Luther on the Kinds of Righteousness (1)

I’ve posted previously about the section on Paul’s argumentum of Luther’s 1535 Galatians commentary. In this post and the one that follows, I’d like to go all the way back to the beginning of that section, where Luther describes Paul’s purpose in writing his letter to the Galatians as “establishing the teaching of faith, grace, [and] the remission of sins or Christian righteousness.” The main point of Galatians boils down to this nexus of issues.

But to get a clear sense of what “Christian righteousness” is, we have to distinguish it from other types of justice or righteousness, of which there are several. As Luther summarizes the matter here, there are three other types. We get those in the passage below. In the follow-up, we will see how Christian righteousness differs from all of them. Especially to be noted, perhaps, is the way in which ceremonial righteousness is handled.

Primum omnium dicendum est de argumentum, hoc est, de qua re agat Paulus in hac epistola. Est autem hoc argumentum: Paulus vult stabilire doctriam illam fidei, gratiae, remissionis peccatorum seu iustitiae Christianae, ut habeamus perfectam cognitionem et differentiam inter iustitiam Christianam et omnes alias iustitias. Est enim multiplex iustitia. Quaedam est politica quam Caesar, principes mundi, philosophi et iureconsulti tractant. Alia est ceremonialis quam docent traditiones humanae, ut traditiones papae et similes. Eam sine periculo tradunt patresfamilias et paedagogi, quia non tribuunt ei vim ad satisfaciendum pro peccatis, ad placandum deum et promerendam gratiam, sed tradunt ceremonias necessarias tantum ad disciplinam morum et certas observationes. Praeter has est alia quaedam iustitia legalis seu decalogi quam Moses docet. Hanc et nos docemus post doctrinam fidei.

Martin Luther, Commentarius in Epistolam ad Galatas, Argumentum (WA 40.1, 40)

First of all, I must speak about the purpose, that is, the matter with which Paul deals in this letter. The purpose, then, is this: Paul wishes to establish the teaching of faith, grace, [and] the remission of sins or Christian righteousness, in order that we may have perfect knowledge of the difference[1] between Christian righteousness and all other kinds of righteousness.[2]

For righteousness is manifold. One kind is political, which Caesar, the princes of the world, philosophers, and jurists treat of.

Another kind is ceremonial, which is taught by human traditions, such as the traditions of the pope and others of a similar type. Heads of households and tutors hand this kind of righteousness on without danger, since they do not attribute to it the power to make satisfaction for sins, to placate God, and to merit grace, but they rather hand on ceremonies that are necessary for the discipline of morals, as well as certain observances.

In addition to these is another kind of righteousness: legal righteousness or the righteousness of the Decalogue, which Moses teaches. We, too, teach this after the teaching of faith.

The translation is my own.


1 I take cognitionem et differentiam as a hendiadys.
2 Lit. “all other righteousnesses.”


Related Articles


Other Articles by

Join our Community
Subscribe to receive access to our members-only articles as well as 4 annual print publications.
Share This