Luther and the Psalms: His Thunder

from Oct 08, 2012 Category: Articles

In critical periods of the church, certain books of the Bible have played a pivotal role in shaping the spiritual direction of those history-altering eras. These key biblical books have been used by God to launch reformations and spark revivals. They have strategically defined epochs and birthed movements in the church. One such book is the New Testament epistle of Romans. Another is Israel’s ancient hymn book, the Old Testament book of Psalms. These two monumental books of Scripture — Romans and Psalms — uniquely came together in the life of one pivotal figure in church history. Such a man was Martin Luther.

Since the time of the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, this famed German Reformer has been largely identified with the book of Romans. In particular, one specific verse, Romans 1:17 —‘The just shall live by faith’ (KJV) — is the text that God used in the conversion of Luther. In his famous ‘tower experience,’ this passage contained the truth that revolutionized his life and subsequently launched the Reformation. This verse became the theological cornerstone for this mighty movement. This doctrine, known as justification by faith alone, defined the very substance of the gospel in this historic movement. In short, sola fide is the means by which an unholy sinner may be right before a holy God.

However, it is often forgotten that before Luther was converted through his reading of the book of Romans, he first taught the book of Psalms. As Professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg, he began expounding this inspired book of praise in the classroom on 16 August 1513. Later, in 1517, Luther published his first book, an exposition of seven penitential psalms. To be sure, the study of the Psalms infused his inner man with a transcendent view of God so great that, once converted, this German Reformer was fortified to stand against the world, if need be, for the message of the gospel of grace.

Romans gave Luther his theology, but it was the Psalms that gave him his thunder. —Steven Lawson

It was these two strategic books — Psalms and Romans — that Luther was predominantly studying and teaching in the years preceding his posting of the Ninety-five Theses.1 It was these two books of Scripture that radically affected Luther and changed the course of human history. While Romans would principally formulate his doctrine, it was the Psalms that dramatically emboldened him to proclaim God’s message to the world. In other words, Romans gave Luther his theology, but it was the Psalms that gave him his thunder. The Psalms gave Luther a towering view of God, so much so that in preaching the gospel, he was ready to fight the devil himself. In so doing, these two biblical books laid the scriptural foundation for the Protestant Reformation.


This is an excerpt from Steven Lawson’s Preaching the Psalms.

See also: Luther and the Psalms: His Solace and Strength.

Copyright 2012 Steven J. Lawson. Preaching the Psalms published by EP Books.