Skip to comments.Was Martin Luther an Anti-Semite?
Posted on 04/01/2017 7:10:18 AM PDT by Kaslin
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, focus will return to the leader of that movement, Martin Luther. What kind of man was he, really? More specifically, what kind of Christian was he?
At a recent conference of R. C. Sprouls Ligonier Ministries, panelists Stephen Nichols and W. Robert Godfrey discussed whether Martin Luther was guilty of anti-Semitism, and there is good reason to raise this question.
As Nichols rightly points out, in 1523, Luther reached out with kindness and humility to the Jewish people, denouncing how the Church had treated them up to now with the hope that many would become Christians. Twenty years later, when that did not happen, and when Luther, now old and sick, had been exposed to some blasphemous, anti-Jesus writings penned by Jews in past generations, he wrote his infamous document Concerning the Jews and Their Lies.
In this mini-book, he told the German princes how to deal with this damned, rejected race of Jews.
First, their synagogues should be set on fire...Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed....Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer-books and Talmuds...Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach any more...Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely for bidden to the Jews....Sixthly, they ought to be stopped from usury [charging interest on loans]....Seventhly, let the young and strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff, and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses...We ought to drive the rascally lazy bones out of our system....Therefore away with them....
To sum up, dear princes and nobles who have Jews in your domains, if this advice of mine does not suit you, then find a better one so that you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden-the Jews.
Yes, all this came from the pen of Martin Luther. (Brace yourself. Theres more to come.)
Of this despicable document, Nichols said that Luther unleashes his rhetoric against the Jews and is very forceful in his rhetoric. Very forceful? Id call that a gross understatement.
Now we need to say that he was an equal opportunity offender. It wasnt just—that rhetoric was not just reserved—for the Jews, he used the same rhetoric for the Papists, for the Anabaptists, for the nominal Christians, that he used for the Jews. But he was wrong. He spoke harshly, and I think he abused his influence that he had in speaking harshly. And so, we need to say that Luther was wrong in that. But this isnt necessarily anti-Semitism, thats really a 20th-century phenomenon.
Once again, I must take exception to these words, which minimize the horror of what Luther wrote.
Tragically, Adolph Hitler thought that Luther was a genius who figured out how dangerous the Jewish people were. And the date that many historians mark as the beginning of the Holocaust, Nov. 9, 1938, was the day that Hitler put Luthers advice into practice, setting on fire and vandalizing Jewish synagogues, shops, and homes.
In that light, I cannot agree with Nichols in saying, I think he abused his influence that he had in speaking harshly. That, again, is a gross understatement, regardless of how ugly Luthers rhetoric was towards other groups and regardless of how coarse the rhetoric of the day might have been. For a Christian leader, such writings must be renounced in the strongest possible terms, even with tears and wails.
Robert Godfrey, the other Ligonier panelist, commented:
Just to add one more thing . . . the one little that should be added is Luther, all his life, longed that Jews should be converted and join the church. Hitler never wanted Jews to join the Nazi party. Thats the difference between anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish. Luther wasnt opposed to the Jews because of their blood. He was opposed to the Jews because of their religion. And he wanted them to join the Christian church. If youre really anti-Semitic, youre against Jews because of their blood and theres nothing Jews can do about that. Theres not change they can make to make a difference. Youre absolutely right, Luthers language should not be defended by us because its violent against the Jews. It was not against an ethnic people, as you said, but against a religion that he reacted so sharply.
Is Godfrey right? Yes and no. On the one hand, the real issue was the Jewish religion (specifically, from Luthers point of view, Jewish unbelief in Jesus) as opposed to being Jewish in and of itself. On the other hand, there was a fine line between the two, as historian Eric W. Gritsch pointed out in his book, Martin Luthers Antisemitism: Against His Better Judgment.
There is even a hint of racism in Luther when he commented on the unsubstantiated rumor that Jews killed Christian children. This crime "still shines forth from their eyes and their skin. We are at fault in not slaying them [the Jews]." Such a declaration cannot be limited to a specific historical context. It is timeless and means "death to the Jews," whether it is uttered by Luther or Adolf Hitler. Moreover, Luther himself was willing to kill "a blaspheming Jew": "I would slap his face and, if I could, fling him to the ground and, in my anger, pierce him with my sword.
So wrote Martin Luther. And I find little comfort in the fact that he wrote about others, like the peasants, in similarly dreadful terms: On the obstinate, hardened, blinded peasants, let no one have mercy, but let everyone, as he is able, hew, stab, slay, lay about him as though among mad dogs, . . . . so that peace and safety may be maintained... etc.
Returning to Luther and the Jews, quotes like this make it difficult to separate his theological Jew-hatred from his ethnic Jew-hatred:
A Jew or a Jewish heart is as hard as stone and iron and cannot be moved by any means. . . . In sum, they are the devils children damned to hell . . . . We cannot even convert the majority of Christians and have to be satisfied with a small number; it is therefore even less possible to convert these children of the devil! Although there are many who derive the crazy notion from the 11th chapter of the Epistle to the Romans that all Jews must be converted, this is not so. St. Paul meant something quite different.
As a non-Catholic, Jewish believer in Jesus, I am indebted to Luthers positive contributions and recognize the hellacious battle he fought with corrupt traditions. But I appeal to followers and admirers of Luther today: Please do not minimize the horror of what he wrote (against the Jews and others). Please dont downplay all this as an example of Luther having feet of clay (in the words of Nichols).
There is a lot of blood on those clay feet including Jewish blood.
Lets own it with sadness and grief. To do otherwise is to be less than honest with the memory of Martin Luther.
“Luther wrote in an early modern form of German.”
Luther chose to write in the Saxon court dialect, the “chancery” language of Meissen which was one of the regional centers of Saxony. Some scholars call it Ostmitteldeutsch - but that term can be problematic. For more information on the language used see Herbert Wolf’s old but excellent book: Martin Luther: Eine Einführung in germanistische Luther-Studien. J.B. Metzlersche -verlagsbuchhandlung und Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag GmbH in Stuttgart, 1980.
“Acutally, his Bible translation was instrumental in forming the modern German language (as a language that could be understood by people in a large geographical area as opposed to dialects that outsiders have trouble understanding). Luthers Bible was a great achievement in European culture and language.
Yes, I think we’re all aware of this. And? If you’re interested in a book on how “chancery” language shaped English read this: https://www.amazon.com/Emergence-Standard-English-John-Fisher/dp/0813108527
“The negative side of Luther is that his anti-Jewish rants were something the Nazis could easily dust off and publish for their propaganda/incitements. True, for Luther it was a religious thing while the Nazis believed in a bizarre, racist pseudo-science. But words like burn down their synagogues obviously meant exactly that - and worse things.”
Luther’s anti-semitism was also tinged with racism. Hence the quote about from the historian Eric W. Gritsch.
Again what does this have to do with the reformation? Would you care to examine the antisemitic and racist writings of the popes and prominent Catholics at the time? So there were flawed individuals on both sides It does not change the great truths of the reformation
I’m always befuddled by Roman Catholic condemnation of Luther’s anti-Semitic views, when he learned them from whom? The Roman Catholic Church.
I support Christians, not here to bash Protestants, but am just saying this guy unleashed all kinds of hell that we are still dealing with 500 years later.
This idea that religion is a business that is open to all and anything goes is great until you see the results.
Their is a direct correlation between the actions of Henry VIII and Luther and the state of immorality and chaos in the USA in 2017.
The author fails to mention that the "writings penned by Jews in past generations" that Luther was upset with, was the Talmud.
Sinful writings by Martin Luther. Also, Adolf Hitler was raised as a Roman Catholic as was Martin Luther. There is enough sin to go around. We all put Christ on that cross.
No less chaos was unleashed by the popes and cardinals of the time Like all eras the good mixed with the bad Luther and Henry the eigth were not responsible for all the ills of the time I would argue Henry the eights reasons for starting the Church of England were a bit more cynical than Luthers but the reformation was sorely needed. Most denominations are in need of just as drastic a clarion call today While I am a member of the Lutheran church Missouri synod I do not recognize most Lutheran denominations in this country or Europe as legitimate any longer and I will not worship at their altars Neither would Luther I can speak to my own denomination but I am sure there are similar problems in others We are desperately in need of revival and call back to the faith of the Bible I wonder if we will have another Luther or Calvin I tend to think not Given the lateness of the hour I think it will be Christ Himself who leads the final culling of the true Church from the apostate church......
“Im always befuddled by Roman Catholic condemnation of Luthers anti-Semitic views, when he learned them from whom? The Roman Catholic Church.”
I have no doubt that Luther did adopt anti-semitic sentiments to some extent from some of his fellow Catholics when young. The difference is that Jesus was not anti-semitic, and Jesus is our Church’s founder. Luther was the founder of Protestantism. Protestantism was invented by Luther. (No one here is allowed to post where and when he invented one of its central doctrines - and no, I’m not kidding). Luther is the theological father of every Protestant sect in existence - including yours. Thus, whereas our Church’s founder was perfect, the Son of God, your sect’s ultimate father was a demented anti-semite who sure seems like he was mentally unstable.
Our Church came from God Himself. Your sect was founded by an anti-semite. Wear it with pride, RegulatorCountry, wear it with pride.
“There is enough sin to go around. We all put Christ on that cross.”
Well written response. I would like to stick with Luther’s earlier assertions. That our Savior was a Jew. (I cannot excuse his later ones) For that and other reasons we should never, ever hate the Jews(or the muslims) . Rather I pray for them that at least some of them may see Jesus for what he is: the glory of Israel and a light for the gentiles. (Song of Simeon) I thank God that He has caused his Light to shine in this my sinful heart so capable of ugliness and deserving of death. I thank God that he used Luther and others even once murderous Paul to carry this Light to this dying world. How great is the love God has lavished on us that WE should be called children of God.
This idea that religion is a business that is open to all and anything goes is great until you see the results.
To lay all of the ills of the past 500 yrs at the feet of Luther is to be devoid of history.
Paul, John, and the other writers of the NT were dealing with false teachings in their day.
False teachings have always existed and always will. And I hate to break it to you but they've existed far more than 500 years. False teachings go all the way back to the Garden when Satan twisted God's word to Eve.
God has given us His Word to measure these false teachings against.
The ills you speak of exist only because we are not applying the Truth to the ills.
Yes he was.
“Their is a direct correlation between the actions of Henry VIII and Luther and the state of immorality and chaos in the USA in 2017”
Amen! Yet many do not wish to See nor Hear the Truth! For the Truth Hurts and when the Truth Hurts it means your doing something wrong and have to change your ways... Pride does not like to change its ways, Only through Humility, a gift from God, can one do so...
“The English Reformation”
Helping to chart the Path away from the Beast and back to the Values (VIRTUE) Our Lord wish’s from us is The Veritas Radio Network’s Crusade Channel! Tune in Change YOUR life and the Lives around YOU, Show the Lords Glory through YOU!
And remember, he was a born and raised catholic priest who knew only the catholic doctrines but not the Scripture truth of the Jewish nation started by God through Abraham. The doctrine of Scripture is truth only, and the land of Israel will be the nation Jesus Christ will rule in on the earth after the 7 year tribulation to destroy all who will not know the Jewish King Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Much like Muhammad and Joseph Smith, he was someone who powerfully re-formed Christianity into a form he deemed more suited to his time and place and more accessible to his culture.
As a devout Catholic I found the article of interest. However, I have always been skeptical of modern writers attempting to get into the heads of notable people who lived in another era.
Martin Luther was first and foremost a man; a man with the same weaknesses that all humans have - the tendency for sin. So to reiterate everything that he said about Jews or did 500 years ago is not particularly helpful or valuable. YES! We can learn from it; we can disagree with his view of Jews; but we should not judge him with 21st century eyes. My view is that all Christians are children of the Jewish nation by baptism. Our Chief High Priest is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Redeemer and a Jew!
I wonder how people in the 23rd century will judge America today? As a nation we tolerate partial birth abortions, and other atrocities. It does not mean we are all evil.
If we did not have Martin Luther, there would have been no Counter-Reformation in the Catholic Church, a movement that was much needed.
To conclude; let us not fall into the trap that liberals use such as judging Thomas Jefferson because he had some slaves back in the 18th century, etc., yet hypocritically tolerating behaviors which enslave women and throw gays off of tall buildings. You all know what I mean.
Yeah, no more indulgences for sale. No more Inquisitions. No more Crusades. Etc, etc, etc...
Not so grasshopper. The land of Israel is the land God will return to at the end of the 7 year tribulation and destroy all the armies of the earth under the anti Christ and his false prophet, a man who will be a false Christian who hates the Scriptures and believes the lies of the Roman church, who is cultic, yea, apostate if the truth be told.. Search the Scriptures and learn how that half of the church is apostate Christianity, and they are marked by their belief that doctrine divides and love unites. Lie of the devil as Martin Luther learned in the monastery when he found the Scriptures buried in there. Martin Luther was taught lies as truth and it took him many years to learn the truth and stop the lies. Replacement theology is a lie of the Roman church and this article continues to increase the lie. Those who curse Israel will never learn that God is using Israel to fight against the nations that will come to destroy Israel under the man anti Christ, who will come and may already be alive. Search the Scriptures for they speak of Christ and most of modern Christianity has abandoned the truth and are apostate Christians who will be left behind at the rapture for their unbelief of the Word of God. Sola Scriptura.