Sunday, December 05, 2010

Luther: The Ten Commandments Are Stupid

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

“If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out – chase yourself to the Jews”[Lecture at Wittenburg].

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 ridiculed the Ten Commandments calling them "stupid."

This quote is from the original 2004 version of Luther Exposing the Myth. Later versions have deleted it. Sometime after December 13, 2007 and before February 12, 2008 the quote was removed from the web page.  This quote may have been taken from this secondary source: Verbum the newsletter of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Ridgefield, CT, Spring 1985. Note the similarities:

They cite "Lecture at Wittenburg." Tedium: it isn't Wittenburg, it's Wittenberg. Luther began lecturing in Wittenberg early in his career, and continued to do so throughout his life. This is obviously not a helpful or useful reference. The quote was probably taken from the reprint of Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), p. 311 (page 315 from the original). O'Hare states,
In studying Luther, we must remember, that his cardinal dogma when he abandoned Catholic teaching, was that man has no free-will, that he can do no good and that to subdue animal passion is neither necessary nor possible. He insisted that the moral law of the Decalogue is not binding, that the Ten Commandments are abrogated and that they are no longer in force among Christians. "We must," he says, "remove the Decalogue out of sight and heart." (De Wette, 4, 188.) "If we allow them—the Commandments—any influence in our conscience, they become the cloak of all evil, heresies and blasphemies." (Comm. ad Galat. p. 310.) "If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out: chase yourself to the Jews." (Wittenb. ad. 5, 1573.) Having thus unceremoniously brushed aside the binding force of the moral law, we do not wonder that he makes the following startling and shameless pronouncements. "As little as one is able," he says, "to remove mountains, to fly with the birds (Mist und Ham halten), to create new stars, or to bite off one's nose, so little can one escape unchastity." Alts Abendmahlslehre, 2, 118.) Out of the depths of his depraved mind, he further declares: "They are fools who attempt to overcome temptations (temptations to lewdness) by fasting, prayer and chastisement. For such temptations and immoral attacks are easily overcome when there are plenty of maidens and women." (Jen. ed. 2, p. 216.)
Notice the documentation O'Hare gives is "Wittenb. ad. 5, 1573." Luther, Exposing the Myth appears to have added the "lecture" part. "Wittenb" usually refers to the Wittenberg edition of Luther's works (1539-1558). "5" probably refers to the volume. "1573" is most likely not a page number, but rather a year (this source mentions, "The old Wittenberg editions are, however, as a rule, not paged"). German Volume 5 of the Wittenberg edition was reprinted in 1573 (the fourth printing). The word "ad"makes me wonder if Father O'Hare had the Latin volume of Wittenb. 5 in mind, but that volume was not reprinted in 1573. It was only printed once (1554).

An older Roman Catholic work also cites this quote:
It was Luther's idea, however, that so long as one had faith, conduct was not of great importance. Thus he wrote to Melanchthon:— "Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe more boldly still. Sin shall not drag us away from Him, even should we commit fornication or murder thousands and thousands of times a day" (Letter of August I, 1521). So annoying to him were the Ten Commandments, that he wrote of them:—"We must put the whole decalogue entirely out of our sight and out of our hearts. If Moses scares you with his stupid Ten Commandments, say to him at once:—'Take yourself off to your Jews! To the gallows with Moses!'" [source]
The last three quotes on the Ten Commandments are from different writings, compiled together to appear to be one quote. "We must put the whole decalogue entirely out of our sight and out of our hearts" is from a letter. The last quote, "To the gallows with Moses" isn't even from Luther, but probably Johannes Agricola. The middle quote though appears to be the same as that quoted by O'Hare, but rendered slightly different.

Without having access to volume 5 of the Wittenberg edition, I can only speculate as to the primary source. If the quote indeed came from this set, it wasn't from an obscure writing of Luther's, but probably one of the more popular treatises. This quote may be from the 1525 treatise How Christians should regard Moses. It was "Number 29 in Luther’s long series of seventy-seven sermons on Exodus preached from October 2, 1524, to February 2, 1527" [LW 35:159] in Wittenberg. The sermon was printed in 1526 as "Eyn Unterrichtung wie sich die Christen ynn Mosen sollen schicken." It was a popular writing of Luther's- in fact, here are three different published copies from 1526:

Ain Underrichtung wie sich die Cristen in Mosen sollen schicken

Ain Underrichtung wie sich die Cristen in Mosen sollen schicken

Ein unterrichtung, wie sich die Christen ynn Mosen sollen schicken

If this is the source, the text can also be found in WA 16, 363393, and also in English in LW 35:155-176. The quote in question may be that found on page 165 of LW 35 and on page 375 of WA 16:

Here is a 1526 copy:

Luther directed this treatise towards those like the enthusiasts (Andreas Karlstadt, and the Sacramentarians, etc.). These were people whom Luther thought misunderstood the relationship of law and gospel. He also had men in mind who were attempting to introduce Mosaic law into the civil code. The editors of Luther's Works point out:
Luther opposed the notion that the Scriptures would be properly exalted if Mosaic precepts were suddenly, as law, to replace laws of the German state and church. He warned that while seemingly honoring the Scriptures, one can actually distort the meaning and intention of the Word of God. This entire discussion too stands in the background of this 1525 discourse on Moses [LW 35:157].
Early in this writing, Luther contrasts two biblical sermons: "the first sermon is in Exodus 19 and 20; by it God caused himself to be heard from heaven with great splendor and might" [LW 35:161]. The second sermon was the sermon on the mount. Luther explains:
Now the first sermon, and doctrine, is the law of God. The second is the gospel. These two sermons are not the same. Therefore we must have a good grasp of the matter in order to know how to differentiate between them. We must know what the law is, and what the gospel is. The law commands and requires us to do certain things. The law is thus directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, “Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you.” The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, “This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake.” So, then, there are two kinds of doctrine and two kinds of works, those of God and those of men. Just as we and God are separated from one another, so also these two doctrines are widely separated from one another. For the gospel teaches exclusively what has been given us by God, and not—as in the case of the law—what we are to do and give to God [LW 35:162].
The law commanded God's people to act in certain ways in order to be acceptable to God. The Gospel though is God's gift to his people, explaining what he's done and how he acts toward his people. In that sense, the law was for the Jewish people. Luther then explains that the "enthusiasts" attempt to preach the law as gospel. He explains that the law was binding on the Jewish people.
The law of Moses binds only the Jews and not the Gentiles
Here the law of Moses has its place. It is no longer binding on us because it was given only to the people of Israel. And Israel accepted this law for itself and its descendants, while the Gentiles were excluded. To be sure, the Gentiles have certain laws in common with the Jews, such as these: there is one God, no one is to do wrong to another, no one is to commit adultery or murder or steal, and others like them. This is written by nature into their hearts; they did not hear it straight from heaven as the Jews did. This is why this entire text does not pertain to the Gentiles. I say this on account of the enthusiasts. For you see and hear how they read Moses, extol him, and bring up the way he ruled the people with commandments. They try to be clever, and think they know something more than is presented in the gospel; so they minimize faith, contrive something new, and boastfully claim that it comes from the Old Testament. They desire to govern people according to the letter of the law of Moses, as if no one had ever read it before.
But we will not have this sort of thing. We would rather not preach again for the rest of our life than to let Moses return and to let Christ be torn out of our hearts. We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer. Indeed God himself will not have it either. Moses was an intermediary solely for the Jewish people. It was to them that he gave the law. We must therefore silence the mouths of those factious spirits who say, “Thus says Moses,” etc. Here you simply reply: Moses has nothing to do with us. If I were to accept Moses in one commandment, I would have to accept the entire Moses. Thus the consequence would be that if I accept Moses as master, then I must have myself circumcised, wash my clothes in the Jewish way, eat and drink and dress thus and so, and observe all that stuff. So, then, we will neither observe nor accept Moses. Moses is dead. His rule ended when Christ came. He is of no further service.
That Moses does not bind the Gentiles can be proved from Exodus 20[:1], where God himself speaks, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This text makes it clear that even the Ten Commandments do not pertain to us. For God never led us out of Egypt, but only the Jews. The sectarian spirits want to saddle us with Moses and all the commandments. We will just skip that. We will regard Moses as a teacher, but we will not regard him as our lawgiver—unless he agrees with both the New Testament and the natural law. Therefore it is clear enough that Moses is the lawgiver of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. He has given the Jews a sign whereby they should lay hold of God, when they call upon him as the God who brought them out of Egypt. The Christians have a different sign, whereby they conceive of God as the One who gave his Son, etc.
Again one can prove it from the third commandment that Moses does not pertain to Gentiles and Christians. For Paul [Col. 2:16] and the New Testament [Matt. 12:1–12; John 5:16; 7:22–23; 9:14–16] abolish the sabbath, to show us that the sabbath was given to the Jews alone, for whom it is a stern commandment. The prophets referred to it too, that the sabbath of the Jews would be abolished. For Isaiah says in the last chapter, “When the Savior comes, then such will be the time, one sabbath after the other, one month after the other,” etc. This is as though he were trying to say, “It will be the sabbath every day, and the people will be such that they make no distinction between days. For in the New Testament the sabbath is annihilated as regards the crude external observance, for every day is a holy day,” etc.
Now if anyone confronts you with Moses and his commandments, and wants to compel you to keep them, simply answer, “Go to the Jews with your Moses; I am no Jew. Do not entangle me with Moses. If I accept Moses in one respect (Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 5[:3]), then I am obligated to keep the entire law.” For not one little period in Moses pertains to us [LW 35:164-165].

If this is the context, those who "attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments" are the "enthusiasts" the sought to mix and bind Mosaic law with the gospel. The mystery here is why the English word "stupid" was used by Roman Catholic writers. Perhaps these Roman Catholic authors took "seinen" (his) in a pejorative sense, and then interpolating "stupid" to convey that exaggerated eisogesis. "Das mag mir eine Übersetzung seyn!" (ht: Matthew Carver).

The editors of Luther’s Works provide a helpful explanation of Luther's theology here:
“How, then, is “Moses” Word of God, and how is “Moses” law? How do Word of God and law relate to each other? Here Luther makes sometimes the most contrary statements. On the one hand “Moses” is completely abolished: “Moses does not pertain to us.” On the other hand we hear Luther expressing the wish “that [today’s] lords ruled according to the example of Moses.” Anyone who, like the enthusiasts, erects Mosaic law as a biblical-divine requirement does injury to the preaching of Christ. Just as the Judaizers of old, who would have required circumcision as an initial requirement, so also the enthusiasts and radicals of this later era do not see that Christ is the end of the Mosaic law. For all the stipulations of that law, insofar as they go beyond the natural law, have been abolished by Christ. The Ten Commandments are binding upon all men only so far as they are implanted in everyone by nature. In this sense Luther declares that “Moses is dead.”
Besides, the Jewish assembly of Sinai and of the decalogue has been replaced by the Christian congregation of Pentecost and of the new covenant. The era of Mosaic law extends from Sinai to Pentecost. In this era the Jewish people served its particular purpose, for this people, alone among all the peoples, was during that time span both state and church. It was just one national ethnic group among others on earth, but at the same time it was a peculiar people set apart for God as an instrument of his plan for all peoples.
So far as “Moses” is simply the Sachsenspiegel or law code of the Jewish people as a national ethnic group, it can be listed as just one code of laws among many, features of which may or may not be considered desirable in another age or nation. But so far as the Mosaic law is the law of the Old Testament congregation of God, it has a prophetic and promissory significance comparable to nothing in the laws of other peoples; and it has a continuing relevance not to any people simply as people but only to the post-Pentecost church of God spread among all peoples [Source: LW 35:158].
Addendum 2/10/16
I came across this same quote being used in this webpage: Martin Luther- The Bare Truth Unfolded. Here's how they cite and document the quote:
If Moses should attempt to intimidate you with his stupid Ten Commandments, tell him right out – chase yourself to the Jews” (Letter to Melanchthon, August 1, 1521, American Edition, Luther’s Works, vol. 48, pp. 281-82)
I'm mentioning this in case someone come across this ridiculous webpage and ends up here looking for some information on this quote. All the information above applies to this quote. One thing though must be pointed out about's use of it: the documentation is completely bogus. Yes, there is a section of a letter to Melanchthon in LW 48 from Aug. 1, 1521 on pp. 281-282, but there isn't anything in the letter similar to this quote, at all. The citation they provide is actually to Luther's famous "sin boldly" comment.

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