Thursday, October 27, 2011

LCMS: On Martin Luther's anti-Semitic statements

This is an interesting read: LCMS: On Martin Luther's anti-Semitic statements.
"While The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod holds Martin Luther in high esteem for his bold proclamation and clear articulation of the teachings of Scripture, it deeply regrets and deplores statements made by Luther which express a negative and hostile attitude toward the Jewish people."
I would certainly agree. The entire statement is thoughtful and well-articulated... with the exception of one point:
Resolved, That, in that light, we personally and individually adopt Luther's final attitude toward the Jewish people, as evidenced in his last sermon: "We want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord" (Weimar edition, Vol. 51, p. 195).
There's actually an ambiguity here. These words probably are not from Luther’s last sermon, but rather from his An Admonition Against The Jews (1546), which was added to his last sermon.

Luther’s last sermon has been said to contain his last blast of anti-Jewish writing: “Luther's last sermon, preached just days before his death, was brimming over with biting condemnation and vulgarities for the Jews” [source]. The editors of Luther’s Works though note this probably did not happen:
In Luther’s sermon of February 7, 1546 (WA 51, 173 ff.) no “blunt” statements against the Jews can be found. This sermon has been preserved in notes and was published later. At the end of this first edition the Admonition Against the Jews (WA 51, 195 f.), which has been ascribed to Luther, was added; this writing seems to fit the description Luther outlines [in his letters]—though this judgment may be debated—but it does not fit the one made[to his wife in a letter], since Luther does not “outlaw” or “expel” the Jews in this document. It is, of course, possible (as is suggested in WA, Br 11, 288, n. 15) that the editor of the sermon and of the Admonition “polished” the text somewhat and perhaps eliminated passages that sounded too harsh. Even though there is some evidence that the Admonition could have been a part of Luther’s last sermon preached in Eisleben and thus would be dated February 14/15, the arguments and the material presented in Rückert, LB, p. 429, n. 9, are sufficiently strong to suggest the Admonition was a part of Luther’s February 7 sermon [LW 50:303, footnote 19].
Luther's Works includes Luther’s last sermon preached at Eisleben February 15, 1546 and it does not contain anti-Jewish material.

Even the respected scholar Gordon Rupp refers to Luther’s last sermon and its material against the Jews: “Probably Luther preached his last sermon within hours of his death. It is the rambling, repetitious sermon of an old, tired man and we can almost hear the pauses for breath. But it is in the main a moving and simple exposition of the great evangelical mandate "Come unto me . . ." Yet at the end of it, he spoke about the Jews” [Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 20]. Many reputable scholars refer to anti-Jewish sentiment in Luther’s last sermon. Mark U. Edwards: “…[T]he intense antagonism Luther bore the Jews continued to the end of his life and even found violent expression in his last public sermon” [Luther’s Last Battles (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 134]. James Mackinnon: “His last sermon delivered at Eisleben a few days before his death (15th February 1546) concluded with a fiery summons to drive [the Jews] bag and baggage from their midst, unless they desisted from their calumny and their usury and became Christians” [James Mackinnon, Luther and the Reformation Vol. IV, (New York: Russell & Russell inc. 1962) 204].

Rupp provides this citation from Luther’s sermon:
"Now I am going home, and perhaps I will never preach to you again, and I have blessed you and prayed you to stay always close to God's Word ... I see the Jews are still among you. Now we have to deal with them in a Christian manner and try to bring them to the Christian faith that they may receive the true Messiah who is their flesh and blood and of the seed of Abraham—though I am afraid Jewish blood has got watery and wild these days. Yet they must be invited to turn to the Messiah and be baptized in him ... If not then we must not suffer them to remain for they daily abuse and blaspheme Christ. I must not, you must not be a partaker of the sins of others. God knows I have enough to do with sins of my own, but if they will give up usury and receive Christ we will willingly receive them as our brethren . . . but if they call Mary a whore and Jesus her bastard still we must exercise Christian love towards them that they may be converted and receive our Lord . . . this I tell you as your Landeskind not to be partakers of the sins of others. If they turn from their blasphemies we must gladly forgive them, but if not we must not suffer them to remain!"[WA. 51. 195-6 as cited in: Gordon Rupp, Martin Luther and the Jews (London: The Council of Christians and Jews, 1972), 21].
Interestingly, the last published volume of Luther's Works (vol. 58), includes a translation of this Admonition. Indeed, it does say what the LCMS statement says it does. However, Luther still is quite harsh against the Jews, requesting that if the Jews don't convert, it wouldn't be a bad idea for the Lords to "drive them away." It's an odd document. It's obvious he wasn't calling for the Jews to be killed, but he certainly would only tolerate them in society if they converted. Otherwise, they were to be banished. Here again, Luther was not against Jews as "people" but rather he was quite intolerant of their religion.


scotju said...

Your statement that Luther was opposed to the Jewish religion, but not against Jews as people is correct. But it's incorrect to label Luther an anti-semite, like the LCMS statement does. If Luther was an anti-semite, he could have never accepted jews as Chroistian converts. This may sound strange, but here's why I can say this.
The word anti-semite was coined by a man called Wilhelm Marrs. He was not a religious man, so he did not want to oppose the Jews on religious grounds. Marrs was a believer in the racial supremacy of the Nordic race. He believed , like most people of his kind, that all the superior or inferior traits of a race came from the biology of the group. This would have included religion and spirituality. This concept, of course, is not Biblical. But to define his concept of Jew hatred on biological terms, he came up with the neo-logism anti-semite. This way, he could avoid using the old words judeophobia or judehass (Jewhate) that classically refered to Jews as a religious group. His new word could be used to attack Jews who converted to Christianity or had just stopped practising Judaism all together. However, the original meaning of the word was quickly lost and (miss)used by anti and pro-semites to mean anyone opposed to the Jewish religion or people. The way it is used to day, even Jesus Christ can be called an anti-semite because of his opposition to the Jewish leaders of his day.

James Swan said...

But it's incorrect to label Luther an anti-semite, like the LCMS statement does.If Luther was an anti-semite, he could have never accepted jews as Chroistian converts.

Correct, I have mentioned this as well. Luther was not against the Jews as human beings.

natamllc said...

On the Jews and Their Lies, 1543, by Martin Luther, (1483-1546). Translated by Martin H. Bertram

I don't know, James, but I might have brought this book to your attention a couple years ago?

I know I had a number of email exchanges about that writing with one of the professors at Concordia who is also a pastor of a Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

At first he seemed somewhat sheepish about it that Luther would write such a book about Jews.

I observe that Martin Luther's view is almost square with the Apostle Paul's about Jews, himself being one!

I have been to a number of Jewish communities in the United States and in Europe as well as visiting Israel. Of the Jews I know personally, some of their points of view are somewhat hostile towards Biblical Christianity and Jesus being their Messiah. The conversation gets heated quick when I want to talk about my Faith in Jesus with them.

What I have observed about some Jews is as the Apostle wrote about himself when he persecuted the Jewish Christians, here:

Gal 1:13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.
Gal 1:14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.

After his abrupt conversion we read about just how high the emotions and the dramas became among the Jews dead set on keeping the Law with verses such as these:

Act 13:45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him.


Act 13:50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.


Act 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.


Act 15:1 But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
Act 15:2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.

As was in the Apostle's evangelistic days, so I suppose the high emotions were the same among the Jews of Martin Luther's days as I have personally experienced in my travels and goings on with and among Jews in these days.

I suppose this same high emotion will continue to the very last days for Jews between them and Christians and Muslims and and and, who hold to their heritage as keepers of the Laws of Moses, as God's privileged people and of a higher stature than all other races of men among the nations?

But God, nevertheless, has His own personal plan for the last days as Paul writes, here:

"...Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
Eph 1:8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
Eph 1:9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
Eph 1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. ...".

LPC said...

Dear James,

I am tracking a Luther quote, I am wondering if you could assist me by way of an email.

I think you should see my email through if you are tracking comments.



James Swan said...


I do not have your e-mail address, and it did not come up in the comments.

My e-mail is on my blog side bar.

Amillennialist said...

Martin Luther was not an anti-Semite; he merely applied Moses' remedy for idolatry from Deuteronomy 13.

If Luther was an anti-Semite, then so was Moses.

Here's Moses, not Martin:

"That prophet or dreamer must be put to death [...] You must purge the evil from among you [...] do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death [...] you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder [...] That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt [...]."

James Swan said...

Amillennialist said... Martin Luther was not an anti-Semite; he merely applied Moses' remedy for idolatry from Deuteronomy

I've put together a number of entries on Luther's attitude towards the Jews. As I've studied the topic over the years ( Whether Luther was or was not an "anti-semite" depends on how one defines the term.

There have been a number of researchers who conclude Luther's later anti-Jewish tracts were written from a position different than current anti-semitism. Luther was born into a society that was anti-Judaic, but it was not the current anti-Judaic type of society that bases it racism on biological factors. Luther had no objections to integrating converted Jews into Christian society. He had nothing against Jews as “Jews.” He had something against their religion because he believed it denied and blasphemed Christ.

If one frames the issue with the contemporary use of the word "Antisemitism," it does not typically have its distinction from anti-Judaism considered. The word now has a more broad meaning including anti-Judaism. The debate centers around whether the evolved use of the term is a significant step towards describing previous history or if it's setting up an anachronistic standard for evaluating previous history.

Kevin Failoni said...

James, I think its really important to acknowledge the imperfections of great christian leaders. You said " Whether Luther was or was not an anti-Semite depends on how one define the terms." Im going to say by anyone's definition he was anti semite. His last sermon from what I understand was laced with vitriol. But the Catholics don't have much to boast about. The Jews have been persecuted through history by the Catholics and the Reformers. I think this was a giant error. There is a future for the Jews in the Kingdom ( saved Jews), and from my perspective God hasn't forgotten his chosen people. I think the reformed get it wrong to apply all the blessings in first half of verses in the OT to the church, and all the bad stuff to the Jews. We shouldn't defend wrong behavior. And Luther, for as much as he did for true religion, behaved badly with the Jews. K

James Swan said...

Kevin Failoni said...
James, I think its really important to acknowledge the imperfections of great christian leaders. You said " Whether Luther was or was not an anti-Semite depends on how one define the terms." Im going to say by anyone's definition he was anti semite.

Hi Kevin: My explanation about the term "antisemite" was in regard to the scholarly discussion on the topic.

LPC said...

The LCMS is quick to be negative at the unpopular views of Luther. I believe Luther being a OT scholar knew more Talmud than the average Christian. I suspect he read the Talmud and what it says about Jesus and it naturally angered him.