Friday, February 10, 2012

Martin Luther: "the name 'Trinity' is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man"

Did the title of this post get your attention?

Lest my detractors hurl accusations of 'quoting out of context', and/or 'inaccuracy' in my direction, I want to make it quite clear from the start that Luther WAS NOT questioning the 'doctrine of the Trinity'; rather, he was advancing the notion that it is better to stick with Scriptural terminology, and refrain from non-Scriptural language. The following is the quote from the thread title in greater context:


1. Today we celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity, to which we must briefly allude, so that we may not celebrate it in vain. It is indeed true that the name "Trinity" is nowhere to be found in the Holy Scriptures, but has been conceived and invented by man. For this reason it sounds somewhat cold and we had better speak of "God" than of the "Trinity."

2. This word signifies that there are three persons in God. It is a heavenly mystery which the world cannot understand. I have often told you that this, as well as every other article of faith, must not be based upon reason or comparisons, but must be understood and established by means of passages from the Scriptures, for God has the only perfect knowledge and knows how to speak concerning himself.

3. The great universities have invented manifold distinctions, dreams and fictions by means of which they would explain the Holy Trinity, and have made fools of themselves. We shall therefore quote only passages from the Scriptures in order to determine and establish the divinity of Christ. (Martin Luther, "Sunday After Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday", in Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 3, edited and translated by John Nicholas Lenker, Baker Book House reprint (n.d.) of The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 1907 edition, vol. 12, pp. 406-407 - bold emphasis mine.)

[NOTE: the 1907 edition is available online for free reading and/or download: LINK; the page numbers in both editions are the same.*]

Immediately following the above selection, Luther begins to list and discuss "passages from the Scriptures", used "to determine and establish the divinity of Christ." I think most will agree that some are considerably 'stronger' than others in his attempt to accomplish the task set forth. He finishes Part I of the sermon with:

Therefore, we cling to the Scriptures, those passages which testify of the Trinity of God, and we say: I know very well that in God there are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; but how they can be one I do not know, neither should I know it. This may suffice for the first part. (Ibid. pp. 410, 411 - bold emphasis mine.)

Some very interesting 'honesty' from the pen of the 'good' Doctor...

Grace and peace,


*On page 405, the editor provides an introduction to Luther's above mentioned sermon based on John 3:1-5:

This sermon, which is not found in edition c, appeared in two pamphlet editions in 1522 and 1523. The title of the first was, ''A sermon of Dr. Martin Luther, Preached on the Day of the Holy Trinity on the Gospel, John 3. Wittenberg (1522)." German text: Erlangen Edition, 12, 407; Walch Edition, II, 1547; St. Louis Walch, 11, 1146.

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