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Law and Gospel in Martin Luther’s Pastoral Teachings as Seen in His Lecture Notes

Finding Guidance in Genesis and Galatians to Serve the Household of God

AiHe Zheng

The author presents a close reading of Martin Luther’s lectures on Galatians (1531) and Genesis (1535–1545). It reveals that Luther employed his unique understanding of Law and Gospel to inculcate in his students the understanding and desire to faithfully live out their callings in the vocations to which God had appointed them. He provided resources to do the same in the parishes they were to serve. Though in recent years the field of Luther studies has begun to appreciate the invaluable pastoral insights of this experienced master of pastors, the research has focused primarily on Luther’s early works. Moreover, little attention has been given to exploring Luther’s message as he cultivated an upcoming generation of pastors in his classroom. This work seeks to address this lacuna.
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Martin Luther transformed the understanding of what it means to be Christian. Abandoning the view of both scholastic theology and monastic piety, as well as the popular religion of the laity in the late fifteenth century, Luther rejected the idea that at the center of Christian living is the human approach to God, perhaps indeed with the aid of grace, but with particularly sacred good works or religious activities as the key to completing human righteousness in God’s sight. In his study of Scripture, as he prepared for his lectures to university students in the 1510s, Luther found that being Christian finds its origin and its sustenance in God’s approach to human beings. God comes to sinners in his Word – his Word made flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, as well as the several oral, written, and sacramental forms of God’s address to human beings – and he does so without condition, purely out of love and mercy. Luther developed his understanding of the justification of sinners – their restoration to righteousness in God’s sight – out of his wrestling with the Psalms and then Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews in his first lecture courses at the University of Wittenberg in the years 1513–1519. He discovered that God had become human to die and rise in order to bury the sins of sinners in his own tomb and to raise them up to be his children. This gift of righteousness or a new identity in relationship to God, Luther presumed from the very...

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