Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Why Luther Removed 2 Maccabees from the Bible

Over on the Catholic Answers apologetics forum, I've spent some time engaging Roman Catholics (and one Lutheran) in a thread entitled, Martin Luther and the Deuterocanonicals. I mentioned this thread a few days ago. The basic question being asked is: why did Luther remove the Apocrypha from the Bible?

It didn't take long before the standard Roman Catholic answer appeared. According to many Roman Catholics, Luther removed the Apocrypha because it disagreed with his theology. For instance, 2 Maccabees 12:46 teaches such things like Purgatory, and since Luther didn't believe in Purgatory, he removed it.  The second part of this Roman Catholic argument is that Luther was cornered into rejecting 2 Maccabees while debating John Eck on Purgatory. It has become standard now to mention Gary Michuta's argumentation on this from his book, Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger for historical support on: Eck vs. Luther= remove 2 Maccabees.

That awful Luther just couldn't stand Roman doctrines, so he rejected all the Apocryphal books. But wait a minute... there are a few other Apocryphal books that go along with 2 Maccabees! I don't think I've ever heard a Roman Catholic explain which Roman Catholic doctrines the other books teach and why Luther rejected them. No, the emphasis is always on Purgatory and 2 Maccabees. There alone a red flag should go up that perhaps the typical Roman Catholic response doesn't match up to historical reality. That Luther may have rejected one book because it taught a distinctly Romanist doctrine doesn't explain why he rejected the other apocryphal books.

That aside, my favorite monkey wrench to throw into these types of discussions is the ironic fact that while Luther engaged John Eck on Purgatory, Luther still believed in Purgatory at this time and continued to do so for quite a while after the debate. 

Finally after a few days, a Roman Catholic response with some substance was directed my way attempting to deal with this. Below is my reply to this response. I first debunk Gary Michuta's argument, then I touched on the main thrust of the argument directed at me:

1. Gary Michuta, Luther, and Leipzig
Mr. Michuta's underlying argument against Luther in Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger is as follows. Before the Leipzig disputation against Eck, Luther accepted the Deuterocanon as authoritatively canonical (p.247-248). As proof, he notes "In 1518, Luther freely quoted Sirach and Tobit against his Catholic detractors; but by the following year, Luther's view of the Deuterocanon had taken a decidedly negative turn" (p. 248). The event of the following year provoking Luther's change was the Leipzig disputation. During the Leipzig Disputation, Eck cornered Luther by forcing him to deny the canonicty of 2 Maccabees. "Eck appealed to 2 Maccabees 12:46 as a clear and incontestable proof from Scripture that Purgatory exists" (p.249).  He then quotes Luther responding "There is no proof of Purgatory in any portion of sacred Scripture, for the book of Maccabees not being in the Canon, is of weight with the faithful, but avails nothing with the obstinate" (249). Michuta concludes, "Like the Marcionites, Ebionities, and Gnostics before him, Luther's theological convictions determined what constituted the canonical Scriptures. Consequently, Maccabees could never be allowed full canonical authority because it contradicts Luther's theology" (p. 252). Luther simply pulled out Jerome's appeal to the smaller rabbinical Jewish canon in order to deny Purgatory. Reading between the lines, Michuta is arguing Luther is fundamentally dishonest and simply changed to the smaller canon to just pick and choose his theology.

2. A Response to Gary Michuta's Argument
Contrary to Michuta's caricature of Luther pre-Leipzig, the reason why Luther could quote Sirach and Tobit is because Luther was heavily schooled with the Glossa ordinaria. When commenting on the apocryphal books, this work prefixes this introduction to them: Here begins the book of Tobit which is not in the canon; here begins the book of Judith which is not in the canon' and so forth for Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and Maccabees etc. The schooling Luther received informed his opinion on the canon. Even the Occamist influence in Luther's life would probably informed him similarly. Michuta himself notes Occam held to the allowance of reading the apocrypha, but that the books were not canonical (p. 218).

It wouldn't be odd to find Luther familiar with or fluent in the apocrypha, but that doesn't mean he believed it was canonical scripture. If one reads Luther's preface to the apocrypha, one will find the actual reasons he classified these books as non-canonical, and those reasons often echo previous voices from church history. One of the joys of having Luther's Works on CD-ROM is being able to do word searches. What one will find is that Luther quoted approvingly from Sirach and Tobit throughout his career. The same type of citations found in The Resolutions cited by Michuta are found later in Luther's writings. Mr. Michuta left this fact out, or was perhaps unaware of it. If indeed the debate with Eck forced Luther to change his opinion on the apocrypha, one would expect to find Luther's citations different than previously. What one finds is the exact method of citation from the apocrypha both before and after Luther's encounter with Eck. In fact, Luther's last writings were his Lectures on Genesis. Both Sirach and Tobit are cited by Luther in a very similar way to that in The Resolutions (or as Michuta would say, in a method commensurate with sacred scripture) yet, not considering it canonical scripture.

The approach I take is the exact opposite of Michuta. I consider Luther fundamentally honest on this issue. He denied the authority of 2 Maccabees to establish doctrine because that was simply how he was trained as a theologian, and he followed a tradition which denied the Dueterocanincals authority to establish doctrine.  Luther in fact provides detailed opinions of the Deuterocanonical books in his biblical prefaces. I see no reason to grant that his entire opinion suddenly shifted because of Eck at Leipzig.  Luther quoted from the Deuterocanonicals throughout his entire career, in a manner consistent with the views expressed in his Biblical prefaces. Michuta's paradigm has no way to account for this.

3. Catholic Answers
Now fast forward to this recent Catholic Answers discussion. The thread begins with, "I've heard many of the Catholic apologists on this site make the claim that Martin Luther "removed" the DC's because they provided biblical evidence for Catholic beliefs that Luther disagreed with (purgatory, etc)." He then adds later, "For Catholics, I would hope we have some historical evidence to back up the claim that Luther did it for the reasons we say he did it." Nick finds it hard to believe anyone would dispute that Luther removed the Apocrypha because it provided Biblical evidence for Romanist beliefs: "I would think the story plausible enough to be true. It explains why the OT and NT canon became such a hot topic for Luther. If a part of Scripture didn't agree with his theology, a good strategy would be question the Book's authenticity." He also quotes the Catholic Encyclopedia stating, "In his disputation with Eck at Leipzig, in 1519, when his opponent urged the well-known text from II Machabees in proof of the doctrine of purgatory, Luther replied that the passage had no binding authority since the books was outside the Canon."

Another contributor states, "One of the reasons that Luther is perceived to have done this is detailed in the book Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger by Gary Michuta. (which I happen to think is the best apologetics book published this century so far) In it he details an account of where Luther once spoke favorably of Maccabbees and then did a 180 later when he was debating Eck on purgatory."

There are therefore a number of people on Michuta's wavelength: Luther denied the canonicity of the apocrypha, at least 2 Maccabees, because it clearly teaches Purgatory. Of course, the other Dueterocanonicals are never typically mentioned. This is the only issue ever brought up: 2 Maccabees and Purgatory.  This is historical myopia.

Then comes the first meaningful response to my contributions to this discussion by someone whom I think is named Sam Entile (this is his CA signature link). Sam makes some good points, or at least takes this discussion to a deeper level.

Sam says,"Whether or not Luther believed there was a Purgatory is beside the point." What? This has been the thrust of the entire discussion, and as Nick stated, "If a part of Scripture didn't agree with [Luther's] theology, a good strategy would be question the Book's authenticity." The very question that opened thread asked if Luther removed "the DC's because they provided biblical evidence for Catholic beliefs that Luther disagreed with (purgatory, etc)." Michuta states, "Maccabees could never be allowed full canonical authority because it contradicts Luther's theology." Almost the entire tenor of the discussion revolves around whether or not Luther removed certain books because it contradicted his theology. The underlying assumption is that Luther's theology denied purgatory, so certain books had to go. This happens because many (if not most) Roman Catholics assume Luther didn't believe in Purgatory, so Michuta's argument makes a lot of sense.  Of course the problem, as I repeatedly stated it, is Luther still believed in Purgatory at the time in question, and continued to do so for some time afterward.

Sam says, "Luther had a major problem with the Catholic understanding of Purgatory, which included the help we can exercise for them by way of penances, including a financial penance. (Even Michuta, in a post Swan cites, says Luther rejected "Purgatory and all that goes along with it [prayer and sacrifices]." I think a careful reading of the section in Gary's book also shows this to be the context of Luther's theological departure from the Catholic understanding." Sam also launched into a discussion on indulgences related to Purgatory.

This is called anachronism. There was no complete dogma on the indulgence when Luther posted the 95 Theses, or at the Leipzig debate. There was no official doctrine as to the effect of the indulgence "and all that goes along with it" upon Purgatory. Until that was defined, theologians were able to debate on it, which is exactly what Luther did.

As to "a careful reading of Gary's book" which "shows this to be the context of Luther's theological departure from the Catholic understanding" I'd simply have to say: show me. I am working from the 1st edition, so if Gary has updated his arguments, I haven't seen it. I would posit though, if he did, he probably did so as a response to my blog entries. Unless shown otherwise from a later edition or elsewhere, my description of Michuta's argument above stands unless demonstrated from the context of his book.

Sam then says, "Luther's idea of Purgatory was very different than the Catholic idea of interceding on behalf of those souls (which included financial penance)." What Sam hasn't done though is provided any in-depth study as to what Luther's view of Purgatory actually was, or what this view dogmatically consisted of for Roman Catholic theologians during Luther's lifetime. He then reiterates that the "Catholic idea of interceding on behalf of those souls (which included financial penance)." The underlying assumption is this was the dogmatic Roman Catholic view during this period in Luther's life, but as has been pointed out, the relationship of indulgences and Purgatory were still an issue to be worked out. Theologians in a Roman system are free to debate on issues not yet dogmatically defined. So, arguing Luther didn't believe in Purgatory correctly fails as a way to get Mr. Michuta off the hook. Both Luther and Eck believed in Purgatory. 

The approach I take is the exact opposite of Michuta. I consider Luther fundamentally honest on this issue. He denied the authority of 2 Maccabees to establish doctrine because that was simply how he was trained as a theologian, and he followed a tradition which denied the Deuterocanonicals authority to establish doctrine. Luther in fact provides detailed opinions of the Deuterocanonical books in his biblical prefaces. I see no reason to grant that his entire opinion suddenly shifted because of Eck at Leipzig. Luther quoted from the Deuterocanonicals throughout his entire career, in a manner consistent with the views expressed in his Biblical prefaces. Michuta's paradigm has no way to account for this.

4 comments:

Carrie said...

Great points!

Rhology said...

2 Maccabees doesn't lend support to Purgatory without the worst of hermeneutical gymnastics. It cracks me up to see this argument repeated.

Nick said...

Hi James,

You said: "my favorite monkey wrench to throw into these types of discussions is the ironic fact that while Luther engaged John Eck on Purgatory, Luther still believed in Purgatory at this time and continued to do so for quite a while after the debate"

I'm not sold on the idea Luther "still believed" in Purgatory. You appear to base this on a single passage from another Article you wrote.

Here is what Luther says in the single quote you gave:

"The existence of a purgatory I have never denied. I still hold that it exists, as I have written and admitted many times, though I have found no way of proving it incontrovertibly from Scripture or reason. I find in Scripture that Christ, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Job, David, Hezekiah, and some others tasted hell in this life. This I think was purgatory"

This "Purgatory" Luther claims to 'still believe in' and 'never denied' sounds nothing like the traditional Purgatory. Where is it ever said Christ went to Purgatory in any Catholic document or Scripture? Luther says he finds in Scripture that people like Christ and David 'tasted hell', but the only plausible thing that Luther could be talking about is the Scriptural references of Christ going to 'upper Hades' (Acts 2:27,31).

Yet any informed person should know that this is not Purgatory as traditionally understood. If that's the case, which it seems like it is to me, then Luther 'continued to believe' his own version of Purgatory, thus rendering your objection null.

And as was pointed out, why would Eck be mentioning Purgatory if there was no disagreement on it but rather harmony? There had to be some substantial disagreement on Luther's end.

James Swan said...

Hi Nick,

Luther then says, "This I think was purgatory, and it seems not beyond belief that some of the dead suffer in like manner. Tauler has much to say about it, and, in short, I myself have come to the conclusion that there is a purgatory, but I cannot force anybody else to come to the same result."

If you find this subject interesting, I suggest you do a detailed study on Luther's view. Of critical importance to Michuta's argument would be Luther's view during his debate with Eck. In regards to this quote though, what was Tauler's view? Why would Luther mention it? These are questions that should've provoked you to begin with.

Do either you or Sam plan on going "deep into history" on your own? Certainly I could research this issue for you, rather than using the Socratic approach of trying to get you guys to think for yourselves. It has been my experience with those on your side of the Tiber that most don't care enough to go all that much deeper than beyond the materials I provide. Sure, some of you guys know how to find material from secondary sources via Google Books, (like, "This scholar said this" or "This scholar said that"). While this has value, it doesn't trump going to LW or WA and doing your own fresh study, along with Google Books.

I know close to nothing about you personally, but Sam claims to be "a Catholic, currently pursuing a master's degree in theology." I assume he would have the resources available to do what's necessary to have an informed opinion on this subject.

I currently have Michuta's 1st edition of Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger in front of me (also personally signed by Gary). I have nothing against Mr. Michuta personally. I can appreciate the fact that he at least tried to put out a book beyond the typical fluff that Rome's pop-apologists spew out. But as I skimmed through Gary's selected bibliography, it appears he didn't do the necessary research on Luther either. He refers to:

Jacobs, C.M. ed. Works of Martin Luther. Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932.

This is often referred to as PE, or The Philadelphia Edition (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press). Sometimes called the Holman Luther, since it was originally published by A.J. Holman Co. This is an English set in 6 volumes. They were published in the early 1900's.

This is basically close to using nothing from Luther. He cites PE on page 252, footnote 645:

"What is apostolicity for Luther? As Luther understood the term, apostolicity was the degree to which a book preached the gospel as Luther understood it. (645)

645 See Works of Martin Luther, trans. C.M. Jacobs (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932), United Lutheran Church in America, 6.363ff. Also see Reuss, History, 321.


I have PE 6 from 1932 in front of me right now as well. Page 363 has 7 words and two dates on it: "Prefaces to the Books of the Bible 1522-1545." Granted, Gary used "ff". However, I find it odd Gary wouldn't at least use a volume that contained Luther's prefaces to the apocrypha (this volume does not).

At least Gary could have used the 57 volume English LW set. His friend Steve Ray was even selling the 55 volume Libronix version of it (before I pointed it out, then he pulled off his website). So Gary probably did have access to it, but chose not to do the necessary research to present an informed view. Perhaps Gary has since revised his book, I don't know.

Simply stated, neither you, Sam, or Mr. Michuta have presented a cogent historical argument using the necessary research to present an informed view.