Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Look At "Luther, Exposing The Myth" (Part Two): The commandments

"The rich idolaters are with us in the persons of those who say on the basis of Scripture (Matt. 19:17): “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Here they conclude that justification is by works. "- Martin Luther (LW 17:23)

This will the second installment evaluating the Link Luther, Exposing The Myth hosted by Catholic Apologetics Information. Part one can be found here. The author, Raymond Taouk divides up Luther’s comments by category. He first lists a Bible passage, and then culls a few quotes from Luther. I’m going to follow his outline. Taouk’s Luther quotes will be in red.

The Commandments

Christ taught: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

Luther teaches:

“If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out – chase yourself to the Jews”[Lecture At Wittenburg].

“Thou shalt not covet,’ is a commandment which proves us all to be sinners; since it is not in man’s power not to covet, and the same is the drift of all the commandments, for they are all equally impossible to us” [De Liv. Chris. Tom. 4:2].

“It does not matter what people do; it only matters what they believe” [Erlangen Vol. 29, Pg. 126 ].


Taouk begins by quoting Matthew 19:17. Without a context, Christ appears to be teaching that eternal life is gained by works. Taouk’s sparse citation is more Pelagian than it is Roman Catholic; official Roman Catholic dogma states the need for grace and faith as well.

The passage in context is a striking declaration of the impossibility of being saved by keeping the law. Salvation by the works of law is indeed a way to salvation: unfortunately, since mankind is dead in sin and hates the law no one can be saved by keeping it. By striving to do so, one learns the need for Christ the savior who did keep the law. The rich young ruler who spent his life attempting to keep the law is given the truth by Jesus that he hasn’t even begun to keep even the first of the commandments. Upon seeing this, the disciples ask in astonishment, “who then can be saved?” The Lord responds, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Rather than Christ teaching that salvation is accomplished by works, the passage demonstrates the futility of achieving it by works, and Christ declares that salvation is completely the work of God.

Luther commenting on Matthew 19:17 said,

"...[T]he papists make a big noise about the verse: “If you would enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). To be sure, they hear and understand the words as to their form. But when we go on to ask about the content: “What does it mean to keep the commandments? Or how does one keep them?” then one goes this way, another that way. At best, they do not get beyond the Second Table of the Ten Commandments. A Mohammedan says: “It means to be circumcised, to abstain from wine, etc.” A papist: “One must fast, pray, and vow chastity and obedience.” Only a few, the best and the most sensible among them, apply this to the works of the Ten Commandments. But even they are totally ignorant of the Gospel’s doctrine of Christ, which insists above all that the Law must be fulfilled."[LW 24:188]

Indeed, the law must be fulfilled in both heart and action. Only Christ has kept the law perfectly. If one seeks for the "good news" of the Gospel in Matthew 19, one will not find it in Matthew 19:17, but in Matthew 19:25-26, "Who then can be saved? Jesus looked at them and said to them, with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

A common charge against Luther is that he despised the Old Testament law and taught a radical antinomianism. I took a close it look at this charge here:

· *Luther And The Law: Did Martin Luther Abhor God's Law? (Part One)*

· *Luther And The Law: Did Martin Luther Abhor God's Law? (Part Two)*

Luther’s theology indeed has a place for the Law of God and its use in the life of a Christian. The Law for Luther was dual purposed: it first drives one to see their sin and a need for a savior; secondly it functions in the life of a Christian to lead one to a correct understanding of the good one ought to do.

Let’s take a look at the Luther quotes used by Taouk. I'm going to disregard the source citations he used, since i contend he did not read any of the three sources he quoted. I will though list good guesses as to the probable source he used if I can. Further, I'll try to give an actual reference to the English edition of Luther's Works.

1. "If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out: chase yourself to the Jews.”
Probable Source: Luther as cited by Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 311.

This quote is from the 1525 treatise How Christians should regard Moses. Luther says,

Now if anyone confronts you with Moses and his commandments, and wants to compel you to keep them, simply answer, “Go to the Jews with your Moses; I am no Jew. Do not entangle me with Moses. If I accept Moses in one respect (Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 5[:3]), then I am obligated to keep the entire law.” For not one little period in Moses pertains to us” [Source: LW 35:165].

The editors of Luther’s Works explain,

How, then, is “Moses” Word of God, and how is “Moses” law? How do Word of God and law relate to each other? Here Luther makes sometimes the most contrary statements. On the one hand “Moses” is completely abolished: “Moses does not pertain to us.” On the other hand we hear Luther expressing the wish “that [today’s] lords ruled according to the example of Moses.” Anyone who, like the enthusiasts, erects Mosaic law as a biblical-divine requirement does injury to the preaching of Christ. Just as the Judaizers of old, who would have required circumcision as an initial requirement, so also the enthusiasts and radicals of this later era do not see that Christ is the end of the Mosaic law. For all the stipulations of that law, insofar as they go beyond the natural law, have been abolished by Christ. The Ten Commandments are binding upon all men only so far as they are implanted in everyone by nature. In this sense Luther declares that “Moses is dead” [Source: LW 35:158].

2. "Thou shalt not covet,’ is a commandment which proves us all to be sinners; since it is not in man’s power not to covet, and the same is the drift of all the commandments, for they are all equally impossible to us” [De Liv. Chris. Tom. 4:2].

Taouk’s usage of this Luther quote only furthers my suspicion of his Pelagianism. He seems to be implying that mankind has the ability to keep the commandments, while Luther and the reformers say we can’t.

The quote seems to be a condensed version of a passage from The Freedom Of A Christian:

Should you ask how it happens that faith alone justifies and offers us such a treasure of great benefits without works in view of the fact that so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed in the Scriptures, I answer: First of all, remember what has been said, namely, that faith alone, without works, justifies, frees, and saves; we shall make this clearer later on. Here we must point out that the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises. Although the commandments teach things that are good, the things taught are not done as soon as they are taught, for the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it. They are intended to teach man to know himself, that through them he may recognize his inability to do good and may despair of his own ability. That is why they are called the Old Testament and constitute the Old Testament. For example, the commandment, “You shall not covet” [Exod. 20:17], is a command which proves us all to be sinners, for no one can avoid coveting no matter how much he may struggle against it. Therefore, in order not to covet and to fulfill the commandment, a man is compelled to despair of himself, to seek the help which he does not find in himself elsewhere and from someone else, as stated in Hosea [13:9]: “Destruction is your own, O Israel: your help is only in me.” As we fare with respect to one commandment, so we fare with all, for it is equally impossible for us to keep any one of them" [Source: LW 31:348].

Luther is saying what Jesus did in Matthew 19. No one as a member of sin-filled humanity can keep the commandments, and knowledge of that inability leading to despair drives one to Christ. Luther goes on a few sections later to point out that a Christian is the only one who can do good works. A faith-filled Christian does works to the glory of God. In other words, the regenerate are those who seek to lead godly lives, and not covet, or break the other commandments. For an in-depth look at the relationship of faith and good works in Luther’s theology, see my paper, *Did Luther Say: Be A Sinner And Sin Boldly?*

3. "“It does not matter what people do; it only matters what they believe” [Erlangen Vol. 29, Pg. 126 ].
Probable source: Peter Weiner, Martin Luther: Hitler’s spiritual Ancestor

I couldn’t find a reference in the English edition of Luther’s Works for this quote. A quick search of the World Wide Web produced a few hits, none of which gave a helpful reference or context. If Taouk got the quote from Wiener, note the context of Wiener’s usage, and his interpretation of Luther:

It is here that I have found Luther's teaching so very surprising. According to Luther, what we do and how we act does not matter in the least. All that matters is our belief. He came to this staggering, and in my view thoroughly unchristian, doctrine by the addition of one single word—the word “alone”—in His German translation of the Bible. In Rom. Iii, 28, Luther makes the Apostle say: “Thus we hold that a man is justified by faith alone without the works of the law.” (This, incidentally, is one of his many falsifications of the Bible).

It does not matter what people do; it only matters what they believe.” “God does not need our actions. All He wants is that we pray to Him and thank Him.” Even the example of Christ Himself means nothing to him. “It does not matter how Christ behaved—what He taught is all that matters” (E29, 196), is Luther's subtle distinction."

One can only hope that Taouk didn’t use Wiener for this quote, simply because Wiener has no idea what he’s talking about. I mentioned previously Wiener was not a scholar, and his small work on Luther is "full of falsifications of quotations and dishonest rhetoric that it cannot be taken seriously as a scholarly work...". This a glaring example of just that.

For Luther grace, faith, and the work of Christ are essential ingredients that justify, and that justification is a gift as well as the very faith involved. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.” But isn’t the Roman Catholic charge against Luther valid? If God judges a man by Christ’s perfect works, why should any Christian ever care about leading a righteous life? If grace, faith, and justification are God’s gifts, what is left for us to do? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Paul answers for Luther in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” Faith performs good works, not to keep one justified, but out of heartfelt gratitude to God graciousness. Salvation is unto good works. Note what this means: good works are not unto eventual salvation. We are saved in order to perform good works, not by performing them.

Faith,” wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” Luther scholar Paul Althaus notes: “[Luther] also agrees with James that if no works follow it is certain that true faith in Christ does not live in the heart but a dead, imagined, and self-fabricated faith." The book of James describes a real true faith in Christ: a real saving faith is a living faith. If no works are found in a person, that faith is a dead faith (c.f. James 2:17). James then describes a dead faith: the faith of a demon. A demon has faith that God exists, that Christ rose from the dead- I would dare say a demon knows theology better than you or I. But is the faith of this demon a saving faith? Absolutely not. Luther says, “Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith…”

Luther defines good works as those “works that flow from faith and from the joy of heart that has come to us because we have forgiveness of sins through Christ.” Only what God commands is a good work: “Everybody should consider precious and glorious whatever God commands, even though it were no more than picking a wisp of straw from the ground.” Works aren’t done because we want salvation and fear damnation. Luther says, “…[W]e are not to do them merely because we fear death or hell, or because we love heaven, but because our spirit goes out freely in love of, and delight in, righteousness.” Luther plainly teaches that saving faith is a living faith.

Luther taught a life under the cross, which is a life of discipleship of following after Christ. Our crosses though, do not save. They serve the neighbor. We are called to be neighbor to those around us. Luther says,

We receive Christ not only as a gift by faith, but also as an example of love toward our neighbor, whom we are to serve as Christ serves us. Faith brings and gives Christ to you with all his possessions. Love gives you to your neighbor with all your possessions. These two things constitute a true and complete Christian life; then follow suffering and persecution for such faith and love, and out of these grows hope and patience.”



FM483 said...


This was a good post of yours. Did you have the opportunity of reviewing the exchange between Apolonia and myself? The main contention still revolves around how is a man Justified in the eyes of God. The Galatian heresy is alive and well,not only in Roman Catholicism, but also American Evangelicalism and Protestanism in general. I listened to author and pastor Rick Warren on television today when he was interviewed. Warren maintains that the reasons there are problems in the world is due to the fact people make bad choices. Apparently Warren is content at ignoring 2000 years of Christianity, especially the 16th century Reformation. The main contention in the Reformation was whether unbelievers have any free will in spiritual matters. Warren says “yes”.The Scriptures say “no”. Warren says bad choices are the problem. The Scriptures say that sin and death is the problem. No wonder Warren never speaks the Name of Jesus Christ and the reason He came to earth for – the atonement for the sins of the world. Warren never gets to the heart of Scripture: the Gospel. I see the same confusion with the Roman Catholic belief that man has the will and ability to please God with commandment keeping. If this were true, why did Christ need to suffer, die, and rise from the dead? The Galatian heresy is alive and well on planet earth. Even those who hear the Gospel and believe are usually bound to be placed back under the Law in order to have a measuring rod of how well they are doing. When God pronounces a man Righteous by Grace through Faith, why does man insist on contributing to his salvation? Perhaps it is a misunderstanding of “Grace”? Even if God provides proof of man’s inability to keep His Law perfectly, mankind is bound and determined to keep it! Warren doesn’t get it either, failing to believe the Word of God that the heart of man is evil and wicked and an entirely New Creation needs to replace the Old Adam within each and every one of us. Warren should read John chapter 3 and 15: we need to be “born again” and it is Christ Who chooses us, not vice versa.

Frank Marron

Gavin said...

To examine his reasoning (after reading the article):

Christ said stuff.
Luther said stuff which DIDN'T contradict Christ, but contradicted Roman teaching.
Therefore Luther = Adolph Hitler.

I really wonder what the author is trying to do, besides get applause from Catholics less educated than him.

James Swan said...


I'm not that familiar with Warren, but after watching Christian TV, I wouldn't be surprised if these guys worshiped golden calfs and said it was the Gospel. If you'd like to write something up along these lines about Warren, i'll post it as a blog entry.


Thanks for an excellent summary of the link. Well said.