses points out that these words were not spoken by God without heart and feeling, but from his very vitals. This is the meaning of the Hebrew text which has it that God spoke to his own heart.

V. 21c. I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake.

52. God speaks as if he were sorry for the punishment inflicted upon the earth on account of man, just as formerly he expressed regret for his creation, reproving himself, as it were, for his fury against man. This must not, of course, be understood as implying that God could possibly change his mind; it is written only for our consolation. He accuses and blames himself in order to rouse the little flock to the certain faith that God will be merciful hereafter.

53. And their souls stood in real need of such consolation. They had been terrified as they witnessed God's raging wrath, and their faith could not but be shaken. So now God is impelled to so order his acts and words that these people might expect only grace and mercy. Accordingly he now speaks with them, is present at their sacrifice, shows that he is pleased with them, blames his own counsel, and promises that he will never do anything like it in the future. In brief, he is a different God from what he had been before. While God, indeed, does not change, he wants to change men, who have become altogether habituated to thoughts of wrath.

54. They who have experienced trials of the spirit, know full well how much the soul then stands in need of sure and strong consolation to induce it once more to hope for grace and to forget the wrath. One day, a whole month, perhaps is not enough for this change. Just as it takes a long time to recover from bodily disorders, so such wounds of the soul cannot be healed at once, or by one word. God sees this, and tries by various means to recall the terrified souls to a certain hope of grace; he even chides himself, speaking to his own heart, as in Jeremiah 18, 8, where he promises to repent of the evil he thought of doing, if the offenders also repent.

55. It should furthermore be noted that he says, "I will not again curse the ground." He speaks of a general destruction of the earth, not of a partial one, as when he destroys fields, cities, or kingdoms. The latter instances are for a warning; as Mary says, "He hath put down princes from their thrones." Lk 1, 52.


1. Natural depravity crops out in infancy 56.

2. It is seen as the years advance 57-58.

3. Whether those who would drown it have reason for doing so 59-60.

4. There is none untainted by it 61-62.

5. The godless yield to it, believers resist it 62.

* Can God be charged with being changeable 63-64.

6. The knowledge of natural depravity is very necessary 65.

7. What moves sophists to ignore natural depravity 65-66.

8. How to view those who lightly regard natural depravity, and how to refute them 68-69.

* Meaning of "the imagination of the heart" 70.

* True theological definition of man 71.

9. The proof of natural depravity and that the natural is not perfect 72-73.

10. Consequence of false teaching on natural depravity and the natural 74-75.

* What sophists understand by Merito congrui and condigni 74.

11. How Scotus tried to prove that man's natural powers were all he had, and how to refute his opinion 75-76.

* Value of the Scholastics and their theology 77.

12. How teachers in these things lead astray 78.

* The virtues of the heathen.

a. Estimate of them 79-80.

b. How they differ from the good works of the saints 81.

c. What they lack 82-83.

13. Natural depravity may sleep in youth, but it will awake as the years advance 84-86.

14. Those who ignore natural depravity may be refuted by experience 87.

15. Philosophy manifests its vanity and blindness in its attitude to this doctrine 88-89.

16. Experience confirms natural depravity 89-90.

17. Whether natural depravity can be completely eradicated: how to check it 91.

* How to understand "God will not smite the earth again" 92.

* Nature thrown into great disorder by the deluge 93.

* Seasons of the year again put in their order 94.

* The people's talk about the signs of the last times 95.

* The days of earth to be followed by the days of heaven, and we should prepare for them 96.


V. 21d. For that the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.

56. This is a powerful passage, relating to original sin. Whoever weakens its force, goes straying like the blind man in the sunlight, failing to see his own acts and experiences. Look at the days of our swaddling clothes; in how many ways sin manifests itself in our earlier years. What an amount of switching it requires until we are taught order, as it were, and attention to duty!

57. Then youth succeeds. There a stronger rebellion becomes noticeable, and in addition that untamable evil, the rage of lust and desire. If one take a wife, the result is weariness of his own and a passion for others. If the government of a State is entrusted to him, an exceptionally fruitful harvest of vice will follow—as jealousy, rivalry, haughtiness, hope of gain, avarice, wrath, anger, and other evils.

58. It is true, as the German proverb has it, that sins grow with the years: Je laenger, je aerger; je aelter, je kaerger (worse with time, stingier with age). All such vices are so blatant and gross as to become objects of observation and intelligence. What, then shall we say of the inward vices when unbelief, presumption, neglect of the Word, and wicked views grow up?

59. There are those who are and desire to be considered powerful theologians, though they extenuate original sin by sophistry. But vices so numerous and great cannot be extenuated. Original sin is not a slight disorder or infirmity, but complete lawlessness, the like of which is not found in other creatures, except in evil spirits.

60. But do those extenuators have any Scriptural proof to rest upon? Let us see what Moses says. As I pointed out in explaining the sixth chapter, he does not call such things evil, as lust, tyranny, and other sins, but the imagination of the human heart; that is, human energy, wisdom and reason, with all the faculties the mind employs even in our best works. Although we do not condemn acts which belong to the social or civil sphere, yet the human heart vitiates these works in themselves proper, by doing them for glory, for profit, or for oppression, and either from opposition to the neighbor or to God.

61. Nor can we escape the force of this passage by saying that those are meant who perished by the flood. God uses a generic term which denotes that the heart of man, as such, is meant. At the time this was spoken there were no other people than those saved in the ark, and yet the declaration is: the imagination of man's heart is evil.

62. Therefore, not even the saints are excepted. In Ham, the third son, this imagination of the heart betrayed its nature. And the other brothers were no better by nature. There was only this difference, that they, believing in the promised seed, retained the hope of forgiveness of sin, and did not give way to the evil imagination of their hearts, rather resisting it through the Holy Spirit, who is given for the very purpose of contending against, and overcoming, the malignity of man's nature. Because Ham gives way to his nature, he is wholly evil, and totally perishes. Shem and Japheth, who contend against it in their spirit, though being evil, are not altogether so. They have the Holy Spirit, through whom they contend against the evil, and hence are holy.

63. It would seem here that God might be accused of fickleness. Before, when he was about to punish man, he assigned as a reason for his purpose the fact that the imagination of man's heart is evil; here, when he is about to give unto man the gracious promise that he will not thereafter show such anger, he puts forward the same reason. To human wisdom this appears foolish and inconsistent with divine wisdom.

64. But I gladly pass by such sublime themes, and leave them to minds possessed of leisure. For me it is enough that these works are spoken to suit our spiritual condition, inasmuch as God points out that he is now appeased and no longer angry. So parents, having chastised their disobedient children as they deserve, win again their affections by kindness. This change of mood is not deserving of criticism but rather of commendation. It profits the children; otherwise they, while fearing the rod, might also begin to hate their parents. This explanation is good enough for me, for it appeals to our faith. Others may explain differently.

65. We should give diligent attention to this passage because it plainly shows that man's nature is corrupt, a truth above all others to be apprehended, because without it God's mercy and grace cannot be rightly understood. Hence, the quibblers previously mentioned are to be despised and we have good reason to take to task the translator who gave occasion for this error by rendering the words so as to say, not that the imagination of man's heart is evil, but that it is inclined to evil. Upon this authority the quibblers distort or set aside those passages of Paul where he says that all are children of wrath (Eph 2, 3) that all have sinned (Rom 5, 12) and are under sin (Rom 3, 9). They argue from our passage as follows: Moses does not say that human nature is evil, but that it is prone to evil; this condition, call it inclination or proclivity, is under the control of free will, nor does it force man toward the evil, or (to use their own words) it imposes no constraint upon man.

66. Then they proceed to find a reason for this statement and declare that even after the fall of man, there remains in him a good will and a right understanding. For the natural powers, say they, are unimpaired, not only in man but even in the devil. And finally they so twist Aristotle's teachings as to make him say that reason tends toward that which is best. Some traces of these views are found also in the writings of the Church fathers. Using Psalms 4, 6 as a basis, where the prophet says, "Jehovah, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us," they distinguish between a higher part of reason which inquires concerning God, and a lower part employed in temporal and civil affairs. Even Augustine is pleased with this distinction, as we stated above when discussing the fall of man.

67. But if only a spark of the knowledge of God had remained unimpaired in man, we should be different beings by far from what we now are. Hence, those quibblers who pick flaws in the plain statements of Paul are infinitely blind. If they would carefully and devoutly consider that very passage as they read it in their Latin Bible, they would certainly cease to father so bad a cause. For it is not an insignificant truth which Moses utters when he says the senses and the thoughts of the heart of man are prone to evil from his youth. This is the case especially in the sixth chapter (vs 5) where he says that the whole thought of his heart was bent on evil continually, meaning thereby that he purposes what is evil, and that in inclination, purpose and effort he inclines to evil. For example; an adulterer, whose desires are inflamed, may lack the opportunity, the place, the person, the time, and nevertheless be stirred by the fire of lust, unable to dwell upon anything else. In this manner, says Moses, does human nature always incline toward evil. Can, then, the natural powers of man be said to have remained unimpaired, seeing that man's thoughts are always set upon evil things?

68. If the minds of the sophists were as open toward the holy doctrine contained in the prophetical and apostolical writings as toward their own teachers who teach the freedom of the will and the merit of works, they surely would not have permitted themselves by so small an inducement as one little word to be led away from the truth so as to teach, contrary to Scripture, that man's natural powers are uninjured, and that man, by nature, is not under wrath or condemnation. Notwithstanding, it appears that they turn against their own absurdity. Although the natural powers of man are uninjured, yet they maintain that, to become acceptable, grace is required; in other words, they teach that God is not satisfied with man's natural goodness, unless it be improved by love.

69. But what is the need to argue longer against the madness of the sophists, since we know the true meaning of the Hebrew text to be, not that man's mind and thoughts are inclined to evil, but that the imagination of the human heart is evil from youth?

70. By imagination, as I stated several times before (ch 6, para 148), he means reason itself, together with the will and the understanding, even when it dwells upon God, or occupies itself with most honorable pursuits, be they those of State or Home. It is always contrary to God's law, always in sin, always under God's wrath, and it cannot be freed from this evil state by its own strength, as witness Christ's words: "If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," Jn 8, 36.

71. If you wish a definition of the word "man" take it from this text teaching that he is a rational being, with a heart given to imagination. But what does he imagine? Moses answers, "Evil"; that is, evil against God or God's Law, and against his fellow man. Thus holy Scriptures ascribe to man a reason that is not idle but always imagines something. This imagination it calls evil, wicked, sacrilegious, while the philosophers call it good, and the quibblers say that the natural gifts are unimpaired.

72. Therefore this text should be carefully noted and urged against the caviling quibblers: Moses declares the imagination of the human heart to be evil. And if it be evil, the conclusion is natural that the natural gifts are not unimpaired, but corrupted: Inasmuch as God did not create man evil, but perfect, sound, holy, knowing God, his reason right and his will toward God good.

73. Seeing we have clear testimony to the fact that man is evil and turned away from God, who would be mad enough to say that the natural gifts in man remain unimpaired? That would be practically saying that man's nature is unimpaired and good even now, whereas we have overwhelming evidence in our knowledge and experience that it is debased to the utmost.

74. From that wicked theory there have sprung many dangerous and some palpably wicked utterances, for instance, that when man does the best in his power, God will unfailingly give his grace. By such teaching they have driven man, as by a trumpet, to prayer, fasting, self-torture, pilgrimages and similar performances. Thus the world was taught to believe that if men did the best that nature permitted, they would earn grace, if not the grace "de merito," at least that "de congruo." A "meritum congrui" (title to reward based upon equity) they attribute to a work which has been performed not against but in accordance to the divine law, inasmuch as an evil work is subject not to a reward but a penalty. The "meritum condigni" (a title to reward based upon desert) they attribute not to the work itself but to its quality as being performed in a state of grace.

75. Another saying of this kind is the declaration of Scotus that man by mere natural powers may love God above all things. This declaration is based upon the principle that the natural powers are unimpaired. He argues as follows: A man loves a woman, who is a creature, and he loves her so immoderately that he will imperil his very life for her sake. Similarly, a merchant loves his wares, and so eagerly that he will risk death a thousand times if only he can gain something. If therefore, the love of created things is so great, though they rank far below God, how much more will a man love God who is the highest good! Hence, God can be loved with the natural powers alone.

76. A fine argument, indeed, and worthy of a Franciscan monk! For he shows that, though he is a great teacher, he does not know what it means to love God. Nature is so corrupt that it can no longer know God unless it be enlightened by the Word and Spirit of God; how then can it love God without the Holy Spirit? For it is true that we have no desire for what we do not know. Therefore, nature cannot love God whom it does not know, but it loves an idol, and a dream of its own heart. Furthermore, it is so entirely fettered by the love of created things that even after it has learned to know God from his Word, it disregards him and despises his Word. Of this the people of our own times are an example.

77. Such foolish and blasphemous deliverances are certain proof that scholastic theology has degenerated into a species of philosophy that has no knowledge of God, and walks in darkness because it disregards his Word. Also Aristotle and Cicero, who have the greatest influence with this tribe, give broad instructions concerning moral excellences. They magnify these exceedingly as social forces since they recognize them as useful for private and public ends. In nowise, however, do they teach that God's will and command is to be regarded far more than private or public advantage (and those who do not possess the Word are ignorant of the will of God). Quite plainly the scholastics have fallen victims to philosophical fancies to such an extent as to retain true knowledge neither of themselves nor of God. This is the cause of their lapse into such disastrous errors.

78. And, indeed, it is easy to fall after you have departed from the Word; for the glitter of civil virtues is wonderfully enticing to the mind. Erasmus makes of Socrates almost a perfect Christian, and Augustine has unbounded praise for Marcus Attilius Regulus, because he kept faith with his enemy. Truthfulness indeed is the most beautiful of all virtues, and in this case another high commendation is added in that there was combined with it love of country, which in itself is a peculiar and most praiseworthy virtue.

79. You may find men of renown not famous for truthfulness. Themistocles, for instance, did not have this virtue though he was a heroic man and did his country great service. That is the reason why Augustine admires Attilius, finding his reason and will to be utterly righteous, that is as far as it is possible for human nature to be. Where, then, is vice in this case? Where is wickedness? The hero's work surely cannot be censured.

80. First, Regulus knew not God, and, although his conduct was right, it is still to be seen whether a theologian should not censure his motive. For to his zeal in behalf of his country is added the thirst for glory. He evinces contempt for his life so as to achieve immortal glory among those to live after him. Contemplating, therefore, merely his life's dream, as it were, and the outward mask, it is a most beautiful deed. But before God it is shameful idolatry; because he claims for himself the glory of his deed. And who would doubt that he had other failings besides this thirst for glory? Attilius cannot claim the great virtues of truthfulness and love of country without tending violently and insanely toward wickedness. For it is wicked for him to rob God of the glory and to claim it for himself. But human reason cannot recognize this spoliation of the Deity.

81. A distinction must be made between the virtues of the heathen and the virtues of Christians. It is true that in both instances hearts are divinely prompted, but in the former ambition and love of glory afterward defile the divine impulse.

82. If now, an orator should come forth, who would dilate upon the efficient cause, but disguise the ultimate and vicious one, would it not be apparent to every one that with the two most potent causes, the formal (that which gives moral value to an act) and the ultimate one, disguised, an eloquent man could extol such a wretched shadow of a virtue? But a man apt in logic will readily discover the deception; he will observe the absence of the formal cause, namely the right principle, there being no true knowledge of God nor of the proper attitude toward him. He sees, furthermore, that the final cause is vicious, because the true end and aim, obedience to God and love of neighbor, is not taken into consideration. But what kind of virtue is that where nearly every cause is lacking except the natural cause, which is a passion, an impetus or impulse, by which the soul is moved to show loyalty to an enemy? These impulses, as I said, are found also in the ungodly. If exercised for the good of the country, they become virtues; if for its injury, they become vices. This Aristotle sets forth very skillfully.

83. I refer to these things that students of sacred literature may make special note of this passage, which advisedly declares human nature to be corrupt. For those make-believe virtues, found among the heathen, seem to prove the contrary—that some part of nature has remained as it was originally. Hence there is need of careful judgment in order to distinguish in this matter.

84. Moses adds, "from his youth," because this evil is concealed during the first period of life and sleeps, as it were. Our early childhood so passes that reason and will are dormant and we are carried along by animal impulses, which pass away like a dream. Hardly have we passed our fifth year when we affect idleness, play, unchastity, and evil lust. But we try to escape discipline, we endeavor to get away from obedience, and hate all virtues, especially of a higher order as truth and justice. Then reason awakes out of a deep sleep, as it were, and sees certain kinds of pleasure, but not yet the true ones, and certain kinds of evils, but not yet the most powerful ones, by which it is held captive.

85. Where, then, the understanding has attained to maturity, not only the other vices are found to have grown strong, but there are joined to them now sexual desire and unclean passion, gluttony, gambling, strife, rape, murder, theft, and what not? And as the parents had to apply the rod, so now the government must needs use prison and chains in order to restrain man's evil nature.

86. And who does not know the vices of a more advanced age? They march along in unbroken file—love of money, ambition, pride, perfidy, envy, and others. These vices are so much the more harmful as at this age we are more crafty in concealing and masking them. Hence, the sword of government is not sufficient in this respect; there is need of hell fire for the punishment of crimes so manifold and great. Justly, then, did Moses say above (ch 6) that the human heart, or the imagination of the heart, is only evil each day—or at all times—and here again, that it is evil from youth.

87. The Latin version, it is true, makes use of a weaker term; yet it says enough by stating that it is inclined toward evil, just as the comic dramatist says that the minds of all men are inclined to turn from labor to lust, Ter Andr 1, 1, 51. But those who try to misuse this expression for the purpose of making light of original sin, are shown to be in the wrong by the common experience of mankind; chiefly, however, that of the heathen, or ungodly men. For if spiritual men, who surely enjoy divine help from heaven, can hardly hold their ground against vices and be kept within the bounds of discipline, what can any man do without this help? If divine aid contends against the captivity of the law of the flesh only with fierce struggles (Rom 7, 22-23), how insane is it to dream that, without this divine help, human nature can withstand corruption?

88. Hence reason of itself does not decide upon the right, nor does the will, of itself, strive after the same, as a blind philosophy declares which does not know whence these fearful impulses to sin arise in children, youths, and old men. Therefore it defends them, calls them emotions or passions only, and does not call them natural corruption.

89. Furthermore, in noble men, who check and control these impulses, it calls them virtues; in others who give the reins to their desires, it calls them vices. This is nothing less than ignorance of the fact that human nature is evil. The Scriptures, on the contrary agree with our experience and declare that the human heart is evil from youth. For we learn by experience that even holy men can scarcely stand firm; yea that even they are often entangled by gross sins, being overwhelmed by such natural corruptions.

90. The term ne-urim denotes the age when man begins to use his reason; this usually occurs in the sixth year. Similarly, the term ne-arim is used to denote boys and youths who need the guidance of parents and teachers up to the age of manhood. It will be profitable for each of us to glance backward to that period of life and consider how willingly we obeyed the commands of our parents and teachers, how diligent we were in studying, how persevering we were, how often our parents punished our sauciness. Who can say for himself that he was not much more pleased to go out for a walk, to play games, and to gossip, than to go to Church in obedience to his parents?

91. Although these impulses can be corrected or bridled to a certain extent by discipline, they cannot be rooted out of the heart altogether, as the traces of these impulses show when we are grown. There is truth in that unpolished lie: "The angelic youth becomes satanic in his older years." God, indeed, causes some persons to experience emotions which are naturally good; but they are induced by supernatural power. Thus Cyrus was impelled to restore the worship of God, and to preserve the Church. But such is not the tendency of human nature. Where God is present with his Holy Spirit, there only, the imagination of the human heart gives place to the thoughts of God. God dwells there through the Word and the Spirit. Of such, Moses does not speak here, but only of those who are without the Holy Spirit; they are wicked, even when at their best.

V. 21e. Neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done.

92. Moses clearly speaks of a general destruction, like that which was caused by the flood. From this it does not follow that God will also abstain from partial destruction, and that he will take no heed of anybody's sin. There will also be an exception in the case of the last day, when not only all living things will be smitten, but all creation will be destroyed by fire.

V. 22. While the earth reigneth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

93. Following this text, the Jews divide the year into six parts, each comprising two months, a fact which Lyra also records in this connection. But it seems to me that Moses simply speaks of the promise that we need not fear another general flood. During the time of the flood such confusion reigned that there was no season, either of seedtime or harvest, and by reason of the great darkness caused by the clouds and the rain, day could not readily be distinguished from night. We know how heavy clouds obscure the light. How much greater, then, was the darkness when the waters, lying under the clouds like a mirror, reflected the darkness of the clouds into the faces and eyes of the beholders!

94. The meaning, accordingly, is simply that God here promises Noah the imminent restoration of the earth, so that the fields might again be sowed; that the desolation caused by the flood should be no more; that the seasons might run their course in accordance with regular law: harvest following seedtime, winter following summer, cold following heat in due order.

95. This text should be carefully remembered in view of the common notions concerning the signs before the last day. Then, some declare, there will be eclipses of I know not how many days duration. They say foolishly that for seven years not a single woman will bring forth a child, and the like. But this text declares that neither day nor night, neither summer nor winter, shall cease; therefore these natural changes will go on, and there will never be an eclipse which will rob human eyes of an entire day.

96. Nor is it a phrase devoid of meaning when he says, "While the earth remaineth," for he gives us to understand that the days of this earth shall sometime be numbered, and other days, days of heaven, shall follow. As long, therefore, as the days of the earth endure, so long shall the earth abide, and with it the rotation of seasons. But when these days of the earth shall pass, then all these things shall cease, and there shall follow days of heaven, that is, eternal days. There shall be one Sabbath after the other, when we shall not be engrossed with bodily labor for the purpose of gaining a livelihood; for we shall be as the angels of God, Mk 12, 25. Our life will be to know God, to delight in God's wisdom and to enjoy the presence of God. This life we attain through faith in Christ, in which the eternal Father may mercifully keep us, through the merit of his son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, by the ruling and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen.




1. Why this blessing necessary 1.

2. Wedlock established twice 2.

3. Evidence of God's love to the human race 3.

4. Did this blessing pertain to Noah 4.

* Bearing of children a special blessing of God unknown to the heathen 5.


A. Marriage State Blessed.

V. 1. And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.

1. This consolation was indeed needed after the whole human race had been destroyed by the flood and only eight souls were saved. Now Noah knew that God was truly merciful, since, not content with that first blessing which he had bestowed upon mankind in the creation of the world, he added this new blessing, that Noah might have no misgivings whatever in regard to the future increase of his posterity. And the joy brought by this promise was all the greater for God's emphatic promise on a previous occasion, that he would never again visit mankind with such severe punishment.

2. In the first place, then, this chapter renews the establishment of marriage. God, by his Word and command, joins male and female for the purpose of repopulating the earth. Inasmuch as God had been roused to anger before the flood by the sin of lust, it was now needful, by reason of that fearful proof of wrath, to show that God does not abhor the lawful cohabitation of man and woman, but that it is his will to increase mankind by this means.

3. The fact that God had expressed it as his will that the human race should be propagated through a union between man and woman, an end which could have been attained from stones had he failed to approve such union as lawful, after the manner of Deucalion of whom the poets fable—this fact tended to furnish Noah sure evidence that God loved man, and desired his welfare, and that now all anger was at an end. Therefore this passage illustrates the dignity of wedlock, which is the foundation of the family and State, and the nursery of the Church.

4. The objection is here raised that Noah had already reached an age no longer fit for procreation in view of the fact that the Bible records no instance of children being born to him afterwards, and therefore this promise was valueless. To this I reply that this promise was given, not to Noah alone, but also to his sons, even to all mankind; so that the expectation of offspring was entertained even by the grandsire Noah.

5. This passage, furthermore, tends to convince us that children are a gift of God and a result of his blessing, as is shown in Psalms 127, 3. The heathen, who know nothing of God's Word, ascribe the increase of mankind partly to nature and partly to chance, in view of the fact that those who are evidently most fit for procreation often remain without offspring. Hence, they do not thank God for this gift, nor do they receive their children as a blessing from God.


1. Whether animals feared man before the flood 6-7.

2. Relation between this use and dominion and of what they give evidence 7-9.

3. This use and rule a special blessing of God 8-10.

* Whether the custom of slaying cattle dates from the beginning of the world 10-11.

4. Whether Adam knew of this use and dominion 12.

5. This use of animals is evidence of God's love to the human race 13.

* God's blessings greater than his wrath 13.

6. Whether this use extends to unclean animals 14-15.

7. How man's fear of animals and their wildness and cruelty can exist with this dominion 16-18.

* New sins accompanied by new punishments 19-20.

* Sodom before and after its destruction 21.

* God's punishment of Wittenberg, Bruges and Venice, and the cause 22-23.

* God's command not to eat blood.

a. Why given 24.

b. How to treat this text, which contains God's Word 25.

* Meaning of Nephesch and Basar 26.

c. Right understanding of the command 27.

* The words, "Surely your blood will I require" etc.

a. Lyra's and the Rabbis' explanation, 28-29.

b. Their true meaning 30-31.


V. 2. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the heavens; with all wherewith the ground teemeth, and all the fishes of the sea, into your hand are they delivered.

6. It would seem that the dominion of man is here increased for his greater consolation. For though after the creation man was given dominion over all animals, yet we do not read that the beasts feared and fled from him according to the description of Moses. The reason is found in the fact that heretofore the animals were not destined to be man's food; man had been a kind ruler of the beasts, not a killer and eater.

7. Here, however, they are subjected to man as a tyrant with unlimited power of life and death. Since the servitude of the beasts is increased and the power of man over them extended, the animals are harassed by terror and fear of man. We see even the tamed ones do not readily allow themselves to be handled; they feel the mastery of man and have a constant instinct of danger. I do not believe that such was the case before this Word of God was spoken. Before that time, men used suitable animals for their work and for sacrifice, but not for food. This increase of power also is a token of God's favor; he confers a privilege unknown to the patriarchs, as a token of his love and interest in man.

8. We must not undervalue this boon authority over the beasts; for it is a special gift of God, of which the heathen knew nothing, because they lack the Word. We are the ones who derive the greatest benefit from this gift. When this revelation was given to Noah, and such a privilege granted, there was really no need of it. A few men possessed the whole earth, so that its fruits were to be enjoyed by them in abundance and it was not necessary to add the flesh of beasts. But we today could not live altogether on the fruits of the earth; it is a great boon to us that we are permitted to eat the flesh of beasts, of birds and of fish.

9. This word, therefore, establishes the butcher's trade; it puts hares, chickens, and geese upon the spit and fills our tables with all manner of dishes. Necessity makes men industrious. Not only do they hunt the animals of the forests, but carefully fatten others at home for food. God in this passage establishes himself a slaughterer, as it were, for by his word he consigns to slaughter and death those animals which are suitable for food, as recompence to God-fearing Noah for his tribulations during the flood. For that reason would God feed Noah with lavish hand.

10. We must not think that this privilege was not divinely ordered. The heathen believe that this custom of slaughtering animals always existed. Such things are established, or rather permitted, by the Word of God; beasts could not have been killed without sin if God had not expressly permitted it by his Word. It is a great liberty for man to slaughter all kinds of beasts fit for food and eat them without wrong-doing. Had but a single kind of beasts been reserved for food, it would still have been a great boon; how much more should we value this lavish blessing, that all beasts suitable for sustenance are given into the power of man!

11. The godless and the gentiles do not recognize this; nor do the philosophers. They believe that this privilege has always been man's. As for us, however, we should have full light on the subject, in order that our consciences may enjoy both rest and freedom in the use of what God has created and allowed, there being absolutely no law against such food. There can be no sin in their use, though the wicked priests have criminally burdened the Church on this subject.

12. In this passage, then, the power of man is increased and the brute beasts are committed to him, even unto death. They fear man and flee him under the new order, running counter to the experience of the past. Adam would have been averse to killing even a small bird for food. But now, since the promulgation of this Word, we know that, as a special blessing, God has furnished our kitchens with all kinds of meat. Later on he will also take care of the cellar by showing man how to cultivate the vine.

13. These are sure proofs that God no longer hates man, but favors him. This story bears witness that, as God's wrath, once aroused, is unbearable, so his mercy is likewise endless and without measure when it again begins to glow. But his mercy is the more abundantly exercised because it is the very nature of God, while wrath really is foreign to God; he takes it upon himself contrary to his nature and forced thereto by the wickedness of men.

V. 3. Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you; as the green herb have I given you all.

14. Here a question arises. In chapter 7, 2, Moses showed the difference between clean and unclean beasts; here, however, he speaks of all animals, without any distinction. Did God, then, permit man to use also the unclean animals for food?

15. The statement as such is general: every moving thing that moveth upon the earth. There are some who believe that men at the time of Noah made no distinction between clean and unclean animals as regards food. But I hold a different opinion. For since such difference had been established before that time and was carefully observed in the Law afterward, I believe that men used only clean beasts for food; that is, such as were offered in sacrifice. Hence the general declaration must be understood with a modification: Everything that liveth and moveth, of clean beasts, is to be food for you. For, in general, human nature loathes serpents, wolves, ravens, mice, and dormice, though certain tribes may be found who relish even these animals. The fear and terror of man is upon all beasts of the earth, because he is allowed to kill them; but it does not follow that man uses them all for food. It is probable that Noah ate clean beasts only; and only clean beasts, he knew, were acceptable to Jehovah in sacrifice.

16. But there is another thing hard to understand. How can it be that the terror and fear of man is upon all animals when wolves, lions, bears, wild boars, and tigers devour men, and are rather a terror to men? So with the entire family of serpents, from which we flee at a glance. What shall we say here? Is the Word of God untruthful? I answer: Though we, being aware of our danger, flee from such beasts and are afraid of them, yet they, likewise, fear man. Even the fiercest beasts become terrified and flee at the first sight of man; but when they become enraged they overcome man by reason of their bodily strength.

17. But, you say, why do they fear when they are stronger? I answer: They know that man is endowed with reason, which is more powerful than any beast. The skill of man masters even elephants, lions, and tigers. Whatever man's bodily strength is unable to do, that he accomplishes by his skill and his reasoning powers. How would it otherwise be possible for a boy of ten years to control an entire herd of cattle? Or for man to guide a horse, an animal of singular fierceness and strength, to go in whatever direction he desires, now urging it forward and then compelling it to a more moderate gait? All these things are done by man's skill, not by his strength. Hence, we do not lack clear proofs that the fear of man remains upon the beasts, which harm man when they become enraged, and for that reason are feared by him.

18. I have no doubt, however, that at the time of Noah and the patriarchs immediately succeeding, this fear in the beasts was greater, because righteousness then flourished and there was less of sin. Afterward, when holiness of life declined and sin increased, man began to lose this blessing, and the wild beasts became a punishment for sin. Moses threatens in Deut 32, 34 that God would send upon them the teeth of beasts. How fearful, also, was the plague of the fiery serpents in the desert! Num 21, 6. Bears tore to pieces the lads who mocked the prophet, 2 Kings 2, 24. Why did the beasts here lose their fear of man? Why did they rage against man? Was not sin the cause?

19. Therefore, as stated before, when new sins arise, new punishments will also arise. So we see that in our day disease and misfortunes heretofore rare become general, like the English sweat, the locusts which in the year 1542 devastated great stretches of land in Poland and Silesia, and other examples.

20. In like manner, God promised seasons of seeding and of harvest, of heat and cold, and yet he does not so close his eyes to our sins that the seasons, both of seeding and of harvest, are not subject to climatic disturbances, such as the fearful drouth of the year 1504 and the almost unending rains of the two following years. Considering the wickedness of our age, why should we wonder that the blessing gives place to a curse, so that the beasts, which would fear us were we not wicked, are now a terror unto us and harmful?

21. The country of the Sodomites was like a paradise; but by reason of sin it was turned into a sea of asphalt; and those who have seen that country tell us that most beautiful apples grow there, but when they are cut open they are found to be filled with ashes and offensive odor. The reason for this is that the Sodomites did not acknowledge the gifts of God who blessed them, but misused them according to their own will. Furthermore, they blasphemed God, and persecuted his saints, being haughty by reason of those good gifts. Therefore the blessing was taken away, and everything became curse-ridden. This is the true explanation of the fact that, though there are signs of terror in wild animals, we are nevertheless afraid of them, and they inflict harm upon us.

22. I am quite certain that very wicked men once lived in this country of ours; how could we otherwise explain the parched soil and barren sands? Names also show that the Jews at one time peopled this country. Where bad people live, there the land gradually grows bad by the curse of God.

23. The city of Bruges in Flanders used to be a renowned port; but from the time when they held King Maximilian captive, the sea retreated, and the port ceased to exist. Of Venice they say the same thing today. Nor is this very astonishing, since to the numberless sins of rulers of the State, defence of idol worship and persecution of the Gospel was added.

V. 4. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

24. What we have heard so far, referred to domestic matters; now God adds a commandment pertaining to civil government. Since it was no more a sin to kill an ox or a sheep for food than it was to pluck a flower or an herb, growing in the field, there was some danger that men might misuse this God-given power over the beasts and go beyond it even to the shedding of human blood. Hence, he now adds a new law, that human blood must not be shed, and at the same time he curtails the liberty of eating flesh; he forbids them to eat flesh which has not first been drained of blood.

25. The Hebrew text presents many difficulties, and, for this reason, interpreters are at variance. It is needless to recite all renderings of this verse. I steadily follow the rule that the words must explain the things, not the things the words. Hence, I spend no time upon the ideas of those who explain the words according to their own inclinations, making them serve the preconceived notions which they bring to their literature.

26. Let us first look at the meaning of the words. Rephesh properly denotes a body with a soul, or a living animal, such as the ox, the sheep, man, etc. It denotes not merely the body, but a living body, as when Christ says: I lay down my life for the sheep, Jn 10, 15. Here the word "life" means nothing else than the life animating the body. Basar, however, means flesh, which is a part of the material element, and yet has its breath and its energy, not from the body, but from the soul. For the flesh or the body, of itself and without the soul, is an inanimate thing, like a log or a stone; but when it is filled with the breath of the soul, then its fluids and all bodily forces assume activity.

27. God here forbids the eating of a body which still contains the stirring, moving, living soul, as the hawk devours chickens, and the wolf sheep, without killing them, but while still alive. Such cruelty is here forbidden by Jehovah, who sets bounds to the privilege of slaughtering, lest it be done in so beastly a manner that living bodies or portions thereof be devoured. The lawful manner of slaughtering is to be observed, such as was followed at the altar and in religious rites, where the beast, having been slain without cruelty and duly cleansed from blood, was finally offered to God. I hold that the simple and true meaning of the text, which is also given by some Jewish teachers, is that we must not eat raw flesh and members still palpitating, as did the Laestrygones and the Cyclopes.

V. 5. And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it: and at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, will I require the life of man.

28. Here the Hebrew text is even more difficult than in the foregoing verse. Lyra, quoting the Rabbins, finds four kinds of manslaughter indicated here; he divides the statement into two parts, and finds a twofold explanation for each. He understands the first part to mean those who lay murderous hands upon themselves. If this is correct, then this passage is a witness for immortality; for how could God call to account a person who, being dead, no longer exists? Hence, punishment of sin after this life could be indicated here. But it seems to me that philology militates against this explanation. Though I do not lay claim to a perfect knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, yet I am certain that such a meaning is not here apparent.

29. The second kind of murder, he illustrates by the custom of throwing human beings before wild beasts, as was done aforetime in the theatres, truly a barbaric spectacle, repulsive to all human feeling; the third kind is murder at the instigation of another; the fourth, murder of a relative.

30. This distinction would be quite satisfactory if it could be proven from the words of the text; but it is a Jewish invention born of their hatred of the Roman laws. It is much simpler to understand this passage as a general prohibition of murder, according to the fifth commandment, which says, "Thou shalt not kill." God desires not even a beast to be killed, except for a sacred purpose or for the benefit of man. Much less does he permit taking the life of man, except by divine authority, as will be explained hereafter.

31. In the first place, then, wilful and wicked slaughter is forbidden. Culture is opposed to the wanton killing of animals and to the eating of raw meat. In the second place God forbids homicide of any description; for if God will require the blood of a murdered human being from the beast that slew him, how much more relentlessly will he require it at the hand of man? Thus this passage voices the sentiment of the fifth commandment, that no one shall spill human blood.



1. If it existed before the flood 32.

2. Relation of the flood to this law 33.

3. This the source of all human laws 34-36.

4. When and how this law can be executed 35.

* Why is it well to observe that government was instituted by God 36-37.

5. In what respect is it a great blessing from God 37.

6. How is government a proof of God's love to man 38.

7. Why God gave this command, and why he punishes man-slaughter 39.

8. Hereby a new police and a new order are instituted 40.

* Verdict of philosophy and of reason on civil authority 41.

* Verdict of God's Word 42.

9. This law applies to all men 43.

10. Why God is such an enemy of man-slaughter, and so earnestly forbids it 44-45.

11. The conclusion that God loves life 46.


A. The Law Against Taking Life.

V. 6a. Who sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.

32. Here the carelessness of the Latin translator deserves reproof; for he omitted the very necessary expression "by man." The difference between the time before and that after the flood is thus brought out. When Cain had murdered his brother Abel, God revered human blood so highly that he threatened to visit sevenfold punishment upon anyone who should kill Cain. He would not have the slayer of man put to death even by due process of law; and though Adam punished the sin of his son severely by casting him out, he did not dare to pronounce sentence of death upon him.

33. But here Jehovah establishes a new law, requiring the murderer be put to death by man—a law unprecedented, because heretofore God had reserved all judgment to himself. When he saw that the world was growing worse and worse, he finally enforced punishment against a wicked world by the flood. Here, however, God bestows a share of his authority upon man, giving him the power of life and death, that thus he may be the avenger of bloodshed. Whosoever takes man's life without due warrant, him God subjects not only to his own judgment, but also to the sword of man. Though God may use man as his instrument in punishing, he is himself still the avenger. Were it not for the divine command, then, it would be no more lawful now to slay a murderer than it was before the flood.

34. This is the source from which spring all civil laws and the laws of nations. If God grants man the power of life and death, he certainly also grants power in matters of lesser importance—power over property, family, wife, children, servants and fields. God wills that these things shall be under the control of certain men, who are to punish the guilty.

35. We must remember well that between the power of God and of men there is this difference: God has the power to slay us when the world cannot even accuse us—when before it we are innocent. Sin is born with us; we are all guilty before God. Men have no authority to slay except where guilt is apparent and crime is proven. Hence courts have been established and a definite method of proceeding instituted for the purpose of investigating and proving the crime before the sentence of death is passed.

36. Heed, then, this passage. It establishes civil authority as God's institution, with power, not only of life and death, but jurisdiction in matters where life is not involved. Magistrates are to punish the disobedience of children, theft, adultery, perjury—all sins which are forbidden in the second table. He who grants jurisdiction over the life of man, at the same time grants judgment over lesser matters.

37. The importance of this text and its claim to attention consists in the fact that it records the establishment of civil authority by God with the sword as insignia of power, for the purpose that license may be curbed and anger and other sins inhibited from growing beyond all bounds. Had God not granted this power to man, what kind of lives, I ask you, would we lead? He foresaw that wickedness would ever flourish, and established this external remedy to prevent the indefinite spread of license. By this safeguard God protects life and property as by a fence and a wall.

38. We find here no less a proof of God's great love toward man than his promise that the flood shall never again rage, and his promise that flesh may be eaten for the sustenance of human life.

V. 6b. For in the image of God made he man.

39. This is the powerful reason why God does not wish men to be killed by private arbitrament. Man is a noble creature, who, unlike other living beings, has been fashioned according to the image of God. While it is true that he has lost this image through sin, as we have seen above, it is capable of being restored through the Word and the Holy Spirit. This image God desires us to revere in each other; he forbids us to shed blood by the exercise of sheer force. But he who refuses to respect the image of God in man, and gives way to anger and provocation, those worst counselors of all, as some one has called them, his life is surrendered to civil authority in forfeit, by God, in that God commands that also his blood shall be shed.

40. Thus the subject under consideration teaches the establishment of civil authority in the world, which did not exist before the flood. Cain and Lamech—and this is a case in point—were not slain, though the holy patriarchs were the arbiters, judges, of public action. But in this Scripture they who have the sword, are commanded to use it against those who have shed blood.

41. Thus the problem is here solved that worried Plato and all sages. They concluded that it is impossible to administer government without injustice, because all men occupy the same level of dignity and position. Why did Caesar rule the world? Why did others obey him, since he was only human like themselves—no better, no stronger and liable to die as soon as themselves? He was subject to the same conditions as all men. Hence it seems to be tyranny for him, who was quite similar to other men, to usurp rulership among men. If he is like other men it is the highest wrong and injustice to ignore this similarity, and to foist his rule by force upon others.

42. This is the conclusion at which reason arrives and it cannot entertain any view to the contrary. But we, having the Word, can see that we must oppose to such reasoning the command of God, the author of this order of things. Accordingly, it is for us to render obedience to the divine order and to endure it, so that to our other sins this may not be added, that we are disobedient to the will of God at the very point where we derive benefit in so many ways.

43. To sum up, this passage permits the slaughter of animals for religious and personal use, but it emphatically forbids the taking of man's life, because man is made in the image of God. Those who violate his command he gives into the hands of the authorities to be slain.

V. 7. And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.

44. The slaughter of animals having been granted, not only for sacrifice, but also for food, and the killing of human beings having been forbidden, we are given the reason why God regards the shedding of human blood with so much aversion. He desires mankind to multiply on the earth; but the slaughter of men lays the earth waste and produces a wilderness. We see this in case of war. God did not create the earth without purpose. He intended it to be inhabited, Is 45, 18. He makes it fruitful by rain and sunshine for man's benefit. Therefore he is displeased with those who remove from the earth its inhabitants. His will is life, and not death, Ps 30, 5.

45. These and similar sayings of the prophets are based upon promises like we find here, that God commands man to multiply. Plainly he is more inclined to give life and to do good than to be angry and to kill. If it were otherwise, why should he forbid the taking of human life? Why should pestilence be of rare occurrence? Pestilence and general epidemics occur scarce once in ten years. Men are born, animals grow, and crops without end are growing continually.

46. All these facts go to show that God loves, not death, but life. He created man, not that he should die, but that he should live; "but through the envy of the devil did death enter the world," Sap 2, 24. But even after the fall, the blessings which remain are so guarded as to render the conclusion inevitable that God loves life rather than death.

It is well for us to ponder these matters very often; thus, as Solomon has truly said, Jehovah shall be to us a fountain of blessings. Prov 18, 22.


* Why the same thing is repeated 47.

1. Whether this covenant applies to man alone or also to the animals 48.

2. Whether this covenant applies to the men and animals of that day only 49.

* God always connected signs with his promises 49.

* The significance of these to our first parents 49-50.

3. Nature of this covenant 51.

* Characteristics of a humble heart and God's dealings with it 52-54.

4. This covenant given for man's comfort and as a proof of God's love 53-54.

5. It is a comfort to us at present 55.


Vs. 8-11. And God spake unto Noah, and his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you; of all that go out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of the flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.

47. Previously we at various times explained this massing of words. When the Holy Spirit is prolix, there is a cause for it. Let us therefore, consider what fear, dread and peril Noah and his family endured and it will be easily understood why it was necessary for God to say and to emphasize the same things with such frequency.

48. When, in addition it is remembered that the covenant here spoken of does not pertain to man alone but embraces every living soul, we recognize that the promise does not relate to the seed but merely, to this bodily life, enjoyed by man in common with the beasts; this God will not destroy by another flood.

Vs. 12-16. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for the perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.

49. The term "perpetual generations" deserves particular notice; it embraces not only man and beast at that time, but all their offspring down to the end of the world. We learn another thing from this passage. God usually confirms his promise with an outward sign. In the third chapter above we read of the coats of skin with which he covered the nakedness of the first parents as token of his protection and guardianship.

50. Some offer the following apt allegorical explanation. As the skin of the dead sheep keeps warm our body, so Christ, having died, keeps us warm by his Spirit, and will, on the last day, raise us up and give us life. Others say that the skins were selected as a sign of mortality. But this seems unnecessary; all our life reminds us of mortality. More expedient was a token of life, suggesting the blessing and favor of God. The office of such tokens is to console, not to terrify. So was the sign of the rainbow given, a supplement of the promise.

51. In chapter 8, 21-22, God says in his heart that he repents of that terrible punishment, and promises that he will not repeat it, because the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. If he should desire to so punish evil, there would be need of a flood every day. Here he again sends forth his Word to mankind, through an angel, or possibly through the mouth of Noah, promising that no flood shall hereafter come upon the earth. That the promise is repeated so often is evidence of God's endeavor, in loving kindness, to remove man's fear of punishment and to set before him a hope of blessing and utmost mercy.

52. Such consolation Noah and his loved ones required. One who has been humbled by God cannot forget the wound and the pain. Chastening is longer remembered than blessing. Boys are a case in point. The tender mother, having chastised her child with the rod, endeavors to calm him with toys and other allurements, yet the memory of pain lingers, and the child cannot restrain frequent sighs and bitter sobs. How much more difficult for the conscience to accept solace after having felt the wrath of God and the fear of death! So firmly fixed are these in the mind that the soul trembles and fears in spite of gifts and consolations offered.

53. So God here shows his good will in manifold ways and feels singular joy in pouring forth mercy. He is like a mother who pets and caresses her boy until he at last begins to forget his tears and to smile into his mother's face.

54. Hence figures are employed, and words are massed and the subject is presented in a clearer and clearer light, in order to adapt the consolation to the needs of the wretched people who, for an entire year, had been witnesses of the immeasurable wrath of God. They could not be delivered from fear and terror by an occasional word. There was need of repeating the promise with much exposition to dry their tears and to soften their grief. For, though they were saints, they were flesh, even as we are.

55. Likewise we in our day need this consolation. At all times when the elements rage, we may be secure in the thought that the fountains of heaven and the wells of the deep are closed up by the word of God. The rainbow shows itself to this day for the purpose of symbolizing that, henceforth, there shall never be another general flood. And this promise requires, on our part, the faith that we trust God, in his mercy, will never bring another great flood upon us.


1. Can it be assigned to natural causes 56-58.

* What to think of the fiery meteors 59-60.

2. Can it be caused by the position of the clouds 60.

3. The rainbow witnesses of God's wrath and of his goodness 61.

4. Did it exist before the flood?

a. Opinion of those believing it did, and their reasons 62.

b. Luther's opinion that it was a new creation 63.

c. Solomon's words, "There is nothing new", do not apply here 64.

5. Rainbow to be viewed as a new creature and as God's sign-board 65.

6. Colors of the rainbow.

a. What are they and their number 66.

b. What do they signify 67.

7. To what end should the rainbow serve us 68.


56. They further dispute whether the natural causes in the rainbow signify this. It is well known that philosophers, especially Aristotle in his book on Meteors, use all sorts of arguments on the color of the rainbow, on the character of the clouds where it is produced, and on its curvature. Quite appropriately the resemblance is noted between a mirror, which reflects an image, and the moist and arched cloud, which catches the rays of the sun, and by reflection produces the rainbow. Reason sees in such phenomena what appears to it most probable, but it does not discover the truth everywhere. That is not in the power of the creature but of the Creator alone. As for me, I have never given to any book less credence than to that on meteors, the basic principle of which is the assumption that natural causes explain everything.

57. Some declare the rainbow to be a forerunner of a storm lasting three days, which I am ready to admit, but this much is certain, that it signifies that there will never be another flood. However, it derives this signification, not from any natural causes but only from the Word of God. Its meaning is such, only because God orders and declares it to be so through his Word. Circumcision was a token that the seed of Abraham were the people of God; yet circumcision did not have this meaning in itself, but only through the Word which was joined with it. Again, the clothing of skin signified life and safety, not because they contained this guarantee by nature, but because God had promised it. So, the significance of the rainbow that the flood shall not return, is not based upon the Word of God.

58. I do not altogether ignore theories along the lines of natural law concerning these matters; but since they are not substantiated, I place little trust in them. The reasoning of Aristotle regarding the humid and hollow cloud as the cause of the rainbow is not reliable, such clouds may exist without producing a rainbow. Again, according to the greater or lesser density of the medium, the bow may appear wider or narrower. I have seen here at Wittenberg a circular rainbow, forming a complete ring, not simply an arch terminating on the surface of the earth, as rainbows generally appear. Why, then, do rainbows assume different forms at different times? A philosopher, I suppose, will think of some reason; for he will consider it a disgrace not to be able to assign a reason for all things. But indeed, he will never persuade me to believe that he speaks the truth.

59. The only consistent and incontrovertable view to take is that all these phenomena are either works of God or of evil spirits. I have no doubt that the dancing goats (stars), the flying serpents, fiery lances, and the like, are produced by evil spirits, which thus gambol in the air, either to terrify or to deceive men. The flames which appear on board of ships were thought by the heathen to be Castor and Pollux. Sometimes the image of a moon appears above the ears of horses. It is certain that all these things are due to the antics of evil spirits in the air, though Aristotle believes them to be luminous air, just as he also declares that a comet is shining vapor.

60. To me it appears that we shall move with greater security and certainty, when, arguing from cause to effect, we conclude that the comet blazes, when it pleases God, as a sign of calamity, just as the rainbow glows, when it pleases God as a sign of mercy. Who can compute all the causes which produce the appearance of the rainbow in such diversity of beautiful color, and in the form of an arch of perfect curvature? The arrangement of the clouds alone surely does not produce this perfection. Hence it is by the will and the promise of God, and fulfilling his pleasure, that the rainbow is a sign to man and beast that there will nevermore at any time be a flood.

61. In recognition of this token we ought to give thanks to God. As often as the rainbow appears, it proclaims to the world with a loud voice, as it were, the story of the wrath of God, which once destroyed the world by a flood. And it proclaims solace for us, so that we may conclude that God is propitious to us henceforth and will never again visit upon us so fearful a punishment. It teaches both the love and the fear of God, the highest virtues, of which philosophy knows nothing. Philosophy only disputes about material and formal causes. It does not know the final cause of this most beautiful creation. But theology does explain it.

62. In this connection also the question has received much attention whether the rainbow existed from the beginning. And in this controversy much force has been displayed. Since it is written above (ch 2, 23) that God created heaven and earth in six days, and then rested from all his works, some conclude that the rainbow existed from the beginning. Otherwise it would follow that creation extended beyond those six days. What, however, occurred in Noah's time is this, that the rainbow, created in the beginning, was selected by God and made, through a new word, a fixed symbol, having existed hitherto without special significance. To support this view, they even quote the word of Solomon that "there is no new thing under the sun," Ec 1, 9. On this they base their argument that after those six days no new thing has been created.

63. My opinion is quite the contrary—that the rainbow never had existed before; it was then and there created. Thus, the coats of skin with which God clothed the first parents certainly were not created in those six days, but after man's fall; hence, they were a new creation. The statement that God rested, must not be interpreted to mean that he created nothing thereafter; for Christ says, "My Father worketh even until now, and I work," Jn 5, 17.

64. Solomon's statement that there is no new thing under the sun, has given much trouble to the learned. But is it not apparent that it refers not to the works of God, but to original sin, meaning that the same reasoning powers Adam had after the fall are found in man today—the same debates concerning morals, vices, virtues, the nurture of the body and the transaction of business? As the comic poet has it, speaking of another matter, "Nothing is said that has not been said before." Really, within the sphere of man's activity and effort there is nothing new; the same words, thoughts, designs, the same emotions, griefs, affections and incidents exist now which always existed. Consequently it is quite inappropriate, in consequence to apply this aphorism to God and his works.

65. Therefore, I believe that the rainbow was a new creation, not seen in the world before that time. It was established to remind the world of the bygone wrath, traces of which are still seen in the rainbow, and to give assurance of the mercy of God. It is a record, or picture in which both the bygone wrath and the present mercy are revealed.

66. There is also a difference of opinion as to the colors of the rainbow. Some say there are four colors: the fiery, the bright yellow, the green and the color of water, or blue. But I think there are only two, those of fire and water. The fiery color is above, unless the rainbow is seen reversed; then, as in a mirror, that which is above is seen below. Where the hues of fire and water meet, or blend, yellow results.

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