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George Stoeckhardt

American-German Theologian & Professor
(17 February 1842 – 9 January 1913)

One can say that what C.F.W. Walther was for dogmatics (the study of Bible doctrine) for the Lutheran church in North America, George Stoeckhardt was for exegesis (the translation and explanation of the Holy Scriptures). After coming to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1878, Stoeckhardt was originally a part-time lecturer in exegesis at Concordia Seminary and then for the last twenty-five years of his life he was a full-time professor at the seminary.

Karl George Stoeckhardt was born in Chemnitz, Germany. Although his father was a chemistry professor and town councilor, his forebears going back to the mid-1600’s were orthodox Lutheran pastors. He had three sisters. The youngest, who came to America with him, married Pastor C. C. Schmidt of the Missouri Synod.

Stoeckhardt studied theology at the Universities of Erlangen and Leipzig (1862-66). At Erlangen, he joined a Christian fraternity, Wingolf, and at Leipzig he and other like-minded students founded a branch of Wingolf, whose constitution contained a clear confession of Christ as the Son of God. The fraternity was also against academic fencing (the object of which was to scar the other person’s face), hazing, and excessive drinking.

After graduating, he was a private tutor at what we would call a deaconess school in Tharandt (1867-1870). Of his time as a tutor, he wrote that it required more study to explain theological concepts clearly to his students than it did to teach seminarians, who could be fobbed off with theological jargon. It seems he also began to see the importance of exegesis in teaching and explaining the catechism. In 1866 he visited Wilhelm Loehe in Neuendettelsau, and Loehe introduced him to what was happening in North America.

In 1873 Stoeckhardt accepted a call to become the assistant pastor at the state church congregation in Planitz, Saxony. After three years, however, he organized a protest against indifferentism and laxity in the state church. He became acquainted with the Free Church in Germany, and also the Missouri Synod in America. In 1876 he left the state church, and he and others formed the Evangelical Free Church of Saxony and Other States.  He became its secretary and also editor of the church paper, Die Evangelisch-Lutherische Freikirche. For his articles against apostasy in the state church, he was sentenced to four months in prison.

In 1878, Stoeckhardt emigrated to America and became the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and also began lecturing at Concordia Seminary. C.F.W. Walther had wanted Stoeckhardt elected to a professorship at the seminary, but the synodical convention elected a young graduate instead, Franz Pieper. In 1887, Stoeckhardt was elected professor. His area of expertise was Old and New Testament exegesis, and he wrote commentaries on Romans, Ephesians (translated into English and published by Concordia Publishing House), Philippians, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, the three Epistles of John, Isaiah 1-12, and the Psalms. He also wrote a Bible history. He was a forceful preacher and an orthodox Lutheran. He wrote various sermon books as well as numerous articles for the Missouri Synod’s theological journal, Lehre und Wehre, and for the Homiletic Magazine. Virtually all of his writings were in German, and only some have been translated into English (his commentary on Romans, for example, was translated into English but exists only as a mimeographed copy and was never published). He was a staunch supporter of C.F.W. Walther in the Predestinarian Controversy and other controversies of the time.

Part of Stoeckhardt’s importance lies in the emphasis he put on exegesis, because before his arrival, the Seminary in St. Louis was dominated by Walther’s emphasis on dogmatics and citing Luther as well as other orthodox Lutheran theologians. August Pieper wrote that Stoeckhardt produced the Scriptural doctrine and then showed that this was also the doctrine of Luther and the Confessions. Professor Gaylin Schmeling (Evangelical Lutheran Synod) feels that Stoeckhardt is at least the “grandfather” of what later came to be known as the Wauwatosa Theology, if not its “father.”

In 1873, when Stoeckhardt accepted his first call, he married Anna Koenig. Anna’s sister accompanied the Stoeckhardts to America in 1878, and in 1881 she married August Pieper. George and Anna Stoeckhardt did not have any children, but adopted two sons after they came to America: Karl, who became a banker in St. Louis; and Ernst, who became a Missouri Synod pastor. When Anna died in September of 1898, Stoeckhardt was so overcome with grief that he suffered a breakdown and eventually had to be institutionalized. By 1901, however, partially through the care of Mary Kohne of Pittsburgh, Stoeckhardt recovered and resumed his teaching duties at the seminary. He later married Miss Kohne. Stoeckhardt continued to teach until 1913, when he died of a stroke at age seventy.

Steven Karp is pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Hayward, California.