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.
No 'e' on Brown at the link.
Face it. He was an anti Semite and a glutton. Henry VIII was a cruel hedonist. These two guys will never be confused with Saint Peter or Saint Paul. Two founders of the Reformation were decadent at their core. No surprise how it all turned out five hundred years later.
To quote Sarah Palin, “You betcha!”
A 1935 review entitled The Psychoanalysis of Luther: Escape from Pessimism, by Francis J McGarrigle. S.J.
A LOT of worthless gasbags make their living parsing words from 500 Years Ago without disclosing that the vernacular and meaning words have changed in that period. They assign interpretations, and sometimes put [unspoken] words in the mouth of people.
If you don't believe me, go try to read something in old or middle English. Ostensibly the SAME language, but totally incomprehensible.
" For it is not fitting that they should let us accursed Goyim toil in the sweat of our faces while they, the holy people, idle away their time behind the stove, feasting and farting., and on top of all, boasting blasphemously of their lordship over the Christians by means of our sweat. No, one should toss out these lazy rogues by the seat of their pants. "
"feasting and farting behind the stove," You've got to admit, that's still funny.
Luther seems about typical of Christian clergy of any persuasion in his time. He was just a little more flamboyant. I don’t see that any Christian group has a claim on moral superiority based on Christian views at the same time in history.
“If you don’t believe me, go try to read something in old or middle English. Ostensibly the SAME language, but totally incomprehensible.”
Having read both I can tell you that they are not “Ostensibly the SAME language”. Luther wrote some pretty damning things about Jews. To discuss these things today is not just “parsing words” by “worthless gasbags”.
Good or ill, Luther wrought a religious revolution that destroyed the social and religious order of his day. Christendom was irrevocably changed. That’s worth discussing in every detail to those who are interested in the truth and history.
..perhaps he was suffering from dementia later in life. The Reformers were great on Soteriology, but their spiritualization of the OT gave birth to Replacement theology...
One of the best examinations of Luther the man was written by Herbert David Rix. It’s incredibly hard to find at a reasonable price these days: https://books.google.com/books/about/Martin_Luther.html?id=FQB_TKWpHnwC
So the words, “First, their synagogues should be set on fire...Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed....” have changed their meaning over the years?
Yes, Martin Luther was an anti-Semite! This is one of the reasons that those who view the letters to the seven churches as depicting the arc of Church history, identify the Reformation with the letter to the church in Sardis, the dead church! Jesus didn’t have one good thing to say about it.
1 To the angel of the church in Sardis, write this:
The one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says this: I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
2 Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
3 Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you.
4 However, you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy.
5 The victor will thus be dressed in white,* and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father and of his angels.
6 Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
In a word, yes. Cringe-worthy stuff he said. Going back a bit further (ok, a lot), many of the so-called early church fathers had some not so nice things to say about Jews also.
Writing as he did, Luther would have been welcomed in the mosque.
>>Lets own it with sadness and grief. To do otherwise is to be less than honest with the memory of Martin Luther.
Let’s do that, and let’s look at it in the context of his time and not ours. Eugenics and Humanism created the Holocaust, not the anti-semitism of Luther, as some like to claim.
Luther set out to reform a religion that had turned into a secular power that ruled governments and kings and committed vile acts of evil in God’s name. The actions of that secular power masquerading as the Church forced Reformers into a new Church.
Always remember that the Roman Church murdered people whose only crime was to make the bible available to the laity, which is something that we take as a right today. They did this BEFORE the Reformation. Luther may have been anti-semitic, but how many Jews did he burn or garotte?
It is amazing that God chooses to use flawed humans.
Blessed Father Luther was flawed, but used mightily to restore the Gospel of grace.
Righteousness is found in God alone and He alone gets the glory when He uses imperfect tools to accomplishing sh His will.
True, but at the same time let's waste some time by revisiting "perfecting ways of making sealing wax".
If you're going to get worked up, I suggest starting at the present time - where so called "mainstream Christian churches" condone (and sometimes PROMOTE) homosexuality, abortion, pedophilia and - islam. When those are solved, then let's work our way back and discuss what shaped some guy's attitudes 500 years ago.
Sadly, true, but not in the sense that we think today.
My understanding is that Luther expected Jews to be excited at the rise of the real, reformed church he was instituting. When they did not he turned against them.
Therefore, it was not a despisal of the semitic bloodline that originally motivated Luther. It was a religious rejection of Jews and Judaism.
That’s not good by any means. It’s just different than 20th century anti-semitism which was more a racist ideology.
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