"When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scripture, and we cannot harmonize them, let them pass. It does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith."- Martin Luther
This is a Luther quote I came across via Brigitte's blog, being used by (of all people) a Lutheran. He's arguing, "The Word is inerrant. The Word is infallible.The book does not have to be. The book, the Bible, does contain God's Word." The basic premise is that the Bible contains God's word. Holding such a position is far different than the Bible IS God's word. This Lutheran has also provided subsequent argumentation via his blog. The obvious conundrum for such a position is how one determines which words in the Bible are the very words of God, and which are not. By the way, Romanists haven't sorted this out yet either.
This is indeed one those Luther quotes with polemical value, particularly on this subject of Biblical inerrancy. Here Luther's word "discrepancies" mean errors. The quote gained a little popularity many years back via the work of Jack Rogers and Donald McKim: The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible. They state, "Luther's basic attitude was: 'When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scriptures and we cannot harmonize them, let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith' "(p.87). According to Rogers and McKim, Luther didn't-
This Luther quote also resurfaced in the book Models for Scripture By John Goldingay. On page 263 he states, "Luther describes Scripture as 'God incarnate.'Yet he is untroubled by irreconcilable 'discrepencies' in Scripture: 'Let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.' " The reference given is back to Rogers and McKim.
As to the views of Rogers and McKim, it was probably about 15 years ago in which I heard a debate between Jack Rogers and John Woodbridge. Woodbridge simply destroyed Rogers view on the Scriptures, and his view of Luther. The transcripts of the debates can be found here:
Inerrancy, Part 1: Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?
Evangelicals Debate Bible Inerrancy—Part 2 Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?
Evangelicals Debate Bible Inerrancy—Part 3 Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?
Evangelicals Debate Bible Inerrancy—Part 4 Can Evangelical Christians Unite on One View of Scripture?
Woodbridge also wrote a response book: Biblical authority: a critique of the Rogers/McKim proposal
As to the Goldengay book, Don Carson wrote a lengthy review. In that review he states,
The treatment of the positions adopted by characters of historical importance in the church is frequently skewed. For example, Goldingay writes that Luther 'is untroubled by irreconcilable 'discrepancies' in Scripture: 'Let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.' This quotation he assigns to WA 46.727, as he has culled it from the book by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, p. 87. But Rogers and McKim have been taken to the woodshed for their persistent and frankly irresponsible treatment of texts, pulling things out of their context and frankly misunderstanding what they read. Worse, the full sentence from Luther, rightly quoted in this instance by Rogers and McKim, is not quoted by Goldingay. The sentence reads: 'When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scriptures and we cannot harmonise them, let it pass, it does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.' In other words, by 'let it pass' Luther does not mean 'it does not matter', but that some cases we are not going to be able to resolve. That in principle they can be resolved Luther does not doubt: elsewhere he says, for instance: 'It is impossible that Scripture should contradict itself; it only appears so in senseless and obstinate hypocrites' (W2 9.356). Or again: 'But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they (the Fathers) have erred, as men will: therefore I am ready to trust them only when they prove their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred' (WA 7.315). Goldingay tries to give the impression that errors do not really matter to Luther. Far from it: they matter so much he invests a lot of energy in harmonisation and text criticism. All he is saying is that if a small residue of problems remain, one should not worry.
Of the Luther quote in question, Carson is absolutely correct. Here's WA 46:727. Luther is commenting on John 2:13-15. This texts reads in English:
Recently we heard St. John’s description of how Christ miraculously changed water into wine at a marriage at Cana in Galilee, which was the first miracle to reflect His glory; then we also heard of His and His family’s removal from Nazareth to Capernaum, where He sojourned and preached for three years. Now there follows John’s account of Christ’s visit in Jerusalem for the Passover and of the tumult He caused in the temple. This we treated in our sermon on Wednesday on the basis of the twenty-first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where this same episode is recorded. At that time we heard that Christ entered the temple right after His arrival in Jerusalem and there stirred up this commotion.
But now the question arises: How do we harmonize the accounts of the two evangelists, Matthew and John? For Matthew writes that all this happened on Palm Sunday, when the Lord made His entry into Jerusalem. And here in John we read that it occurred at the time of the Passover that followed Christ’s Baptism, the same Passover season during which the miraculous changing of water into wine also took place, and that then Christ moved to Capernaum. For Christ was baptized in the Epiphany season. And it seems possible that He tarried the short time until Passover in Capernaum, preaching there, and then cleansed the temple at the Passover of which John writes here.
These are problems and will remain problems. I shall not venture to settle them. Nor are they essential. It is only that there are so many sharp and shrewd people who are fond of bringing up all sorts of subtle questions and demanding definite and precise answers. But if we understand Scripture properly and have the genuine articles of our faith—that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, suffered and died for us—then our inability to answer all such questions will be of little consequence. The evangelists do not all observe the same chronological order. The one may place an event at an earlier, the other at a later time. Mark, too, chooses the day after Palm Sunday for this story. It may also be that the Lord did this more than once, and that John reports the first, Matthew, the second event. Be that as it may, whether it happened sooner or later, whether it happened once or twice, this will not prejudice our faith.
In our calculations we must assume, as all historians do, that Christ was baptized in His thirtieth year and that He preached for three full years after that event. But He continued to preach after the expiration of the third year, from the festival of the Circumcision of Christ, or Epiphany, until Passover, which might be roughly computed as half a year. This extends His preaching ministry over a period of approximately three and one half years. Now it is possible that the event recorded in our text happened after His Baptism, at the age of thirty, during the first Passover festival of His ministry. But when it took place is immaterial. If one account in Holy Writ is at variance with another and it is impossible to solve the difficulty, just dismiss it from your mind. The one confronting us here does not contradict the articles of the Christian faith. All the evangelists agree on this, that Christ died for our sins. But in their accounts of Christ’s deeds and miracles they do not observe a uniform order and often ignore the proper chronological sequence.
Still it is my opinion that here John skips over the first three years of the Lord’s preaching after His Baptism and speaks only of the fourth year. It was at the Passover festival which immediately preceded His suffering that He drove the buyers and the sellers from the temple. For John tells about many other things that Christ did at the time of the Passover festival. But nowhere else do we read that Christ paid much attention to the temple and its ministry, unless it was at the age of twelve (Luke 2:41–51). Otherwise He behaved quietly each time He visited Jerusalem for the three high feasts. Thus the accounts of John and of the other evangelists might be made to tally quite well, and I hold that this event occurred only once. But even if it happened three times, that would not be heresy. [LW 22:217-218]
I find it ironic that a Lutheran would try to use Luther against inerrancy. It's obvious to me he probably never looked up the context of the Luther quote he used. A few months back I mentioned that Lutheran scholar J.M. Reu's book Luther and the Scriptures was now online via a pdf document (that pdf seems to have vanished). This is one of the best books on Luther's inerrancy. Of the quote in question, Reu states: