Book of Concord

Formula of Concord - Concordia

General Information

The Book of Concord is a collection of confessions of faith published in 1580, which generally are accepted by the Lutheran church. The book contains the three ecumenical creeds: the Apostles' Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Nicene Creed; and the six particular confessions of the Lutheran church: the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Schmalkald Articles, the Larger and Smaller Catechisms of Luther, the Formula of Concord, and an optional collection of patristic material.

The Formula of Concord appeared in 1580, after protracted conferences, and was approved by 86 of the German states. It contains articles on the following theological issues: original sin, free will, the Eucharist, predestination, the rule of faith and the creed, justification, good works, the Law and the Gospel, the third use of the law, the person of Christ, the descent of Christ into hell, and the customs of the church, as well as an appendix concerning heresies and sectaries. The publication of the Book of Concord was an attempt to heal the divisiveness characteristic of the Lutheran movement since the death of Martin Luther 30 years earlier. Although it was not accepted everywhere as binding, it came to serve as the source book for Lutheran orthodoxy.

Book of Concord - 1580

General Information

Sometimes called The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (German) or Concordia (Latin), this contains all the generally accepted symbols of the Lutheran Church. The Book of Concord comprises the following creeds and confessions: (1) the Apostles' Creed (ca. 186); (2) the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381); (3) the Athanasian Creed (ca. 350-600); (4) Luther's Large and Small Catechisms (1529); (5) the Augsburg Confession, written by Melanchthon and submitted by the elector of Saxony and other Lutheran princes at Augsburg in 1530; (6) the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), written by Melanchthon against the Roman confutation which had rejected the Augsburg Confession; (7) the Smalcald Articles (1537), written by Luther and summarizing the Protestant understanding of the major articles of faith for a church council that was never called; (8) the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1537), written by Melanchthon to augment the Smalcald Articles; and (9) the Formula of Concord (1577), written to settle a number of disputes arising among Lutherans after Luther's death.

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The Book of Concord was subscribed by over eight thousand pastors and by numerous territories and imperial cities of Germany. It was accepted in Sweden and Hungary, but only the confessions before 1531 were accepted officially in Denmark-Norway (although the later confessions were never rejected). Since 1580 most Lutheran pastors throughout the world have subscribed, at least formally, the Book of Concord at their ordination. None of the Book of Concord is confined to any national church, but all the confessions are considered ecumenical, i.e., orthodox and biblical and to be accepted by any Christian. All attempts since 1580 to add confessions to the Book of Concord have failed, although it has never been considered a sort of "closed canon."

R D Preus
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

F. Bente, Historical Introductions to the Book of Concord; H. Fagerberg, A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529-1537); R. Preus, Getting into the Theology of Concord; D. Scaer, Getting into the Story of Concord; E. Schlink, The Theology of the Lutheran Confessions.

Formula of Concord - 1577

General Information

The last symbol, or confession, representing the doctrinal position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. It was completed in 1577 and was published in the Book of Concord in 1578. It culminated some thirty years of arduous theological study and labor expended by hundreds of faithful Lutheran theologians as they sought to settle a number of doctrinal controversies which beset Lutheranism after Luther's death. Upon his death Lutheranism quickly fell into two parties. The Philippists (sometimes called Synergists or Crypto-Calvinists) followed the more mediating spirit of Philip Melanchthon as he veered toward a synergistic doctrine of conversion and a weakening of total depravity and as he formulated a doctrine of the Lord's Supper which, although Lutheran, was couched in terminology acceptable to the Reformed. Opposing the Philippists were the Gnesio (authentic) Lutherans who pointed out the deviations of Melanchthon and his followers, particularly condemning Melanchthon for accepting the Leipzig Interim, a compromise and evangelical politico-theological statement of faith and practice imposed by Emperor Charles V on the Lutherans in the German Empire after their defeat in the Smalcald War (1547).

When the two parties could not settle their controversies, a third large group of younger theologians arose to heal the division. Chief among these were James Andreae, who spear-headed the effort toward concord, Martin Chemnitz, David Chytraeus, and Nikolaus Selnecker. These men, who had been students of Melanchthon and respected him highly, were also firmly committed to Luther's theology on the points at issue. They represented the best scholarship and most respected leadership among the Lutherans of the day. After almost thirty years of doctrinal discussion throughout Germany and many abortive attempts to construct doctrinal statements that would unite Lutherans again in the theology of Luther and the earlier Lutheran confessions, the Formula of Concord was written in 1577. The document, together with an Epitome written by Andreae, was submitted to the Lutheran pastors, churches, and princes and subscribed by thirty-five imperial cities, the electors of Saxony, Brandenberg, and the Palatinate, and about eight thousand pastors.

The Formula of Concord deals with the following articles of faith: (1) original sin (affirming total depravity); (2) bondage of the will (affirming monergism in conversion and salvation by grace alone); (3) justification (stressing the forensic nature of justification); (4) good works; (5) the distinction between law and gospel; (6) the third use of the law (i.e., the necessity of preaching law in the Christian community); (7) the Lord's Supper (confessing the Lutheran doctrine of the sacramental union and the real presence); (8) the person of Christ (emphasizing the communication of attributes of the two natures); (9) the descent into hell (Christ's actual descent and victory over the forces of evil); (10) adiaphora; (11) predestination (to salvation by grace for Christ's sake, but not to hell); (12) various heresies (Anabaptism, Schwenckfeldianism, Neo-Arianism, etc.).

R D Preus
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

F.H.R. Frank, Die Theologie der Concordienformel; E.F. Klug, Getting into the Formula of Concord; R.D. Preus and W.H. Rosin, eds., A Contemporary Look at the Formula of Concord; E. Schlink, The Theology of the Lutheran Confessions.

The Smalcald Articles - (1537)

General Information

The Smalcald Articles were articles of belief named for the town in Hesse-Nassau, Germany, where they were presented to Protestant leaders; now part of the Book of Concord, the normative collection of Lutheran confessions. The Articles were occasioned by the call of Pope Paul III for a council at Mantua. Invited to attend, the German Protestants through Elector John Frederick of Saxony asked Luther to prepare a confession for them to submit. Luther wrote them during Christmas, 1536. Together with his Small and Large catechisms, they comprise his contribution to the Book of Concord. Illness prevented Luther's attendance when the princes and theologians met in February, 1537, at Smalcald. Luther's articles were subscribed by most of the theologians in attendance. The princes delayed action, declaring their refusal to recognize the council, which never did convene.

The Smalcald Articles are grouped in three parts: (1) those concerning "the chief articles" of "the Divine Majesty," about which there was no controversy with Rome, as the Trinity; (2) those concerning "the articles which refer to the office and work of Jesus Christ or our redemption," about which there was controversy with Rome and no compromise was possible, as justification by grace alone through faith; (3) those concerning miscellaneous matters, about which there was controversy but which were open to negotiation, as monastic vows and the marriage of priests.

The articles were valued as "a bold, clear-cut testimony of the Lutheran position" and as a testimony of Luther's personal faith, for he wrote them at a time when he felt his death was near. Published by Luther in 1538, a Latin translation appeared in 1541. By 1553 they were named the Smalcald Articles in an edition issued at Weimar. Within a generation they won wide approval in Lutheran Germany and were included in the Book of Concord. Attached to them was the "Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope" (1537) by Philip Melanchthon. It was officially adopted at Smalcald and, while intended to supplement the Augsburg Confession, it became associated with the articles.

C G Fry
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

T. G. Tappert et al., trs. and eds., The Book of Concord; W. D. Allbeck, Studies in the Lutheran Confessions; R. D. Preus, Getting into the Theology of Concord; D. P. Scaer, Getting into the Story of Concord.

Book of Concord - Formula of Concord - 1577

General Information




(Some of the sections of the text follow:)

The Formula of Concord

Translated by F. Bente and W. H. T. Dau


OF THE SUMMARY CONTENT, RULE, AND STANDARD according to which all dogmas should be judged, and the erroneous teachings [controversies] that have occurred should be decided and explained in a Christian way.

1. We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119, 105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed, Gal. 1, 8.

Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, [which are to show] in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this [pure] doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.

2. And because directly after the times of the apostles, and even while they were still living, false teachers and heretics arose, and symbols, i.e., brief, succinct [categorical] confessions, were composed against them in the early Church, which were regarded as the unanimous, universal Christian faith and confession of the orthodox and true Church, namely, the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, we pledge ourselves to them, and hereby reject all heresies and dogmas which, contrary to them, have been introduced into the Church of God.

3. As to the schisms in matters of faith, however, which have occurred in our time, we regard as the unanimous consensus and declaration of our Christian faith and confession, especially against the Papacy and its false worship, idolatry, superstition, and against other sects, as the symbol of our time, the First, Unaltered Augsburg Confession, delivered to the Emperor Charles V at Augsburg in the year 1530, in the great Diet, together with its Apology, and the Articles composed at Smalcald in the year 1537, and subscribed at that time by the chief theologians.

And because such matters concern also the laity and the salvation of their souls, we also confess the Small and Large Catechisms of Dr. Luther, as they are included in Luther's works, as the Bible of the laity, wherein everything is comprised which is treated at greater length in Holy Scripture, and is necessary for a Christian man to know for his salvation.

To this direction, as above announced, all doctrines are to be conformed, and what is, contrary thereto is to be rejected and condemned, as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith.

In this way the distinction between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament and all other writings is preserved, and the Holy Scriptures alone remain the only judge, rule, and standard, according to which, as the only test-stone, all dogmas shall and must be discerned and judged, as to whether they are good or evil, right or wrong.

But the other symbols and writings cited are not judges, as are the Holy Scriptures, but only a testimony and declaration of the faith, as to how at any time the Holy Scriptures have been understood and explained in the articles in controversy in the Church of God by those then living, and how the opposite dogma was rejected and condemned [by what arguments the dogmas conflicting with the Holy Scripture were rejected and condemned].

The Formula of Concord

I. Of Original Sin


The Principal Question in This Controversy.

Whether original sin is properly and without any distinction man's corrupt nature, substance, and essence, or at any rate the principal and best part of his essence [substance], namely, the rational soul itself in its highest state and powers; or whether, even after the Fall, there is a distinction between man's substance, nature, essence, body, soul, and original sin, so that the nature [itself] is one thing, and original sin, which inheres in the corrupt nature and corrupts the nature, another.


The Pure Doctrine, Faith, and Confession according to the Aforesaid Standard and Summary Declaration.

1. We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man's nature, not only as he was originally created by God pure and holy and without sin, but also as we have it [that nature] now after the Fall, namely, between the nature [itself], which eve n after the Fall is and remains a creature of God, and original sin, and that this distinction is as great as the distinction between a work of God and a work of the devil.

2. We believe, teach, and confess also that this distinction should be maintained with the greatest care, because this doctrine, that no distinction is to be made between our corrupt human nature and original sin, conflicts with the chief articles of our Christian faith concerning creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our body, and cannot coexist therewith.

For God created not only the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our bodies and souls after the Fall, notwithstanding that they are corrupt, which God also still acknowledges as His work, as it is written in Job 10, 8: Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about. Deut. 32, 18; Is. 45, 9ff; 54, 5; 64, 8; Acts 17, 28; Job 10, 8; Ps. 100, 3; 139, 14; Eccl. 12, 1.

Moreover, the Son of God has assumed this human nature, however, without sin, and therefore not a foreign, but our own flesh, into the unity of His person, and according to it is become our true Brother. Heb. 2, 14: Forasmuch, then, as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same. Again, 16; 4, 15: He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, yet without sin.

In like manner Christ has also redeemed it as His work, sanctifies it as His work, raises it from the dead, and gloriously adorns it as His work. But original sin He has not created, assumed, redeemed, sanctified; nor will He raise it, will neither adorn nor save it in the elect, but in the [blessed] resurrection it will be entirely destroyed.

Hence the distinction between the corrupt nature and the corruption which infects the nature and by which the nature became corrupt, can easily be discerned.

3. But, on the other hand, we believe, teach, and confess that original sin is not a slight, but so deep a corruption of human nature that nothing healthy or uncorrupt has remained in man's body or soul, in his inner or outward powers, but, as the Church sings: Through Adam's fall is all corrupt, Nature and essence human.

This damage is unspeakable, and cannot be discerned by reason, but only from God's Word.

And [we affirm] that no one but God alone can separate from one another the nature and this corruption of the nature, which will fully come to pass through death, in the [blessed] resurrection, where our nature which we now bear will rise and live eternally without original sin and separated and sundered from it, as is written Job 19, 26: I shall be compassed again with this my skin, and in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold.


Rejection of the False Opposite Dogmas.

1. Therefore we reject and condemn the teaching that original sin is only a reatus or debt on account of what has been committed by another [diverted to us] without any corruption of our nature.

2. Also, that evil lusts are not sin, but concreated, essential properties of the nature, or, as though the above-mentioned defect and damage were not truly sin, because of which man without Christ [not ingrafted into Christ] would be a child of wrath.

3. We likewise reject the Pelagian error, by which it is alleged that man's nature even after the Fall is incorrupt, and especially with respect to spiritual things has remained entirely good and pure in naturalibus, i.e., in its natural powers.

4. Also, that original sin is only a slight, insignificant spot on the outside, dashed upon the nature, or a blemish that has been blown upon it, beneath which [nevertheless] the nature has retained its good powers even in spiritual things.

5. Also, that original sin is only an external impediment to the good spiritual powers, and not a despoliation or want of the same, as when a magnet is smeared with garlic-juice, its natural power is not thereby removed, but only impeded; or that this stain can be easily wiped away like a spot from the face or pigment from the wall.

6. Also, that in man the human nature and essence are not entirely corrupt, but that man still has something good in him, even in spiritual things, namely, capacity, skill, aptness, or ability in spiritual things to begin, to work, or to help working for something [good].

7. On the other hand, we also reject the false dogma of the Manichaeans, when it is taught that original sin, as something essential and self-subsisting, has been infused by Satan into the nature, and intermingled with it, as poison and wine are mixed.

8. Also, that not the natural man, but something else and extraneous to man, sins, on account of which not the nature, but only original sin in the nature, is accused.

9. We reject and condemn also as a Manichaean error the doctrine that original sin is properly and without any distinction the substance, nature, and essence itself of the corrupt man, so that a distinction between the corrupt nature, as such, after the Fall and original sin should not even be conceived of, nor that they could be distinguished from one another [even] in thought.

10. Now, this original sin is called by Dr. Luther nature-sin, person-sin, essential sin, not because the nature, person, or essence of man is, without any distinction, itself original sin, but in order to indicate by such words the distinction between original sin, which inheres in human nature, and other sins, which are called actual sins.

11. For original sin is not a sin which is committed, but it inheres in the nature, substance, and essence of man, so that, though no wicked thought ever should arise in the heart of corrupt man, no idle word were spoken, no wicked deed were done, yet the nature is nevertheless corrupted through original sin, which is born in us by reason of the sinful seed, and is a fountainhead of all other actual sins, as wicked thoughts, words, and works, as it is written Matt. 15, 19: Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts. Also Gen. 6, 5; 8, 21: The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth.

12. Thus there is also to be noted well the diverse signification of the word nature, whereby the Manichaeans cover their error and lead astray many simple men. For sometimes it means the essence [the very substance] of man, as when it is said: God created human nature. But at other times it means the disposition and the vicious quality [disposition, condition, defect, or vice] of a thing, which inheres in the nature or essence, as when it is said: The nature of the serpent is to bite, and the nature and disposition of man is to sin, and is sin; here the word nature does not mean the substance of man, but something that inheres in the nature or substance.

13. But as to the Latin terms substantia and accidens, because they are not words of Holy Scripture, and besides unknown to the ordinary man, they should not be used in sermons before ordinary, unistructed people, but simple people should be spared them.

But in the schools, among the learned, these words are rightly retained in disputations concerning original sin, because they are well known and used without any misunderstanding, to distinguish exactly between the essence of a thing and what attaches to it in an accidental way.

For the distinction between God's work and that of the devil is thereby designated in the clearest way, because the devil can create no substance, but can only, in an accidental way, by the providence of God [God permitting], corrupt the substance created by God.

The Formula of Concord

IV. Of Good Works


The Principal Question In the Controversy Concerning Good Works.

Concerning the doctrine of good works two divisions have arisen in some churches:

1. First, some theologians have become divided because of the following expressions, where the one side wrote: Good works are necessary for salvation. It is impossible to be saved without good works. Also: No one has ever been saved without good works. But the other side, on the contrary, wrote: Good works are injurious to salvation.

2. Afterwards a schism arose also between some theologians with respect to the two words _necessary_ and _free_, since the one side contended that the word _necessary_ should not be employed concerning the new obedience, which, they say, does not flow from necessity and coercion, but from a voluntary spirit. The other side insisted on the word _necessary_, because, they say, this obedience is not at our option, but regenerate men are obliged to render this obedience.

From this disputation concerning the terms a controversy afterwards occurred concerning the subject itself; for the one side contended that among Christians the Law should not be urged at all, but men should be exhorted to good works from the Holy Gospel alone; the other side contradicted this.


Pure Doctrine of the Christian Churches concerning This Controversy.

For the thorough statement and decision of this controversy our doctrine, faith, and confession is:

1. That good works certainly and without doubt follow true faith, if it is not a dead, but a living faith, as fruits of a good tree.

2. We believe, teach, and confess also that good works should be entirely excluded, just as well in the question concerning salvation as in the article of justification before God, as the apostle testifies with clear words, when he writes as follows: Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin, Rom. 4, 6ff. And again: By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast, Eph. 2, 8. 9.

3. We believe, teach, and confess also that all men, but those especially who are born again and renewed by the Holy Ghost, are bound to do good works.

4. In this sense the words _necessary_, _shall_, and _must_ are employed correctly and in a Christian manner also with respect to the regenerate, and in no way are contrary to the form of sound words and speech.

5. Nevertheless, by the words mentioned, necessitas, necessarium, _necessity_ and _necessary_, if they be employed concerning the regenerate, not coercion, but only due obedience is to be understood, which the truly believing, so far as they are regenerate, render not from coercion or the driving of the Law, but from a voluntary spirit; because they are no more under the Law, but under grace, Rom. 6, 14; 7, 6; 8, 14.

6. Accordingly, we also believe, teach, and confess that when it is said: The regenerate do good works from a free spirit, this is not to be understood as though it is at the option of the regenerate man to do or to forbear doing good when he wishes, and that he can nevertheless retain faith if he intentionally perseveres in sins.

7. Yet this is not to be understood otherwise than as the Lord Christ and His apostles themselves declare, namely, regarding the liberated spirit, that does not do this from fear of punishment, like a servant, but from love of righteousness, like children, Rom. 8,15.

8. Although this voluntariness [liberty of spirit] in the elect children of God is not perfect, but burdened with great weakness, as St. Paul complains concerning himself, Rom. 7, 14-25; Gal. 5, 17;

9. Nevertheless, for the sake of the Lord Christ, the Lord does not impute this weakness to His elect, as it is written: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, Rom. 8, 1.

10. We believe, teach, and confess also that not works maintain faith and salvation in us, but the Spirit of God alone, through faith, of whose presence and indwelling good works are evidences.


False Contrary Doctrine.

1. Accordingly, we reject and condemn the following modes of speaking: when it is taught and written that good works are necessary to salvation; also, that no one ever has been saved without good works; also, that it is impossible to be saved without good works.

2. We reject and condemn as offensive and detrimental to Christian discipline the bare expression, when it is said: Good works are injurious to salvation.

For especially in these last times it is no less needful to admonish men to Christian discipline [to the way of living aright and godly] and good works, and remind them how necessary it is that they exercise themselves in good works as a declaration of their faith and gratitude to God, than that the works be not mingled in the article of justification; because men may be damned by an Epicurean delusion concerning faith, as well as by papistic and Pharisaic confidence in their own works and merits.

3. We also reject and condemn the dogma that faith and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost are not lost by willful sin, but that the saints and elect retain the Holy Ghost even though they fall into adultery and other sins and persist therein.

Also, see:
Augsburg Confession

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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