Despite the vast number of studies concerning the life and teaching of Martin Luther, scholars have not previously considered the ways in wich his contemporaries and successors used his influence in the German Reformation. Robert Kolb suggests here three categories to describe how Luther's disciples used his influence and adapted it to the needs of the church in their respective ages: prophet, teacher and hero. Prophet: During his own lifetime and immediately thereafter, Luther was often identified with the biblical prophets as having a unique authority from God to challenge the place of the papacy. Teacher: As internal conflicts and doctrines increasingly came to the fore, Luther was seen as the authoritative interpreter of Scripture whose writings could be cited as the definitive proofs on any disputed points. Hero: By the end of the 16th century, much less emphasis was placed on Luther as a distinctive and authoritative prophet/teacher, and he was more often revered as the hero of the national church whose courage was celebrated in art and on stage.
Robert Kolb (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Madison) is Missions Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He is the author of numerous books and essays and served as the co-editor of The Sixteenth Century Journal from 1994 to 1997.