Martin Luther on Exodus 7–11 (and Romans 9:6–13): The Hardening of the Heart

This paper will examine Martin Luther’s understanding of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus chs. 7–11, which Luther reads in light of Romans 9:6-13. The paper focuses on two loci for Luther’s argument: his Lectures on Romans and his treatise On the Bondage of the Will (De servo arbitrio). The latter was Luther’s response to Erasmus’ Treastise on Freedom of the Will (Diatribe de libero arbitrio). Luther’s reading of Exodus 7–11 and Romans 9:6-13 depend on his understanding of the degree to which the human will is fallen and the nature of salvation and predestination, as well as on his view of how God’s will and that of humans do or do not work in concert. However, also at stake in Luther’s response to Erasmus is the question of how Scripture is to be handled and the weight one ought to give to the authority of tradition, including the tradition of interpretation. He rejects Erasmus’ suggestion (via Origen) that God hardening a person’s heart is a trope or figure of speech. And yet, his own “literal” reading is much less literal than one would expect from his claim that one must take the text at face value. It does however, protect both God’s sovereignty and human freedom. Luther’s arguments are instructive for those who would recover ways of reading the Bible theologically. Yet they also highlight, in a textually-centered, specific way, the challenges to reconciling theological and other sorts of approaches to the biblical text.