The hammer swung, hitting the nail with a mighty ring. It was October 31, 1517. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses now adorned the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This document, written in Latin, served as an invitation for an academic disputation, a common occurrence amongst scholars. In it, Luther addressed his concerns over the selling of “indulgences,” through which people believed they could pay money for their sins to be forgiven. He believed only God could recognize true penitence.
Luther’s assertions caused an uproar. Certain theologians felt their authority was being attacked. To clarify that he wasn’t denouncing anyone, Luther wrote, also in Latin, Explanations of the Disputation Concerning the Value of Indulgences, presenting a clearer view of his personal stance on indulgences, sacraments, faith, and justification.
As the situation snowballed, Luther grew increasingly fearful for his safety. The Grand Commissioner of Indulgences called for Luther to be burned for heresy. In an attempt to placate his opponents, Luther wrote, Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, which purposefully avoided challenging anyone’s authority. This time, he wrote in German, the language of his country. It was reprinted twenty times.
Sixty-two years had passed since Gutenberg invented the printing press. His first publication was the Latin Bible. However, with the exception of academics and theologians, Latin had been a dead language for nearly seven hundred years. Laymen spoke only the language of their country, yet church services and the Bible were both in Latin. When Luther published Sermon on Indulgences and Grace in German, an irreversible wave set in motion.
The Reformation had been sparked.
Luther, Tyndale, Zwingli, Calvin, and others played a huge role in translating the Bible into the languages of the people. Thanks to this, the growing popularity of the printing press, and a rapidly-increasing literacy rate, people were now gaining access to God’s Word in their own vernacular. Christianity exploded across Europe.
Romans 10:14, 17 says, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? …So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”
God calls each of us to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” (Matthew 28:19). What can you do to follow the example these men set and put the Bible into the hands of those who don’t yet believe? Post your ideas in the comments below.
Family Radio Staff