The 95 Theses, Part 1

Last time, we looked at the introduction and the first two of the Ninety-Five Theses.
Now let’s look at a few more of the Ninety-Five Theses.

Thesis number 21 says, “Therefore, those preachers of indulgences are in error when they say that by the pope’s indulgences a man is freed from every penalty and is saved.” This shows Luther going right for the heart of the issue. He knew that the indulgence sales were unprecedented and against church law. They were flat-out wrong. And he was calling the church and the indulgence preachers on it. In thesis 27, Luther says, “They preach man-made doctrines that say so soon as the coin jingles into the moneybox the soul flies out or purgatory.” First, Luther calls this a man-made doctrine. It’s not a biblical doctrine. But he also reveals here the marketing jingle that was part of the practice of selling indulgences. In the German, it rhymes; it’s klingt and springt. When a coin clinks in the indulgence box, a soul from purgatory springs. Luther says there’s no biblical warrant for this teaching. In fact, he says in thesis 28, “It is certain that when the coin jingles into the moneybox greed and avarice can be increased, but the result of the intercession of the church is in the power of God alone.” You cannot buy salvation, Luther said, and it certainly doesn’t come automatically by throwing a coin into a moneybox.

In thesis 50, Luther says, “Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that St. Peter’s church should go to ashes than that it should be built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.” This is showing what was behind the indulgence sales: the need to refill the papal treasuries that were being exhausted in the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Luther pointed out that the sales were not for any pious purpose, not to advance any biblical purpose; they were designed simply to fill the church and to build monuments not to God but to men. He goes on in thesis 51, “Christians are to be taught that it would be the pope’s wish as it is his duty to give of his own money to many of those from whom certain hawkers of pardons could cajole money.” That is a reference to Johann Tetzel, the Dominican friar who, as Luther saw it, was manipulating people into giving money to this indulgence sale. In thesis 53, Luther says, “The assurance of salvation by letters of pardon is vain, even though the indulgence commissary or the pope himself were to stake his soul upon it.” Why is it in vain? Because there is simply no biblical warrant for it.

In thesis 56, Luther says, “The treasures of the church, out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.” And that’s exactly why Luther wrote the Ninety-Five Theses: because the truth was not known among the people and the truth was not being taught. And that’s what Martin Luther did when he nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the church door; he was being a true teacher.

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The 95 Theses, Part 2
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