World Wide Wolfmueller

Law and Gospel in Joyful Clarity

Thinking Like a Lutheran: The Three Estates (Quotation Collection Post)


  • The Church
  • The Family
  • The State.

These are the three estates created and instituted by God. These estates are how God has ordered the cosmos. These estates are how God gives and protects life.

The threes estates are all over the writings of the Lutheran’s, and especially Luther.

When Luther wants to consider the dangers of Islam, he considers how Islam treats the three estates: the preaching of the Gospel, political rule, and marriage. When Luther considers the danger of Roman Catholic teaching, he speaks of the dangers this teaching has on the three estates.

When your ears tune into this, you’ll see it everywhere. (And, when you see these quotations, come back here and paste them in the comments. We’ll use this post to collect quotations.)

Oswald Beyer was sniffing this out awhile back. (Here’s a link to his article “Nature and Institution: Luther’s Doctrine of the Three Orders” published in Lutheran Quarterly, 1998.)

By Luther’s “doctrine of the three orders” we mean the way in which he interprets theologically and ethically the biblical narratives about primordial times in their aspects of creation, sin, and social organization, and how he applies his interpretation to his contemporary situation. The doctrine of the three orders was of fundamental significance for Luther, who said that “these divine stations continue and remain throughout all kingdoms, as wide as the world and to the end of the world.” He could therefore make it the first principle of scriptural exegesis.

Luther, “First, the Bible speaks and teaches about the works of God. About this there is no doubt. These works are divided into three hierarchies: the household [oeconomiam], the government [politiam], and the church [ecclesiam]. If a verse does not fit the church, we should let it stay in the government or the household, whichever it is best suited to.”

Beyer has more. (I hope to react to this article more fully soon.)

Anyhow, I would like to collect in this post quotations from Luther (and any other theologians) regarding the three estates. When you come across any, please post them in the comments, and I’ll move them into the post. Thanks! And keep reading Luther.



Martin Luther, Great Confession Concerning the Lord’s Supper (1528)

But the holy orders and true religious institutions established by God are these three: the office of priest, the estate of marriage, the civil government. All who are engaged in the clerical office or ministry of the Word are in a holy, proper, good, and God-pleasing order and-estate, such as those who preach, administer sacraments, supervise the common chest, sextons and messengers or servants who serve such persons. These are engaged in works which are altogether holy in God’s sight.

Again, all fathers and mothers who regulate their household wisely and bring up their children to the service of God are engaged in pure holiness, in a holy work and a holy order. Similarly, when children and servants show obedience to their elders and masters, here too is pure holiness, and whoever is thus engaged is a living saint on earth.

Moreover, princes and lords, judges, civil officers, state officials, notaries, male and female servants and all who serve such persons, and further, all their obedient subjects—all are engaged in pure holiness and leading a holy life before God. For these three religious institutions or orders are found in God’s Word and commandment; and whatever is contained in God’s Word must be holy, for God’s Word is holy and sanctifies everything connected with it and involved in it.

Above these three institutions and orders is the common order of Christian love, in which one serves not only the three orders, but also serves every needy person in general with all kinds of benevolent deeds, such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, forgiving enemies, praying for all men on earth, suffering all kinds of evil on earth, etc. Behold, all of these are called good and holy works. However, none of these orders is a means of salvation. There remains only one way above them all, viz. faith in Jesus Christ.

For to be holy and to be saved are two entirely different things. We are saved through Christ alone; but we become holy both through this faith and through these divine foundations and orders. Even the godless may have much about them that is holy without being saved thereby. For God wishes us to perform such works to his praise and glory. And all who are saved in the faith of Christ surely do these works and maintain these orders.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 37: Word and Sacrament III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 37 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 364–365.

Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Churches  (1539)

In summary, the schools must be second in importance only to the church, for in them young preachers and pastors are trained, and from them emerge those who replace the ones who die. Next, then, to the school comes the burgher’s house, for it supplies the pupils; then the city hall and the castle, which must protect the schools so that they may train children to become pastors, and so that these, in turn, may create churches and children of God (whether they be burghers, princes, or emperors). But God must be over all and nearest to all, to preserve this ring or circle against the devil, and to do everything in all of life’s vocations, indeed, in all creatures. Thus Psalm 127 [:1] says that there are only two temporal governments on earth, that of the city and that of the home, “Unless the Lord builds the house; unless the Lord watches over the city.” The first government is that of the home, from which the people come; the second is that of the city, meaning the country, the people, princes and lords, which we call the secular government. These embrace everything—children, property, money, animals, etc. The home must produce, whereas the city must guard, protect, and defend. Then follows the third, God’s own home and city, that is, the church, which must obtain people from the home and protection and defense from the city.

These are the three hierarchies ordained by God, and we need no more; indeed, we have enough and more than enough to do in living aright and resisting the devil in these three. Just look only at the home and at the duties it alone imposes: parents and landlords must be obeyed; children and servants must be nourished, trained, ruled, and provided for in a godly spirit. The rule of the home alone would give us enough to do, even if there were nothing else. Then the city, that is, the secular government, also gives us enough to do if we show ourselves really obedient, and conversely, if we are to judge, protect, and promote land and people. The devil keeps us busy enough, and with him God gave us the sweat of our brow, thorns and thistles in abundance [Gen. 3:18–19], so that we have more than enough to learn, to live, to do, and to suffer in these two governments.

Then there is the third rule and government. If the Holy Spirit reigns there, Christ calls it a comforting, sweet, and light burden [Matt. 11:30]; if not, it is not only a heavy, severe, and terrible task, but also an impossible one, as St. Paul says in Romans 8 [:3], “What the law could not do,” and elsewhere, “The letter kills” [II Cor. 3:6].

Now why should we have the blasphemous, bogus law or government of the pope over and above these three high divine governments, these three divine, natural, and temporal laws of God? It presumes to be everything, yet is in reality nothing. It leads us astray and tears us from these blessed, divine estates and laws. Instead, it dresses us in a mask or cowl, thereby making us the devil’s fools and playthings, who are slothful and no longer know these three divine hierarchies or realms. That is why we no longer want to put up with it, but acting in conformity with St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, and St. Augustine’s teaching, want to be rid of it and turn the words of Psalm 2 [:3] against them, “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” Indeed, we shall sing with St. Paul, “Even if an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to that, let him be accursed” [Gal. 1:8]; and we shall say with St. Peter, “Why do you make trial of God by putting such a yoke upon the neck?” [Acts 15:10]. Thus we shall again be the pope’s masters and tread him underfoot, as Psalm 91 [:13] says, “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.” And that we shall do by the power and with the help of the woman’s seed, who has crushed and still crushes the serpent’s head, although we must run the risk that he, in turn, will bite us in the heel [Gen. 3:15]. To this blessed seed of the woman be praise and honor, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the one true God and Lord in eternity. Amen.

*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 176–178.

Martin Luther, On the War Against the Turk (1528)

In the first place, he greatly praises Christ and Mary as being the only ones without sin, and yet he believes nothing more of Christ than that he is a holy prophet, like Jeremiah or Jonah, and denies that he is God’s Son and true God. Furthermore, he does not believe that Christ is the Savior of the world who died for our sins, but that he preached to his own time and completed his work before his death, just like any other prophet.

On the other hand, Mohammed highly exalts and praises himself and boasts that he has talked with God and the angels, and that since Christ’s office of prophet is now complete, he has been commanded to bring the world to his faith, and if the world is not willing, to compel it or punish it with the sword; there is much glorification of the sword in it. Therefore the Turks think that their Mohammed is much higher and greater than Christ, for the office of Christ has come to an end and Mohammed’s office is still in force.

From this anyone can easily see that Mohammed is a destroyer of our Lord Christ and his kingdom, and if anyone denies the articles concerning Christ, that he is God’s Son, that he died for us and still lives and reigns at the right hand of God, what has he left of Christ? Father, Son, Holy Ghost, baptism, the sacrament, gospel, faith, and all Christian doctrine and life are gone, and instead of Christ only Mohammed with his doctrine of works and especially of the sword is left. That is the chief doctrine of the Turkish faith in which all abominations, all errors, all devils are piled up in one heap.

And yet the world acts as though it were snowing pupils of the Turkish faith, for it is extraordinarily pleasing to reason that Christ is not God, as the Jews, too, believe, and especially is reason pleased with the thought that men are to rule and bear the sword and get ahead in the world. The devil is behind that. Thus the Turk’s faith is a patchwork of Jewish, Christian, and heathen beliefs. He gets his praise of Christ, Mary, the apostles, and other saints from the Christians. From the Jews he gets abstinence from wine and fasting at certain times of the year, washing like the Nazirites [Num. 6:1–21], and eating off the ground. And the Turks perform the same holy works as some of our monks and hope for everlasting life at the Judgment Day, for, holy people that they are, they believe in the resurrection of the dead, though few of the papists believe in it.

What pious Christian heart would not be horrified at this enemy of Christ when he sees that the Turk allows no article of our faith to stand, except the single one about the resurrection of the dead? Then Christ is no redeemer, savior, or king; there is no forgiveness of sins, no grace, no Holy Ghost. Why should I say more? In the article that Christ is beneath Mohammed, and less than he, everything is destroyed. Who would not rather be dead than live under such a government, where he must say nothing about his Christ, and hear and see such blasphemy and abomination against him? Yet this article takes such a powerful hold when the Turk wins a land that people even submit to it willingly. Therefore let everyone pray who can that this abomination not become lord over us and that we not be punished with this terrible rod of God’s anger.


In the second place, the Turk’s Koran or creed teaches him to destroy not only the Christian faith, but also the whole temporal government. His Mohammed, as has been said, commands that ruling is to be done by the sword, and in his Koran the sword is the commonest and noblest work. Thus the Turk is really nothing but a murderer or highwayman, as his deeds show before men’s eyes. St. Augustine calls other kingdoms, too, a great robbery; Psalm 76 [:4] also calls them “the mountains of prey” because an empire seldom has come into being except by robbery, force, and wrong; or, at the very least, it is often seized and possessed by wicked people without any justice, so that the Scriptures, in Genesis 10 [:9], call the first prince upon earth, Nimrod, a mighty hunter. But never has any kingdom come into being and become so mighty through murder and robbery as that of the Turk; and he murders and robs every day, for robbing and murdering, devouring and destroying more and more of those that are around them, is commanded in their law as a good and divine work; and they do this and think that they are doing God a service. Their government, therefore, is not a godly, regular rulership, like others, for the maintenance of peace, the protection of the good, and the punishment of the wicked, but a rod of anger and a punishment of God upon the unbelieving world, as has been said. The work of murdering and robbing pleases the flesh in any case because it enables men to gain high place and to subject everyone’s life and goods to themselves. How much more must the flesh be pleased when this is a commandment, as though God would have it so and is well pleased by it! So it is among the Turks that the most highly regarded are those who are diligent to increase the Turkish kingdom and constantly murder and rob those around them.

The third point is that Mohammed’s Koran has no regard for marriage, but permits everyone to take wives as he will. It is customary among the Turks for one man to have ten or twenty wives and to desert or sell any whom he will, so that in Turkey women are held immeasurably cheap and are despised; they are bought and sold like cattle. Although there may be some few who do not take advantage of this law, nevertheless, this is the law and anyone who wants to can follow it. That kind of living is not and cannot be marriage, because none of them takes or has a wife with the intention of staying with her forever, as though the two were one body, as God’s word says in Genesis 3 [2:24], “Therefore a man cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.” Thus the marriage of the Turks closely resembles the chaste life soldiers lead with their harlots; for the Turks are soldiers and must act like soldiers; Mars and Venus, say the poets, must be together.

*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 46: The Christian in Society III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 46 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 176-178, 178-179, 181–182.

Martin Luther, Sermon on Matthew 7:15-23, The 8th Sunday after Trinity, House Postil

But we must not on that account regard their doctrine as right nor follow them because Christ says: Beware of them. Beneath the sheep’s clothing you will find a wolf. For the Anabaptists, like the monks, rest their hopes upon their own righteousness and works; they make God a liar by not trusting in His promise, inasmuch as they suffer themselves to be baptized again and thus bring to naught their first and true baptism; they teach false doctrine concerning the Lord’s Supper, as though it consisted of mere bread and wine; they lay unnecessary burdens upon Christians; they rend family ties; say it is wrong to hold property, and despise civil government as unchristian; they thus pervert and undermine all three institutions of God; namely, that of the Church, of the state, and of the family.

Such a dangerous and disgraceful wolf is hid beneath the beautiful and smooth skin of the saintly external life of the Anabaptists.

*Martin Luther’s House Postils, Volume 3 (J. A. Schulze, Columbus, OH, 1884) 170-171, Google Book Link


Martin Luther, Commentary on Psalm 111:6 (1530)

Psalm 111:6, “And His righteousness endures forever.”

These divine stations and orders have been established by God that in the world there may be a stable, orderly, and peaceful life, and that justice may be preserved. Therefore the psalmist here calls it “God’s righteousness,” which is permanent and abides forever. Lawyers call it “natural law.” For if God had not Himself instituted these stations and did not daily preserve them as His work, no particle of right would last even a moment. Every servant would want to be a lord, every maid a mistress, every peasant a prince, and every son above father and mother. In short, conditions would be worse among men than they are among the wild animals, where each devours the other; for God did not give them such institutions. And if men, with their sense of right, were to order and arrange this, they would never succeed. Emperors and jurists have their hands full, administering secular justice and regulating the affairs that are involved in those stations. What would happen if they were to set in order the stations themselves and even the natural law? For this reason human laws are not permanent and do not abide forever. Nor are they universal in the world. But “a new king means a new law.”28 When an empire is changed, its laws are also changed. But these divine stations continue and remain throughout all kingdoms, as wide as the world and to the end of the world.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 13: Selected Psalms II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 13 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 369.

Martin Luther on Genesis 1:16-17 (1535)

Here we have the establishment of the church before there was any government of the home and of the state; for Eve was not yet created. Moreover, the church is established without walls and without any pomp, in a very spacious and very delightful place. After the church has been established, the household government is also set up, when Eve is added to Adam as his companion. Thus the temple is earlier than the home, and it is also better this way. Moreover, there was no government of the state before sin, for there was no need of it. Civil government is a remedy required by our corrupted nature. It is necessary that lust be held in check by the bonds of the laws and by penalties. For this reason you may correctly call civil government the rule of sin, just as Paul calls Moses also the minister of death and of sin (Rom. 8:2). This is the one and foremost function of government, to hold sin in check, as Paul says (Rom. 13:4): “Government bears the sword for the punishment of the wicked.” Therefore if men had not become evil through sin, there would have been no need of civil government; but Adam, together with his descendants, would have lived in utmost serenity and would have achieved more by moving one finger than all the swords, instruments of torture, and axes can achieve now. At that time there would have been no robber, murderer, thief, envier, and liar. What need, therefore, would there have been of laws and of civil government, which is like a cauterizing iron and an awful remedy by which harmful limbs are cut off that the rest may be preserved?

Therefore after the establishment of the church the government of the home is also assigned to Adam in Paradise. But the church was established first because God wants to show by this sign, as it were, that man was created for another purpose than the rest of the living beings. Because the church is established by the Word of God, it is certain that man was created for an immortal and spiritual life, to which he would have been carried off or translated without death after living in Eden and on the rest of the earth without inconvenience as long as he wished. There would not have been in him that detestable lust which is now in men, but there would have been the innocent and pure love of sex toward sex. Procreation would have taken place without any depravity, as an act of obedience. Mothers would have given birth without pain. Infants would not have been brought up in such a wretched manner and with such great toil.

*Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 1: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 1 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 103–104.

Martin Luther, Table Talk (1542-1543)

The Bible speaks and teaches about the works of God. About this there is no doubt. These works are divided in three hierarchies: the household, the government, the church. If a verse does not fit the church, we should let it stay in the government or the household, whichever it is best suited to.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 446.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Genesis 43:1-5

In this manner the legends of the saintly fathers surpass by far the nonsense and the fables we have admired in the papacy. Of what concern is Antony to us? Contrary to his conscience, since he knew that nothing should be undertaken in life or doctrine apart from God’s command, he hid himself in the desert. We know that there are three estates in this life: the household, the state, and the church. If all men want to neglect these and pursue their own interests and self-chosen ways, who will be a shepherd of souls? Who will baptize, absolve, and console those who are burdened with sins? Who will administer the government or protect the common fabric of human society? Who will educate the young or till the ground? Yet these duties, which have been commanded and approved by God, have been scorned and cast aside in the papacy, and the devil has foisted those monstrous acts of the monks upon men with horrible fury.

Accordingly, these things should be mentioned and inculcated often, in order that we may learn that God is not offended but rather pleased by these estates, provided that they remain within the limits of His commandments. If you cannot command or teach, you should nevertheless be obedient in a godly manner or learn from others. But in these three spheres you should serve God and not be found in the desert with Antony, Hilarion, or Malchus.

These matters should be placed before the youth and the inexperienced above all. They do not yet know what sin, the devil, and the flesh are. The examples of the fathers, the prophets, and the apostles should be shown to them. These men did not despise the household, the state, and the church. Nor did they shrink from the works of farmers and slaves. Nevertheless, they were able to live in faith and God’s commandments. In ordinary life they conducted themselves in such a way that to the eyes of the flesh no difference was apparent between Abraham, Isaac, and the other fathers, who were the friends of God (cf. Is. 41:8), and the heathen rulers who were ignorant of God and hated Him. The flesh does not see the promise and the love of the saints, just as the papists and the jurists do not see these things. They direct their lives in accordance with a self-chosen norm of sanctity and righteousness.

(Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 7: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 7 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 312–313.)

Martin Luther, Commentary on John 3:20

Again and again we must proclaim that the grace of God can not be attained unless we confess our sin, but that God remits our sin if we but acknowledge it. Whenever we follow the example of Saul and pretend that we have not sinned—as the Jews, the pope, the Turks, fornicators, and greedy bellies do today, boasting that they are not sinners but just, and thereby implying that God is in error—hell stands ajar, and heaven is closed. It goes without saying that the devil is not merciful, just, and almighty; for he does not preserve all things; nor does he create the sun and light. But there must be someone who does this. It follows that it is God who creates and preserves all, and that He also protects the three estates in the world—the church, the civil government, and the home. It is He who lets His sun rise over the good and the evil (Matt. 5:45). All other creatures acknowledge that God is gracious and merciful; only man denies this and withholds from Him the honor which all the others accord Him. The crux of the matter is that he who does evil cannot bear the light. Blessed is he who does, for he will be helped.

(Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 22 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 405.)

Martin Luther on Genesis 4:1

Marriage should be treated with honor; from it we all originate, because it is a nursery not only for the state but also for the church and the kingdom of Christ until the end of the world.
(Luther’s Works 1:240)



1 Comment

  1. Perhaps you are already aware of it Bryan, but Oswald Bayer in his “Martin Luther’s Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation (Eerdmans publishing) has a whole chapter (pages, 120 to 153) written on the three estates with copious amounts of Luther,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Show Buttons
Hide Buttons