“He Has Given His Victory to Us”: Luther on the Resurrection and Justification

Today we’re back with more from Luther on Galatians. The following excerpt comes from this comments on Galatians 1:1 and Paul’s apostolic greeting “through God the Father, who raised [Christ] from the dead.”

According to Luther, this was already a revelation of Paul’s purpose in the letter: the proclamation of the passive righteousness of faith and gracious justification through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

How so? Because in the resurrection, Christ triumphed over the unholy trinity of sin, death, and the Devil, and it is that very victory he gives to us by faith.

In this way, the passage is a good reminder that it is rather silly to get hung up about various “models” of the atonement, as though one must pick one to the exclusion or diminishment of others. The “Christus Victor” model of the atonement, for instance, stands in no tension whatsoever with the penal substitutionary model, imputative justification, and so on. The key is to remember that in Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Christ is our victor against sin; Christ is our victor against death; Christ is our victor against the Devil. He can only become our victor against anyone of these three by becoming our victor against all of these three. Just as in the doctrine of God, we may divide up his attributes mentally even though God remains one thing, so here we may think of different aspects of “Christ for us,” but there is only one Christ and one work of Christ. And the only way we come to participate in it–or, rather, in him–is through faith.

In this way, even this clause in the greeting, which one might mistakenly skim over as a throwaway offhanded remark, is essentially linked to the rest of the letter. As Luther makes clear in the second paragraph, Paul does not invoke the God of creation here, but the God of redemption. They are of course the same God, but it is the latter on which Paul wants to focus. He wants to proclaim, that is, the gospel, not the law.

Et per Deum patrem qui suscitavit eum a mortuis.


Sic in prima statim voce erumpit ei tota causa, de qua in hac epistola agit. Agit autem de resurrectione Christi qui propter nostram iustitiam resurrexit, Rom. 4. Sua ergo victoria est victoria legis, peccati, carnis nostrae, mundi, Diaboli, mortis, inferni et omnium malorum, et hanc victoriam suam nobis donavit. Licet igitur hi tyranni et hostes nostri accusent et terreant nos, tamen in desperationem adigere et condemnare nos non possunt. Christus enim resuscitatus ex mortuis, victor eorum, est nostra iustitia. Deo igitur gratia, qui dedit nobis victoriam per dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Amen.

Attende autem, quam diserte loquatur Paulus. Non dicit: Per Deum qui creavit coelum et terram, qui est dominus angelorum, qui iussit Abraham egredi e terra sua, qui misit Mosen ad Pharaonem, qui eduxit Israel ex Aegypto, ut pseudo Apostoli faciebant, qui iactabant Deum patrum suorum, creantem et operantem omnia, facientem mirabilia in illo populo. Sed aliud erat Paulo in corde, nempe iustitia Christi, quam docebat et defendebat, ut Christi Apostolus. Ideo loquitur verba quae faciunt ad hanc suam causam, dicens: “Ego sum Apostolus, neque ab hominibus, neque per hominem, sed per Iesum Christum et Deum patrem qui suscitavit eum ex mortuis.” Vides itaque, quanto ardore et spiritu accensus feratur in hac causa quam vult plantare et tueri contra totum regnum inferorum, contra omnes potentes et sapientes totius mundi, contra Diabolum et eius Apostolos.

Martin Luther, Commentarius in Epistolam ad Galatas, ad 1:1 (WA 40.1, 64-5)

“And through God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”


Thus, with the first word the whole purpose his letter deals with bursts forth right away: he deals with the resurrection of Christ, who rose again for our righteousness (Romans 4). His victory, therefore, is the victory over the law, sin, our flesh, the world, the Devil, death, hell, and all evils–and he has given this victory of his to us. Therefore, although these tyrants and enemies of ours accuse and terrify us, yet they cannot drive us to despair and condemn us. For Christ, who has been raised from the dead as their victor, is our righteousness. Therefore, thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

But pay attention to how clearly Paul speaks. He does not say, “Through God, who created heaven and earth, who is the Lord of angels, who commanded Abraham to go out from his own country, who sent Moses to Pharaoh, who led Israel out of Egypt,” as the pseudoapostles imagine, who boasted of the God of their fathers, creating and working all things, performing miracles among that people. But Paul had another thing in his heart, namely, the righteousness of Christ, which he was teaching and defending as an apostle of Christ. For that reason, he speaks words that are relevant to this purpose of his, saying: “I am an apostle, neither from men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” You see, then, with how great a fire and spirit he burns as he is carried along in the purpose he wants to fix in place and guard against all the reign of hell, against all the powerful and wise of this world, against the Devil and his apostles.

The translation is my own.


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