By Andy Wortman
With Reformation Day just behind us and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation before us in 2017, thoughts about the Reformation and Martin Luther are in the air.
Recently, Tom Ellis (our “chaplain in residence” at Greenville Seminary) preached from Romans 5 about peace with God and mentioned, in passing, Luther’s insistence on the “great exchange.” Many of us have heard the phrase and, as those who see ourselves as heirs of the Reformation, we agree wholeheartedly with the thought that it encapsulates (also aptly summarized in the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition of justification).
Q. 33. What is justification? A. Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.What, however, is the source of the "great exchange" quote? Is it merely a fabrication, someone else’s attempt to capture (accurately) Luther’s thought, or did Luther say something like this in Latin or German, more or less, word for word?
Based on some brief research, it appears that the latter is the case; and it appears that the other reformers picked up on Luther’s language. In addition, it appears that Luther himself (and the other reformers as well) were bolstered in their bold proclamation of this truth by some of the thoughts that can be traced back to the early church.
So, as we begin to reflect on the importance of the Reformation in this coming year — the 500th anniversary of this world-changing movement, let us also boldly stand and proclaim this glorious truth of the Great Exchange. It is the “hinge” that holds the weight of so much of our faith and opens the door to eternal life, this “Great Exchange” between Christ and the sinner, the glorious gospel about One Who, for our sake, was made poor that we might become rich, was condemned that we might be pardoned, and was, as it were, imprisoned by death for a season that we might know the undying, glorious liberty of the sons of God!
For more on the history of the "Great Exchange":
“Battle Quote Not Luther - Creation.com.” [one example of a spurious quote that is often referenced as Luther’s, but shouldn’t be]
Hamm, Berndt. “Martin Luther’s Revolutionary Theology of Pure Gift without Reciprocation.” Lutheran Quarterly 29, no. 2 (2015): 125–161. [a good summary of the heart of reformation theology]
“Martin Luther and The Great Exchange.” The PostBarthian. Last modified March 28, 2012. Accessed October 6, 2016. [this blog post questions the more or less word for word nature of the “great exchange,” but is mistaken]
“‘O the Sweet Exchange!’ by The Epistle to Diognetus.” Tolle Lege, April 16, 2010. [the “great exchange” as expressed in the early church]
Preus, Christian. “Romans 6:7 and the Blessed Exchange within the Lutheran Exegetical Tradition.” Logia 24, no. 1 (2015): 15–21. [references some actual Luther quotes that demonstrate that the “great exchange” is mentioned by Luther, more or less, word for word]
Taylor, Justin. “6 Quotes That Luther Didn’t Actually Say | TGC,” [lists a few spurious Luther quotes]
“‘The Wonderful Exchange’ by John Calvin.” Tolle Lege, August 29, 2012. [quote from Calvin on the “great exchange”]
GPTS's 2017 Spring Theology Conference March 14-16 commemorates the Reformation under the theme: "Trumpet Call: 500 Years of Gospel Freedom." Don't miss this historic event.