Martin Luther

I see Martin Luther as one of the most influential men in modern human history. Why so?

Martin Luther is known as the protestant reformer who, with his 95 theses, challenged the teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. But what made an even bigger impact on human history was his translation of the Bible into the vernacular at a time when only clerics had access to the Bible and were using it in the Latin language. The translation not only had an impact on the church and culture of his day, but it also changed the way people were thinking:

The fact that until that time the Bible was only read by clerics who understood Latin guaranteed that people always brought their religious questions to the priest who was able to answer. This way the Catholic Church was able to control the beliefs and the way of thinking of its followers. If someone was thinking outside the line of church doctrine, it was easy for the priest to correct him and bring him back “in line,” since only the priest could study the scriptures that were the legitimate foundation of faith. People who grew up in a society like this were not trained to think for themselves. Each time they had a question in a religious matter somebody else came with the answer for them, e.g. did their thinking for them. Then since they were used to dealing with religious questions this way, it was very likely that they followed this pattern in other areas of life as well. That means that the majority of the people in those days conformed their thinking to the standard values and beliefs of the rest of society. It is not hard to imagine that this kind of society does not provide fertile ground to bring forth invention and creativity. On the contrary, a society where the majority of people think this way will not develop much; it just maintains the status quo.

When Martin Luther translated the Bible into the vernacular he made it possible for non-clerical people, for laymen, to study God’s word. Now they could go with their religious questions directly to the Bible and find out for themselves what God says on this or that topic. They no longer needed the priest to explain any particular issue to them. They could figure it out on their own. Furthermore, they could double-check to see if what the priest was saying was really written in God’s word. This new way of dealing with religious questions fostered a different attitude in other areas of life as well – where one does the thinking about different questions or problems in life for oneself and does not just leave it to others who already know the answer. A society where people are trained to think for themselves brings forth more inventors, discoverers, entrepreneurs and others who are willing to go new ways, take risks and bring the development of society forward.

If we have a look at the developmental achievements accomplished by different civilizations during the course of human history, they are all relatively small compared with those that took place after the industrial revolution. The root of those enormous changes was laid through the Bible translation of Martin Luther when a much broader range of people in the society started to find answers and to think for themselves. This way of thinking did not stop at borders between countries, nor was related to whether someone personally believed in God or not. Yet predominately protestant countries produced more people with this attitude than predominately catholic countries or countries of other religions where the people’s way of thinking tended, or still tends, to be controlled by clerics. It is no surprise that the majority of the most developed countries nowadays is predominately protestant, which illustrates the enormous influence Martin Luther has had throughout modern history.