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“Word of God” in the Thought of Martin Luther


“Word of God” in the Thought of Martin Luther

Its Sevenfold Sense

1] the essential content of the gospel, where “gospel” is “the promise of God fulfilled in our midst (i.e., in Jesus Christ.)

L’s five-word summary: “Christus Gottesohn ist unser Heiland. (Cf. the early church’s acrostic, Iesous Christos Theou Huios Soter.)

“Promise” for L always implies “fulfilled in Christ.” E.g., “The promise is the content of the Lord’s Supper” or “We cling to the promise in dark moments.”




2] the medium or vehicle of revelation: Christ’s redeeming work benefits us only as it is communicated to us. E.g., “The Word conveys, pours out, proffers and gives to me the forgiveness won on the cross.” The Word “administers” what Christ has wrought for us.




3] that which makes past and present contemporaneous Here L has in mind the force of “remember” in Hebrew. The Word renders a past event the determinant of my existence now.




4] that alone which can be received by faith, even as faith is that which the Word, in its intrinsic militancy and efficacy, forges in cold and stony hearts.




5] that which quickens a faith which is inherently personal and individual yet also necessarily social The scope of the word is not merely a renewed heart but also a renewed cosmos.

1519 — L’s first published sermon on the sacrament contains “brotherhood” in the title

1521 — L writes on the cancellation of private masses

1526 — L speaks of the Lord’s Supper as rendering fellow-believers ein Kuechen , a cake whose ingredients interpenetrate each other

In short, the Word fosters that faith which anticipates the Messianic banquet.






6] that which witnesses to the “absurdity” of Christian truth, pre-eminently in L’s theologia crucis.

The truth is neither a species of rationalism nor philosophical speculation nor a superstructure added to an Aristotelian foundation.

What besides absurdity is a crucified Messiah? a dying conqueror of death? The Word never dovetails with human categories but rather forges the categories in terms of which alone the Word can be understood. Luther relished all the paradoxes and seeming contradictions of the gospel. These paradoxes paradoxically bring us the reality, blessing, miracle, solidity and efficacy of our redemption and renewal in Christ, while non-absurd rationalism brings nihilitudo, a neo-logism L coined to express rationalism’s ultimate nothingness.



7] Scripture (L never wrote a treatise on the authority of Scripture.)


Note the contrast between Luther and later Lutheran Orthodoxy:

L the canon of Scripture is to be found within Scripture.

LLO the canon is equated with the text.


L the authority of Scripture derives from the authority of the gospel (i.e., of Christ.)

LLO the authority of Scripture derives from its having been “verbally



L Scripture is revelatory in that it is the unique, normative witness to

him who is the revelation of God, Jesus Christ.

LLO Scripture itself is revealed. There is no distinction between “Word

of God” and “Scripture.”

For L there is a distinction but never separation or confusion.




Note Luther’s insistence: Since the gospel is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), “We will not long preserve the gospel without the languages [i.e., Hebrew and Greek]. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained.”



Reverend Victor Shepherd