October 31st is one of my favorite days of the year! The reason I take joy in it is not because I love visiting haunted houses, corn mazes or costume parties.
When I see a reference to the evil and horror that our culture celebrates on that day, I have to admit—it does draw me in. But not for the reasons one might expect. I do not relish the “fear of death,” or the “bondage” that accompanies it (Heb. 2:15).
Rather, such sights of horror serve to remind me that the significance of October 31st was transformed more than 500 years ago, in 1517, in a little eastern German city called Wittenberg. Monk, professor and priest Dr. Martin Luther did not post his 95 theses for the masses, but for those elite who would be visiting the Castle Church on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, to view Elector Frederick’s relic collection. Soon enough, the theses were translated into German, and Luther had a new career—of which he had never dreamt—as a Reformer. His posting changed his own life—and the date of October 31st—forever, and gave rise to the evangelical movement which continues down to our time.
There is certainly lots to learn about October 31st! But why, specifically, do I love it? Here are three reasons that I would list.
"The Reformation didn’t 'really say' there were five solas. ...Earlier Lutheran attempts at marketing only offered three: Scripture alone, grace alone, and faith alone. ...When Philip Schaff wrote his 1845 book The Principle of Protestantism, he only had two." - Desiring God
As we continue to follow the events of the Reformation, 500 years later, we would be remiss if we failed to recall that half of a millennium has now passed since the dawn of the modern era of Bible translation. It began officially this month in 1522 with the release of the September Testament—the New Testament translated by Dr. Martin Luther into a language that he helped to form in Germany.
A placard at the Lutherhaus in Eisenach, Germany, captures the spirit of this endeavor: “Luther wanted the Bible to be understood. Everyone was supposed to be able to read God’s word on their own.”1
The publication launched on Sept. 21, 1522,2 allowing Luther almost seven months to settle back into his responsibilities as pastor and professor in Wittenberg, following his return from exile in the Wartburg Castle. I described the background, process and impact of this translation work in the castle in previous articles.3 However, I feel compelled to observe the anniversary of its publication, especially as we approach another Reformation Day, and our hearts are drawn once again to the significance of Sola Scriptura.
In the outside world, Luther’s life hung in the balance. But hidden safely within his mighty fortress high above Eisenach, he undertook a task so enormous that the results continue to reverberate down to our time.
Read the series.
Those who love holding a Bible in their hands—which they can read in their own language—should be aware of and grateful for the monumental importance of Dr. Martin Luther’s 10-month stay at the Wartburg Castle in 1521 and 1522.
It was during this time that Luther first translated the New Testament into German—in just 11 weeks! In so doing, he literally began the modern era of Bible translation.
In the providence of God, Luther was used to launch the Reformation in the wake of two events of inestimable significance. The first was Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, with movable type, in 1450, in Mainz, Germany. The second was the work of a courageous Dutch priest, Desiderius Erasmus, who first published the Novum Instrumentum in 1516, in Basel, Switzerland.
Erasmus compiled the Greek text of the New Testament, using the limited resources available to him, and also provided an original translation of the New Testament into Latin.
We know that Luther probed Erasmus’ text enthusiastically, and had access to it inside the Wartburg.
Erwin Lutzer states of Luther’s time there:
Read the series.
Why should we praise God—or, for that matter, even care—that Dr. Martin Luther has triumphantly “driven the devil away with ink”?1
For the benefit of those who do not follow this column regularly, let me back up and open with a brief word of explanation. Since beginning to write in this format in 2020, I have been producing an ongoing series, in which I follow the events of the Reformation throughout its 500th anniversary. The big event, of course, occurred on Oct. 31, 1517. Its anniversary took place before I began this column, but was just a month after my wife and I were privileged to be on a life-changing Reformation tour of Germany, including a stop at the Castle Church, where Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door. There will, of course, continue to be anniversaries of significant Reformation events, 500 years later, for the rest of my life.
I have been away from this topic for just about one year, and that was not by accident. This past year marked 500 years from Luther’s unplanned stay at the Wartburg Castle. He was there from May 4, 1521, to Feb. 29, 1522.2 Although we are late in commemorating his departure, the next six months were quiet for Luther, so I will attempt to catch up and summarize this entire period according to some vitally important themes.
"They are particularly significant today because even professing evangelicals, to say nothing of the culture around us, are being tempted to abandon the gospel. Therefore, the church must recognize the dire need of not only defending the five solas but also celebrating them." - Ligonier