Did Luther really post his 95 Theses ?BY
Jeanette Barnette


I found several articles that disputed when or even if Luther posted his 95 Theses. Some argue that he could not have posted them on the date that went down in history. Several articles say that the posting of Luther's 95 Theses occurred on October the 31, 1517, other say his witness is unreliable. I was very interested in finding out the supporting factual information from both sides.


Smith, Thurman. (1989). Luther and the Iserloh thesis from a numismatic perspective.The Sixteenth Century Journal 20 (2). pp. 183-201.

Lindberg, Carter. The European Reformations. 2 ed. Malden, MA: Wiley- Blackwell, 2009.

Scribner, R.W . (1986). Incombustible Luther: the image of the reformer in early modern Germany. The Past and Present Society 110. pp. 38-68.

Iserloh, Erwin.The theses were not posted; Luther between reform and reformation. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968

Kilkenny, Niall. "Life and Times of Martin Luther of Saint Martin Luther." The Reformation Online - The Most Timely, Scientific, and Patriotic Site on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2010. <http://www.reformation.org/luther.html>.

Did Martin Luther Really Post His Ninety-Five Theses?
The Ninety-five theses were not posted on the doors of the Catholic Church in Germany on Oct 31, 1517. Just about every book in history states that on that date Martin Luther marched up the Catholic Castle Church in Wittenberg and nailed his ninety-five theses on to the doors, this act is what was said to be the start of the reformation. However, Martin Luther never mentioned in any of his own writings that this act occurred. After careful research the ninety-five theses were not posted to start off the reformation the way many people may believe. Furthermore, there was only one witness that said he actually saw Luther post his theses; but he was not in Wittenberg on the date in question. In addition, to who Martin Luther was, whether or not he posted his theses and did it change him starting the reformation, several other questions will be addressed. Research also revealed information relating to Luther and the posting of his theses from a numismatic perspective. Martin Luther never really posted his ninety- five theses and the start of the reformation was done by pure mishap.

Martin Luther: the individual
Martin Luther was born on November 10,1483 in Eisleben, Germany and died on February 18, 1546 at the ripe old age of 62.Luther attended law school to please his father, but later dropped out and became a monk after a near death experience. He was well known for being a monk, a theologian and a German priest. Luther was recorded in history books for being the man that started the reformation with his creation of the ninety- five theses. He did not believe that people could be free from punishment of sins by purchasing indulgences from the church. In 1521 Luther went to the city of Worms, ultimately he was excommunicated for not backing down from his beliefs and recanting his writings. Luther ended up going into hiding with the help of his friend Frederick the wise. Luther later married a nun named Katharina von Bora and they had six children together. Moreover, by 1534 Luther’s new and Old Testament translations of the bible to German were published (Kilkenny, 2010). Although, Luther did many great things over the course of his life, he was well known in history for starting the reformation with his creation of the ninety five theses. It is stated in history that Luther wrote the ninety-five theses for starters to protest the selling of indulgences.
Selling Indulgences:
Catholic church’s back in the sixteenth century were well known for selling Indulgences. Indulgences are “the Roman Catholic Church’s remission of the temporal penalty due after the forgiveness of sin; a commutation of imposed penance” (Lindberg, 2009, p. 401). After the sinner confessed to God with his mouth, the indulgence was then granted by the church. The indulgences were meant to be the rewards for prayer and good works. Luther on the other had did not agree with this type of reward system. Luther said we do not do good works in order to become acceptable to God; rather, because God accepts us we do good works (Lindberg, 2009, p. 66-67). He believed that God would forgive everyone for his or her sins regardless of how much money the person paid the church.
Martin Luther expressed his concerns about indulgences when he created what is known as the ninety-five theses. “The ninety-five theses were a typical academic proposition for a university debate and they were written in Latin” (Lindberg, 2009, p. 72). The ninety five theses was Luther’s way of speaking out about the corrupt Catholic Church and how they abused God’s word by selling indulgences. Luther’s ninety-five theses changed the way churches were viewed and in turn the churches had to change the way they operated. The churches split because some people still believed in the old way of doing things and some people decide they would change things for themselves.

Starting the Reformation:
Martin Luther was correct to question the Catholic Church and the selling of indulgences, but did he really start the reformation by publicly posting his theses on the Church doors. Some people argue and debate that it is not important because he still wrote the ninety five theses and that is what started the questioning of the Catholic system. However, October 31 was All saints Day at the castle church, pilgrims were crowded all around for the feast; if Luther came along and nailed up his theses it would have been a controversial moment in history(Iserloh,1968). More then just one man would be able to account for Luther’s actions. Martin Luther never really posted his theses, so then how did the reformation really launch its’ beginning. Based on evidence from Iserloh (1968), Martin Luther simply mailed a copy of his ninety five theses to Albrecht the archbishop on October 31,1517 . Luther circulated his theses to the public only after the archbishop ignored his letter. Lindberg (2009)states that a public posting of the ninety- five theses was “far more romantic fiction than reality” ( P.72). Martin Luther was not the first person who thought it was something wrong with the Catholic’s Church system. He was the first person recognized for putting his thoughts and beliefs into writing.
Luther stated in some of his own writings that there was no public posting of the theses. Phillip Melanchthon was the man that said he saw Luther nail his theses to the Church doors, but Iserloh (1968) revealed that Phillip did not come to Wittenberg until 1518 a whole year after he allegedly saw Luther nail his theses to the church doors. Melanchthon could not have known about the event unless someone told him about it, because he was living in Tubingen. Furthermore, Melanchthon never revealed he saw Luther post his theses until decades later after Luther had passed away.
“Even Hans volz felt compelled to judge Melanchthon’s narrative as “an untenable legend.” Why then should we not say the same about his report on Luther posting his theses? No one else reports it, and Luther spoke clearly and frequently in a manner that excludes such a posting” (Iserloh, 1968, p.75).
Before 1546 there was no report that Luther ever posted his theses publicly. Iserloh (1968) argues that Luther stated that he issued his theses when he did not receive an answer to his letter written. Moreover, Luther informed a Friend named Professor Hieronymus Schurff that he planned to write against indulgences, this took place after All Saints Day which makes Luther’s public posting of his theses on October 31, 1517 impossible (Iserloh1968). All Luther really wanted to do was question the ways the Catholic Church operated specifically when it comes to selling indulgences. He wanted everyone to understand his way of thinking and translation of the Bible.
Numismatic Perspective:
Smith(1989) analyzes the numismatic perspective which also proves Iserloh‘s thesis that Luther never really posted his theses. The numismatic is a form of history that studies coins and medals to recreate the past. The coins and medals made during the reformation revealed several clues that prove Luther never really posted his thesis. For starter there have been only "three medals with inscriptions mentioning the theses but not a posting" (Smith, 1989, p. 186). Martin Luther marching up to the Catholic Church and nailed his theses to the door which then started the reformation, was the most important event in the sixteenth century; Yet there were only three coins with inscriptions of only a portion of this legend. Overall there were seven hundred and fifty coins and medals that commemorated Luther for stating the reformation but only seventeen of the pieces showed an actual image of Luther nailing his theses on the Church doors Smith, 1989). It is pretty ironic that none of the coins made actually have the date October 31, 1517 even though this date symbolizes the start of the reformation.

In conclusion,
there were several questions that have been raised in regards to Luther posting his theses on the church doors. I realize now, that Luther was a great man and he did an abundant of things to change the way Catholic Church’s operate, but research revealed that he never really posted his ninety five theses on the doors of the Catholic Church. I do not think there is sufficient evidence found in any history book to prove he publicly posted his theses. The only real proof is the word of mouth from one man Philip Melanchthon. Iserloh(1968) revealed that Melanchthon was not even in Wittenberg in 1517, so he could not be telling the truth about witnessing Luther publicly posting his theses. Furthermore, Luther admitted he never publicly posted his theses. I also covered Luther’s legend from a numismatic perspective which is a form of art that tells its own history. My research revealed that Martin Luther did indeed start the reformation with his concerns written out in the ninety five theses, but it also revealed that he did not intend to create such a ruckus. Martin Luther could have made a scene by marching up to the church and posting his theses publicly in front of a crowd, but he did not. Iserloh (1968) believed that Luther’s posting of the ninety five theses was nothing more then a myth and I agree with him. “I, for one, feel compelled to judge Luther’s posting of the ninety five theses a legend” (Iserloh, 1968, p.110).