For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Commentary on Genesis

by Luther, Martin (1958)


This first chapter of our Holy Bible is written in the simplest and plainest language, and yet it contains the greatest and at the same time the most difficult themes. Therefore the Jews, as Jerome testifies, were forbidden to read it or hear it read before they were thirty years of age …

Key Passage

But here a question has been raised, whether all men ought not to be husbandmen, or at least whether they ought not to devote themselves to manual labor? Some did indeed thus foolishly contend at the beginning of the Gospel among us. For they so abused this and other like passages of Scripture, which command the labor of the hands, that the youth throwing aside their literary studies gave themselves up to manual employments; and Carlstadt, the leader of these misguided ones, leaving his proper station in life, purchased a farm, and dug and cultivated his own land. For myself indeed if I could with a good conscience forsake my calling as a minister of the Word, it would be far more easy and pleasant employment for me to be employed in cultivating my garden, digging with my spade and breaking the clods with my shovel, than to endure this hard labor, which I now undergo. For the toil of country laborers bears no proportion whatever to this our ministerial "sweat." Wherefore their interpretation of this passage, who contend that manual labor only is the sweat here spoken of, is to be altogether rejected. The declaration of Christ is perfectly plain upon this point who commands that those who teach in the Word should enjoy the labors of others "And into whatsoever house ye shall enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And in that same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give for the laborer is worthy of his hire," Luke 10:5, 7. Here the Lord takes bread from the table of those who hear the Word of God, and gives it to the teachers of the Word. In the same way also Paul speaks, when he says, "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel," 1 Cor. 9:14. And it is in confirmation of this same mind of God, that the apostle cites that word of the law, "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn," verse 9. And indeed why is the commandment concerning the payment of tithes given to the husbandmen, who labors and cultivates his farm, if the ministers of the Word are to procure their food by the labor of their own hands? These and like passages of Scripture show that the "sweat of the face" is the common curse on all men. The first "sweat" is, that of husbandmen and householders; the second, the "sweat" of magistrates; the third, of teachers in the Church. Of all these orders of men the condition of husbandmen is the happiest. This the poet of old affirms: Felices nimium sua si bona norint, Agricolae. Happy their lot; did they but know their good, Who cultivate the earth for all.—Virg. Georg. 2, 458. For though they do "sweat" under great labor, yet that labor is seasoned with a peculiar pleasure, while the new and marvelous faces of all creatures directly meet their eyes daily. Whereas in the political world and in the Church infinite troubles and molestations present themselves, in addition to the daily perils which are incurred, if a minister of Christ perform his duty faithfully. For we speak not now concerning those indolent mortals, who know not nor acknowledge these punishments of sin, but who are devoted only to the consideration of the manner in which they can best satisfy their lusts. Let such Epicureans be left to the indulgence of their own evil appetites and inclinations. We are here speaking of those who do perform seriously what they undertake to do, whether in the State or in the Church. Such men labor and sweat more in one day than a husbandman does in a whole month, if the magnitude and the various perils of their works be considered. It is for this very reason also that tributes and revenues, and other dues of the same description, are paid unto kings and princes. And who does not see that this is but a small return or reward after all to our rulers for the immense labor they undergo, where they really do their duty faithfully. And even if there be some who neglect their duty, this legitimate ordinance of God is not on their account to be disregarded.  (p.169)


Reformation, Protestantism, Theology, History, History Of Ideas, Religious Views On Work


Luther, Protestantism, Religious Views on Work

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