“Thy Strong Word” is a Reformation Day favorite for many churches. Composed for a special purpose, the lyrics were based on the Concordia Seminary motto, “Light from above.” Read on for the full story behind this hymn, which is recorded in Eternal Anthems: The Story Behind Your Favorite Hymns.
Listen to “Thy Strong Word”
Hymn 578 in Lutheran Service Book
Text: Martin H. Franzmann Tune: Thomas J. Williams
Learn the History of “Thy Strong Word”
“Thy Strong Word” is an example of an occasional hymn, written upon request for a specific event. Walter E. Buszin (1899–1973), a Concordia Seminary colleague, friend, and neighbor of Martin Franzmann, had encountered the tune
EBENEZER. Enthusiastic about its potential, he prevailed upon Franzmann to write a text to the tune, relating it to the work and mission of the seminary, with the intention of using it at the seminary commencement ceremony in 1955. Franzmann elected to base the text on the seminary’s motto, “Light from
above” (see Matthew 4:16). The result, “Thy Strong Word,” initially comprising only four stanzas, was first sung in a seminary chapel service in October 1954 at which Buszin preached.
At some point, Buszin observed that the hymn would not be long enough for a commencement processional and seems also to have suggested to Franzmann that the necessary additional text should have a “Cross emphasis.” Franzmann responded to the request with the stanza “From the cross Thy wisdom shining,”
originally placing it third after “Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness.” The closing doxological stanza, added several years later in 1959, may have been at the initiative of the author or suggested by Buszin, who also attached importance to the doxological expression of a hymn.
“Thy Strong Word” was sung as a processional hymn at Concordia Seminary commencement exercises every year from 1955 to 1997 and several times thereafter.
Blog post adapted from Eternal Anthems: The Story Behind Your Favorite Hymns, page 165–66, copyright © 2022. Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Quotations marked LSB are from Lutheran Service Book, copyright © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Eternal Anthems: The Story Behind Your Favorite Hymns
Learn more about the words you love to sing in Eternal Anthems: The Story Behind Your Favorite Hymns.