The Reformation Commentary on Scripture is a very unique commentary. The editors of this series have given us access into how the reformers understood the Scriptures. Comments are provided by numerous reformers with multiple comments for every passage of Scripture and often for every verse. Considering how challenging it would be to accumulate, sort, and translate this source material, this series is a treasure trove waiting for discovery. The best part is that we’ve made this series even more accessible in our app so that you can access the exegetical work of the reformers with the tap of a finger. Let’s introduce you to some of these reformers and how they reflected on the incarnation of our Lord.

The Word Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  

John 1:14

Wolfgang Musculus

(1497–1563). German Reformed pastor and theologian. Musculus produced translations, biblical commentaries and an influential theological text, Loci Communes Sacrae Theologiae (Commonplaces of Sacred Theology), outlining a Zwinglian theology. Musculus began to study theology while at a Benedictine monastery; he departed in 1527 and became secretary to Martin Bucer in Strasbourg. He was later installed as a pastor in Augsburg, eventually performing the first evangelical liturgy in the city’s cathedral. Though Musculus was active in the pursuit of the reform agenda, he was also concerned for ecumenism, participating in the Wittenberg Concord (1536) and discussions between Lutherans and Catholics.

We must take care lest we think that the Word was made flesh in the same way that we read water to have been made wine in John 2. For there water was made into wine in such a way that water ceased to exist and there was only wine. But here the Word was not made flesh in such a way that the Word, that is, God, ceased to exist and was now nothing but flesh. God forbid. For it cannot be that God should be changed into a human being and then God ceases to exist. The divine substance of the Word admits neither mutation nor end, seeing that it is immutable and infinite.

Furthermore, the flesh of Christ is not changed into the Word with its own nature having been left aside. God forbid this also. Otherwise, as Christ is there deprived of his divinity, so here is he deprived of his humanity, such that he would not now be a true human being, not truly conceived, not truly born, not truly suffered and died, and consequently, not truly raised from the dead. Thus, it is necessary that we understand “the Word became flesh” in no other way except that the Word took on and clothed itself in human nature in such a way that it did not divest itself of the divine nature. Thus, the church sings, “God became a human being; that which he was not he takes on, and what he was does not cease to be.”

Johannes Brenz

(1499–1570). German Lutheran theologian and pastor. Brenz was converted to the reformation cause after hearing Martin Luther speak; later, Brenz became a student of Johannes Oecolampadius. His central achievement lay in his talent for organization. As city preacher in Schwäbisch-Hall and afterward in Württemberg and Tübingen, he oversaw the introduction of reform measures and doctrines and new governing structures for ecclesial and educational communities. Brenz also helped establish Lutheran orthodoxy through treatises, commentaries and catechisms. He defended Luther’s position on eucharistic presence against Huldrych Zwingli and opposed the death penalty for religious dissenters.

“And the Word became flesh.” That is to say, the Son of God became a human being. Do not think that it was without a purpose that he says “flesh” and not “human being.” Indeed, the Evangelist gives the reason why a human being is made a child of God through faith. Because, he says, the Son of God became flesh, that is, became weakness, contemptible, a curse, sin, poor, hungry, thirsty, mortal and condemned so that we might be made strong, glorious, blessed, righteous, rich, full, immortal and saved. For what else is flesh but weakness, dust, and as it were, hay, and its glory as the flower of the field, which grows in the morning and in the evening is cast into the furnace? For what is a human being but falsehood and emptiness?

Accordingly, the Son of God, clothing himself in flesh and humanity, put on outer dejection, falsehood and emptiness. But he did so that we might be made glory, truth and fullness. “Him who did not know sin, God made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God through him.” And we read, “Of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh that the justification of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Also, flesh is subject to a cross; therefore, the Son of God became flesh, that is subject to a cross, that he might deliver us from a cross, not that a cross should not exist. For he says, “In the world you will have affliction,” but the curse of the cross would cease and there would not be perdition as under the Law.

Martin Luther

(1483–1546). German Lutheran priest, professor and theologian. While a professor in Wittenberg, Luther reinterpreted the doctrine of justification. Convinced that righteousness comes only from God’s grace, he disputed the sale of indulgences with the Ninety-five Theses. Luther’s positions brought conflict with Rome; his denial of papal authority led to excommunication. He also challenged the Mass, transubstantiation and communion under one kind. Though Luther was condemned by the Diet of Worms, the Elector of Saxony provided him safe haven. Luther returned to Wittenberg with public order collapsing under Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt; Luther steered a more cautious path of reform. His rendering of the Bible and liturgy in the vernacular, as well as his hymns and sermons, proved extensively influential.

Although the gospel was obscured and the proper understanding of it was hidden, God still kept it for the salvation of his own. These words, too, “And the Word became flesh,” were held in reverence. They were sung daily in every Mass in a slow tempo and were set to a special melody, different from that for the other words. And when the congregation came to the words “from the Virgin Mary, and was made man,” everyone genuflected and removed hats.

It would still be proper and appropriate to kneel at the words “and was made man,” to sing them with long notes as formerly, to listen with happy hearts to the message that the divine majesty abased himself and became like us poor bags of worms, and to thank God for the ineffable mercy and compassion reflected in the incarnation of the Deity. But who can ever do justice to that theme? . . .

Johannes Oecolampadius

(1482–1531). Swiss-German Reformed humanist, reformer and theologian. Oecolampadius (an assumed name meaning “house light”) assisted with Desiderius Erasmus’s Greek New Testament, lectured on biblical languages and exegesis and completed an influential Greek grammar. After joining the evangelical cause through studying patristics and the work of Martin Luther, Oecolampadius went to Basel, where he lectured on biblical exegesis and participated in ecclesial reform. On account of Oecolampadius’s effort, the city council passed legislation restricting preaching to the gospel and releasing the city from compulsory Mass. Oecolampadius was a chief ally of Huldrych Zwingli, whom he supported at the Marburg Colloquy (1529).

Only a few things, in fact, have now been read, but one may already see the foundation of our faith. Above all things, make sure that those words agree with what has previously been said. You heard about the immeasurable benevolence of God which he granted to the human race because the light shined in the world. Previously, he manifested himself through the prophets, and later through John. But this is kindness, that the Son himself, the Word of God, deigned to clothe himself in human flesh, that is, to become a human being. He himself is now present, as we read: “Behold, I who spoke am here.” Whoever is not attracted by this act of kindness, no matter what you tell them, you will do so in vain.

I would prefer for you to notice the sincerity of our faith. Asked by the Savior whom they said him to be, Peter answered on behalf of all the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ praised that statement such that he said he would build his church on this confession as on a strong rock. Whoever professes this faith with a sincere heart must be regarded as part of Christ’s church. Peter and the other disciples saw Christ’s flesh, But they were not asked whether they believed Christ to be a human being, but they were asked what they thought of him, who was regarded as contemptible by many, and like any other human being. Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This Word became flesh. Through this Word we understand the Son of God.

Heinrich Bullinger

(1504–1575). Swiss Reformed pastor and theologian. Bullinger succeeded Huldrych Zwingli as minister and leader in Zurich. The primary author of the First and Second Helvetic Confessions (1536; 1566), Bullinger was drawn toward reform through the works of Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon. After Zwingli died, Bullinger was vital in maintaining adherence to the cause of reform; he oversaw the expansion of the Zurich synodal system while preaching, teaching and writing extensively. One of Bullinger’s lasting legacies was the development of a federal view of the divine covenant with humanity, making baptism and the Eucharist covenantal signs.

The apostle takes great care lest the Word of God be made vile because of its assumption of humanity. Therefore, by a kind of antithesis he opposes the weakness of the flesh with the divine glory. It is as if he is saying, “You have heard that the Word of God dwelt among us and was made similar to us in every way, excepting sin. But let no one hold the incarnate Word in contempt. For the same one who was exposed to abuse was also a partaker of divine glory, not as an honor but by his very nature.”

To establish more authority, he adds we have seen him, not just in passing, but we have carefully considered, we have observed, and we have examined his glory. In his epistle the apostle says the same thing: “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, that we announce to you. The apostle Peter also says, “Not by following artificial fables have we made known to you the power and advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we observed with our eyes his majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, the voice coming down to him from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved son.’”

Francisco de Toledo

(1532–1596). Spanish Catholic theologian. This important Jesuit taught philosophy at the universities of Salamanca and Rome. He published works on Aristotelian philosophy and a commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s work, as well as biblical commentaries on John, Romans and the first half of Luke. He was also the general editor for the Clementine Vulgate (1598).

The Evangelist gives evidence from sight for the narrated mystery. For it could be asked of him, “How do you know that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?” “We have seen,” he says, “we are eyewitnesses.” The Greek word indicates careful, attentive sight, as if to say, “we have considered and carefully seen not the very Word in itself, because it cannot be seen with physical eyes, but in its glory and the brilliance coming from it.”

Therefore, just as one who sees the brilliance of the sun in the earth is certain that the sun is above the horizon, so from the glory of the incarnate Word which we see, we have been certain that the Word was made flesh and that God became a human being. For that glory was of the Son of God, not of some mere mortal. This is why after he said “glory,” lest we think it was something common, he adds “glory of the only-begotten,” that is, the glory of the natural Son of God, who is unique because there are many children by adoption. The word “as” does not indicate a likeness, as if the only-begotten is something else, to whom it is similar in glory, but it indicates a reality, that is, the glory of the sort that is fitting for the Son of God to have.

Caspar Cruciger

(1504–1548). German Lutheran theologian. Recognized for his alignment with the theological views of Philipp Melanchthon, Cruciger was a scholar respected among both Protestants and Catholics. In 1521, Cruciger came Wittenberg to study Hebrew and remained there most of his life. He became a valuable partner for Martin Luther in translating the Old Testament and served as teacher, delegate to major theological colloquies and rector. Cruciger was an agent of reform in his birthplace of Leipzig, where at the age of fifteen he had observed the disputation between Luther and Johann Eck.

There is no doubt that he is speaking here about the Son. For the fact that some worry about the syntax in this place is superfluous quibbling. It refers to what comes before, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” Grace signifies no doubt the favor of God and the meaning is: This Son is first and naturally loved by God, and he is the reason that others are elected and loved. He loved us “in his beloved one,” that is, because of his beloved Son, “through whom we have redemption through his blood.” The voice from heaven teaches the same thing, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am delighted, listen to him.”

Therefore, he testifies that this Son is first loved, and because of him the church, which listens to this Son, is also elected and loved. “As he chose us in him before the creation of the world that we might be holy and unspotted before God, through love predestining us to adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself.” And we read, “Through redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God proposed to be a propitiation.”

All these meanings are made known in the Evangelist’s statement, namely, that the Son of God is called “full of grace,” which is to say that he is truly and naturally loved by the Father and that he succeeds in preventing the human race from perishing absolutely, but because of him some are chosen and loved, imparting to believers remission of sins as they also are loved.

See Scripture Through the Reformers’ Eyes

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