Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Context

This post is part of our ongoing series on Luther’s Two Kingdoms

Sola ScripturaLooking at the broader context of Luther’s theology, we should note several tenets of his theological program that are vital to understanding his church-state construction. As outlined in Freedom of the Christian, perhaps foremost in Luther’s reformation theology was the importance of sola scriptura, that “true Christianity can be restored only if the authority of the word of God as found in Scripture alone replaces that claimed by ecclesiastical institutions, canon law, and medieval theology.”[8] Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith had implications for his political doctrine as well, as external works were viewed as the fruit of grace, and thus took on a character of service rather than necessity for salvation. The priesthood of all believers allowed Christians a personal and direct relationship with God. For Luther, any institution or doctrine that undermined these facets of man’s relationship to God must be destroyed. Understanding these doctrines as fundamental for Luther’s theology as a whole, J.M. Porter concludes concerning political ramifications that, “The three great Reformation doctrines serve as a prism through which Luther examines all dimensions of human existence, including the political.”[9] Continue reading


Luther and Erasmus: Luther’s Background (P2)

This post is part of our ongoing series comparing Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam’s perspectives on scripture, canon, and authority during the Age of Theological Reformations.
Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Though his hermeneutic of interpretation was primarily driven by his doctrine of justification by faith alone, Luther also employed additional hermeneutical concerns in his understanding of scripture (Soulen, 115). Luther never advocated an individualistic or isolated reading of the scriptures; indeed, scripture, faith, and community all evidenced a practical influence within his churches (Lohse, 188). But against the community of scholasticism and its detailed glosses and commentaries, Luther argued that scripture was “most easy to understand, most clear, its own interpreter, testing, judging and illuminating everything by everything” (Lohse, 190). By this line of thinking, Luther advocated a literal sense of scriptural interpretation, with scripture functioning as its own clear interpreter. In this position Luther argued both against the hierarchical interpretative method of magisterial Rome as well as the spiritualizing fanatics who emphasized the Spirit over the scriptures (Lohse, 190). Because of the understanding of the clearness of the scriptures and the idea that the gospel represented a unique portion of the scriptures, Luther tended to emphasize the portions of the canon that clearly represented his central interpretive concerns, namely justification by faith alone (Soulen, 119). Continue reading

Comparing Historical Luthers: Reformation Breakthrough

This post is part of our series on the Historical Luther. Today’s post examines Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb’s respective positions concerning Luther’s “Reformation Breakthrough.”
Rendition of Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses

Rendition of Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses

Scholars have long debated over Luther’s critical and radical breakthrough that led to the reform movement in Wittenberg (and indeed across Europe during the Age of Theological Reform); whether this understanding was a single idea or multiple ideas, where such an idea came from, whether the development of the idea was sudden or gradual, and so on. Oberman, Hendrix, and Kolb each offer differing perspectives concerning Luther’s reforming principle that challenged and changed the Western Church.[1] Oberman argues that the road to the “reformation breakthrough” began in earnest with Luther’s development of the principle that, “careful heed to the scriptures was the only scholarly basis for theology and thus the reliable standard of truth.”[2] In terms of chronological development of ideas, much of Luther’s early processing appears to be lost to historical research. Despite the lack of much clear evidence concerning the breakthrough aside from Luther’s own autobiographical account of the incident, Oberman argues that between 1518 and 1519 Luther came to an understanding of ‘justification by faith,’ and began “teaching the righteousness of God as that righteousness through which we are made righteous.”[3] This landmark interpretation of St. Paul in Romans “rent the very fabric of Christian ethics” and caused a great deal of turmoil within the Church.[4] Though in Oberman’s interpretation this understanding for Luther was opposed at every turn by the Devil, this fundamental shift in the understanding of justification formed the basis for Luther’s subsequent theological development, as well as the theological development of many other reformers and Protestants. Continue reading