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Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God

The Wittenberg School and Its Scripture-Centered Proclamation

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The Reformation revolutionized church life through its new appreciation for God's presence working through the Bible. Coinciding with the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, this volume by world-class scholar Robert Kolb explains how Luther's approach to the Bible drew his colleagues and contemporary followers into a Scripture-centered practice of theology and pastoral leadership. Kolb examines the entire school of interpretation launched by Luther, showing how Luther's students continued the study and spread of God's Word in subsequent generations. Filled with fresh insights and cutting-edge research, this major statement provides historical grounding for contemporary debates about the Bible. Professors and students of the Reformation and church history will value this work. It will also appeal to pastors, scholars, interested laity, and all readers interested in the history of biblical interpretation.

Introduction: God's Word Endures Forever: The Wittenberg School of Exegesis
1. The Bible in the World of Luther's Childhood and Youth
2. In the Beginning God Said: Luther's Understanding of the Word of God
3. Nowhere More Present Than in Scripture: Luther's Perception of What the Bible Is
4. Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: Luther's Hermeneutical Framework
5. Search the Scriptures: Luther as Professor
6. Faith Comes by Hearing: Luther the Preacher
7. Teaching All Nations: Luther as Translator
8. Instruction in Sound Teaching: The Wittenberg Curriculum, the Wittenberg Commentary, the Wittenberg Colleagues
9. Searching the Scriptures the Wittenberg Way: Sixteenth-Century Tools for Study of the Bible
10. Biographical Interlude: The Later Wittenberg Commentators
11. Formulas for Speaking Circumspectly and Avoiding Offense: Hermeneutics for Exegesis and Preaching among Luther's Students
12. Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: The Late Reformation Wittenberg Commentaries
13. In Season, Out of Season: The Forms and Methods of Late Reformation Preaching in the Wittenberg Circle
14. With a Firm Grasp of the Word: The Message of Late Reformation Proclamation
The Enduring Word of God: Concluding Reflection


"While Luther rightly dominates Lutheranism as the single most important theological leader of the movement, he neither emerged from a vacuum nor operated as a Reformer in isolation. Instead, he was part of the vibrant intellectual ferment of his time, particularly as that was instantiated in the University of Wittenberg. Drawing on a lifetime of study not only of Luther himself but also of the Wittenberg School of which Luther was a part, Robert Kolb here offers a superb contextual analysis of Luther's biblical exegesis and theology both in his own day and as they were subsequently developed by his students. For those interested in the history of exegesis, the thought of Martin Luther, and the formation of post-Luther Lutheranism, this book is a treat."

Carl R. Trueman, Grove City College

"This is perhaps Robert Kolb's best work on Martin Luther. Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God presents the Wittenberg Reformer at the center of a circle of colleagues and students engaged in a fresh approach to the Bible that would reshape Christian piety. The scope of Kolb's book is remarkable, spanning Luther's early exposure to the Scriptures in the milieu of late-medieval spirituality, his reform of biblical interpretation and preaching in the university, his collaboration with others to use the Bible as a renewed source for Christian faith and life, and the often-unexamined next generation of Lutherans who helped change the religious map of Europe. Kolb invites the reader into a world of theologians, pastors, and Reformers who are captivated by the Bible and aspire to give the Word of God a hearing in a tumultuous age. His book stands as an invitation to do further research in the history of biblical interpretation: to trace the connections between the world of the Reformation and later developments in the handling of the Bible in the early modern period. Students of the Reformation at every level will benefit from Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God and be grateful for Robert Kolb as a teacher and guide."

Erik Herrmann, director of the Center for Reformation Research, Concordia Seminary

"I began reading Kolb's work about forty years ago as a doctoral student. Today what amazes me most is how he keeps getting better: more meticulous in his research, more lucid in his writing, and more penetrating in his analysis. This new book is quite simply his best! Indispensable for understanding Luther's lifelong and greatest obsession."

Denis R. Janz, Provost Distinguished Professor of the History of Christianity, Loyola University New Orleans

"This is a masterful account of the exegesis, preaching, and teaching of the first Lutherans. Kolb presents a large cast of Wittenberg theologians working to further Lutheran theology and Christian faith through a variety of written resources. This book breaks important new ground in the history of transmitting the faith."

Anna Marie Johnson, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

"The five hundredth anniversary of the Ninety-Five Theses is a season of many books about Luther, but few of them are likely to be as carefully researched, as grounded in original sources and Luther's original context, and therefore as valuable as Professor Kolb's study of Luther and the Wittenberg Circle. Any reader who would meet Luther--and particularly Luther as scholar and preacher of the Scriptures--on his own terms and as he was received by his earliest followers must not miss this excellent contribution."

R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology, Westminster Seminary California

The Author

  1. Robert Kolb
    Tony Carosella

    Robert Kolb

    Robert Kolb (PhD, University of Wisconsin) is Mission Professor of Systematic Theology Emeritus at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including The Genius of Luther's Theology, Luther and the...

    Continue reading about Robert Kolb


"[A] rich and rewarding careful study. . . . Kolb is arguably the foremost Luther scholar in North America, and this contribution further emphasizes that status. . . . In reading this book, one is captivated by the way that Kolb retreats into the background and essentially allows Luther and his colleagues to speak for themselves, drawing together, in their own words, the central tenets of the Reformation movement inspired by their encounter with Scripture. His clarity of writing is combined with the richness and diversity of his use of the primary sources, reflecting the labors of a life-time of research. While one could call this work Kolb's magnum opus, one hopes it is simply an appetizer for future contributions from his desk. This work is stellar contribution to Luther scholarship."

Gordon A. Jensen,


"An erudite description of how the Lutheran Reformation established a new worldview. . . . [Kolb] is recognized as an authority not only on Luther, but especially on the generation of Lutheran theologians who followed Luther. . . . His encyclopedic knowledge of Luther's writings and the sixteenth century in general makes this monograph in many respects Kolb's magnum opus. . . . The key contribution of Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God is that its author--writing after a generation of research--convincingly demonstrates from primary source material that Luther's principle of sola Scriptura . . . was one of the central theological dynamics that produced the Protestant Reformation and also enabled it to be passed down to subsequent generations. This scholarly work is a welcome addition to the extensive collection of Luther-related studies and breaks some fresh ground."

Joel L. Pless,

Theology Today

"Kolb uses ample sources to successfully demonstrate the methodological approaches and practical aspects of implementation pursued by the Wittenberg School, as well as suggesting areas that merit further research. . . . This work includes resources for experienced scholars, as well as those just entering the field. . . . This work gives deserved credit to many within the Wittenberg School, particularly Philip Melanchthon, and to those in the later generation who solidified and perpetuated the movement's focus on the means to promote the Word in its oral, written, and sacramental forms. The scope of Kolb's work provides a framework for scholars interested in exploring the nuanced ways in which Luther and his Wittenberg colleagues studied scripture and developed ways for expanded demographic groups to access the Word, while encouraging further study into how the focus and methodologies of the Wittenberg School were evidenced and changed in succeeding generations."

Rebecca C. Peterson,

Sixteenth Century Journal

"The fourteen chapters cover a vast range of topics, making the book a veritable treasure trove of historical and theological scholarship, meticulously researched and persuasively presented. The copious use of subheadings makes the book very accessible and allows the reader to dip into it at different places within a chapter. . . . The author convincingly demonstrates that for Martin Luther the Word of God endures forever. I recommend this book highly, particularly to pastors, teachers, and students of theology."

Jeffrey Silcock,

Lutheran Quarterly

"[An] impressive new study . . . of how Luther and his Wittenberg team understood the Holy Scriptures and preaching."

John T. Pless,


"Throughout this book Kolb demonstrates his familiarly with the primary sources. . . . In themselves the footnotes are worth the purchase price of Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God. Even more impressive are the references to archival materials that do not exist in English. . . . This is not a quick read. By that I don't mean it is difficult; rather there is so much information to be processed that one is frequently required to stop and consider what has just been said. Students of the Reformation, teachers, and pastors will all benefit from the work of Robert Kolb. Individual chapters would be valuable for group study. This is not a book to read once. This is a volume that deserves a place on your bookshelf for frequent reference."

James F. Korthals,

Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly

"Kolb is the American master of all things Lutheran in the 16th century, the unofficial 'dean' of Luther studies. In this volume he sets forth a comprehensive look at the biblical exegesis of Luther, his Wittenberg colleagues, and their 16th-century heirs, leading up to the 1580 Book of Concord. . . . What he accomplished is astounding. The hope is that future generations will search out the buried treasures of Lutheran exegesis in the 16th century, for which Kolb has given us an excellent map."

Benjamin T. G. Mayes,

Concordia Theological Quarterly

"A detailed introduction to the Wittenberg school of exegesis. . . . One of the more beneficial aspects of this introduction is the way that Kolb repeatedly points readers in the direction of new avenues for research. . . . There is no other way to describe Robert Kolb's Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God than as a tour de force in Reformation scholarship. We can only hope that the summons that Kolb has issued to future researchers in this volume will be heeded, for Kolb has shown us that this exciting area of historical study is by no means exhausted."

Cedric Parsels,

Calvin Theological Journal

"Besides the vast overview of how Luther, along with his colleagues and students, received and transmitted God's word with a renewed understanding of God and man, Martin Luther and the Enduring Word of God synthesizes years of Reformation research and opens the way for future scholarship. Multiple primary sources, such as the Luther Bible and Flacius's Clavis, are summarized and so entice interested students into further study. Past and present scholars are utilized by also critiqued where necessary."

Nathaniel S. Jensen,


"Kolb explores the famous reformer's use of biblical narrative and in the process sheds new light on both Luther studies and modern narrative theology. . . . Throughout his analysis, Kolb demonstrates how a better understanding of Luther's use of biblical stories to unfold the Bible's metanarrative sheds fresh light on the reformer's theology, hermeneutics, and spirituality. . . . Kolb richly demonstrates how Luther enthusiastically used these biblical stories as an ideal means of imprinting the life of faith in the hearts and minds of his audience. . . . Kolb skillfully weaves the thought of modern narrative theologians into his discussion as well. . . . The book is an engaging and valuable study of Luther's thought and historical context. It should appeal to historians, theologians, hermeneutical scholars, and preachers seeking to use biblical narrative as a means to cultivate spirituality in their hearers."

Seth D. Osborne,

Books at a Glance

"[Wengert] digs deep into the life and the roles of Luther and the entire Wittenberg School and their view of how the Gospel is proclaimed. . . . Kolb does not completely ignore a detailed biographical approach to the life of Luther but instead he expands it to those whom Luther directly affected, which is a welcomed relief to a saturated market on biographies on Martin Luther. . . . [Kolb] skillfully expounds upon [his] thesis by demonstrating how Luther's view of Sola Scriptura not only impacted his life but the lives of all the people whom he influenced."

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