Martin Luther and Hitler












































Martin Luther

Our Most Eminent Teacher

Pastor Marshall

December 2007

Lutherans say that Martin Luther (1483-1546) is our “most eminent teacher” [The Book of Concord: Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (1580) ed. T. Tappert (1959) p. 576]. This is because we believe that he understands the Bible and the Christian faith better than anyone else does. And this is of great value since the Bible is made up of some 67 books and totals over a thousand pages. So having someone who can faithfully grasp its point matters.

But since the early 1800s, Lutherans have been fudging on this. They haven’t changed the stated position itself – they still declare Luther is the best – it’s just that they now willfully, defiantly and shamefully ignore what he wrote, while letting the words stand that say he’s the best teacher we have. So modern Lutherans say they’re Lutherans but they bark up other trees and drink from other wells. To see this at work, one has only to check out the April 2007 issue of Lutheran Women Today (volume 20), which explores how best to understand God, and see that Luther is never mentioned, while Michelangelo and James Weldon Johnson are! This is but one example taken from a massive trend of denial and neglect.

Bible. Two more examples of how Lutherans are doing this regards how we read the Bible and what we think about Judaism. When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, for instance, it doesn't explain the context of the Old Testament words – who is saying what, to whom, and for what reason. Nor is the historical background sorted out or the literary nature of the words sized up – as modern critical Biblical analysis does. Rather it just quotes the earlier holy words with absolutely no commentary. So when Jesus quotes Zechariah 12:10 in John 19:37, he gives no citation but simply says, “And again another scripture says, ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced.’” And when James 2:23 quotes Genesis 15:6 it only says, “The scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” [For other examples, see Luke 20:42; Acts 2:25, 34, 7:48-49, 13:35; Romans 9:15, 17, 25, 10:11, 16, 19, 21, 11:2, 9, 12:19, 14:11, 15:12; 1 Timothy 5:18; Hebrews 5:6; James 4:5-6.] So Luther argued for the plain sense of a Bible verse. He didn’t write commentaries in order to make “the Bible say the opposite of what it seems to say” (Donald H. Juel, “Homosexuality and Church Tradition,” Word & Word, Spring 1990). Rather, Luther argued, we should “just hear” the Bible verse, and give up trying to “interpret” it (Luther’s Works 23:229; 39:165). So he worked long and hard, for instance, to show that when Jesus said of the sacramental bread in Matthew 26:26, “This is my body,” that little word “is’ in this simple sentence actually means “is” and not something fancier and obscure like “represents” (LW 37:30-35).

Jews. And many American Lutherans have also rejected Luther because of his alleged anti-Semitism or hatred of the Jews – even formally condemning him twice for this at national conventions in 1974 (ALC) and 1994 (ELCA). These critics believe that Luther spews forth his hatred in his famous 1543 treatise called The Jews and Their Lies (Luther’s Works 47:137-306) – a book that supposedly inspired Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) when he was devising his plan during WWII to kill off the Jews throughout Europe. It has become fairly common to suppose that "Luther's diatribes in the sixteenth century are an eerie foreshadowing of Nazi practices four centuries later" [Michael Berenbaum, The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Second Edition (1993, 2006) p. 8]. Indeed even "Thomas Mann linked Luther to Hitler as did Lord Vansittart, once the highest civil servant in the British Foreign Office, Archbishop Temple and the Very Reverend R. W. Inge of the Church of England shared this opinion, and so did William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a bestseller" [Uwe Siemon-Netto, The Fabricated Luther (1995) p. 23].

      So even the prestigious Luther scholar, George Wolfgang Forell, concludes that in Luther's critique of the Jews, "the great theologian of the cross revealed his triumphalist Achilles’ heel” [The Luther Legacy (1983) p. 63]. And other scholars agree. James M. Kittelson says this treatise is a "poison" in the church [Luther the Reformer (1986, 2003) p. 275]. Heiko A. Oberman says Luther "becomes a pawn of modern anti-Semitism" in this 1543 treatise [Luther (1989) p. 297]. And Martin Marty says that Luther is at his worst when writing this treatise and that it contributes to his overall judgment that Luther is an "extreme" thinker and unjustifiably so [Martin Luther (2004) pp. 174, 194]. Not all, however, who reject this 1543 treatise also reject what Luther says elsewhere, but a growing number are doing so. For instance, more and more are supposing that if Luther was too harsh on the Jews, then when he condemns homosexual behavior (LW 3:255), he's also being too harsh on gays and lesbians as well [see Homosexuality, Science, and the "Plain Sense" of Scripture (2000) ed. David L. Balch, pp. 190-191].

      So words like these from students of Luther make it look like he is guilty as charged. And it surely doesn't help that a vicious anti-Semite in Hitler's government was named Martin Franz Julius Luther (1895-1945) [see Christopher R. Browning, The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942 (2004) pp. 342-43].

      But I think these judgments against Luther are unjustifiable. This is because, in large part, Luther's four-part, 170 page book on the Jews is rarely read through carefully by those who condemn it and understood even less well by those who skim over it once or twice, searching for juicy invectives – since they have already made up their minds against Luther on other grounds – whether they be sacramental, Biblical, catechetical, psychological or ecclesiastical – and are only in search of some non-controvertible evidence to clinch their case against him. They know nothing about – and care even less – that the great Luther scholar, E. Gordon Rupp in his book Martin Luther: Hitler's Cause or Cure? (1945) decisively refuted Peter F. Wiener's book, Martin Luther: Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor (1945, 1999), which accused Luther of anti-Semitism largely because of this 1543 treatise on the Jews. Consequently their judgment against Luther for his treatise on the Jews is skewed and anything but compelling.

      So if the truth would be known, Luther "was not involved with later racial anti-Semitism. [For] there is a world of difference between his belief in salvation and a racial ideology" [Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3 volumes (1985-1993) 3:351]. Therefore Luther can say that "we Goyim... confess that Mary [the Mother of our Lord Jesus] is not ours but rather the Jews' cousin and blood relative [whom] we praise and laud... highly" (LW 47:260). Now no anti-Semite could ever say this – without retching. But Luther says it, not only clearly and deliberately, but also with joy, passion and pride – something which, if not noted and appreciated, only distorts Luther.

      So being part of his view of salvation, Luther's critique of the Jews – which is actually only a critique of Judaism – is not due to any personal hatred for the Jews, but is only a matter of following what the Bible has to say – especially the New Testament (but see also LW 47:178-192 on Genesis 49:10) – believing that "it is incumbent on all to know God's book" (LW 47:280). So in this treatise on the Jews Luther is arguing against the religion of Judaism and not against the Jews in any anti-Semitic way at all, because that is what the Bible does. And it's a terrible mistake to suppose that his anti-Judaism implies anti-Semitism – since it clearly doesn't – even though for others it might. Luther, however, “did not believe the world would be a better place without Jews but he believed passionately that Christendom would be better without Judaism, just as it would be better without papalism and without Anabaptism” [Derek Wilson, Out of the Storm: The Life and Legacy of Martin Luther (2007) p. 316].

      So when Luther is attacked for his views on the Jews, more often than not, the real target is the Bible – and not Luther's supposed hatred at all. So most critics of this 1543 treatise don't actually have a beef with Luther's fabricated anti-Semitism at all – regardless of what they say. What they're really upset about is Luther's harsh view of Christian salvation – which Luther says is deeply embedded in the Bible itself. But this is harder to own up to, since attacking a deeply Biblical view of salvation can boomerang on the critics, making then look religiously irresponsible. 

      Now regarding salvation, we're told two things in the Bible about the Jews. First, that they, like all people, are welcome to believe in and follow Christ, because “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). So the Jews are not excluded simply because of their ethnic background. If they were to be excluded on those ground, that would be anti-Semitic. That being said, however, the Bible also teaches that when a Jew – or anyone else, for that matter, follows Judaism – the view that God blesses those who keep his Law – that person becomes “unworthy of eternal life” (Acts 13:46). This is because Judaism, as a religion, cannot deliver what it promises – for it has become “obsolete” due to the appearing of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and very Son of God (Hebrews 7:19, 8:13; 2 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Peter 1:18; Romans 3:20, 8:3).

      This negative judgment is not anti-Semitic but only against the saving power of Judaism, which is rooted in following the law. So as the Jewish convert to Christianity, Roy H. Schoeman, has written, it is a “pernicious error” to suppose “that the Old and New Covenants are two ‘separate but equal’ parallel paths to salvation, the one intended for Jews, the other for Gentiles” [Salvation is From the Jews (2003) p. 353]. The truth rather is that salvation only comes through the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). It is this anti-Judaism which is at the heart of Luther's 1543 treatise on the Jews – which has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

      But this anti-Judaism doesn’t imply that Christianity hasn’t benefited from Judaism. To the contrary, Christians have received from Judaism the Law, the critique of idol worship, covenants with Noah, Abraham and David and the stirring witness of the patriarchs and prophets, to say nothing of the Savior himself (Romans 9:4-5) (LW 47:302)! So Christians have rightly taken these treasures and built upon them. But none of these gifts assures sinners of God’s love for them and the hope of eternal life once they've died and gone to meet their maker (1 Corinthians 15:26-56). Salvation from God's wrath only comes through “faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22, 5:9; John 3:16, 36).  

      This is the truth given us, which we must honor, even though, as Lutherans know and confess, it is “repulsive... to the judgment of reason,” and that a religion based on the law, like Judaism, is “more plausible” [The Book of Concord (1580) ed. T. Tappert (1959) p. 139]. But that offense doesn’t make Christianity any less true. No, not at all. In fact, this offensiveness may even contribute to its truth (Matthew 11:6). So when our feathers get ruffled by Luther's treatise, that's not reason enough to give up on it. That's because Lutherans know how repulsive Christianity essentially and necessarily is. Many, therefore, who insists on throwing out Luther's treatise any way, are also those who have first done the same with a harsh view of Christianity in favor of a milder one.

      So when Luther says that the Jews should be punished for their rejection of Christianity and their attempts to draw Christians into Judaism (LW 47:290), he's only laying out what the Bible says. Luke 16:16 says, for instance, that “every one enters the kingdom of God violently.” St. Paul was knocked flat on the road to Damascus, right before he "put on Christ" (Acts 9:4; Galatians 3:27). And everyone since then has been required to die to themselves too – being knocked flat spiritually, if you will – in order to believe in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:13-17). And the Jews are no exception to this rough pedagogy. They also will have to suffer "many tribulations" before they enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). This is what Luther calls Christianissima saeveritas or "Christian severity" (LW 26:118). Those therefore who reject Luther's 1543 treatise on the Jews have a prior negative reaction to his general religious severity. Unfortunately this is rarely if ever admitted in their critiques of his 1543 treatise on the Jews. Instead, Luther the messenger, is slain for bringing a message from God – which is not that uncommon but still always wrong to do.

      So even in the Old Testament, we must note – quite apart from Luther's treatise – that God tries to scare the Jews straight. Again and again he punishes them mercilessly – especially through invading military powers under the leadership of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28) and Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 39:3). And in Hosea, God specifically says – and quite abhorrently – of the disobedient Jews, that their children should be killed, their families should become infertile, and that they should be driven from their homes and made to wander among the nations (Hosea 9:7-17). It's important to note here, how much this prophecy sounds like what years later showed up in Hitler’s playbook. This helps one see the horrible truth about the ghastly nature of the Bible. So attacking Luther's alleged anti-Semitism in the name of some fabricated and exclusively loving Bible, is to get tangled up in theological chicanery. The message of the Bible is tough and one has to settle for that or throw it out. All sophisticated, urbane efforts to clean up the Bible fail by the death of a thousand qualifications.

      And it must also be noted that these tough Old Testament words inspired Luther (who quotes Hosea eight times in his treatise) when he advises destroying Jewish synagogues, homes, religious books, preventing rabbis from teaching, ending gainful employment and safe-conduct for Jews, and imposing hard labor on them (LW 47:268-272). So indeed his polemic against Judaism is not derived from a personal hatred for them, but is rather "drawn from the Old Testament... prophets" [Gerhard O. Forde, "Luther and the Jews," (ALC, 1977) p. 18]. In the raging debate, then, over whether or not it's right to spank our children, Luther would come down squarely on the side of spanking (see John Rosemond, To Spank or Not to Spank: A Parent's Handbook, 1994). For he deeply believed in Proverbs 13:24 that sparing the rod spoils the child. This, in effect, then, is what he is doing in his 1543 treatise on the Jews – giving them a good licking (LW 47:197) – as offensive as that may seem to those with liberal ears.

      But if Luther rightly opposed killing the Jews for their disobedience (contra the Old Testament prescription), why did he still advise other terrible punishments against them? Why didn't he ignore those Biblical punishments as any enlightened, urbane Christian would? Many suppose he didn't ignore them because he hated the Jews and was a terrible, evil person [see Richard Marius, Martin Luther (1999) p. 377]. But what Luther says is very different than that. He says, instead, that he advised punishments first to witness to the Holy Scriptures – for Jesus himself rebuked the Jews (LW 47:277) – and secondly, to scare the Jews straight so that they might receive God's blessings (LW 47:267).

      Luther believed that the Jews were a stubborn, stiff-necked people, as the Bible says (Exodus 32:9; Ezekiel 3:7-9; Acts 7:51-53) (LW 47:252). Therefore he knew that harsh corrections were needed if they were to be helped – "harsh" or "sharp" mercy was required, rather than "gentle" mercy (LW 47:268, 272, 276, 292) – for that's what it takes to "soften" up recalcitrant sinners (LW 47:206) – something Christians also need to know regarding themselves (LW 47:161, 253). His driving concern, then, was not vengeance or anything like that, but only the “welfare” of the Jewish people (LW 47:178, 267, 274). He had no interest in killing them off as Hitler did – for Luther knew that vengeance belonged to God alone (LW 47:189). Luther, then, to the contrary, only wanted to end God’s long-standing wrath against the Jews (LW 47:241, 263, 273, 292), and he knew that would only come about through faith in the Messiah (LW 47:215, 295). "Innumerable people, both young and old" within Judaism had accepted Christianity with sincerity down through the centuries, and Luther wanted many more Jews to do the same (LW 47:283, 306).

      That being the case, it would be unloving and unwise to repudiate Luther’s 1543 treatise on the Jews. He knew that many Jews believed in Jesus Christ, the Messiah (LW 47:237, 299, 304) – and he wanted many more to follow suit. He didn't want to ignore Ezekiel 3:16-21 and withhold God's warning from them – thereby "aiding and abetting" their faithlessness (LW 47:274, 275, 279, 284). He wanted instead to restore the Messianic "heritage" to Israel which the Jews had "ruined" by rejecting and vilifying Jesus (LW 47:254). In order to do this he was willing for people to be "displeased" with him (LW 47:185), for he knew he had written an unpleasant, but necessary book on the Jews (LW 47:291).

      In this way Luther's treatise is eminently – and surprisingly – pastoral. "Underlying the divine chastisement is God's 'painful grace,' the purpose of which is to strangle the old Adam so that the believer might turn to God alone for every good" [Dennis Ngien, Luther as a Spiritual Adviser (2007) p. 155]. So condemning this treatise only undercuts these noble Christian goals – something no faithful, self-respecting Christian should ever want to do, or dare to do. The fact that many have done so anyway points to their lack of understanding and compassion for the Jews. This is because they are not willing to bear ignominy and vilification for trying to scare the Jews straight as Luther was willing to do. They instead are content to rest in the comfortable, unbiblical view that the Jews are safe for eternity without any belief in Jesus as their savior. But such comfort I cannot countenance because "it belongs to the very essence of a faith founded on justification by grace, that there is no distinction, and that I am called to preach Christ crucified, not by Jews, but [crucified] by us all, and thus to proclaim him to all" (Forde, "Luther and the Jews," p. 19).













Luther’s Catechisms 

Cutting Up Our Sinful Hearts

Luther wrote thousands of pages – some 54 volumes in English translation. But what is mostly known by American Lutherans of this huge outpouring of words is his little twenty page Small Catechism (1529) – sometimes still memorized by young teenagers in confirmation classes. Yet not even these few pages are well known or understood in any depth.

The same could be said for Luther’s famous Ninety-Five Theses (1517), which began the reformation of the church in Germany with its complaints against horrendous church practices. But this little eight page document is also poorly known and little understood – witness only the poor treatment of it by no less than five authors in the November 2007 issue of The Lutheran. For instance, in thesis 40 Luther says that one who is truly sorry for one’s sins “loves to pay penalties for his sins” (LW 31:29). But American Lutherans don’t believe this for a minute. Here they side with Luther’s enemies against our supposedly wonderful reformer. And the same goes for thesis 63 which says that the glories of the Gospel are “naturally most odious” to us because of how they put us down (LW 31:31). And finally, the last one, thesis 95 says that we can only enter heaven through “many tribulations,” and never through “the false security of peace” (LW 31:33)! Wow!

        Now in the Small Catechism Luther also uses the sword of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12) to cut us up mercilessly. But these lacerations are either skipped or passed over lightly by most readers. This is deplorable, of course. Few care, however.

Nevertheless, Luther begins his little gem by saying that if you won’t learn it you should be refused “food and drink,” and banished from your home [The Book of Concord (1580) ed. T. Tappert (1959) p. 339]. Then in the first section he tells us that fearing God doesn’t mean casual respect for a dignitary. Rather it means being afraid that God will “punish” us if we transgress his commandments (p. 344). In the next section he tells us of our religious impotence – that we cannot by “our own reason or strength” believe in Jesus Christ. So if we believe, it’s because God has “enlightened” us and “preserved” us in the faith. When we therefore believe in Jesus it’s not because we have chosen to or selected him from among various live options (p. 345). For in matters of religion we must never suppose we’re free to make up our own minds – regardless of what evangelists say when they tell us to make Jesus our personal lord and savior. This can’t be since our faith doesn’t depend on the “exertion” of our will (Romans 9:16).

       In the third section Luther says we “deserve nothing but punishment” (p. 347). So we can’t go around saying God is always looking for new ways to bless us. That’s just not the case – the opposite rather is. He’s out to crush us – like a bug on the sidewalk. Just remember all those mothers with their little crying babies that he mercilessly drowned in the flood (Genesis 7:21; Isaiah 13:9; Matthew 3:12; Romans 2:5-11). At the end of this section he says this life is nothing but a “world of sorrow” (p. 348) – so much for those much vaunted lakefront summer vacations. All they really are is distractions.

        In the section on baptism he says there’s nothing cute about it. Rather it is about drowning or putting to death our sins and evil lusts “by daily sorrow and repentance” (p. 349). So thinking that when we rejoice in Christ ( Philippians 4:4) we are free from every daily sorrow is only an illusion – or a tale told by demonic fools. And in the next section we’re told that we need to confess that we are “guilty of all manner of sins” (p. 350). So our problem isn’t a little one. We’re actually as bad as we can be – and especially when we think we’re flying high (Isaiah 64:6).

       In the section on the Lord’s Supper he says it’s all about the “forgiveness of sins” (p. 352). So it’s not a meal where we select our favorite beverage or type of cup. Neither is it a light-hearted community celebration. That only turns this testament about the forgiveness of sins into a silly little carnival. In the section on prayer we’re told to make the sign of the cross on ourselves and know that “the wicked one” is trying to run us over on a daily basis (p. 352). And in the last section we’re told that “all the household well will fare” if and only if every member in the family learns their lessons and does their chores daily. Otherwise chaos will ensue – and with that a model dysfunctional family.

        Luther continues these swipes in his Large Catechism (1529) – which is some five times longer. There we read: “Like pigs and dogs [we] remember no more of the Gospel than [a] rotten,... shameful, carnal liberty” (p. 359); “The most common idol on earth is.... money and possessions” (p. 365); “We grossly... desecrate the holy [Sabbath when we] listen to God’s Word as [we] would to any other entertainment” (p. 378); “Let everyone... remember that God is not to be taken lightly.... If you obey him you are his dear child; [if not, take] shame, misery and grief for your reward” (p. 385); “God calls all persons murderers who do not offer... aid to men in need” (p. 391); “[Christianity] is not a nice, soft life” (p. 392); “Christ... restored [me] to the Father’s... grace.... [by suffering and dying] that he might make satisfaction... and pay what I owed, not with silver and gold but with his own precious blood” (p. 414); “Let no... Christian... think... he will have peace... on earth” (p. 429); “God’s Word cannot err” (p. 444); “A Christian life is... a daily Baptism,.... incessantly... purging out whatever pertains to the old Adam” (p. 445); ‘The Lord’s Supper is given as a daily food... so that our faith may... grow continually stronger. For the new life should be one that continually... progresses” (p. 449); and “If you proudly stay away from confession, then... you are no Christian” (p. 460).

 (based on “Praising Luther’s Catechism” in

The Messenger, October 2005.)


















































































































































































































Martin Luther statue, Washington, D.C.




Martin Luther’s

The Bondage of the Will


[De servo (~liberum) arbitrio (~voluntas);

which might more accurately be translated,

On Unfree Choice]



[A] One of My Best Books. “Regarding the plan to collect my writings in volumes, I am quite cool and not at all eager about it because, roused by a Saturnian hunger, I would rather see them all devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except perhaps the one On the Bound Will and Catechism” (Luther’s Works 50:172-173, Letter of July 9, 1537).


[B] Not My Will Be Done. “A good will is found only where there is no will. Where there is no will, God’s will, which is the very best, will be present…. [But] you may say, ‘Well, did God not endow us with a free will?’ I reply: To be sure, he gave you a free will. But why do you want to make it your own will? Why not let it remain free? If you do with it whatever you will, it is not a free will, but your own will. God did not give you or anyone one else a will of your own. Your own will comes from the devil and from Adam, who transformed the free will received from God into his own. A free will does not want its own way, but looks only to God’s will for direction. By so doing it then also remains free, untrammeled and unshackled…. Our will is the most formidable element in us, and against it we must pray, ‘O Father, do not let me get to the point where my will is done. Break my will; resist it. No matter what happens let my life be governed not by my will, but by yours. As no one’s own will prevails in heaven so may it also be here on earth.’ Such a petition or its fulfillment is indeed very painful to our human nature, for our own will is the greatest and most deeply rooted evil in us, and nothing is dearer to us than our own will” (LW 42:48 – 1519).


[C] Free Will = Self Will. “I would wish that the words, ‘free will,’ had never been invented. They are not found in Scripture and would better be called ‘self will’ which is of no use. But if anyone wishes to retain these words, he ought to apply them to the newly created man…. But those who are involved in sins are not free, but prisoners of the devil…. This error about ‘free will’ is a special doctrine of Antichrist. Small wonder that it has spread all over the world, for it is written of this Antichrist that he will seduce the whole world. Only few Christians will be saved” (LW 32:94 – 1521).


[D] I Cannot Believe. “I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith” [Small Catechism (1529) 2:6, The Book of Concord (1580), ed. T. Tappert (1959) p. 345].


[E] Knowing You’re Saved. “I will… send My Son…. in order that you may be able to know whether you are predestined or not…. If you listen to Him, are baptized in His name, and love His Word, then you are surely predestined and are certain of your salvation. But if you revile or despise the Word, then you are damned; for he who does not believe is condemned (Mark 16:16)” (LW 5:45 – 1542).


[F] Bound But Still Responsible. “You must use the things given and granted to you by God in His kindness. You must rule, work, and strive not to tempt God. You must not throw yourself headlong into danger… because you have the promise that God does not want to forsake you…. For God fulfills His promises with definite means. One should not join those fanatics – who conclude that everything is foreknown – and say: ‘If I have been predestined, I shall be saved; if not, I shall perish. If it is necessary to die, care for the body and life will profit nothing. If I am destined to be learned, I shall become learned even without books, etc.’ But God has not given His promises with this arrangement…. He does not want to fulfill the end of His promises without means; He wants to do so through means. He has given us the use of the creatures, and these must be used by Christians until we come to the end of the divine promises” (LW 5:256-257).



[G] Writing On the Run. “While writing The Bondage of the Will, Luther was occupied with the problems of the peasants’ revolt, with Müntzer’s revolutionary, spiritual Christianity, and with the newly initiated controversy over the Lord’s Supper, to say nothing of his personal career, amid all these complications considerably altered by his marriage and the founding of his own large household in June 1525. The De servo arbitrio was composed mainly in the autumn of 1525. By the end of December 1525, it was in print” [Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology, ed. and trans. Roy A. Harrisville (Fortress, 1999) pp. 162-163].


[H] His Quickly Written, 8 Day Book. “I am sending you, my Michael [Stifel], my rebuttal of Erasmus, which I completed as best I could in a short time and in a hurry…. [It seems that Luther finished the manuscript between November 11 and 18; see WA 18, 581. The printing began while Luther was still working on the manuscript]” (LW 49:140, Letter, 12-31-1525 and note 3).


[I] Like St. Augustine . “Only once had Augustine [387-420] spoken of the “servum arbitrium” (bound will) [Contra Iulianum 2:8.23]. By using this title Luther intended to make clear that he understood himself as defender of the Augustinian doctrine of sin and grace against Pelagians old and new. With the quotation from Augustine he was appealing to the tradition of the church fathers” (B. Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology, p. 163).


[J] Reviving Double Predestination. “In The Bondage of the Will Luther must be set against a debate already a thousand years old in the Western Church …. That mankind is divisible into elect and reprobate, that the number of those saved are the smaller portion of mankind, these were ideas to be found among the mediaeval disputations from the time of Augustine. Though the [Second] Council of Orange [529] had refrained from asserting double Predestination, isolated theologians had taken up the statement of Isidore of Seville [560-636] that ‘there is a double predestination, to life and death. Both are concerned with a divine judgment, so that he makes the elect follow internal things and things above, and permits the reprobate always to be damned by being delighted with external things and things below’” [Gordon Rupp, The Righteousness of God: Luther Studies (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953) p. 281].


[K] Going Against Modern Ideas. “The Bondage of the Will is Luther’s polemical tract against Erasmus – and ‘modern’ men of all eras” [Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (Yale, 1989) p. 211].


[L] Yet Moderns Intrigued Nevertheless. “De servo arbitrio remained in comparative obscurity for a quarter-millennium…. In marked contrast to its relative neglect in the period after Luther’s death stands a modern fascination with the work. In the nineteenth century followers and foes alike rediscovered De servo arbitrio, and it became the source of both severe criticism of the reformer’s theology and new insights into the nature of his thought” [Robert Kolb, Bound Choice, Election, and Wittenberg Theological Method (Eerdmans, 2005) p. 9].


[M] Free Will Not Christian. “On the Bondage of the Will hurt Erasmus deeply. He replied twice. For Luther, his own single contribution to the debate was enough. He fully intended the implication that Erasmus was not a Christian. It was not just that Erasmus was in error, but also that he was putting himself forth as a teacher of the faithful. In such a situation no holds were barred” [James M. Kittelson, Luther the Reformer (1986, 2003) p. 206].


[N] Condemning De Servo. “Gordon Rupp praised The Bondage of the Will extravagantly. It is not a judgment I share. The work is insulting, monstrously unfair, and utterly uncompromising…. Of all his Catholic foes, only Erasmus sought to approach Luther gently. Luther responded with a blast that echoes with cannonades and associated horrors of the coming religious wars – wars fought over doctrines with no hope of rational solution, elaborate formulations dissolved finally in the religious skepticism that gave us the Enlightenment and either depersonalized God or chased him out of the infinite heavens in the interest of peace and goodwill among humankind” [Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death (Harvard, 1999) p. 456].


[O] His Greatest Book. “The Bondage of the Will is the greatest piece of theological writing that ever came from Luther’s pen…. In its fertility of thought, its vigour of language, its profound theological grasp, its sustained strength of argument and the grand sweep of its exposition, it stands unsurpassed among Luther’s writings. It is the worthiest representative of his mature thought that he has left us, and is a far finer memorial of his theological prowess than are the smaller tracts of the preceding years, which are so much better known” [Martin Luther on The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer & O. R. Johnson (Revell, 1957) pp. 40-41].


[P] Lutherans Against Luther. “Ignoring Luther’s exposition of God’s foreknowledge as creative, the concordists instead repeated the distinction of Prosper of Aquitaine [390-463], which Spangenberg [1528-1604] and Chytraeus [1531-1600], among others, had used, between God’s foreknowledge of all things and his predestination of his chosen children to salvation (SD XI:4-27). This distinction does not solve the theodical problem. It only asserts that God is not responsible for the evil he foresees. It thus also evades the issue of God’s lordship over all that leads to questions about the origin of evil. Where Luther specifically admitted that the human mind could not grasp the ways of God, the Formula [1577] sidesteps the question. It seems content to get God off the hook. It returns to the position of Augsburg Confession article XIX: only the human creature and Satan are responsible for evil. It is precisely at this point… that the Formula diverges most from De servo arbitrio” (Kolb, Bound Choice, p. 268).


[Q] Not American. “Schmucker [1799-1873] was opposed to any form of a doctrine of election. He stated adamantly [that] ‘the theory of absolute predestination is generally regarded, by the laity at least, with horror’” [David A. Gustafson, Lutherans in Crisis: The Question of Identity in the American Republic ( Augsburg , 1993) p. 64].


[R] What the Church Needs. “Writing a book on Luther’s Bondage of the Will is a foolhardy business – not because the arguments are so hard to understand but rather because they are difficult for sinners to take…. The result has been as Luther predicted. The people, and now even the professors, know practically nothing of this doctrine – knowledge of which Luther considered absolutely essential to salvation! Small wonder that the church of Martin Luther ’s vision has lost much of its drive for that salvation. It has lost its object (God) and spends its time on itself and its own supposed freedom…. Nothing would be more salutary in the life of the church today than a careful reading of Luther’s Bondage of the Will…. For there is nothing that the old man – the self which must die – fears so much as having everything taken out of his hands…. [So] you, who presume to do business with God, can you see it? Can you see that this death of self is not, in the final analysis, something you can do? For the point is that God has once and for all reserved for himself the business of your salvation. There is nothing you can do now but, as the words of the old hymn have it, ‘climb Calvary ’s mournful mountain’ and stand with your helpless arms at your side and tremble before ‘that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete! It is finished; hear him cry; learn of Jesus Christ to die!’…. Can you see…. that in that cross God has stormed the last bastion of the self?.... Can you see that the death of Jesus Christ is your death?.... He is God happening to you. It is all over, finished, between you and God! He died in your place that death which you must die; he has done it in such a way as to save you….. He died to make a new creation of you, and as he rose, to raise you up to trust God alone…. [Now] all possibilities are open. You might sell your car, or even give it away – for someone else. You might find even that you could swallow your pride and stage a protest march – for your neighbor – or begin to seek to influence the power structures!” [Gerhard O. Forde, The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage, ed. Steven Paulson (Eerdmans, 2005) pp. xvi, xvii, 110-111].


[S] A Better Title: The Grandeur of the Creator. “An appropriate alternative for the title [to Luther’s book on the bound will, that] might better capture [its intent, would be] ‘the Grandeur of the Creator’” (Kolb, Bound Choice, p. 20).


[T] A Raucous Hymn. “[The Bondage of the Will is] a raucous hymn to the freedom of God” [Martin Marty, Martin Luther (Penguin, 2004) p. 133].


[U] Within God’s Own Triune Rapture of Freedom. “God is freedom antecedent to himself as determinate free will. He can intelligibly be said to be this as the Father is the source of the Son and both are freed in the Spirit [2 Corinthians 3:17]…. [This] hangs beautifully together said of the triune God and as part of one conceptual structure with propositions asserting his triunity, and if said of any other sort of God makes a mere collection of disparate debating points – and it may well be the personal unitarianism of most modern historical scholars which has so often led them to see de servo arbitrio as just such a farrago [or hodgepodge]…. Human freedom, in the only sense Luther wants to talk about, is nothing less than participation in God’s own triune rapture of freedom,…. that God frees us ‘by the Spirit,’ by that personhood in which he is his own freedom” [Robert W. Jensen, “An Ontology of Freedom in De Servo Arbitrio of Luther,” Modern Theology 10 (July 1994 247-252, pp. 250, 252].


Selections from De servo arbitrio

[1] Only God Opens Our Hearts. “Free choice is a pure fiction; for, like the woman in the Gospel (Mark 5:25), the more it is treated by the doctors, the worse it gets…. Therefore, we must pray to God that he may open my mouth and your heart, and the hearts of all men, and that he may himself be present in our midst as the master who informs both our speaking and hearing” (Luther’s Works 33:18-19).


[2] Sinners Make the Bible Unclear. “It is true that for many people much remains abstruse; but this is not due to the obscurity of Scripture, but to the blindness or indolence of those who will not take the trouble to look at the very clearest truth…. Let miserable men, therefore, stop imputing with blasphemous perversity the darkness and obscurity of their own hearts to the wholly clear Scriptures of God” (LW 33:27).


[3] Ice-Cold Christianity. “Christianity as you [Erasmus] describe it includes this among other things: that we should strive with all our might, have recourse to the remedy of penitence, and entreat by all means the mercy of the Lord, without which no human will or endeavor is effective; also that no one should despair of the pardon of a God who is by nature most merciful. These words of yours, devoid of Christ, devoid of the Spirit, are colder than ice itself” (LW 33:30-31).


[4] Wishy-Washy Teaching. “That prudence of yours makes you veer about, determined not to commit yourself to either side, but to pass safely between Scylla and Charybdis; with the result that, finding yourself battered and buffeted by the waves in the midst of the sea, you assert everything you deny and deny everything you assert” (LW 33:33).


[5] Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men. “Why are these things abstruse to us Christians, so that its is irreverent and… vain to discuss… them when heathen poets and even the common people speak of them quite freely?.... [For] fact and experience prove… that no man’s plans have ever been straightforwardly realized, but for everyone things have turned out differently from what he thought they would be” (LW 33:41).


[6] Actually Consoling. “This is the one supreme consolation of Christians in all adversities, to know that God does not lie, but does all things immutably, and that his will can neither be resisted nor changed nor hindered” (LW 33:43).


[7] Losing God is the Worst. “Diseases,… seditions, sects,… wars, and anything else of this sort…. are temporal [and] less evil to endure than the inveterate wickedness through which souls will… be lost if they are not changed by the Word of God; and if that Word were taken away, then eternal good, God, Christ, the Spirit, would go with it. But surely it is preferable to lose the world rather than God the creator of the world,… who is better than infinite worlds!” (LW 33:53).


[8] God’s More Than We Can Grasp. “The operations of God are not childish or bourgeois or human, but divine and exceeding human grasp” (LW 33:54).


[9] Don’t Try to Save More Than a Few. “The Word of God and traditions of men are irreconcilably opposed to one another, precisely as God himself and Satan are mutually opposed, each destroying the work… of the other…. [Those who] abuse [God’s] freedom…. should not be considered so important that in order to prevent [this] the Word of God must be taken away. If not all cannot be saved, yet some are saved, and it is for their sake that the Word of God comes” (LW 33:54-55).


[10] Criticizing God is Foolish. “You are of the opinion that the truth and usefulness of Scripture is to be measured and judged by the reactions of men, and the most ungodly men at that…. To talk as you do, one must imagine the Living God to be nothing but a kind of shallow and ignorant ranter declaiming from some platform, whose words you can if you wish interpret in any direction you like” (LW 33:59-60).


[11] Wait on God in Despair & Humility. “No man can be thoroughly humbled until he knows that his salvation is utterly beyond his powers, devices, endeavors, will, and works, and depends entirely on the choice, will, and work of another, namely, of God alone. For as long as he is persuaded that he himself can do even the least thing toward his salvation, he retains some self-confidence and does not altogether despair of himself, and therefore he is not humbled before God…. But when a man has no doubt that everything depends on the will of God, then he completely despairs of himself and chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work; then he has come close to grace, and can be saved” (LW 33:62).


[12] Why We Need Faith. “This is the highest degree of faith, to believe [God] merciful when he saves so few and damns so many…. If, then, I could by any means comprehend how this God can be merciful and just who displays so much wrath and iniquity, there would be no need of faith. As it is, since that cannot be comprehended, there is room for the exercise of faith…, just as when God kills, the faith of life is exercised in death” (LW 33:62-63).


[13] Royally Free in Slavery to God. “If a Stronger One comes who overcomes him and takes us as His spoil, then through his Spirit we are again slaves and captives – though this is royal freedom – so that we readily will and do what he wills” (LW 33:65).


[14] A Beast Ridden. “Thus the human will is placed between the two like a beast of burden. If God rides it, it wills and goes where God wills…. If Satan rides it, it wills and goes where Satan wills; nor can it choose to run to either of the two riders” (LW 33:65).


[15] No More Than a Passive Aptitude. “To say that free choice exists and has indeed some power, but that it is an ineffectual power is… a contradiction in terms…. But if the power of free choice were said to mean that by which a man is capable of being taken hold of by the Spirit and imbued with the grace of God, as a being created for eternal life or death, no objection could be taken. For this power or… disposing quality or passive aptitude [passivam aptitudinem], we also admit…. For heaven… was not made for geese” (LW 33:67).


[16] Only God is Free. “Free choice is plainly a divine term and can be properly applied to none but the Divine Majesty alone; for he alone can do and does whatever he pleases in heaven and on earth (Psalm 115:3). If this is attributed to men, it is no more rightly attributed than if divinity itself also were attributed to them, which would be the greatest possible sacrilege” (LW 33:68).


[17] We Can’t Turn in Any Direction We Like. “The expression ‘free choice’ is too imposing, too wide and full, and people think it signifies – as the force and nature of the term requires – a power that can turn itself freely in either direction without being under anyone’s influence or control…. Since, then, we have lost the meaning and content of such a vainglorious term, or rather have never possessed it,…. [it is] a danger to salvation and a thoroughly injurious illusion” (LW 33:68-69).


[18] Maybe We Have a Meager Freedom. “If we are unwilling to let this term go altogether – though that would be the safest and most God-fearing thing to do – let us at least teach men to use it honestly, so that free choice is allowed to man only with respect to what is beneath him and not what is above him. That is to say, a man should know that with regard to his faculties and possessions he has the right to use, to do, or to leave undone, according to his own free choice, though even this is controlled by the free choice of God alone, who acts in whatever way he pleases. On the other hand in relation to God, or in matters pertaining to salvation or damnation, a man has no free choice, but is a captive, subject and slave either of the will of God or the will of Satan” (LW 33:70).


[19] Humans Are Liars and Can’t Be Trusted. “Scripture calls man ‘vanity’ and a ‘lie,’ which is nothing else than saying that all things human are vanities and lies” (LW 33:75).


[20] Saints’ Actions Speak Louder Than Their Words. “All your bragging words about the power of free choice [looks] like the man who watched the play in an empty theater. But I can easily show you, on the contrary, that holy men such as you boast about, whenever they come to pray or plead with God, approach him in utter forgetfulness of their own free choice, despairing of themselves and imploring nothing but pure grace alone, though they have merited something very different. This is often the case with Augustine, and it was so with Bernard when, at the point of death, he said, ‘I have lost my time, because I have lived like a lost soul.’ I do not see that any power is claimed here which could apply itself to grace, but every power is accused of having done nothing but turn away from grace. It is true that these same saints sometimes in their disputations spoke differently about free choice, but that is just what I see happening to everybody; they are different when they are intent on words or arguments from what they are when they are concerned with feelings and actions…. But men are to be measured by their feelings rather than their talk, whether they are godly or ungodly” (LW 33:76-77).


[21] Smarty-Pants Cicero . “The children of this world are wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8). What Christian can be compared to Cicero … for talent, learning, or diligence? What, then, are we to say impeded such men, so that none of them was able to attain grace?.... Surely, if free choice were anything or could do anything, it must have existed and been able to do something in those men, in some one instance at least. But it has effected nothing, or rather, it always wrought in the contrary direction, so that by this single argument it can be sufficiently proved that free choice is nothing” (LW 33:87).


[22] Having to Prove the Bible’s Brightness. “All spirits are to be tested in the presence of the Church at the bar of Scripture. For it ought above all to be settled and established among Christians that the Holy Scriptures are a spiritual light far brighter than the sun itself, especially in things that are necessary to salvation. But because we have for so long been persuaded of the opposite by the pestilential saying of the Sophists  that the Scriptures are obscure and ambiguous, we are obliged to begin by proving even that first principle of ours by which everything else has to be proved – a procedure that among the philosophers would be regarded as absurd and impossible” (LW 33:91).


[23] Saved by a Miracle Alone. “Free choice or the human heart is so held down by the power of Satan that unless it is miraculously raised up [mirabiliter suscitetur] by the Spirit of God it cannot of itself either see or hear things that strike the eyes and ears themselves so plainly as to be palpable” (LW 33:98).


[24] Cherish Your Weakness. “It is not due to the weakness of the human mind… that the words of God are not understood, but, on the contrary, nothing is more fitted for [capiantur] understanding the words of God than such weakness” (LW 33:99).


[25] Being Stuck. “It would be more correct to speak of ‘vertible choice’ or ‘mutable choice,’ in the way in which Augustine and the Sophists after him limit the glory and range of the word ‘free’ by introducing the disparaging notion of what they call the vertibility of free choice. In such a way it would be fitting for us to speak, to avoid deceiving the hearts of men with inflated and high-sounding but empty words” (LW 33:103).


[26] Nothing Between Will & Action. “What is meant by ‘a power of the human will’ is a capacity or faculty or ability or aptitude for willing, unwilling, selecting, neglecting, approving, rejecting, and whatever other actions of the will there are. Now, what it means for that same power to ‘apply itself’ and to ‘turn away’ I do not see, unless it is precisely… the action of the will. So [we] must [not] imagine this power to be something between the will itself and its action, as the means by which the action of willing and unwilling is itself produced” (LW 33:104-105).


[27] We Must Be Thoroughly Imbued. “Privately there is simply no one, unless he is thoroughly imbued [perfusus] with the Holy Spirit, who knows, believe, or desires eternal salvation, even though they never stop talking and writing about it” (LW 33:106).


[28] We Can’t Will to Die, So We’re Bound. “Since the works of God which lead to salvation include death, the cross, and all the evils of the world, the human will must be able to will both death and its own perdition…. But what is left here to grace and the Holy Spirit? This plainly means attributing divinity to free choice, since to will the law and the gospel, to unwill sin and to will death, belong to divine power alone, as Paul says in more than one place” (LW 33:106-107).


[29] Free as a Log. “If anyone told you that a thing was free which could operate by its own power only in one direction (the bad one), while in the other (the good one) it could of course operate, though not by its own power, but only by the help of another – would you be able to keep a straight face, my friend? By that sort of method I can easily make out that a stone or a log of wood has free choice because it can move both upward and downward, though by is own power only downward, and upward only by the help of another. And as I said above, we shall end with a topsy-turvy use of language and vocabulary” (LW 33:109).


[30] Theology Must Be Personal & Intense. “When a man does not take this subject seriously and feels no personal interest in it, never has his heart in it and find it wearisome, chilling, or nauseating, how can he help saying absurd, inept, and contradictory things all the time, since he conducts the case like one drunk or asleep, belching out between snores, ‘Yes, No,’ as different voices fall on his ears? That is why the rhetoricians require feeling in an advocate; and all the more does theology require such feeling as will make a man vigilant, penetrating, intent, astute, and determined” (LW 33:113-114).


[31] No Neutral Will. “Perhaps [you are] dreaming that there is a mean between the two – between being able to will good and not being able to will good – which is willing in the absolute sense, without reference either to good or evil, so that by a certain logical subtlety we may thus steer clear of the rocks and say that there is in man’s will a kind of willing which, while it cannot indeed turn toward the good without grace, yet even without grace does not forthwith will only evil, but is a willing pure and simple, which by grace can be turned upward to the good, by sin downward to evil…. [But] it is… a mere dialectical fiction that there is in man a neutral... willing, nor can those who assert it prove it…. The truth of the matter is… as Christ says: ‘He who is not with me is against me’ (Luke 11:23). He does not say: ‘He who is not with me is not against me either, but neutral.’ For if God is in us, Satan is absent, and only a good will is present; if God is absent, Satan is present, and only an evil will is in us. Neither God nor Satan permits sheer unqualified willing in us” (LW 33:114-115).


[32] Freedom Cut in Eden . “Man was appointed lord of things,… as Moses says: ‘Let us make man, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea’ (Genesis 1:26)…. In that, man was able to deal with things according to his own choice, in that they were subject to him; and this is called man’s counsel, as distinct from God’s counsel. But then, after saying that man was thus made and left in the hand of his own counsel, it goes on: “He added his commandments and precepts.’ What did he add them to? Surely the counsel and choice of man, and over and above the establishing of man’s dominion over the rest of the creatures. And by these precepts he took away from man the dominion over one part of the creatures (for instance, over the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and willed rather that he should not be free” (LW 33:118).


[33] Test Shows Blindness. “I [want] to show Reason how foolish she is in tacking her inferences onto Scriptures, and how blind she is not to see that they are not always applicable…. If… God deals with us as a father with his children, so as to show our ignorant selves our helplessness,… will the correct conclusion to be drawn from this be: ‘Therefore we can act freely, or else God is mocking us’? Why does it not rather follow: ‘Therefore, God is putting us to the test so as to lead us by means of the law to a knowledge of our impotence’?.... That is the reason why God gives laws, as Paul teaches (Romans 3:20). For human nature is so blind that it does not know its own powers, or rather diseases, and so proud as to imagine that it knows and can do nothing” (LW 33:121).


[34] Adam Bound Too. “If [Adam] even when the Spirit was present, was not able with a new will [nova voluntate] to will a good newly proposed to him (that is, obedience), because the Spirit did not add it to him, what should we be able to do without the Spirit in respect of a good that we have lost? It is thus shown in that first man, as a frightening example and for the breaking down of our pride, what our free choice can do when it is left to itself and not continually and increasingly actuated and augmented by the Spirit of God. If that man could do nothing toward increasing his share of the Spirit, whose first fruits he possessed, but fell away from the first fruits of the Spirit, how should we in our fallen state be able to do anything toward recovering the first fruits of the Spirit that have been taken away, especially when Satan now reigns in us in full force?” (LW 33:124).


[35] Christ Isn’t Needed If We Imagine Ourselves to be Free. “What need is there of the Spirit or of Christ or of God if free choice can overcome the motions of the mind toward evil? Where, again, is the probable opinion which says that free choice cannot even will good? Yet here the victory over evil is attributed to that which neither wills nor wishes anything good! It is really too, too thoughtless [a view]” (LW 33:125).


[36] Ought Doesn’t Imply Can. “Heap up… all the imperative verbs… into one chaotic mass, and provided they are not words of promise, but of demand and the law, I shall say at once that what is signified by them is always what men ought to do and not what they do or can do. This is something that even grammarians and street urchins know, that by verbs of the imperative mood nothing else is signified but what ought to be done. What is done, or can be done, must be expressed by indicative verbs” (LW 33:127).


[37] Bound & Blind. “Scripture… represents man as one who is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick, and dead, but in addition to his other miseries is afflicted, through the agency of Satan his prince, with the misery of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, unfettered, able, well, and alive…. It is Satan’s work to prevent men from [seeing] their plight and to keep them presuming that they can do everything they are told” (LW 33:130).


[38] We Can’t Force Ourselves to Love God. “The love of God is certainly no less required than our conversion and the keeping of all the commandments, since the love of God is our true conversion [vera conversio]” (LW 33:133).


[39] Salvation is Offered by Another. “More than half of Holy Scripture contains but sheer promises of grace, in which mercy, life, peace, and salvation are offered by God to men” (LW 33:136).


[40] Only For the Despairing. “The word of grace does not come except to those who feel their sin and are troubled and tempted to despair” (LW 33:137).


[41] Follow God Bound, Fear God Unbound. “God hidden in his majesty neither deplores nor takes away death, but works life, death, and all in all. For there he has not bound himself by his word [verbo suo definivit sese], but has kept himself free over all things…. It is our business, however, to pay attention to the word and leave that inscrutable will alone, for we must be guided by the word and not by that inscrutable will…. It is enough to know simply that there is an inscrutable will in God, and as to what, why, and how far it wills, that is something we have no right whatever to inquire into, hanker after,... or meddle with, but only to fear and adore” (LW 33:140).


[42] We’ll Never Know Why We Were Allowed to Sin. “Why that majesty of [God] does not remove or change this defect of our will in all men, since it is not in man’s power to do so, or why he imputes this defect to man, when man cannot help having it, we have no right to inquire; and though you may do a lot of inquiring, you will never find out” (LW 33:140).


[43] Stand in Awe When God Damns Sinners to Hell. “God incarnate… has been sent into the world for the very purpose of willing, speaking, doing, suffering and offering to all men everything necessary for salvation. Yet he offends very many, who being either abandoned or hardened by that secret will of the Divine Majesty do not receive him as he wills, speaks, does, suffers, and offers…. It is likewise part of this incarnate God to weep, wail, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, when the will of the Divine Majesty purposely abandons and reprobates some to perish. And it is not for us to ask why he does so, but to stand in awe of God who both can do and wills to do such things” (LW 33:146).


[44] God Gives Us the Will to Obey Him. “‘If you will; if you are willing,’ that is, ‘If you are such in the sight of God that he deigns to give you this will to keep his commandments, you will be saved.’ By this turn of phrase we are given to understand both things, namely, that we can do nothing of ourselves, and that whatever we do, God works it in us” (LW 33:149).


[45] Dull Minds Obey God. “It is not uncommon for men of outstanding intellect to be habitually blind in a matter which is plain even to a dull and uninstructed mind, and to show how weak an argument drawn from human authority is in divine affairs, where divine authority alone has weight” (LW 33:150).


[46] All Deserve to Go to Hell. “We are… unworthy… and deserving of damnation rather than anything else” (LW 33:150).


[47] Disinterested Good Works the Truly Good Ones. “If [the godly] did good works for the sake of obtaining the Kingdom, they would never obtain it, but would rather belong among the ungodly who with an evil and mercenary eye ‘seek their own’ even in God. But the children of God do good with a will that is disinterested [gratuita] , not seeking any reward, but only the glory and will of God, and being ready to do good even if – an impossible supposition – there were neither a kingdom nor a hell” (LW 33:152-153).


[48] Outward Matches Inward. “It has… pleased God to impart the Spirit, not without the Word, but through the Word, so as to have us as cooperators with him when we sound forth outwardly what he himself alone breathes inwardly wherever he wills, thus doing things that he could of course do without the Word, though he does not will to do so. And who are we that we should inquire into the cause of the divine will? It is enough to know that God so wills, and it is becoming for us to reverence, love, and adore his will, putting a restraint on the rashness of Reason” (LW 33:155).


[49] We’re Bound Because We’re Offended. “By the coming of Christ into the world through the gospel, whereby grace is offered and not work demanded, the opportunity is provided for all men, truly a glorious opportunity, of becoming children of God if they are willing to believe. But this willing, this believing in his name, is not only something that free choice never knew or thought of before, but still less something it can do by its own strength. For how could Reason imagine faith in Jesus the Son of God and of Man to be necessary, when even today she neither comprehends nor is able to believe, even if the whole creation cried it aloud, that any person exists who is at once God and Man; for she is instead offended by such talk, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, so far is she from being either willing or able to believe it” (LW 33:158).


[50] Carried Along Like an Ax – Against Constance . “Christians… are not led by free choice but by the Spirit of God, according to Romans 8:14; and to be led is not to lead, but to be carried along [rapi] as a saw or an ax is wielded by a carpenter…. For I take the view that Wycliffe’s article (that ‘all things happen by necessity’) was wrongly condemned by the Council, or rather the conspiracy and sedition, of Constance [1414-1418]” (LW 33:160).


[51] Avoiding Being Caught by the Bible. “[Reason] has discovered a new method of eluding the plainest texts by choosing to find a trope [or figure of speech] in the simplest and clearest words…. When she is going to plead against us, she twists all the words of divine promise and affirmation in any way she pleases, by discovering a trope in them, so that on both hands she may be an uncatchable Proteus!” (LW 33:161-162).


[52] Sinners Complicate the Bible. “All heresies and errors in connection with the Scriptures have arisen, not from the simplicity of the words, as is almost universally stated, but from neglect of the simplicity of the words, and from tropes [or figures of speech] or inferences hatched out of men’s own heads” (LW 33:163).


[53] We Reduce the Bible to Common Sense. “It is not for us to decide to make and remake the words of God just as we please; otherwise what remains in the entire Scripture that would not fit in with Anaxagoras’ philosophy [500 BC], so that anything might be made of anything?” (LW 33:166).


[54] Only One Will – the Bound One. “[Truly] some are made more obstinate while others are converted. [But] we do not divide free choice into two different types [one being congenial to God and the other not],… but we speak of… one type that is equally impotent in all men and is nothing but mud, nothing but uncultivated land, seeing that it cannot will good. Therefore, just as the mud always gets harder and the uncultivated land thornier, so free choice always gets worse both under the hardening forbearance of the sun and the softening downpour of rain” (LW 33:170-171).


[55] God Doesn’t Leave Salvation in Our Hands. “If God is robbed of the power and wisdom to elect, what will he be but the false idol, chance, at whose nod everything happens at random? And in the end it will come to this, that men are saved and damned without God’s knowledge, since he has not determined by his certain election who are to be saved and who damned, but after offering to all men generally the forbearance that tolerates and hardens, then the mercy that corrects and punishes, he has left it to them to decide whether they want to be saved or damned; and in the meantime has himself, perhaps, gone off to the banquet of the Ethiopians, as Homer says [Odyssey i:22; Iliad i:423]” (LW 33:171).


[56] Making Gibbering Excuses for God. “The busy and burdensome task of accepting or rejecting…. is what we come to when we seek to measure God by human reason and make excuses for him, not reverencing the secrets of his majesty but insisting on prying into them. The result is that we are overwhelmed with his glory, and instead of a single excuse for him, we pour out a thousand blasphemies, quite forgetting ourselves for the time and gibbering like lunatics against both God and ourselves in the same breath, though we aspire to speak with great wisdom on behalf of both God and ourselves” (LW 33:172).


[57] We Want God to Save All. “Reason…. cannot bring herself to believe that God is good if he acts in this way, but setting aside faith, she wishes to feel and see and understand how he is good and not cruel. She would, of course, understand if it were said of God that he hardens no one, damns no one, but has mercy on all, saves all, so that with hell abolished and the fear of death removed, there would be no future punishment to be dreaded. That is why she blusters and argues so in the attempt to exonerate God and defend his justice and goodness” (LW 33:173-174).


[58] God Carves Rotten Wood. “Although God does not make sin, yet he does not cease to fashion and multiply the nature that has been vitiated by sin through the withdrawal of the Spirit, as a wood-carver might make statues out of rotten wood. Thus as is human nature, so are men made, God creating and fashioning them out of such a nature” (LW 33:174-175).


[59] Looking With God’s Eyes. “Many things as seen by God are very good, which as seen by us are very bad. Thus afflictions, calamities, errors, hell, and indeed all the best works of God are in the world’s eyes very bad and damnable. What is better than Christ and the gospel? Yet what is more execrated by the world? Consequently, how things can be good in God’s sight which are evil to us only God knows, and those who see with God’s eyes [oculis Dei vident], that is, who have the Spirit” (LW 33:175).


[60] God Does Evil Things But Not Evilly. “When God works in... evil men, evil things are done, and yet God cannot act evilly although he does evil through evil men, because one who is himself good cannot act evilly; yet he uses evil instruments that cannot escape the sway and motion of his omnipotence” (LW 33:176).


[61] We Aren’t Innocent to Begin With. “Let no one suppose… when God is said to harden or to work evil in us (for to harden is to make evil), that he does so by creating evil in us from scratch. You must not imagine him like an evil-minded innkeeper, full of wickedness himself, who pours or blends poison into an innocent vessel, which itself does nothing but receive or suffer the malignity of the blender” (LW 33:178).


[62] God Needs No Reasons for What He Does. “[We wonder] why God permitted Adam to fall, and why he creates us all infected with the same sin, when he could either have preserved him or created us from another stock or from a seed which he had first purged. He is God, and for his will there is no cause or reason that can be laid down as a rule or measure for it, since there is nothing equal or superior to it, but it is itself the rule of all things. For if there were any rule or standard for it, either as cause or reason, it could no longer be the will of God. For it is not because he is or was obliged so to will that what he wills is right, but on the contrary, because he himself so wills, therefore what happens must be right. Cause and reason can be assigned for a creature’s will, but not for the will of the Creator, unless you set up over him another creator” (LW 33:180-181).


[63] Quit Asking Questions of God. “This very great light of certain truth stops everyone’s mouth, puts an end to all questions, ensures the victory over all evasive subtleties” (LW 33:185-186).


[64] We Have No Rights Before God. “I admit [it] is difficult, and indeed impossible… to maintain at the same time both God’s foreknowledge and man’s freedom. For what could be more difficult, nay more impossible, than to insist that contradictories... are not opposed, or to find a number that was at the same time both ten and nine?.... [This is checked by bidding us to] be silent and revere the majesty of the divine power and will, in relation to which we have no rights, but which in relation to us has full right to do whatever it pleases. Not that any injustice is done to us, since God owes us nothing, has received nothing from us, and has promised us nothing but what suits his will and pleasure” (LW 33:188).


[65] Just As We Have No Hand in Our Creation. “[We] are quickly compelled by inescapable logic... that just as we do not come into being by our own will, but by necessity, so we do not do anything by right of free choice, but as God has foreknown and as he leads us to act by his infallible and immutable... power. Thus we find it written in the hearts of all alike, that there is no such thing as free choice, though this fact is obscured by the many arguments to the contrary and the great authority of all the men who for so many centuries have taught differently” (LW 33:191).


[66] Keep Unlike Bible Verses Separate. “There is no easier or commoner mistake with regard to the Scriptures, as I have often shown, than that of bringing together different passages from the Scriptures as if they were alike” (LW 33:204).


[67] Our Critique of God’s Damnation is Unfair. “If we wish to follow reason, it is just as unfair that the undeserving should be rewarded as that the undeserving should be punished…. But when God damns… without merit,… since this is disadvantageous,… it is intolerable, and here there is protesting, murmuring, and blaspheming…. If [reason] had regard to equity, she would [disagree] with God just as much when he crowns the unworthy as when he damns the undeserving. She would also praise and extol God just as much when he damns the undeserving as when he saves the unworthy; for there is equal unfairness in either case, judged by our standards…. When therefore Reason praises God for saving the unworthy, but finds fault with him for damning the undeserving, she stands convicted of not praising God as God, but as serving her own interests…. For how it is just that he crowns the unworthy is incomprehensible now, but we shall see it when we arrive there where it will no longer be a matter of believing but of seeing with unveiled face. Similarly, how it is just that he damns the undeserving is incomprehensible now, except only to faith, until the Son of Man shall be revealed” (LW 33:207-208).


[68] Rebirth is All That Will Work. “The ungodly…. get worse the more they are judged, just as it always happens when the Word of God comes into the world, that men grow worse the more they are instructed…. How serious a defect this is [is shown when we’re told] that no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he has been born again” (LW 33:214).


[69] Trying to Run Away From God’s Clasp. “Now you have recourse to the interpretations of the ancients, now to the absurdities of reason, and when neither of these helps, you discourse at a tangent on irrelevant matters, all in order to avoid being caught [tenearis] by the passage of Scripture in question” (LW 33:224).


[70] No Middle Kingdom. “Whatever is flesh is ungodly and under the wrath of God and a stranger to the Kingdom of God . And if it is a stranger to the Kingdom and Spirit of God, it necessarily follows that it is under the kingdom and spirit of Satan, since there is no middle kingdom between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, which are mutually and perpetually in conflict with each other” (LW 33:227).


[71] Giving Christ a Low Rating. “If what is most excellent in man is not ungodly and lost or damned, but only the flesh, or the lower and grosser desires, what sort of redeemer do you think we shall make Christ out to be? Are we to rate the price of his blood so low as to say that it has redeemed only what is lowest in man, and that what is most excellent in man can take care of itself and has no need of Christ?” (LW 33:227).


[72] Only God Teaches Inwardly. “[In Jeremiah 10:23] the prophet, when he saw that his teaching of the ungodly, for all his earnestness, was in vain, understood at once that his own word was of no avail unless God should teach it inwardly [intus doceat], and that therefore it was not within the power of man to hear and to will the good. Realizing this, and being in fear of the judgment of God, he beseeches God to correct him with judgment if in anything he needs to be corrected, and not to hand him over to the wrath of God along with the ungodly whom God permits to remain hardened in their unbelief” (LW 33:230).


[73] Needing Both Uncertainty & Certainty. “Everything future is uncertain for us, as Ecclesiastes 11:6 says: ‘In the morning sow your seed, and at evening without not your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, this or that.’ For us, I say, they are uncertain as regards our knowledge of them, but necessary as regards their happening. The necessity puts the fear of God into us that we may not be presumptuous and complacent, while the uncertain occasions trust that we may not despair” (LW 33:232).


[74] Carried Along by God’s Own Momentum. “‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will’ (Proverbs 21:1) [But] ‘he who “turns,”’ [reason] says, ‘does not immediately coerce’ – as if we were speaking about coercion and not rather about the necessity of immutability. It is the latter that is signified by God’s ‘turning,’ which is not such a snoring, indolent thing as [reason] imagines, but is that most active working of God which a man cannot avoid or alter, but under which he necessarily has the sort of will that God has given him, and that God carries along by his own momentum…. [But] finally, [reason] admits that the king is turned to evil by God, but in such a way that God permits the king to be driven by his passions for the punishment of his people. I reply: Whether God permits or turns, neither the permitting nor the turning takes place without God’s willing and working; for the will of the king cannot escape the action of Almighty God, because everyone’s will, whether it is good or evil, is impelled by it to will and to do” (LW 33:233).


[75] Bitter Fighters or Far Removed Observers. “You, who imagine the human will as something standing on neutral ground and left to its own devices, find it easy to imagine also that there can be an endeavor of the will in either direction, because you think of both God and the devil as a long way off, and as if they were only observers of that mutable free will; for you do not believe that they are the movers and inciters of a servile will, and engaged in the most bitter conflict with one another” (LW 33:237).


[76] We Can’t Prepare for or Keep the Faith. “We are not discussing what we can do through God’s working, but what we can do of ourselves; that is to say, whether, created as we are out of nothing, we do... anything under the general motion of omnipotence to prepare ourselves for the new creation of the Spirit…. [On this we answer that] before man is changed into a new creature of the Kingdom of the Spirit, he does nothing… to prepare himself for renewal…, and when he has been recreated he does nothing… toward remaining in this Kingdom…. But he does not work without us, because it is for this very thing he has recreated and preserves us, that he might work [operaretur] in us and we might cooperate [cooperaremur] with him. Thus it is through us he preaches, shows mercy to the poor, comforts the afflicted. But what is attributed to free choice in all this? Or rather, what is there left for it but nothing? And really nothing!” (LW 33:242-243).


[77] Not a Tiny Bit of Freedom. “Erasmus [says] that if our view stands, then… there is no room left either for merits or demerits, rewards or punishments; and it is difficult to defend the mercy or even the justice of God if God damns those who cannot help sinning, besides other unfortunate consequences, which have so disturbed the greatest minds as to throws them quite off balance…. So he recommends… that we should concede ‘a tiny bit’ to free choice, so that the contradictions of Scripture… might be more easily removed…. [Against this] we must therefore go all out and completely deny free choice, referring everything to God; then there will be no contradictions in Scriptures, and the difficulties, if not cured, can be endured [tolluntur, feruntur]” (LW 33:245).


[78] Revealed Righteousness Implies We’re Ungodly. “[The Scripture] stands unyielding in its insistence that free choice, or the most excellent thing in men,… is ungodly, wicked, and deserving of the wrath of God…. [What this means is that] the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel as being of faith, so it follows that all men are ungodly and wicked. For it would be foolish of God to reveal righteousness to men if they either knew it already or possessed the seed of it. But seeing that God is not foolish, and yet he reveals to them the righteousness of salvation, it is evident that free choice, even in the highest type of men, neither possesses nor is capable of anything, and does not even know what is righteous in the sight of God…. God reveals to [all men], as ignorant and sitting in darkness, the righteousness of salvation; for this means that in themselves they are ignorant, and being ignorant of the righteousness of salvation, they are certainly under wrath and damnation, from which in their ignorance they can neither extricate themselves not even try to. For how can you try, if you do not know what there is to try about, or how, why, and wherefore to try?” (LW 33:249-250).


[79] Hating God Corrupts Reason & Binds the Will. “To be despisers of God is to be at the same time despisers of all the things of God – his words, works, laws, precepts, and will, for example. What now can reason dictate that is right when it is itself blind and ignorant? What can the will choose that is good when it is itself evil and worthless? Or rather, what choice has the will when reason dictates to it only the darkness of its own blind ignorance? With reason in error, then, and the will misdirected, what can man do or attempt that is good?” (LW 33:255).


[80] Why We Need Grace. “To say that a man does not seek for God is the same as saying that he cannot seek for God. You may gather this from the fact that if there were a power or ability in man to will good, then since no inaction or idleness is permitted by the motion of divine omnipotence,… it would be impossible for it to avoid being set in motion and, at least in one instance if not more, displayed in some employment. But this is not what happens…. Hence it follows that there is nowhere any power which might attempt or wish to seek him, but instead they all turn aside…. But if they were able to initiate anything of themselves, there would be no need of grace. As it is, however, they are not able and therefore they do need grace” (LW 33:255).


[81] Going Against the Thunder & Lightning. “At these words the whole world ought to tremble, fear, and take flight. What stronger or graver terms could have been used than that the whole world is guilty, all the children of men are turned aside and worthless, no one fears God, no one is not wicked, no one understands, no one seeks for God? Nevertheless, such was and is the hardness and insensate obstinacy of our hearts that we have neither heard nor felt these thunderings and lightnings, but have set up and extolled free choice and its powers in spite of them all, so that we have truly fulfilled the saying in Malachi 1:4, ‘They build, but I will tear down’” (LW 33:257).


[82] Sin as Not Sin. “Free choice by itself is so blind that it is not even aware of sin, but has need of the law to teach it. But what effort to get rid of sin will anyone make who is ignorant of sin? Obviously, he will regard what is sin as no sin, and what is no sin as sin. Experience shows this plainly enough by the way in which the world, in the persons of those whom it regards as the best and most devoted to righteousness and godliness, hates and persecutes the righteousness of God proclaimed by the gospel, calling it heresy, error, and other abusive names, while advertising its own works and ways, which in truth are sin and error, as righteousness and wisdom” (LW 33:261).


[83] Two Revelations. “It is the task, function, and effect of the law to be a light to the ignorant and blind, but such a light reveals sickness, sin, evil, death, hell, the wrath of God, though it affords no help and brings no deliverance from these, but is content to have revealed them. Then, when a man becomes aware of the disease of sin, he is troubled, distressed, even in despair. The law is no help, much less can he help himself. There is need of another light to reveal the remedy. This is the voice of the gospel, revealing Christ as the deliverer from all these things” (LW 33:261-262).


[84] Grasping for Grace. “When sins are unrecognized, there is no room for a remedy and no hope of a cure, because men will not submit to the touch of a healer when they imagine themselves well and in no need of a physician. Therefore, the law is necessary to make sin known so that when its gravity and magnitude are recognized, man in his pride who imagines himself well may be humbled and may sigh and grasp [suspiret et anhelet] for the grace that is offered in Christ” (LW 33:262).


[85] Constant Sin. “With men… there are… neutral cases, where men neither owe one another anything nor do anything for one another. But an ungodly man sins against God whether he eats or drinks or whatever he does, because he perpetually misuses God’s creatures in his impiety and ingratitude [ingratitudine], and never for a moment gives glory to God from his heart” (LW 33:264).


[86] Reason’s Renovation of God. “[Reason hasn’t] any other way of solving the problem of why God justifies one man and abandons another than by positing free choice, and inferring that one has endeavored while the other has not, and that God respects the one for his endeavor but despises the other, and he would be unjust if he did anything else. And although they protest both in speech and writing that they do not seek to obtain grace by… merit, and in fact do not use the term, yet they are only playing a trick on us with the word, and holding on to the thing it signifies just the same” (LW 33:267).


[87] Work & Worth Are Excluded. “Free justification allows of no workers, because there is an obvious contradiction between ‘freely given’ and ‘earned by some sort of work.’ Besides, justification by grace excludes consideration of anyone’s personal worthiness” (LW 33:269).


[88] Being Created Anew. “The righteousness of faith… does not depend on any works, but on God’s favorable regard… on the basis of grace…. In that case it will no longer be a case of free choice at work, but of being created anew through faith [renovate creature per fidem]” (LW 33:270-271).


[89] Doing Well Incorrectly. “Christ…. denies that we do good even when we give good gifts, because although what we give is a good creation of God, we ourselves are not good, nor do we give these good things in a good way” (LW 33:275).


[90] You Can’t Prepare Yourself to Believe. “[Unbelievers cannot] think of Christ, much less seek him or prepare themselves for him…. Grace comes so freely that no thought of it, let alone any endeavor or striving after it, precedes its coming. It was the same also with Paul when he was Saul. What did he do with his wonderful power of free choice?.... Not only does he not seek it, but he receives it even while raging furiously [insaniendo] against it…. Does not this… mean that the endeavoring of free choice is in vain, even when it strives after the best, and that of itself it rather ‘speeds toward the worse, and backward borne glides from us’ [Virgil, Georgics i.200]” (LW 33:276).


[91] Our Efforts Cheapen Grace. “Grace… is received through another’s grace or another’s merit, namely, that of the one man Jesus Christ. It is therefore either false that we receive our grace in return for another’s grace, or else it is evident that free choice counts for nothing. For we cannot have it both ways; the grace of God cannot be both so cheap as to be obtainable anywhere and everywhere by any man’s puny endeavor, and at the same time so dear as to be given us only in and through the grace of one Man and so great a Man” (LW 33:279).


[92] What Christ Opposes. “Unless everything said about Christ and grace were said antithetically, so as to be set over against its opposite – for instance, that outside of Christ there is nothing but Satan, apart from grace nothing but wrath,… what, I ask you, would be the point of… Scripture as a whole?” (LW 33:282).


[93] Denying Christ. “Inasmuch as you maintain free choice, you cancel out Christ and ruin the entire Scripture. Moreover, although verbally you may make a show of confessing Christ, yet in reality and in your heart you deny him ” (LW 33:282).


[94] Forcing God to Obey Us. “We know that man has been constituted lord over the lower creatures, and in relation to them he has authority and free choice, so that they obey him and do what he wills and thinks. What we are asking is whether he has free choice in relation to God, so that God obeys man and does what man wills, or rather, whether God has free choice in relation to man, so that man wills and does what God wills and is not able to do anything but what God wills and does” (LW 33:285).


[95] Being Sweetly Rapt Away to Christ. “The ungodly does not come even when he hears the Word, unless the Father draws and teaches him inwardly, which He does by pouring out the Spirit. There is then another ‘drawing’ than the one that takes place outwardly; for then Christ is set forth by the light of the Spirit, so that a man is rapt away to Christ with the sweetest rapture [dulcissimo raptu], and rather yields passively [patitur] to God’s speaking, teaching, and drawing than seeks and runs himself” (LW 33:286).


[96] Opposing Free Choice Necessarily. “Since Scripture everywhere preaches Christ by contrast and antithesis,… putting everything that is without the Spirit of Christ in subjection to Satan, ungodliness, error, darkness, sin, death, and the wrath of God, all the texts that speak of Christ must consequently stand opposed to free choice” (LW 33:287).


[97] How Ghastly Freedom Before God Would Be. “Even if it were possible, I should not wish to have free choice given to me, or to have anything left in my own hands by which I might strive toward salvation. For, on the one hand, I should be unable to stand firm and keep hold of it amid so many adversities and perils and so many assaults of demons…; and on the other hand, even if there were no perils or adversities or demons, I should nevertheless have to labor under perpetual uncertainty and to fight as one beating the air, since… I… would never be assured [of] how much… to do to satisfy God” (LW 33:288-289).


[98] The Life to Come is Beginning Now. “God so orders this corporal world in its external affairs that if you respect and follow the judgment of human reason, you are bound to say either that there is no God or that God is unjust…. For look at the prosperity the wicked enjoy and the adversity the good endure…. But that is the way of the world. Here even the greatest minds have stumbled and fallen, denying the existence of God and imagining that all things are moved at random by blind Chance or Fortune…. This whole insoluble problem finds a quick solution in one short sentence, namely, that there is a life after this life, and whatever has not been punished and rewarded here will be punished and rewarded there, since this life is nothing but an anticipation, or rather, the beginning of the life to come” (LW 33:291292).



Still Bound Even to This Day. “Help me believe. Let me believe. I wanna believe. I’m no good on my own. Please give me another chance. It’s hard to believe in what I can’t see. To give you my will ‘cause your will is better for me. You can look in my eyes and see that I wanna believe.... Jesus, you know how it feels ‘cause You’ve been hurt before.... I’m trying to hear You speak. But my heart is growing weak” [Kirk Franklin, “Help Me Believe,” The Fight of My Life (2007) Fo Yo Soul , Zomba 88697-16772-2].


Selected by Pastor Marshall

January 2008




Acrem Medicum

Luther as a Harsh Healer

At Luther’s funeral, his closest ally, Philip Melanchthon, called him an acrem medicum or “harsh healer” (Corpus Reformatorum 11:729). This disturbing description of Luther has lamentably been forgotten in the church today. But it was an apt title since it coincided with Luther’s own view of himself. “I am the rude lumberjack [Ich bin der grobe Waldrechter],” he wrote, “who must clear the land and level it.... I was born to go to war and give battle to sects and devils. That is why my books are stormy and warlike. I must root out the stumps and bushes and hack away the thorns and brambles” (quoted in Ronald F. Marshall, “Luther the Lumberjack,” Lutheran Quarterly, Spring 1996). And hack away he did – whether or not you learned this fact in confirmation classes! Indeed, he believed Christ called us all to be “bold and reckless” (LW 23:399). Therefore he quit calculating outcomes and was set free to serve God. “How often I heard it said that if I wrote against such and such eminent people I would provoke their displeasure, which would prove too severe for me.... But, since I had not begun this work of myself, being driven and led hereto by reason of my office..., I must continue. I commended the cause to God and let him bear the burden of care, both as to the result of the work and also as to my own fate. Thus I advanced the cause farther, despite tumultuous opposition, than I had ever before dared to think or hope” (Sermons of Martin Luther, ed. J. N. Lenker, 8:73). Therefore God set him free to tell the truth. “God,” he wrote, “is the kind of Physician who tears away to repair, who becomes angry to show mercy, who cuts to heal” (LW 18:414). And “the glory of the grace of God,” he wrote, is that “it makes us enemies of ourselves” (LW 27:364). This great defender of grace could then say that “those... who are yet without any fear of God’s wrath, who are secure and hardened and unyielding, must be strongly admonished and urged to repentance by the threats and terrors of that wrath, that is, to them no Gospel is to be preached, but only the Law...” (SML 4:160). This is what he rightly called Christianissima saeveritas or “Christian severity” (LW 26:118). So he summarized saying: “I hope I have done a good job. I shall call it good if it is well-pleasing to a few people and quite disgusting to many people” (LW 13:224). Amen to that!

 (revised from certus sermo, February 1992)















Luther on Preaching Christ

(compiled October 2007)

“So crafty is [the enemy Satan] that he does not present the entire Christ to us; he presents only a part of Him, namely, that He is the Son of God and Man, born of the Virgin. Eventually he attaches something else to this, some saying in which Christ terrifies sinners…. By adulterating the genuine definition of Christ with his poison he produces this effect, that although we believe that Christ is the Mediator, in fact our troubled conscience feels and judges that He is a tyrant…. So… we easily lose the pleasant sight of Christ, our High Priest and mediator. Once this happens, we avoid Christ as though He were Satan…. We are not teaching anything novel; we are repeating and confirming old doctrines. Would that we could teach and confirm them… that we would have them… at the very core of our heart… to use them in the struggle of death!.... [For] there is no hope that any saving knowledge of God can come by speculating about the majesty of God; this can only come by taking hold of Christ, who, by the will of the Father, has given Himself into death for our sins. When you have grasped this, then all wrath stops,… and God appears as nothing but the merciful One who did not spare His own Son…. But some fanatic… in a hurry,… could overturn everything that we have built up with hard work for many years. That is what happened to Pau l (Acts 9:15)…. The ignorant mob, eager to hear something novel, soon attaches itself to them…. [ Nevertheless] we do not seek the favor of men by our teaching…. For we teach that all men are wicked; we condemn the free will of man, his natural powers, wisdom, righteousness, and all self-invented religion, and whatever is best in the world. In other words, we say that there is nothing in us that can deserve grace…. This is not preaching that gains favor from men and from the world…. To denounce these mighty and glorious gifts of the world is not to curry the world’s favor but to go out looking for, and quickly to find, hatred and misfortune, as it is called…. Therefore any doctrine at all that does not teach as mine does – that all men are sinners and are justified solely by faith in Christ – must be false, uncertain, evil, blasphemous, accursed, and demonic…. Whoever tries to please God will have men as his bitter enemies…. By contrast the false apostles teach human doctrine, that is, what is pleasant and reasonable. And they do this so that they can live a life of ease and earn the favor… of the people…. Therefore let every faithful person… strive with all his might to learn this doctrine and keep it…. For we are involved, not with minor enemies but with strong and powerful ones, who battle against us continually, namely, our own flesh, all the dangers of the world, the Law, sin, death, the wrath and judgment of God, and the devil himself, who never stops tempting us…. Thus I will not listen to the church or the fathers… unless they bring and teach the pure Word of God…. [So] we can stand the loss of our possessions, our name, our life, and everything else; but we will not let ourselves be deprived of the Gospel, our faith, and Jesus Christ. And that is that. Accursed be any humility that yields or submits at this point! Rather let everyone be proud and unremitting here…. With the help of God, therefore, I will be more hardheaded than anyone else…. And I am overjoyed if here I am called rebellious and unyielding…. I will not yield a hairbreadth to anyone…. Where faith is involved, there we should be invincible, inflexible, stubborn, and harder than adamant, if this were possible; but where love is involved, we should be softer and more flexible than every kind of… leaf and ready to yield anything…. For love and faith are exact opposites in their intentions, their tasks, and their values…. Therefore let the afflicted conscience… pit nothing against the wrath and judgment of God except the Word of Christ, which is a Word of grace, forgiveness of sins, salvation, and life everlasting. But it is really hard to do this…. Therefore the Law… shows sins, terrifies, and humbles; thus it prepares us for justification and drives us to Christ…. Thus a Christian is greater than the entire world. For in his heart he has this seemingly small gift [parvum donum]; yet the smallness of this gift and treasure, which he holds in faith, is greater than heaven and earth, because Christ, who is this gift, is greater…. To attribute glory to God is… to regard Him as… the Author and Donor of every good. Reason does not do this, but faith does. It consummates the Deity; and, if I may put it this way, it is the creator of the Deity, not in the substance of God but in us. For… God has none of His majesty or divinity where faith is absent…. A counterfeit faith is one that hears about God, Christ, and all the mysteries of… redemption, one that can also… speak beautifully about it; and yet only a mere opinion and a vain hearing remain, which leave nothing in the heart but a hallow sound about the Gospel, concerning which there is a great deal of chatter…. It does not produce a new man, but it leaves him in his former opinion and way of life. This is a very pernicious faith, and it would be better not to have it…. With gratitude and with sure confidence, therefore, let us accept this doctrine, so sweet and so filled with comfort, which teaches that Christ became a curse for us, that is, a sinner worthy of the wrath of God; that He… laid our sins upon His shoulders…. Because he took upon Himself our sins, not by compulsion but of His own free will, it was right for Him to bear the punishment and wrath of God… for our person. By this fortunate exchange with us He took upon Himself our sinful person and granted us His innocent and victorious Person…. [For God cannot] revoke His Law, but He wants it to be observed. And we who have transgressed the Law of God cannot flee from the sight of God. Therefore Christ has stepped into the breach as the mediator between two utterly different parties separated by an infinite and eternal division, and has reconciled them. How? As Pau l says [in Colossians 2:14-15], ‘He canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the cross’…. And so He is not the Mediator of one; He is the mediator of two who were in the utmost disagreement.”

 [Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians 1-4 (1535),

Luther’s Works 26:39, 42, 45, 46, 58, 59, 60, 65, 67,

99, 103, 119, 120, 126, 134, 227, 269, 283-284, 325]
















Luther on the Holy Epiphany

January 2007

“This Gospel…. is a truly terrifying and yet comforting Gospel: terrifying to the great, the learned, the holy, the mighty, because they despise Christ; comforting to the lowly and the rejected, to who Christ alone is revealed…. These magi simply were what the philosophers were in Greece , the priests in Egypt , and what the university scholars are in our country today…. For the universities are also proud of the way they teach that natural knowledge which they call philosophy; this is not only a farce but also poisonous error and a vain dream…. This, then, is what the evangelist means to say,…. That was indeed a most shameful thing for the whole Israelite land and nation, that Christ was born in their midst and they should first hear of it from alien and heathen foreigners…. The magi recognized a king’s birth from the stars…. [But] reason, blinded by the fall,…. fails to reach the goal of its search. Thus all its study and knowledge end in nothing but error and folly…. [Those who trust in reason] let their imagination run wild, to lie and deceive, and to say whatever pleased them about innocent heaven. For as the saying has it, those who lie about distant lands, lie boldly, because verification is impossible, and so refutation is also not possible…. God help us, how completely this art has everything under its sway! Reason has fallen prey to it and worships it with abject reverence, because in its blindness reason has greatest delight in coarse lies and petty, empty fables…. When the evangelist says Herod was troubled and the whole of the city with him,…. that was a sign of their weak faith, as also this panic in Jerusalem reveals a lack of faith…. [And so] we ask why Christ did not lead these magi up to Bethlehem with the star, but instead permitted his birth… to be searched for in Scripture…. [Well, simply because] it is in Scripture and nowhere else, that he permits himself to be found. He who despises Scripture and sets it aside, will never find him…. [So] we should by all means cling to God’s word alone. For all doctrines of men are dangerous and finally lead to the loss of faith, just as Solomon was led astray by foreign women…. Christ will not permit himself to be found in holy places, nor in holy guise; nor will the glosses of men yield an answer. The Scriptures alone and their word of Christ, these and nothing else, must be sought in holy places and at the doors of holy people…. The devil…. made a joke and game out of our faith and sacrament, just as he wanted. This is our reward for our inquisitiveness, because we were not satisfied to have God’s Scriptures alone and we treated our faithful God and Father as a fool and jester who had the presumption to teach us in his Scriptures…. When Christ is announced as having his temporal origin in Bethlehem , he must be a true natural man…. But he is not lord of them who do not believe this…. Since… he had to become a true, natural, human being, so it follows that he had to change that same life in the body into a spiritual, invisible life…. The church [therefore] is in travail; she experienced the sufferings of Christ and was in anguish of birth, to bring forth a new spiritual people…. When Herod goes to considerable trouble to know the whereabouts of the new king,…. if human wisdom could help, his action was appropriate enough… to slaughter Christ. But… no wisdom, no counsel can avail against the Lord…. [Now] because those dear magi battled and struggled to hold on to the word…, following it into such uninviting and confusing external circumstances of a royal birth, God met them and gave them strength…. From the fact that they rejoiced so greatly when they saw the star, we can infer that these magi were sorely tried and depressed because of the uninviting circumstances they had found…. After the magi had passed through their trial and were newly born…, they were strong and no longer offended by Christ; they had passed the test. For when they arrive at a poor hut and find a poor young woman with a poor little child, they meet once again with appearances so utterly out of keeping with a king, that even their domestic servant is more honorable and more noble; they do not allow this to make them waver, but… they dismiss from their eyes and senses whatever human nature in its vanity might question and undermine, and follow the word… in all purity of heart, take him to be a king, fall down on their knees, worship him, and give him gifts…. [When] God… informs the magi in their sleep…. not to return to Herod…. [he does this so] we should learn not to tempt God…. The word of God is decisive for you; it determines when and how far you may believe…. He who clings to nothing but the word and puts his trust in it and waits,… and sets no goal, determines no time, chooses no measure or manner, but freely resigns it to the will and pleasure of God and so honors his word to do its work when, how, where, and through whom he will: such is a free and right faith which does not and cannot tempt God…. These magi signify, and in fact are, the first fruits of heathendom, converted to faith by the gospel…. For the truth of the gospel is locked in battle with Herod’s holiness, and whenever it comes to us it discovers Herodists who rule among the people with doctrines of men and works. And it comes to condemn them, and it teaches us the pure grace of God instead of works, pure faith instead of law, and saves God’s people in Jerusalem from the rule of Herod…. But observe that at first Herod does not plan to deal with the new king by force, only by cunning. He convenes the scholars and diligently searches in the Scriptures, as if he really wanted to know the truth…. [So too are our] unbelieving teachers…. They want to have Scripture on their side and what they teach must be in Scripture, but in such a way that their own opinion has priority; Scripture must be twisted to fall in line with them. For their intention in using Scripture is merely to suppress the truth…. The gospel, the gospel, they cry, and then they deny and condemn and curse everything that is in the gospel and all its contents. They are just like Herod, who learns everything about the star and yet wants to destroy that which the star signifies…. [But in fact] the star goes before the magi and does not leave them until it brings them to Christ. It goes no further and comes to rest over the place where the child is. The light of the sacred gospel does the same thing, for it is like a bright lamp in the darkness.… [The material gifts of the magi] signify… spiritual sacrifices…. A sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving [is] acceptable to God…. There is nothing else we can give God, for he possesses everything and what we own, we  have from him…. [But such] a confession may cost you your head, for the devil and men do not like to hear it…. If I praise and confess God, they will give me to drink of the cup of martyrdom. Come then, I will accept it in God’s name and will not cease in my praise of God; that cup will not harm me but will be my healing and greatly help me to receive salvation…. [Now the] myrrh [they gave was] to anoint the dead body so that it may not decay in the grave. Hence Christ’s death and resurrection are indicated here…. For you should not think that if he became a king… for you and has granted you such great benefits, this was achieved without price or with little cost.... In him and through him your sin and death are overcome and you are granted grace and life, but it cost him much and was achieved with hard work and bitter sweat since he paid for it most dearly with his own blood and life. For it was not possible to overcome God’s wrath, judgment, conscience, hell, death, and all evil things, and indeed to gain all benefits, unless God’s righteousness received satisfaction, sin was given its due reward, and death was overcome by justice…. [Now] you can tell by my verbosity how immeasurably different God’s words are in comparison with any human word, how no single man is able to fathom sufficiently any one word of God and expound it with many words. It is an infinite word and must be contemplated and grasped with a quiet mind…. And so, my dear Christians, get to it, get to it, and let my exposition… be no more than a scaffold, and aid for the construction of the true building, so that we may ourselves grasp and taste the pure and simple word of God and abide in it; for there alone God dwells in Zion. Amen.”


[Martin Luther, Sermon on Matthew 2:1-12 (1522),

Luther’s Works 52:159, 162, 163, 164-165, 171, 172, 176-177,

178, 188, 189, 190, 196, 197, 198, 201, 207, 208-209, 210,

211, 240, 274, 276, 277, 279, 280, 286.]

 (compiled by Ronald F. Marshall, Christmas 2006)











The Law-Gospel Dialectic

Christianity is regularly plagued by false pictures of itself. This is what false teachers do (2 Peter 1.20-2.3). They try to make Christianity easier than it is (see Matthew 7.13; Luke 12.19). These pictures must be undermined and destroyed (2 Corinthians 11.12, 10.5), because, as Luther warned, evil teaching is “the greatest evil on earth” (LW 39.130). Christians go astray thinking they “always have to have something new” (LW 41.127). So false teachers flourish. But the Church should resist such revisions, sticking instead to the faith delivered “once for all” to the saints of old (Jude 1.3).

         And how shall we do that? These false teachers never identify themselves as such. They say instead “it is God’s Word” (LW 23.225). But remember, the devil is a deceiver (John 8.44) and even quotes Scripture approvingly (Luke 4.10).

         So more is needed than Bible verses. We’ll also need to know how to handle or divide (ορθoτoμεo) the Word of God faithfully (2 Timothy 2.15). We’ll need the Scriptures in their “purity and refinement” (LW 41.219). When so viewed, the Bible will appear as rebuking and condemning, as well as justifying and consoling (BC p. 189). This double thrust is the pure Word. And we see it clearly in the killing and enlivening of 2 Corinthians 3.6, which is the work of the Law and the Gospel.

         Christianity is distorted when this divided word – the Law and the Gospel – is handled badly. Here are four rules to ward that off:

         1. A Necessary Twosome. “Nothing is more closely joined together than… Law and Gospel” (LW 26.343). Both “must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world” (BC p. 562). Keeping only the Law suffocates us with legalism – which requires us to be good on our own. Keeping only the Gospel intoxicates us with antinomianism – which assures us we are fine the way we are. Only God’s Law can break our pride. Only his Gospel can waylay our fears of death and judgment. We need both – all of the time – if we are to be faithful disciples of Christ.

         2. Proper Order. The Law must first kill us before the Gospel can enliven us. This sequence is non-negotiable. For “God cannot accomplish anything among us through His grace unless He has first… crushed” our sinful hearts (LW 4.52). We need both Law and Gospel, but only “in the proper order” (BC p. 561). If we were to switch them around, the Gospel would harden and the Law would go flat. No other sequence preserves both.

         3. Correct Distinction. The respective work of Law and Gospel cannot be mixed. The two are to be urged “side by side, but… with the correct distinction” (BC p. 561). They must not masquerade as each other, but instead stay in their own domain.

The Law only has “dominion over the flesh,” but the Gospel “reigns sweetly in the conscience” (LW 26.301). So the Law mustn’t rule “in your conscience,” and the Gospel of freedom “in your flesh” (LW 26.302). That would make us licentious and damnable (Galatians 5.19). That would reduce the Gospel to “shameful carnal liberty” (BC p. 359). That would mean we had “mastered the fine art of abusing liberty” (BC p. 338).

         4. Urgency. Both Law and Gospel require urgency (2 Timothy 4.2). We must “take the initiative,” as if to “provoke a fight” (LW 33.21). “What is the good of salt if it does not bite” (LW 31.335)? So sheepish shepherds, even if intending to be loving, are bad for the Church.

 [revised from Lutheran Forum 29 (May 1995) 18 and reprinted from Ronald F. Marshall, The Fatal Vice: Standards for Judging Lutheran Pastors, 2006.]


























































Martin Luther with a Dove




God’s in Control:

Luther on Ecclesiastes


[Notes on Ecclesiastes (1526), Luther’s Works 15:3-187.]

[2:1] God Resists Our Plans for Happiness. “‘I shall… let everything happen as it happens,… and live a life of pleasure.’ But this, too, was useless and was no more successful than his earlier reliance on human wisdom and anxiety, for God resists this also. Tranquility is not attainable except from the Word and works of God…. Often dinner parties are arranged to create a happy atmosphere…. But usually it comes out just the opposite way…. By contrast, it often happens that someone happens upon a most joyful dinner by accident, that is, by the gift of God. The same thing happens in other areas of life” (29).

 [2.2] Despise Truly. “Do not despise things, but rather despise the strivings, plans, affections, and concerns by which you seek to obtain everything for yourself by your own exertions. It is not honor and desire for things that is evil, but an anxiety about things and your schemes to obtain them are to be despised…. If God has given you food, eat it; if fasting, bear it; if honor, accept it; if condemnation, suffer it; if He casts you into prison, put up with it; if He wants you to be king, obey Him when He calls; if He cast you down, do not worry…. The real despisers of the world are those who accept everything as God sends it to them, using everything with thanksgiving while it is present and freely doing without it if the Lord takes it away” (31).

 [2.16] The Present is Boring; No Contentment. “The…. historic accomplishments [of men] are recorded in the annals, but no one pays attention or cares. The descendents are not stirred by the example of their ancestors and are always interested in something new. Whatever is present is boring, whatever is absent is intriguing. And yet there is nothing new. For once it is present, it is already old; it brings no pleasure, and something else is desirable. In sum, the ability to be content with what one has is simply a gift of the Holy Spirit and is impossible for the flesh, which is always being drawn away from what it has to the things that are to be…” (43).

 [3.15] True Fear & Worship of God. “Anyone who believes… that matters have not been placed into our hands, will not do anything rashly, but will attribute everything to God in His working, and will expect everything from Him. If He grants it, he enjoys it; if He does not, he does without it; and if He takes it away, he bears it. Thus there abide the glory of God and our humiliation and the true worship of God among us. This is what it means to fear God: to have God in view, to know that He looks at all our works, and to acknowledge Him as the Author of all things, both good and evil” (55).

 [3.16] You Can’t Correct Everyone. “The malice of men is so great that you cannot set them all straight” (57).

 [4.4] You Can’t Cast Satan From the World. “If you want to… straighten every curve, cure every evil, and throw Satan out of the world, you will cause yourself nothing but labor and sorrow. You will accomplish no more than if you wanted to forbid the Elbe to flow. Human affairs refuse to be, and cannot be, governed by the will of man, but He who created all things also rules them by His will” (65).

 [4.6] Nothing But Thorns. “It is among [foolish people] that we have to live, even though they are unbearable; we are forced to walk as though through woods and thickets, where one must get out, regardless of how much the thorns may hinder and delay him. For this world is nothing but sheer thorns” (67).

 [5.3] You’re a Worm. “Remember your situation: God is such a great majesty in heaven, and you are a worm upon earth. You cannot speak about the works of God on the basis of your own judgment. Let God… do the speaking; do not dispute about the counsels of God and do not try to control things by your own counsels…. We express all of this in German by saying: ‘Don’t use many words, but keep your mouth shut!’” (78).

  [5.12] Be Content. “To gather riches… is to gather many to eat them. Why, then, do you torment yourself this way to scrape things together? Be content with what you have. Even if you accumulate riches, they will not come without bringing along as guests those who will eat them, if not during your life, then certainly after your death” (87).

 [5.12] Do Not Fret. “In this life… we should expect evil things daily, but good things are beyond expectation, and that is how they come. But when they do come, we should give thanks to God for a special act of kindness…. But when the opposite happens to you, do not fret” (89).

 [5.17] Expect Many Bad Preachers. “We are disturbed when we hear that among such a large number of preachers there are so few who are faithful and good and to whom it is a matter of the heart. But what shall we do? Shall we grow indignant over this and wear ourselves out with grief? We would not accomplish any more that way. But we turn the matter over to God. Therefore our ears and eyes should become accustomed to hearing and seeing evil things that we do not want. Nor should we suppose that we are to see the good things that bring us pleasure. This world does not bring such things. Whoever does not want ever to be offended will find more things that offend him than anyone else does. Therefore let us be armed against all evils…, knowing that this is the course of the present life” (92).

 [5.20] Using Wealth Properly. “Riches are not to be rejected…. They [are] granted to us by God… so that we [may] use them and distribute them to the poor…. Wicked men and misers and as many as do not follow this [word on] using the things of this life, begin already here to suffer torment and to be thrust down into hell” (93).

 [6.7] The Heart is Always Fickle. “The heart or soul is not satisfied with longing, but is always inconstant and fickle” (99).

 [6.11] We’re Not in Control. “Men are not able to accomplish or to attain what they desire and strive for. The reason is that events themselves resist it; they refuse to be dominated or controlled by our plans. If someone disputes with them and wants to break through and to push his plans, so that what he has in mind will happen, he accomplishes nothing; for reality resists him, and God hinders him. Therefore it is useless for us to kick against the goad (Acts 26:14)” (102).

 [6.11] God Runs the Show. “The Word of God… teaches us that everything happens by the ordinance of God and that therefore it is safer for us to stick to this” (103).

 [6.12] God’s in Control. “[We should be] content with the things that are present and commit ourselves into the hand of God, who alone knows and controls both the past and the future” (104).

 [7.1] Noting Sin & Fighting Against Sin. “After reciting a catalog of human vanities, [Solomon interjects] comfort and exhortation to fear God, urging our hearts to rise toward God, encouraging us to listen to the Word of God…” (105).

 [7.1] Keep on the Battlefield. “Christians should be exhorted to live in the very midst of the crowd, to marry, to govern their household, etc. Moreover, when their efforts are hindered by the malice of men, they should bear it patiently and not cease their good works. Do not desert the battlefield but stick it out. Do not let yourself be broken by trouble or impatience, and do not let yourself be overcome by anger” (106).

 [7.1] Don’t Give Up. “This is what Solomon wants to say: ‘I have enumerated so many evils of human vanity that someone could despair and choose death rather than to see and bear so many calamities and vanities, or he could even give up all effort and work and do nothing. Not so! Do not give up, but endure!.... Do not let yourself be broken by misfortunes, but hold out against these evils…. Push right on through…. Do not let yourself go to pieces in anger…. Have fear before God,… and good works before men. For what does it matter if some people take offense…? Just continue’” (106-107).

 [7.1] Keep Your Courage Unbroken. “The day of birth involves you in evil, but death rescues from it. To be sure, birth is a good thing and a creature of God…. [But] there is a difference between birth as it has been created by God and birth as I use it. We get nothing out of our birth except cares, not by the fault of our birth but by the wickedness both of ourselves and of the world in our abuse of the creature of God…. [So] it would be most wicked to say of that life that death is better than it, since God has made us men and wants us to live. Therefore… [do] not despair, but keep [your] courage unbroken in order to bear these evils to the end…. ‘Suffer and bear. Do not yield to evils, but rather go forth ever more boldly!’ (Vergil, Aeneid, 6:95)” (108).

 [7.2] Learn to Die Now. “He who lives his life amid mourning and mortification is himself becoming accustomed to dying, satiated with living, and prepared to die without sorrow. But someone who… wants to live forever amid pleasure and without the cross, is not training his spirit; he is living his life in danger, threatened by great trouble, and he will die in a very sad state…. [So] the godly find this life vile and death sweet; they go on living only for the sake of God, who wants them to live” (109).

 [7.14] Don’t Be Smug on Good Days. “If you get a day of prosperity,…. enjoy the things that are present…. [but only] in such a way that you do not base your confidence on them, as though they were going to last forever. Do not be smug, looking only at the good things, but be prepared for the day of adversity as well…. We should be happy in such a way that we do not immerse ourselves, but reserve part of our heart for God, so that with it we can bear the day of adversity. Thus… the adversities… will bother us less” (120).

 [7.14] Don’t Try to Increase Your Happiness. “God has given happiness, and you seek for more happiness but you will not find it. For no one can add even a particle to the works of God. If the Lord God has decided something, you will not add anything to it. When the heart is filled with happiness, it is not able to be sad, and vice versa. Thus God determines everything, so that you may learn to be content with what He has offered and will use even that modestly; then your joy will be in the Lord” (121).

 [7.17] Only a Few. “If you are a preacher of the Gospel, do not preach as though you could gain all men for Christ, for not all heed the Gospel (cf. Rom. 10:16); but if you convert three or four souls and lead them to Christ, like the tips of burning brands (cf. Amos 4:11), give thanks. For one should not quit simply because so few are changed for the better…. But do what Christ did: He rescued the elect and left the rest behind. This is what the apostles did also. It will not be better for you. You are foolish if you either presume that you alone can accomplish everything or despair of everything when it does not go your way” (124).

 [7.18] Warning Without Punishing. “Do your duty, warn, exhort, and never stop. He who does not hear you will bring on his own punishment, even though not through your punishing him; for there is One who will punish. This is what happened recently to our peasants. When they did not accept our rebuke, they were thoroughly punished by others” (124-125).

 [7.19] The Highest Wisdom. “The highest wisdom is not the knowledge of the laws and statues themselves but the knowledge that wisdom is not heeded in this world” (125).

 [8.2] Resting & Busy. “When we preach faith, we exhort men away from works altogether in order to proclaim a day of rest. On the other hand, when faith has been planted, one must act to make Christians very busy on behalf of their neighbor. Here they must not keep any day of rest at all but must be zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14), ardent in their love for the neighbor, and keeping a day of rest only in relation to God” (135).

 [9.1] Intoxicated With the New. “In the time of peace [we] look for war, in the time of war [we] yearn for peace. The world cannot stand on the things that are present, and it is always tormented by the things that are in the future. So it is that [we are] always looking for something new. When the Gospel began, everyone ran to it eagerly; but once the Gospel has prevailed, we are bored and forget the great blessings…. Therefore if anyone wants to serve the world with wisdom, justice, or any other good things, let him expect nothing from it except the worst…. There is nothing [in the world] but ingratitude and utter wickedness. Who could be pleased with this life, where no matter how long he lives, he lives in the highest danger and in extreme disturbance?” (144-145).

 [9.7] Only One Cure for Bitterness. “Unless our heart immerses itself in the will and good pleasure of God, it can never sweeten its bitterness of heart; it will always remain bitter unless the heart is filled with the good pleasure of God” (148).

 [9.11] Pastors Must Fix on God’s Word. “If you are a preacher or minister of the Word of God, stay with the reading of Scripture and the office of preaching; do not get caught up into something else until the Lord Himself catches you up. For whatever the Lord has not said or commanded will be worthless” (151).

 [9.12] Success is Hidden From Us. “Get an education; if God wills, He will grant success and fruit through your study. We should do the same in all the other affairs and business of life. We should labor but commit the outcome to God. For the time of success is hidden from us” (152-153).

 [10.4] Yielding=Prevailing. “A large part of wisdom is the ability to overlook things or to yield. For this restrains great evils, which are put to rest by being quiet, that is, by yielding, even though ultimately they come to rest on their own; on the other hand, they will stir up huge upheavals if you insist upon taking a stand against them…. Vergil also says the same thing: ‘Every turn of fortune should be overcome by being borne [superanda omnis fortuna ferendo est]’ (Aeneid, 5:710)” (158-159).

 [10.5] The Fool is In Charge Everywhere. “Among princes it is a rare one who is not foolish and who does not come up with wrong ideas about things on his own. So it is that the fool is in charge everywhere…. The world is foolish, and it is ruled by fools and by foolish opinions. Therefore if you give some other kind of advice, it will not listen” (159).

 [10.9] Making Your Troubles Less Painful. “The more unhoped-for your good luck is, the happier it makes you, just as the more foreseen your troubles are, the less they hurt you. Therefore we should always keep in mind that we are carrying on our lives in danger, not in good times” (161).

 [11.4] Have the Poor Eat With You. “You are willing to give only from that which you do not need. But you should know that the poor man ought to eat with you, so that you would rather do without something than that he should be in want. But he who does not believe the Lord does not do anything good. He who overlooks the Word, overlooks the work as well” (173).

 [12.1] Old Age is a Disease. “Old age is in itself a disease, even if no other disease comes in addition. Old people lose the vigor of mind and body…. Old age has nothing but evil days and is not useful for getting anything done” (179).

   (Selected by the Rev. Ronald F. Marshall, May 2007.)





Kierkegaard on Luther

As an orthodox Lutheran, Søren Kierkagaard (1813-1855) confessed that Martin Luther is our "most eminent teacher" (Tappert 576). He drives this point home saying that "Luther is the truest figure," second only to Jesus himself (JP 3:2898) – a stunning line indeed. So when Luther says "the world is one big whorehouse" (LW 21:180), Kierkegaard would agree. When Luther says "all bishops nowadays are of the devil" (LW 29:17), Kierkegaard would agree. And when Luther says "faith takes no holidays" (LW 35:378), "what is of God must be crucified in the world" (LW 25:177), "preference must be given to truth" over friends (LW 1:122), "we have no greater enemy than ourselves" (LW 42:48), "this life is not a life... but a mortification and vexation of life" (LW 8:114), "love of oneself... is always wrong" (LW 27:356), "the majority remains blind" (LW 2:354), the gospel makes Christians "sleepy and secure" when they wrongfully suppose "there is no further need to do anything, give anything, or suffer anything" (LW 51:207), “Christians are few and far between” (LW 45:91), "reason is the devil's prostitute" (LW 40:175), the believer "hangs between heaven and earth,... suspended in the air and crucified" (LW 29:185), "the life of a Christian is as hard as if he were walking on... nothing but razors" (LW 21:245), "there is no life... on earth more wretched than that of a Christian" (LW 28:106), "a counterfeit faith.... does not produce a new man, but leaves him in his former opinion and way of life" (LW 26:269), Christians who mock God "have been baptized in vain" (LW 29:138), the clarity of the Bible "ensures the victory over all evasive subtleties" (LW 33:186), those who reject God's attack on sin "show plainly that they are really damnable knaves" (LW 43:228), "baptism has made the repose, ease, and prosperity of this life a very poison... to its work" (LW 35:39), "a Christian is uplifted in adversity, because he trusts God; he is downcast in prosperity, because he fears God" (LW 27:403), and that martyrdom helps Christians "receive salvation" (LW 52:277) – to all these and many more like them, Kierkegaard would say yes, yes, yes. For indeed "Luther is... the master of us all" (JP 3:2465) – another remarkable line from Kierkegaard’s pen.

[slightly modified and excerpted from Ronald F. Marshall, “Kierkegaard’s Music Box: A Critique of Joakim Garff’s New Biography of Kierkegaard,” Lutheran Forum, Fall 2005.]




































































































The Book of Jonah

According to Martin Luther

Summer 2005

What follows is a Bible study on the Book of Jonah, based on Martin Luther’s 1526 commentary on Jonah. But I also contrast Luther’s thoughts in this study with those of Phyllis Trible, the most prestigious critical scholar working on Jonah today. I do this to show the durability of Luther’s insights down through the generations.

   [Lesson 1 – Jonah 1:1-3]

Luther: [1] Like Miserable Adam. "By fleeing and refusing to execute God's command,.... Jonah sinned as gravely as Adam did in Paradise .... Yes, witness what happened to Jonah... because of his disobedience! It seems to me that the enormous and terrible punishment meted out to his disobedience is an index of the gravity of this sin. How miserably he evades obedience to God on the sea! I am sure that he wished he could have died three times on land instead. Since he refused to go to Nineveh , he must sail into the jaws of the whale far out at sea" [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:46].

Trible: "In Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851), Father Mapple, the preacher at the Whaleman's Chapel in New Bedford, names 'willful disobedience' as Jonah's sin. He observes that God more often commands than seeks to persuade because what the deity wants of us is too hard for us. 'And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists' (§ 9)" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol 7 (1996) p. 501].    

1. Why did God pick Jonah to deliver his message (1:1)?

2. How did Nineveh 's wickedness come up before God (1:2)?

3. How is it possible to flee from the presence of the Lord God Almighty (1:3)?

 [Lesson 2 – Jonah 1:4-6]

Luther: [1] Sin Causes Calamities. "The people soon detected that there was something... abnormal about this.... unexpected storm that arose suddenly. And from this they deduce that this must indubitably be due to someone’s sin.” [2] Clumsy Reason Cannot Know God. “Reason is unable to identify God properly.... It knows that there is a God, but it does not know who or which is the true God.... Thus reason... plays blindman’s bluff with God; it consistently gropes in the dark and misses the mark.... It rushes in clumsily and assigns the name God and ascribes divine honor to its own idea of God.... Knowing who... God is,.... is taught only by the Holy Spirit.” [3] Sin Deadens Us. “Jonah is sleeping..., completely insensible to the tempest. That may indeed be termed a sleep of death.... That is always the way with sinners.... Jonah had sinned,.... but because God... does not immediately strike the offender, it is the nature... of sin to blind and to harden man. He becomes secure and loses his fear, lies down, goes to sleep, and fails to see the disaster... gathering over him which will arouse him horribly.... Thus God tests the children of men... to see whether they will repent.... But nothing comes of this;... they do not weigh the consequences. Jonah would probably continue to sleep to the end of his days,.... for sin would not permit any power for good to bestir itself.... There he lies and snores in his sin, hears nothing and sees nothing, nor does he feel what God’s wrath contemplates doing with him.... He is blinded, obdurate, and submerged in sin, yes, dead, lying in the pit of his unrepentant heart.” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:53, 54-55, 57-58].

Trible: "The similarly sounding verbs yārad (‘went down’) and wayyêrādam (‘fell into a deep sleep’) contribute to a theology of defiance in the presence (not ‘from the presence’; see Jonah 1:3) of God’s relentless power and pursuit" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol 7 (1996) p. 496].    

1. Why did God attack the ship and not Jonah individually (1:4)?

2. Why did the sailors lighten the load of the ship (1:5)?

3. Why did the captain speak to Jonah (1:6)?

4. Why did the captain think Jonah’s God would have mercy on them (1:6)?

   [Lesson 3 – Jonah 1:7-10]

Luther: [1] A Despondent Conscience is Hardened and Flees From God. "Although death and the wrath of God advance on Jonah and furiously attack him, the heavy burden of sin has already been rolled from his heart, his conscience has become lighter through his confession of sin, and his faith begins to catch fire, though only dimly. For Jonah confesses the true God, Creator of heaven and earth, and this is no insignificant beginning of faith and of bliss. A despondent and despairing conscience will not open its lips that far; it grows mute or blasphemes God, and it cannot think, regard, and mention God otherwise than as a horrible tyrant or as a devil. It would only like to flee from Him and put as much distance as possible between itself and God. Indeed, it would prefer it if He were not God, so that it would not have to experience this at His hands. Such a conscience also is unmindful of confession and does not admit sin. It is so lost in fear and so hardened that it sees and feels nothing but fear and thinks only about ridding itself of this fear, which is impossible, since it keeps on charging itself with sin. And thus it remain engulfed in sin and in death eternally" [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:63].

Trible: "Jonah fails to report that he is fleeing. [But] in the structuring of his sentence [1:9], Jonah splits the theological formula to insert himself in the middle: ‘I am fearing.’ [By so doing,]Jonah shapes a structure that traps him. The cosmic God Yahweh surrounds him: ‘Yahweh God of the heavens I am fearing who made the sea and the dry land.’ By reordering the sentence to achieve smooth English, the NIV and the NRSV forfeit its irony and misrepresent Jonah…. Jonah declares Yahweh to be ‘the god of heaven…’ at the same time that he seeks to flee from his deity. Jonah’s flight betrays his words, and his words mock his flight…. In these episodes, hope, justice, and integrity reside not with Jonah or Yahweh but with the captain and the sailors…. Never do they wallow in self-pity, berate an angry god, raise issues of theodicy, condemn an arbitrary world, target the culprit Jonah for vengeance, or promote violence as an answer. The captain and the sailors appeal to the mercy and justice of God even while they are experiencing divine wrath…. Overall, their words and their behavior contrast strikingly with many contemporary responses to undeserved suffering" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 498, 501, 502].    

1. Why does this evil have to be somebody’s fault (1:7)?

2. Why did the lot fall on Jonah (1:7)?

3. Once Jonah is found out, why do they want to know about him (1:8)?

4. Why does Jonah identify himself in terms of God (1:9)?

5. How was it known that fleeing from God had happened and that it was bad (1:10)?

   [Lesson 4 – Jonah 1:11-17]

Luther: [1] Jonah’s Sacrifice. "Jonah… confesses that he is the cause of the tempest. Thereby he excuses and absolves all the others. He alone is culpable…. He suffers for all himself…. These good people [however] do not demand such a costly expiation but stand ready to forgive him….” [2] God Exposes Sinners. “[Yet] Jonah stands disgraced…. He finds no nook or corner in all of creation, not even in hell, where he might crawl in; but he must… expose himself to the gaze of all… in all his ignominy. So will a bad conscience prick a sinner…. God now strips Jonah of all honor and consolation….” [3] In Death We Have No Sure Footing. “Death now follows naturally on the heels of sin…. Nothing but death is in store for him…. If it would please God to let us perceive life in the midst of death,… death would not appear bitter, but it would seem like a leap across a shallow stream, with safe and solid banks on both sides. But as it is, God does not show any of that to us, and we must leap from the safe shore of life into this abyss without seeing or feeling a sure footing under us….” [4] The Whale’s Horrifying Teeth. “[But] one death does not suffice, and Jonah must pass through the jaws of the whale. God takes on a glowering mien…. It must have been a horrifying sight to poor, lost, dying Jonah when the whale opened its mouth wide and he beheld sharp teeth that stood upright all around like pointed pillars… and he peered down the wide cellar entrance to the belly. Is that being comforted in the hour of death?…. How strange his abode must have been among the intestines and the huge ribs!…. Who would believe this story and not regard it a lie and a fairy tale if it were not recorded in Scripture?…” [5] Death Brings Forth Life. “Now that Jonah has died to himself and to the world,… the fruit of his death first begin; for in death he is… kept alive. And in that way the people in the ship are also delivered from… unbelief and from sin…. The various gods on whom they had called earlier are all forgotten. And this was all effected by Jonah and his dying.” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:65, 66, 67, 68, 69].

Trible: [1] ".[In order] to save the lives of the sailors, Jonah [appears to] sacrifice his own life. But appearances mask the truth. To acknowledge culpability is to continue defiance. Jonah is not calling upon his God, and he is not going to Nineveh . To save the soldiers is to confirm himself. Death by drowning will secure for Jonah what he wants: flight from Yahweh…. His seeming altruism masks egotism…. [2] After the crisis the sailors break the rules that govern orthodox Yahwehism. They pray prayers, sacrifice sacrifices, and vow vows without cultic apparati or approval. Neither priest nor Temple nor laws of purity proscribe their activity. Nevertheless, they practice authentic worship. These ‘others’ outside covenant faith show a more excellent way. Their mode of being and their behavior release faith from crippling strictures and structures…. But the story leaves open the question of conversion. From the perspective of the sailors, the worship of Yahweh may mean but the addition of another god to their pantheon" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 499, 502, 500].

1. Why did Jonah want the sailors to kill him (1:12)? Why not suicide or repentance?

2. How does Jonah know that the storm is his fault (1:12)?

3. Once Jonah is thrown overboard, why does the storm stop (1:15)?

4. Why were the sailors afraid, and how did that lead them to sacrifices and vows (1:16)?

5. Why did God send a whale or a big fish to swallow up Jonah (1:17)?

   [Lesson 5 – Jonah 2:1-6]

Luther: [1] Hell in the Whale. "Oh, what a difficult task it is to come to God. Penetrating to Him through His wrath, His punishment, and His displeasure is like making your way through a wall of thorns, yes, through nothing but spears and swords…. To call on God in the hour of need and to be answered, or to call on God in the belly of hell and to have the voice heard, is really one and the same thing…. When Jonah speaks of ‘the belly of Sheol,’ he means the belly of the fish. He calls it the belly of Sheol not because the fish is hell, but because the fish’s belly was as dreadful as hell to him; Jonah experienced hell in it….” [2] God Behind All Our Misfortunes. “Now Jonah is oblivious of the people who cast him into the sea, saying that this was done by God…. For that is the way it feels in our conscience, that every misfortune that befalls us reflects God’s wrath. Every creature seems like… God’s anger….” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:74, 75].

Trible: [1] "The psalm speaks to an indissoluble link between suffering and egotism. Jonah’s self-assertive actions and attitude have led to his subterranean predicament…. In it he uses the first-person singular twenty-six times…. None of these… is self-effacing…. They are all boastful…. [2] Jonah makes claims that do not fit the narrative [suggesting that the psalm didn’t belong to the narrative from the beginning]. He declares that… he called to Yahweh…., but Jonah did not call to his God. Again, differing from the narrated report, Jonah says that Yahweh cast him into the sea…. But the reader knows that the sailors did the hurling even as Jonah did the fleeing" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 508, 505].

1. Why did Jonah finally pray to God (2:1)?

2. What was this distress and where did it come from (2:2)?

3. How did God cast Jonah into the sea (2:3)?

4. What is being out of God’s presence like (2:4)?

5. Why did God save Jonah’s life after all (2:6)?

[Lesson 6 – Jonah 2:7-10]

Luther: [1] Grace Through Christ Alone. "God grants grace and spirit to cheer the heart,… turning the heart from God the Judge to God the Father. But this does not lie in the power of man; for Jonah says here that his soul fainted within him…. The fact that he… begins to have faith is not the work of his soul. The Spirit, and no one else, can bring the Lord to mind…. When Jonah declares: ‘My prayer came to Thee, into Thy holy temple,’ he… refers to the temple in Jerusalem, where God at the time dwelt bodily…. All prayers had to be directed thither, just as today in the New Testament our petitions must be addressed to Christ, who is our mercy seat, least we acknowledge any other god… besides Him who dwells bodily in the Man Christ Jesus….” [2] Seeing Death & Life to Be Alike. “God… effects all things by means of… the agency of words…. Thus the fish was kept from digesting Jonah. Not only was the digestive process of nature in the fish suspended, but the fish also had to vomit the food out again; it has to disgorge Jonah and return him to land unharmed. Thus God worked great miracles in Jonah. Now the former order of things is reversed: What a moment ago served the purpose of death must now serve to further life. The fish who was but recently the tool of death must now be life’s implement; it must be a gateway to life, though just a short time before it held Jonah captive and consigned him to death…. [This] teaches us to rely on God, with whom life and death are alike. They are both trivial to Him, playthings as it were…. But to us these are momentous and impossible things.” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:79-80, 82].

Trible: [1] "Asserting his own piety leads Jonah to disparage others…. Without provocation he takes on ‘those who cling to worthless idols,’ convicting them of forsaking the loyalty of Yahweh…. The depiction of them in the narrative belies Jonah’s characterization of them in the psalm. Appearing between the genuine worship of the sailors and of the Ninevites, the psalm offers counterfeit piety from loquacious Jonah…. Any descent into death that leads to self-exaltation, the excoriation of others, and the flattery of God produces a triumphalism that falsifies faith" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 507, 508].  

1. How important is this fainting (2:7)?

2. Why is the temple mentioned in the depths of the sea (2:7)?

3. What makes these idols vain (2:8)?

4. What is this true loyalty (2:8)?

5. Why does deliverance belong to God alone (2:9)?

6. Why is the word “vomit” used (2.10)?

   [Lesson 7 – Jonah 3:1-4]

Luther: [1] Our Lives Are Futile Without Obedience to God. "It is utterly futile and wrong for man to undertake a project of his own choosing and will without God’s command and word. Moreover, this second commission contains the added command to preach what God tells him….” [2] Jonah’s Sermon Longer Than Its Summarization. “His sermon is briefly summarized in the words: ‘In forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown.’ Undoubtedly he did not confine himself to these words, but he must have enlarged on the themes why such wrath of God would overtake them, what sorts of wickedness were rampant in the city, how one should be a godly person, and all that is involved in this. We are still in the habit of summarizing a sermon today, saying, ‘He preached on sin’ or, ‘He preached on the Mass. ’” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:83, 85].

Trible: [1] “The five words in Hebrew [of Jonah’s sermon] are probably the briefest of all prophetic utterance. Yet they abound in problems. Nowhere… has Yahweh given Jonah this particular message…. No standard prophetic formula such as… ‘thus says the Lord,’… authenticates the pronouncement…. The idiom ‘forty days’… seems incongruous with the urgency of Jonah’s prediction…. [2] [The word ‘overthrows’ in the Hebrew] signifies destruction (e.g. Deut. 29:22; Jer. 20:16)… or deliverance (e.g. Deut. 23:5; Jer. 31:13). In other words, [the Hebrew word] hāpak overturns itself; it holds countermeanings…. [3] The Ninevites…. chose to hear [Jonah’s] destructive intention not as an absolute but as an opportunity for repentance. In effect, the listeners took control of the words away from the author and ‘overturned’ their meaning. The congregation found in the preacher’s text the possibility of deliverance" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 511-512, 515].

1. Is this second word from God the same as the first (3:1)?

2. Why does God give Jonah a second chance (3:1)?

3. Why can’t Jonah preach a message of his own making (3:2)?

4. Why does Jonah obey this second time around (3:3)?

5. Why does Jonah preach only after a day’s journey into Nineveh (3:4)?

6. What is the point of Jonah’s sermon (3.14)?

[Lesson 8 – Jonah 3:5-10]

Luther: [1] All Conversion Is Based on Grace. "I hold that none but saints inhabited the city…. Show me another city in the wide world comparable to Nineveh …. They were all converted…. God might exclaim here… as Christ did in Matthew 8:10 about the centurion: ‘Not even in Israel have I found such faith’…. At the time of Jonah, Nineveh was the best and greatest city on earth, a city without equal…. The sophists usually… [say]: ‘There you see that God regards… works and that the people of Nineveh merit grace by virtue of them, heathen and unbelievers though they were…’ I retort: Jonah anticipated such inane talk when he first of all praised the faith of these people before referring to their works….” [2] God’s Wants Our Hearts. “What does God care about fasting and sackcloth? He wants the heart; He wants to see a person’s whole life transformed…. Who ever heard that dumb animals should fast, put on sackcloth, and call on God?…. Fasting and sackcloth of animals is, admittedly, just as valid before God as that of man…. When God observes… earnest intent, He is satisfied, and He is pleased to look benevolently at such foolish things [as fasting and wearing sackcloth]….” [3] Disregard God’s Repenting. “It is superfluous to enter on the subtle question… how God can repent, turn from and regret His anger, since He is unchangeable. Some people are deeply concerned about this; they complicate the matter for themselves unnecessarily. Let us, rather, observe what a fine faith dwelt in these people,… although they had no promise of God’s mercy… from Jonah…. But that’s the way it goes: Where the Word of God grows sparsely, there the hunger for it and the earnestness with which it is sought are strong; but where it flourishes abundantly, there a satiety and a disdain for it are found.” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:85-87, 88-90].

Trible: [1] “The object of the Ninevites is not Yahweh but Elohim, a genetic term for ‘god’ rather than the particular Israelite name. Using divine vocabulary compatible for the Ninevites along with the verb ‘believe,’ the narrator reports [the] radical theological turning of the city, though not its conversion to Yahwehism…. [2] Why the Ninevites so readily believe in Elohim, the story never explains. Unlike the sailors in the storm… they don’t confront… danger; nor after the calming… they have no evidence of divine mercy…. Their response prepares for a contrast with Jonah in chapter 4. So easily they believe in God; so fiercely he will argue with Yahweh…. [3] The use of the verb nāham in verse 10 for God’s repenting, rather than the verb šûb, used for the Ninevites’ turning (cf. vv. 8-9), undercuts the causal principle. Belonging in this story exclusively to God…, nāham differentiates between divine response and human deeds. Although mutual acts by the Ninevites and God eradicate evil, they turn on separate verbs. In other words, God’s response comes on God’s terms…. Human action does not dictate divine response. This realization is both threatening and assuring. So the story disavows a neatly packaged theology. In the nuances lie the mysteries and the meanings" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 513, 515, 516].  

1. Why did the Ninevites believe in God (3:5)?

2. Why is the king involved in this massive conversion (3:6)?

3. How does this king’s proclamation compare with Jonah’s sermon (3:7)?

4. What does it mean for God to repent (3:9)?

5. Why is there a question about God’s mercy (3:9)?

6. Why did God refrain from doing the evil he had planned against Nineveh (3:10)?

 [Lesson 9 – Jonah 4:1-5]

Luther: [1] God Allows Believers to Stumble Ahead. "How wondrous God is in His saints…. We must agree that Jonah’s actions are surely wrong; for God Himself punishes him. And yet Jonah is God’s dear child. He chats so uninhibitedly with God as though he were not in the least afraid of Him – as indeed he is not; he confides in Him as in a father. [So we see] that God permits His children to blunder and err greatly and grossly…. This redounds to the consolation of all believers who sin and stray occasionally…. The daily sin of a child [our] heavenly Father willingly bears in His mercy. However, God does not treat the ungodly in that manner. Nor would such treatment befit their character; for they grow inordinately insolent and ungovernable when they sense that God is gracious and inclined to spare them. They demean themselves as though God should be expected to endure and tolerate their ungodly conduct….” [2] Skipping the Law is Offensive. “It is not at all surprising that Jonah is loath to see God’s grace extended… to the heathen…. The mere thought that Jonah should praise the people of Nineveh as being people of God [i. e. ‘a great city,’ 1:2; 3:2], without having and without observing the laws of Moses, was intolerable to the Jews…. What else was that than infamy for the people of Israel , implying that their laws were useless and unnecessary, since a man could well be saved without them?…. It is the expectation that Jonah should convey [the benefits of God] to the people of Nineveh that irks him so. To think that he should be the first to make Judaism contemptible and superfluous!…. is the same as to depreciate and disparage his fellow countrymen and to exalt the Gentiles.” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:92, 93-94].

Trible: [1] “Yahweh does not answer on Jonah’s terms; the deity does not return to the past. Instead, Yahweh focuses on Jonah’s mode of being in the present…. Despite Jonah’s effort to set the agenda, the narrator and the deity surround his prayer with a different focus…. to consider the meaning of his anger…. [2] The story shows anger rooted in…. the journey of faith. It shows the human being, in this case Jonah, wrestling with the demonic and the divine and not always being able to separate the two. It shows the titanic struggle that refuses to submit to coercion. (In this respect, Jonah resembles Jacob, Jeremiah, and Job.)…. [It also shows] the developing portrait of Yahweh. [Jonah 1] shows an angry deity hurling a storm…. No longer inflamed [by Jonah 4], Yahweh seeks to lead Jonah away from anger…. [It also shows] the tension between messenger and message. In anger Jonah proclaims Yahweh ‘slow to anger.’ What his word affirms, his existence denies. Such a contradiction is familiar…. Messenger and message do not match…. [3] [The story is like the parable] of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God is like the loving parent, Nineveh is like the prodigal child, Jonah is like the elder child" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 519, 525].    

1. Why was Jonah angry and was this justified (4:1)?

2. What was Jonah’s prayer and was it a good one (4:2)?

3.What’s wrong with God being loving (4:2)?

4. Why does Jonah’s anger drive him to wish to die (4:3)?

5. Why does God allow Jonah to run away this time (4:5)?  

[Lesson 10 – Jonah 4:6-11]

Luther: [1] We Can’t Outwit God. "God… silences Jonah. Like the householder in the Gospel (Matt. 20:15), God announces that He can do as He wants. He also shows that Jonah is annoyed without cause…. ‘Should you who wish to see the wild plant preserved not also wish and rejoice to see the city saved?’ What could Jonah say to refute this? He had to remain mute, vanquished in his own judgment…. So human ingenuity is a lost cause before God….” [2] God’s Word Triumphs Where Least Expected. “The story of Jonah has been transmitted to us because God wants to show us His miracles, namely, that God’s Word bears fruit mainly where this is least expected and, conversely, produces least where most is expected. Here we find the heathen of Nineveh coming to faith, though they had not heard the Word of God before; and we find that the Jews, who heard the Word of God daily, abandon their faith. From this we must learn, on the one hand, not to despair of anyone and, on the other hand, not to place undue confidence in anyone….” [3] Conversion Can Come Without Any Worldly Preparation. “All the people in the city did not know the difference between left and right, that is, as we commonly say, they were not conversant with divine matters. Unlike the Jews, they had no law of Moses and no prophets that could have taught them how to conduct themselves before God both in spiritual and in physical matters…. For the words ‘the right hand’ might refer to the spiritual and the words ‘the left hand’ to the physical realm” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:94-95, 96-97].

Trible: [1] “Unlike the fish, whose role is… both devouring and saving, the worm has only a negative function. Yet its destructive act belongs to Yahweh’s larger purpose of saving Jonah from himself…. [2] In desiring death, Jonah wishes to be like the withered plant. These are his last words in the story. He ends, as his actions began, opposing Yahweh. But Jonah does not have the last word. As the story continues, it moves beyond the mirroring of its two beginnings…. [3] In chapter 4… comes the shift from a theology of repentance (3:10) to a theology of pity…. Nineveh evokes pity, not because it turned from evil, but according to its size, its ignorance, and its animals. As a move of grace,…. does not the freedom of Yahweh allow the possibility of a caprice of destruction as well as of pity? To [that disturbing question] the book gives no answer" [The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (1996) pp. 521, 522, 525].  

1. Why does God add a plant to the booth Jonah already has for shade (4:6)?

2. Why is Jonah so happy about the plant (4:2)? Is he so happy about anything else?

3. Why did God destroy his gift, the plant, and then, heat things up even more (4:7-8)?

4. Why did Jonah pity the plant (does he?), and what does this say about him (4:10)?

5. Why does God pity Nineveh (4:11)? Why are its physical features mentioned?

6. Why does God want Jonah to understand his divine pity for Nineveh (4:11)?

  [Lesson 11 – Summarization – Jonah 1-4]

Luther: [1] God’s Ministers Achieve Beyond Their Capacity. "Jonah’s flight and the perils he encountered on the sea represent the cross and the persecutions which the Gospel will experience in the world…. The Christian ministry…. seems so frail over against the fury of the world, since the persons administrating the office are fugitives, that is, feeble and insignificant people…. But despite all of [this], Jonah is preserved mightily by God’s power, and his message cannot be frustrated either by his own flight or by the ocean’s fury…. Thus, though pastors may be weak and the world powerful, God’s Word… is still mightier, and no obstacles can impede its progress…. And we, too, must not be terrified by ocean and whale….” [2] Death Terrifies Us Because of Sin and the Law. “The whale, that is, death and hell, appear and devour Jonah…. If sin did not nest in the conscience, death would be impotent,… it would be dull…. If there were no true and properly functioning law, there would… be no sin, that is, one would not perceive sin. Sin would be enfeebled and would not sting as it does where the Jonahs and the work-righteous people are asleep in the ship…. As gruesome as the whale and its jaws were to Jonah, so terrifying is the threat of death to the sinful, frightened conscience….” [3] The Worm, Christ, Destroys Judaism. “God appoints a worm to smite the plant. This signifies that Christ appeared with His Gospel at a time when the Jews vaunted most vaingloriously that they alone were God’s people. He attacked the wild plant, that is, He preached against it and abolished the Law through His Holy Spirit and liberated us from the Law and its power. Therefore Judaism withered and decayed in all the world…. It flourishes no longer, nor is there a saint or prophet sitting in its shade today…. Christ is a worm…. He is this by reason of His shameful crucifixion…. And yet this poor crucified Worm stings such a fine shrub that it withers. With this slight sting, that is, with the despised Gospel, He dashes such a mighty kingdom and people to pieces…. It seems unfair to Jonah, as it also did to several great saints, that the Jews should… wither and that… the Gentiles should accept the Gospel and become God’s children…. But Jonah is informed that it would be better for him to display this anger over the prospect of Nineveh ’s destruction than over the withering of this plant…. This reflects… Romans 11:11: ‘Through the Jews’ trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles,’ that is, it is better… that Judaism should die… than that it be preserved and the whole world be brought to ruin. That is the judgment which was pleasing to God…. For the Jews sustained no loss if they were willing to believe and abandon their Judaism; and for us, all salvation depends on this. May God help us to attain this. Amen.” [Luther’s Works (1526) 19:98, 101, 103-104].

Sasson: [1] “Commentators frequently ponder why Nineveh responds so readily to Jonah’s message….[It is] judged by Brewer (1912) as too swift ‘even if we take into account the emotional nature of orientals.’ Ibn Ezra and Kinhi imagined that the sailors recounted their miraculous experience before the Ninevites. One interpretation, reflected in medieval illustrations for this particular scene, posits that Jonah’s flesh was made so ghastly by the fish’s gastric juices that the awed Ninevites were ready to believe his message (1947). Abravanel (12th century) proposed that the Ninevites are so stunned by a foreigner’s gutsy condemnation that they quickly believe him…. Jewish exegetes debated the Ninevites sincerity…. A number… either regarded it as ‘deceptive’ (Urbach 1979) or fault the depth of the Ninevites commitment… (Zlotowitz 1980). Jerome… found in the Ninevites’ conversion a pungent lesson…: ‘the foreskin believes; but circumcision remains faithless’…. D. F. Rauber (1970) reads the whole scene as exaggerated reaction bordering on buffoonery…. [2] The book of Jonah – considered by some theologians to be the most important text of the Old Testament – brilliantly illustrates the revalorization (one is tempted to say re-creation) of some archaic and universally distributed symbols of mythico-ritual scenarios (Mircea Eliade 1981)…. [3] As in Job, the relevant lesson [in Jonah] is about the incapacity of mortals to understand, let alone to judge, their God" [Jonah: The Anchor Bible (1990) vol. 24B, pp. 244, 325, 351].

1. What bothers you most about the Book of Jonah and why should anyone care?

2. What is the message in the Book of Jonah for Christians today?

 [Lesson 12 – Ministerial Application – Jonah 1-4]

Peterson: [1] "It is not easy these days to figure out what it means to be a leader in Christ’s church. Anti-servant models are promoted daily among us as pastors, teachers, missionaries. In the crisscross of signals and voices I pick my way. William Faulkner [1897-1962] once said that writing a novel is like building a chicken coop in a high wind – you grab any board you find and nail it down fast. Being a pastor is also like that. Recently I came across the Jonah story and grabbed. He has turned out to be wonderfully useful in this vocation-clarifying task…. The Jonah story is sharply evocative of the vocational experience of pastor…. The Jonah story is subversive. It insinuates itself indirectly by comedy and exaggeration into our culture-sanctioned career idolatries, and while we are amused and laughing, our defenses down, it captures our imaginations and sets us on the way to the recovery of our vocational holiness…. We never do get a picture of the kind of pastor we want to be in this story, but only of the kind of pastor we in fact are. Putting the mirror up to us and showing us our… failure would be a severe and unbearable burden if it were not for this other dimension in the story – that God works his purposes through… our rash disobedience and our heartless obedience…. [2] The first movement in the story shows Jonah disobedient; the second shows him obedient. Both times Jonah fails. We never see a successful Jonah. He never gets it right. I find this rather comforting. Jonah is not a model to live up to, a model that shows up my inadequacy; this is training in humility, which turns out to be not a groveling, but a quite cheerful humility….When we are being obedient and successful pastors we are in far more danger than when we are being disobedient and runaway pastors. To give us proper warning, the story shows Jonah obedient far more unattractive than Jonah disobedient: in his disobedience he at least had compassion on the sailors in the ship; in his obedience he has only contempt for the citizens of Nineveh …. [3] [I should resent those] who lure me to Tarshish, portraying pastoral work as being chaplain to tourists on the Religious Sea – sightseeing among the Greek Islands, stopping off in Rome for a bus tour of the ruins and museums, and a final destination in legendary Tarshish. Parish glamorization is ecclesiastical pornography – taking photographs (skillfully airbrushed) or drawing pictures of congregations that are without spot or wrinkle, the shapes that a few parishes have for a few short years. These provocatively posed pictures are devoid of personal relationships. The pictures excite a lust for domination, for gratification, for uninvolved and impersonal spirituality…. [When pastors brag], every conversation features wonderfully glowing stories about successful programs and slick conversions…. I am no longer impressed. I think it far more likely that these pastors, insofar as they are telling the truth, are presiding over some form of Greek mystery religion, or Baal shrine, or Babylonian religious parade…. [4] In the belly of the fish was the unattractive opposite to everything Jonah had set out for. The belly of the fish was a dark, dank, and probably stinking cell. The belly of the fish is Jonah’s introduction to askesis. Askesis is to spirituality what a training regimen is to an athlete. It is not the thing itself, but the means to maturity and excellence. Otherwise we are at the mercy of glands and weather. It is the spiritual equivalent to the old artistic idea that talent grows by its confinement, that the genie’s strength comes from his confinement in the bottle…. No one becomes exalted by ascending in a gloriously colored hot-air balloon…. Piously lurid accounts of the ‘discipline’ (self-flagellation, hair shirts, and spike beds) have ruined the word ascetic for many…. Askesis is voluntary disaster. We look at the way… various disasters serve as advances in spirituality…. [But] why wait for an accident, an illness, a failure? Why not take deliberate steps now to rid myself of the illusions of being a god, study the limits of my mortality, and sink myself into the quite marvelous but sin-obscured realities of creation and salvation? The basic necessity for and nature of askesis has been badly obscured in our time by chatty devotionalism and the hawking of ‘spiritual disciplines’…. [5] So Jonah prayed. That Jonah prayed is not remarkable; we commonly pray when we are in desperate circumstances. But there is something very remarkable about the way Jonah prayed. He prayed a ‘set’ prayer. Jonah’s prayer is not spontaneously original self-expression. It is totally derivative [Pss. 18:6; 120:1; 18:4-5; 42:7; 139:7; 5:7; 69:2; 30:3; 142:3; 18:6; 3:8; etc.]. Jonah had been to school…. His school was the Psalms…. This is amazing. Prayer, which we often suppose is truest when most spontaneous – the raw expression of our human condition without contrivance or artifice – shows up in Jonah when he is in the rawest condition imaginable as learned…. His prayer is kicked off by his plight, but it is not reduced to it. His prayer took him into a world far larger than his immediate experience…. In the Psalms our Lord the Spirit… gets us out of ourselves, and rescues our prayers from self-absorption…. Ambrose called the Psalms a ‘gymnasium’: in which we go for daily workouts, keeping ourselves in shape….[We need this exercise because] in our zeal to proclaim the Savior and enact his commands, [pastors] lose touch with [their] own basic and daily need for the Savior…. [6] When Jonah began his proper work, he went a day’s journey into Nineveh . He didn’t stand at the edge and preach at them; he entered into the midst of their living…. [7] Jonah’s sulking disappointment came from a failure… of heart…. He had reduced his vocation to his own… ideas and desires…. He was inexperienced in God…. [8] The Jonah story has no proper ending. We are left with… Jonah quarreling with God…. What will Jonah answer? We are not told…. The missing answer… provides space for the reader to provide a personal answer” [Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (1992) pp. 5, 6, 7-8, 32, 11, 31, 22, 25 74-75, 76, 90, 100, 101, 102, 104, 105, 113, 114, 129, 160-161, 194].

1. How can the book of Jonah help pastors become better at their work?

2. Are you convinced that the whale is a symbol for spiritual discipline? How so?


 [See also Pastor Marshall's essay on Jonah entitled "Eaten Alive" (, April 2008 issue].



Luther on the Cross of Christ

March 2004

 “They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them…. Thus…. if the dearest child is punished…, what will be the fate of sinners? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God’s very own Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you think about it, the more intensely will you be frightened…. For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion…. Christ says as it were: From my martyrdom you can learn what it is that you really deserve and what your fate should be. Here the saying applies that the small dog is whipped to frighten the big dog. Thus the prophet said that all the generations on earth will bewail themselves over him; he does not say they will bewail him, but that they will bewail themselves because of him…. The real and true work of Christ’s passion is to make man conformable to Christ, so that man’s conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins…. [Now] unless God inspires our hearts, it is impossible for us of ourselves to meditate thoroughly on Christ’s passion…. You must first seek God’s grace and ask that it be accomplished by his grace and not by your own power…. This meditation changes man’s being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth. Here the passion of Christ performs its natural and noble work, strangling the old Adam and banishing all joy, delight, and confidence which man could derive from other creatures, even as Christ was forsaken by all, even God…. You cast your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him…. [Now] after your heart has… become firm in Christ,… then Christ’s passion must from that day on become a pattern for your entire life…. Until now we regarded it as a sacrament which is active in us while we are passive, but now we find that we too must be active, namely, in the following. If pain or sickness afflicts you, consider how paltry this is in comparison with the thorny crown and the nails of Christ. If you are obliged to do or to refrain from doing things against your wishes, ponder how Christ was bound and captured and led hither and yon. If you are beset by pride, see how your Lord was mocked and ridiculed along with criminals. If unchastity and lust assail you, remember how ruthlessly Christ’s tender flesh was scourged, pierced, and beaten. If hatred, envy, and vindictiveness beset you, recall that Christ, who indeed had more reason to avenge himself, interceded with tears and cries for you and for all his enemies. If sadness or any adversity, physical or spiritual, distresses you, strengthen your heart and say, ‘Well, why should I not be willing to bear a little grief, when agonies and fears caused my Lord to sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane ? He who lies abed while his master struggles in the throes of death is indeed a slothful and disgraceful servant’…. Christ’s passion must not be met with words or forms, but with life and truth…. Such meditation, however, has become rare…. We have transformed the essence into semblance…”


[Martin Luther, “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion” (1519),

Luther’s Works 42:8-14.]







Katherine von Bora, Luther's wife. 

























The Lady of the Pig Market

Katharina von Bora – Luther’s Wife


No Carnal Love. “Luther... did indeed love Kate [whom he married on June 13, 1525], but not with a carnal love or lustfulness. Instead, he loved her with compassion, which, perhaps, opened the way to a growing attraction. Perhaps Luther purposely avoided the word love in reference to Kate because evil tongues had accused him, long before his marriage, of having an affair with her... Few of Kate’s letters have survived; among them there is nothing that ultimately confirms her love for Luther. However, shortly after Luther’s death, Katharina wrote these touching words to her sister-in-law Christina,... ‘Who would not truly mourn and grieve for such a dear man as my beloved husband has been, who was of service not only to one town or one country, but of the whole world’.... Martin and Kate confronted nobly the fierce struggles and name-calling that took place during the opposition to and criticism of their marriage...

            The Luther Hotel . “Kate’s first objective after moving into the Black Cloister was to make it livable – a formidable task!.... Kate’s hard work, orderliness, and zeal remedied these conditions. Out of bed at 4 o’clock, she was known as... ‘The Morning Star of Wittenberg .’ Kate was in good physical condition and often worked until 9 o’clock at night. Luther often had to ur ge her to relax.... A careful and resourceful administrator, Kate used all her talents to make the Luther home self-supporting. Soon the Black Cloister became known as Lutherhaus. Kate became gardener, fisher, brewer, fruit grower, cattle and horse breeder, cook, bee-keeper, provisioner, nurse, and vintner. She kept on hand an ample supply of the vegetables and flowers that Luther loved.... Kate was also responsible for running a household that included servants, relatives, visitors, friends, and family.... [They put up] guests from all over the world. Displaced scholars, students, refugees, escaped nuns and monks, and several members of Luther’s family found their way to Witten berg . Thus the Luther residence became a hotel...

            Forgetting to Eat While Writing. “Martin had no separate writing table in the living room... because his study was separated from the bustle of the main building. He considered writing to be a supremely important element of his work, and Kate saw to it that he was not disturbed. Luther noted that ‘soldiers boast that it is hard work to ride in armor and endure heat, frost, dust, and thirst. But I’d like to see a horseman who could sit the whole day and look into a book. It is not a great trick to hang two legs over a horse. They say writing is just pushing a feather, but I notice that they hang the sword on their hips and the feather in high honor on their hats. Writing occupies not just the fist or the foot while the rest of the body can be singing or jesting, but the whole person’.... Katharina became greatly concerned when Martin became so involved in writing that he forgot to eat. When Luther [was writing on] Psalm 22, he reportedly locked himself in his study with only a little bit of brea d, some salt, and some water. He did not come out for some time. Finally, on the third day, Kate could no longer bear his self-imposed isolation. When Martin did not respond to her knocking and anxious shouting, she had the locksmith open the door. She found her husband deep in thought, sitting next to his Bible. Startled, he replied to Katharina’s reproaches, ‘Do you think I was up to something bad?’...

Like Nursing Infants. “With fatherly pride, Luther frequently watched his son Martin’s progress and even learned from him. Seeing him being fed at Kate’s brea st, he said, ‘This child has enemies: the pope... and all the devils, yet he is not afraid of any of them, but rather sucks away with joy. He doesn’t care about his enemies, is of good cheer, and lets them be angry as long as they want to. Ind eed, Christ said, “Become like little children.”’...

            His Embattled Counselor. “Perhaps Kate’s biggest challenge was as a nurse, doctor, and counselor to her husband. Luther suffered from many illnesses and seemed to recklessly disregard symptoms, unwilling to allow pain or treatment to interfere with his calling. He had serious bouts of depression, attacks of dizziness, constipation, pyosis in his leg, and kidney stones.... Luther communicates humor... and appreciation... in his salutations to Kate. His statements range from the respectful ‘Lord Katharina, doctor, professor, and preacher’ to the humorous and teasing ‘Lady of the Pig Market’....

            Luther’s Praise of Kate. “I would not trade my Kate for France and Venice for three reasons: (1) Because God has given her to me and me to her. (2) I have seen, time and again, that other women have more faults than my Kate. (3) She is a faithful marriage partner; she is loyal and has integrity”....


[Rudolf K. Markwald and Marilynn Morris Markwald,

Katharina von Bora: A Reformation Life (Concordia, 2002)

 pp. 77-78, 80, 81-82, 83-84, 98, 124, 130.]











Descendants of Luther’s family still live in Möhra, East Germany, where his statue dominates the village square.  Luther’s parents grew up here but left before his birth.  His father rose from peasant farmer to mining entrepreneur and bought an advanced education for Luther, who disappointed the family by becoming a priest.





Photo from National Geographic, October 1983