Becker Bible Studies Library
Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, German and died February 18, 1546 after suffering from chest pains. He died in the city of his birth.
He became a monk in 1505 after he had earned his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree. He was returning to the university during a thunderstorm in 1505 when a lightning bolt struck near him. He cried out for Saint Anne to help him and promised to become a monk if his life was spared. He left law school and entered into the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in Germany.
He was a German Theologian, an Augustinian monk, an ecclesiastical reformer and a teacher who inspired the Reformation. He was ordained to the priesthood, taught theology at the University of Wittenberg, and received the degree Doctor of Theology.
Martin Luther influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran Church and Protestant traditions. The writings of Martin Luther were circulated to France, England and Italy as early as 1519. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible helped to cultivate a standard version of the German language and added principles to the translation process.
His love of music inspired the use of hymns in the congregations of those who followed him. Martin Luther inspired the movement of clerical marriage with his own marriage in June of 1525.
Martin Luther rescued his wife Katharina von Bora, who was a nun, from captivity at the Nimbschen convent along with eight other nuns. They were transported out of the convent in herring barrels.
Martin Luther had been excommunicated by the pope and the emperor had outlawed him four years before his marriage.
Martin Luther had three boys and three girls from his marriage. His oldest son, Hans, studied law and was a court official. His second son, Martin Jr. studied theology; however never had a recurring pastoral call before his death. His third son, Paul, became a physician.
Paul had six children the Luther male linage continued through his children and ended in 1759. The only surviving daughter, Margaretha, married into a wealthy, noble Prussian family. She died at the age of 36; however her descendants have continued until this present day. The first daughter, Elizabeth, died prematurely at age eight months old. The second daughter, Magdalena, died in Martin’s arm around the age of thirteen.
Martin Luther publicly referred to the Roman Catholic Pope as the Antichrist.
He proposed the lowering of the number of cardinals, the abolition of annates, which was known as “first-fruits” the whole of the first years profits which were to be paid into the papal treasury.
Luther also denied the recognition of secular government, the renunciation of the papal claim to temporal power, harmful pilgrimages and the clerical celibacy.
He was excommunicated by Pole Leo X on January 3, 1521. Luther was declared an outlaw and a heretic by the Emperor Charles V May 25, 1521 at the Diet of Worms which was scheduled to begin January 22, 1521. The Diet of Worms was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Emperor Charles V had ordered a summons be issued to Martin Luther for the purpose of forcing him to renounce or reaffirm his views he had written and taught. Luther was given a guarantee of safe conduct and passage by the emperor. When asked for his renouncement or reaffirmation by the general assembly, Martin Luther told the assistant Archbishop that unless he was convicted by Scripture and plain reason he did not accept the authority of the Popes or Councils. He refused to recant anything. The Emperor ordered his literature burned and banned.
The influence of the preaching of Luther after his excommunication and exile brought about the Peasants’ War of 1524. The revolts by the peasantry against the nobles played an important role in the founding of the Anabaptist movement.
Martin Luther translated the Bible into German to make the Bible more comprehensible by the common people. He completed and published this project in September, 1522. Luther worked on the refinement of the translation for the rest of his life including the edition that was published in the year of his death, 1546.
Martin Luther believed the Roman Catholic Church had lost sight of the central truths of Christianity. He taught that salvation is completely a gift of the grace of God through Christ received by faith.
Martin Luther believed there should be a distinction between Law and Gospel and that this was essential for studying the Scriptures, but then failed to distinguish the differences, causing both the obstruction of the Gospel of Jesus in the Church of his time and many fundamental theological errors in their doctrine.
Martin Luther caused controversy when he started performing indulgences on the lives of everyday people. An indulgence is the remission of temporal punishment for sins that remained after absolution. In Luther’s time an indulgence could be bought for a deceased relatives or the buyer to purchase their souls out of purgatory.
Some Dominican friars were enlisted to travel throughout different territories to promote the selling of indulgences for the funds to renovate the St. Peter’ Basilica in Rome. Martin Luther believed this was an abuse that could mislead and keep the parishioners from confession and true repentance.
Martin Luther preached three sermons against indulgences. The famous Luther 95 Theses were nailed to the door of the Castle Church in October 31, 1517 in a protest to the use of indulgences. The 95 Theses condemned greed and worldliness in the Church and claimed the Church as an abuser. Martin Luther did not challenge the authority of the Pope to offer and grant indulgences but rather asked for a theological disputation on what indulgences could grant.
Martin Luther, while professing his absolute obedience to the Church, boldly denied Papal Authority. He recognized purgatory, indulgences, and the invocation of the saints, but he denied all effect of indulgences on purgatory. He denied the divine right of the Papal Office and authority. Luther claimed the “power of the keys” was given to the Church which includes the congregation of the faithful. Luther also denied membership in the western Catholic Church under the Pope was necessary to salvation. He maintained the authority of the eastern Greek Orthodox Church.
The doctrine of Luther was compared to that of Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake and accused of being a heretic.
Martin Luther believed the Eucharist was for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith for those who receive it. Luther advocated Communion for the laity.
The Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox doctrine believes in the Transubstantiation, the doctrine that the bread and wine of the Communion becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ in substance, but not appearance, at consecration. Luther rejected the teaching that the Eucharist was a sacrifice offered by God.
Martin Luther believed the Real Presence of the body and blood of Christ is in the sacramental bread and wine. He taught that one must have faith to participate in the Eucharist. Because the stated words of Jesus Christ were “given for you” as a memorial, Luther also taught it was for an atonement and forgiveness through the death of Christ.
Martin Luther believed Baptism brought justification only if conjoined with saving faith in the believer. He believed Baptism becomes the foundation of salvation even for those who fall from grace. He believed penance consists of absolution and is received by faith and that communicants should be required to declare their intention to commune and to seek consolation in Christian confession and absolution. He believed Baptism, the Eucharist and penance should be regarded as sacraments because they are the divine promises of salvation. He denied Confirmation, Extreme Unction, Matrimony and Holy Orders were sacraments.
Martin Luther believed the fundamentals of Christian faith were the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Confession, Absolution and the Eucharist. Luther prepared two Catechisms with the Small Catechism to be read by the people and the Large Catechisms to be read by the Pastors.
Martin Luther believed the Word of God goes out conquering, and where ever the Word of God conquers and gains true obedience to God is the Church. Luther believed an ordained ministry is not necessary to safeguard the existence of the Church but that preaching of the gospel was essential to the identity of the church. Luther believed where the Word of God was there was also faith; where faith was there was the true Church. Further Luther believed there could never be a church without the preaching of the Gospel.
The 95 Theses By Martin Luther1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.
8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Matthew 13:25).
12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.
15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words "plenary remission of all penalties," does not actually mean "all penalties," but only those imposed by himself.
21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.
23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.
26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.
34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them -- at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath.
46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
48 Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
55. It is certainly the pope's sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.
58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
61. For it is clear that the pope's power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Matthew 20:16)).
64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.
71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.
76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written, (1 Corinthians 12:28).
79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
82. Such as: "Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church? The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
83. Again, "Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?"
84. Again, "What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, because of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love's sake?"
85. Again, "Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?"
86. Again, "Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?"
87. Again, "What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?"
88. Again, "What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?"
89. "Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?"
90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace! (Jeremiah 6:14).
93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Cross, cross," and there is no cross!
94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).
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About the Author
Joanne B. Holstein is a Becker Bible Studies teacher and author of Guided Bible Studies for Hungry Christians. She has received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology/Christian Counseling with honors from Liberty University. She is well-known as a counsleor to Christian faithful who are struggling with tremendous burden in these difficult times. She is a leading authority on the history of development of the Christian churches and the practices and beliefs of world religions and cults.