Feeding Sheep, Not Giraffes

By: President Matt Proctor

Each week, President Proctor writes a brief message for OCC students. Read this week’s message about Martin Luther’s greatest accomplishment...

Five hundred years ago, you would have been an outlaw.

You probably have a Bible in your backpack, but 500 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church forbade ordinary folk from owning a Bible. In fact, they outlawed the translation of Scripture into other languages. Only the official Latin version—which virtually no one understood—was allowed.

But 500 years ago, everything changed. On October 31, 1517, a young German monk took hammer in hand and began to build a different world. Nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door, Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation—of which we as evangelical Christians are a part—and the world was never the same. Why? Martin Luther put God’s Word in the hands of the people.

Martin Luther was “wicked smart”—a theological prodigy and university professor at age 29. But as the son of a miner, Martin never forgot his blue collar roots. Though branded an outlaw by the Catholic Church, Luther decided to translate the Greek New Testament into the rough-and-tumble German of his people.

He was rough-and-tumble himself. Martin Luther loved Jesus fiercely, but he was no stain-glassed saint. His language was blunt and—at times—too colorful. (My wife Katie keeps a “$5 Jar,” a stiff penalty for inappropriate words. If Luther visited our house, he’d run out of five dollar bills faster than you can say weinerschnitzel.) But God used Luther’s plain-spokenness. Better than any other preacher of his time, Luther spoke the language of the people.

Luther detested pulpit ministers who wanted to sound intellectual, talking above people’s heads. Someone said, “Christ called us to feed his sheep, not his giraffes,” and Martin Luther put God’s Word down on the bottom shelf where regular German farmers and milkmaids could understand it. “Preachers must speak in church like we do at home, in the unvarnished mother tongue,” he wrote. “Let lawyers and other sophisticated people employ unusual words. People would rather hear a plain preacher they can comprehend.”

Luther’s intellectual wingspan—his ability to argue eloquently with biblical scholars, yet joke earthily with common laborers—equipped him perfectly for his Bible translation project. In just eleven weeks, he rendered the New Testament in the simple, lively German heard every day on the streets. Martin Luther’s German Bible spread across Europe like wildfire and, despite the Catholic Church’s opposition, inspired Bible translations in many other languages, including English. It’s not a stretch to say: Martin Luther is the reason you have a Bible in your backpack.

And that changed the world.

Today, on the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Reformation, remember the power of putting God’s Word plainly for people. As a Bible college student, you might be tempted to show off your education, tossing out fancy theological terms and needlessly quoting Greek words. Don’t do it. Doug Aldridge likes to say we are preparing “blue collar scholars”—graduates who study God’s Word deeply but who speak it simply. Be like Jesus—“the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37).

Feed his sheep, not his giraffes. 



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