A Word of Hope: Reflecting on Luther’s Lectures on Genesis

by Zachary M. Bowden May 1, 2024

I teach church history as part of my profession. In doing so, I’ve discovered it to be exactly what my teachers described—a wonderful means of keeping the faith. Of the figures from our past who have helped me, Martin Luther stands at the top of the list, as he continually points me away from myself and onto Christ and his word of promise.

Luther’s Lectures on Genesis[1], begun arguably in 1535, serve as a window into what Luther devoted his life to—teaching the Scriptures that provided no shortage of opportunities for faith. What follows is a brief reflection on Luther’s work and the work of God recorded in Genesis.

Hope in a Paradise Lost

The cursing of Genesis 3 is a devastating read. Not knowing the rest of the story, one could easily think all is lost. Especially considering what was lost. Eden. Paradise. Perfection. It was all so right, until it all went so very wrong. The serpent had done his work.

But his work isn’t the last word. Even in the midst of their sentencing, Adam and Eve aren’t without hope. That’s the remarkable thing we learn about God only three chapters into the Bible. God punishes this man and woman. Justifiably—sin has to pay its wages. Yet, as Martin Luther reminds us, God’s words are “fatherly” words. Yes, the wonderful gift of childbirth will now be painful. The relationship between husband and wife won’t be what it once was. Now the ground is cursed. Up come the thistles and thorns, and down goes man. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. Death has walked through the door sin opened.

But in this new paradise-lost world, Eve still has Adam, and Adam still has Eve. Humanity still has a future. The possibility of procreation remains, shameful and painful though it may be. There is still work to be done. There is still life for the living. In other words, there’s hope in the midst of judgment. After all, God doesn’t approach Adam and Eve like he does the serpent. No fatherly approach for the father of lies. There’s no kind questioning, no “where?” Or “who?” Or “why?” There’s only judgement and condemnation.

With man and woman, God clothes their shame. Adam doesn’t forsake his wife but names her “Eve.” As Luther teaches us, the naming and name is an act of prophetic hope. This woman shall be the “mother of all living.” More life and lives are to come.

Words that Promise Life

It’s easy to miss all the good that remains in the midst of the bad. The curses overwhelm. But the fact is, God doesn’t take everything, does he? Fallen world that it is, it’s still a world that’s within its Maker’s control. Beyond the fatherly kindness of keeping this marriage together, God provides the most wonderful thing of all—a promise.

In the midst of the curse, God declares, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15, CSB). Though Adam fell, God’s pronouncement remains, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Though Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, she still has good fruit to bear.  Through the act of childbearing, God promises to put an end to the serpent’s schemes.

It’s a promise God gives to Adam and Eve. And in that promise lies hope. These are words of life, words that say the serpent’s word isn’t the last word, and words that remind us that the serpent’s promises can never deliver like the Lord’s. As Adam and Eve find themselves in a new, fallen reality, they don’t find themselves bereft of blessing. In this world of death, they find the promise of life.

Luther’s Word of Hope

God’s word is true, Genesis reminds us. Eating the forbidden tree does bring death. Deceived into disbelief by the serpent, Adam and Eve gave birth to the sad biblical refrain, “And he died.” But God doesn’t leave this man and woman abandoned. He gives them a promise to hold, a confidence to sustain, that just as God made all things so shall he deliver them. In a word, God gives his people hope. Hear Luther—

“God’s power makes nothing out of that which is everything, just as it makes all things out of that which is nothing. Look at Adam and Eve. They are full of sin and death. And yet, because they hear the promise concerning the Seed who will crush the serpent’s head, they have the same hope we have, namely, that death will be taken away, that sin will be abolished, and that righteousness will be restored.”[2]

Adam and Eve’s world is our world, but even more, their hope is our hope, a hope whose name we know. Jesus. “He is the Lord of the issue of death,” Luther reminds us, in that “He frees those who are overwhelmed by death, and transports them into eternal life.” Yes, we have to tell the truth. There’s death in this world. However, “even the midst of death, the hope of life is kept, since the Word so teaches, direct, and promises.”[3]

In a fallen world of judgment and condemnation, God’s word comes near to us and says, “Not all is lost. Yes, this world is broken. But it’s still my world, created by my Word. And that Word remains. And in that Word, you shall find hope.”


[1] All citations from Martin Luther,  Lectures on Genesis, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol.1, in Luther’s Works, American Edition (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955-76). Hereafter LW.

[2] LW 1:197.

[3] LW 1:197.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Dr. Jason G. Duesing for his editorial insights and encouragement.

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