by Gabriel Porras

When we think about Luther we think about the Reformation of the XVI century in Germany, his famous ninety-five theses, his courage to stand up to the bishops of Rome and the chiasma that resulted from his protest. But Luther’s reformation has much more to do with the rights we proudly defend and are part of our society. Many see Luther as a revolutionist and believe that he went too far in his quest to bring the Bible to the people.  In fact, some years ago Lutherans and Catholics celebrated the end of the “sin of separation,” and the concept they have is that this should have never happened.
Nevertheless, this world and the education of today should thank Dr. Martin Luther and the Reformation for the legacies they left us. Luther’s Reformation and the teaching of the Bible brought about a totally new area of Education for everyone, and the Christian education brought prosperity to Germany.

Many parts of the world enjoy today the right to education, equality and respect. These are concepts and rights that we take for granted in the time we live in, but when we look back 500 years ago, this was not the case.

The education in the world of Martin Luther was only for the highest classes of societies or for the few chosen by the church to become clerics. The middle- and lower- class people were mostly illiterate, unable to read and write and could therefore be manipulated by the cleric and elite.People couldn’t and shouldn’t learn.  Nobility and education went hand-in-hand and it was inconceivable to think that the masses should ever be able to learn or be given the opportunity to learn.

Why was Luther so interested in education

Luther was interested in education because his parents “bestowed great care upon the education and training of their children. …They endeavoured to instruct them in the knowledge of God and the practice of Christian virtues. … Their efforts were earnest and persevering to prepare their children for a life of piety and usefulness. With their firmness and strength of character they
sometimes exercised too great severity; but the reformer himself, though conscious that in some respects they had erred, found in their discipline more to approve than to condemn.”
  Great Controversy, 1888, page 120.

Luther discovered in books, and especially in the Latin Bible he found in the University library, something he would never have been able to find unless he had studied and discovered it for himself.

By studying the Bible he received a deep conviction of his condition as a sinner and an earnest desire grew in him to be free from sin and to find peace with God. The further he studied, the more he discovered and his faith grew. He could never keep this knowledge for himself and he longed that people could open their eyes and see what others had tried to hide from them. The longer the people were kept illiterate the more they were going to believe lies and suffer under the pretext of piety.

When we speak about education we need to speak about Christian education since the highest education that exists, comes from above. God is the source of knowledge and wisdom and He is the best educator. God used different
didactic methods to teach God’s people the plan of salvation, as well as other resources to make them come to their senses and think about what they wanted for themselves and for their future.

Luther, a man used by God to bring the church back to the Bible, believed in Christian education because he defended
the Bible as the highest authority and considered that Christ and the teachings of God’s Word needed to be taught
in the highest levels of education centers. He believed that the universities would shape the future of the leaders of coming generations and that Christian leaders would be also affected by the secularity and unbelief of its teachings. That’s the reason why he advocated for Christian universities where he believed the truth could be taught.

But he was clear about from where reformation should begin and to where future generations needed to focus their attention. They needed to focus on the tender years of the youth and realize how important it was to lay a Christian foundation for them through which the standards and morals of the gospel could be shaped. This needed to be done from the elementary schools all the way to the universities, in fact it needed to start in their homes.

“Toward the end of Luther’s essay, we read his classic line on education, and his advice would be well heeded by parents today: But I would not advise anyone to send his son to a place where the Holy Scriptures do not come first. Every institution, where the Word of God is not taught
regularly, must fail. That is why we observe the kind of people who are now and will continue to be in the universities . . . I greatly fear that the universities are but wide-open gates leading to hell, as they are not diligent in training and impressing the Holy Scripture on the young students.”

The role of the Bible in education

Martin Luther believed that education was for everyone, since everyone was a child of God and deserved to be treated as such. The main goal of Martin Luther was to uplift Christ and to bring the healing of the Gospel to all classes of society. Therefore he began his titanic project of translating the Bible into the language of the people.  Because the only way that the people could read and understand it was if it was in their language and if they themselves were educated enough to read it.

He wanted to free Germany from the power of popery and wished that the people could educate themselves and see the privileges and blessing of true education coming from God’s Word, which would lead them to find morality and real piety.

”But a German Bible was of little use to an illiterate population. Therefore, Luther was committed to the idea of universal education. One of his first acts as a young reformer was to recommend that monasteries be turned into schools; one of his last was to set up a school in Eisleben, where he died in 1546. He constantly pressed secular rulers into opening new schools, and his followers strove to ensure that every parish had its own school.”

“The very idea of a literate labor class, reading and interpreting the Bible for itself, or making personal political judgments, represented a threat to Christendom and the established order.”

What the reformation brought to Germany and to this world was the light of knowledge to everyone alike. Education was necessary so that the people could read the Bible for themselves and not be dependent on the church for interpretation. The translation of the Bible in the common language changed everything.  It standardized the written German language and its development. The role and influence of the Bible as the foundation of education and society was great and the maintaining traits in today’s culture, language and people cannot be described.

Women and education

But Luther went even further in the reform of education. The reformation gave women in society an opportunity to educate themselves. It was Luther who preached for the first time the importance of education for women. As a result, the amount of Protestant girls who attended schools in comparison to Catholic girls was nine to one.

The education of women for Luther meant that families would have the Bible at home, and they could read it to their children. In that way, Christian standards would shape the world in the coming years.

He believed that education did not start in schools or universities but at homes. It was out of this Christian reformation that a new concept in education was born, pietas litterata: literacy to promote piety.  If the youth could learn the principles of the Bible, they would make right choices in life and guard themselves from immorality and many vices.

At the same time, this education would widen their understanding and judgment and they would live in peace and love with each other following God’s commandments.

The way in which way the Bible shaped society and economics

Even though Luther’s motivation for education was primarily religious because he believed a higher education to be of great importance for society, that wish produced a powerful movement that greatly influenced the concept and expansion of schooling.

Christian education meant for Germany progress, independence thinking (or maybe freedom of thought), and success. Illiteracy kept people in darkness, and they were not able to think for themselves or apply knowledge in every level of society.This meant that success was not of the country but of the elite.  Education of the masses meant progression and advancement.  ”In a study of 19th century Prussia, provocatively titled “Was Weber Wrong?,” they set out to prove that better education trumped the work ethic in breeding Protestant success.

In their own words: ‘Protestant economies prospered because instruction in reading the Bible generated the human capital crucial to economic prosperity.’”

In those Prussian statistics one can see that in more than 400 counties between 1816 and 1871 literacy was ten percent higher in protestant counties than in catholic ones. At the same time literate communities were quicker to accept Protestantism than Catholicism. In many cases it was because it was imposed by the government but in other cases the people were happy to find the truth in the Bible and expose the papacy’s lies and their abuses of the people.

Another very important point is that the economic progress of a country advance because of the study of the Bible. This didn’t only happen in Germany but in every other Protestant country where God’s principles were taken seriously in their teaching and practices.  Many of them could enjoy economic progress.

The importance of Christian education in our days

We are living in a time of relativism and unbelief, in which this generation prefers immorality and secularism over God’s standards and faith. The result is simple, we have failed to teach our children and young people the most important thing in life, a Christ-like character. The youth are being prepared to earn money and to build a career but have failed to become better persons in society. They have failed to learn what it takes to stand behind principles and ethics, to defend truth and honor, and above all, gain salvation for their own souls.

Both Reformation and education are not static and are continually developing as we come closer to God. True education helps us to be more considerate and loving.  It makes us think about the people around us. It helps us restore value in human beings where selfishness has taken it away. Only God can give us true wisdom and knowledge that restores and heals. The more we study God’s Word and follow it, the more we will realize that Christ’ object lessons and methods are the best ever used in the history of this world, and that even the current methods in education are being drawn from the same Source of wisdom.

One of my favorite quotes from Ellen White is found in the book Education. It says: “The greatest want of the world is the want of men,—men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.Education, 57 (1903)

I wish we could all be those men and women of honor, that we could be faithful to God’s principles and used by God to bring about a change in this society. Let’s make a difference wherever we are. Let’s dare to speak about the truth and glorify God with our good actions, actions coming from true faith and relationship with God.

We need to take those principles of Luther’s education and apply them in our lives. We need to teach true education to our children and impart to them what a Christ-like character is and how it is formed. We need to realize that this is the greatest honor we could have as human beings, to be faithful to God, true to ourselves and firm in this society we live in.

May the Lord help us to be the educators this world so desperately needs, so that we can be a light in this world today.


by Gabriel Porras
Missionary | Netherlands

See Education Website

Download Navigator