Oct 26, 2022

5 Things You Should Know about Martin Luther

4 Min Read

1. Martin Luther read through the Psalms roughly every three weeks of his adult life.

Sola Scriptura. This Latin expression means Scripture alone. It means that Scripture alone is our final authority for doctrine, church practice, and the Christian life. In the early years of the Reformation, Luther fought for this. He argued that the Roman Catholic church preached a false gospel of works and merits. Instead, he argued for justification by faith alone: Sola Fide. In early debates with Roman Catholic officials, like the one with Johann Eck at Leipzig in 1519 or at Worms in 1521, Luther was forced to account for the source for his position. If he stood against the church, what did he stand on? “Scripture,” he thundered. Luther stood on Scripture.

Luther spent his life defending, reading, studying, living, and loving the Bible. He read through the whole Bible two or three times every year, while also studying particular passages or books in depth. He especially loved the Psalms. He maintained a daily reading schedule that covered the entire Psalms in three weeks. Luther taught and lived Sola Scriptura.

2. After he posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door, Luther also wrote a series of Twenty-Eight Theses for the Heidelberg Disputation.

Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, posted on October 31, 1517, ignited the Protestant Reformation. At the time he was an Augustinian monk and the head of his monastic order in that region, Johannes Staupitz, had sympathies for Luther’s criticism. Staupitz invited Luther to present his case at the meeting of the Augustinian order in April of 1518 at Heidelberg.

In Heidelberg Thesis number 16 he argues, “The person who believes he can obtain grace by doing what is in him adds sin to sin so he becomes doubly guilty.” He continues in number 17, “Nor does speaking in this manner give cause for despair, but for arousing the desire to humble oneself and seek the grace of God.” While we despair for our own inability, yet there is hope. It is not found in us but in Christ and in the gospel.

Heidelberg Thesis number 28 may very well be the most beautiful line Luther ever wrote: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.” God loved us and sent Christ for us when we were His enemies. That’s grace.

3. Luther, a former monk, married a former nun.

A group of nuns escaped from the Nimbschen Convent and made their way to Wittenberg. Some returned to their families. Some married students or pastors at Wittenberg. One of them, Katrina Von Bora, married Martin Luther in 1525. Luther called her “Katie, my rib.” They were a formidable couple. While Luther advanced the Reformation tirelessly, she managed a busy household, large garden, a fish hatchery, and a small brewery. They had six children of their own and adopted others orphaned by relatives. They lost an infant son, and they endured the passing of their thirteen-year-old daughter, Magdalena.

After Martin Luther died, Katie fell on hard times. Friends and supporters rallied to assist her. During the trying moments she professed, “I find myself clinging to Christ like a bur to a dress.”

4. Martin Luther was almost as good a musician as he was a theologian.

Luther loved music. He played the lute. He wrote his first hymn in 1524—which was more of a folk ballad than a hymn—titled “A New Song Shall Here Be Begun.” It runs twelve stanzas long and commemorates the martyrdom of two Augustinian friars in the Netherlands. They had followed Luther and converted and became preachers of the Reformation doctrines, committed to bring the gospel to their homeland. They were arrested and martyred. When the word reached Luther, he turned to music. Five years later he wrote his most famous hymn and arguably one of the best-loved hymns in church history, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He published the first Protestant hymnal in 1524. He also inspired future generations of musicians in the Lutheran church and in classical music. For a brief time, Luther studied at Eisenach, the hometown of Johann Sebastian Bach, a Lutheran musician of the highest order.

At one point Luther said, “Next to theology, I accord music the highest place and the greatest honor.”

5. Martin Luther died in his hometown.

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben on November 10, 1486. He went to Wittenberg in 1511 to study and to teach. Wittenberg would become the town most associated with him. He was a monk there. He posted his Ninety-Five Theses there. He married and raised his family there. He preached at Wittenberg’s St. Mary’s Church almost daily, and he taught at the University of Wittenberg. In January of 1546, a dispute erupted in Eisleben that threatened to bring down church and town. Luther, an old man and rather feeling his age, set out on the journey to his hometown.

After a difficult trek, Luther arrived to a hero’s welcome, brokered peace among the opposing parties, preached a few times, and then fell ill. The sick bed became his death bed. He sketched out his final written words on a scrap of paper: “We are beggars. This is true.” Luther died on February 18, 1546. Like Katie, he was clinging to Christ at the last.

This article is part of the 5 Things You Should Know collection.