I was seized with the conviction that I must understand [Paul’s] letter to the Romans ... but to that moment one phrase in chapter 1 stood in my way. I hated the idea, “in it the righteousness of God is revealed.” ... I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners ...

At last, meditating day and night and by the mercy of God, I ... began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. ... Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open. —Martin Luther


Martin Luther turned the preface to his collected Latin works, written the year before he died, into an extended autobiographical comment. Almost in passing he included a now-famous remark: “I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open.”

Historians have come to call this event “the tower experience” or the “evangelical breakthrough,” and they have tried to date it and identify where it occurred.

When: Early or Late?

Luther’s preface also reports that “Meanwhile, already during that year, l had returned to interpret the Psalter anew.” Luther then adds that he was forced to break off these lectures when Charles V called the Diet of Worms. Consequently, Luther could be referring only to his second lectures on the Psalms (held from late 1518 to the Diet of Worms in 1521) rather than those of 1513–1515.

Moreover, the most cursory reading of his earlier lectures on the Psalms, and those on Romans (1515–1516), Galatians (1516–1517), and Hebrews (1517–1518) clearly reveals that his mind was in motion almost from the moment he first entered his lecture hall. Thus, all the evidence supports ...

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