Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mitch Pacwa and Luther's Canon

In looking over Mitch Pacwa's upcoming Reformation video series, I came across this page from Ignatius Productions. It's a set of audio clips from Pacwa on the Reformation. Here's a short mp3 clip from Pacwa on Luther removing books from the Bible. This snippet is part of a ten minute clip by Pacwa specifically on Luther (the clip is no longer available).

Here are Pacwa's assertions:

1. For two years, Luther tried to "kick out" the book of Revelation from the New Testament.

2. In the first edition of his New Testament translation, excluded Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation

3. Luther removed these books because they contradicted the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
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. Luther therefore never tried to "kick out" books from the Bible. I'm not sure why Pacwa mentioned an alleged "two year" struggle with the book of Revelation. I'm not aware of any historical discussion in the year 1524 from Luther (or the years in between) pertinent to taking Revelation out of the his translation.

Pacwa appears to be confused by Luther's prefaces, which I've covered here. It's often the case that Roman Catholics equate Luther's questioning of the canonictiy of certain books with taking books out of his published bible. For instance, Jimmy Akin used to say Luther "cut books out of the Bible." This is a typical error made by Roman Catholics.

As to the list of books Pacwa asserts Luther tried to kick out, I know of no evidence that Luther ever had any negative criticism inclining him to "kick out" 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John. I checked Luther's original prefaces from 1522, and there's not even a hint of questioning these three books. In facts, of 2 & 3 John Luther stated, "The other two Epistles are not epistles of doctrine, but examples of love and faith, and have, besides, a true apostolic spirit" [Works of Martin Luther vol. 6 (Philadelphia Edition), p.476].

On the other hand, the person that did question the authenticity of these three books was Cardinal Cajetan, one of the leading Roman Catholic scholars of Luther's day. Will this fact make it into Pacwa's Reformation video series? I doubt it.

As to Luther removing books because they contradict justification by faith alone, the only book I'm aware of that would come close to Pacwa's description is the book of James. Luther's questioning of Jude primarily has to do with its status in Church history, and it’s internal evidence as to its apostolicity. As to Revelation and Hebrews, his reasoning was similar. Luther never explicitly adds Revelation to his list of “chief books.” However, his tone of writing in the 1530-revised preface contains only a remnant of the doubt as to its canonicity.With Hebrews, Luther’s opinion fluctuated throughout his career.

Pacwa's got a few years to straighten out his facts. So far, I've found him using the following questionable or erroneous facts:

Luther killed someone in duel

Roman Catholics responding nicely to Luther were made saints

Luther plagiarized an early German Bible, simply adding what he wanted to

Luther tried to kick books out of the Bible

Luther tried kick three books out of the Bible he thought were biblical.

Luther rejected James, Hebrews, Revelation, 2 Peter, 2 John, and 3 John because they contradict justification by faith alone. The truth is, Luther's opinion of James is the closest that comes to Pacwa's description.

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