Martin Luther's Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms: Cultural Defeatism or Theonomic Reconstructionism?

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Theology (Th.M)


Historical Theology

First Advisor

Carl R. Trueman


Martin Luther (1483-1546), one of the greatest Reformers, lived in the period of Reformation when the horizons of world history changed radically. With his main theological formulation, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Luther questioned the proper status and role of believers on earth. He asked, "If believers are justified by grace alone and free from all laws, then what responsibilities they do have towards their societies and particularly towards the state?"

Luther found the answer to this question in his two kingdoms doctrine. He divided humanity into two classes under two governments - one belonging to the heavenly kingdom and the other belonging to the worldly kingdom. Believers live in the kingdom of God governed by the gospel, while all others belong to the kingdom of the world governed by the law. One may find that during his life time Luther shifted the emphasis from the dualistic nature of the doctrine to an interactive twofold rule. This was the result of his having to confront a deal with the complex situations and events that developed in his day.

However, recent attempts to examine the two kingdoms doctrine in a systematic sense should have been more cautious in counting this as the basis for his ethical principles. Rather, Luther's doctrine should be understood in the context of the Reformer's controversies with what he regarded as his two foes, Rome and the Radicals. In the various debates, he shaped and developed his political and ethical ideas. Thus, in properly evaluating the two kingdoms doctrine, we must ask whether the complexity of the historical events should be counted as a 'commentary' or not. If so, we may find that Luther's balanced social doctrines may supply Christians in the Church today with a helpful approach to matters of culture and life in a secular society..


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