By Robert A. Kolb

How Martin Luther and the Reformers Changed the Study of Scripture

Special Issue: 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

In 1501, a 17-year-old German boy named Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt. He had some knowledge of the Bible—having learned a few of its stories from the artwork of St. George’s church, just up the hill from his parents’ smelting operation in Mansfeld—but he may not have been able to distinguish clearly between the legend of St. George slaying the dragon and the biblical account of Samson wrestling a lion. Two decades later, young Luther was reading the Bible in a wholly different light: In the pages of Scripture, he had discovered, God was actually speaking.

The Reformers insisted that justification is by faith alone. It’s not about who we are (our human identities and status) or how we behave (our works), but about the grace of God in Christ. We are put right with God through faith. And when we come to faith, we receive Christ’s righteousness, and we are personally connected to the saving power of his life, death, and resurrection. But what is this faith? 

As my boys have reached their teen years, they seem increasingly surprised to hear that their father and I know something about the world. Dating? Yeah, we’ve been there. Jobs? We’ve had a few of those. Driving? Since before you were born. The boys seem to be humoring me when I offer insight into how girls think. (Hello, I’m a girl.) Nor will they willingly ask their father—a math teacher—for help with 7th grade algebra. They aren’t trying to be rude, but it seems that older people’s experiences don’t count as much as their peers’ do.