Reflecting on Luther’s Lectures on Genesis

Written by Zachary M. Bowden  |
Monday, May 13, 2024

God’s word is true, Genesis reminds us. Eating the forbidden tree does bring death. Deceived into disbelief by the serpent, Adam and Eve gave birth to the sad biblical refrain, “And he died.” But God doesn’t leave this man and woman abandoned. He gives them a promise to hold, a confidence to sustain, that just as God made all things so shall he deliver them. In a word, God gives his people hope.

I teach church history as part of my profession. In doing so, I’ve discovered it to be exactly what my teachers described—a wonderful means of keeping the faith. Of the figures from our past who have helped me, Martin Luther stands at the top of the list, as he continually points me away from myself and onto Christ and his word of promise.

Luther’s Lectures on Genesis[1], begun arguably in 1535, serve as a window into what Luther devoted his life to—teaching the Scriptures that provided no shortage of opportunities for faith. What follows is a brief reflection on Luther’s work and the work of God recorded in Genesis.

Hope in a Paradise Lost

The cursing of Genesis 3 is a devastating read. Not knowing the rest of the story, one could easily think all is lost. Especially considering what was lost. Eden. Paradise. Perfection. It was all so right, until it all went so very wrong. The serpent had done his work.

But his work isn’t the last word. Even in the midst of their sentencing, Adam and Eve aren’t without hope. That’s the remarkable thing we learn about God only three chapters into the Bible. God punishes this man and woman. Justifiably—sin has to pay its wages. Yet, as Martin Luther reminds us, God’s words are “fatherly” words. Yes, the wonderful gift of childbirth will now be painful. The relationship between husband and wife won’t be what it once was. Now the ground is cursed. Up come the thistles and thorns, and down goes man. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. Death has walked through the door sin opened.

But in this new paradise-lost world, Eve still has Adam, and Adam still has Eve. Humanity still has a future. The possibility of procreation remains, shameful and painful though it may be. There is still work to be done. There is still life for the living. In other words, there’s hope in the midst of judgment. After all, God doesn’t approach Adam and Eve like he does the serpent. No fatherly approach for the father of lies. There’s no kind questioning, no “where?” Or “who?” Or “why?” There’s only judgement and condemnation.

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