Saturday, April 04, 2009

Not, "Why Johnny Can't Read or Write," but "Why Johnny Shouldn't Write"


"Are you starting to get an idea of why Martin Luther threw the Book of James out of his version of the Bible? And, even after he put it back in, he referred to it as an “epistle of straw”. Can you imagine what non–Catho lic Christians would say if the Pope referred to any book of the Bible as an “epistle of straw”? Yet, that’s exactly what Martin Luther did."

This was a comment from Catholic apologist John Martignoni's recent newsletter, Apologetics or the Masses – Issue #115. Unfortunately, Martignoni is considering publishing comments like these in a new book, as if the world needs yet another book of Catholic apologetics making up stuff about Martin Luther.

An obvious sign that someone like Martignoni has not read anything about Luther and the canon is the assertion, “Martin Luther threw the Book of James out of his version of the Bible." Another one floating around cyberspace is the one Steve Ray uses, "If it weren’t for his theologian Philip Melanchthon, Protestants would no longer consider James, Revelation, Hebrews, Jude and a few other books as inspired Scripture." I've covered that one here.

It is a simple historical fact that Luther’s translation of the Bible contained all of its books. Luther began translating the New Testament in 1521, and released a finished version in 1522. He published sections of the Old Testament as he finished them. He finished the entire Bible by 1534. During these years, various incomplete editions were released. Some Protestants might be surprised to learn that Luther also translated the Apocrypha. The editors of Luther’s Works explain, “In keeping with early Christian tradition, Luther also included the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. Sorting them out of the canonical books, he appended them at the end of the Old Testament with the caption, ‘These books are not held equal to the Scriptures, but are useful and good to read.’ "

When Luther published his Bible, a layman found the entirety of the canon. Luther expressed his thoughts on the canon in “prefaces” placed at the beginning of particular Biblical books. These prefaces were not out of the ordinary. Luther was not engaging in any sort of outrageous scholarly behavior.

Luther does appear to have held lifelong doubts about the canonicity of James, but he didn't "throw it out," and then have to put it back in. He did not whimsically dismiss Biblical books simply because he did not like their content. Luther was aware of the disputed authenticity of the book. Eusebius and Jerome both recorded doubts to the apostolicity and canonicity of James. Luther did not consider James to be James the Apostle. He wasn't alone in this. The great humanist Scholar Erasmus likewise questioned the authenticity of James, as did Cardinal Cajetan, one of the leading 16th Century Roman Catholic scholars.

It is true Luther had a contextual problem with the content on James. He saw a contradiction between Paul and James on faith and works. Some conclude Luther missed the harmonization between these two Biblical writers, but this isn't true either. Luther's great biographer Roland Bainton pointed out, "Once Luther remarked that he would give his doctor's beret to anyone who could reconcile James and Paul. Yet he did not venture to reject James from the canon of Scripture, and on occasion earned his own beret by effecting reconciliation. 'Faith,' he wrote, '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' " [Here I Stand, 259]. In The Disputation Concerning Justification, Luther answered this spurious proposition: Faith without works justifies, Faith without works is dead [Jas. 2:17, 26]. Therefore, dead faith justifies. Luther responded:

"The argument is sophistical and the refutation is resolved grammatically. In the major premise, 'faith' ought to be placed with the word 'justifies' and the portion of the sentence 'without works justifies' is placed in a predicate periphrase and must refer to the word 'justifies,' not to 'faith.' In the minor premise, 'without works' is truly in the subject periphrase and refers to faith. We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a feigned faith. 'Without works' is ambiguous, then. For that reason this argument settles nothing. It is one thing that faith justifies without works; it is another thing that faith exists without works. [LW 34: 175-176].

Even though Luther arrived at the harmonizing solution, it is probably the case that the question of James' apostleship out-weighed it. One cannot argue Luther was never presented with a harmonization between Paul and James. He seems to have granted the validity of it, yet still questioned the canonicity of the book.

As to the "epistle of straw" comment, I've covered that here.
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7 comments:

Andrew said...

You still don't get it do ya Swan?! Luther was a jerk! He wanted to be his own pope and he hated Jews, and he was a drunk, and he swore, and.....did I mention he was a jerk? Anyway, you have to agree with that assesment of Luther because otherwise it would mess everything up. Oh, and Calvin was a cruel dictator who murdered Michael Servetus. So there!
(Too much?)

Christopher said...

This has nothing to do with this post, but I have aquestion that is bugging me. I am trying to figure out which christianity is the real christianity and like to read blogs and arguments and stuff. On this page I see a lot of things that critiques catholic arguments saying that they are illogical and such. What amazes me and seems like one of the best arguments for the roman church is it's continued existence at all. It seems like it should have ceased to be long ago due to loss of political power and scandal and whatnot. Yet it remains. And it seems to be the backdrop against which other "christianities" are defined. Would somone adress this even tjhough it is off the topic a little? I don't remember who this was, but one author I read called it the "sheer isness" of the catholic church. It seems supernatural in a way doesn't it?

Turretinfan said...

Hi Christopher:

Go get a Bible, read it through, and find out.

-TurretinFan

Ken Temple said...

Christopher -
Turretinfans' advice is the best to start with.

I offer some other shorter things to think about:

this is from Jason Engwer's series, "Catholic, but not Roman Catholic".

Is Christian unity primarily organizational, or is it primarily spiritual? Roman Catholics often attempt to minimize the disagreements among members of their denomination, while maximizing the organizational disunity among evangelicals, even when those evangelicals largely agree on matters of truth. The church father Athanasius didn't agree with the priorities of modern Roman Catholic apologists. He wrote the following around the middle of the fourth century, when Arian heretics held the positions of leadership in most of the churches, including the Roman church. The Arians were holding church councils in support of their heresy, councils attended by hundreds of bishops.

Athanasius (bishop of Alexandia, died in 373)

Athanasius wrote:

"I know moreover that not only this thing saddens you, but also the fact that while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith; while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith. Who then has lost more, or who possesses more? He who holds the place, or he who holds the Faith? Good indeed is the place, when the Apostolic Faith is preached there, holy is it if the Holy One dwell there....But ye are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from Apostolic tradition, and frequently has accursed envy wished to unsettle it, but has not been able. On the contrary, they have rather been cut off by their attempts to do so. For this is it that is written, 'Thou art the Son of the Living God,' Peter confessing it by revelation of the Father, and being told, 'Blessed art thou Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to thee,' but 'My Father Who is in heaven,' and the rest. No one therefore will ever prevail against your Faith, most beloved brethren. For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should seem to speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment by means of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place, while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke, they were deserted by the truth. What profit then is the Place to them? For behold they that hold the Place are charged by them that love God with making it a den of thieves, and with madly making the Holy Place a house of merchandise, and a house of judicial business for themselves to whom it was unlawful to enter there. For this and worse than this is what we have heard, most beloved, from those who are come from thence. However really, then, they seem to hold the church, so much the more truly are they cast out. And they think themselves to be within the truth, but are exiled, and in captivity, and gain no advantage by the church alone. For the truth of things is judged" (Festal Letter 29)

"These are fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take ought from these." (Festal Letter 39:6)

What is he referring to? The Pope's ex cathedra rulings on matters of faith and morals? A collection of oral traditions? Doctrines like the Assumption of Mary, indulgences, and numbering the sacraments at seven?

No, Athanasius made the comments quoted above just after listing a canon of scripture. And his canon contradicts that of Roman Catholicism. He refers to "the Church" and "the Fathers" agreeing with his non-Roman-Catholic canon, and he agrees with evangelicals about looking to the Jews for the Old Testament:

"There are, then, of the Old Testament, twenty-two books in number; for, as I have heard, it is handed down that this is the number of the letters among the Hebrews" (Festal Letter 39:4)

Catholics often quote Athanasius referring to "the Church", "the Fathers", the authority of the Council of Nicaea, etc., but they don't explain that Athanasius often defines those terms differently than Roman Catholics do. And, as Athanasius explains repeatedly, he considered these other sources of authority to be subordinate to scripture.

Athanasius wrote:

"what need is there of Councils, when the Nicest is sufficient, as against the Arian heresy, so against the rest, which it has condemned one and all by means of the sound faith?" (De Synodis, 6)

If we were to read Athanasius the way Roman Catholics suggest we do, we would conclude that Athanasius is contradicting sola scriptura in this passage. After all, he appeals to a non-Biblical source, the Council of Nicaea, and he refers to it as sufficient. But, shortly after the comment above, Athanasius explains:

"Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture." (De Synodis, 6)

Andrew said...

Christopher,
For me the bottom line question is this: How is a man made right with God? I don't believe you could derive the Roman Catholic Church's position on this from scripture. I tried it and left because, among other things, I felt like I was on a spiritual treadmill that kept going faster as my legs got more fatigued. I knew that my relationship to God was not well. I had no peace with God and Romans 5 says that we have peace with God because we are justified by faith. We don't contribute one iota to our justification. We don't work to keep it either. It is a gift. Anyway that's my two cents worth.

Fearsome Comrade said...

Man, talk about your glass houses...is John Martignoni suggesting that we can't find any examples of popes saying embarrassing things?

bkaycee said...

Christopher, the Jews have been around alot longer than the church of Rome, does that mean we should follow the rabbis? The Orthodox church has been around as long as the church of Rome, so what?