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date: 19 August 2017

Martin Luther and Preaching

Summary and Keywords

The profound impact of Martin Luther’s theological confession is well documented. What is not as thoroughly explored is Luther’s understanding of the function of preaching, which both rooted his reformational breakthrough and drove the Reformation thereafter. Luther’s simple assertion—instead of the pope, there stands a sermon—resulted in a revolution that impacted all facets of 16th-century life. Luther’s simple assertion concerning proclamation deconstructed a deeply embedded framework that had arisen around Christianity that affected everything from the function of the priest to the definition and role of the church, and even Scripture itself.

While Luther learned as he went, especially in the matter of preaching, the unwavering consistency and even simplicity of his theology is breathtaking. Instead of the pope, a sermon which delivers Christ’s forgiveness of sins. Faith in that promise is certain and is not to be doubted in any way. Thus, preaching and nothing else makes the church, not vice versa.

The ramifications of this assertion are monumental and far-reaching. Luther’s confession caused great upheaval and consternation in his time and continues to do so even now, since it addresses the basic questions of theology and life, such as the role of the individual in salvation, whether the will is free or bound in relation to God, what the authority of Scripture is in relation to tradition, and what the difference between a command and a promise is. Yet Luther held to the claim that the most important matter was the comfort of the conscience, which can come only through a promise delivered in place and time to a person pro me and thus builds a whole gathering of the faithful as true church. Thus, in the face of outcries and upheaval in Christendom, Luther refused to blame the gospel, but simply preached as he had taught, trusting that the word of God does not return empty but accomplishes what it says. So he trusted that in that proclamation God’s will would be done: killing and making alive, naming and absolving the sin of people desperate to hear that freeing proclamation. Thus the Reformation that followed Luther became a preaching movement that distinguished the law and the gospel and applied both categorically. Proclamation is the moment and fullness of the divine election unto eternal life.

Keywords: Martin Luther, office of proclamation, sermon, law and gospel, bondage of the will, preached and unpreached God, election, office of the Keys, promise, sacramental word

The Evangelical Luther

Well before he accepted the label Lutheran, Luther identified the movement he initiated in Wittenberg as evangelical. At its core, the work and product of Luther and his colleagues fortified a proclamation of the gospel, specifically through the event of preaching. The centrality of preaching in the Wittenberg theology and Luther’s own Weltanschauung is indisputable. In fact, not only did the Wittenberg movement arise out of the preaching office, but that office incubated and spread the movement itself.

A full consideration of Luther’s views on proclamation must first recognize that Luther learned as he went. Yet there was a certain point in his career by which Luther’s theological assertions changed. The consistency in his thinking following that change was nothing short of remarkable.

Luther’s preaching career arose in relation to the heritage of scholasticism, mysticism, and monasticism. In the scholastic understanding of theology, Luther was taught that the relationship between God and Christians amounted to a contract God initiated. God’s role in the contract was as creator of the world, including humans and the church. The role of Christians in the contract was to be active in their salvation by “doing what is in them.” Thus, the role of preaching in this scholastic way of thinking was to instruct people in how to earn God’s grace by doing their best. The church then completed the contract by finishing the imperfect efforts of the individual. Consequently, the late medieval preacher began by identifying a thema, or subject, that would provide directions for the parishioner to do his/her part in the relationship, or contract, with God. In other words, broadly speaking, the system in which Luther was trained understood the role of preaching as primarily moral and ethical.1

Scholars have also noted that Luther’s early preaching exhibited the influences of late medieval mysticism and monasticism.2 Given that Luther excelled at the rigors of monasticism, it would be impossible to comprehend his life’s work, especially his preaching, without taking the Augustinian teachings and lifestyle of worship, prayer, and meditation into account.3 Thus, in addition to being trained in the scholastic method, Luther was taught to preach by using the Scriptures with reliance on the authority of the church fathers. Throughout his preaching career, his sermons contain frequent references to the early church fathers and theologians, although it must be noted that after his Reformational breakthrough these references were not always favorable. Scholars have noted further that because of his grounding in the patristic and monastic approach to theology, Luther saw the Scriptures as a sacra pagina, not as the Scholastics would have understood it as sacra doctrina and not as the Humanists would have understood it as sacra littera.4 This monastic approach bears a distinctive understanding that “suggests theologically that the sacra pagina bears the immediate imprint of God.”5 By the end of his career, Luther had rejected the scholastic approach to studying Scripture of oratio, meditatio, speculatio and instead advocated David’s teaching from Psalm 119 of oratio, meditatio, tentatio.6

Luther claimed he did not take up the yoke of preaching willingly but rather by order of Johann von Staupitz, the Augustinian prior. In his earliest sermons, dated definitively from 1514, the characteristics and content of the late medieval sermon were evident. Even so, however, it is possible to see hints of the reformational breakthrough yet to come in these early sermons, some of which likely caused offense. Thus, he preached that we must seek shelter under the wings of Christ the mother hen and not rely only on our works for salvation.7 Similarly, while he had been trained in the scholastic approach to theology, he did not agree with its claim that it is possible for sin to be completely removed and grace completely infused in a person, simply because that claim did not correspond to Luther’s own experience or Scripture. With respect to preaching, specifically, in a series of sermons on the Ten Commandments Luther delivered from July 2, 1516 to February 24, 1517, he noted the importance of listening to the sermon and stated that the mass and sermon belong together—specifically, sermons that present the gospel clearly.8

The more Luther was immersed in his duties as preacher and professor, the more he grappled with the content and efficacy of the Scriptures. On September 4, 1517, Luther sent his Decalogue sermons to Lang as an example of preaching “in the evangelical manner,” thus self-identifying his work and proclamation in a new way: evangelical.9 Naturally, the question arises: What instigated the change in Luther’s theological understanding, and what did it amount to?

Luther discovered what a promise is, and how to make a promise, authorized by Christ and declared to a sinner—a promise that is certain and without any doubt at all. The discovery was entangled in the indulgence controversy of 1517. In his Ninety-Five Theses, Luther had specifically denied the power of true repentance (Thesis 1) to the sacrament of penance—as it was being administered by the clergy (Thesis 2) and specifically denied it to the pope (Thesis 5) due to the fact that the penalty of sin remains until death (Thesis 4).10 These assertions placed Luther on trial in October 1518 in the town of Augsburg. There Luther was given a hearing by Cardinal Cajetan, who found in Luther an intolerable heresy in the form of the unconditional promise of forgiveness that gave complete certainty. The church’s own position was that God used punishment to stimulate the potential of the free will, and so penance was salutary to bind sinners. But Luther’s use of the straightforward forgiveness of sinners endangered the entire system of penance.

Cajetan recognized the import of the seventh of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses: “God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to his vicar, the priest.”11 At first glance, this thesis appears to be perfectly congenial to Roman teaching. Yet Cajetan pointed to the basic problem: instead of the pope, there stood the declaration of a promise—a sermon. The sermon was preached by the local priest—who then exercised a power greater than the pope. When Cajetan caught what Luther was saying, it shocked him. A priest’s simple declaration of the forgiveness of sins, a promise, creates the faith that clings to it, and salvation is assured—certain.12 The Word makes faith. The key word that Luther now wanted preached was Ego te absolvo: I forgive you. The faith that is created by this promise is not to be doubted in any way: “To be sure, the person who is to be absolved must guard himself very carefully from any doubt that God has remitted his sins, in order that he may find peace of heart…. He is constrained to abide by the judgment of another, not at all on account of the prelate himself or his power, but on account of the word of Christ who cannot lie when he says, ‘Whatever you loose on earth’ (Matt. 16:19).”13

That, for Cajetan, was a heresy beyond the pale. The problems cascaded down the slope, according to Cajetan. Instead of the pope, a priest. Instead of the power of the priest to make a sacrament, a mere sermon. Cajetan told Luther that his seventh thesis would be detrimental to the Sacrament of Penance, implying that a person “had to have faith or he would take it to his own damnation.”14 Cajetan then fixed his concentration on the fifty-eighth thesis, which denied that the merits of Christ gave the pope any treasury of merits as indulgences. Here we have what Cajetan saw as two completely different churches. One that says, “ Christ does not lie (Luther),” and the other that says, “the church does not err (Roman).”

Cajetan immediately grasped the gravity of Luther’s assertions: if Luther was accurate, a new church was thereby established. How so? The entire basis for the office of the papacy, and so the Roman bishop, and so the hierarchical church, was eliminated. The church would now be not wherever the bishop was consecrating the host, but wherever this Word was declared—even by a paltry little preacher. Cajetan realized that if authority rests in Christ’s promise, apart from any old or new traditions, a completely different church would result. But for Luther, if certainty in the promise of Christ was heresy, he wanted no part of such a church.

Luther furthered his treatment of the function of Christ’s promise in his sermon from the year 1519 The Sacrament of Penance.15 He asserted that penance is not a judgment made by a priest but rather is a constituting reality, a real word of promise. Luther concluded that penance is forgiveness only, and that “true forgiveness of sins really means that a person’s sins no longer bite him or make him uneasy, but rather that the joyful confidence overcomes him that God has forgiven him his sins forever.”16 God himself has to forgive; the church cannot do this independently or apart from Christ’s word of promise. “Thus Christ ordered that authority in the church should be a rendering of service; and that by means of the keys the clergy should be serving not themselves, but only us. For this reason, as one sees, the priest does no more than to speak a word, and the sacrament is already there. And this word is God’s word, even as God has promised.”17 From this discovery regarding the Office of the Keys there was no going back.

Around this same time, as he was grappling with the issue of authority, Luther identified his new understanding of the righteousness of God as set forth by Paul. Luther came to understand that rather than being a quality possessed by God and used by God as judge, the righteousness of God is something God gives to sinners. Thus, in late 1518 or early 1519 Luther preached a sermon titled Two Kinds of Righteousness in which he made the distinction between the righteousness Christ gives us, alien righteousness, and the righteousness which is the “fruit and consequence” of Christ’s righteousness, proper righteousness.18 Further, Luther understood that God’s righteousness is delivered to sinners through the two words spoken by God: command and promise or law and gospel. Over the next several years, Luther’s understanding of God’s righteousness was sharpened, as he further clarified the distinction of God’s two words, law and gospel.

The righteousness of God was not the only way Luther’s theological breakthrough was brought to the fore. A year later, in 1520, the so called three treatises deconstructed the late medieval paradigm of authority (To the Christian Nobility)19 and handed over the promises of the gospel found in the scriptures and sacraments to its rightful heirs (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church)20 based on the fact that Christ’s word alone makes a Christian and the church (Freedom of a Christian).21

Having identified the distinction of God’s two words, Luther continued to expound on their role in proclamation in A Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels of 1521. Here he identified precisely what the gospel is: “a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord.”22 As part of the distinction between law and gospel, he also distinguished between Christ as gift (gospel) and Christ as example (law). For Luther, this gospel message delivered nothing less than Christ himself to the hearer, “whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content.”23 Thus, Luther made clear the distinction between law and gospel, command and promise, in this writing: “So you see that the gospel is really not a book of laws and commandments which requires deeds of us, but a book of divine promises in which God promises, offers, and gives us.”24

God Preached and Unpreached

The promise of Christ, or gospel, led Luther ineluctably to his most profound theological discovery, published in his reply to Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will (1525): “We have to argue in one way about God or the will of God as preached, revealed, offered, and worshiped, and in another way about God as he is not preached, not revealed, not offered, not worshiped.”25 The “not preached God” is hidden, unapproachable, uncanny, unpredictable, holding sway over life and death, and so is to be feared. As Jonah and Job discovered, this God is not distant but present, and actively hiding. On the other hand, God as preached is one with whom “we have something to do …insofar as he is clothed and set forth in his Word.” Indeed, the resurrection or justification of the ungodly is given with the proper worship of the preached God—which is to listen to him. God will be your God in one of two ways, as unpreached or preached, silent or verbal, without Christ or with Christ. Even God must be distinguished according to the proclamation.

The difference between the word that clothes God and God’s hidden will leads directly to the basic evangelical understanding that a sermon is precisely divine election. God elects in view of his office of proclamation. Thus, distinguishing God preached and not preached is not a neutral, scientific inquiry but is something undergone in conflict and fear (Anfechtung). Yet the experience of moving from unpreached to preached does not depend upon an internal movement or perspective but entirely upon an external accidental factor—whether one receives a preacher or not. It is out of our hands. Erasmus’s charge, “Does God then desire the death of a sinner?” (Ezek. 18), is answered by the distinction: “Thus he does not will the death of a sinner, according to his word; but he wills it according to that inscrutable will of his.”26

God cannot cease being God, even if (apart from a preacher) he should overpower a creature with glory. But God jealously seeks one thing in the world, “to be justified in his words” (Rom. 3:4 and Pss. 51:4), not in his majesty. Yet in his words God has a strange vulnerability that allows him to be ignored or blasphemed, just as Adam raised himself over God’s word in the original sin. God does not let this state of affairs remain, but sends his only begotten Son, who “wants to be preached in such a way that we believe in Him.”27 God has no other purpose in life than the “preaching and offering of divine mercy” that brings the law to an end.28

Without a preacher one is without Christ, who is not only a word, but the Word (John 1:1). One cannot make Christ present for anyone through doctrine or thought, but only through proclamation. There is an internal clarity of Scripture, which is the faith given by the Holy Spirit, but there is also an external clarity by which all doctrines are judged that is simply the preaching office: “This judgment [of spirits and dogma] belongs to the public ministry of the Word and to the outward office, and is chiefly the concern of leaders and preachers of the Word.”29

With a preacher one is made to be with or in Christ, which is to hear from God, crucified, exactly what he thinks about us and does for us, as in the sermon of the second Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isa. 40:1–2).

The only solution to the basic theological conundrum and threat of the unpreached God is to have the preached God say, “I do not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn and live” (Ezek. 18:23). Delivering this promise of the preached God is precisely the way God elects his own, the intuitu proclamandi, taking place in time and space, where and when it pleases the Holy Spirit. The preaching office stands firm in the face of sin; indeed, it is God’s singular promise: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). In the end, the call and the sending are “to exercise the Office of the Keys in His kingdom (which is the right and ordinary manner to carry out the office of preaching).” This is a terrible threat when you have no preacher, but the greatest comfort when you do, since “thy promise is well tried, and thy servant loves it” (Pss. 119:140). Luther recognized from Scripture and his own experience that wrath of the unpreached God reaches mortal threat when one contemplates election: “Why have you made me thus?” (Rom. 9:20). And yet this divine election is also the greatest comfort, since in proclamation God elects the ungodly while they are still ungodly—not out of legal necessity but out of sheer mercy.

Luther’s debate with Erasmus exposed themes or topoi that are easily observed in the entirety of Luther’s subsequent corpus. To be clear, Luther’s engagement with Erasmus was not spoken from a pulpit; however, it contained the very elements essential to the office of preaching and the function of proclamation. Luther’s discovery of the distinction between the preached and unpreached God resulted in a crystallization of the evangelical message in a multifaceted set of topoi: (1) the evangelical message is inherently categorical—whatever is not Christ is error and not truth; (2) the distinction between the law and the gospel is key; (3) the message arrives in a sacramental grammar of preaching; (4) the preaching is Christ himself (the Word), the verbum reale; (5), the world deems such a message foolish; (6) the outcome of this event is election of the ungodly. A simple and effective illustration of these topoi is found in Luther’s own preaching, such as an Easter Sunday sermon preached four years after his debate with Erasmus and immediately following Luther’s own visitations to local parishes. In this sermon one sees how Luther’s theology actually functioned in proclamation.


On Easter Sunday afternoon, March 28, 1529, Luther preached on the resurrection of Christ.30 In this sermon Luther made it clear that the truly unexpected word of preaching is the gospel that tells the story of Jesus Christ in a way that upsets the human desire to be justified by the law. The most offensive part of the story of Christ is his crucifixion, which is a stumbling block to Jews who seek signs of power, but also for Greeks who seek a metaphysical logos connecting the cosmos from beginning to end yet end up with a Jewish peasant who succumbs to capital punishment. Thus, Luther recognized the crux of the folly of preaching was none other than to preach Christ, and him crucified: that categorically, so that “whatever is not Christ is not the way but error, not truth but untruth, not life but death, it follows of necessity that ‘free-will’ inasmuch as it neither is Christ, nor is in Christ, is fast bound in error, and untruth, and death.”31 Preaching categorically means without any addition to Christ in matters of salvation, who is the end of the law. Thus, in the Easter sermon Luther preached against claims that humans have any contribution to make in their salvation: “If this is true that Christ with his resurrection has set us free from sin, death, and devil, then I cannot do it…. If I believe that Christ has taken my sins upon himself, then I cannot take them on myself. But if I take them on myself, then Christ does not have them.”32 There are no additions to Christ, and this is categorically true.


This categorical assertion of either Christ or not Christ leads to the proclamation that distinguishes law and gospel, as we find in his sermon on Easter Sunday 1529: “For this reason the teaching of the gospel is different from that of Moses and all other teachers, who teach how one must live but say nothing about what is given to us.”33 Therefore, Scripture is divided into its two “main topics,” law and promises, or, more precisely, the Holy Spirit is making the distinction in the preaching office, so that above all Christ is not made into a new Moses. This understanding not only overturns but shatters human reason, precisely on the central matter of what makes a person just in the eyes of God: the law telling us what we are to do or the gospel telling us what God does for us.

To be sure, this same divine word has two functions in human lives. For those sighing under the cross, it is comfort. For those who do not expect God to speak this way, it terrifies. Such terror is felt as something that is infinite and so leaves no hope. Luther understood this not simply “existentially” but historically: “Such a word of wrath Hungary hears today, and Germany, since it is plagued by the Turk on account of idolatry and contempt for the Gospel.” But God also speaks “in grace, when He gives peace, a rich yield, good magistrates, pious teachers.”34 Thus, these divine “words” are what we call “things,” “events,” or “history.” The historical event, whether from the human viewpoint or God’s, is now to be published abroad as the authorization of the promise of forgiveness of sins. So Christians not only think, feel, or do acts of the law but preach Christ and him crucified—not remembering or re-enacting the cross, but preaching the word of the cross.

Sacramental Grammar of Preaching

One of the markers of Luther’s theology is his understanding of the sacramental nature of preaching. Why sacrament? Because, as Luther preached in his Easter sermon: “This morning you heard the story of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead that happened on this day, and how it is not enough just to hear and know it and regard it merely as a story. If it remains simply a work done for itself, then it does no one any good. Instead it has to be preached …a gift that each one receives just as if it happened to him or her.”35 But why preach this crucifixion of Jesus Christ when it is long past the time to change anything, and why preach his resurrection long after its time in history? As Hegel’s Jena diary once put it, “In Swabia people say of something that took place long ago that it is so long since it happened that it can hardly be true anymore.”36 For Luther, preaching the cross is not a historical rehearsal but a sacramental Word, a present declaration—not in Paul Tillich’s “eternal now” but in the present of each hearer that names your responsibility and gives the freeing promise.

Put another way, the Word of the cross and resurrection is not simply interpretation or explanation of God’s secret purpose in the face of contrary signs or evil (theodicy) but is proclamation in the form of a present address. Luther put it this way in his Easter sermon: “When the preacher only says, ‘Christ is risen,’ this is of as much use to me as if I were to hear about a wealthy prince. Of what use is that to me? When you read: Christ is risen, then add: I with him and you with him. In this way we pull the resurrection into ourselves and ourselves into it.”37 Thus, theology is a second-order discipline that serves the sole purpose of proclamation, moving from second-order abstraction (talking about God) to first-order particularity (speaking for God). Luther rejected Scholastic attempts, whether Biel’s or Aquinas’s, to establish religious certainty on the basis of articles of faith preserved by the church from God’s revelation—expressed over time in propositions that are necessarily (logically) true.

This is not to say, however, that Luther did not engage in the use of logic, syllogisms, and disputation. In fact, Luther gladly entered public disputations using theses and logical syllogisms, as in his Disputation on the Divinity and Humanity of Christ (1540): “Nonetheless it is certain that in Christ all words receive a new signification, though the thing signified is the same.” But the syllogism is not what created “new words” for faith, since Luther knew that the causa finalis of doctrine is preaching. Second-order doctrinal signification is a necessary and fruitful enterprise that pauses to remember yesterday’s sermon in preparation for tomorrow’s. Thus Luther playfully and imperiously began the Promotions Disputation of Georg Major (1544) this way: “God the Father wished to put to rest all disputations over articles of faith when He said concerning God His own Son: Listen to this one!” (Matt. 17:5).38 Christ must be preached and his word of forgiveness heard, which is not only the goal of dogmatics but is that discipline’s apocalypse.

Luther’s preaching was not merely persuasion or presenting the church’s body of doctrine to the ignorant but rested on the certainty of faith in the faithfulness of Christ’s promise freshly given pro me. Thus, the proper grammar of the gospel is “I” to “you.” This preaching is called the bestowal of Christ as sacrament, which makes proclamation itself sacramental. Such preaching has at least four grammatical characteristics. First, it is given in the present tense, declaring: “Now is the time!” Second, it is given unconditionally, as in “This is my body,” (rather than like or may be my body), which helps account for Luther’s urgent defense of this sacramental word, “is.” Third, the preacher speaks in persona Christi—as Christ himself: “I declare unto you the entire forgiveness of your sins.” Fourth, the sentences of gospel have Christ as their subject, so that he is the actor and the hearer is the passive recipient. The gravitational force of the law is such as to mitigate against each of these, so that preaching requires true prayer (oratio), meditation (meditatio), and the attack on faith (tentatio) to deliver Christ, the person, rather than a mere Christological ideal.

Preaching is therefore not address in general or a mere “encounter” with Christ (as a moment of decision or will to freedom) but is the special application of a promise “for you,” which Luther called the “proper application of the pronoun,” as opposed to conveying normal facts and ideas: “Rather ought Christ to be preached to the end that faith in him may be established that he may not only be Christ, but be Christ for you and me, and that what is said of him and is denoted in his name may be effectual in us. Such faith is produced and preserved in us by preaching why Christ came, what he brought and bestowed, what benefit it is to us to accept him.”39 The proclamation of God’s words creates faith in Christ alone, who is the Word. What the Father says is directly and personally the sacramental giving of Christ—for you (was Christum treibt). That word came to be written for our sakes in Scripture, both in its old testament that says “Christ is coming” and its new one that says “Here he is.” Scripture is not a thing in itself, it is for something, specifically the present proclamation of law and gospel to sinners. As Christ’s Spirit authorizes Scripture, so Scripture authorizes proclamation. Luther surmised in his Brief Instruction (1521) that it would be better if only Moses was written and Christ’s story was only spoken, preached, but such is sin as to need both a written law and gospel.40

Furthermore, preaching must not be a mere description; it must be a promise authorized by Scripture’s cross of Christ, who takes the sin of the world and says, “I forgive you.” Yet none of this is heard by bound wills without applying a promise to you: “Note particularly this pronoun ‘our.’ …Without the pronoun, it is easy to praise and exalt the blessing of Christ extravagantly, namely, that Christ was given for sins, but for the sins of other men, who are worthy. But when it comes to applying this pronoun ‘our,’ there our weak nature and reason is thrown back; it does not dare approach God or promise itself that it is to receive such a great treasure freely.”41 Luther knew this well, and so he preached in his Easter sermon, “But the Gospel shows in one text after another how difficult it is to believe these things…. The work of Christ’s resurrection is thus quite certainly true. But the disciples and the women explain it according to their reason: ‘They have carried him away.’ Do you see what reason does? Although the work is right in front of their eye, if the Word is not added, then the tomb remains empty…. As long as the Word is not spoken, they cannot understand the work.”42 This word is not a mere sign (signum) but is the thing (res) itself, who is the person, Christ, in the givable form of absolution for sinners, who are the only ones who need it. The preached sacramental Word is none other than Christ, whose promise is apart from worth or debt, given freely by God and received by the sinner while yet ungodly, and which depends entirely upon his own faithfulness and not on the faith of the receiver.

Verbum Reale

This sacramental word requires a category of its own, which Luther calls “verbum reale.” In Psalm 2 Luther wondered at the majesty of the transition from “He who sits in the heavens laughs” (Pss. 2:4a) to “then he will speak” (Pss. 2:5a). He concluded: “The Hebrew way of speaking understands God’s way of speaking, not as a mere ‘sound,’ as it is for humans, but as verbum reale, the word that does what it says: ‘For they saw that in the case of God to speak is to do, and the word is the deed.’”43 In brief, “He spoke, and it came to be” (Pss. 33:9). “That is a different language from ours. When the sun rises, when the sun sets, God speaks. When the fruits grow in size, when human beings are born, God speaks. Accordingly the words of God are not empty air, but things very great and wonderful, which we see with our eyes and feel with our hands. For when, according to Moses (Gen. 1), the Lord said: ‘Let there be a sun, let there be a moon, let the earth bring forth trees, etc.,’ as soon as He said it, it was done. No one heard this voice, but we see the works and the things themselves before our eyes, and we touch them with our hands.”44

Neither the hand nor the will grasp the verbum reale, only faith does that, and faith is made by the preached word where and when it pleases the Holy Spirit. So Luther preached that Easter Sunday, “For this reason honor the Holy Scripture! Christ did not want to appear to anyone at his resurrection: speaking the oral word had to be prior to everything else, and lest it happen without the Word, the angels came from heaven…. The Word, which the angel carries, is the power. For this reason let us take care that we stick with the Word.”45

Foolishness of Preaching

Luther knew from Scripture and experience that the foolishness of proclamation is manifold, starting with those persons called into that office. Fishermen and tax collectors were chosen by Christ, and Luther loved to point out that even Balaam’s ass became a preacher, who could do quite well speaking the words of institution at the Lord’s Supper: “I affirm this, that if an ass, as Balaam’s ass [Num. 22:28], spoke these words, or if even a devil spoke them, still they are the words of God and are to be held in all honor, as is fitting.”46 In this same vein, Luther was forthright in his Easter Day sermon as he spoke of the unreasonable nature of the preaching and the hearing of the news of Christ’s resurrection. “The most glorious sermon of the angel is made known to the weakest vessel…. Those who should hear it are such foolish people…. Indeed, we are children, poor and weak students, who do not think that teaching is worth much.”47

Saving knowledge is not found in reason, but “the lips of a priest guard knowledge” (Mal. 2:7–8), concerning which Luther remarked, “Certainly God could with His Spirit instruct and justify those whom He would, but it has pleased His wisdom more to instruct and save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. The word is the channel through which the Holy Spirit is given. This is a passage against those who hold the spoken word in contempt.”48 Therefore, Luther did nothing less than criticize those who were first to arrive at the empty tomb on Easter morning: “Therefore a Christian should know what this resurrection effects in the weak…. It caused them trouble because it is so high and glorious reason cannot grasp it…. The women wanted to anoint the Lord and didn’t find him! The world cannot tolerate that the ointments we prepare with such great works should be nothing. For this reason, the angel says, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ But the situation is this: He is risen. Then hold on to this! I have proclaimed it to you.”49

More foolish than the person is the rhetoric of the proclamation, in that the preacher refuses to be a debater, as Paul says, “Where is the debater of this age?” (1 Cor. 1:20). The normal public communication is question and answer, opinion and rebuttal, proposal and counterproposal. Luther’s proclamation is not opinion, nor does it leave doubt when it is preached; rather, “the Holy Spirit is no Skeptic, and it is not doubts or mere opinions that he has written on our hearts, but assertions more sure and certain than life itself and all experience.”50 The preacher’s assertions are not convictions from personal experience or a priori principles, but “those things which have been divinely transmitted to us in the sacred writings.”51 And thus proclamation hands over the specific words of Scripture.

Office of Preaching

God could justify in any way that pleased him, but he chose preaching, which is to say, “foolishness” in the eyes of the world. To do the work of election God not only establishes a person who preaches, or the Father’s own word in the mouth of Christ alone, but He creates an office of proclamation. On Easter afternoon, when talking about the messenger at the tomb, Luther said, “The preacher is wonderful; there is no imperfection…. He and his sermon lack nothing. Therefore our office of teaching is also not weak.”52 Two days later, in yet another sermon, Luther furthered the claim by stating that the preaching office is “a messenger in the place of Christ (2 Cor 5), an office of the Spirit (2 Cor 3),” through Christ’s bestowal of the Office of the Keys.53

Using the Office of the Keys requires a person to be called to the preaching office and so sent. But it is not the person who makes the office; it is the office which makes the person a preacher. Thus Donatists, and in Luther’s day the Anabaptists and enthusiasts, falsely supposed that neither a fool nor an evil person could preach the gospel, since only the holy could make anyone holy. But because it is the oral, external word that does these things—according to the will of the Holy Spirit—the office remains despite the person who preaches or the church in which it is preached. Of course, the office depends upon “the arrangement” of the Holy Spirit, which is that one preaches the actual words of Scripture instead of things drummed up from their own imagination. That means there is no person in the office without the word, and a preacher may step outside the office when deciding to say something other than what has been authorized by Scripture.

Luther’s teaching of the office has been ensconced in the public proclamation of the Augsburg Confession, article 5 (1530): “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he will, in those who hear the gospel.”54 Some have called this a Protestant ex opere operato, but this misses the point.55 That term, against which Luther and the Reformers fought in the Roman mass, is a legal term that seeks to secure the efficacy of God’s word without faith. But neither is faith a legal word that names an act of will or mind that assents to a doctrine or obeys a command. God’s word is a divine word that is efficacious not in the legal sense but evangelically, apart from the law, which creates anew out of nothing. It is efficacious precisely in making faith—where and when it pleases the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit refuses to operate without the Word, who is none other than the only begotten Son of the Father. Both the word’s efficacy and faith are entirely different under the gospel than under the law, so that the necessity of the office of proclamation and the preacher in the office, or the indissoluble union between a preacher’s word and God’s, are poor terms for the outpouring of God’s mercy in a new creation. Though it is an impoverished description, it is accurate to say the preacher is infallible when the Spirit’s arranged words are employed—regardless of personal status of preacher or hearers before the law. This is why when Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom to his forgiven betrayers, he does not say, “Receive the Holy Spirit …then you will be saved.” He says, “Receive the Holy Spirit; those whose sins you forgive their sins are forgiven.” The power belongs to the office, the office to the Word, and the Word belongs with the Holy Spirit, as is the Father’s wont.

This is not to say Luther was unaware of the problem of enthusiasts, fanatics, and “corner sneaks” who called themselves preachers but imposed their own words upon a group as if they were from the Holy Spirit. It was this precise issue Luther was addressing when he said:

There sure would be a lot to say about the external Word over against the fanatics who despise it and only cry: Spirit! Spirit! The Spirit must be there! …Look here: Christ, after he was raised, could also have given the women the Holy Spirit without oral preaching…. The work was there…. As long as the Word is not spoken, they cannot understand the work…. No one should try to understand Christ except through the Word…. The fanatics err in that they don’t consider where they have learned about the resurrection. Instead they follow only their own thoughts that the Holy Spirit speaks apart from the Word.56

Luther understood that this was not how Christ operated—he who “forced, compelled, called and sent” his apostles by command, and to whom presently this call is given by means of “good order.” When God has an office, our house, he sees to it that people are called into it in an orderly way, as with a court judge, so that they do not “build a gallows in my house and proceed hanging thieves.” Likewise, “no one should undertake the public exercise of the power to forgive and to retain sins in Christendom unless he is sent and called to this through a definite command.”57 One must be certain in the call that comes from outside, and not left as an enthusiast to trust the inner movements or feelings, or it will be just as it was in Jeremiah’s day: “I did not send the prophets, nevertheless they run; I did not speak to them, nevertheless they prophesy” (Jer. 23:21). Thus, there is no preaching without a proper call.

With such a call, the preacher is to let this word do its work and not bother about its fruit overly much. “We are bidden to preach. We are not bidden to affirm people and make them pious. This should comfort all preachers…. even though no one may want to listen to him…. If I could be moved by the fact that my word and sermon are despised, I suppose I would not go on preaching. But (says God) ‘go on, Moses, preach! If you are despised because of it, commit that to me.’”58

The confidence provided a preacher does not mean that the one in the pulpit is somehow shielded from a critical eye. The person remains under the mirror of the law even within the office, and the office itself refers to the word that is not secret, but given publicly, indeed even written in Scripture. So the congregation has a right, and a person may go to the pastor and say, “Dear pastor, you preach such and such. This does not seem right to me,” and then show the basis for the concern from Scripture.59 But even then, if the pastor continues in false preaching, one does not storm the wall but lets the office holder bear the guilt and God make the judgment using his worldly masks.

And so Luther set preaching as the great treasure of the church, so precious and necessary that “a Christian congregation should never gather together without the preaching of God’s Word and prayer, no matter how briefly, as in Psalm 102: ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord …be declared in Zion …when kingdoms come to worship the Lord.’” Thus preaching, and nothing more or less, makes the church, not vice versa: “The church is not crosiers, not doctors or laws, or the pope, for they do not have the gospel. You must have it in such a way that you hear it. If it is not heard, then it does not matter if you build a church of emerald or gold, it is still a devil’s church. So it is God’s Word that makes the church. Where that is absent, the devil shits into that church.”60 Nonetheless, the office stands firm in the face of sin, indeed, it is God’s singular promise: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). In the end, the call and the sending are “to exercise the Office of the Keys in his kingdom which is the right and ordinary manner to carry out the office of preaching.”

Outcome of Preaching: Election

Proclamation is the indispensable means of planting, and faith the singular harvest, so that it is faith alone—not works—that justifies, and this through the sermon. And so it is Luther preached in his Easter sermon, “The women wanted to anoint the Lord and didn’t find him! The world cannot tolerate that the ointments we prepare with such great works should be nothing. For this reason the angel says, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’ But the situation is this: He is risen. Then hold on to this! I have proclaimed it to you.”61

When Scripture is preached, two things happen: the law kills—that is its job, and the gospel gives new life. Without the law’s proper work, a person claims righteousness in the law in an attempt to avoid its accusation. Without the gospel’s proper work, there is no certainty in the promises actually belonging to you. Thus, Luther preached, “God has shown us his grace in that in the Word he has combined for us his works and the treasure, namely, that we are lords over the devil. Whoever wants to search without the Word will only find an empty tomb as the women and the disciples did.”62 The preacher, in turn, has no other words to preach than these two that are authorized in Scripture. That is why Luther preached Scripture, not something else, and applied the law or the promise in due time.

And what is it the words do to the hearers, who after all cannot hear? It is not merely to alter a mind or convince a will. The effect of the verbum reale is God’s double work: “I am the God who kills and makes alive” (Deut. 32:39). God’s word first puts its hearers to death, in a death like Christ’s. The sermon meets resistance, since Christ himself is offensive to those seeking righteousness by the law. But the solution is not to desire Christ by changing one’s predilections but to have the desire killed once and for all: “For everything which does not have the grace of the living Spirit is dead, even though external obedience to the whole law glitters. That is why the Apostle says of the law that it kills, gives no one life, and holds one eternally in death if grace does not arrive to redeem and give life.”63

Then God’s word raises them from the dust, in a resurrection like his: “If you remain faithful to Christ, you are a child of eternal salvation. And just as Christ died and raised himself from the dead, so He will also raise from the dead all who believe this.”64 The old creature lives without a preacher and so with God not preached, which is original sin (death, hell) in its active form of hatred for preaching and its passive, suffering form of waiting in hopeless silence. The new creature lives by faith alone, that is, by hearing a sermon (Rom. 10:17). And so Luther set preaching as the great treasure of the church—the one and only way to bring an end to the unpreached God and receive a preached one.

Review of Literature

The publication of many of Luther’s sermons are found in the Weimarer Ausgabe (22 vols.), a small number of which are translated into English, and those especially in the American edition of Luther’s works (LW).65 That collection includes the church postils (vols. 75–77) that had previously been available only in the N. Lenker translations and the house postils, which are available from E. Klug.66 In-depth treatment of Luther and proclamation, however, is rather sparse, especially in English. Fred Meuser’s Luther the Preacher, Elmer Carl Kiessling’s The Early Sermons of Luther and Their Relation to the Pre-Reformation Sermon, and Harold J. Grimm’s Martin Luther as Preacher stand out, but all are summary.67 Meuser’s came from his Hein-Frey lectures and gives a feel for the overall interest in Luther’s preaching. Kiessling’s confines itself to sermons up to 1522, and then only sketches the early sermons in outline. There is helpful material by way of introduction in LW 51 by John Doberstein. Even in German the daunting task of addressing the massive material has kept the published books limited, going back to Emanuel Hirsch, Predigten CL 7, which itself is only introductory material along with the printing of samples of Luther’s own sermons.68 Yngve Brillioth, A Brief History of Preaching (Fortress, 1965), includes material on Luther’s preaching in a larger context, as does Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 4 (Eerdmans, 1999).69 The topic of Luther and rhetoric has received more attention, especially in Neil R. Leroux, Luther’s Rhetoric: Strategies and Style from the Invocavit Sermons; Birgit Stolt, Wortkampf: Frühneuhochdeutsche Beispiele zur rhetorischen Praxis; and Peter Matheson, The Rhetoric of the Reformation.70

When Luther and proclamation are considered systematically, the history of a trajectory can be offered that both accounts for the past decline of interest in Luther’s proclamation and its recent return. Preaching is one thing when the law is brought to an end and the gospel frees, namely divine election. It becomes another thing when the law is thought to bring lost sheep back into its fold. Even Melanchthon’s pupil and nemesis, Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1550), began to warn against “adiaphorist” preaching: “The gospel does not cancel earthly orders that are agreeable with the law of nature.” While the gospel frees us from papal law, it also delivers us into eternal law so that liturgical ceremonies are arranged “to promote the preaching of the Word of God in its main role, namely, the arousing of the true fear of God in the hearts of men”71

The trajectory of Lutheran preaching from this second generation of Lutherans into the orthodoxy of the 17th century did not lessen the importance of preaching, but altered its relation to the law, especially concerning the crucial distinction of eternal law from the gospel. Instead of placing proclamation at the forefront of its theology, written Scripture and its authority in relation to eternal law preceded everything. Proclamation was then taken up after justification, faith, and good works as “the means of grace,” to produce the effects of the same—a practice that follows a theory. Proclamation was set on the road to become a necessary tool, so that the main concern became how the word is not merely passive but is an operative instrument—a “means.” True, this preaching means was not a tool like an ax or hammer, but proclamation was analyzed entirely according to the Aristotelian theories of causation. This inserted into preaching the central importance of the renewing of the mind, which was not mere convincing but, as Quenstadt (1685) averred in his Theologia Didactio-Polemica (171), the “power of the Word is not irresistible, but resistible.” Meanwhile, the written word of Scripture was imbued with a power and efficacy inherent to it “whether the Word be read or not, whether it be heard and believed or not …nor does this divine efficacy only come to it when it is used.”

This orthodox construction of the power of the word as eternal law precipitated an inevitable movement from proclamation of the gospel to the development of doctrine as the means of the Holy Spirit. In turn, doctrine’s second-order task of clarifying the Word (whether read or not, whether used or not), became liable to the rationalist rejection of church doctrine wholesale, along with the church’s dedication to preaching as an instrument of applying doctrine to practical life. For this reason the enlightenment rationality sought to rid itself of the evangelical proclamation by getting rid of preachers altogether.

Luther distinguished between fides historica and fides iustitia, which in turn divides law that accuses (“Jesus Christ died”) from the gospel that assures (“for your sins”). Even the devil knows the former; the latter happens with a preacher giving a promise received by faith. After orthodoxy this evangelical distinction appeared to relegate history to a lower state than iustitia. The historical event of the death of Christ was then seen as merely a “fact,” and faith obviously must be more than a fact. But what that “more than” became was a doctrine to which saving faith assents. But the doctrines like Trinity or two natures seem absurd to reason, and depended upon putting trust in the Spirit to properly guide the authorities of the church in making their doctrine—something that was proved patently false in the Reformation’s break from the papacy.

Thus, 18th-century rationalism (Lessing, Kant etc.) recognized the limits of historical faith, but feared that iustitia would depend precisely on the haphazard historical accident of receiving a preacher, or the adequacy of the Spirit’s work in developing accurate church doctrine. Rationalism’s solution was to remove fides historica by abstracting “eternal truths” of reason. This only reinforced the orthodox tendency to put saving faith in the eternal law of Christ, especially the Sermon on the Mount, rather than the promise of absolution.

When history could not be so subjugated and roared back (Hegel), it did not bring with it the historical preacher, but rather made the relation of fides historica and iustitia into an organic, narrative development—an evolution—from one stage to the next (history to faith to reason). This caused an alternative distinction to dominate theology and removed proclamation at once: the Jesus of history versus the Christ of faith.72 These two were related as two historical stages: the man Jesus as the original stimulus and the subsequent church’s theology that clothed their Easter dream in historical garb. To “the church” belong things like the cross of Christ and his resurrection (doctrine), but this was considered only added baggage on the real Christ.

The “search for the historical Jesus” attempted to touch the immediate source of power without intermediaries—that is, without preachers—and thus provide the modern world what it really wanted, the Romantic affirmation of “our system of religious world-acceptance.”73 But any decent historian could see that Christ was quite the opposite—he was “world-negating.” Thus, only by channeling Christ’s inner spirit and ridding oneself of all outer spirit (especially preachers, even Christ himself) would there be any chance of escape from history into a future that followed Jesus blindly according to his one great command—“follow me!”—without knowing where, somehow into a new and beneficial order of God’s law that makes things just—iustitia—not by history, doctrine, or proclamation but by the immediate Spirit-law in everyone.

Variations of this immediate Spirit are currently argued in opposition to the rational/romantic conclusions of liberal theology, especially using the church and its development of doctrine through time as the Spirit’s work of revealing Jesus as the agent of God’s beloved community. Some see Luther’s work in scholastic disputations as the work of logical propositions to refer and explicate the unique incarnate one into a previously unspoken language of the Spirit. Thus doctrine rather than proclamation can become divine words—a living tradition that must demand affirmation of its adherents for iustitia—“making theology an autonomous discipline on the earth.”74

The historic break with enthusiasm is often credited to Karl Barth, who said, “The Logos takes the side of his adversaries.”75 The incarnation was a fact that happened once and for all—in the past. But R. Bultmann returned completely to a form of proclamation by rejecting the gnostic myth of the hidden Redeemer who is to arouse “trust, confidence and emotion” that would allow the Knower to penetrate the human disguise of Christ and see the divine glory hiding inside. Instead, the logos in flesh is not going to be pleasing, but an offense. “We beheld his glory” (John 1:14) means all people are necessarily tied to these witnesses, preachers, “not as those who stand guarantee for some later generation for the truth of the revelation [Origen and Lessing], but as those who confront every generation anew with the offense.” Thus “the word became flesh” is followed not by knowledge, but “John bore witness to him.” But John and preachers do not stand in for the promise of the gospel but are necessarily there to give it: “For one cannot bypass them to gain the immediate vision of the doxa of the Revealer; one is tied to them …because this proclamation does not pass on a timeless idea, but transmits an historical event.”76

True as it is that proclamation is not conveying a timeless truth (eternal law), neither was it enough to say that the preacher transmits a historical event that provokes an encounter with Christ. The preacher is giving a promise of forgiveness to a sinner that depends utterly on the faithfulness of Christ—not only to become flesh but to remain there, and not flesh in general but Christ’s suffering flesh that took the wrath of God when he took our own sin thus evacuating the law in himself.

Since the late 20th century a series of modern theologians are returning to Luther’s impetus for proclamation, including Gerhard Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation; Gustaf Wingren, The Living Word; Oswald Bayer, Promissio; and Lauri Haikola, Usus Legis, who have coalesced around a theology that culminates in preaching, along with its implications for doctrine.77 That includes how it is that the law comes to an end through the application of the Office of the Keys. The law’s end happens in the present as communicated in persona Christi (I to you), with the hearer receiving a promise as a free gift. So the word does what it says: putting the old sinner to death and raising a new creature.

Further Reading

Bayer, Oswald. Promissio. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971.Find this resource:

Brillioth, Yngve. A Brief History of Preaching. Translated by Karl E. Mattson. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965.Find this resource:

Forde, Gerhard. Theology Is for Proclamation. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990.Find this resource:

Grimm, Harold. Martin Luther as Preacher. Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1929.Find this resource:

Haikola, Lauri. Usus Legis. Helsinki: Helsingin Yliopiston Monistuspalvelu, 1981.Find this resource:

Kiessling, Elmer Carl. The Early Sermons of Luther and Their Relation to the Pre-Reformation Sermon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1935.Find this resource:

Kolb, Robert. “What Benefit Does the Soul Receive from a Handful of Water? Luther’s Preaching on Baptism.” Concordia Journal 25 (October 1999): 346–363.Find this resource:

Leroux, Neil R.Luther’s Rhetoric: Strategies and Style from the Invocavit Sermons. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 2002.Find this resource:

Lischer, Richard. “Luther and Contemporary Preaching: Narrative and Anthropology.” Scottish Journal of Theology 36 (1983): 487–504.Find this resource:

Luther, Martin. The 1529 Holy Week and Easter Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther. Translated by Irving L. Sandberg. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1998.Find this resource:

Matheson, Peter. The Rhetoric of the Reformation. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998.Find this resource:

Meuser, Fred W.Luther the Preacher. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983.Find this resource:

Nestingen, James Arne. “Preaching the Catechism.” Word and World 10 (1990): 33–42.Find this resource:

Old, Hughes Oliphant. The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 4. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999.Find this resource:

Pless, John. “Martin Luther: Preacher of the Cross.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 51 (1987): 83–101.Find this resource:

Stolt, Birgit. Wortkampf: Frühneuhochdeutsche Beispiele zur rhetorischen Praxis. Frankfurt: Athenaeum, 1974.Find this resource:

Wilson, H. S. “Luther on Preaching as God Speaking.” Lutheran Quarterly 19 (2005): 63–76.Find this resource:

Wingren, Gustaf. The Living Word: A Theological Study of Preaching and the Church. London: SCM, 1960.Find this resource:


(1.) James Kittelson, Luther the Reformer (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), 72–74.

(2.) For a fuller treatment of the influence of mysticism on sermons as part of Luther’s immediate preaching heritage, see Stanley D. Schneider, “Luther, Preaching, and the Reformation Still Sharing the Gospel,” in Interpreting Luther’s Legacy, ed. F. W. Meuser (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1969), 120–135.

(3.) Emanuel Hirsch explored the influences of Augustine and Tauler on Luther’s new preaching approach. Hirsch concludes that from Augustine Luther learned the “pure, formless exposition of Scripture,” as opposed to the thematic sermon, and also the rejection of all artistic devices, all “learned showing-off,” and the need to relate the sermon to the needs of the hearers. From Tauler he learned the sermon must have only one substantive point, not superficial, and that the sermon must relate the individual hearer to the living God. Emanuel Hirsch, “Luther’s Predigtweise,” Luther: Mitteilungen der Luthergesellschaft 25 (1954): 8.

(4.) Kenneth Hagen, Luther’s Approach to Scripture as Seen in His “Commentaries” on Galatians, 1519–1538 (Tübingen, Germany: J. C. B. Mohr, 1993), 47.

(6.) LW 34:285–287; WA 50:659, 7–27.

(7.) WA 1:31, 3–27, 37.1ff.

(8.) Martin Brecht, Martin Luther His Road to Reformation, 1483–1521, trans. James L. Schaaf (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985), 150–154.

(9.) WA 1:103, 17.

(10.) LW 31:25–26; WA 1:233.

(12.) LW 31:259–292.; WA 2:6–26.

(13.) LW 31:100; WA 1:540, 40–42; WA 1:541, 1–4.

(14.) LW 31:261; WA 2:7, 35–40.

(15.) LW 35:9–22; WA 2:714–723.

(16.) LW 35:9; WA 2:714, 14–20.

(17.) LW 35:17; WA 2:719, 21–23.

(18.) LW 31:300; WA 2:147, 7–8.

(19.) LW 44:123–217; WA 6:404–469.

(20.) LW 36:11–57; WA 6:497–573.

(21.) LW 31:333–377; WA 7:49–73.

(22.) LW 35:118; WA 10/I:10, 1–5.

(23.) LW 35:119; WA 10/I:11, 20–21.

(24.) LW 35:120; WA 10/I:13, 3–6.

(25.) LW 33:139; WA 18:685, 11–15.

(26.) LW 33:140; WA 18:685, 27–30.

(27.) LW 23:381; WA 33:619, 9.

(28.) LW 33:138; WA 18:684, 27–28.

(29.) LW 33:91; WA 18:653, 24–25.

(30.) Martin Luther, The 1529 Holy Week and Easter Sermons of Dr. Martin Luther, trans. Irving L. Sandberg (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1998).

(31.) Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, trans. J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell), 307.

(32.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 134.

(34.) LW 12:32; WA 40/II:231.12–17.

(35.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 129.

(36.) Eberhard Jüngel, Theological Essays II (London: T&T Clark, 1995), 82.

(37.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 130.

(38.) See both of these disputation theses in Dennis Bielfeldt, Mickey L. Mattox, and Paul R. Hinlicky, The Substance of the Faith: Luther’s Doctrinal Theology for Today (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 131, 198.

(39.) LW 31:357; WA 7:59, 1–2.

(40.) LW 35:117–124; WA 10/I:9–18.

(41.) LW 26:33–4; WA 40/I:86, 15–20.

(42.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 131.

(43.) LW 12:33; WA 40/II:231, 27–28.

(44.) LW 12:32; WA 40/II:230, 30–31.

(45.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 133–4.

(46.) LW 40:212; WA 18:202, 10–13.

(47.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 133.

(48.) LW 18:401; WA 13:686, 6–7. The contempt for the spoken word was not only a scholastic temptation in Luther’s day, ranking the mental language of doctrine over preaching, but is the celebrated subject of Derrida’s diatribe in Of Grammatology (1967) against proclamation as logocentrism that not only thinks in binaries (like law and gospel) but privileges one of the set over the other and establishes power relationships accordingly. For Luther, the privilege does belong to the gospel. Absent the gospel, we remain dead in our sins.

(49.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 134.

(50.) LW 33:24; WA 18:605, 32–35.

(51.) LW 33:20; WA 18:603, 12–14.

(52.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 132.

(53.) LW 69:351–372; WA 28:464–479.

(54.) Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 40.

(55.) See Heiko A. Oberman, “The Preaching of the Word of God in the Reformation,” Harvard Divinity Bulletin 25 (October 1960): 16.

(56.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 131–132.

(57.) LW 69:359; WA 28:471, 19–20.

(58.) WA 16:116.

(59.) LW 69:363; WA 28:474, 15–17.

(60.) LW 68:246; WA 47:536, 38–39.

(61.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 134.

(62.) Luther, 1529 Holy Week, 131.

(63.) LW 39:183; WA 7:654, 28–30.

(64.) LW 22:248; WA 46:760, 3–7.

(65.) Although many of Luther’s sermons are not published, scholars believe he preached thousands of sermons from 1510 to 1546.

(66.) Martin Luther, Church Postil, Gospels, trans. John Nicholas Lenker (Minneapolis: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1905); and Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther: The House Postils, ed. Eugene F. A. Klug (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996).

(67.) Fred Meuser, Luther the Preacher (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983); Elmer Carl Kiessling, The Early Sermons of Luther and Their Relation to the Pre-Reformation Sermon (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1935); and Harold J. Grimm, Martin Luther as Preacher (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1929).

(68.) Emanuel Hirsch, ed., Predigten (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1932).

(69.) Yngve Brillioth, A Brief History of Preaching, trans. Karl E. Mattson (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1965); and Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999).

(70.) . Neil R. Leroux, Luther’s Rhetoric: Strategies and Style from the Invocavit Sermons (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 2002); Birgit Stolt, Wortkampf: Frühneuhochdeutsche Beispiele zur rhetorischen Praxis (Frankfurt: Athenaeum, 1974); and Peter Matheson, The Rhetoric of the Reformation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998).

(71.) Matthias Flacius Illyricus, Adiaphora and Tryanny: Matthias Flacius Illyricus on Christian Resistance and Confession in the Adaiphoristic Controversy, ed. Wade Johnston (Saginaw, MI: Magdeburg, 2011), 28, 203.

(72.) M. KählerThe So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ, trans. C. E. Braaten (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1964).

(73.) A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of its Progress from Remarus to Wrede, trans. W. Montgomery (London A. & C. Black, 1910).

(74.) Dennis Bielfeldt, Michey L. Mattox, and Paul R. Hinlicky, The Substance of the Faith: Luther’s Doctrinal Theology for Today (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 190.

(75.) Karl BarthErklärung des Johannesevangeliums (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 1925–1926), 110.

(76.) Rudolph Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A commentary, trans. G. R. Beasley-Murray (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 70.

(77.) Gerhard Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1990); Gustaf Wingren, The Living Word: A Theological Study of Preaching and the Church (London: SCM, 1960); Oswald Bayer, Promissio (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971); and Lauri Haikola, Usus Legis (Helsinki: Helsingin Yliopiston Monistuspalvelu, 1981).