Friday, February 05, 2016

Luther: Christ was an Adulterer

This is a follow-up to my earlier critiques of Shoebat's Martin Luther- The Bare Truth Unfolded. Their recent hit piece includes some Luther quotes I've never gone into detail on or have never covered, or deserve a fresh look. For instance, they repeat a version of the charge that Luther believed Christ was an adulterer:

Blasphemous references to both our Lord Jesus Christ, to God the Father, and also to the Holy Prophets and the Blessed Apostles. This comes as a great shock to many Christians who have had high hopes in Martin Luther. However, if we were to actually look at what he said regarding our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Father and also the Holy Prophets and Blessed Apostles, it should cause even the most elementary of Christian believers to cringe with disgust. In regards to our Lord Jesus Christ, Luther had the gall to accuse Him of committing fornication with the Samaritan woman at the well (Photini in Holy Tradition) as well as with Mary Magdalene. [Maybe one should wonder where the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, got some of his heresies from, seeing that he too taught the same thing in Doctrines and Covenants!]. He stated:

“Christ committed adultery first of all with the women at the well about whom St. John tells us. Was not everybody about Him saying: ‘Whatever has He been doing with her?’ Secondly, with Mary Magdalen, and thirdly with the women taken in adultery whom He dismissed so lightly. Thus even, Christ who was so righteous, must have been guilty of fornication before He died.” (Trishreden, Weimer Edition, Vol. 2, Pg. 107)

This particular charge about Luther and Mary Magdalene goes beyond It's been alluded to in such mainline periodicals as Time Magazine: "Martin Luther believed that Jesus and Magdalene were married, as did Mormon patriarch Brigham Young." Or consider this Huffington Post comment, "later Martin Luther embraced the Cathar view of Jesus' liaison with Mary Magdalene." The same author makes a similar point in his book (here as well). Note this particular interpretive commentary from Dr. Sippo in his old article from the  St. Catherine Review
Luther lived an immoral and unprincipled life. In "Table Talks" Luther got drunk one night and told some of his fawning sycophants that Jesus must have been an adulterer because even He could not resist temptations of the flesh. He went on to claim that Jesus had an affair with Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and the Samaritan woman at the well.
I've written about it before, Luther Said: Christ Committed Adultery? back when I started this blog. Now, over ten years later, I'd like to take a fresh look.

Documentation cites "Trishreden, Weimer Edition, Vol. 2, Pg. 107." The first blaring problem with this reference is the word, "Trishreden." What's meant is actually, Tischreden. "Weimer Edition" refers to D. Martin Luthers Werke.  "Vol. 2" is misleading, as the correct reference should be something like "WA TR 2" (signifying volume 2 of the Tischreden). My speculation is that cut-and-pasted this from Luther Exposing the Myth (see footnote #57). This later webpage may have taken it from Peter Wiener's Martin Luther, Hitler's Spiritual Ancestor (London: Hutchinson Co. 1945, p. 29) and amended Wiener's reference. It's unclear to me whether or not Wiener was the first to introduce this English translation in 1945 or if he relied on some other source (Wiener's documentation is often lacking).  Wiener did utilize Frantz Funck-Brentano's 1936 biography of Luther, and this quote appears word for word on page 243. That this quotation is cited in word-for-word agreement for all these sources leads me to conclude that borrowing was occurring, even if my chain of citation is inaccurate.  

One other reference floating around cyberspace for this quote is "D. Martin Luthers Werke, kritische Gesamtausgabe [Hermann Bohlau Verlag, 1893], vol. 2, no. 1472, April 7 - May 1, 1532, p. 33." This reference appears to be the work of one of Rome's cyber-apologists from early in the 2000's (follow the trail from the link). The reference neglects "Nachfolger" (see image of the title page above), the year appears to be wrong (it was 1913, not 1893), and the page number was not 33 (it was page 107). The quote typically attached to this reference is the same as that used by Wiener, so it appears to me that Wiener gave this quote it's cyber-notoriety.  

Here is WA TR 2 page 107. The text reads as follows:

  This text is the recollection of John Schlaginhafen who recorded remarks allegedly made by Luther from 1531-1532.  It has been translated into English in LW 54:154 (just goes to show the compilers of LW didn't necessarily avoid the controversial writings of Luther.

No. 1472: Christ Reproached as Adulterer Between April 7 and May 1, 1532
[Martin Luther said,] “Christ was an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well, for it was said, ‘Nobody knows what he’s doing with her’ [John 4:27]. Again [he was an adulterer] with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8 [:2–11], whom he let off so easily. So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died.” (LW 54:154)

Alternate Translation
In revisiting this quote I came upon Did Luther TeachThat Christ Committed Adultery? by Arthur Carl Piepkorn (Concordia Theological Monthly Vol. xxv June, 1954 No.6). Piepkorn actually locates a similar culprit that I did, Peter Wiener. He also translates it including a footnote:
1472. (Schlag. 239; Clm. 943, 175) Christus miulter. hristus ist am ersten ebrecher worden Joh.4. bei dem brunn cum muliere, quia illi dicebant: Nemo 17 significat 18 quid facit cum ea? Item cum Magdalena, item cum adultera Ioan. 8., die er so leicht davon lies. Also mus der from Christus auch am ersten ein ebrecher werden, ehe er starb.
17) So ist wohl zu lesen und nicht mit Preger: Nro. 
18) Text undeutlich: Stat oder Scat, oder ist scit zu lesen?"  
In literal translation:
1472. (Schlag. 239; Clm. 943, 175) Christ an adulterer. Christ first became an adulterer St. John 4 at the well with the woman, because they said: Nobody (17) indicates,(18) what is He doing with her? Again, with Magdalen; again, with the adulteress St. John 8, whom He dismissed so lightly. Thus the righteous Christ must first become also an adulterer before He died. 
17) This is the probable reading rather than Preger's: Nro. 
18) Text unclear: Stat or Scat, or should the reading be scit?"
Piepkorn states, 
In both instances we have reproduced the item completely. There is no context. It is simply a briefly scribbled note of part of a conversation, none too intelligibly recorded or transmitted, with several important words illegible. 
And also:
The sole manuscript containing this item is a quarto volume that found a final resting place in the State Library at Munich, where it was catalogued as Codex latinus 943. The page containing our item was copied from an earlier copy - possibly Schlaginhaufen's original manuscript-between November 4, 1551, and some time in 1567. The copyist may have been Schlaginhaufen's son-in-law, the Rev. John Oberndorfer of Ratisbon. 
Thus the "hair-raising blasphemy" turns out to be an inaccurately translated version of a somewhat uncertain, uncontrolled and unverifiable quotation of an offhand remark of blessed Martin Luther, without a shred of context or any indication of the circumstances that evoked the words it purports to reproduce. Since the item was destined to remain in manuscript form for 356 years after it was set down, it is quite probable that blessed Martin Luther himself never saw what Schlaginhaufen had written down. 

How does one respond to this? The quote appears outrageous. First, the quote has no context. One does not know what exactly Luther had in mind. Was he kidding? Was he summarizing someone else's argument? Was he using hyperbole? It's really hard to say. If taken literally, it certainly is at odds with his other statements about Christ. Thus, even though one can't know exactly why he said this, we can have a strong assurance he didn't mean it literally. The editors of Luther's Works include a footnote for this comment of Luther's, and they offer the following speculation:
This entry has been cited against Luther, among others by Arnold Lunn in The Revolt Against Reason (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951), pp. 45, 257, 258. What Luther meant might have been made clearer if John Schlaginhaufen had indicated the context of the Reformer’s remarks. The probable context is suggested in a sermon of 1536 (WA 41, 647) in which Luther asserted that Christ was reproached by the world as a glutton, a winebibber, and even an adulterer.
Be careful with Luther’s Table Talk. The Table Talk is a collection of comments from Luther written down by Luther’s students and friends. It is not in actuality an official writing of Luther's and should not serve as the basis for interpreting his theology.


Steve Perisho said...

Thanks for this.

My problems with the Piepkorn interpretation are two:

1) the modifications Luther made to Jn 4:27, which reads, in the Vulgate, "nemo tamen dixit quid quaeris aut quid loqueris cum ea” ("Yet no man said: What seekest thou? or, why talkest thou with her?" (Douay-Rheims)), but which Luther renders as "because they were saying, 'No one is saying/knows [(significat; or stat, or scat, or scit)], [so] what is he doing with her?'" The implication seems to be (as best as I can make it out) that we know that Christ became an adulterer because there were raised eyebrows ("What is he doing with her?"). Yet that is not what the Vulgate says (which, by the way, puts the unasked question to Jesus in the second rather than to one another in the third person).

2) the apparent emphasis on the "fact" that this had to take place "before [Christ] died". To me this doesn’t seem to fit well with Piepkorn’s heavily soteriological explanation (the "happy exchange" and all that), at least as I think about this at this point.

Lyndal Roper, on p. 272 of her 2017 Martin Luther: renegade and prophet, doesn't try to clean this up. She says that Luther was simply teasing, i.e. being deliberately outrageous.

Interesting stuff.

James Swan said...

Hi Steve:

Thanks for your fascinating comments on this old entry.

Doing word studies on the particular rendering of John 4:27 is interesting... yet, it's ultimately speculative in that the comment wasn't written by Luther. Was the text spoken by Luther that way? Was it written correctly? The bottom line is that the text in question is a context-less comment Luther didn't write.

Lyndal Roper, on p. 272 of her 2017 Martin Luther: renegade and prophet, doesn't try to clean this up. She says that Luther was simply teasing, i.e. being deliberately outrageous.

I've not heard of this book (Keeping up with the amount of Luther-generated articles and books is a losing battle). It is certainly within the realm of possibility that Luther was being "deliberately outrageous." But then again, those with severe bias typically respond back something like, "How dare Luther be 'deliberately outrageous' when the subject is Jesus Christ!" And, the battle begins all over again.

That this Table Talk is so popular is a striking example of how bias can overtake fairness.