7 8


In his defense of the 95 Theses, called the Explanations, Luther first insisted that God’s

word, not our decisions or works, creates faith in us and makes us Christians.

When Luther insisted that Christians are righteous and sinner at the same time (“simul

iustus et peccator”), he wasn’t giving believers an excuse to sin but was providing a way to be honest about themselves (as sinners) and about God’s mercy (as righteous).

Luther rarely used the phrase sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) because he also recognized

other, lesser authorities in the church and because he preferred to use phrases like “God’s word alone,” which implied proclamation of Scripture’s commands and promises.

10 11

With the phrase “faith alone,” Luther excluded all human preconditions for

receiving God’s mercy, so that faith itself can never be a “work” we do for God but a relationship God establishes with us through word and sacrament. That is why his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed in the Small Catechism begins: “I believe that … I cannot believe.”

In 1520, Luther became convinced that the word in the Greek New Testament translated as

“grace” (charis) did not designate a power dwelling in us but God’s undeserved mercy.


Despite some movie depictions to the contrary, Luther never met privately with his prince and protector, Elector Frederick the Wise.


Luther wasn’t a monk but a friar.

Friars (Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians) lived in community in cities and often had responsibilities as university professors of theology or preachers. Monks often lived in isolated areas and focused their lives on work and prayer.

A posthumous portrait of Luther as an Augustinian friar from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder after 1546.

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Luther’s “theology of the cross” was not a theory about only the cross but the

belief that God always reveals himself in the last place human beings would reasonably look: with the Israelites, not the Egyptians; in a manger; on the cross; among mortal sinners in the church.

When Luther and other reformers distinguished between “law” and “gospel,”

they weren’t differentiating between the Old and New Testaments but between two ways that God’s word works: to reveal sin and mortify the “old creature” (law), and to reveal God’s mercy and make the new creature of faith alive.

Although Johann Eck numbered among his most formidable opponents, prior to the

Reformation, Luther had hoped to become friends with him.

Philipp Melanchthon,

Luther’s associate at the University

of Wittenberg and one of Europe’s foremost Greek scholars, was less than 5 feet tall, prompting Luther to nickname him “our little Greek.”

Philipp Melanchthon by Lucas Cranach the Elder.


Although he began

preaching at Wittenberg’s city church in 1514, Luther was never its head pastor, but always an assistant. From the early 1520s, Wittenberg’s chief pastor and preacher was Johannes Bugenhagen.

Johannes Bugenhagen by Lucas Cranach the Elder.


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