Luther's Rules for How to Become a Theologian
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany. He died February 18, 1546—that’s 450 years ago next month. In those years he preached over 3000 sermons and wrote 50,000 pages. From his Bible professorship at the University of Wittenberg he played the decisive human role in creating the Reformation.
He gives profound counsel to us about getting the most from the Bible. Don’t be put off by the word theology. What he has in mind is good solid reading and thinking about what God says. It is for everybody:
"I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself…The method of which I am speaking is the one which the holy king David teaches in Psalm 119…Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout the psalm and run thus: Oratio, meditatio, tentatio” (prayer, meditation, trial)."
"You should completely despair of your own sense and reason, for by these you will not attain the goal…Rather kneel down in your private little room and with sincere humility and earnestness pray God through his dear Son, graciously to grant you his Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide you and give you understanding. As you see, David constantly prays in the psalm…”
Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law. 27 Make me understand the way of Thy precepts, teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes. 34 Give me understanding, that I may observe Thy law. 35 Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Incline my heart to Thy testimonies, and not to dishonest gain. 37 Revive me in Thy ways.
“He uses many more words of this nature, although he knew the text of Moses well and that of other books besides and heard and read them daily. Yet he desires to have the real Master of Scripture in order by all means to make sure that he does not plunge into it with his reason and become his own master.”
“Secondly, you should meditate. This means that not only in your heart but also externally you should constantly handle and compare, read and reread the Word as preached and the very words as written in Scripture, diligently noting and meditating on what the Holy Spirit means…Therefore, you observe how in this psalm David always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night and constantly—but about nothing else than God’s Word and Commandments. For God wants to give you his Spirit only through the external Word.”
Psalm 119:11 Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee. 15 I will meditate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways. 48 I shall lift up my hands to Thy commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on Thy statutes. 24 Thy testimonies also are my delight; they are my counselors. 47 I shall delight in Thy commandments, which I love. 93 I will never forget Thy precepts. 97 O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.
“Thirdly, there is the tentatio, testing (Anfechtung). This is the touchstone. It teaches you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme. This is why you observe that in the psalm indicated David so often complains of all sorts of enemies…For as soon as God’s Word becomes known through you, the devil will afflict you, will make a real [theologian] of you.”
Psalm 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word. 68 Thou art good and doest good; teach me Thy statutes. 71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes.
Still learning to read the Word of God,
Quotes from Ewald M. Plass, compiler, What Luther Says: An Anthology, (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1959), v.3, pp. 1359f.