Thursday, January 07, 2016

Luther on Revelation: "I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it."

The following link popped up a few weeks ago: Martin Luther- The Bare Truth Unfolded. The hosting website is Shoebat.com, and, as far as I can tell, is some sort of Anti-Islam pro-Roman Catholic website. From time to time they put up articles blaming Luther for the evils of the world (see the Beggars All archives). This article is similar to their previous offerings. Their recent hit piece includes some Luther quotes I've never gone into detail on or have never covered. For instance, they state the following:

Denial of the authenticity of the Apocalypse/Revelation

This will surprise many of the dear Protestant Christians who hold to a firm belief in the Holy Scriptures. In fact, as a fellow Christian, I wish to extend my sympathies to such. However, facts are that the very founder of the Protestant Reformation did not have any reverence for the Holy Scripture, especially when it clashed with his subjective thinking. Before we consider this, let us consider the warning by the Blessed Apostle St. John in Revelation 22:18, 19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecies of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” However, we find that Martin Luther had the gall to attack even any belief in the very Apocalypse itself as inspired of God. Let us consider this quote by Martin Luther:

“to my mind, it [the book of the Apocalypse/Revelation] bears upon it no marks of an apostolic or prophetic character… Everyone may form his own judgment of this book; as for myself, I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it.”

(Sammtliche Werke, 63, pp 169-170, ‘The Facts About Luther’, O’Hare, TAN Books, 1987, p 203)

Documentation
It's within the realm of possibility that Shoebat.com didn't actually take this quote from where it purportedly came from. The form of the quote is almost identical to its use in the Luther, Exposing the Myth webpage (see my extended review of this link). If this was the source used, Shoebat.com simply added one word, "Revelation."  :

Luther teaches: "To my mind it (the book of the Apocalypse) bears upon it no marks of an apostolic or prophetic character... Everyone may form his own judgment of this book; as for myself, I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it."[61]  Sammtliche Werke, 63, pp. 169-170, 'The Facts About Luther,' O'Hare, TAN Books, 1987, p. 203.

The similarity is striking. Regardless of whether or not this was simply a typical cut-and-paste, Shoebat.com cites "Sammtliche Werke, 63, pp 169-170, ‘The Facts About Luther’, O’Hare, TAN Books, 1987, p 203)." They at least admit to taking the quote from a secondary source, Patrick O'Hare's, The Facts About Luther (Tan edition).I've mentioned this book often throughout the years (it has been a perpetual source of propaganda for Rome's defenders). On page 203 (page 208 in the 1916 edition), Father O'Hare states,
"There are many things objectionable in this book," he says of the Apocalypse; "to my mind it bears upon it no marks of an apostolic or prophetic character. . . .Every one may form his own judgment of this book; as for myself, I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is sufficient reason for rejecting it." (Sammtliche Werke [Collected Works], 63, 169-170.) At the present day and for a long time previously, the Lutherans, ashamed of these excesses, have replaced the two Epistles and the Apocalypse in the Canon of the Sacred Scriptures.
O'Hare cites "Sammtliche Werke [Collected Works], 63, 169-170." These pages can be found here.




This reference is to Luther's Preface to the Revelation of Saint John (1522). It was included in his translation of the New Testament between 1522 to 1527. The preface was rewritten in 1530 and subsequent editions of Luther's Bible use the 1530 rewrite. An English translation was included in The Works of Martin Luther Volume Six [(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932), p. 488-489] (pdf) and also in LW 35 398-399. An English translation of the 1530 rewrite can also be found in The Works of Martin Luther Volume Six [(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932), p. 479-488] (pdf).

It's highly likely Father O'Hare did not actually translate this material into English, but rather used a secondary source.  There were English sources previous to O'Hare that used a similar quote. O'Hare definitely utilized John Alzog, so he may be presenting an edited version of Alzog's similar Luther quote (O'Hare actually cites Alzog only a few paragraphs later). If this basic outline of Shoebat.com's documentation is correct, it typifies how many of Rome's defenders do research in regard to Luther- both then and now.

Context
The Works of Martin Luther Volume Six [(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932), p. 488-489] (pdf)
About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own ideas, and would bind no man to my opinion or judgment; I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and this makes me hold it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic. First and foremost, the Apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear, plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the Gospel. For it befits the apostolic office to speak of Christ and His deeds without figures and visions; but there is no prophet in the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, who deals so out and out with visions and figures. And so I think of it almost as I do of the Fourth Book of Esdras, and can nohow detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.
Moreover, he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly, — more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important, — and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will deal likewise with him. Again, they are to be blessed who keep what is written therein; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. It is just the same as if we had it not, and there are many far better books for us to keep. Many of the fathers, too, rejected this book of old, though St. Jerome, to be sure, praises it highly and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words; though he cannot prove this at all, and his praise is, at many points, too mild.
Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit gives him to think. My spirit cannot fit itself into this book. There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it,-Christ is not taught or known in it; but to teach Christ is the thing which an apostle is bound, above all else, to do, as He says in Acts 1:8, “Ye shall be my witnesses.” Therefore I stick to the books which give me Christ, clearly and purely,

Conclusion
From the aspect of bare tedium, Shoebat.com's Luther quote consists of three sentences sifted out of three paragraphs, and those three sentences aren't exactly in the order in which the context presents them. Giving whoever translated this the benefit of the doubt, it may have been translated loosely. From the aspect of tedious consistency, I doubt that Shoebat.com actually has gone after those whom Luther refers to above, "Many of the fathers, too, rejected this book of old." The editors of Luther's Works state,
The canonicity of Revelation was disputed by Marcion, Caius of Rome, Dionysius of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and the Synod of Laodicea in A.D. 360, though it was accepted by others as Eusebius reports. Cf. p. 400, n. 63. Erasmus had noted in connection with chapter 4 that the Greeks regarded the book as apocryphal. WA, DB 7, 646, n. 22. (LW 35:399).
Shoebat.com goes on to say that "No serious minded Christian who has the new birth from above, will ever question the authenticity of any book of the Holy Scripture, most especially the New Testament. By the words of Holy Scripture, Luther has brought damnation upon himself and this should serve as a warning to others." One wonders how Shoebat.com reads church history. It appears Cardinal Cajetan and Desiderius Erasmus were not Christians either.

From the aspect of tedious fairness, Luther above states,"Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit gives him to think." In other words, Luther didn't really care if anyone agreed with him on this. In fact, Luther's attitude toward Revelation is sparse in writings previous to 1530 (when this was written).  

Now those are the tedious reasons why Shoebat.com didn't do a fair job in presenting this Luther quote. The essential blunder though is not doing any further research about Luther's prefaces. As mentioned above,  this preface to Revelation was included in his translation of the New Testament between 1522 to 1527, but was then rewritten in 1530, and subsequent editions of Luther's Bible use the 1530 rewrite. The rewrite is hardly ever referred to within anti-Luther polemics. John Warwick Montgomery points out,
Luther’s short and extremely negative Preface to the Revelation of St. John was completely dropped after 1522, and the Reformer replaced it with a long and entirely commendatory Preface (1530). Because “some of the ancient fathers held the opinion that it was not the work of St. John the apostle,” Luther leaves the authorship question open, but asserts that he can no longer “let the book alone,” for “we see, in this book, that through and above all plagues and beasts and evil angels Christ is with His saints, and wins the victory at last.” In his original, 1532 Preface to Ezekiel, Luther made a cross-reference to the Revelation of St. John with no hint of criticism; in his later, much fuller Preface to Ezekiel, he concludes on the note that if one wishes to go into prophetic study, more deeply, “the Revelation of John can also help.” [John Warwick Montgomery, “Lessons From Luther On The Inerrancy Of Holy Writ’s,” Westminster Theological Journal Volume 36, 295.]
In the revised preface, Luther states there are different types of prophecy in Christendom. The book of Revelation is of the kind that foretells things to come. He states,
The third type does it without either words or interpretations, exclusively with images and figures, like this book of Revelation and like the dreams, visions, and images that many holy people have had from the Holy Spirit—as Peter in Acts 2[:17] preaches from Joel [2:28], “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (LW 35:400)
Luther then goes on to give a basic interpretation of the text, applying it to his times. He concludes:
With this kind of an interpretation we can profit by this book and make good use of it. First, for our comfort! We can rest assured that neither force nor lies, neither wisdom nor holiness, neither tribulation nor suffering shall suppress Christendom, but it will gain the victory and conquer at last. Second, for our warning! [We can be on guard] against the great, perilous, and manifold offense that inflicts itself upon Christendom. Because these mighty and imposing powers are to fight against Christendom, and it is to be deprived of outward shape and concealed under so many tribulations and heresies and other faults, is impossible for the natural reason to recognize Christendom. On the contrary, natural reason falls away and takes offense. It calls that “the Christian Church” which is really the worst enemy of the Christian Church. Similarly, it calls those persons damned heretics who are really the true Christian Church. This has happened before, under the papacy, under Mohammed, indeed with all the heretics. Thus they lose this article [of the Creed], “I believe in the holy Christian Church.” [LW 35:409-410]
As should be obvious, Shoebat.com's presentation of church history and the interpretation of documents is dubious. I've mentioned this before: The goal of going through particular quotes is not to defend Luther as a Protestant saint. I see the study of any person in church history as an exercise in the love of God and neighbor. How do I love my neighbor in the study of church history? There probably are many ways, but the one that applies here is in my words. If I bear false witness against my neighbor, even if he's been dead for hundreds of years, I am not loving him. Certainly Rome's defenders can challenge or critisize Luther, but they should at least do so so fairly and accurately.

Addendum
"By 1529/30, however, Luther came to have a much more favorable attitude toward the Apocalypse, as we have also noted. This new outlook toward the book of Revelation most probably originated in Luther's concern over the same situation that led to his translation of, and comment on, the book of Daniel, prepared in the same year. By now Luther was willing to acknowledge the striking relationship between these two prophetic books-at least, insofar as they both seemed to him to deal with the papacy and were both for "comfort in this last time.'' [source]

5 comments:

Ken said...

Good work, as always, James!

Do you have the 1530 Luther introduction to Revelation, that replaced the 1522 one that the Roman Catholics and O'Hare are constantly using?

James, Do you think Luther retracted his view of Revelation communicated here (a partial quote from the 1522 one) ?

"There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it,- Christ is not taught or known in it; . . . " My bolding for emphasis - reading that years ago . . . I was very surprised by that comment by Luther . . .

I was always surprised at that, because Revelation chapter 5 is so full of the importance of Jesus as the lamb who was slain, the blood of the lamb, and the worship given to the Lamb. Also because of Rev. 7:9-14 - "they are clothed in white robes" and "they have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb" - seems to point to justification by faith alone in Christ and His atonement alone, apart from works or merit.

But maybe Luther changed his mind and saw those good things and hence, wrote a new introduction in 1530.

Shoebat has been very critical of Protestantism and Luther in recent years (as your posts demonstrate; and he has had a few run-ins with Dr. White also in the past few years), and he does seem to have converted to Roman Catholicism, although that is not completely clear to me either. He speaks well of the crusades, etc.

but he is very Pro-Israel and was (and still is, it seems, though I don't know for sure) very into Pre-tribulational and Pre-millennial theology and prophesy and Israel coming back as a nation in 1948 as a fulfillment of prophesy.

Years ago, (sometime between 1995-2000 ?), we exchanged a few emails, as we were on an email group of people doing ministry with Muslims, he got really upset with me (on an email group of people in ministry to Muslims), because I questioned his pre-trib and pre-Millennial stuff that was always such an overemphasis on modern Israel, etc. - like Hal Lindsay, John Hagee, and Jack Van Impe type of emphasis. He later either left the email group or was kicked out of the email group.

It is still hard for me to tell definitely if he is just supporting the militaristic history of the past of Romanism - Crusades, etc. vs. Islam, or if he really converted to Roman Catholicism (though he does speak positively of it.) see his article "Them Damned Catholics" at his website.

His pre-trib. pre-Millennialism and pro-1948 Israel as fulfillment of prophesy would seem to conflict with eschatological views of Roman Catholicism and the small Middle Eastern Churches that go back to earlier more ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism. (back to 500s - 600s and beyond to the modern era).

If you look at his web-site, in a 2012 interview with Pat Robertson (! Charismatic, CBN - 700 Club - TV personality, but certainly not pro-Roman Catholic), he gives a fairly in-depth analysis of the connections of key people with the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic terrorism, the history and fall and desire for Muslims to re-establish the Caliphate issues and the Sunni - Shiite connections - Shoebat even predicts that Iran will attack Saudi Arabia and destroy it in the near future. Maybe it was sometime after 2012 that he moved more toward Roman Catholicism. See below if interested. That caught my eye, because of the recent tensions between Iran and Saudi going on right now. His Arabic and knowledge of individual leaders in the world of Islam seems credible, although his claim of being a former terrorist has lots of wholes in it, and his stuff on Anti-Christ and 666 is goofy.

http://shoebat.com/2014/03/10/walid-predicts-destruction-saudi-arabia-iran-cbn-2012/

Ken said...

I googled the 1530 Intro to Revelation by Luther and found 2 links which seem pretty good.

http://www.auss.info/auss_publication_file.php?pub_id=754&journal=1&type=pdf

(at the bottom it has both the 1522 Intro and the 1530 Intro:

http://www.godrules.net/library/luther/NEW1luther_f8.htm

I don't know about what church or theological viewpoint the "godrules" web-site is, but it seems to have just included all of Luther's intros to all the books of the Bible.

James Swan said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for the comments. A few things:

1) I appreciated your insights into Shoebat.com. If you ever have the time, I would appreciate a blog entry with the same sort of information / speculation. Keep in mind also: The author of this current Shoebat.com offering was not written by the Shoebat's, as far as I can tell, but rather someone named, "Thomas King." He's also written a number of other articles on the Shoebat website.

2) The "godrules" link does include both of Luther's Revelation prefaces. They are using The Works of Martin Luther Volume Six [(Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1932) which I link to in the article (pdf).

3) The link you provided from Vogel on Luther's eschatology looks interesting. I skimmed through it, and bookmarked it for later reading.

4) IMO, Luther's criticism of Revelation / Jude / James / Hebrews was sort of like a 15- 16th century fad (for lack of a better phrase). The entire ad fontes zeitgeist provoked theologians to question and scrutinize sources (ex. Donation of Constantine). Erasmus did the same sort of thing Luther did.

5) IMO Luther's eschatological expectations provoked him to give Revelation at closer look.

Ken said...

I would appreciate a blog entry with the same sort of information / speculation.

Ok, as is, or do you think I need to provide even more information? I will try to work on something for future. It may be more in the form of asking Shoebat himself questions, in order to clarify where he seems unclear.

Yes, I saw that that was from a "Thomas King". There are other authors also.

I did not notice your link to the Pdf volume six of Luther's works until you pointed it out.

Very interesting, now that I have slowed down enough to see the others (volumes 1-5 also). Are there more? Volume 7 says it does not exist, when I put it in, but I don't see Luther's commentary on Galatians in volumes 1-6. Nor the Bondage of the Will. (or I just did not see them) I am guessing that there are many more volumes, based on your other links.

I know you have lots of other links at your site here to that and others of Luther's works. I wish I had time to study Luther more; but of the big questions, you have provided all of us valuable access to those issues.

Some of the links are no longer there. (the one linked to the bondage of the will (Henry Cole translation) at a Covenanters Presbyterian site, no longer there. - but such is the nature of the internet. I am amazed at all the links and your undertaking of Luther's works and analysis. Your work is very important on the key things that Roman Catholics and others like Shoebat and atheists/skeptics distort about Luther. Thanks for doing all that tedious work!

http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2007/07/resources-martin-luther.html

James Swan said...

Just your basic comments above on Shoebat.com. If you want to expand them, that's fine.

In regard to the set / volumes on Luther cited in this entry, see:

http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2011/11/works-of-martin-luther-with.html