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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther’

Most of us have heard of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.  We learned about them in world history class in high school, noting that it sparked the Protestant Reformation (which is more or less true).  A few of us know that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the chapel door in Wittenburg, Germany- and a couple of us even know this happened on October 31, 1517 (as noted by Brian here). 

What surprised me, however, is what I found when I actually sat down and read them.   I suppose I expected a compendium of Luther’s theology: sola scripture, justification by faith alone, etc.  What I found, however, was a different sort of Luther.  Luther wasn’t necessarily angry with the pope, he was angry that there were priests who were abusing the sale of indulgences.  He seemed more angry that the pope didn’t know about the abuses perpetuated by these renegade priests.

Even more surprising was Luther’s concern for the poor.  It’s not that I didn’t think Luther disliked the poor or anything, it’s just that I was expecting theological debate.  What I got was a good lesson in social justice and concern for those in need.  I’d encourage you to read the 95 Theses to see what I mean.

For example, check out number 45: “Christians are to be taught that he who sees a man in need, and passes him by, and gives [his mony] for pardons, purchases no the indulgences of the pope, but the indignation of God.”

It’s hard not to imagine that Luther was thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan as he was writing this.  The poor were being asked to fulfill a religious duty, even when the needs of those around them were not being met (or even the needs of their own families, as number 46 of the Theses alludes to).  Of course, the devout Catholics of that day probably didn’t know Jesus’ parable, since they could not read the Bible for themselves (as Brian touched on in his Reformation Day post).

I also couldn’t help but think about the description of “true religion” in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Reading the 95 Theses is a lesson in a pastor’s care for the flock.  Luther was indignant at the abuse of the poor- those renegade priests who, in effect, turned the poor upside down and shook the money out of the pockets and said “God bless you.”  I suspect that as Luther continued walking down this path of fighting this abuse, he began to notice the flawed theologically foundations that led to such abhorrent practices, which is why we tend to think of Luther the Theologian before Luther the Pastor. 

When I look at the church today, I can see where Luther would find similar abhorrant practices.  We see the health & wealth preachers who bilk the devout poor out of their money, all the while flying in private jets from one mansion to another, or building some unncessarily elaborate facility in the name of God (they ought to read Thesis number 86).  If we wanted to go outside the realm of the church for a moment, we could note how many people throw money into already well-funded political campaigns in the name of helping our country (including helping the poor in our country), all the while walking past the hungry guy with the Dunkin’ Donuts cup sitting next to him holding a few coins.

Well, I could go on with this, but I’ll spare us all the speech.  My whole point is this: what Luther noticed was that those in need were being passed over in the name of religious duty, and devout believers were being taken advantage of by those they trusted.  Are there ways in which we do the same thing?  Are we able to walk past the beaten man on the side of the road so we can get to our next occasion to serve God?  Are there still devout believers who feel the message coming from the pulpit that they need to give (time, money, etc) in order to know God’s forgiveness?

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In the Western world, and for nearly two centuries, Halloween has occupied the limelight of October 31st. Few are aware, however, that October 31st marks another important event that has shaped our world far more than clever costumes and excuses to eat candy. I am speaking, of course, of Reformation Day.

On October 31st, 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to a church door in Wittenberg. While purposed to generate discussion on the Catholic sale of indulgences (N.B., and not intended to affect a break with the Catholic Church), Luther’s theses began a chain of events that ushered in the Protestant Reformation, forever changing the landscape of Christianity. In honor of Reformation Day, we’ve decided to unveil our Resource of the Month a day early, and honor Luther along with a host of other key reformers for their contributions to Christianity.  Our hats are also off to Tim Challies, for suggesting a third Reformation Day Symposium; stop by his site when you get a chance.

We can think of no better way to kick off this series than to consider the Reformation’s impact on the Bible. If you own a Bible in your native language, you can thank God for people like Martin Luther. In Luther’s day, the only Bible readily “available” was the Vulgate: A Latin translation of the original Greek and Hebrew penned some 1,000 years earlier. If you lived in 16th century Europe, chances were that you didn’t read or speak any Latin outside of the few phrases you might have picked up at church (since mass was in Latin, too). Latin was reserved for the small island of society fortunate enough to receive a proper education. To put it in modern terms, imagine that only high-ranking government officials and multi-millionaires had access to the Bible. This might give you a flavor for what it was like in Luther’s day.

Aware of this horrible disparity, Luther began his translation of the Bible into German while he was exiled in Wartburg castle in 1521. The completed work, which Luther would spend the rest of his life refining, was published in 1534. Even today, the Luther Bible is considered seminal in terms of its impact on Christianity and the German language itself. The advent of the printing press helped Luther’s translation (indeed, the Reformation itself) immensely, and thousands of copies were made and distributed to those hungry for God’s Word.

Of course, Luther was not the first to translate the Bible into the vernacular. John Wycliffe (the eponym for Wycliffe Bible Translators) published a translation in Middle English about 150 years before Luther.  Luther also had company in William Tyndale, who began publishing translations in English shortly after him.

While other partial Bible translations pre-date Luther’s, few had his impact. In addition to the aid Luther’s work received from the printing press, the Luther Bible was helped by the translator’s passion to make God’s Word accessible: He spent a great deal of time studying how people communicated in his day. Luther wanted to ensure that his translation would be readily understandable by people of every age and class.

So, to my titular question: How Much for that Bible? A lot: Years upon years devoted to faithful study of Biblical languages, many more pouring over the texts for translation, the logistical nightmare of managing the undertaking without modern contrivances, and the threat of public disgrace, imprisonment, or even death at every turn. Much like our salvation, the Bible you own today was bought at a tremendous price, and it is stained with the blood, sweat and tears of many saints who gave everything for the sake of furthering the Gospel.

Today the Bible is available in thousands of translations. For those of us in America, countless study guides, concordances, commentaries, cross-references and books complement the Bible, and the internet brings a wealth of free resources (this website to wit) right into your home with a slight twitch of your index finger.

What, then, will be our excuse should our Bibles spend more time on a shelf than in our hands? Have we sought after God’s Word with the hunger and zeal of one starving for bread? Do we cherish each page of God’s Word, understanding that what we hold cost more than we can imagine? Do we humbly and thankfully accept that over the span of human history, we enjoy today a luxury afforded by a very few?

This Reformation Day, let us take a moment to thank God for His Revelation to us through His Word, and making it so accessible to us. Let us put our thanks into action by diligent study and meditation. Finally, let us do all we can to make sure that the reformers did not labor in vain, and continue their work, by getting the Bible, history’s greatest evangelist, into the hands of all the world.

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