and Translating It into Everyday Life

Professor Paul Wendland calls it “the most bizarre night” he’s ever had. He was a parish pastor, and someone called him and asked, “Are you a Lutheran pastor? Why don’t you come down here and talk to this guy? He’s a Lutheran, and he just committed suicide.” When Pastor Wendland got there, he saw the overwrought wife, and the gentleman who called him, and another relative who looked at him like he was some kind of witch doctor. “And there was the guy, lying there,” he says. “He’d taken so many drugs I don’t know if he was even there anymore. But I whispered in his ear, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’”

The story tells us a lot about Professor Wendland, and it also illustrates the objective of courses like Biblical Hermeneutics. Wendland (NWC ’74, WLS ’79) is teaching Biblical Hermeneutics this summer. It’s required in our MA-Theological Studies program, but it’s open to anyone. As he explains the course, you begin to understand that it’s both more complicated and simpler than the fancy title implies.

What is Biblical Hermeneutics?
 “Hermeneutics” is simply “interpretation.” The course is about interpreting God’s Word so that you can translate it effectively into everyday living—the way he translated the simple message of the gospel to the dying man.

Wendland explains it another way as well:

“Biblical Hermeneutics is like something we do every day. We try to understand one another. If you’ve ever woken up and wondered why a conversation went wrong, then you’re interested in the subject of interpretation. There’s usually a miscue between what you meant to say and what they hear.

“With the Bible, you’re dealing with a document that is separated from us by language, by many years, and mostly by our own spiritual blindness. So to learn the basic principles of interpretation of Scripture, you need to bridge certain gaps. The gaps in language are overcome by using good English translations or the original languages. The gap of history is overcome by understanding the biblical sweep of history. And the spiritual gap is overcome by letting God talk to us in law and gospel.

“Those basic principles of interpreting Scripture—understanding it as a linguistic event, a historical event, and a spiritual power—are what this is all about.”

It’s About Interpretation and Communication
Professor Wendland hopes you’ll see that, though the course has a very academic sounding title, the content is very relevant. “If you wonder why there are so many churches, why we have divided into tribes, each having their own theological language and faith commitments, this course is for you,” he says. “When disagreements arise between churches, even churches that are closely related, how can we sort them out? How do we figure out where the gap is? Usually it’s by understanding the principles of interpretation.”

Proper interpretation of God’s Word, then, can be a step in the healing between churches—and between individuals. “A grounding in good biblical hermeneutics leads to a good Eighth Commandment charity,” he says. “It leads us to understand each other better and express ourselves in ways that are clear.

“This is key to the solution of many problems of our age. It has more implications than simply interpreting Scripture. It’s about good communication, about understanding each other and not just yelling across chasms.”

Keeping It Real
As the opening story makes clear, Professor Wendland is committed to keeping it real. He learned that every day in his ministry. As a pastor in Hopkins, Michigan, from 1984 to 1990, he served mostly farmers. “You quickly learn how to communicate with farmers,” he says. “They don’t like people selling them stuff. So if you’re not real, forget about it.

“I probably learned more from the people I served than I taught them,” he says. “When you see the faith in the life of someone who has lost their whole family in a car accident. . . .When you see people struggling with Mormonism, or with witchcraft in Africa . . . and then you see them consoled with the hope and love of Jesus, it helps you see the importance of the Word, and how Jesus’ love can transcend our problems and bridge our gaps.

“Not only do we want to understand God,” he continues, “but we want to share him with others. That’s what pastoral ministry does for you. It gives you these experiences.”

Wendland’s Ministry
Wendland’s wide-ranging ministry did include experiences with people struggling with Mormonism or with witchcraft. When he graduated, he and his wife, Margaret, were assigned to Mwembezhi, Zambia. Wendland had grown up there, a missionary kid, and also spent his vicar year there, so it was not new to him. They served there five years and then came to Hopkins, Michigan. Six years later saw them in Salt Lake City.

Then, in 1994, he began the teaching phase of his ministry. At Northwestern College, in the year just before its amalgamation with Dr. Martin Luther College, he taught Intro to Latin and attended the University of Wisconsin, finishing his MA in Classics. The following year, he brought his family to New Ulm. From 1995 to 2000, he taught Latin, Minority Cultures, and first-year literature and composition.

In 2000, he accepted a call to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, where he continues to serve today. He teaches New Testament Introduction, Biblical Hermeneutics, and Homiletics (preaching). From 2004-2019, he also served as seminary president.

Although he’s spent almost 20 years at the seminary as a faculty member, he still remembers when he first came to the seminary as a student. “I’d always felt my life was like a junk drawer,” he says. “So many bits and bobs from all over. A bolt. A piece of string. When you’ve been all over the world, you feel that way. And what makes all this hang together? I remember coming to the seminary and reading the Scriptures in Greek, and that made everything hang together.

“I knew I had a place and a home in Jesus, wherever I was. The older I get, the more I pray that Jesus remain my home now and always. It’s like Isaac Watts says in his famous hymn on Psalm 24:

There would I find a settled rest
While others go and come,
No more a stranger or a guest
but like a child at home.

“That’s what I want to be,” he says, “a child at home with Jesus.”

Welcome, Professor Wendland!
We’re delighted that a man with Professor Wendland’s academic acumen and passion for the gospel will be teaching in MLC’s graduate program. And he’s eager to meet you too. He says he hopes that when you finish his course, you’ll take with you “a passion for wanting to understand the Scripture’s central message, a commitment to the Bible as God’s Word, and an eagerness to communicate it as completely and clearly as you can.”

Written by Laurie Gauger-Hested

Meet Rev. Paul Wendland

Graduate Course at MLC: Biblical Hermeneutics

Writing: He’s penned many articles for Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly and Forward in Christ, and he’s published two large commentaries for The People’s Bible series: 1 Chronicles (NPH 1994) and 2 Chronicles (NPH 1998).

Family: His wife, Margaret (nee Berg), is the reading resource teacher at Risen Savior-Milwaukee. At home, she likes nothing better than to read to her grandchildren. His daughter Miriam is a speech therapist, his daughter Anne is an artist working with the Parks Department in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and his son John is a preseminary student in his last year of the Pastoral Studies Institute. He plans to start at the seminary next year. He and his wife, Taylor, and their children Konstantin and Sophia, live with Grandpa Paul and Grandma Margaret.

Congregation: Garden Homes-Milwaukee

Hobbies: Reading and writing. In addition to academic and theological work, Professor Wendland writes poetry and stories. “I like writing,” he say. “For me, writing is thinking. A voice comes to you, and you hear it in your head, and you follow the voice, and write.”