W.J. Kooiman-J.P. Boendermaker Luther Research Position

photo Sabine Hiebsch
Dr Sabine Hiebsch
January 1, 2011 the Faculty of Religion and Theology at VU University Amsterdam has established a research position specific to Luther and his theology. This is the only position in the Netherlands focused entirely on the research of Luther. The research position is held by Dr Sabine Hiebsch. Dr Hiebsch works as an externally funded researcher four days a week in the section of Church History.

The position has been named after two renowned Luther researchers: Prof. W.J. Kooiman (1903-1968) and Prof. J.P. Boendermaker (1925) of Amsterdam. Since the mid-twentieth century these two scholars put the texts of Luther as a central focus of their research. They did not limit their research to the academic writings of Luther, but focused specifically on his Old Testament sermons and the table talks. They led the way, internationally, with this approach.

Dr Hiebsch took up this line of research and developed it further in her doctoral dissertation (supervisors Prof. Boendermaker, Dr Th.M.M.A.C. Bell) on biblical female figures in Luther’s Old Testament sermons: Figura ecclesiae: Lea und Rachel in Martin Luthers Genesispredigten.

Luther portrait from: S. Hiebsch en M.L. van Wijngaarden (red.) Martin Luther: zijn leven, zijn werk, Kampen: Kok 2009 (2nd edition)
Luther portrait from: S. Hiebsch en M.L. van Wijngaarden (red.) Martin Luther: zijn leven, zijn werk, Kampen: Kok 2009 (2nd edition)
Luther's  presence in current theological matters
Especially Luther’s hermeneutical roots and the (late) medieval sources that played a central role in the development of his theology are of importance in Dr Hiebsch’s research. The continuous study of the sources is the basis for a deeper understanding of what the reformation was aiming at originally and for the topicality of Luther’s theology. This approach to research allows for Luther’s presence in the discussion of current theological matters.

The purpose of the research position is to study Luther’s writings, the sources which were important to the origin and development of his theology and the reception and continuation of Luther’s theology, especially in the Low Countries. This includes the translation and accessibility of the research results for a wider audience through lectures, articles and academic courses.


In 2011 and 2012 Dr Hiebsch’s research focused mainly on ‘The heart as key to Luther’s understanding of the experience of faith’.

In the beginning of 2013 Dr Hiebsch has started research on the meaning of the saints in the theology of Luther and its reception, and on communion tokens in Dutch Lutheran congregations.

She is also busy with the preparations of a Dutch study edition of the works of Luther. This study edition will increase the accessibility to the range of Luther’s thoughts for those interested in theology and for students who do not read Medieval Latin and 16th century German that easily anymore.

International collaboration
Luther research in the Netherlands takes place in an environment in which mainly Calvinism has written history. The Lutheran church, from the inception of the first Lutheran congregations in Antwerp and Woerden in 1566, on the territory of the Netherlands at that time, has stayed a minority in a country that has long been dominated by a reformed denomination.

Therefore Dr Hiebsch collaborates closely in her research projects with Luther and reformation researchers in Germany, Scandinavia and the United States: countries in which Lutheran theology and traditions have been strongly represented throughout history. Speaking at international conferences and participation in international projects are thus a substantial part of her activities.

Dialogue with Reformed traditions
Due to the specific context regarding the history of the Reformation in the Netherlands, dialogue with the different reformed traditions is a given fact. Dr Hiebsch is part of this dialogue by participating in various research groups pertaining to the Reformation.