Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Luther: Moses is an executioner... Let us send Moses packing forever

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "The Commandments":

"Moses is an executioner, a cruel lictor, a torturer a torturer [sic.] who tears our flesh out with pincers and makes us suffer martyrdom . . . Whoever, in the name of Christ, terrifies and troubles consciences, is not the messenger of Christ, but of the devil . . . Let us therefore send Moses packing and for ever"[D. Martini Lutheri Exegetica Opera Latina, published by Elsperger (Erlangen, Heyder, 1829-84), Vol. 18 pg. 146].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Luther blatantly rejected Moses and devalued the law of God.

Luther, Exposing the Myth cites "D. Martini Lutheri Exegetica Opera Latina, published by Elsperger (Erlangen, Heyder, 1829-84), Vol. 18 pg. 146." This reference is only partially correct because the quote being cited is not one quote, but two quotes. The first part of the quote is on page 142.

The second part of the quote is on page 146-147.

It's highly unlikely Luther, Exposing the Myth actually mined this quote out of the original Latin. Rather, it probably came from a secondary source. I'm fairly confident the secondary source is: Antonin Eymieu, Two Arguments for Catholicism (Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1928 ) p. 44. This book documents the quote as "Opera exeget. XVIII, 146 seq." The "D. Martini Lutheri Exegetica Opera Latina, published by Elsperger (Erlangen, Heyder, 1829-84)" part used by Luther, Exposing the Myth is on page 37. Luther, Exposing the Myth appears to have a taken a number of quotes from this secondary source.

These two quotes being cited are from "Psalmi XLV" (Luther's classroom lectures on Psalm 45, 1532). Technically, Luther did not write this text. They are the result of  Luther's scribe, Georg Rörer. LW 12 points out that Luther's commentary on Psalm 45 was published in 1533-1534 but with reluctance on Luther's part. His health issues did not allow him to any  revisions of the text (LW 12, Introduction to Volume 12).  This text has been translated into English in LW 12 "Selected Psalms."  These two quotes in question can be found in LW 12:207 and LW 12:211.

The caricature presented by Luther, Exposing the Myth is that Luther despised Moses and slandered Moses. The context though says something quite different. Luther is commenting on Psalm 45:2. It is a comparison is between "King" Moses and the Law (imperfect) and "king" Jesus and the Gospel. The first part: "Moses is an executioner, a cruel lictor, a torturer who tears our flesh out with pincers is found here:
This is the first sweet and delightful thing in this lyric, which sings about and promises a kingdom with such a King. There will be no imperfections in Him, but a will full of virtues and a mind full of wisdom, with glowing love toward all miserable, damned, and sorrowful sinners. Moses is not such a king. He is a tormentor and cruel executioner and torturer, who torments us and troubles us with his terrors, threatenings, and displays of wrath. He forces us to do good outwardly; or, if we do our best, he inwardly humbles us and makes us long for grace. But our King, who is celebrated here, is full of mercy, grace, and truth. In Him love for mankind is to be found and the greatest sweetness; a person who, as we find in Isaiah 42:2, “does not cry in the streets,” is not austere and rough, but patient and long-suffering. He exercises judgment against the wicked and blasphemers, and shows mercy toward sinners. Therefore He is a most pleasant and fair King, and there is no one like Him in the whole world. In Him is to be found the highest virtue and the highest love toward God and men. It is with these adornments that His person is decorated, so that there is no overweening pride, desire, lust, or any other base affection in Him. We see Him described this way in the Gospels, and the facts themselves point to His having been so. He did not keep company with the holy, powerful, and wise, but with despicable and miserable sinners, with those ruined by misfortune, with men weighed down by painful and incurable diseases; these He healed, comforted, raised up, helped. And at last He even died for sinners. He did not frighten, and He did not kill, as Moses did, but He drew, gladdened, comforted, cured, and aided all who came to Him. He is therefore the King of kings, without equal. Yet this is true only if you look at the spirit and not at the external appearance of the flesh. This is simply one aspect of the description of His person, pointed out briefly and with few words. The holy Evangelists and St. Paul in his Epistles describe it more fully and enlarge upon it; they paint this King in His true colors and point out what kind of person He is, and these things are most helpful for those of us who find ourselves in difficulties and vexations of conscience [LW 12:207].
The second part: "Whoever, in the name of Christ, terrifies and troubles consciences, is not the messenger of Christ, but of the devil . . Let us send Moses packing and forever" is found here:
So Christ should not be depicted with gall or a sword in His mouth, as they always portray Him, unless it is to be understood spiritually. He should be depicted in such a way that His lips seem to be pure sugar or honey. Whoever depicts His mouth otherwise errs, and we should rather listen to this poet than to the papists and Satan, the authors of this horrible picture. For this poet will not deceive us when he ascribes to Christ the loveliest mouth. This must be noted carefully. For Christ should not make hearts sad with His words, He ought not to terrify. Whoever terrifies and vexes consciences in Christ's name is not a messenger of Christ but of the devil, for Christ's name is: "A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not quench." He is gentle: "He will not cry or lift up His voice or make it heard in the street" (Is. 42:3, 2). He is not rough, severe, biting like Moses, who looks like the very devil and speaks in a way that our heart almost vanishes before him. For he has lips overflowing with gall and wrath, that have been embittered with laurel and gall, in fact, with hellish fire. So away forever with Moses! But our King has pleasant lips; that is, His Word is the Word of the remission of sins and of comfort for the lowly, the Word of life and salvation to recall the damned and dying [LW 12:211].

Contrary to Luther, Exposing the Myth, Luther’s theology did have place for the Law of God and its use in the life of a Christian. The Law for Luther was dual purposed: it first drives one to see their sin and a need for a savior; secondly it functions in the life of a Christian to lead one to a correct understanding of the good one ought to do. Moses and the law were important in his theology. Luther taught that anyone who is to preach must be able to preach the law:
First, he must preach the Law so that the people may learn what great things God demands of us; of these we cannot perform any because of the impotence of our nature which has been corrupted by Adam's fall [The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 1 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 1:131].
Luther also points out that only by knowing God’s law does one even "know" what a good work is:
O]nly those things are good works which God has commanded, just as only that is a sin which God has forbidden. Therefore, he who wants to know and do good works need only know God’s Commandments… These Commandments of God must teach us how to distinguish among good works [Ewald Plass, What Luther Says Volumes 1-3 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing house, 1959) 3:1499].
These examples show that Luther valued the law. Luther scholar Paul Althaus points out for Luther:
The Ten Commandments have their place not only ‘before’ but also ‘after’ justification; thus they not only exercise the Christian in the theological function of the law but also lead him to a right knowledge of the good he ought to do according to God’s will [ Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 272].
Luther composed a hymn on the Ten Commandments in which he states, “To us come these commands, that so- Thou son of man, thy sins mayst know- And make thee also well perceive- How before God man should live” [LW 53:279]. Elsewhere Luther said of the Ten Commandments, “They are the true fountain from which all good works must flow” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 272, footnote 124].

In Luther’s Small Catechism the Ten Commandments were placed first because he wanted people to understand that God is wrathful against sin. The negative prohibitions in the Ten Commandments clearly showed our need for a savior. also in the Small Catechism, Luther suggests a daily regiment of prayer and includes a verbal reading of the Ten Commandments. In the reciting of the Ten Commandments along with the Apostles Creed and Lord’s Prayer, one hears both law and gospel at the beginning and ending of each day. Luther says,
[N]o man can progress so far in sanctification as to keep even one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but that the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our assistance, as we shall hear, through which we must continually seek, pray for, and obtain the power and strength to keep the Commandments" [What Luther Says 3:1501].
Luther placed a strong emphasis on the First Commandment, which was one of the key factors in the shape of his entire theology. Luther believed God spoke the word of creation bringing human creatures into existence was repeated in the First Commandment. The whole of the Scripture can be summarized in the First Commandment. It was both law and gospel. It is law because it invokes a demand with a burden that can crush us. When we do not place God at the center of our lives, we are lost not living the full life of a human creature. This command is also gospel: it is good news that God says He is our Father, that He is our God, protector-provider, Lord and Savior. It is His gift of being His child. The implication of this for Luther’s entire theology is that he derived all of God’s gracious promises from the First Commandment. As Roland Bainton has rightly said,
One might have expected the great line of demarcation for [Luther] to have lain between the Old Testament and the New. It did for some Protestants, like the Anabaptists, who rejected the wars of Yahweh and took literally the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount. Luther on a different count might have used his distinction of law and gospel to repudiate Moses as law, but Luther did not. Law and gospel, said he, lie side by side throughout the whole Bible. That which relies on man's good works is law. That which relies on God's good grace is gospel. The Ten Commandments can witness to grace and the Sermon on the Mount can be treated as a new law. Therefore, the Old Testament is not to be rejected or relegated to a lower rank. Here one must recall that Luther interpreted the Old Testament in terms of the pre-existent Christ, who was speaking through Moses and through David [Roland Bainton, Studies on the Reformation, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), p. 6-7].
Luther said of the entire Old Testament,
Christ must first be heard in the Gospel, then it will be seen how beautiful and lovely the whole Old Testament is in harmony with him, so that a man cannot help giving himself in submission to faith and be enabled to recognize the truth of what Christ says in John 5: 46, "For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me, for he wrote of me [The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 1 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 1:151].

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.


Anonymous said...

I'm really enjoying this series. Thank you for the good work.

James Swan said...


PeaceByJesus said...

I just to thank God for this site and you for being His servant in providing such a wealth of material, both exposing the presumption R Catholicism in a scholarly and interactive fashion and helping to add depth to evag. Protestantism (is there any other kind?).

Which, having tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and having their identity and security most directly in Him via the Scriptures and its Spirit, tend to not value the knowledge of ecclesiastical history, which i am gleaning myself.

As valuable as it is, it is much the security of those who, like the Jews of old, look to pedigree and structure for security, though it is Abrahamic-type faith the church exists and overcomes by. (Mt. 16:16; Rm. 2:28,29; 1Cor. 12:13; 1Jn. 5:4,5 ) But the authority of both Rome's interpretation of history Scripture is based upon her proclamation that she is infallible.