Luther: The Apostolic Way Of Reading Scripture

Thus Paul treats this topic in a truly apostolic way, because no sophist or legalist or Jew or fanatic or anyone else speaks this way. Who would dare quote this passage from Moses, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,” and apply it to Christ Himself? By the same principle by which Paul applied this sentence, “Cursed be everyone, etc.,” to Christ, we can apply not only all of Deut. 27 but all collected curses of the Mosaic Law to Christ. For just as Christ for His own Person is innocent of this general Law, so He is of all others. And just as for us He violated this general Law and was hanged on the tree as a criminal, a blasphemer, a parricide, and a traitor, so He violated all other laws as well. For all the curses of the Law were gathered together in Him, and therefore He bore and sustained them in His own body for us. Consequently, He was not only accursed; but He became a curse for us. This is really the apostolic way to interpret the Scriptures. For without the Holy Spirit a man cannot speak this way; that is, he cannot include the entire Law in one word and gather it all at once in Christ, and, on the other hand, include all the promises of Scripture and say that these are fulfilled in Christ once and for all. Therefore this argument is apostolic and very powerful, based as it is, not on one passage in the Law but on all the laws; and Paul relies heavily on it.

Martin Luther | Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 289.


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Posted by Tony Phelps | Tuesday, November 7, 2023 | Categorized HeidelQuotes, Martin Luther, Redemption | Tagged Bookmark the permalink.

About Tony Phelps

Tony grew up in Rhode Island. He was educated at BA (University of Rhode Island) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He worked in the insurance industry for ten years. He planted a PCA church in Wakefield, RI where he served for eleven years. In 2015–18 he pastored Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Colorado Springs. He is currently pastor of Living Hope (OPC). Tony is married to Donna and together they have three children. Meet all the Heidelberg contributors»


  1. This wonderful passage from Luther is most clearly understood in the context of covenant, with its blessings and cursings. God made a covenant with Adam, as the representative of mankind, that if he obeyed God’s command, he would enjoy an eternal life with many blessings. After Adam broke this covenant, God graciously promised that He would send one who would become the representative of those who believe a new promise. This one would obey, as their representative, and suffer the death curse they deserved for their disobedience. God graciously confirmed this by cutting a covenant with Abraham, where God alone walked through the animal pieces, promising that God, himself, would be the one to obey to provide the blessings and suffer the consequences of death which the covenant cursings for disobedience required. That God had fulfilled this covenant with Abraham, in Christ, was the message of the Apostles. Christ obeyed and suffered the curses, by being the cursed one hanging on a tree. This passage becomes prophetic and makes Christ’s crucifixion vital, as a sign proving the fulfillment of God’s covenant curses. Calvin later develops the understanding of covenant as the framework for a clear understanding of how Scripture fits together, and how Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises.

    • Indeed! Thanks for your thoughtful response, Angela. I try to encourage Reformed folks to read Luther’s frequent negative use of the word “Law” with this gloss, i.e., the Law as a “covenant of works.” This apostolic reading of the curses of the Mosaic law noted by Luther is best understood as the Law of Moses in its typological and pedagogical function – increasing our sin to magnify our need for Christ to bear our curse and impute to us His righteousness. We are all covenant-of-works-breakers who need the curse-bearing and covenant-keeping righteousness of our Redeemer and Mediator, Jesus Christ.

    • That is a great point. That the function of the Mosaic law, in its pedagogical and typical function, shows us the enormity of our guilt and the impossibility of obeying all of its strict precepts. Our miserable sentence for disobedience, drives us to look to Christ as the curse bearer and covenant keeper, promised to Abraham and his children who believe the promise.

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