1 - Bible

The sola scriptura principle gave rise to the explosion of vernacular Bibles published in many European languages during the first half of the sixteenth century . The essence of the faith was to be found in the words of Scripture rather than in the decrees and councils of the church. But the same sola scriptura principle also gave rise to hymnody. Towards the end of 1523, when Luther was actively looking for poets to. write hymns, he wrote to various people encouraging them to join him in the project. In a letter to Georg Spalatin he wrote:

Following the example of the prophets and fathers of the church, I intend to make vernacular psalms for the people, that is, spiritual songs so that the Word of God even by means of song may live among the people.Citation: 2Liturgy and Hymns, vol. 53 of Luther’s Works, ed. Ulrich S. Leupold (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 36.

Among the first hymns to be written during this period—the end of 1523 and the beginning of 1524—were a significant number of metrical psalms, that is, hymnic versions of the biblical psalms, among them Luther’s Austiefer Not (Psalm 130), Es wollt uns Gott genädig sein (Psalm 67), among others, and Agricola’s Frölich wollen wir Halleluija singen (Psalm 117). Many of them are found in Low German versions in the Magdeburg Enchiridion, together with other later metrical psalms, such as Luther’s Ein’ feste Burg (Psalm 46). The biblical text was put into hymnic form so that the people could sing—and at the same time learn—the substance of the teaching of Scripture.

Another approach was to include a treasury of biblical quotation and allusion within the substance of the text of a hymn. Again from the first period of Reformation hymn-writing, 1523–24, there were three hymns by Paul Speratus: Es ist das Heil, Hilft Gott, and In Gott gelaub ich. When they first appeared in print, first on broadsides and then in the so-called Achtliederbuch, published in Nuremberg in 1524, each of these three hymns had an appendix of Scripture proofs, where biblical chapter and paragraph of every line of every stanza was given in full. There could be no doubt that what was being sung was the Word of God in hymnic form. These appendixes of Scripture proofs were generally omitted from later hymnals, and therefore they are not to be found in the Magdeburg Enchiridion. Nevertheless, the scriptural roots cannot be forgotten, since the headings to these hymns contain references to the effect that they were created “out of the text of the Old and New Testaments” or “out of the Word of God.”

As with all the hymns found in Reformation hymnals, the hymns in this Magdeburg hymnal are all expressions of biblical theology—they could not be anything else!


Liturgy and Hymns, vol. 53 of Luther’s Works, ed. Ulrich S. Leupold (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1965), 36.