Literacy in the Classroom…Martin Luther: Encouraged Mass Literacy

Dec 21st, 2017 | Category: Literacy In the Classroom
By Lauren Wellen

Most recognize Martin Luther for his posting of the 95 theses on the Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. This column will discuss another contribution, his belief that men, women, and children should be literate. With this conviction, Luther translated the Bible into German so that everyone—poor and rich, male and female, boys and girls—would be ready to meet God and understand the way to salvation. In doing this, Luther encouraged mass literacy (Murphy, 2006).

Today, “In everyday speech, literacy means the state of being able to read and write” (Feeney, Moravcik, & Nolte, 2016, p. 379). In 1998, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the International Reading Association now known as the International Literacy Association (ILA) wrote a joint position statement about teaching children to read and write. The main point was, “It is essential and urgent to teach children to read and write competently, enabling them to achieve today’s high standards of literacy” (Learning to Read and Write, 1998, p. 2). With these descriptions of literacy, a comparison could be made that Martin Luther was a forward thinker in understanding that by placing the Bible in the people’s hands, they would be able meet the standards of literacy for his era: to read and study God’s Word, memorize prayers, and read devotional literature.

Furthermore, Luther endorsed the first compulsory education laws in Germany (Murphy, 2006). “This later inspired the American colonists to enact the first law in the new land regarding the need for each town to establish a school where both boys and girls could learn to read the Bible” (Painter cited in Murphy, 2006, p. 145).

Luther’s leadership paved the way for children and adults to become literate by using the Bible as a means to gain literacy. As the author Murphy (2006) stated, “And so Luther promoted the widespread teaching in the vernacular language and effected a rapid growth in literacy among all” (p. 146).  The importance that is placed on Luther’s contribution to literacy cannot be underestimated. His leadership is important to the lives not only of Christians, but of all people today.


Feeney, S., Moravcik, E. & Nolte, S. (2016). Who am I in the lives of children? (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River: NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Learning to read and write: Developmentally appropriate practices for young children. (July 1998). Young Children, 53 (4), 30-46.

Murphy, M. M. (2006). The history and philosophy of education: Voices of educational pioneers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Painter, F. V. N. (1889). Luther on education. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.