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Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam

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Title: Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam  
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Subject: Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, Christum wir sollen loben schon, Wir glauben all an einen Gott
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Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam

"Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" ("Christ our Lord came to the Jordan") is a Lutheran hymn about baptism by Martin Luther, written in 1541 and published in 1543. It was used in several musical settings, including a chorale cantata and chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach. The hymn was translated to English, for example by Richard Massie to "To Jordan came our Lord, the Christ", which appears in six hymnals.


  • Text 1
  • Melody and settings 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Literature 5
  • External links 6


Luther wrote the hymn focused on baptism as part of his teaching about Lutheran concepts, possibly as the last hymn he wrote.[1] Luther held sermons about baptism in the Easter week of 1540; it seems likely that he wrote the hymn in the context. It is closely connected to Luther's teaching about baptism in his Small Catechism, reflecting the structure of his questions and answers.[1][2]

Several later publications refer to the year 1541 as a first publication as a broadsheet, which did not survive.[1] The hymn appeared in 1543, summarized "A Spiritual Song of our Holy Baptism, which is a fine summary of What it is? Who established it? What are its benefits?"[1] ("Ein Geistlich Lied von unser heiligen Tauffe, darin fein kurtz gefasset, was sie sey? Wer sie gestifftet habe? Was sie nütze?"). In the Lutheran liturgy, the hymn was related to the feast day of John the Baptist.[3] In the current Protestant hymnal, Evangelisches Gesangbuch, it is No. 202.

The hymn was translated, for example by Richard Massie to "To Jordan came our Lord, the Christ", which appears in six hymnals.[4]

Melody and settings

The melody in Dorian mode[5] is older than the text and appeared already in 1524 in Johann Walter's choral hymnal Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn with the hymn "Es wolle Gott uns gnädig sein" (a paraphrase of Psalm 67), likely created by Walter.[1][2][6] When Luther looked for a melody for the new baptism hymn, "Es wolle Gott uns gnädig sein" was already assigned a different melody. It made sense to use a tune for a hymn about God's grace for a specific expression of that grace in baptism.[1] Walter revised the four-part setting from 1524 with the melody in the tenor, adapting it to the different text. It was published in 1550.[7]

Baptism of Jesus, José de Ribera
Beginning of Bach's chorale prelude BWV 684

The hymn is the basis for several musical settings. A four-part setting by Wolf Heintz was used to introduce the Reformation in Halle in 1541.[2] Johann Sebastian Bach composed the chorale cantata Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7, for Johannistag that celebrated John the Baptist.[8][3][9]

Bach also composed two chorale preludes as part of his Clavier-Übung III, BWV 684 a four-part setting with the cantus firmus in the pedal, BWV 685 as a fuga inversa for the manual. Both setting use vivid figures to depict the river. The early Bach biographer Philipp Spitta notes in 1873:
When in the arrangement of the chorale "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" an unceasing figure of flowing semiquavers makes itself heard, it needs no skilled critic of Bach's works to find in this an image of the river Jordan. Bach's real meaning, however, will not reveal itself thoroughly to him until he has read the whole poem to the last verse, in which the water of baptism is brought before the believing christian as a symbol of the atoning Blood of Christ.[10]
Albert Schweitzer comments BWV 685:
The chorale prelude on baptism, "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam", … represents running waters … in the last verse of the chorale, baptism is described as a wave of salvation, stained with the Blood of Christ, which passes over humanity, removing all blemish and sin. The small version of the chorale prelude … is a curious miniature … four motifs come forward simultaneously: the first phrase of the melody and its inversion; and the first phrase of the melody in a faster tempo and its inversion … Is not this the case of a very literal observation? Do we not believe that we see waves rising and falling, with the faster waves tumbling over the slower waves? And is not this musical imagery addressed more to the eye than the ear?[11]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^


  • Kurt Aland (ed.): Luther Deutsch, Band 6, Stuttgart/Göttingen 2.1966, S. 352f

External links

  • Ein Geistlich Lied von unser heiligen Tauffe, darin fein kurtz gefasset, was sie sey? Wer sie gestifftet habe? Was sie nütze? etc. text in
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