Rev. Donavon Riley
Martin Luther received his license to enter doctoral studies in 1512. He swore on oath on the Bible to teach true doctrine and stand strong against false teaching. Then a wool cap was set on his head and a silver ring was slid onto his finger. Luther began lectures on Genesis three days later.
Outside his responsibilities as a teacher (which began at 7:00 a.m.), Luther was also busy writing letters to friends and colleagues, preaching at the monastery, reading Bible devotions at meals, preaching in parishes around Wittenberg, serving as a student advisor, supervising eleven monasteries, lecturing on St. Paul's letters, and preparing a commentary on the Psalms. At that time, Luther said to a friend that he was so tired by the end of the day he would collapse on his bed and immediately go to sleep.
But, for all that, Martin was still focused on reviewing and revising everything he had been taught about the righteousness of God. He said, "I did not learn my theology all at once, but had to search deeper for it, where my temptations took me." Everything Luther did was in service to eliminating anything and everyone who stood between him and Jesus crucified for sinners.
Luther's turn away from the theology he had learned while a boy, that was instilled in him at university and as a young monk, did not happen all at once. Instead, he grew slowly and through much temptation and struggle. Then, finally, it was during Martin's biblical lectures that things began to lock into place for him. It was in the classroom, as a lecturer, that Luther worked out his questions. Though nothing remains of his first Genesis lectures, one can read his evolution as a theologian from the first Psalms lectures, through Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, then through another go 'round in the Psalms.
Through his lectures on the Psalms, Luther came to a startling conclusion almost unheard of in former commentaries and lecture halls. From Psalm 72, he taught the students that God did not have one, but two kinds of righteousness. Martin had only been taught the second one. God's righteousness on the one hand was a righteousness by which He found sinners guilty of disobeying the commandments. Then, and here is where Luther began to break free of Late Medieval theology, God's other kind of righteousness—God's primary righteousness—was a righteousness by which He declared believers righteousness for Christ's sake, that made them acceptable in His presence. This was a new teaching, unheard of by anyone at that time. Luther was beginning to tear down—one theological brick at a time—the wall that separated sinners from God's grace and mercy in Christ Jesus.
Next time, we will look again at Luther's time as a lecturer and the personal and professional consequences of his teaching.
Rev. Donavon Riley is the pastor of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota. He is also the online content manager for Higher Things.
Created: December 13th, 2016