Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther

Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther

Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther

Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther


This book meets the need for a comprehensive survey of Martin Luther's theology of baptism in English. It offers a thorough analysis of the doctrine, its development, and its role in Luther's wider thought. This publication has also been published in paperback, please click here for details.


(i) Introduction

A [proper respect and true appreciation]

Indeed if I had the matter under my control, I would not want God to speak to me
from heaven or appear to me; but this I would want—and my daily prayers are
directed to this end—that I might have the proper respect and true appreciation
for the gift of baptism, that I have been baptised (ut in digno honore habeam et
vere aestimem donum baptism i, quod sum baptisatus)…

Why study Luther's theology of baptism? His own [proper respect and true appreciation] of the sacrament is reason enough. From 1520, the year of his great tract on the sacraments, De Captivitate, onwards, Luther is loud in praise of baptism. If the frequency with which he refers to it is a reliable guide, it is clear that Luther's appreciation of baptism continued to grow; it is in the writings of the last years of his life that it assumes the highest profile of all. It is also in the years from the mid 1530's onwards that his praise of it is loudest. This high valuation of baptism is expressed in a reminting of baptismal theology whose power and originality merit close attention.

Luther's increasing respect for baptism cannot be understood in isolation from its context in his wider theology. Indeed, one of the main burdens of this book is that for Luther, a right understanding and use of baptism is intimately linked with the central issues involved in his theological 'Copernican Revolution'. It would be possible to go further and say that Luther's reformation breakthrough began with, or was inextricably linked to, a rediscovery of a vigorous theology of baptism. The link

WA 42,666,31–34 = LW 3,165 on Gen. 17:22. In quotations from Luther, the English
translation from LW will generally be followed where it is available, the original Latin or
German being supplied for particularly important words or phrases. On occasion, where the
LW translators seem to be somewhat further than usual from a literal rendering of the origi
nal, a retranslation will be offered.

So, for instance, L. Goppelt, [The Existence of the Church in History according to Apos
tolic and Early Catholic Thought], Current Issues in NT Interpretation: Essays in Honor of
Otto A. Piper
, ed. W. Klassen and G.F. Snyder (New York, 1962), p. 201: [the reformation of
Luther began at this point; it was Luther who first cracked the basis of the penitential system
started by Hermas, namely, the presupposition that baptism is merely a closed historical act
and repentance a subsequent act.] Luther's denial of the 'closedness' of baptism and his insis-

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