Sunday, February 6, 2011

Martin Franzmann

As we sang his now classic hymn in church this morning, "Thy Strong Word," I was reminded of another great theologian of the 20th century; a theologian who also did not appear to have secured an earned doctorate in his lifetime.  Martin Franzmann (1907-1976) remains influential even to this day not only through his hymnody, but also through his prolific writing.  Recently I had the occasion to use his commentary on Romans for one of my graduate papers, a paperback I bought several years ago at a used book store in Madison (during another graduate class), which is now falling apart from use and age.  While in college his book The Word of the Lord Grows was our standard text for the introduction to the New Testament.  Then later his influence continued as I used the Concordia Self-Study Bible and the Concordia Self-Study Commentary in my ongoing preparation for Bible studies and sermons, especially in my earlier ministry.   His writing encompasses many more works that I confess to having not yet read, all of which I suspect are still accessible and much used by pastors and laypeople alike.

Franzmann was a highly gifted man who served his church not only in teaching and scholarship, but in the administration of the Synod itself, as well representing the church abroad at conferences.  He came of age during the Great Depression and established himself as a scholar in the post-war years of the later 40's, eventually becoming a respected professor of New Testament exegesis at Concordia Seminary- St. Louis, as well as the head of the Department of Exegetical Theology.  Richard Brinkley, in his biographical work Thy Strong Word (1993), notes that Franzmann had been working on an advanced degree since the 1930's when he was a student at the University of Chicago.  He attended this institution again in the 40's and 50's where he worked on his Ph.D, a degree he never completed. In 1956, the same year he became head of the exegetical department, Concordia Theological Seminary-Springfield awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity "for his outstanding academic contributions and achievements as well as for his service and dedication to Lutheranism and the work of the Lutheran Church" (24). 

As a theologian his greatest contribution may well have been his outspoken resistance to the growing popularity of higher-criticism, although one must never underestimate the impact of his more popular works that influenced countless members of the church.  Brinkley notes that as a professor he was highly regarded by his students.  "First of all, they were impressed by his knowledge of the Greek New Testament.  He knew large portions of it by heart and could recite them from memory without having to consult a Greek New Testament" (29).  One wonders how many with earned doctorates from well-respected institutions would still be hard pressed to keep up with this brilliant mind.

I was only about halfway through high school when Dr. Franzmann died.  Yet, within about three years of his death I would be sitting at Concordia-St. Paul with his New Testament introduction, learning at his feet even though he was no longer among us.  However, I feel a certain connection to him in another way. According to Brinkley, Franzmann was "a lifelong Anglophile," a weakness I also share.  His attraction to things English led him eventually to leave the St. Louis seminary in 1969 and move to Cambridge.  There he taught at the Westfield House until health concerns caused him to turn over these duties to his son.  He did return to St. Louis in the spring of 1975 in an attempt to help heal the divisions which now so troubled the beloved Synod, especially since the walkout in 1974.  His efforts, although much appreciated, helped to further break his once vital health, and not long after his return to England he passed away quietly in his sleep.

Franzmann, like Marquart mentioned in the previous post, was a working theologian with a brilliant mind who was too busy, it would seem, to slow down long enough to devote himself to the time necessary for an advanced doctorate.  Regarding Marquart I once heard that Dr. Preus had to push him to go back to school and secure some kind of advanced degree.  At the time of his appointment, and for some time after, he had only a Bachelor of Divinity.  He later secured a master's degree from Canada, I think, in the field of scientific philosophy, which suited his interests in apologetics.

We remain blessed by these men of great talent and devotion to the church.


Pr Mark Henderson said...

Yes, Donald, another great, to be sure. And gifted in so many ways - exegete, homiletician, hymn-writer, churchman...SDG.

Btw, I've heard stories of old pastors here knowing large parts of their Greek NT by heart too. It seems in the old days they had so few books, on account of their poverty, that those they did have they read over and over, especially their Greek NTs (down here the Bible Society has given these to seminary students for free for many years, bless them).

The Rev. Donald V. Engebretson said...

I am blessed to have a group of pastors in my circuit who meet weekly to study the upcoming pericopes in Greek. We have been doing this for a number of years now. In many ways it helped me in my efforts to enter back into post-graduate exegetical work. Nevertheless, I am truly humbled by those pastors who had the discipline to consistently read their Greek NTs enough to commit it to memory. I am far from this accomplishment.