Were Martin Luther's 95 Theses True to Scripture, or Heretical?
Updated: May 13
On October 31, 1517 a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed a 95 point Theses to the door on a Roman Catholic Cathedral. It was his way to protest certain teachings of the Catholic faith. The question of great importance that must be asked, since this event is often referred to as the start of the Protestant Reformation, was Luther’s 95 Theses a representation of orthodox Biblical theology or Roman Catholic heresy?
Many people are familiar with Luther and have a rough idea of what he did on that day but the real truth and deeper details seem to evade most people in this age of apostasy we live in. In this investigative report, I will take a closer look at the 95 Theses and how they stand up to the Word of God, or whether they are mere extensions of Roman Catholic dogma.
Of course there were some good things that came out of this nailing of the Theses event and the Protestant Reformation overall, such as Rome's pagan hold on the Word of God was broken upon which many more people, or the general public we could say, had greater access to the Scriptures and hear the truth of God's Word through the original texts and translations, the false gospel of Catholicism was exposed and repudiated, etc. However, with that said, the true gospel and the true Bible (Received Text) and translations of the true Received Text always existed alongside the Protestant Reformation, and pre-Reformation, and during all the years of the Dark Ages, right back to the beginning of the church, which was John the Baptist. So the world didn't need Martin Luther or John Calvin or Menno Simons or any other individual for the true church, the small despised pillar and ground of the truth, to keep going forward and existing in either the darkest or brightest of times. God promised the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against it, and it hasn't. He also promised the perseveration of His words here on earth, and that is certainly true. One thing is for certain; if the Protestant Reformation hadn't happened, we wouldn't have the apostasy as we do today. The churches and denominations formed by men such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, were heretical in that day and nigh complete apostasy today.
An oft repeated tale by the likes of pro-Reformed Calvinists is that the Reformers rescued or revived the true gospel out of Roman Catholicism. This fable is coupled with Luthers nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Germany, as the beginnings of the true Christian movement. But is it actually true? Those who obtain their history mainly from sanitized and hagiographical Protestant sources often have a very inaccurate view of history.
Contrary to widespread public opinion, Luther’s 95 Theses have nothing to do with justification by faith alone—which is actually not supported, but rejected, in them. Nor do they utter a word of protest against the Catholic Mass, the sacramental system, Mary worship, the Pope, or numerous other Roman Catholic heresies, since Luther continued to embraced many of these heresies after his Roman departure. They certainly say nothing against baptismal regeneration, a damnable heresy that Luther also clave to his entire life.
They do not even condemn the practice of paying money to get Papal pardons — on the contrary, they anathematize those who deny Papal indulgences. They also support the existence of Purgatory. The idea that Luther had been born again, and consequently condemned Roman Catholicism in the 95 Theses, is pure myth. It’s a dangerous fable that has done untold damage to the lives of many people. Yet it’s the backbone of the so called Protestant Reformation.
The only thing condemned by the 95 theses is the abuse of indulgences—and even here, Luther put his Theses on the door of the Roman Catholic “church” in Latin, so that the common people could not understand what he wrote. He only intended to debate in Latin certain abuses of indulgences with other faithful servants of Rome. Indeed, many of Luther’s theses would be heartily endorsed by the Catholic counter-reformation.
Consider a sample of his Theses below, with some comments.
Under no. 3,
“Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.”
Luther affirms that without Catholic mortifications of the body there is no repentance.
Under no. 7,
“God remits guilt to no one whom He does not, at the same time, humble in all things and bring into subjection to His vicar, the priest.”
“Vicar”? How Protestant is this? It’s apostasy.
Under no. 17,
“With souls in purgatory it seems necessary that horror should grow less and love increase.”
So, according to the 95 Theses, Purgatory exists, and souls there increase in love over time. It’s heresy.
Under no. 18,
“It seems unproved, either by reason or Scripture, that they are outside the state of merit, that is to say, of increasing love.”
In Purgatory, souls are earning merit before God so that they can get into heaven.
Under no. 25,
“The power which the pope has, in a general way, over purgatory, is just like the power which any bishop or curate has, in a special way, within his own diocese or parish.”
The Pope has various powers over people in Purgatory.
Under no. 29,
“Who knows whether all the souls in purgatory wish to be bought out of it, as in the legend of Sts. Severinus and Paschal.”
Various Catholic legends apparently have some authority in teaching us about who wants to get out of Purgatory and who does not.
Under no. 30,
“No one is sure that his own contrition is sincere; much less that he has attained full remission.”
Nobody can be certain of his own salvation. Sounds eerily similar to what most of the false denominations today teach, coupled with the false "losing salvation" doctrine.
Under no. 56,
“The “treasures of the Church,” out of which the pope grants indulgences, are not sufficiently named or known among the people of Christ.”
Apparently the treasures through which the Pope grants indulgences should be better known.
Under no. 58,
“Nor are they the merits of Christ and the Saints, for even without the pope, these always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outward man.”
Both the merit of Jesus Christ and of dead Catholic “saints” are a means whereby which saving grace is received. According to Luther, salvation is by sanctification, rather than through justification by faith alone.
Under no. 69,
“Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of apostolic pardons, with all reverence.”
Bishops and curates are to have all reverence for pardons given by the Pope to people, and admit those who are carrying them to the territory of their bishoprics in the Catholic State-Church.
Under no. 71,
“He who speaks against the truth of apostolic pardons, let him be anathema and accursed!”
If you deny the ability of the Pope to grant indulgences, you will be eternally damned in hell. The truth is quite the contrary.
Under no. 73,
“The pope justly thunders against those who, by any art, contrive the injury of the traffic in pardons.”
Positive proclamation of the Pope. The Pope should actually thunder against those who deny, by any means, that one can purchase with money remission of various penalties.
Under no. 91,
“If, therefore, pardons were preached according to the spirit and mind of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved; nay, they would not exist.”
Indulgences should be preached in accordance with the mind of the Pope—then all would be well.
Under no. 94,
“Christians are to be exhorted that they be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hell;”
True believers do not go to hell or purgatory. So what “penalties”?
Under no. 95,
“And thus be confident of entering into heaven rather through many tribulations, than through the assurance of peace.”
Christians should be diligent to do good works and follow Christ in order to be saved, since by such means they enter into heaven, rather than by having assurance of salvation through peace with God received in conversion, for Biblical assurance of salvation is bad, and works unto salvation is good.
These are only some of the ones that could be mentioned. Are Luther's 95 Theses really true to Scripture or heretical? I think that question is answered succinctly above, by Luther's own words.
Luther with his theses allegedly started the Reformation, of whom MarArthur says was “one shining light in the history of the Christian church . . . Now Martin Luther, coming out of Roman Catholicism, fought more than anyone for the truth that man is saved by faith and not by works.” I think its plain to see MacArthur is dishonest, and we could also say willfully so, since he knows what the Theses does say, lest he is spiritually blind (cf. Ac 26:18) and cannot discern between truth and error (1 Jn 4:6).
“And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Cor 11:14-15).