Reading Scripture with Argula von Grumbach

“the word of God is constantly before my eyes, reminding me of my obligation to confess Christ, an obligation from which neither man nor woman is excluded"

The Reformation brought a new freedom to Christians. With the proclamation of the priesthood of all believers, meaning that no person needed a priest as mediator for access to God, and with the push to translate the Bible into the vernacular so that all literate people could read and understand the Bible for themselves, an equalizing spirit swept through the Reformation. On a spiritual level at least, women were equal with men. From the preface to the Great Bible written by Thomas Cranmer,[1] to Erasmus, to Luther and Calvin praising women for their knowledge of Scripture, women were encouraged to read the Scriptures for themselves. Take for example this quote from Erasmus: “I should prefer that all women, even of the lowest rank, should read the evangelists and the epistles of Paul.”[2]

Indeed, the Protestant Reformation encouraged and pushed for universal education for both boys and girls so that they could learn to read Scripture for themselves.[3] In light of this new egalitarian theology, women from a variety of backgrounds found a voice and entered into the action of proclaiming the Gospel and wrestling with the new theology of justification by faith. At the advent of the Reformation “many women comprehended immediately what it was about, embraced its faith, preached its message and encouraged its leaders.”[4] Unfortunately, the response from the leaders of the Reformation to these women actively participating in preaching and teaching was not entirely positive. More often than not, the women who chose to write, preach and teach were met with invectives, attempts to expunge their writings, and silence.

Today, on the podcast, I'm introducing listeners to my favourite female theologian of the Reformation: Argula von Grumbach. Come and listen to excerpts of her writings to see how she read Scripture.

To find out more about Argula von Grumbach, check out the following resources:

Matheson, Peter, ed. and trans. Argula von Grumbach: A Woman's Voice in the Reformation. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995.

Matheson, Peter. “A Reformation for Women? Sin, Grace and Gender in the Writings of Argula von Grumbach.”Scottish Journal of Theology 49, no. 1 (1996): 39–55.

Stjerna, Kirsi. Women and the Reformation. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2009.

[1] Thomas Cranmer, “Preface to the Great Bible” in Denis Janz, ed., A Reformation Reader (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008), 347.
[2] Erasmus, “Paraclesis: or, an Exhortation (1516)” in Joel Harrington, A Cloud of Witnesses: Readings in the History of Western Christianity (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 343.
[3] Kirsi Stjerna, Women and the Reformation (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 44. There is debate as to the equality of the quality of the education given to girls compared to boys. Susan Karant-Nunn notes that the encouragement for women to read Scripture was to teach women their moral responsibility “to be submissive wives, responsible mothers and attentive, frugal housekeepers.” Susan Karant-Nunn, “Continuity and Change: Some Effects of the Reformation on the Women of Zwickau,” Sixteenth Century Journal XII (1982): 19.
[4] Daniel Frankforter, “Elizabeth Bowes and John Knox: A Woman and Reformation Theology,” Church History 56 (1987): 334.

April 22, 2022 | Amanda Hackney