The understanding and use of allegory in the lectures on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians by Doctor Martin Luther

Timothy H Maschke, Marquette University


Did Luther give up allegory or not, as evidenced in his lectures on Galatians? Because the term "allegory" is used in Scripture only in Galatians and because Luther himself stated that this epistle was significant for him, Luther's discussions of this epistle proved to be a reasonable resource to answer this question. Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century many Luther-scholars have followed Gerhard Ebeling's thesis, repeated most recently in the third edition of Evangelische Evangelienauslegung (Tubingen, 1991), that Luther gave up the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture for a purely literal approach. Yet, in Luther's later biblical studies, allegory is still utilized, although within a more constrained framework. Analysis and alternatives to Ebeling's hypothesis are suggested in Chapter One, which proposes that Luther did not reject allegory but developed a deeper understanding of allegory from Scripture itself. Chapter Two reviews the understanding and use of allegory in the Christian Church, especially in the West. Research into the medieval (Latin) sources available for Luther's biblical study helped determine that he did not break with his past and provides evidence of Luther's continuity with the Middle Ages. This is important as one approaches Luther, following Oberman and Hagen, as a product of the medieval monastery and not merely of the renaissance classroom. In Chapter Three, Luther's study of Galatians over a period of twenty years is analyzed in seven distinct works (in WA 2, 40, 57, and 59): the lectures of 1516-17, his commentary of 1519, and its abridgment of 1523 and German translation of 1525; Luther's second lecture series in 1531, a commentary of 1535 and its revision of 1538. Each work is placed into its historical context with an in-depth investigation of Luther's use of allegory. The final summary chapter concludes that indeed Luther did not give up allegory. Rather Luther approached the Scriptures with a strong faith commitment, using allegory within a biblical and Pauline pattern as illustration for theological arguments of the Gospel.

Recommended Citation

Timothy H Maschke, "The understanding and use of allegory in the lectures on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians by Doctor Martin Luther" (January 1, 1993). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9325686.