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Letter from the Editor: Learning About Luther's Family Life

Dear soul-tenders and conscience-menders,

I recently read an article titled “Four Lies That Cause Pastors to Neglect Their Families.”

The same week I found another article advising pastors, “Prioritize family over ministry. You’ll find it to be the Best. Decision. Ever.”

But the next week I read something far more helpful than those articles: Martin Luther’s 1522 treatise, The Estate of Marriage. Although written while Luther had three years of bachelorhood left, his words revitalized me as a husband and dad. For example, on Proverbs 18:22 (“He who finds a wife finds what is good”), he said,

"Many have wives, but few find wives. Why? They are blind; they fail to see that their life and conduct with their wives is the work of God and pleasing in his sight." (LW 45:38)

And on Christian parenting, he wrote,

"The greatest good in married life . . . is that God grants offspring and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve him. In all the world this is the noblest and most precious work, because to God there can be nothing dearer than the salvation of souls." (LW 45:46)

As far as Luther’s post-bachelor life, we know relatively little. Some letters to Katie and the children. A handful of family conversations in Table Talk. However, please let me share two images that recently impressed me from the Luther family’s home life.

Imagine the man who wrote the Small Catechism every evening discussing and praying over the three chief parts with his five-year-old son and two-year-old daughter (LW 54:9). A beautiful, tender scene. He wrote in the Catechism, “As the head of a family should teach it,” and he put that into practice on his own lap in the Black Cloister.

Or imagine Martin and Katie spending the whole afternoon fishing together:

"They caught pike, loach, trout, blacktail, carp. Some of them we ate at the table with great delight and thanksgiving. The doctor said, 'Katy, you are more pleased over these few fish than many a nobleman when he fishes in several large ponds and catches thousands of fish. Alas, greed and ambition prevent us from enjoying things.'" (LW 54:199)

Notice the “love languages” of quality time and acts of service, as Luther helped Katie get food for that night’s supper. Loving words too, as Luther paid attention to his wife’s godly gratitude for her daily bread and praised her in front of all those at the table.

I read up on these things because I’d been asked to give a one-hour presentation on “Luther’s Family Life” a few Saturdays ago. I welcome you to watch my presentation, if you want, on NPH’s YouTube channel: The other three presentations from NPH’s 500 Minutes With Luther are there too:

The World of Luther and the Reformation” by Prof. Daniel M. DeutschlanderReformation-500

Luther’s Hymns” by Editors Michael Schultz and Jeremy Bakken

Luther, the Man and the Reformer” by Prof. James Korthals

You might also consider sharing these videos with your congregation members. I think they would be edified.

For further insight into Luther's family and other aspects of his life, I encourage you read Erwin R. Scharf's Martin Luther: Reformer in the Making.

Thank our gracious Lord for not only restoring the gospel to its place through the testimony of Martin Luther, but also restoring the pastor’s family to its happy, faith-filled place. God bless you and your family and your Reformation celebration!

Your servant,
Pastor Christopher S. “Topher” Doerr
Broader Reach Editor, Northwestern Publishing House