Skip to content

August Otto Wilhelm Pieper

Of Reformation confessors, there are many whom we generally do not recognize in the context of the Reformation era itself. However, in that the Reformation was about the Word, and further that perpetuation of the Reformation principles calls for steadfast and bold confessors of the Word, it is fitting that we recognize latter day confessors as well.

When we hear the Pieper name, no doubt we think of Francis (Franz) Pieper, author of the three-volume “Christian Dogmatics,” still used in our seminary. But an eminent theologian in his own right was his younger brother, August Otto Wilhelm Pieper (1857-1946).

After the death of his father, August came with three brothers and his mother to America in 1869. They settled in Watertown, Wisconsin. After graduating from Northwestern College, August attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, where he sat at the feet of renowned Lutheran theologian C.F.W. Walther. Upon graduation from the seminary, he served several parishes in Wisconsin, the last in Milwaukee. From there he was called to the seminary in Wauwatosa.

While Franz served in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, including some years as the president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, August served in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Of his sixty-four years in the ministry of the Gospel, he spent forty-one years at the seminary, of which he was also president for a time (1930-1937). One of August’s daughters was a member of the CLC until her death. A son, Gerhard, was a charter member of the CLC and served as one of two pastors of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac. Two of August’s granddaughters were members of the CLC until their death, and descendants of his remain active in our fellowship.

Pieper was highly respected in the Wisconsin Synod. In the early decades of the twentieth century, of the twentieth century—after the death of Adolf Hoenecke—Pieper, J.P. Koehler, and John Schaller were considered the preeminent theologians in the synod. Pieper was a professor of isogogics (introduction to the books of Scripture) as well as Old Testament exegesis (interpretation) at the seminary. Pieper’s most enduring work may be Isaiah II, a commentary on chapters 40-66 of Isaiah, in which he argues staunchly for the unity of Isaiah, opposing critical scholars who say that the book had more than one author. Pieper wrote, “The testimony of the New Testament has wholly convinced me of the Isaianic authorship of the whole book of Isaiah, and particularly also of Part II.”1

Pieper was instrumental in the establishment of the Theologische Quartalshrift, the Wisconsin Synod’s theological journal. He also wrote many essays related to the church and its ministry. His essays, together with those of his fellow professors Koehler and Schaller, appear in the three-volume set entitled The Wauwatosa Theology.

One of the very positive elements of the Wauwatosa theology was an emphasis on the exegetical study of Scripture itself, rather than blind reliance upon the teachings of the church fathers. The Word of God was the authority—not what the church fathers declared or set forth.

These three theologians, of whom August Pieper was one, “. . . retained and passed on the doctrine of plenary inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture,” “ . . . retained and passed on the doctrines of election, conversion, and objective justification,” and “. . . sought to realize the principle of sola scriptura more fully.”2

In conclusion, we appreciate Professor Pieper’s words in his foreword to the tenth edition of the Quartalshrift: “The church of God stands and falls with no man, but with God’s Word alone.  . . . Now this Word is found in authentic form in Holy Scripture alone. Therefore Scripture alone is the true source and norm of theology.”3

Daniel Fleischer is a retired pastor and former president of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. He lives in Oakdale, Minnesota.

With thanks to Professor David Lau for historical background

1 August Pieper, Isaiah II (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing
House, 1978) 38.

2 Curtis A. Jahn, ed., The Wauwatosa Theology, vol. 1
(Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1997) 96-97.

3 August Pieper, “Vorwort zum zehnten Jahrgang,
” Theologische Quartalschrift 1913, 10:1.