A letter and its consequences | Part 2

24. Jul. 2023 / Science & Research / Science and research

Wilhelm Michael was a man of language. He had studied German, classical languages and philosophy in Munich, Leipzig, Heidelberg and Erlangen, and in 1909 earned his doctorate (Dr. phil.) with the publication of a two-volume collection of works by the poet Ludwig Christoph Heinrich Hölty at the age of 25. In 1910, he passed the state examination to qualify as a teacher for higher education. As a war volunteer he took part in almost the entire 1st World War and in the early 1920s was a teacher at a grammar school in Magdeburg. During this time he became acquainted with the Adventist church. After his baptism he had to resign from the civil service, but was called to the Neandertal Seminary as a teacher and at the same time completed a fast-track preacher training there. As early as 1923 he took over the leadership in Neandertal himself; in 1928 he was called to Friedensau as headmaster.

His view always went beyond language

It is understandable that his love of language did not stop at Hebrew and Greek. In order to achieve the best translation results, he corresponded with the experts of his time, such as the Old Testament scholar and religious scholar Otto Eißfeldt. The fact that he familiarised himself with the specifics of Adventism underlines his special interest in the Adventist church.
However, his view always went beyond the language. One example is the book "Der Christen Schuld und Sühne: eine Sammlung von Zeugnissen", published in 1931. Here he takes a critical look at the "culture" of colonisation and, on the basis of testimonies of the perpetrators, proves the guilt of the whites against the "indigenous nations" in Europe, in North, Central and South America and West Africa as well as the "educated nations of Asia" (Japanese, Chinese, Indians). As atonement, he presents the propagation and faith of the Holy Scriptures, but not as a cultural transfer of Western civilisation. The two most important criteria emphasised are rebirth (in "those who win" and "those who are won") and respect for humanity (in the sense of the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the nation).
Of course, Wilhelm Michael is also a child of the thinking of his time, but the fact that he concludes with a final chapter entitled "The Value of the Individual" is far ahead of his time.

William Michael's Interpretation of the Sanctuary

Wilhelm Michael, in his linguistic studies, came to the conclusion that the idea of a sanctuary in heaven does not correspond to the meaning of what Moses was shown building the tabernacle in Exodus 25:9,40 and translated by Luther as "after the image". Since the same expression is also used in 1 Chronicles 28:11,12,18 and 19 in instructing the building of David's temple in Jerusalem, it can only be a word whose basic meaning includes the "building" or the "design". From this he concludes that the tabernacle is not only a significant symbol, but also the beginning of a series of developments, a prophesying model for the time of completion that occurred through the incarnation of Jesus.
Of Jesus John says (1:14): The Word was made flesh, and dwelt ("tented" s. Elberfelder translation; literal translation by Wilhelm Michael: "The divinity in the tent of his holy body") among us.

The archetype is realised through the Spirit

He went on to explain: "Through Christ the covenant is brought, whose law is no longer given into the tables of stone, but into the fleshy tables of the heart, where it then no longer needs an ark of the covenant (Jer. 31:33). Jesus was bodily the tabernacle of God among men. This is also what the Letter to the Hebrews means (8:4) when it interprets those words, referring to the vision given to Moses, in an even higher sense. That image of earthly importance was itself the shadow image of a higher, heavenly truth. This archetype, however, is not to be realised through the building, but through the spirit. After the temple of the body of Christ was broken down (Joh. 2,19), He built it again, first through His resurrection. But this was immediately the beginning of an unrestrained expansion.

All who become one spirit with Him through living faith (1 Cor. 6:17), all these are laid also on Him, the foundation, living stones in the temple of God (1 Pet. 2:5) and together form a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). In faith they have an open entrance into the Holy of Holies (Hebr. 10,19). But they still stand in faith, not in sight. The anchor of their soul goes into the inner part of the curtain (Heb 6:19), and when the waves of tribulation tear at it, they feel that it holds firm. But the goal is not reached until the word is fulfilled (Acts 21:3)."


Christ's death brought fulfilment

So much for Wilhelm Michael's remarks. According to his words, the antitype described in Hebrews 9 can be compared in heaven, but just not in all details, with the earthly sanctuary, because Christ brought the fulfilment of the Old Testament sacrificial service through his death.
Those who knew Wilhelm Michael knew how much with both feet he stood on the ground of the Advent message. As a person he was extremely popular. As he was at home in the "Wandervogel" movement, he liked to go on foot, for example to Burg, about 14 km away, and from there he brought the old brothers and sisters of the old people's home their medicines in his backpack. That became history.

Wilhelm Michael held on to his faith despite insults

But the punitive transfer as a teacher (not as a headmaster) to Marienhöhe deeply offended him. Others would have thrown everything away, but not him. Although he wrote more articles and manuscripts on various topics, the community refused to allow him to publish them. In August 1937, the community leadership informed him: "At yesterday's meeting of our small committee, we took a stand on your letter. It was decided to advise you not to print the book 'Aus Gottes Schatzkammer' (From God's Treasury) and not to have it published by another publishing house, since according to the rules of the Fellowship it is not permissible to have books that have been rejected by the Book Committee published by other publishers."
Wilhelm Michael bowed.

The long overdue rehabilitation

Nevertheless, some things survived the times. For example, some songs that made it into our community songbook "Glauben, Hoffen, Singen" (Faith, Hope, Singing), including "Mein Jesus, ich lieb dich, ich weiß, du bist mein" (My Jesus, I love you, I know you are mine). Therein lay his comfort, especially in difficult times.
Wilhelm Michael deserved to be rehabilitated long ago.

Dr. theol. Johannes Hartlapp
Lecturer in Church History and Head of B.A. Theology at the FAU

Bild der THH Friedensau
Author: Dr. Johannes Hartlapp
Photo: FAU