NTRmin.org

 

Luther’s View of the Canon of Scripture

 

By James Swan

 

Tertiumquid@msn.com

August 2004

 

 

 

-Table of Contents-

 

Introduction: Playing The "Luther Card"

 

 

1: Martin Luther Did Not Remove Books From The Bible:

Was Martin Luther a sixteenth century Marcion? Did he publish a Bible missing books? A brief overview on the construction of Luther’s Bible.

 

2: Luther’s Concept of The Canon Of Scripture:

How did Luther view the canon of Scripture? A synopsis of Luther’s prefaces. A look at Luther’s Christocentric hermeneutic.

 

3: Luther’s Liberty With The Canon And Trends In Church History:

A look at the scholarly understanding of the canon in the sixteenth century. The opinions of Luther’s Catholic contemporaries Desederius Erasmus and Cardinal Cajetan.

 

4: Martin Luther Called The Book Of James “An Epistle Of Straw”:

A look at the most frequently used Luther quote on his view of the canon, and Luther’s subsequent retraction.

 

5: Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of James:

A paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Luther’s Preface to the Epistle of James.

 

6: Luther Cited And Preached From The Book Of James:

The rarely documented positive usage of the Epistle of James by Luther.

 

7: Did Luther Want To Throw The Book Of James In The Stove?:

Ever heard this one? Did Luther want to warm his house by using the Epistle of James in his stove?

 

8: Martin Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of Jude:

A paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Luther’s preface to the Book of Jude.

 

9: Martin Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of Revelation:

A brief look at Luther’s original preface to the Book of Revelation and its later revision.

 

10: Martin Luther’s Opinion On The Book Of Hebrews:

A paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of Luther’s preface to the Book of Hebrews.

 

11. Luther’s Personal Criteria In Determining Canonicity:

Did Luther determine canonicity by using a subjective standard?

 

 

Conclusion: Removing The “Luther-Card”

 

 

Appendix A: Patrick O’Hare’s Spurious "Facts" About Luther’s Canon:

A look at one of the worst books on Luther ever written: The Facts About Luther, and its citations of Luther on the Old Testament.

 

Appendix B: Luther’s Sermon on James:

An entire sermon by Luther from James 1:16-21 – “Two things there are which part men from the Gospel: one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle

 

Endnotes: Bibliographic material and interaction with  Roman Catholic apologists.

 

 

*Throughout this paper, citations from Martin Luther will be in blue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing The “Luther Card”

If you’ve ever entered into a discussion on the canon of Scripture, the issue of Luther’s view inevitably comes up. Roman Catholics are prone to play the “Luther-card”: a tangential criticism claiming one must believe their infallible church authored an infallible list of infallible books. Without this, one subjectively decides for himself which books are canonical, like Martin Luther supposedly did in the sixteenth century.

 

Sometimes they make the radical charge that Luther removed books from the Bible[1]; more often they accuse Luther of creating his own canon.[2] The charge most often says Luther’s opinion is the result of subjectivism.[3] Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar has said, “[Luther] treats the venerable canon of Scripture with a liberty which annihilates all certitude… Luther makes religious sentiment the criterion by which to decide which books belong to the Bible, which are doubtful, and which are to be excluded.”[4] Father Patrick O’Hare says Luther “twisted, distorted, and mutilated [the Bible]… He feels abundantly competent, by his own interior and spiritual instinct, to pronounce dogmatically which books in the canon of Scripture are inspired and which are not.”[5] The Catholic argues sureness on the canon can only be found in a declaration from their church.[6] They conclude any other option is ultimately subjectivism.   

 

Within popular Catholic apologetics, Luther is utilized as a theological pawn. The facts of his view on the canon are rarely put forth accurately. Seldom is his view interpreted in his written or historical framework. Luther is selectively cited: his words are yanked from their context, and then hoisted into a polemical argument, often painting him as an arrogant, irrational, subjective, heretic. Some even see him setting himself up as an infallible authority.[7] On the other hand, Protestants don’t always know what do with Luther’s view on the canon: “Luther really said that? His view is best to simply avoid!”

 

I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief overview of the most frequent Luther-related issues on the subject of the canon of Scripture. My goal is to encourage both Catholics and Protestants to at least seek to understand his view, even if one ultimately disagrees with it. Understanding Luther’s view of the canon is no small undertaking, nor do I claim to have successfully exhausted this topic or provided answers to every question. Understanding Luther on this issue demands approaching him from two perspectives:

 

1. Luther’s perspective on the canon as a sixteenth century Biblical theologian

2. Luther’s personal criterion of canonicity expressed in his theology

 

My primary focus will be on the first point since Roman Catholics tend to completely disregard it. Any attempt though to understand Luther’s view of the canon that neglects either of these is prone to distortion and caricature.[8]  My aim is not to develop excuses for Luther. You will find no argument in favor of removing James (or any other book) from the canon of Scripture. Here you will find no argument for Luther as an infallible authority. What I hope to present is Luther, a sixteenth century Biblical theologian and his concerns with the canon of sacred Scripture.

 

 

 

1: Martin Luther Did Not Remove Books From The Bible

An obvious sign that someone has not read anything about Luther and the canon is the assertion, “Luther removed books from the Bible,” or “Luther removed books from the New Testament.” It is a simple historical fact that Luther’s translation of the Bible contained all of its books. Luther began translating the New Testament in 1521, and released a finished version in 1522. He published sections of the Old Testament as he finished them. He finished the entire Bible by 1534. During these years, various incomplete editions were released. Some Protestants might be surprised to learn that Luther also translated the Apocrypha. The editors of Luther’s Works explain, “In keeping with early Christian tradition, Luther also included the Apocrypha of the Old Testament. Sorting them out of the canonical books, he appended them at the end of the Old Testament with the caption, ‘These books are not held equal to the Scriptures, but are useful and good to read.’”[9]

 

Even after Luther finished his translation, he never ceased revising it. Phillip Schaff has pointed out, “He never ceased to amend his translation. Besides correcting errors, he improved the uncouth and confused orthography, fixed the inflections, purged the vocabulary of obscure and ignoble words, and made the whole more symmetrical and melodious. He prepared five original editions, or recensions, of his whole Bible, the last in 1545, a year before his death. This is the proper basis of all critical editions.”[10] Great care and work went into Luther’s Bible. This means that every book in the Bible was given great concern and attention.  No book of the Bible was left un-translated. As Catholic writer John Todd observed, “The work was done with great method…”[11] Todd then relates this famous description:

 

“Dr. M. Luther gathered his own Sanhedrin of the best persons available, which assembled weekly, several hours before supper in the doctor’s cloister, namely D. Johann Burgenhagen, D. Justus Jonas, D. Creuziger, M. Philippum, Mattheum Aurogallum; Magister Georg Roerer, the Korrektor was also present…M. Philipp brought the Greek text with him. D  Creuziger a Chaldean Bible in addition to Hebrew. The professors had their rabbinical commentaries. D. Pommer also had the Latin text…The President submitted a text and permitted each to speak in turn and listened to what each had to say about the characteristics of the language or about the expositions of the doctors in earlier times.”[12]

 

Thus, Luther’s Bible is not simply the result of Martin Luther: “Especially in his work on the Old Testament, Luther considered himself to be only one of a consortium of scholars at work on the project. He was convinced a translator should not work alone, for as he said, ‘the correct and appropriate words do not always occur to one person alone.’”[13] Rather than Luther expressing authoritarian power over the translation or removing books from the Bible by fiat, the facts of history show Luther involved other capable scholars. They worked throughout their lives to translate every book of the Bible, and even those books which “are not held equal to the Scriptures, but are useful and good to read.”

 

Those who assert Luther took books out of the Bible sometimes wrongly use this sentiment interchangeably with “Luther removed books from the canon.” For an example of such confusion, see the claims of this Catholic apologist here. If indeed Luther took books out of the Bible, then one expects to open Luther’s Bible and find certain books missing. One does not. Catholic apologists that equivocate in such a way should either define their arguments more carefully, or account for the fact that Luther included all the books in his Bible.

 

 

 

2: Luther’s Concept of The Canon Of Scripture

 

A. Luther’s Prefaces

Those more familiar with Luther’s view postulate he removed books from the canon of Scripture. It is sometimes argued that Luther’s position on the canon shows strong similarities to the second century heretic Marcion. Marcion published his own canon consisting of his “doctored-up” version of Luke and ten of Paul’s Epistles. Marcion had concluded that these were the only canonical books, and expunged the entirety of the Old Testament as well as a large portion of the New. Luther though did no such thing. All the canonical books are found in his Bible.

 

When Luther published his Bible, a layman found the entirety of the canon. Luther expressed his thoughts on the canon in “prefaces” placed at the beginning of particular Biblical books. These prefaces were not out of the ordinary. Luther was not engaging in any sort of outrageous scholarly behavior:

 

“In providing prefaces for the books in the German Bible, Luther was simply following a traditional practice. The inclusion of a prologue illuminating the main thoughts of a treatise was a practice associated with the best in scholarly exposition as far back as Aristotle. Jerome’s Vulgate had prefaces to almost every book in the Bible, plus others for groups of books such as Paul’s epistles and the seven catholic epistles.... The second edition of Erasmus’ New Testament in 1518 began with one hundred twenty folio pages of introductory material.”[14]

 

B. Luther’s Christocentric Hermeneutic

The prefaces contained Luther’s opinion on the canon. Luther scholar Paul Althaus explains, “[Luther] allows the canon to stand as it was established by the ancient church. But he makes distinctions within the canon.”[15] It is these “distinctions” that are often seen as removal. In these prefaces, Luther explained that he understood the Biblical books in an order based on how clearly “Christ the gospel of free grace and justification through faith alone[16] was enunciated. He considered this to be the apostolic standard by which all was evaluated. Althaus explains,

 

“It was particularly within the canon that Luther practiced theological criticism of its individual parts. The standard of this criticism is the same as his principle of interpretation, that is, Christ: the gospel of free grace and justification through faith alone. This is what Luther means when he says that the standard is "that which is apostolic." Luther's concept of apostolicity is based not only on a historical factor, that is, that Christ himself called and sent out a group of witnesses. Rather, it is determined by the content of a book. An apostle shows that he is an apostle by clearly and purely preaching Christ as Savior. "Now it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the suffering, resurrection, and office of Christ." This shows that an apostle is inspired by the Holy Spirit; and this gives him his authority and infallibility. Since apostolic authority manifests itself in the gospel of the apostles, the church recognizes the authority of the Scripture as being based not on the person of the apostles but on the word of God or the gospel which bears witness to itself. The apostolic character of a New Testament author manifests itself in the content of his writing and in the clarity of his witness to Christ.”[17]

 

Certain books that did not express this were critically questioned by Luther: particularly James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation.[18] The editors of Luther’s Works explain,

 

“In terms of order, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation come last in Luther’s New Testament because of his negative estimate of their apostolicity. In a catalogue of “The Books of the New Testament” which followed immediately upon his Preface to the New Testament… Luther regularly listed these four—without numbers—at the bottom of a list in which he named the other twenty-three books, in the order in which they still appear in English Bibles, and numbered them consecutively from 1–23… a procedure identical to that with which he also listed the books of the Apocrypha.”[19]

 

Sometimes it is said that in the actual printings of Luther’s New Testament these four books were printed last without page numbers. The citation above says it was a “list” without page numbers.[20] Also of importance to note is Luther did not treat the four questionable New Testament books in the exact same way as he did the Old Testament apocrypha.  Luther critic Hartmann Grisar has explained, “…[Luther] simply excluded the so-called deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament from the list of sacred writings. In his edition they are grouped together at the end of the Old Testament under the title: ‘Apocrypha, i.e., books not to be regarded as equal to Holy Writ, but which are useful and good to read.’ …Luther’s New Testament is somewhat more conservative.”[21] Grisar dubs Luther “conservative” because Luther did not include such a heading before the New Testament books he questioned. Luther’s opinion on the apocrypha was solidified, whereas with the New Testament Luther uses caution.

 

Luther also found different levels of Christocentric clarity within the Old Testament. He observed that Genesis, Psalms, and Jonah spoke more to the apostolic standard, while the book of Esther did not.[22] The editors of Luther’s Works further explain the judgments contained in the prefaces:

 

"Luther’s prefaces… brought something new by means of which he revealed his understanding of the Scriptures, namely a set of value judgments and a ranking of the books into categories. For him the Gospel of John and the epistles of Paul as well as I Peter, rank as “the true kernel and marrow of all the books.” As books of secondary rank come Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. While Luther’s assigning of a standard of values to the New Testament books may have been simply an act of religious devotion, it proved to be also, as Holl readily points out, a pioneering step toward modern biblical scholarship. Luther’s prefaces are thus more than simply popular introductions for lay readers. They reveal a theological position of Christocentricity which inevitably affects his understanding of the New Testament canon.”[23]

 

Luther cannot be criticized for explicitly removing books from the canon of sacred Scripture.  One can though disapprove of Luther’s critical questioning of particular New Testament books. Paul Althaus explains, “Luther did not intend to require anyone to accept his judgment, he only wanted to express his own feeling about these particular books.”[24] Althaus finds this to be apparent in Luther’s original prefaces of 1522, but even more so in his revisions of 1530. Lutheran writer Mark Bartling concurs: “Luther’s whole approach was one of only questioning, never rejecting. James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation are only questioned, they are never rejected.”[25]  Roland Bainton notes,

 

“Luther treated Scripture with royal freedom, but not at a whim. There was a clear determinative principle that the word of God is the message of redemption through Christ Jesus our Lord without any merit on our part, and that we are saved solely through heartfelt acceptance in faith. Yet despite the recognition of levels within Scripture, Luther did not treat the book as a whole and shrank from demolishing the canon by excluding James and Esther. The pope, the councils and the Canon Law might go, but to tamper with the traditional selection of the holy writings was one step too much.”[26]

 

 

 

 

 

3: Luther’s Liberty With The Canon And Trends In Church History

 

 

A. The Historical Nature Of The Canon

Luther was a Doctor of Theology, and was familiar with canon issues, including the on-going debate as to the canonicity of particular books.[27] For instance, a part of Luther’s argument in regards to the book of James was that its contents were the writings of a second century Christian, therefore not an apostle nor an eyewitness of the risen Christ. Did Luther simply arrive at this conclusion with no basis? No. Throughout his career, he maintained a position that echoed other voices from church history. The editors of Luther’s Works explain:

 

“Up to the fourth century the Epistle of James was not included in the canon by many Christian leaders, and earlier writers did not quote from it. Cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, II, 23, 25.” [28]

 

“In the earliest general history of the church, Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History (II, xxiii, 25), the author (died ca. 339) writes, “Such is the story of James, whose is said to be the first of the Epistles called Catholic. It is to be observed that its authenticity is denied, since few of the ancients quote it, as is also the case with the Epistle called Jude’s.” ... Eusebius also includes both epistles in his list of “Disputed Books” (History, III, xxiv, 3). …. Cf. the statement by Jerome (d. 420) in his Liber de Viris Illustribus (II) concerning the pseudonymity ascribed to the epistle of James and its rather gradual attainment of authoritative status….”. [29]

 

The Catholic Encyclopedia points out that judging canonicity by the criteria of apostolic authorship has been one of the methods employed in canon determination: 

 

“This view that Apostolicity was the test of the inspiration during the building up of the New Testament Canon, is favoured by the many instances where the early Fathers base the authority of a book on its Apostolic origin, and by the truth that the definitive placing of the contested books on the New Testament catalogue coincided with their general acceptance as of Apostolic authorship. Moreover, the advocates of this hypothesis point out that the Apostles' office corresponded with that of the Prophets of the Old Law, inferring that as inspiration was attached to the munus propheticum so the Apostles were aided by Divine inspiration whenever in the exercise of their calling they either spoke or wrote.”[30]

 

Lutheran writer Mark Bartling points out, “Luther had to face the whole issue of canonicity and reevaluate the question of what books belong to the Bible. The Latin Bible, the Vulgate, contained the Apocrypha Books of the Old Testament. In some Medieval manuscripts of the Bible we often find included a 5th Gospel, the Gospel of Nicodemus. Some printed German Bibles, before Luther’s, had the Epistle to the Laodiceans.”[31]

But even more compelling is the brief historical survey offered by Alan Wikgren: 

“…[O]ne should note that it is not quite correct to say that Luther placed the dubious quartet [James, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation]at the end of the New Testament, for in his chief exemplars, the Latin Vulgate and the Greek editions of Erasmus, Jude and Revelation were already there. The Apocalypse, when it is found in early lists and manuscripts, almost always naturally stood at the end because of the nature of its contents. With respect to Jude the manuscript evidence is variable, but the Clementine Vulgate, doubtless reflecting majority treatment, had this order, and it is followed in the recently published Biblia Sacra Vulgata. Thus Luther can be said at most to have demoted Hebrews from its usual place at the end of the Pauline corpus and James from where it ordinarily stood first among the Catholic Epistles. But even here there was good precedent in patristic and conciliar lists for his treatment of James. It is placed just before Jude by Philastrius (d. A.D. 387) and Augustine (d. A.D. 430), and in the lists of the Third Council of Carthage (A.D. 397) and of the Council of Trent (A.D. 1546). The last reflects also the variety of opinions expressed regarding treatment of disputed books, the full canonicity of James being particularly questioned. Actually in the early church in the West Jude was preferred to James, whereas the reverse was true in the East. Jerome, however, although he does not list the books individually, named the Catholic Epistles in the order of James, Peter, John, Jude.”[32]

B. Desiderius Erasmus

This uncertainty and debate among some scholars carried on into the sixteenth century.[33] Two key Roman Catholic contemporaries of Luther similarly expressed concern over the certainty of the canon: Desiderius Erasmus, best known for publishing the Greek New Testament and Cardinal Cajetan, remembered as the papal legate that questioned Luther in Augsburg in 1518. Both expressed similar doubts about particular Biblical books, and both were regarded as important sixteenth century scholars. The editors of Luther’s Works point out:

 

“There was in practice considerable lack of unanimity on the extent of the New Testament canon even in the late Middle Ages. Erasmus' critical attitude toward these four books (James, Jude, Hebrews, Revelation), known to Luther from his Annotationes to his 1516 Greek New Testament, was openly accepted by the Catholic Cajetan.”[34]  

 

Similar to Luther, Erasmus questioned the canonicity of particular books.[35] The Catholic Encyclopedia points out,“…[T]he attitude of Erasmus towards the text of the New Testament is an extremely radical one, even if he did not follow out all its logical consequences. In his opinion the Epistle of St. James shows few signs of the Apostolic spirit; the Epistle to the Ephesians has not the diction of St. Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews he assigns with some hesitation to Clement of Rome…”[36] Alan Wikgren points out, “Erasmus had freely expressed his doubts about the books disputed in the early church and made distinctions in their value. But he was led to subordinate these judgments to ecclesiastical authority.”[37] How did Erasmus “subordinate his judgments”? Wikgren doesn’t say, although it is well known that during the significant years in which the Lutheran reformation began, Pope Leo X was an ally of Erasmus, and Erasmus enjoyed a particular level of economic and scholarly freedom by remaining loyal.[38] Interestingly, after Erasmus died, his works were placed on the Church’s list of prohibited books.[39] I know of at least one example in which Erasmus “subordinated his judgments.” Erasmus went as far as removing verses from the first edition of his Greek New Testament. He omitted 1 John 5:7-8 because he could find it in no manuscript.  Roland Bainton notes,

 

“There was such an outcry that he agreed to restore it in case it could be discovered in any manuscript. One was found…and Erasmus, having sworn, was true to his oath…Unhappily the spurious verse passed from this second edition into the textus receptus and then into the King James translation. In the late nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII declared it to be genuine, but forty years later a commission of the church reversed his verdict. Today no Catholic would defend its authenticity.”[40]

 

The manuscript produced for Erasmus was a forgery. Interestingly, Luther followed the first edition of Erasmus, and kept 1 John 5:7 out of the Luther Bible.[41]

 

C. Cardinal Cajetan

Cardinal Cajetan also questioned the authenticity of certain Biblical books.[42] The Catholic Encyclopedia points out he questioned  the authorship of several epistles…  Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, Jude.”[43] The New Catholic Encyclopedia takes a stronger position on his “questioning” and says, “He expressed strong doubts about the literal meaning of Canticles and the Apocalypse; the authenticity of Mk 16:9-20 and Jn 8:1-11; and the authorship of Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, and 3 John, and Jude.”[44] Alan Wikgren points out that Cajetan did not simply question authorship: “…Cajetan…  went beyond Erasmus in distinguishing the disputed books and the canonical, defending only the full authority of II Peter. The others he regarded as inferior for the settlement of doctrinal controversies.”[45]

 

 In 1532, Cajetan wrote his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament. In this work, Cajetan leaves out the entirety of the Apocrypha since he did not consider it to be Canonical.[46] Cajetan said,

 

“Here we close our commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament. For the rest (that is, Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees) are counted by St Jerome out of the canonical books, and are placed amongst the Apocrypha, along with Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, as is plain from the Prologus Galeatus. Nor be thou disturbed, like a raw scholar, if thou shouldest find anywhere, either in the sacred councils or the sacred doctors, these books reckoned as canonical. For the words as well of councils as of doctors are to be reduced to the correction of Jerome. Now, according to his judgment, in the epistle to the bishops Chromatius and Heliodorus, these books (and any other like books in the canon of the Bible) are not canonical, that is, not in the nature of a rule for confirming matters of faith. Yet, they may be called canonical, that is, in the nature of a rule for the edification of the faithful, as being received and authorised in the canon of the Bible for that purpose. By the help of this distinction thou mayest see thy way clearly through that which Augustine says, and what is written in the provincial council of Carthage.” [47]

 

Similarly to these two men, one finds Luther engaged with the verification of the authenticity of the Biblical books. His was not simply an infallible self-propelled declaration as to the content of the canon. He was engaged in the history of the church and canon. John Warwick Montgomery has helpfully pointed out:

 

“In his Preface to Jude we heard Luther say: “Although I value this book, it is an Epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are to lay the foundations of faith”; why? “The ancient fathers excluded this Epistle from the main body of the Scriptures.”  Again and again in his Prefaces we find Luther arguing in this vein: “Up to this point we have had to do with the true and certain chief books of the New Testament. The four which follow have from ancient times had a different reputation.” “This Epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients.” “Many of the fathers also rejected this book [Revelation: Luther’s Preface of 1522] a long time ago.” Here Luther appeals not to subjective considerations but objectively to the judgments of the early church, specifically to what Jerome says in his De viris illustribus, chap. 2, and to what Eusebius reports in his Ecclesiastical History, Bk. II, chap. 23 and Bk. III, chap. 25. The negative evaluations of antilegomena by certain church fathers were certainly unjustified, as history proved, but Luther had every right to raise the question in terms of the fathers. Unless one is going to make the fatal error of accepting the content of Scripture because the institutional church has declared it such,… there is no choice but to refer canonicity questions to the earliest judgments available historically concerning the apostolic authority of New Testament books. Christ promised to the apostolic company a unique and entirely reliable knowledge of His teachings through the special guidance of His Holy Spirit (John 14:26), so the issue of the apostolicity of New Testament writings has always been vital for the church. As a theologian, Luther had the right, even the responsibility, to raise this issue, and did not become a subjectivist by doing so.”[48]

 

Even with his historical criticism, Jaroslav Pelikan has pointed out,

 

“[Luther] did not pretend that the church could undertake the construction of the canon anew, or that it could function with a canon open at both ends. Never, even at the height of his criticism of James, did he drop it from his editions of the Bible, any more than he dropped the Old Testament Apocrypha. From his own experience he could testify that often a Christian found one or another book of the canon difficult or useless to him at a particular time, only to discover later on that it was just what he needed in a time of trouble or temptation. Had such a person been permitted to re-edit the canon on the basis of his passing mood, he would have been deprived of the patience and comfort of the Scriptures when he needed them most. Within the received canon Luther made sharp distinctions, to the point of constructing a private miniature canon. But he was realistic enough in his theology to know that one had to operate with the canon as given by tradition. That realism provided the framework within which he could say and do the things he did in relation to the canon without involving himself in a hopeless set of contradictions.”[49]

 

 

 

4: Martin Luther Called The Book Of James “An Epistle Of Straw”

The most frequent charge against Luther’s view on the canon is his opinion on the book of James.[50]  Luther wrote this statement in his original Preface To The New Testament in 1522:

In a word St. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle are the books that show you Christ and teach you all that is necessary and salvatory for you to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or doctrine. Therefore St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw,  compared to these others, for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. But more of this in the other prefaces.”[51]

Rarely is Luther accurately quoted on this topic. Luther says James “is really an epistle of strawcompared toSt. John’s Gospel and his first epistle, St. Paul’s epistles, especially Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, and St. Peter’s first epistle.” Luther wants his readers to see a comparison.

 

An interesting fact about this quote (hardly ever mentioned by Luther-detractors!) is that it only appears in the original 1522 Preface To The New Testament. John Warwick Montgomery points out: “Few people realize — and liberal Luther interpreters do not particularly advertise the fact — that in all the editions of Luther’s Bible translation after 1522 the—Reformer dropped the paragraphs at the end, of his general Preface to the New Testament which made value judgments among the various biblical books and which included the famous reference to James as an “Epistle of straw.”[52] Montgomery finds that Luther showed a “considerable reduction in negative tone in the revised Prefaces to the biblical books later in the Reformer’s career.”[53]  For anyone to continue to cite Luther’s “epistle of straw” comment against him is to do Luther an injustice. He saw fit to retract the comment. Subsequent citations of this quote should bear this in mind.[54]

 

 

5: Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of James

 

Luther appears to have held lifelong doubts about the canonicity of James. In 1520 he wrote,   “…I will say nothing of the fact that many assert with much probability that this epistle is not by James the apostle, and that it is not worthy of an apostolic spirit; although, whoever was its author, it has come to be regarded as authoritative.”[55]  Toward the end of his life in 1542, a Table Talk recorded similar sentiments.[56] Detractors are keen on selectively quoting Luther’s preface to James. Most often cited are only those comments that express negativity.[57] Rarely does one encounter a spirit of fairness; that is, one who may disagree with Luther’s conclusions, yet seek to understand why he is saying what he says. To fully understand Luther’s opinion, it is helpful to work slowly through his preface to James:

 

Paragraph 1

Though this epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and consider it a good book, because it sets up no doctrines of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God. However, to state my own opinion about it, though without prejudice to anyone, I do not regard it as the writing of an apostle;  and my reasons follow.”[58]

  

The first thing Luther wants to tell us is his awareness that the book of James has an uncertainty in regards to its canonicity, and that he does not consider James an apostle. The editors of Luther’s Works include an interesting footnote after the word “ancients,” noting that both Eusebius and Jerome raised or confirmed similar doubts to the apostolicity and canonicity of James.   

 

“In the earliest general history of the church, Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History (II, xxiii, 25), the author… writes, “Such is the story of James, whose is said to be the first of the Epistles called Catholic. It is to be observed that its authenticity is denied, since few of the ancients quote it, as is also the case with the Epistle called Jude’s.”… Eusebius also includes both epistles in his list of “Disputed Books” (History, III, xxiv, 3)…Cf. the statement by Jerome (d. 420) in his Liber de Viris Illustribus (II) concerning the pseudonymity ascribed to the epistle of James and its rather gradual attainment of authoritative status.”[59]

 

The second thing Luther tells us is that he praises James and considers it a “good book” “because it sets up no doctrine of men but vigorously promulgates the law of God.” Luther clearly values the law of God. Rarely have I seen Luther detractors inform its readers that Luther praises James, or point out Luther’s respect for God’s law. On the other hand, I have seen many papers insisting Luther was either morally corrupt or an antinomian.[60] Luther though insists James is worthy of praise because it puts forth God’s law. Luther then says he is going to state his own opinion, “without prejudice to anyone.” These are hardly the words of one claiming to be an infallible authority or “super-pope.”

 

Paragraph 2

In the first place it is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works [2:24]. It says that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered his son Isaac [2:21]; though in Romans 4[:2–22] St. Paul teaches to the contrary that Abraham was justified apart from works, by his faith alone, before he had offered his son, and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15[:6]. Now although this epistle might be helped and an interpretation devised for this justification by works, it cannot be defended in its application to works [Jas. 2:23] of Moses’ statement in Genesis 15[:6]. For Moses is speaking here only of Abraham’s faith, and not of his works, as St. Paul demonstrates in Romans 4. This fault, therefore, proves that this epistle is not the work of any apostle.”[61]

 

Luther sees a contradiction between Paul and James, though he did become aware of the solution. Roland Bainton has pointed out, “Once Luther remarked that he would give his doctor's beret to anyone who could reconcile James and Paul. Yet he did not venture to reject James from the canon of Scripture, and on occasion earned his own beret by effecting a reconciliation. ‘Faith,’ he wrote, ‘is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith’[62] Paul Althaus agrees: “[Luther] also agrees with James that if no works follow it is certain that true faith in Christ does not live in the heart but a dead, imagined, and self-fabricated faith.”[63] In The Disputation Concerning Justification, Luther answered this spurious proposition: “Faith without works justifies, Faith without works is dead [Jas. 2:17, 26]. Therefore, dead faith justifies.” Luther responded:

 

The argument is sophistical and the refutation is resolved grammatically. In the major premise, “faith” ought to be placed with the word “justifies” and the portion of the sentence “without works justifies” is placed in a predicate periphrase and must refer to the word “justifies,” not to “faith.” In the minor premise, “without works” is truly in the subject periphrase and refers to faith. We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a reigned faith. “Without works” is ambiguous, then. For that reason this argument settles nothing. It is one thing that faith justifies without works; it is another thing that faith exists without works.”[64]

Even though Luther arrived at the harmonizing solution, it is probably the case that the question of James’ apostleship out-weighed it. One cannot argue that Luther was never presented with a harmonization between Paul and James. He seems to have granted the validity of it, yet still questioned the canonicity of the book.  

 

Paragraph 3

In the second place its purpose is to teach Christians, but in all this long teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ. He names Christ several times; however he teaches nothing about him, but only speaks of general faith in God. Now it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the Passion and resurrection and office of Christ, and to lay the foundation for faith in him, as Christ himself says in John 15[:27], “You shall bear witness to me.” All the genuine sacred books agree in this, that all of them preach and inculcate [treiben] Christ. And that is the true test by which to judge all books, when we see whether or not they inculcate Christ. For all the Scriptures show us Christ, Romans 3[:21]; and St. Paul will know nothing but Christ, I Corinthians 2[:2]. Whatever does not teach Christ is not yet apostolic, even though St. Peter or St. Paul does the teaching. Again, whatever preaches Christ would be apostolic, even if Judas, Annas, Pilate, and Herod were doing it.”[65]

Here Luther expresses his Christocentric hermeneutic. Paul Althaus explained that Luther held “An apostle shows that he is an apostle by clearly and purely preaching Christ as Savior…an apostle is inspired by the Holy Spirit; and this gives him his authority and infallibility. Since apostolic authority manifests itself in the gospel of the apostles, the church recognizes the authority of the Scripture as being based not on the person of the apostles but on the word of God or the gospel which bears witness to itself. The apostolic character of a New Testament author manifests itself in the content of his writing and in the clarity of his witness to Christ.”[66] Luther did not find this in the book of James.

 

Althaus continues, “For Luther, ‘preaching’ Christ means proclaiming that the crucified and risen Christ is the Savior and that the salvation he brings is received through faith alone. Luther was so certain of this, as well as of the interpretation of Scripture, that he did not think of himself as approaching the canon with an arbitrary and autonomously chosen criterion but with the standard which Scripture itself offers in its on-going central proclamation…Luther obtained this standard from nowhere else than the Scripture. To this extent it is the Scripture itself that criticizes the canon.”[67]

 

Paragraph 4

But this James does nothing more than drive to the law and to its works. Besides, he throws things together so chaotically that it seems to me he must have been some good, pious man, who took a few sayings from the disciples of the apostles and thus tossed them off on paper. Or it may perhaps have been written by someone on the basis of his preaching. He calls the law a “law of liberty” [1:25], though Paul calls it a law of slavery, of wrath, of death, and of sin.”[68]

 

The bottom line: James preaches the law, and not the gospel.  Luther also adds that James is constructed “chaotically”. Luther was perhaps years a head of his time: commentators noting the awkward structure of James have debated whether it characteristics and themes reflect “an epistle, sermon, a form of wisdom literature, a diatribe, [or] a moral exhortation.”[69]

 

Paragraph 5

Moreover he cites the sayings of St. Peter [in 5:20]: “Love covers a multitude of sins” [I Pet. 4:8], and again [in 4:10], “Humble yourselves under the hand of God” [I Pet. 5:6]; also the saying of St. Paul in Galatians 5[:17], “The Spirit lusteth against envy.”  And yet, in point of time, St. James was put to death by Herod [Acts 12:2] in Jerusalem, before St. Peter.  So it seems that [this author] came long after St. Peter and St. Paul.[70]

 

Luther makes a genuine mistake at this point. The editors of Luther’s Works correctly point out, “Luther overlooks the fact that the James to whom the book is traditionally ascribed is not the brother of John [Matt. 4:21] martyred by Herod [Acts 12:2], but the brother of the Lord [Matt. 13:55] who became head of the apostolic church at Jerusalem [Acts 15:13; Col. 1:19].”[71]

 

Paragraph 6

In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task.  He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore I cannot include him among the chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.”[72]

This last paragraph underwent significant editing by Luther. It originally contained much stronger language against James.[73] It shows once again what John Warwick Montgomery noted above: Luther showed a “considerable reduction in negative tone in the revised Prefaces to the biblical books later in the Reformer’s career.”

Luther says he cannot include James among his “chief books though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.” In a conversation I once had with a Roman Catholic, my opponent underlined the words, “cannot include him among the chief books,” while I, utilizing the same quote underlined “though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him.” The Roman Catholic emphasized Luther’s questioning of James, while I emphasized how Luther was not dogmatic: he allowed people the freedom to disagree with him. John Warwick Montgomery has rightly concluded:

“Even in his strongest remarks on the four antilegomena (Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation), Luther intersperses positive comments and makes quite plain that the question of how to treat these books must be answered by his readers for themselves. If he can speak of James as an “Epistle of straw,” lacking the gospel, he can also say of it—simultaneously: “I praise it and hold it a good book, because it sets up no doctrine of men but vigorously promulgates God’s law.” Since Luther is not exactly the model of the mediating personality— since he is well known for consistently taking a stand where others (perhaps even angels) would equivocate—we can legitimately conclude that the Reformer only left matters as open questions when he really was not certain as to where the truth lay. Luther’s ambivalent approach to the antilegomena is not at all the confident critical posture of today’s rationalistic student of the Bible.”[74]

 

 

6: Luther Cited And Preached From The Book Of James

An interesting fact not usually mentioned is that even though Luther had doubts about James, these were not enough to deter him from preaching from the book.  For instance, in 1536 Luther preached on James 1:16-21. Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter, "Two things there are which part men from the Gospel: one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle." I have included the sermon below in Appendix B so one can see the respect with which Luther treated the text. As one reads through it, it is apparent that Luther did find many good things in James worthy to be preached. Similarly, one can find Luther positively quoting from the book of James throughout his writings. Below are only a few examples, which span the length of his academic career:

 

Sermons On The First Epistle of St. Peter:

And there is no other Mediator than the Lord Christ, who is the Son of God. Therefore the faith of the Jews and the Turks is false. They say: “I believe that God created heaven and earth.” The devil believes the same thing (cf. James 2:19), but it does not help him. For the Jews and the Turks have the audacity to come before God without Christ the Mediator.”[75]

 

That These Words Of Christ, “This Is My Body,” Etc., Still Stand Firm Against The Fanatics

You see, the circumcision of Abraham [Gen. 17:10 ff.] is now an old dead thing and no longer necessary or useful. But if I were to say that God did not command it in its time, it would do me no good even if I believed the gospel. So St. James asserts, “Whoever offends in one point is guilty in all respects.”[76]

 

Lectures on Genesis:

Thus God’s testing is a fatherly one, for James says in his letter (1:13): “God is not a tempter for evil”; that is, He does not test in order that we may fear and hate Him like a tyrant but to the end that He may exercise and stir up faith and love in us. Satan, however, tempts for evil, in order to draw you away from God and to make you distrust and blaspheme God.”[77]

 

Only let us be on our guard lest after we have once begun to pray, we immediately grow weary. But let us seek and let us cast all our care, misfortune, and affliction on God (1 Peter 5:7) and set before Him the examples of every kind of deliverance. Finally let us knock at the door with confidence and with incessant raps. Then we shall experience what James says (5:16): “The prayer of a righteous man has great power”; for it penetrates heaven and earth.” [78]

 

Commentary on Psalms

“James 1:2 says: “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (that is, into the pot of Moab). Therefore, on the contrary, regard it as every kind of grief if you fall into various joys (that is, the dining room and bed of Moab), as the same James says, James 5:1: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl in your miseries.”[79]

 

“But perfect as the man is who makes no mistakes in a single leaf (cf. James 3:2), more perfect is certainly he whose leaves are blooming and plentiful, but most perfect is he whose leaf does not fall off, who is worthy to have his thoughts and sayings deserve eternal remembrance and authority.”[80]

 

Commentary On Matthew

“St. James also says (James 2:13): “Judgment without mercy will be spoken over the one who has shown no mercy.” At the Last Day, therefore, Christ will also cite this lack of mercy as the worst injury done to Him, whatever we have done out of a lack of mercy.”[81]

 

 

 

7: Did Luther Want To Throw The Book Of James In The Stove?

Some say Luther’s hatred for the Epistle of James was so severe, he said, “I feel like throwing Jimmy in the stove.”[82] Yes, Luther did say this. The context though is fascinating. The quote comes from The Licentiate Examination Of Heinrich Schmedenstede, July 7 1542. In this treatise, forty-six theses are put forth.  Theses eighteen through twenty-one read:

18. The papists and sophists believe in vain in God the Father and all the other articles of our faith, since they reject the work of Christ completed for us.

19. For they deny that we are justified by faith alone, or what is the same thing, solely by Christ’s completed work.

20. For solely by faith in Christ, once promised, now delivered, the whole church is justified, from the beginning of the world to the end.

21. Thus it is by faith alone, so that neither reason, nor law, nor the very fulfillment of the law, which is called love, accomplish anything toward justification.[83]

 Those involved in the discussion considered Catholic counter arguments as well. At one point, James 2 is raised as a potential counter argument: “James says that Abraham was justified by works. Therefore, justification is not by faith.”[84] Protestant Heinrich Schmedenstede countered this by saying, “James is speaking of works as the effect of justification, not as the cause.[85] Luther then gave his opinion:

 

That epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest. Up to this point I have been accustomed just to deal with and interpret it according to the sense of the rest of Scriptures. For you will judge that none of it must be set forth contrary to manifest Holy Scripture. Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretations, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did.”[86]

Note also that Luther does not deny the answer put forth by Schmedenstede. What Luther does point out is heavy Catholic reliance on James 2. It troubled him that this passage weighed so strongly in Catholic arguments against justification by faith alone. Interestingly, he says that he has previously interpreted it “according to the sense of the rest of Scriptures.” Here we find that in practice, Luther admits to weighing it as Scripture. In his Lectures on Romans we find a clear example of how he interpreted it:

The question is asked, “How can justification take place without the works of the Law, and how by the works of the Law can there be no justification, since James 2:26 clearly states: ‘Faith apart from works is dead’ and ‘a man is justified by works,’ using the example of Abraham and Rahab (James 2:23–25)?” And Paul himself in Gal. 5:6 speaks of “faith working through love,” and above in chapter 2:13 he says that “the doers of the Law will be justified before God.” The answer to this question is that the apostle is distinguishing between the Law and faith, or between the letter and grace, and thus also between their respective works. The works of the Law are those, he says, which take place outside of faith and grace and are done at the urging of the Law, which either forces obedience through fear or allures us through the promise of temporal blessings. But the works of faith, he says, are those which are done out of the spirit of liberty and solely for the love of God. And the latter cannot be accomplished except by those who have been justified by faith, to which justification the works of the Law add nothing, indeed, they strongly hinder it, since they do not permit a man to see himself as unrighteous and in need of justification.[87]

But what of the comment “I feel like throwing Jimmy in the stove”? What is not explicit in the context above is the historical background of Luther’s comment. The editors of Luther’s Works explain, “The preacher of Kalenberg, when visited by the duchess, heated the room with the wooden statues of the apostles. The statue of James was the last and as the preacher shoved it into the stove he exclaimed, “Now bend over, Jimmy, you must go into the stove; no matter if you were the pope or all the bishops, the room must become warm.”[88]  Is Luther saying he wants to throw the Epistle of James in the stove? Possibly.[89] More likely, Luther’s comment is simply an expression of frustration, or perhaps dark humor. Luther does not explicitly say he wants to throw the book of James into the stove. Rather, he says he felt like doing what the priest in Kalenberg did, which would be throwing a statue of James into the stove.

 

 

 

8: Martin Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of Jude

 

In Luther’s preface to Jude he wrote the following:

Concerning the epistle of St. Jude, no one can deny that it is an extract or copy of St. Peter’s second epistle, so very like it are all the words. He also speaks of the apostles like a disciple who comes long after them [Jude 17] and cites sayings and incidents that are found nowhere else in the Scriptures [Jude 9, 14]. This moved the ancient fathers to exclude this epistle from the main body of the Scriptures.  Moreover the Apostle Jude did not go to Greek-speaking lands, but to Persia, as it is said, so that he did not write Greek. Therefore, although I value this book, it is an epistle that need not be counted among the chief books which are supposed to lay the foundations of faith.”[90]

Similar to Luther’s comments on James, we find that his questioning of Jude primarily has to do with its status in Church history, and it’s internal evidence as to its apostolicity.  This though did not deter Luther from positively citing it throughout his writings, as well as delivering an entire series of sermons on Jude. Luther began these sermons by pointing out,

This epistle is ascribed to the holy apostle St. Jude, the brother of the two apostles James the Less and Simon, the sons of the sister of the mother of Christ who is called Mary the wife of James or Cleophas, as we read in Mark 6:3. But this letter does not seem to have been written by the real apostle, for in it Jude refers to himself as a much later disciple of the apostles. Nor does it contain anything special beyond pointing to the Second Epistle of Saint Peter, from which it has borrowed nearly all the words.  It is nothing more than an epistle directed against our clerics—bishops, priests, and monks.[91]

While Luther might say it is “nothing more than an epistle directed against our clerics—bishops, priests, and monks,” he goes on to make a multitude of valuable spiritual insights.  For instance, his comment on Jude 20-21 Luther says,

Here [Jude] summarizes in a few words what a completely Christian way of life is. Faith is the foundation on which one should build. But to build up means to increase from day to day in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ. This is done through the Holy Spirit. Now when we are built up in this way, we should not do a single work in order to merit anything by it or to be saved; but everything must be done for the benefit of our neighbor. Here we must be concerned to remain in love and not to fall from it like the fools who set up special works and a special way of life and thus divert people from love. Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. This is the hope; here the holy cross begins. Our life should be arranged in such a way that it is nothing else than a constant longing and waiting for the future life. Yet this waiting must be directed toward the mercy of Christ, so that we call upon Him in order that He may help us from this life into the life to come out of pure mercy, not through any work or merit.”[92]

 

9: Martin Luther’s Opinion Of The Book Of Revelation

Luther’s Preface To The Revelation of St. John is frequently cited by Luther detractors, that is, in its original form [93] written in 1522.[94] Luther eventually rewrote it entirely in 1530. The rewrite is hardly ever referred to within anti-Luther polemics. John Warwick Montgomery points out,

 

“Luther’s short and extremely negative Preface to the Revelation of St. John was completely dropped after 1522, and the Reformer replaced it with a long and entirely commendatory Preface (1530). Because “some of the ancient fathers held the opinion that it was not the work of St. John the apostle,” Luther leaves the authorship question open, but asserts that he can no longer “let the book alone,” for “we see, in this book, that through and above all plagues and beasts and evil angels Christ is with His saints, and wins the victory at last.” In his original, 1532 Preface to Ezekiel, Luther made a cross-reference to the Revelation of St. John with no hint of criticism; in his later, much fuller Preface to Ezekiel, he concludes on the note that if one wishes to go into prophetic study, more deeply, “the Revelation of John can also help.”[95]

 

Even in the earlier 1522 version, Luther again explains that his opinion is not to be binding: “About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own opinions. I would not have anyone bound to my opinion or judgment,”[96] and also, “let everyone think of it as his own spirit leads him.”[97] Similar to the other antilegomena Luther says,  Many of the fathers also rejected this book [Revelation] a long time ago…”[98] The editors of Luther’s Works add:  The canonicity of Revelation was disputed by Marcion, Caius of Rome, Dionysius of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and the Synod of Laodicea in a.d. 360, though it was accepted by others as Eusebius reports…. Erasmus had noted in connection with chapter 4 that the Greeks regarded the book as apocryphal.”[99]

 

As far as my research has been able to uncover, Luther never explicitly adds Revelation to his list of “chief books.” However, his tone of writing in the 1530-revised preface contains only a remnant of the doubt as to its canonicity.  Luther says,

 

Because its interpretation is uncertain and its meaning hidden, we have also let it alone until now, especially because some of the ancient fathers held that it was not the work of St. John, the Apostle—as is stated in The Ecclesiastical History, Book III, chapter 25.  For our part, we still share this doubt. By that, however, no one should be prevented from regarding this as the work of St. John the Apostle, or of whomever else he chooses.”[100]

 

 

 

10: Martin Luther’s Opinion On The Book Of Hebrews

Luther begins his treatment of Hebrews by pointing out that throughout Church history it has had a “reputation” of uncertain canonicity. The editors of Luther’s Works point out, “Luther has in mind the statement from Eusebius: The Ecclesiastical History, III, iii, 5: “Some dispute the Epistle to the Hebrews, saying that it was rejected by the church of Rome as not being by Paul.”… Tertullian ascribed the epistle to Barnabas.”[101] Luther saw that internally, the book appears to lack apostolicity:

The fact that Hebrews is not an epistle of St. Paul, or of any other apostle, is proved by what it says in chapter 2[:3], that through those who had themselves heard it from the Lord this doctrine has come to us and remained among us. It is thereby made clear that he is speaking about the apostles, as a disciple to whom this doctrine has come from the apostles, perhaps long after them. For St. Paul, in Galatians 1[:1], testifies powerfully that he has his gospel from no man, neither through men, but from God himself.”[102]

Jaroslav Pelikan points out, “At times [Luther] proceeded on the assumption that for the New Testament ‘canonical’ was synonymous with ‘apostolic,’ and that the demonstration of the apostolic origin of a writing gave it automatic entrée to the New Testament canon. Thus the status of the Epistle to the Hebrews was problematical partly on the grounds that its apostolicity was in doubt.”[103] Even with uncertain origins, Luther goes on to say:

 

Who wrote it is not known, and will probably not be known for a while; it makes no difference. We should be satisfied with the doctrine that he bases so constantly on the Scriptures. For he discloses a firm grasp of the reading of the Scriptures and of the proper way of dealing with them.”[104]

 

The editors of Luther’s Works note though that Luther’s opinion fluctuated throughout his career: “… Luther was never consistent in either accepting or rejecting the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews but spoke of Paul as its author even when he had set forth the bold and brilliant suggestion that it was written by Apollos.”[105]

 

Luther’s theological evaluation is similar to his comments of James. Luther explains his “opinion is that this is an epistle put together of many pieces, which does not deal systematically with any one subject.”[106] Luther’s analysis finds statements in the book that seemas it stands, to be  contrary to all the gospels and to St, Paul’s epistles...”[107] Interestingly, the phrase “seems as it stands to be” was a later inclusion to this preface. The editors of Luther’s Works explain, “Beginning in 1530 the straightforward “is” of the earlier editions was replaced in the later editions by the milder words… probably in keeping with Luther’s generally favorable judgment of the book…”[108] That “generally favorable judgment” included this comment:

 

“[I]t is still a marvelously fine epistle. It discusses Christ’s priesthood masterfully and profoundly on the basis of the Scriptures and extensively interprets the Old Testament in a fine way, Thus it is plain that this is the work of an able and learned man; as a disciple of the apostles he had learned much from them and was greatly experienced in faith and practiced in the Scriptures. And although, as he himself testifies in chapter 6[:1], he does not lay the foundation of faith—that is the work of the apostles—nevertheless he does build well on it with gold, silver, precious stones, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 3[:12]. Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with them, but accept this fine teaching with all honor; though, to be sure, we cannot put it on the same level with the apostolic epistles.”[109]

 

It is also important to note that Luther did not neglect the book of Hebrews.[110] Luther preached from the book of Hebrews,[111] and quoted from it throughout his career. Volume twenty-nine of Luther’s Works includes his Lectures on Hebrews (which spans over one hundred pages). The editors of Luther’s Works expound,

 

“Luther lectured on the Epistle to the Hebrews from April 1517 to March 1518. Ordinarily he lectured twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays, and apparently in the noon period. His glosses were intended to be copied directly into a specially printed edition of the Latin text of the Epistle. His scholia do not seem to have been written out in full, but to have been delivered from quite extensive notes, containing, for example, the quotations from John Chrysostom which are so frequent in the lectures.”[112]

 

 

 

11. Luther’s Personal Criterion In Determining Canonicity

Luther’s also used a personal criterion in determining canonicity.[113] His view is not simply a crass subjective standard (as it is often caricatured to be by Catholic detractors)[114]; rather it is an intricate theological construct. For Luther, God’s voice from the first to the last page of the Bible testifies to one unifying theme: Christ. Paul Althaus explains, “…taken theologically, and that means in terms of its essential theme, Luther sees the Bible as a great unity. It has only one content. That is Christ. ‘There is no doubt that all of Scripture points to Christ alone.’” [115] One would be hard-pressed to find anyone seriously adhering to Christianity denying this.

 

Roman Catholic theology posits the same construct. In describing the overall theme of both Testaments, The Catholic Encyclopedia says, “Above all, both collection[s] have one and the same religious purpose, one and the same inspired character. They form the two parts of a great organic whole the centre of which is the person and mission of Christ.”[116] The Catholic Catechism says, “Be especially attentive ‘to the content and unity of the whole Scripture’. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God's plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.”[117] It further finds Christ to be the essential theme of the Old Testament: “the economy of the Old Testament was deliberately SO oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men.”[118]

 

Both the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther agree whom the “person” is, and that the gospel is the central theme of the Bible.

 

The disagreement between Rome and Luther is the meaning of the word “gospel.”

 

 

 

 Christ: the gospel of free grace and justification through faith alone.”[119] This standard also helped determine apostolicity. As Paul Althaus explains,

 

“Luther’s concept of apostolicity is based not only on a historical factor, that is, that Christ himself called and sent out a group of witnesses…An apostle shows that he is an apostle by clearly and purely preaching Christ as Savior. ‘Now it is the office of a true apostle to preach of the suffering, resurrection, and office of Christ.’ This shows that an apostle is inspired by the Holy Spirit; and this gives him his authority and infallibility. Since apostolic authority manifests itself in the gospel of the apostles, the church recognizes the authority of the Scripture as being based not on the person of the apostles but on the word of God or the gospel which bears witness to itself. The apostolic character of a New Testament author manifests itself in the content of his writing and in the clarity of his witness to Christ.”[120]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Removing The “Luther-Card”

Hartmann Grisar is not correct: Luther did not treat the canon with a “liberty which annihilates all certitude,” and he did not make “religious sentiment the criterion by which to decide which books belong to the Bible, which are doubtful, and which are to be excluded.” Catholics seem to dwell on Luther’s Christocentric interpretive principle to the exclusion of Luther’s historical opinions. As has been demonstrated, along with Erasmus and Cardinal Cajetan, Luther was a sixteenth century Biblical theologian. Lutheran writer Mark Bartling has accurately pointed out, “[Luther’s] reason for reopening the question of canonicity was not at all subjective, or arbitrary, and certainly not at all like the modern historical-critical method. Luther, in his study of the question of canonicity, appealed not to subjective considerations or negative higher criticism, but objectively to the judgments of the early church and the writings of the fathers. Luther did not want to make the error of accepting the canon of Scripture because the institutional Church had declared it as such.”[121]

 

Even if one were to grant the validity of the Roman Catholic Church declaring the contents of the canon, Erasmus, Luther, and Cajetan formed their opinions and debated these issues previous to the council of Trent. The New Catholic Encyclopedia has honestly pointed out, “According to Catholic doctrine, the proximate criterion of the Biblical canon is the infallible decision of the Church. This decision was not given until rather late in the history of the Church (at the Council of Trent). Before that time there was some doubt about the canonicity of certain Biblical books, i.e., about their belonging to the canon.”[122] Grisar’s sentiment excludes the fact that these men were sixteenth century Biblical theologians. Their “liberty” was simply the liberty as allowed by the sixteenth century Roman Catholic Church. If the New Catholic Encyclopedia is correct, Erasmus, Cajetan, and Luther had every right within the Catholic system to engage in Biblical criticism and debate over the extent of the Canon. All expressed “some doubt.” Theirs was not a radical higher criticism. The books they questioned were books that had been questioned by previous generations. None were so extreme as to engage in Marcion-like canon-destruction. Both Erasmus and Luther translated the entirety of Bible, and published it. Biblical scholar Alan Wikgren notes that at Trent itself there were a variety of opinions on the canon, and even after the council some Catholic scholars still treated them differently:

 

“The Council of Trent settled these matters for Catholics, but the deliberations and debates preceding the Tridentine actions in February-March, 1546 reveal the many differences of viewpoint which existed at that time. The unnecessarily extreme decisions reached, e.g., in the affirmation of apostolic authorship of the disputed books reflect a zealous reaction to such views as those of Erasmus and Cajetan, as well as of Luther and his followers. Yet some twenty years later Sextus Senensis in his Bibliotheca Sancta divides the biblical books into "Protocanonical" (undisputed in the early church) and "Deuterocanonical" (disputed). In the New Testament the latter consisted of the usual seven plus the longer ending of Mark, Luke 22: 43f and the Pericope adulterae. But he goes on to recognize that all are now of full canonical authority. The term "deuterocanonical", however, has among Catholics continued to be used of the Old Testament Apocrypha, although not of Esther, which Sextus had included in this category.”[123]

 

At the Council of Trent, one of the key men was Cardinal Seripando. This cardinal wasaligned with the leaders of a minority that was outstanding for its theological scholarship.”[124] While not engaging in New Testament canon criticism, a review of his work at Trent reveals the significant difference in opinion among the Catholic scholars present in regard to the Old Testament.  The Catholic historian Hubert Jedin explains,

 

“[Seripando was] Impressed by the doubts of St. Jerome, Rufinus, and St. John Damascene about the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament, Seripando favored a distinction in the degrees of authority of the books of the Florentine canon. The highest authority among all the books of the Old Testament must be accorded those which Christ Himself and the apostles quoted in the New Testament, especially the Psalms. But the rule of citation in the New Testament does not indicate the difference of degree in the strict sense of the word, because certain Old Testament books not quoted in the New Testament are equal in authority to those quoted. St. Jerome gives an actual difference in degree of authority when he gives a higher place to those books which are adequate to prove a dogma than to those which are read merely for edification. The former, the protocanonical books, are "libri canonici et authentic!"; Tobias, Judith, the Book of Wisdom, the books of Esdras, Ecclesiasticus, the books of the Maccabees, and Baruch are only "canonici et ecclesiastici" and make up the canon morum in contrast to the canon fidei. These, Seripando says in the words of St. Jerome, are suited for the edification of the people, but they are not authentic, that is, not sufficient to prove a dogma. Seripando emphasized that in spite of the Florentine canon the question of a twofold canon was still open and was treated as such by learned men in the Church. Without doubt he was thinking of Cardinal Cajetan, who in his commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews accepted St. Jerome's view which had had supporters throughout the Middle Ages.”[125]

 

For the last time [Seripando] expressed his doubts [to the Council of Trent] about accepting the deuterocanonical books into the canon of faith. Together with the apostolic traditions the so-called apostolic canons were being accepted, and the eighty-fifth canon listed the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) as non-canonical. Now, he said, it would be contradictory to accept, on the one hand, the apostolic traditions as the foundation of faith and, on the other, to directly reject one of them.”[126]

 

As has been demonstrated, Luther’s treatment of the canon is not the claim of authoritarian dogma. When one looks at the totality of Luther’s New Testament canon criticism, it is quite minute: four books. Of his opinion he allows for the possibility of his readers to disagree with his conclusions. It has been shown his overall opinion softened later in life by the exclusion of many negative comments in his revised prefaces. Of the four books, it is possible that Luther’s opinion fluctuated on two (Hebrews and Revelation). Even while criticizing James and Jude, he positively quoted from them throughout his career. In the case of Jude he did a complete series of lectures. In the case of James, he occasionally preached from the book.[127]

 

But what of the charge that Luther considered some Biblical books more important than others? Is his a radical subjectivism? Is his approach a devaluation of Scripture? John Warwick Montgomery raises an important point:

 

“…In fairness to Luther, is not this frank attitude just the recognition of what we all must admit, however high our view of scriptural inerrancy, namely that the biblical books do not all present the gospel with equal impact? Even the fundamentalist of fundamentalists distributes portions of the Gospel of John and not II Chronicles. Wesley was saved at Aldersgate listening to the reading of Luther’s Preface to Romans; it would not have surprised Luther — nor should it surprise us — that the effect was not produced by the reading of the Preface to Obadiah. To paraphrase George Orwell, all the Bible books are equal, but some are more equal than others. Moreover, the successive editions of Luther’s German Bible show the Reformer concerned that the general public not be led away from any portion of Scripture by his own personal opinions or prejudices.”[128]

 

I question Roman Catholics continually playing the “Luther- card” in canon discussions. Catholics are fond of criticizing Luther’s Christocentric understanding of the canon, to the exclusion of considering Luther’s historical concerns. Ours is not a generation in which information remains out of reach.  There is a wealth of information available discussing Luther’s views. I have only “scratched the surface.”  Interesting further studies would include Luther’s concept of tradition (and the abuse of tradition) within the determination of the canon, Luther’s concept of the “canon within the canon,” and a comparison of Luther and Erasmus on the Christocentric interpretive principle.  My goal has been to encourage both Catholics and Protestants to at least seek to understand Luther’s view as completely as possible, even if one ultimately disagrees with it. Luther’s opinion is best summarized by his own words:

 

I have learned to ascribe the honor of infallibility only to those books that are accepted as canonical. I am profoundly convinced that none of these writers has erred. All other writers, however they may have distinguished themselves in holiness or in doctrine, I read in this way: I evaluate what they say, not on the basis that they themselves believe that a thing is true, but only insofar as they are able to convince me by the authority of the canonical books or by clear reason.”[129]

 

 

________________________________________________________________________

 

Appendix A:
Patrick O’Hare’s Spurious Facts About Luther’s Canon

 

Used as a strong dose of anti-Protestant prejudice, Roman Catholic laymen frequently refer to Father Patrick O’Hare’s book, The Facts About Luther. This may be the single worst treatment of Luther in print today. Father O’Hare presents an entire chapter on “Luther and the Bible” in which he viciously attacks Luther’s treatment of the canon. O’Hare’s analysis reads like a continuing round of shot gun blasts:

 

“[Luther’s] was a most lamentable state whilst confined at the Wartburg. No wonder he produced a Bible full of malicious translations. A victim of fleshly lust and one in constant contact with Satan could hardly be expected to treat the undefiled Word of God with reverence. What reliance can be placed on a translation of the Bible made under such unfavorable circumstances?”[130]

 

“[Luther] translated the Bible- or what pretended to be the Bible. His mutilation of the Holy Book, and the amputation of several of its members make little or no difference to his admirers.”[131]

 

“[Luther] sacrificed accuracy and mistranslated the Bible with deliberate purport and intention, in order to fit to his false theories and to make it serve to buttress his heresies.”[132]

 

“To call Luther’s version, which is a monstrous forgery, the Word of God is nothing less than criminal and blasphemous.”[133]

 

These are but a few examples of the abject hatred expressed by Father O’Hare. [Elsewhere, I have reviewed the extreme bias put forth by Father O’Hare. The interested reader is directed to my paper, The Roman Catholic Perspective of Luther (Part One).] Catholics cling to this book, sell it on their web sites, and recommend it as a proper work for studying Luther. They also quote from it on the battlefield of cyber-space to defend their church. For example, Catholic apologist Gary Hoge cites some seemingly outrageous quotes of Martin Luther directly from O’Hare’s book:

 

We have no wish either to see or hear Moses.”

Job . . . is merely the argument of a fable.”

Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it . . . Solomon did not, therefore, write this book.”

The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness.”

The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible.”[134]

A few years ago, Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong cited similarly from O’Hare in his article “Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible.”[135] To his credit Armstrong removed this quote from his web site.[136] Armstrong saw what I did in The Facts About Luther: O’Hare provides no references for the above citations. One is faced with the difficulty of locating the specific Luther quotes he utilized. If one wishes to read them in context, one faces a daunting (if not close to impossible) task.[137] Considering O’Hare’s extreme revulsion of Luther, checking his citations becomes important to see if his hostility skewed his research. 

 

Without being redundant, I would like to work through some of O’Hare’s citations (as quoted by the Roman apologists), particularly the Old Testament references (since the majority of this paper has dealt at length with the New Testament). I do this as an example of how poorly done The Facts About Luther book actually is. Many of the quotes are not possible to locate, though I highly suspect many of them are either from John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk or one of the other less reliable Table Talk’s. On the other hand, Luther’s general attitudes on the “facts” mentioned are easily located. It is possible to extract his opinion on the issues raised from the corpus of his work.

 

 

1. “We have no wish either to see or hear Moses.”

 

This quote probably comes from Luther’s treatise Against The Heavenly Prophets In The Matter Of Images And Sacraments. It is a writing against Luther’s former colleague Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt who joined with radical factions of the Anabaptists. When Luther did not support Karlstadt’s violent expunging of all images, Karlstadt accused Luther of disobeying God’s law given through Moses: “You shall not make yourself a graven image, or any likeness …” Luther responded by pointing out that Karlstadt misunderstood his position, as well as misinterpreted Moses. Luther, well heated up says:

 

Now then, let us get to the bottom of it all and say that these teachers of sin and Mosaic prophets are not to confuse us with Moses. We don’t want to see or hear Moses. How do you like that, my dear rebels? We say further, that all such Mosaic teachers deny the gospel, banish Christ, and annul the whole New Testament. I now speak as a Christian for Christians. For Moses is given to the Jewish people alone, and does not concern us Gentiles and Christians. We have our gospel and New Testament. If they can prove from them that images must be put away, we will gladly follow them. If they, however, through Moses would make us Jews, we will not endure it.”[138]

 

The “teachers of sin and Mosaic prophets” are Karlstadt and the Anabaptists. Luther viewed these people as denying the gospel and imposing law on people. The editors of Luther’s works have included an excellent overview of Luther’s opinion on 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.”[139]

 

Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Luther knows how important Moses and the law was in his theology. For instance, 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.  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, one hears both law and gospel at the beginning and ending of each day.

 

Luther also 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. He understood the First Commandment to be 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.[140] 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.”[141]

 

 

2. “Job . . . is merely the argument of a fable…”

 

The quote from O’Hare in its entirety reads, “Job spoke not as it stands written in his book, but only had such thoughts. It is merely the argument of a fable. It is probable that Solomon wrote and made this book.”[142] The crucial polemic against Luther at this point seems to be the word, “fable.” I was unable to locate the entirety of this quote as O’Hare cites it in the 55 volume English edition of Luther’s works. One secondary source quoting from Luther’s Works in German says, “Undoubtedly the book of Job was related by a pious scholar, much as Virgil made Aeneas act and speak, as one composes a drama.” The author then quotes Luther as saying,

 

 It is almost like an Argumentum Fabulae…[Job] speaks and disputes with another as he feels and as he thinks…The Hebrew poet and master of this book, whoever he may be [it was not Job who wrote it], himself experiences such temptations and tribulation…’.”[143]

 

 If O’Hare utilized the quote as transcribed above, he left out the key word “like,” which would be the key word in understanding Luther’s thought. On the other hand, O’Hare may also be quoting from an early printing of John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk:

 Job didn’t speak the way it is written [in his book], but he thought those things. One doesn’t speak that way under temptation. Nevertheless, the things reported actually happened. They are like the plot of a story which a writer, like Terence,  adopts and to which he adds characters and circumstances. The author wished to paint a picture of patience. It’s possible that Solomon himself wrote this book, for the style is not very different from his.  At the time of Solomon the story which he undertook to write was old and well known. It was as if I today were to take up the stories of Joseph or Rebekah. The Hebrew poet, whoever he was, saw and wrote about those temptations, as Vergil described Aeneas,  led him through all the seas and resting places, and made him a statesman and soldier. Whoever wrote Job, it appears that he was a great theologian.”[144]

One should use caution when extracting Luther’s theological opinions from the Table talk, for the simple reason that Luther did not write the Table talk.[145] Caution should also be used particularly with John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk.[146] Note that Luther does not consider Job to be a “fable.” In all the instances I checked in which Luther spoke of Job, he referred to him as a historical figure and treated the events that transpired in his life as actually occurring.

 

 

3. “Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it . . . Solomon did not, therefore, write this book.”

 

O’Hare may again be citing from John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk.[147] Contrary to O’Hare’s citation,[148] Luther clearly valued Ecclesiastes. One can read Luther’s extensive exposition of it in LW 15 in which he says, “To reiterate, the point and purpose of this book is to instruct us, so that with thanksgiving we may use the things that are present and the creatures of God that are generously given to us and conferred upon us by the blessing of God.”[149] Luther finds this book so important that it “…deserves to be in everyone’s hands and to be familiar to everyone, especially to government officials because of its graphic and unique description of the administration of human affairs both private and public…”[150] In regards to authorship, Luther did find Solomon to be its author, but not its writer.  In Luther’s Preface To Ecclesiastes he says:

Now this book was certainly not written or set down by King Solomon with his own hand. Instead scholars put together what others had heard from Solomon’s lips, as they themselves admit at the end of the book where they say, “These words of the wise are like goads and nails, fixed by the masters of the congregation and given by one shepherd” [Eccles. 12:11]. That is to say, certain persons selected by the kings and the people were at that time appointed to fix and arrange this and other books that were handed down by Solomon, the one shepherd. They did this so that not everyone would have to be making books as he pleased, as they also lament in that same place that “of the making of books there is no end” [Eccles. 12:12]; they forbid the acceptance of others. These men here call themselves “masters of the congregation” [Eccles. 12:11], and books had to be accepted and approved at their hands and by their office. Of course the Jewish people had an external government that was instituted by God, which is why such a thing as this could be done surely and properly. In like manner too, the book of the Proverbs of Solomon has been put together by others, with the teaching and sayings of some wise men added at the end. The Song of Solomon too has the appearance of a book compiled by others out of things received from the lips of Solomon. For this reason these books have no particular order either, but one thing is mixed with another. This must be the character of such books, since they did not hear it all from him at one time but at different times.”[151]

 

4. “The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness . .

 

The quote is probably also from John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk (see footnote 81). Luther is recorded as saying, “I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities.”[152] In regards to the English edition of Luther’s Works, there is at least one instance in which Luther spoke negatively about Esther. In responding to Erasmus, Luther said, “…Esther…which despite their [the Jews] inclusion of it in the canon deserves more than all the rest in my judgment to be regarded as noncanonical.”[153] Yet, Luther still translated it and allowed it in his Bible. Curiously, Roger Beckwith (author the outstanding book The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church) has said, “It is sometimes said that Luther, following certain of the Fathers, denied the Canonicity of Esther, but Hans Bardtke has questioned this, as not taking into account of all the evidence (Luther und das Buch Esther, Tubingen Mohr, 1964).”[154] One can only hope that this work will one day be available in English.

 

 

5. “The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible…”

 

This quote also sounds suspiciously like a quote from John Aurifaber’s version of the Table Talk. The quote from Aurifaber’s Table Talk reads,

 

The majesty of the prophet Jonah is surpassing. He has but four chapters, and yet he moved therewith the whole kingdom, so that in his weakness, he was justly a figure and a sign of the Lord Christ. Indeed, it is surprising, that Christ should recur to this but in four words. Moses likewise, in few words describes the creation, the history of Abraham, and other great mysteries; but he spends much time in describing the tent, the external sacrifices, the kidneys and so on; the reason is, he saw that the world greatly esteemed outward things, which they beheld with their carnal eyes, but that which was spiritual, they soon forgot.


The history of the prophet Jonah is almost incredible, sounding more strange than any poet's fable; if it were not in the Bible, I should take it for a lie; for consider, how for the space of three days he was in the great belly of the whale, whereas in three hours he might have been digested and changed into the nature, flesh and blood of that monster; may not this be said, to live in the midst of death? In comparison to this miracle, the wonderful passage through the Red Sea was nothing. But what appears more strange is, that after he was delivered, he began to be angry, and to expostulate with the gracious God, touching a small matter not worth a straw. It is a great mystery. I am ashamed of my exposition upon this prophet, in that I so weakly touch the main point of this wonderful miracle
.”[155]

 

I don’t really understand what O’Hare’s problem with Luther is here. Indeed, being swallowed by a giant fish is monstrous, and absolutely incredible! The context above speaks for itself. Obviously, Luther valued the Book of Jonah highly. Elsewhere Luther said of Jonah:

 

I have therefore chosen to expound the holy prophet Jonah, for he… represents an excellent, outstanding, and comforting example of faith and a mighty and wonderful sign of God’s goodness to all the world. For who would not trust God with all his heart, proudly defy all the devils, the world, and all the fulminating tyrants, and exult over God’s kindness, when he contemplates this story and beholds how easily God’s power and grace are able to preserve Jonah in the midst of the deep sea, even in the belly of the whale, thus saving him not only from one death but from various deaths, deserted and forgotten as he is by all men and all creatures?[156]

 

 

 

Appendix B:

Luther’s Sermon on James

A Sermon by Martin Luther; taken from his Church Postil. Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter, James 1:16-21 -- "Two things there are which part men from the Gospel: one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle."[157]

1. This lesson was addressed to all Christians. Particularly was it meant for the time when they had to endure from the unbelieving world persecutions severe and oft; as James indicates at the outset, where he says (verses 2-4): "Count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations; knowing that the proving of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire." Again (verse 12): "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation."

WHY MEN REJECT THE GOSPEL.

2. Two things there are which part men from the Gospel:

one is angry impatience, and the other evil lust. Of these James speaks in this epistle. The former sin, he says, arises under persecution--when for the sake of Christ the Lord you must give up property and honor, and risk body and life; must be regarded as fools, as the drudges, yes, the footstool, of the world. Painful and intolerable to the point of discouragement and weariness is such a lot, particularly when it is apparent that your persecutors enjoy good fortune, having honor, power and wealth, while you suffer constantly. Peter, too, admonishes (I Pet 3, 10), upon authority of Psalm 34, 12-14: He who would be a Christian must be prepared to avoid evil and do good, to seek peace, to refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile, and must commit himself to God.

In the case of a great many people otherwise favorably disposed toward the Gospel, it is nothing but persecution which deters and repels them from it. They cannot endure the injuries and reproaches they must suffer for its sake. But for the precious holy cross which is laid upon Christians, and their inability to overcome indignation and impatience, the world would long ago have been crowded with Christians. But on account of trials men recoil, saying: "Rather than endure these, I will remain with the majority; as it is with them, so be it with me."

3. The second thing to which James refers is worldly lust---"filthiness," as James terms it. This, too, is a prevailing evil, particularly with the common people. When they once hear the Gospel they are prone to think right away that they know all about it. They cease to heed it and drown in lust, pride and covetousness of the world, being concerned entirely with accumulating wealth and seeking pleasure.

4. That these two evils prevail is apparent to the eyes of all men today. We fear that we shall fare no better than the prophets and the apostles; these things are likely to continue. Nevertheless, we must unceasingly exert ourselves in behalf of ourselves and others to guard diligently against both these evils. Particularly must we not impatiently murmur and rage against God; we must also show meekness toward our fellowmen, to the end that wrath everywhere may be quelled and subdued, and only patience and meekness reign among Christians.

5. As I said before, such seems to be the trend of the whole text. The apostle gives a reason why we should be patient to the extent of not allowing ourselves to be vexed with them who injure us, especially ungrateful rejecters of the Word of God or persecutors of Christians. The reason he assigns is the debt of gratitude we owe: we are to remember the great good we receive from God in heaven--"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights."

OUR BLESSINGS OUTWEIGH OUR ILLS.

6. If you carefully balance our gifts and trials against each other and weigh them carefully, you will find the blessings conferred upon you so numerous and rich as far to outweigh the injuries and reproaches you must incur. Therefore, if you are assailed by the world, and are provoked to impatience by ingratitude, contempt and persecution, compare with your trials the blessings and consolations you have in Christ and his Gospel. You will soon find you have more reason to pity your enemies than you have to murmur and to rage against them.

7. Again, concerning them who live in worldly lusts--in "filthiness," as the apostle terms it: let not their conduct induce you to forsake the Gospel to be like them; for their portion is altogether paltry in comparison with your glorious blessings and divine riches. Take thought, then, and do not allow yourselves to be misled either by the wanton wickedness of the world, through the injury and pain it may inflict, or by the prosperity of the world's wealthy, who live riotously in all manner of voluptuousness. Look upon what you have from the Father in comparison--his divine blessings, his perfect gifts.

8. For the sake of distinction, we shall designate by "good gifts" the blessings we enjoy here in this life; by "perfect gifts" those awaiting us in the life to come. James implies this distinction when he says: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." In the terms "good gifts" and "perfect gifts," the apostle comprehends all our blessings, those we have already received in the present life and those to be ours in the life to come.

9. I will not now speak particularly of earthly, transient and changeable blessings, such as temporal goods, honor, a healthy body and others, but could we only compare our blessings with these and weigh our treasures and surpassing blessings, we should presently conclude that ours transcend in value a hundred thousand times anything the world possesses and boasts. Many individuals there are who would give thousands of dollars to have the sight of both eyes. So much do they prize the blessing of sight, they would willingly suffer a year's illness or endure other great inconveniences to obtain it. Less sensible would they be to such discomforts than to the deprivation of the thing they desire.

Of physical blessings particularly, we shall not now speak, however, save to mention that they are never equaled by physical ills. Who can purchase or merit, even by enduring tenfold his present physical ills, the very least of God's gifts; as, for instance, the beholding of the light of the beautiful sun for a single day? And so long as mortal life itself remains, you have the greatest of blessings, one outweighing far all gold and silver and all the misfortunes you may endure.

OUR BLESSINGS IN CHRIST'S RESURRECTION.

But we shall speak now particularly of the blessings we have in Christ's resurrection, a subject appropriate to this Paschal season. The text says, Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights. For God has begun the work of edifying us, of building us up, and will constitute us his own children, his heirs. This work, James says, is wrought through the Gospel, or "the word of truth," as he terms it.

10. But what does the resurrection advantage us? It has already brought us this gain: our hearts are enlightened and filled with joy, and we have passed from the darkness of sin, error and fear into the clear light; the Christian is able to judge all sects, all doctrines of devils, that may arise on earth. Is it not a thing of unspeakable value, a precious gift, to be enlightened and taught of God to the extent of being able to judge correctly every doctrine and every kind of conduct exhibited in this world, and to show all men how to live--what to do and what to avoid? Well may we boast, then, of having here on earth also a Father--"the Father of lights"--from whom we receive blessings of such magnitude that man should willingly yield body and life for their attainment.

What would I in my darkness not have given to be liberated from the very dread which prompted the celebration of masses and other abominations, yes, from the torture and anguish of conscience which left me no rest? or to have instruction enabling me rightly to interpret a single psalm? I would, for such enlightenment, readily have crawled on the ground to the ends of the earth. Thank God, we now have the blessed treasure abundantly, the great and precious light, the gracious Word. What is the sum of all suffering and misfortune compared to this light?

11. Secondly, through Christ's resurrection we have a good, joyous conscience, one able to withstand every form of sin and temptation and to maintain a sure hope of eternal life. The great, glorious gifts and blessings of the resurrection are these: the Gospel, Holy Baptism, the power of the Holy Spirit, and comfort in all adversity. What is a slight injury or the loss of some temporal blessing in comparison with these? What reason has any man to murmur and to rage when such divine blessings are his, even here in this life, blessings which none can take away or abridge?

If, then, you are called to renounce money, possessions, honor and men's favor, remember you have a treasure more precious than all the honors and all the possessions of the world. Again, when you see one living in great splendor, in pleasure and presumption, following his own inclinations, think thus: "What has he? A wretched portion, a beggarly morsel. In contrast, I have divine grace enabling me to know God's will and the work he would have me do, and all in heaven and on earth is mine." Look, says James, upon the treasure already obtained from the Father of lights--his great and glorious gifts.

12. But these do not represent the consummation of resurrection blessings. We must yet await the real, the perfect, gifts. Our earthly condition does not admit of perfection; hence we cannot truly perceive, cannot comprehend, our treasure. We are but "a kind of first-fruits of his creatures." God has only commenced to work in us, but he will not leave us in that state. If we continue in faith, not allowing ourselves to be turned away through wrath and impatience, God will bring us to the real, eternal blessings, called "perfect gifts," the possession of which excludes error, stumbling, anger, and any sin whatever.

THE FUTURE LIFE OF BLESSEDNESS.

13. That future existence, James goes on to say, will be one wherein is "no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning"--no alternating of light and darkness. In other words, there will not be the variation and instability characteristic of this world, even of the Christian life--today joyous, tomorrow sad; now standing but soon tottering. It is in the Christian life just as in the physical world: we find variableness and continual change--light is succeeded by darkness, day by night, cold by heat; here are mountains, there valleys; today we are well, tomorrow ill; and so it goes. But all this change shall be abolished. The present life shall be succeeded by one wherein is no variation, but a permanence and eternity of blessing. We shall unceasingly behold God in his majesty where dwells no darkness, no death, plague nor infirmity, but pure light, joy and happiness. Look to this future life! call it to mind, when assailed by the world and enticed to anger or evil lust. Remember the great blessings of heaven assuredly promised you, and whereof Christ your Head has already taken possession, that he may make sure your entrance into the same blessings. These should be to you far more precious and desirable than the things of earth, which all men must leave behind.

14. To these things the Christian should direct his thoughts and efforts, that he may learn to prize his blessings, to recognize his treasures as great and glorious, and to thank God for the beginnings of his grace and blessing bestowed here below. Let us ever look and turn toward true knowledge and understanding, toward righteousness and life; so shall we attain that perfection wherein we are freed from the present imperfect, unstable existence, the yoke we now bear upon our necks and which continually weighs upon us and renders us liable to fall from the Gospel.

Impulse and aid for such pursuit we are to receive from the holy cross and persecution, as well as from the example of the world. With what ease the poor, wretched people are wrested from the Word and from faith, wherein they might enjoy unspeakable grace and blessings, by the sordid, beggarly pleasures to be sought for here!

15. Therefore, James says: "Why trouble yourselves about earthly blessings, which though God-given are transitory? Why not much rather rejoice in the comforting prospect of the great heavenly blessings already abundantly yours and which cannot be taken from you?" And by way of explanation he says further: "Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth."

GOD'S CHILDREN BEGOTTEN BY THE WORD.

16. The first, and in fact the best, thing Christ has sent us from on high is sonship. He brought us forth, made us his children, or heirs. We are truly called children born of God. But how are we born? Through "the Word of truth," or the true Word. By this statement James makes

a wide thrust at all factions and sects. For they also have a word and boast much of their doctrine, but theirs is not the Word of truth whereby men are made children of God. They teach naught, and know naught, about how we are to be born God's children through faith. They prate much about the works done by us in the state derived from Adam. But we have a Word whereby, as we are assured, God makes us his beloved children and justifies us--if we believe in that Word. He justifies us not through works or laws. The Christian must derive his sonship from his birth. All whittling and patching is to no purpose. The disciples of Moses, and all work-mongers, would effect it by commandments, extorting a work here and a work there, effecting nothing. New beings are needed, children of God by birth, as John 1, 12 says.

17. The children of God, John tells us, are they who believe on the name of Christ; that is, who sincerely cling to the Word. John extols the Word as the great, the mighty, gift. They are children who cleave to the message that through Christ God forgives their sins and receives them into his favor; who adhere to this promise in all temptations, afflictions and troubles. The Word here on earth is the jewel which secures sonship. Now, since God has so greatly blessed you as to make you his own begotten children, shall he not also give you every other good?

18. Whence, then, do you derive sonship? Not from your own will, not from your own powers or efforts. Were it so, I and other monks surely should have obtained it, independently of the Word; it would have been ours through the numerous works we performed in our monastic life. It is, secured, James says, "of his will." For it never entered into the thought of any man that so should we be made children of God. The idea did not grow in our gardens; it did not spring up in our wells. But it came down from above, "from the Father of lights," by Word and Spirit revealed to us and given into our hearts through the agency of his apostles and their successors, by whom the Word has been transmitted to us. Hence we did not secure it through our efforts or merits. Of his Fatherly will and good pleasure was it conferred upon us; of pure grace and mercy he give it.

CHRISTIANS THE FIRST-FRUITS.

19. James says, "That we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures"; that is, the newly- begun creature, or work, of God. By this phrase the apostle distinguishes the creatures of God from the creatures of the world, or creatures of men. Likewise does Peter when he says (1 Pet 2, 13), "Be subject to every ordinance [or creature] of man"; that is, to everything commanded, ordained, instituted, made, by men. For instance, a prince constitutes men tax-gatherers, squires, secretaries, or anything he desires, within the limits of his power.

But new creatures are found with God. They are styled "creatures of God" because he has created them as his own work, independently of human effort or human power. And so the Christian is called a "new creature of God," a creature God himself has made, aside from all other creatures and higher than they. At the same time, such creation of God is only in its initial stage. He still daily operates upon it until it becomes perfect, a wholly divine creature, as the very sun in clearness and purity, without sin and imperfection, all aglow with love divine.

20. Take into careful consideration these facts. Keep before you the great blessing, honor and glory God has conferred upon you in making you heirs of the life to come, the life wherein shall be no imperfection nor variation, the life which shall be an existence in divine purity and protection like God's own. Do not, then, by any means allow yourselves to be provoked to anger by the wretched, sordid, beggar's wallet which the world craves. Rather, much rather, rejoice in the divine blessings, and thank God for having made you worthy of them. Whether sweet or bitter--in comparison with these let everything else be spurned. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward"--to us the children of God--says Paul in Romans 8,18.

IMPATIENT ANGER FORBIDDEN.

21. So James draws the conclusion: "Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." In other words, in receiving counsel or comfort be swift; but do not permit yourselves readily to criticise, curse, or upbraid God or men. James does not mean to prohibit reproof, censure, indignation and correction where the command of God or necessity requires; but he forbids rashness or hastiness on our part, despite our provocation in the premises. When we are provoked we should first hear what the Word of God says and be advised thereby. It is the right and true counsel, and we should ever permit ourselves to be led by it; according to its teaching should all our decisions, reproofs and censures be regulated. In immediate connection, James bids us receive the Word with meekness; we are not to be incensed when censured by its authority, or to become impatient and murmur when we have to suffer something because of it.

The reason James assigns for restraining our anger is: "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." This is a truth admitted even by the heathen--"Ira furor brevis est," etc.--and verified by experience. Therefore, upon authority of Psalm 4, 4, when you feel your wrath rising, sin not, but go to your chamber and commune with yourself. Let not wrath take you by surprise and cause you to yield to it. When slander and reproach is heaped upon you, or curses given, do not rashly allow yourself to be immediately inflamed with anger. Rather, take heed to overcome the provocation and not to respond to it.

22. The apostle's first point, then, is: Christians should guard against yielding to wrath and impatience, and should remember the great blessings they enjoy--gifts wherewith all the advantages and favors of the world are unworthy of comparison.

23. Similarly, James says regarding the other point: "Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness," etc. By "filthiness" he means the impure life of the world-- indulgence, voluptuousness and knavery of every sort. These things, he would say, should be far from you Christians who enjoy blessings so great and glorious. Could you rightly recognize and appreciate these blessings, you would regard all worldly pursuits and pleasures mere filth in comparison. Nor is this overdrawn; they are, such when contrasted with the good and perfect heavenly gifts and treasures.

24. "Receive with meekness the implanted word." You have the Word, James says, a Word which is yours not by your own fancy or effort, but which God, by grace, gave to you-- implanted in you. It has free course--is preached, read and sung among you. (By the grace of God, it is free among us, too.) In this respect, God be praised, there is no lack. It is of the utmost importance, however, to receive it, to make profitable use of it; to handle it with meekness that we may hold it fast and not allow it to be effaced by anger under persecution or by the allurements of worldly lusts. Christ says (Lk 21, 19), "In your patience possess ye your souls [ye shall win your souls]."

MEEKNESS AND PATIENCE ENJOINED.

Meekness and patience are necessary to enable us to triumph over the devil and the world. Without them we shall not be able to hold fast the Word in our strife against those evil forces. We must fight and contend against sin, but if we essay to cool our wrath by grasping the devil and his followers by the hair and wreaking vengeance upon them, we will accomplish nothing and may thereby lose our treasure, the beloved Word. Therefore, lay hold of the Word planted or engrafted within you, that you may be able to retain it and have it bring forth its fruit in yourself.

THE POWER OF THE WORD.

25. It is a Word, says James in conclusion, "which is able to save your souls." What more could be desired? You have the Word, the promise of all divine blessings and gifts. It is able to save you if you but steadfastly cleave to it. Why, then, need you take any account of the world, and anything it may do, whether good or evil? What injury can the world render, what help can it offer, so long as you hold the treasure of the Word? Observe that the apostle ascribes to the spoken Word, the preached Gospel, the power to save souls. Similarly, Paul commends it to the Romans (ch. 1, 16), in almost the same words, as "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth."

26. Now, the Word is implanted within you in a way to give you the certain comfort and sure hope of your salvation. Be careful, then, not to permit yourselves to be wrested from it by the wrath or the filth of the world. Take heed to accept in purity and to maintain with patience the Word so graciously and richly given you by God without effort or merit on your part. Those who are without the Word, and yet endeavor to attain heaven, what efforts have they made in the past! what efforts are they making today! They might torment themselves to death; they might institute and celebrate every possible service--they would accomplish nothing. Is it not better to cling to the Word and maintain this treasure whereby you attain salvation and divine sonship than to permit the world to wrest you from it through persecution, passion or moral filth the source of its own ruin and perdition?

 

Endnotes

These endnotes are dual purposed. First (and foremost) to provide the necessary bibliographic information utilized. Please note: “LW” refers to Luther’s Works, English edition (55 volumes). I strive, as much as possible, to only quote Luther from this primary English source. One will note that I primarily cite those authors who know Luther best: the editors of Luther’s Works, Jaroslav Pelikan, Paul Althaus, Roland Bainton, and others of similar reputation. Of special importance of benefit for both Lutheran and non-Lutherans is John Warwick Montgomery’s article “Lessons From Luther On The Inerrancy Of Holy Writ’s” originally found in the Westminster Theological Journal Volume 36.

 

Secondly, the endnotes serve as an area in which to interact with various critics of Luther, or to substantiate the point I’m making. When constructing this paper, I decided to put this type of material away from the body of the paper, so as to not create a cumbersome 100-page mess. When possible, web links are included for the authors or topics discussed. The Internet has been a wonderful means by which those with opposing views can easily interact. I hold no animosity to any of the contemporary laymen or professional Catholic apologists cited.

 



[1] See for instance the debate between Bill Rutland (Roman Catholic) and Wayne Greeson (Protestant): "Is Roman Catholic Tradition Our Authority For Faith And Doctrine. Rutland says, “The truth is…Martin Luther took books out of the Bible. Martin Luther using a Jewish Council convened in 90 A.D. called the Council of Jamnia removed the dueterocanonicals from the Old Testament. Not only did he do that but he even removed the Book of James from the New Testament calling it an ‘epistle of straw’ and claiming that some evil Jew had written it to lead Christians astray and it was put back in after the cajoling of the other Reformers” (p.31). I have not found any reference yet for Luther calling the author of James an “evil Jew.” The closest possible source Mr. Rutland may have used was a Table Talk comment in which Luther says, “I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any” (LW 54:424).

 

[2] Catholic apologist Steve Ray claims, “Martin Luther understood the place of the Church in establishing the canon... He realized that if he could jettison the Church, or at least redefine it as “invisible” and “intangible”, he was free to reevaluate and regulate the content of the canon for himself. He actually began to function as his own pope and council. If it weren’t for his theologian Philip Melanchthon, Protestants would no longer consider James, Revelation, Hebrews, Jude and a few other books as inspired Scripture.” Steve Ray, “Bible's Canon: Do Protestants or Catholics Have The Correct Books?.” Ray infers that Luther wanted to create his own canon, while most scholars recognize Luther holds to a “canon within a canon” [see Roland Bainton, Studies on the Reformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963) 5]. Paul Althaus explains that Luther “allows the canon to stand as it was established by the ancient church. But he makes distinctions within the canon” [See Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 83]. That there was a tradition throughout church history that did similarly is beyond dispute. This practice was definitely applied to the books of the apocrypha: the books were considered non-canonical, yet useful for the edification of the church. As William Webster explains, “The distinction that Athanasius made between the canonical Scriptures and other writings which were not canonical, but nonetheless used for edification in the Church, was further expressed by Rufinus at the beginning of the fifth century. He was greatly influenced by Origen and likewise listed the canonical books according to the Jewish numbering. He claimed that the canon he gave was that which had been handed down by tradition through the fathers as authoritative and that the specific books he enumerated were alone to be used for establishing the doctrines of the faith. He cited the major works of the Apocrypha, specifically the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Tobit, Judith, and the Maccabees as books that were not canonical but ecclesiastical. These were appropriate to be read in the Churches but were not authoritative for the confirmation of doctrine. Such, says Rufinus, was the tradition handed down from the fathers. Significantly, Rufinus expressed this view after the Councils of Hippo and Carthage, demonstrating that they did not possess universal authority for the Church at large” [William Webster, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume II (WA: Christian Resources Inc, 2001), 342-343].  

 

Steve Ray makes questionable points that make me wonder how familiar he is with Luther. Which “few other books” is Mr. Ray referring to? I am unaware of Luther ever seriously questioning the canonicity of any other New Testament book other than the four mentioned above. Ray also gives Melanchthon far too much credit for the entire course of subsequent Protestantism. Melanchthon’s theological opinions did not carry overly significant influence in other protestant non-Lutheran lands. For instance, Calvin in Geneva would hardly factor Melanchthon’s opinions as the decisive element in determining his theological perspectives. Ray also seems to indicate, Luther’s views on the canon were somehow curtailed by Melanchthon. Ray says elsewhere, “When Martin Luther rejected “popes and councils” he also realized that the canon was again up for grabs. He didn’t like James as we know, but he also placed Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation at the back of the book, not with the inspired books. It was only later that Philipp Melanchthon convinced him to defer to long tradition and place the books back in the New Testament, back in the recognized order. How did Luther fail to recognize the self-authenticating writings?” [Steve Ray, “New Testament Books: Self-authenticating? No Need for the Church to Close the Canon?”]. Ray would do well to provide further information to substantiate this claim that Melanchthon was the primary reason Luther put books “back in the New Testament.” To my knowledge, no such information exists. The most in depth treatment of Luther’s Bible was done by M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with A Collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934). Within 600 pages, Reu makes no mention of such an important discussion between Luther and Melanchthon. Reu does mention though that in 1521 Melanchthon did urge Luther to follow through with his plan of translating the Bible (Reu, 148). Reu notes an intriguing comment from Luther that Melanchthon forced him to do so: “Hence Luther's remark in Tischreden that Melanchthon had forced him to translate the New Testament (I, 487, 11 f)” (Reu, 351). 

 

[3] Catholic internet apologist Phil Porvaznik hosts a paper on his web-site with the following: “The principle of [Luther’s] reformation was his own ego and psychology which he made the standard for all Christians, not Christ and His virtues; rather Luther's subjective solution to his personal hell (dread and anxiety of condemnation) becomes the standard. We know enough of his history to see that he was one, sick puppy.” [Padro, Was Luther Right on Sola Scriptura? ]. 

 

Luther’s theology has been confirmed by both Catholic and Protestant scholars as “Christocentric” (See for example the work of Catholic historian Joseph Lortz).  In contrast to “Padro’s” conclusion, Roman Catholic historian Johannes Hessen, professor in philosophy of religion at Cologne denies Luther’s ultimate subjectivity:“[Luther’s] great experience was a meeting with God, with the God who encountered him in Christ and his Gospel. It means a complete attachment to God’s Word, which contains the witness about Christ and possesses for Luther the character of an unassailable, absolute norm”[Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967), 58]. Richard Stauffer explains Hessen’s denial of Luther’s subjectivism: “[Luther’s] fundamental experience may have been subjective, but only formally; in content it was without doubt objective, for, by the mediation of Christ, it was a real meeting with God. Thus Luther was not an individualist. He was a reformer in the true sense of the word, that is, a restorer whose sole aim was to bring back the pure Gospel from which, in his eyes, the Church had strayed” [Stauffer, 44].  “[Luther’s] own agonizing struggle about a "gracious God" was the same path Paul had trod, and it brought Luther to the same childlike trust in the undeserved grace of God. Not pride or ego but God and his grace were the basic forces at work in Luther. His experiences, although subjective in form, were actually an objective confrontation with God, because Luther's faith was grounded so completely in Christ and grew so completely out of Word and Sacrament. Hessen disagrees thoroughly with Lortz's charge that Luther was subjectivistic to the core. He sees no similarity at all between Luther and modern subjectivism or individualism”[Fred Meuser, Interpreting Luther’s Legacy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing house, 1969),  49].

 

Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong seems to think I deny the aspect of Luther’s personal criteria by which he evaluated the canon. Commenting on my assertion of the charge of subjectivism, Armstrong says, “That’s correct and accurate” ”[Dave Armstrong, Luther’s Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Reply to James Swan's Paper on Luther & the Canon)]. Armstrong thus unfortunately affirms and aligns himself with the anti-Luther Roman Catholics I had in mind.  One wonders if Armstrong even understands my view. Had he read my introduction closely, he would have found that I say, “Understanding Luther on this issue demands approaching him from two perspectives: 1. Luther’s perspective on the canon as a sixteenth century Biblical theologian  2. Luther’s personal criterion of canonicity expressed in his theology. My primary focus will be on the first point since Roman Catholics tend to completely disregard it. Any attempt though to understand Luther’s view of the canon that neglects either of these is prone to distortion and caricature.” Armstrong cites Paul Althaus to prove Luther’s view on the canon was entirely subjective. Armstrong doesn’t qualify whether or not he personally believes Luther’s canon view was entirely subjective, but by his referral to authors Preserved Smith and Paul Althaus I think this is his position (the logic of his paper thought-construction, and writing style escapes me at times).

 

Curiously, Armstrong cites Althaus saying, “[Luther] thereby established the principle that the early church's formation and limitation of the canon is not exempt from re-examination . . . the canon is only a relative unity, just as it is only relatively closed. Therewith Luther has in principle abandoned every formal approach to the authority of the Bible. It is certainly understandable that Luther's prefaces were no longer printed in German Bibles” [Althaus, 85].  Armstrong doesn’t explain how this is supposed to prove Luther’s ultimate subjectivism according to Althaus. Armstrong then quotes from another section of Althaus where he says,  “One may characterize [Luther’s] attitude in this way: The canon itself was, as far as Luther was concerned, a piece of ecclesiastical tradition and therefore subject to criticism on the basis of God's word” [Althaus, 336]. Had Armstrong continued reading Althaus, the next few sentences give his scholarly opinion: “Roman Catholic theology has up until the present day, frequently condemned Luther’s method of approaching and validating the authority of Scripture as subjective and arbitrary. But Luther is as far from heaven is from the earth in determining the center of Scripture by himself and self-confidently presenting his theology as this center” [Althaus, 336 – 337]. 

 

[4] Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: His Life and Work  (Maryland: Newman Press, 1950), 263. Catholic Apologist Dave Armstrong provides a longer section from which this quote is taken in his paper: Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible:

“His criticism of the Bible proceeds along entirely subjective and arbitrary lines. The value of the sacred writings is measured by the rule of his own doctrine. He treats the venerable canon of Scripture with a liberty which annihilates all certitude. For, while this list has the highest guarantee of sacred tradition and the backing of the Church, Luther makes religious sentiment the criterion by which to decide which books belong to the Bible, which are doubtful, and which are to be excluded. At the same time he practically abandons the concept of inspiration, for he says nothing of a special illuminative activity of God in connection with the writers' composition of the Sacred Book, notwithstanding that he holds the Bible to be the Word of God because its authors were sent by God . . . . . Thus his attitude towards the Bible is really burdened with 'flagrant contradictions,' to use an expression of Harnack, especially since he 'had broken through the external authority of the written word,' by his critical method. And of this, Luther is guilty, the very man who elsewhere represents the Bible as the sole principle of faith! If, in addition to this, his arbitrary method of interpretation is taken into consideration, the work of destruction wrought by him appears even greater. The only weapon he possessed he wrested from his own hand, as it were, both theoretically and in practice. "His procedure regarding the sacred writings is apt to make thoughtful minds realize how great is the necessity of an infallible Church as divinely appointed guardian and authentic interpreter of the Bible” [Martin Luther: His Life and Work, tr. Frank J. Eble, ed. Arthur Preuss, Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1930, 263-265].

 It is entirely apparent that Hartmann Grisar is no supporter of Martin Luther. For an overview of Grisar’s approach, see my paper, The Roman Catholic Perspective of Luther (Part One). What I find interesting though is Armstrong’s citation of Grisar. Armstrong informs his readers that his quote is taken from pages 263-265 of Grisar’s book. Armstrong leaves out a key paragraph in which Grisar actually says something positive about Luther and his approach to the canon (even though his comment is phrased in somewhat negative terms). Before the sentence “Thus his attitude towards the Bible is really burdened with 'flagrant contradictions…” Grisar states,  “It is a fact that must not be overlooked that parts of the Bible which Luther retained were taken over from the tradition of the past. By way of exception and as a matter of necessity, he thus conceded the claims of tradition. Though otherwise opposed to it, he took it as his guide and safeguard in this respect without admitting the fact”[Grisar, 264]. Leaving out such a crucial sentence is needed to perpetuate Armstrong’s idea that “Luther feels himself entirely able and duty-bound -- as a lone individual -- to judge the canonicity and even overall value of Old Testament and New Testament books which had been securely in the canon for over 1100 years. Who can fathom such outlandish arrogance and presumptuousness? Not I . . .” [Armstrong, Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible]. For a review of Armstrong’s method of citation in regards to Luther, see my paper: Here I Stand:  A Review of Dave Armstrong’s Citations of Roland Bainton’s Popular Biography on Martin Luther.

[5] Msgr. Patrick F. O’Hare, LL.D, The Facts About Luther  (Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, inc., 1987), 204. With some similarity, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong says, “Martin Luther, in accord with his posture of supreme self-importance as restorer of Christianity, even presumed, inconsistently, to judge various books of the Bible, God's holy Word. Luther feels himself entirely able and duty-bound -- as a lone individual -- to judge the canonicity and even overall value of Old Testament and New Testament books which had been securely in the canon for over 1100 years. Who can fathom such outlandish arrogance and presumptuousness? Not I . . .” Dave Armstrong, Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible. Armstrong completely leaves out the historical aspect of Luther’s opinion of the canon in this web article. 

[6] Catholic apologist James Akin expresses this quite appropriately: “The Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura also began to trouble me as I wondered how it is that we can know for certain which books belong in the Bible. Certain books of the New Testament, such as the synoptic gospels, we can show to be reliable historical accounts of Jesus' life, but there were a number of New Testament books (e.g., Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation) whose authorship and canonical status were debated in the early Church. Eventually the Church decided in their favor and included them in the canon of inspired books, but I saw that I, a person two thousand years removed from their writing, had no possibility of proving these works were genuinely apostolic. I simply had to take the Church's word on it. This meant that for one very foundational doctrine--the doctrine of what Scripture is--I had to trust the Church since there was no way to show from within Scripture itself exactly what the books of the Bible should be. But I realized that by looking to the Church as an authentic and reliable witness to the canon, I was violating the principle of sola scriptura. The "Bible only" theory turned out to be self-refuting, since it cannot tell us which books belong in the Bible and which don't! What was more, my studies in Church history showed that the canon of the Bible was not finally fixed until about three hundred years after the last apostle died. If I was going to claim that the Church had done it's job and picked exactly the right books for the Bible, this meant that the Church had made an infallible decision three hundred years after the apostolic age, a realization which made it believable that the Church could make even later infallible decisions, and that the Church could make such decisions even today."[ James Akin, "A triumph and a tragedy," (This Rock April 1995), 17-18. [Cited from:http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/a12.htm]. The examination and refutation of Mr. Akin’s words are beyond the scope of this article. They are included only to document my opinion. The interested reader is directed to the contemporary quintessential treatment of this subject: Holy Scripture : The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith  (3 Volumes) by David King and William Webster, and also the extremely helpful articles on William Webster's website. James Akin would do well to explain how anyone previous to the Council of Trent had certainty over any book in either the Old or New Testament. For that matter, how did anyone fifty years before the birth of Christ have any certainty over any of the Old Testament books? How did anyone previous to any list ever put forth by the ancient church have any certainty on any book? 

[7] Catholic apologist Steve Ray claims, “[Luther] actually began to function as his own pope and council.” [Steve Ray, “Bible's Canon: Do Protestants or Catholics Have The Correct Books?].  See also Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong’s paper, “Martin Luther the "Super-Pope" and de facto Infallibility” for similar charges. Looking over his life’s work, Luther, the alleged infallible-interpreter-super-pope, said: “I would have been quite content to see my books, one and all, remain in obscurity and go by the board. Among other reasons, I shudder to think of the example I am giving, for I am well aware how little the church has been profited since they have begun to collect many books and large libraries, in addition to and besides the Holy Scriptures, and especially since they have stored up, without discrimination, all sorts of writings by the church fathers, the councils, and teachers. Through this practice not only is precious time lost, which could be used for studying the Scriptures, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten in the dust under the bench (as happened to the book of Deuteronomy, in the time of the kings of Judah)…I cannot, however, prevent them from wanting to collect and publish my works through the press (small honor to me), although it is not my will. I have no choice but to let them risk the labor and the expense of this project. My consolation is that, in time, my books will lie forgotten in the dust anyhow, especially if I (by God’s grace) have written anything good. Non ere melior Patribus meis.  He who comes second should indeed be the first one forgotten. Inasmuch as they have been capable of leaving the Bible itself lying under the bench, and have also forgotten the fathers and the councils—the better ones all the faster—accordingly there is a good hope, once the overzealousness of this time has abeted, that my books also will not last long. There is especially good hope of this, since it has begun to rain and snow books and teachers, many of which already lie there forgotten and moldering. Even their names are not remembered any more, despite their confident hope that they would eternally be on sale in the market and rule churches.” (LW 34:283-284).

[8] Even the Catholic Encyclopedia understands these two aspects: “Luther, basing his action on dogmatic reasons and the judgment of antiquity, had discarded Hebrews, James, Jude, and Apocalypse as altogether uncanonical” [Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line), Canon of the New Testament entry] .

 [9]LW 35:231. Catholic apologist James Akin confuses Luther’s use of appendices with thorough removal (or, at least wrongly uses these words interchangeably). He mistakenly concludes, “. If you want to find [certain apocryphal stories], you have to look in the Catholic Old Testament -- in the deuterocanonical books Martin Luther cut out of his Bible” [James Akin, “Defending The Deuterocanonicals”]. In the same article, Akin says, “Why would Martin Luther cut out [2 Maccabees] when it is so clearly held up as an example to us by the New Testament [book of Hebrews]? Simple: A few chapters later it endorses the practice of praying for the dead so that they may be freed from the consequences of their sins (2 Macc. 12:41-45); in other words, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory. Since Luther chose to reject the historic Christian teaching of purgatory (which dates from before the time of Christ, as 2 Maccabees shows), he had to remove that book from the Bible and appendicize it. (Notice that he also removed Hebrews, the book which cites 2 Maccabees, to an appendix as well.).”

Akin completely neglects the aspect of Luther’s historical and critical reasoning. Had Akin simply checked LW 35:352-353, he could have read Luther’s most explicit statement for rejecting 2 Maccabees: “This book is called, and is supposed to be, the second book of Maccabees, as the title indicates. Yet this cannot be true, because it reports several incidents that happened before those reported in the first book, and it does not proceed any further than Judas Maccabaeus, that is, chapter 7 of the first book. It would be better to call this the first instead of the second book, unless one were to call it simply a second book and not the second book of Maccabees—another or different, certainly, but not second.  But we include it anyway, for the sake of the good story of the seven Maccabean martyrs and their mother, and other things as well.It appears, however, that the book has no single author, but was pieced together out of many books.  It also presents a knotty problem in chapter 14[:41–46] where Razis commits suicide, something which also troubles St. Augustine and the ancient fathers. Such an example is good for nothing and should not be praised, even though it may be tolerated and perhaps explained. So also in chapter 1 this book describes the death of Antiochus quite differently than does First Maccabees [6:1–16].To sum up: just as it is proper for the first book to be included among the sacred Scriptures, so it is proper that this second book should be thrown out, even though it contains some good things. However the whole thing is left and referred to the pious reader to judge and to decide.”

[10] Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1910). My citation is from: http://www.bible-researcher.com/luther02.html. Schaff also points out, “The basis for Luther's version of the Old Testament was the Massoretic text as published by Gerson Ben Mosheh at Brescia in 1494. He used also the Septuagint, the Vulgate of Jerome (although he disliked him exceedingly on account of his monkery), the Latin translations of the Dominican Sanctes Pagnini of Lucca (1527), and of the Franciscan Sebastian Münster (1534), the "Glossa ordinaria" (a favorite exegetical made-mecum of Walafried Strabo from the ninth century), and Nicolaus Lyra (d. 1340), the chief of mediaeval commentators, who, besides the Fathers, consulted also the Jewish rabbis. The basis for the New Testament was the second edition of Erasmus, published at Basel in Switzerland in 1519. His first edition of the Greek Testament had appeared in 1516, just one year before the Reformation. He derived the text from a few mediaeval MSS. The second edition, though much more correct than the first ("multo diligentius recognitum, emendatum," etc.), is disfigured by a large -number of typographical errors. He laid the foundation of the Textus Receptus, which was brought into its mature shape by R. Stephen, in his "royal edition" of 1550 (the basis of the English Textus Receptus), and by the Elzevirs in their editions of 1624 and 1633 (the basis of the Continental Textus Receptus), and which maintained the supremacy till Lachmann inaugurated the adoption of an older textual basis (1831). Luther did not slavishly follow the Greek of Erasmus, and in many places conformed to the Latin Vulgate, which is based on an older text. He also omitted, even in his last edition, the famous interpolation of the heavenly witnesses in 1 John 5:7, which Erasmus inserted in his third edition (1522) against his better judgment.”

[11] John Todd, Martin Luther (New York: Paulist Press, 1964), 231. Similarly, Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar admits the importance and greatness of Luther’s Bible: “ The linguistic excellence of this German version, in contrast with former translations, which were rather clumsy because too literal, is so undisputed, even on the part of Catholic critics, that we need not print any words of appreciation of it here. The immense influence which this work exercised on the development of the German language is universally acknowledged. In his larger work on Luther, the present author has treated of these excellent features extensively, and discussed in detail the various phases of Luther’s Bible and its relation to the medieval translations” [Grisar, 421]. Grisar though minimizes Luther’s profound importance to Christendom at every opportunity. A few pages later he declares, “…it can be seen that Luther’s much-lauded translation was rather a piece of subjective propaganda put forth in the interests of his own party” [Grisar, 428]. 

 

[12] John Todd, 231.

 

[13] Marilyn J. Harran (ed.), Luther and Learning: The Wittenberg University Luther Symposium (New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1985), 41.

 

[14] LW 35:231, editors comment. M. Reu points out, “Luther not only provided a preface for the entire New Testament but one for each book as well. ...this was no innovation of Luther's, but we cannot help seeing how superior his prefaces are to those of the middle ages and even to those of Jerome and Erasmus. Almost all of them really introduce us to the heart of the book in question and so are a genuine aid to the Bible reader, sometimes in so notable a way that we wonder why similar editions of the Bible are not issued today. The palm belongs to the preface to Romans. This differs from that of Jerome like day from night. If according to Jerome's preface this Epistle had a real significance only for the ancient Roman congregation, here, in contrast, its present significance rises tangibly before our eyes. With its explanations of the order of salvation and its careful interpretation of the chief biblical concepts, this preface can still become, for its readers, a key to the right understanding of the whole New Testament” [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), 176-177]. 

 

[15] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 83.

[16] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 82. Interestingly, The Catholic Encyclopedia explains a later view very similar in idea to Luther’s: “Recently Professor Batiffol, … has enunciated a theory regarding the principle that presided over the formation of the New Testament Canon which challenges attention and perhaps marks a new stage in the controversy. According to Monsignor Batiffol, the Gospel (i.e. the words and commandments of Jesus Christ) bore with it its own sacredness and authority from the very beginning. This Gospel was announced to the world at large, by the Apostles and Apostolic disciples of Christ, and this message, whether spoken or written, whether taking the form of an evangelic narrative or epistle, was holy and supreme by the fact of containing the Word of Our Lord. Accordingly, for the primitive Church, evangelical character was the test of Scriptural sacredness. But to guarantee this character it was necessary that a book should be known as composed by the official witnesses and organs of the Evangel; hence the need to certify the Apostolic authorship, or at least sanction, of a work purporting to contain the Gospel of Christ”[ Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line), Canon of the New Testament entry] .

[17] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 82

[18] But it also must be remembered that historical concerns were also a factor in Luther’s opinions. Commenting on Luther’s original prefaces to Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation of 1522, M. Reu points out, “From this it is evident that Luther in no wise denies the value of these four books but rather recognizes it, especially in the case of Hebrews. However, because of their questionable attestation by the ancient Church, as well as because of their contents, he does not regard them as either apostolic or inerrant, nor to be placed on an equality with the rest, but he will not attempt to bind others by this subjective judgment” [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), 175]. 

 

[19]LW 35:393, footnote 43. Lutheran writer Mark Bartling notes, “Even though Luther put James in a separate class, he, nevertheless, always printed the Book in his Bible. It is never put in the same classification as the Apocrypha of the Old Testament.” [Mark F. Bartling, “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?” (Presented to the Pastor-Teacher Conference, Western Wisconsin District, LaCrosse, WI, on April 12, 1983)].

[20] Catholic apologist James Akin says, “Luther also took out four New Testament books -- Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation -- and put them in an appendix without page numbers as well.” [James Akin, “Defending The Deuterocanonicals”].

[21] Hartmann Grisar,  264.

 

[22] “For Luther the Bible was never a lawbook, possessing equal authority in every part. Always he understood and judged it from the heart of its message. Herein lies his objection to the book of Esther. To him it seems altogether Jewish. He does not find Christ in it” [Willem Jan Kooiman, Luther and the Bible (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 226].

 

[23] LW 35: 231-232. Althaus though seems to question the conclusion “a pioneering step toward modern biblical scholarship” when he says, “Occasionally Luther practiced historical criticism in analyzing the biblical tradition, for example, by referring to contradictions or inaccuracies. This is hardly reason, however, to consider him one of the fathers of historical criticism; for he makes such critical remarks only occasionally and he places no weight on them” [Althaus, 82].

 

[24] Althaus, 84.

 

[25] Mark F. Bartling, “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?”, 8.

 

[26] Roland Bainton, The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952),45-46. Bainton says elsewhere, “Luther treated Scripture with amazing freedom, with so much freedom indeed that one wonders why he did not disrupt the canon. Tradition at this point was presumably too strong for him” [Roland Bainton, Studies on the Reformation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963) 5].

 

[27] Jaroslav Pelikan has clarified, “According to his knowledge of early Christian literature, there was a sizable gap in time between the writers of the New Testament and the earliest church fathers. Luther regarded Tertullian, who died in 230, as the earliest writer in the church after the apostles…he apparently did not know the writers who later acquired the title ‘apostolic fathers.’ He was therefore, able to invoke the historical and chronological argument in a form no longer available to theologians of the twentieth century.” [Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther The Expositor (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 84].

 

[28] LW 54:424.

 

[29] LW 35:396.

   

[30] Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line), Canon of the New Testament entry. 

 

[31] Mark F. Bartling, “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?” (Presented to the Pastor-Teacher Conference, Western Wisconsin District, LaCrosse, WI, on April 12, 1983). M. Reu likewise points out, “How was it that [Luther] came to consider the question of the canon at all? There were a number of factors that almost compelled him to do so. Towards the end of the middle ages uncertainty had arisen in the Church not only concerning the canonicity of the Old Testament Apocrypha but also concerning the extent of the New Testament Canon; an uncertainty that existed in actual usage rather than in the attitude of the official Church. Many medieval Bible manuscripts included a fifth Gospel, the Gospel of Nicodemus; many manuscripts and all the printed German Bibles included an additional epistle of St. Paul, the so-called Epistle to the Laodiceans, which is even to be found as late as 1544 in Dietenberger's Roman Catholic translation of the Bible” [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), 175]. 

 

[32] A. Wikgren, “Luther And "New Testament Apocrypha" from R. H. Fischer (ed.) A Tribute To Arthur Vööbus: Studies In Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1977). 379-390. This citation from the web version available at: Luther And The New Testament Apocrypha.

 

[33] For an extremely helpful overview, see William Webster’s article, ““The Old Testament Canon and the Apocrypha Part 3: From Jerome To The Reformation.”.

 

[34] LW 35:393, footnote 43. In response to this quote, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong quips, “Who cares? They don't speak for the official position of the Church anymore than Luther does”[Dave Armstrong, Luther’s Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Reply to James Swan's Paper on Luther & the Canon)]. Armstrong seems to have forgotten that the official declaration on the canon from the Roman Catholic Church did not occur until 1546.  Armstrong correctly points out that Erasmus was not an official spokesman for the church (recall though, Popes Adrian VI and Clement VII urged Erasmus to launch a writing campaign against Luther.  Durant records, “Clement VII sent Erasmus 200 florins ($5,000?) on receiving [De libero arbitrio] [Will Durant, The Reformation (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 434]).Again, Erasmus could not have been an official spokesman on the canon, since no official pronouncement had been made. Erasmus simply reflects the scholarly debate that existed during the sixteenth century.

 

[35] M. Reu points out, “…Erasmus had assumed a critical attitude towards these four books [Hebrews, James, Jude, Revelation] in the Annotationes added to his Greek New Testament of 1516, especially as to the canonicity and the whole character of the Apocalypse, and as a result he had come into a sharp controversy, especially regarding the apostolic character of Hebrews, with Faber Stapulensis, in 1517” [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), 175-176].

 

[36] Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line) "Erasmus" entry. Historian Will Durant finds that Erasmus held a critical attitude toward the Old Testament as well: “He could hardly have believed in the divine authorship of the Old Testament, for he averred his willingness to ‘see the whole Old Testament abolished’ if that would quiet the furore raised over Reuchlin” [Will Durant, The Reformation (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 288].  

 

[37] Wikgren, “Luther And "New Testament Apocrypha" from R. H. Fischer (ed.) A Tribute To Arthur Vööbus: Studies In Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1977). This citation from the web version available at: Luther And The New Testament Apocrypha.

 

[38] Historian Will Durant records the relationship between Erasmus and Leo: “Meanwhile Leo X had sent to London the solicited dispensations. In March 1517, Erasmus crossed to London, and received the papal letters freeing him from his monastic obligations and the disabilities of bastardy. To the formal documents Leo added a personal note: ‘Beloved son, health and apostolic benediction. The good favor of your life and character, your rare erudition and high merits, witnessed not only by the monuments of your studies, which are everywhere celebrated, but also by the general vote of the most learned men, and commended to us finally by the letters of two most illustrious princes, the King of England and the Catholic King [of France], give us reason to distinguish you with special and singular favor. We have therefore willingly granted your request, being ready to declare more abundantly our affection for you when you shall either yourself minister occasion, or accident shall furnish it, deeming it right that your holy industry, assiduously exerted for the public advantage, should be encouraged to higher endeavors by adequate rewards.’ Perhaps it was a judicious bribe to good behavior, perhaps an honest gesture from a tolerant and humanist court; in any case Erasmus never forgot this papal courtesy, and would always find it hard to break from a Church that had so patiently borne the sting of his critique” [Will Durant, The Reformation (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 286]. Durant also records that Erasmus had monetary motivations for remaining subordinate to the Church: “If [Erasmus] associated himself with Luther in rejecting the Roman Church he would not merely forfeit three pensions and the protection that Leo X had given him against obscurantist theologians; he would have to abandon his own plan and strategy of Church reform through the improvement of minds and morals in influential men” [Durant, 429].

 

[39] Even the Greek New Testament and his later Hebrew Old Testament was looked down on by Trent: “…[T]he Council of Trent condemned Erasmus’ translation, and pronounced Jerome’s Vulgate the only authentic Latin version of the Bible.” [Will Durant, The Reformation (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 285].  Durant also records, “At the Council of Trent he was branded as an impious heretic, and his works were forbidden to Catholic readers” [Durant, 437].

 

[40]  Bainton, Studies on the Reformation, 8-9. David T. King provides a helpful overview of this event: “Another interesting note in the history of this edition of the Vulgate is the insertion of the Comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7-8, KJV) by Erasmus. In response to his newly constructed Greek text in 1516, New Testament Greek scholar Metzger points out that, 'One of the editors of Ximenes' Complutensian Polyglot, criticized that his text lacked part of the final chapter of 1 John, namely the Trinitarian statement concerning "the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth."' Metzger goes on to say that Erasmus gave his word that he would be willing, in future editions, to insert the Comma Johanneum if a single Greek manuscript could be produced that included the passage in question. At length one was found and Erasmus inserted the spurious passage. Regarding the sudden appearance of this particular Greek manuscript, Metzger writes: ‘At length such a copy was found—or was made to order! As it now appears, the Greek manuscript had probably been written in Oxford about 1520 by a Franciscan friar named Froy (or Roy), who took the disputed words from the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus stood by his promise and inserted the passage in his third edition (1522), but he indicates in a lengthy footnote his suspicions that the manuscript had been prepared expressly in order to confute him’” [David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Vol.1 (WA: Christian Resources, 2001), 166].

 

[41] Bainton says, “But Luther had not sworn, and at this point he adhered to the first edition of Erasmus, though otherwise he was following the second.” [Studies on the Reformation, 8].

 

[42] M. Reu sees Erasmus as influential on Cajetan: “Even among the leaders of the Roman Church there were those who agreed with Erasmus as became evident when Cajetan openly accepted his conclusion” [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), 176]. 

 

[43] Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line) "Cajetan" entry. Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong accuses me of mis-citation at this point, saying that I neglected to point out the Catholic Encyclopedia says also Cajetan was “Always obedient, and submitting his works to ecclesiastical authority, he presented a striking contrast to the leaders of heresy and revolt, whom he strove to save from their folly.” Armstrong points out that Luther did not do this on the canon, thus there can be no comparison between the two in their view on the canon [see: Dave Armstrong, Luther’s Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Reply to James Swan's Paper on Luther & the Canon)]. Armstrong repeatedly fails to realize the importance of Trent for the position of his church, and also fails to present any official statement from his church in which Luther’s view on the canon is chastised.  Thus, both Cajetan and Luther simply worked within the accepted realm of scholarly debate that existed during the sixteenth century.  Neither one of them was chastised for their views on the canon because no official declaration had been pronounced. I have been told countless times by Roman Catholics that anathemas don’t work backwards. For instance, a church father that denied Mary’s bodily assumption can’t be deemed heretical or anathema because the church had not yet dogmatically, infallibly, decided on it. Why then come down hard on Luther for his views on the canon? Trent decided what it did after Luther’s death. The question should be asked: If Cajetan lived one hundred years later than he did and denied the canonicity of the apocrypha, would the Catholic Encyclopedia comment on his obedience? 

 

[44] New Catholic Encyclopedia, (Cajetan entry) 1054.

 

[45] Wikgren, “Luther And "New Testament Apocrypha" from R. H. Fischer (ed.) A Tribute To Arthur Vööbus: Studies In Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1977). This citation from the web version available at: Luther And The New Testament Apocrypha. Contrary to Wikgren, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong says, “Cajetan questioned the authorship of books, not their apostolicity. That is different from what Luther did”[Dave Armstrong, Luther’s Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Reply to James Swan's Paper on Luther & the Canon)]. According to Wikgren though, Cajetan was suspicious enough about their authorship not to give them any authority in deciding doctrine. Thus it appears Cajetan is not so different from Luther. Both regarded certain books with secondary status, rather than primary.  

[46] Bruce Metzger points out, “Subsequent to Jerome's time and down to the period of the reformation a continuous succession of the more learned Fathers and theologians in the West maintained the distinctive and unique authority of the books of the Hebrew canon. Such a judgment, for example, was reiterated on the very eve of the Reformation by Cardinal Ximenes in the preface of the magnificent Complutensian Polyglot edition of the Bible which he edited (1514-17)...Even Cardinal Cajetan, Luther's opponent at Augsburg in 1518, gave an unhesitating approval to the Hebrew canon in his Commentary on All the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to pope Clement VII. He expressly called attention to Jerome's separation of the canonical from the uncanonical books, and maintained that the latter must not be relied upon to establish points of faith, but used only for the edification of the faithful” (Bruce Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford, 1957), p. 180).

[47] William Webster, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), 12.  Webster says also, “Cardinal Cajetan was the great opponent of Luther and one of the leading Roman Catholic scholars of his day. His commentary on the Old Testament, which was dedicated to Pope Clement VII in 1532, reflects the attitude of the Church historically and of the Roman Catholic Church of his day toward the Apocrypha just before the Council of Trent when he says that the books of the Apocrypha are not received as canonical” [William Webster, “A Refutation of the Misrepresentations of the Facts of History and of the Writings of William Webster on the Canon by Roman Catholic Apologist, Art Sippo”].

 

[48]John Warwick Montgomery, “Lessons From Luther On The Inerrancy Of Holy Writ’s,Westminster Theological Journal Volume 36, 297.

[49] Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther The Expositor (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 87-88. Commenting on this point, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong says, “I agree with Mr. Swan that the most accurate description of his views is "a canon within a canon"… In a sense this is the same as creating his own, insofar as he took a different view than that passed down by longstanding Christian tradition… Is constructing not a synonym of creating? But we find Mr. Swan making no criticism of Pelikan when he states this; he is only disturbed when Catholics arrive at such a conclusion, which he describes as "playing the Luther card," etc.”[Dave Armstrong, Luther’s Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Reply to James Swan's Paper on Luther & the Canon)] Armstrong and I have a fundamental disagreement on what the “longstanding Christian tradition” is.  The “tradition” as I see it, is a body of canonical and non-canonical literature being passed down in Judaic and church history.  Luther correctly arrived at the non-canonicity of the Old Testament Apocrypha. His findings on the New Testament corpus were in error. That there was a “tradition” though of delineating the Biblical corpus is well explained by William Webster, “The practice of the Church as a whole from the time of Jerome up to the eve of the Reformation was to follow the judgment of Jerome that the Apocryphal books were not to be accorded canonical status on a par equal with the inspired Scriptures but were acceptable to be read in the Churches for the purposes of edification. The Church from the time of Jerome and throughout the middle ages did not follow the judgment of the councils of Hippo and Carthage”[William Webster, “A Refutation of the Misrepresentations of the Facts of History and of the Writings of William Webster on the Canon by Roman Catholic Apologist, Art Sippo”].  Similarly (as has been documented in this paper), medieval scholars disputed the New Testament antilegomena. Luther’s judgment was one of evaluating whether the disputed books were of primary or secondary value. Thus, Luther cannot be charged with “creating” a canon.

[50] Envoy Magazine offers a “quiz” in which “Luther” is the answer to the question: “In a breathtaking assault on Sacred Scripture, this corpulent ego of the Reformation insulted the Epistle of St. James, calling it an "epistle of straw"

 (http://www.envoymagazine.com/backissues/2.2/inquizition.html. The Catholic Encyclopedia likewise says, “Moreover, the inward work of the Holy Spirit, being purely subjective, can never be a decisive and universal test of doctrinal divergences or critical views; thus Luther himself termed St. James's Epistle an "epistle of straw"”[Catholic Encyclopedia: The Rule of Faith].

 

[51] LW 35:362. What did Luther mean, “epistle of straw”? The answer is found in his Preface to Hebrews. Luther says the author of Hebrews wrote his book on the foundation of faith laid by the apostles. The author used “gold, silver, precious stones, as St. Paul says in I Corinthians 3[:12]”[LW 35:395]. Luther then says, “Therefore we should not be deterred if wood, straw, or hay are perhaps mixed with them...”[LW 35:395]. Luther says that James “has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.” The gospel would then be gold, silver, and precious stones.

 

[52] Montgomery,  295.

 

[53] Montgomery,  294.

 

[54] One such example is Roman Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong. In his paper Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible, Armstrong says, “Of special noteworthiness and relevance is Luther's Preface to the New Testament (1522; revised 1545), where he says many astonishing, outrageously presumptuous and foolish things (including the famous "epistle of straw" remark).” Armstrong notes the preface was revised, yet leaves out the fact that the comment “epistle of straw” was dropped from the text. Perhaps Armstrong isn’t aware of the actual revisions since the current publishing of Luther's Preface to the New Testament combines the 1522 prefaces with its revisions, usually with brackets to delineate which sentences were left out. Perhaps the version he utilizes does not include the brackets and explanatory notes. Armstrong isn’t guilty alone: many Protestant authors do Luther the same discourtesy. [Upon reading this criticism, Armstrong added this disclaimer: “correction: (added on 9-26-04) it was helpfully pointed out by Reformed Luther researcher James Swan that these words appeared only in the original 1522 preface, not the 1545 version. Luther seems to have retracted this particular remark. I inadvertently [sic] overlooked a footnote which explained that bracketed sections were later removed.” Curiously, Armstrong “seems” not totally convinced that Luther actually retracted the statement, though this information is common knowledge. Luther did the revising on his prefaces.]   

 

[55] LW 36:118. M. Reu thinks it’s possible Erasmus’s critical attitude may have influenced Luther: “It is possible that the position of Erasmus had influenced Luther in some particulars. Luther had first expressed his critical attitude towards the Epistle of St. James in his Resolutiones of 1519 ; afterwards more energetically in De Captivitate Babylonica. Under such conditions we have no reason to be surprised that Luther entered into the question in his New Testament of 1522, especially as the fundamental understanding of Scripture that had come to him compelled him to take a stand, at least concerning James, and furthermore, he did not think that these matters were to be kept hidden from the congregations but even discussed them in his sermons” ” [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934), 176]. 

[56]We should throw the Epistle of James out of this school [Wittenberg],  for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning [Jas. 1:1; 2:1]. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did. He wrote not a word about the suffering and resurrection of Christ, although this is what all the apostles preached about. Besides, there’s no order or method in the epistle. Now he discusses clothing and then he writes about wrath and is constantly shifting from one to the other. He presents a comparison: ‘As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead’ [Jas. 2:26]. O Mary, mother of God! What a terrible comparison that is! James compares faith with the body when he should rather have compared faith with the soul! The ancients recognized this, too, and therefore they didn’t acknowledge this letter as one of the catholic epistles” [LW 54:424].

[57] See for instance, “Martin Luther and the Books of the Bible”. This Catholic author cites Luther as saying, “ I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible.” There is no period after the word “Bible.” The sentence in its fullness reads, “ I therefore refuse him a place among the writers of the true canon of my Bible; but I would not prevent anyone placing him or raising him where he likes, for the epistle contains many excellent passages.” [This Luther quote is from: John Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings (New York: Anchor Books, 1961), 36]. The author of this article completely neglects Luther’s positive comments on the Epistle of James: “Luther challenged an Apostle in such a crude way and said such insulting things about James’s ability to write (which was guided by the Holy Spirit.).” 

 

[58] LW 35:395.

 

[59] LW 35:395, footnote 47.

[60] For instance, see Fr. William Most’s “Luther's Morals” at the Catholic Culture website. Luther is painted as strongly antinomian by selective citation. The author of the web page gathers his information primarily from Patrick O’Hare’s Facts about Luther.  He says, “O'Hare seems to have worked carefully, and gives exact references for everything.” The author of these words has the same version of O’Hare’s book than I have. The book has sparse incoherent documentation. See also Dave Armstrong’s old paper, “Martin Luther: Beyond Mythology to Historical Fact.”  Armstrong creates a picture of a very morally bankrupt Luther.

 

[61] LW 35:395.

 

[62] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Mentor Books) 259. Luther’s quote: “ Many have tried hard to make James agree with Paul, as also Melanchthon did in his Apology, but not seriously ( successfully). These do not harmonize: Faith justifies, and faith does not justify. To him who can make these two agree I will give my doctor’s  cap and I am willing to be called a fool.” Weimar, “Tischreden” (3), p. 3292. [This quote found in: Mark F. Bartling, “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?”].

 

[63] Althaus, 246.

 

[64]LW 34:175-176

 

[65] LW 35:395.

 

[66] Althaus, 82.

 

[67] Althaus, 83.

 

[68] LW 35:396.

 

[69] New Geneva Study Bible, 1958.

 

[70] LW 35:396.

 

[71] LW 35:397, footnote 53.

 

[72] LW 35:396.

[73] The original preface to James reads: “In a word, he wanted to guard against those who relied on faith without works, but was unequal to the task in spirit, thought, and words. He mangles the Scriptures and thereby opposes Paul and all Scripture. He tries to accomplish by harping on the law what the apostles accomplish by stimulating people to love. Therefore, I will not have him in my Bible to be numbered among the true chief books, though I would not thereby prevent anyone from including or extolling him as he pleases, for there are otherwise many good sayings in him. One man is no man in worldly things; how, then, should this single man alone avail against Paul and all the rest of Scripture?” For a detailed look at the revisions in their context, this anti-Luther web article presents a helpful review, (despite its hostile intent):Luther's Preface To James and Jude. The author color-codes Luther’s words to show which words were eliminated, which were kept, and which were changed.

[74] Montgomery, 294.

 

[75]LW 30:11.

 

[76]LW 37:26.

 

[77]LW 4:131.

 

[78]LW 4:339.

 

[79]LW 10:288.

 

[80]LW 10:22.

 

[81]LW 21:31.

[82] One Catholic layman-apologist quotes Luther saying, “That epistle of James gives us much trouble, for the papists embrace it alone and leave out all the rest. . . . .Accordingly, if they will not admit my interpretation, then I shall make rubble also of it. I almost feel like throwing Jimmy into the stove, as the priest in Kalenberg did (Luther 34:317).”  This Catholic quoting Luther leaves out significant elements of the quote, and completely ignores the explanatory footnote. While this is evidence enough of negative bias, the author remarks: “Such an irreverence for the Word of God would be laughable were it not the fact that he was the founder of a revolution against the church.” Source:  James 2:14-26: The Necessity of Meritorious Christian Works.

[83]LW 34:304.

 

[84] LW 34:317.

.

[85] LW 34:317.

 

[86]LW 34:317.

 

[87]LW 25:234.

 

[88] LW 34:317.

 

[89] Lutheran author Mark F. Bartling cites Luther as follows, “Only the papists accept James on account of the righteousness of works, but my opinion is that it is not the writings of an apostle. Some day I will use James to fire my stove.” The reference given is “Weimar, “Tischreden” (5) p. 5854.” Unfortunately, I have no way of verifying the context. It sounds suspiciously like a Table Talk comment. [Mark F. Bartling, “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?”].

 

[90]LW 35:397.

 

[91]LW 30:201.

 

[92]LW 30:213.

 

[93] Here is the complete text of the 1522 Revelation preface: "About this book of the Revelation of John, I leave everyone free to hold his own ideas, and would bind no man to my opinion or judgment; I say what I feel. I miss more than one thing in this book, and this makes me hold it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic. First and foremost, the Apostles do not deal with visions, but prophesy in clear, plain words, as do Peter and Paul, and Christ in the Gospel. For it befits the apostolic office to speak of Christ and His deeds without figures and visions; but there is no prophet in the Old Testament, to say nothing of the New, who deals so out and out with visions and figures. And so I think of it almost as I do of the Fourth Book of Esdras, and can nohow detect that the Holy Spirit produced it.

 

Moreover, he seems to me to be going much too far when he commends his own book so highly,—more than any of the other sacred books do, though they are much more important,—and threatens that if anyone takes away anything from it, God will deal likewise with him. Again, they are to be blessed who keep what is written therein; and yet no one knows what that is, to say nothing of keeping it. It is just the same as if we had it not, and there are many far better books for us to keep. Many of the fathers, too, rejected this book of old, though St. Jerome, to be sure, praises it highly and says that it is above all praise and that there are as many mysteries in it as words; though he cannot prove this at all, and his praise is, at many points, too mild.

Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit gives him to think. My spirit cannot fit itself into this book. There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it,—Christ is not taught or known in it; but to teach Christ is the thing which an apostle is bound, above all else, to do, as He says in Acts I, 'Ye shall be my witnesses.' Therefore I stick to the books which give me Christ, clearly and purely." [M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934) 174-175]

 

 

 

[94] For instance Catholic-Internet-Apologist Dave Armstrong quotes from Luther’s earlier preface to the exclusion of Luther’s later revised preface. See his paper: Luther vs. The Canon of the Bible. Armstrong gives no hint that Luther revised his preface to Revelation. Armstrong says, In his Preface to Revelation, from 1522 -- from the time period in which he was translating the Bible), he pontificates:I miss more than one thing in this book, and this makes me hold it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic. . . . I think of it almost as I do of the Fourth Book of Esdras, and can nohow (sic) detect that the Holy Spirit produced it . . .It is just the same as if we had it not, and there are many far better books for us to keep. . . . Finally, let everyone think of it as his own spirit gives him to think [Dave: what better exposition of the radical sola Scriptura position?]. My spirit cannot fit itself into this book. There is one sufficient reason for me not to think highly of it, -- Christ is not taught or known in it; but to teach Christ is the thing which an apostle is bound, above all else, to do, as He says in Acts 1, 'Ye shall be my witnesses.' Therefore I stick to the books which give me Christ, clearly and purely.”(Jacobs, ibid., 488-489).

 

Armstrong says elsewhere, “The New Testament fared scarcely better under Luther's gaze. He rejected from the New Testament Canon ("chief books") Hebrews, James ("epistle of straw"), Jude and Revelation, and placed them at the end of his translation, as a New Testament "Apocrypha." He regarded them as non-apostolic. Of the book of Revelation he said, "Christ is not taught or known in it." These opinions are found in Luther's Prefaces to biblical books, in his German translation of 1522.” See: The "Apocrypha": Why It's Part of the Bible.

 

[95] Montgomery, 295.

 

[96]LW 35:398.

 

[97]LW 35:399.

 

[98]LW 35:399.

 

[99] LW 35: 399.

 

[100]LW 35:400.

[101]LW 35:393, footnote 44. The Catholic Encyclopedia concurs: “In this formative period the Epistle to the Hebrews did not obtain a firm footing in the Canon of the Universal Church. At Rome it was not yet recognized as canonical, as shown by the Muratorian catalogue of Roman origin; Irenaeus probably cites it, but makes no reference to a Pauline origin” [Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line), Canon of the New Testament entry].

[102]LW 35:394.

 

[103] Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther The Expositor (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 86.

 

[104]LW 35:394.

 

[105] LW 30 (electronic edition, page number not given). Catholic historian Hubert Jedin points out that the genuineness of the book of Hebrews was discussed at the Council of Trent. One of the members of the council, Cardinal Seripando, considered the authorship of Hebrews a key facet in determining its canonicity. Jedin says, “The only argument, [Seripando] thought, was about the canonicity or genuineness of the five short Catholic epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse. Among these the Epistle to the Hebrews had a special position, for the canonicity of the others was supported by Dionysius of Alexandria, Eusebius, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and many councils… Cajetan's and Erasmus' reasons against the Pauline authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews had a pronounced effect on Seripando. Yet he decided in favor of the traditional view, while defending the critics. History, he said, will sometime judge differently from their present opinion; ‘their view is excusable, since in this Epistle St. Paul seems to have used every means to conceal himself.’[Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent: Cardinal Seripando (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 271-272].

 

[106]LW 35: 394.

 

[107]LW 35:394. Luther says in “chapters 6[:4–6] and 10[:26–27] it flatly denies and forbids to sinners any repentance after baptism; and in chapter 12[:17] it says that Esau sought repentance and did not find it.”

 

[108]LW 35:394, footnote 45.

 

[109]LW 35:394.

 

[110] In his paper Luther vs. the Canon of the Bible, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong wrongly concludes that Luther ignored the book of Hebrews: “And so we have seen this tendency of emphasizing certain New Testament books and neglecting others in Protestantism to this day. This outlook is very familiar to me from my own ten years' experience in evangelicalism. It was clear that St. Paul's writings (esp. Romans) and John's Gospel were the favorites, and the books Luther liked less are too often woefully neglected (especially Hebrews and James).”

 

[111] For example, see “ Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Hebrews 9:11-15 -- Christ Our Great High Priest” The Sermons of Martin Luther  vol. VII:163--168 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House).

 

[112]LW 29, Introduction to Volume 29.

 

[113] Lutheran Mark Bartling states, “It must be admitted that Luther did develop a personal criterion of canonicity that took its place along side of apostolicity and universality (those books unanimously accepted by the early church, homologoumena)” [Mark F. Bartling, “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?”].

 

[114] Marianland.com states, “Why did Luther reject 7 books from the Bible? Because they did not suit his new doctrines. He had arrived at the
principle of private judgment - of picking and choosing religious doctrines; and whenever any book, such as the book of Machabees [sic], taught a doctrine contrary to his taste he rejected it overboard and overboard that book went because it says: 2 Mach. xii 46, "it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins." He not only cast out certain books, but he mutilated some that were left”[True Church: When did the Church established by Jesus Christ get the name Catholic?].

 

[115] Althaus, 74. Althaus adds, “This does not mean that the Holy Scripture contains exclusively gospel. According to Luther, its content is both law and gospel. And Christ is the interpreter of the law. As far as the Scripture presents law, it drives men forward to Christ as the Savior…Thus the Scripture as law and gospel, indirectly and directly, bears witness to Christ.”

 

[116] Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line), Bible entry.

 

[117] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (on-line), The Holy Spirit, Interpreter of Scripture.

 

[118] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (on-line), The Holy Spirit, Interpreter of Scripture.FIX LINK!!

 

[119] Althaus, 82.

 

[120] Althaus, 82.

 

[121] Mark F. Bartling, “Luther and James: Did Luther Use the Historical-Critical Method?”.

 

[122] New Catholic Encyclopedia, “Canon” entry.  The Catholic Encyclopedia concurs: “The idea of a complete and clear-cut canon of the New Testament existing from the beginning, that is from Apostolic times, has no foundation in history. The Canon of the New Testament, like that of the Old, is the result of a development, of a process at once stimulated by disputes with doubters, both within and without the Church, and retarded by certain obscurities and natural hesitations, and which did not reach its final term until the dogmatic definition of the Tridentine Council” [Catholic Encyclopedia (on-line), Canon of the New Testament entry]. Catholic Historian Hubert Jedin points out a key goal of the Council of Trent: “From the beginning the legates were in no way clear about their goal. As late as February 12 they had written to Farnese that they intended to take up the ‘tradition of the Church’ after the canon and establish it in general terms as a source of faith so that hereafter no one can say, ‘That is not in Holy Scripture; therefore it is not true,’ that is, not an article of faith’ [Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent  (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 273].

 

[123] Wikgren, “Luther And "New Testament Apocrypha" from R. H. Fischer (ed.) A Tribute To Arthur Vööbus: Studies In Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1977). 379-390. This citation from the web version available at: Luther And The New Testament Apocrypha.

 

[124] Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent  (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 282. Jedin further says, “In his opposition to accepting the Florentine canon and the equalization of traditions with Holy Scripture, Seripando did not stand alone. In the particular congregation of March 23, the learned Dominican Bishop Bertano of Fano had already expressed the view that Holy Scripture possessed greater authority than the traditions because the Scriptures were unchangeable; that only offenders against the biblical canon should come under the anathema, not those who deny the principle of tradition; that it would be unfortunate if the Council limited itself to the apostolic canons, because the Protestants would say that the abrogation of some of these traditions was arbitrary and represented an abuse… Another determined opponent of putting traditions on a par with Holy Scripture, as well as the anathema, was the Dominican Nacchianti. The Servite general defended the view that all the evangelical truths were contained in the Bible, and he subscribed to the canon of St. Jerome, as did also Madruzzo and Fonseca on April 1. While Seripando abandoned his view as a lost cause, Madruzzo, the Carmelite general, and the Bishop of Agde stood for the limited canon, and the bishops of Castellamare and Caorle urged the related motion to place the books of Judith, Baruch, and Machabees in the "canon ecclesiae." From all this it is evident that Seripando was by no means alone in his views. In his battle for the canon of St. Jerome and against the anathema and the parity of traditions with Holy Scripture, he was aligned with the leaders of a minority that was outstanding for its theological scholarship” (281-282)

 

[125] Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent  (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 270-271.

 

[126] Hubert Jedin, Papal Legate At The Council Of Trent  (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1947), 278.

 

[127] However, not all are convinced his views on the canon were in flux or changed over the years. Lutheran scholar Willem Jan Kooiman holds, “Even though [Luther] did not permit his personal judgment to be seen clearly in later years, he did not change his position in principle and consistently refused to accept the rigid view of the canon” [W.J. Kooiman, Luther and the Bible (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1961), 226]. Kooiman though seems to only have Luther’s opinion on the book of James in mind, as he substantiates his opinion with a footnote documenting Luther’s lifelong rejection of James. 

 

[128] Montgomery, 296.

 

[129]WA, 2, 618 (Contra malignum Iohannis Eccii iudicium . . . Martini Lutheri defensio [1519] ).Cited by Montgomery Page 300.

 

[130] O’Hare, Facts About Luther, 196.

 

[131] O’Hare, Facts About Luther, 192

.

[132] O’Hare, Facts About Luther, 193.

 

[133] O’Hare, Facts About Luther ,193.

 

[134] http://catholicoutlook.com/objbible5.php#1

 

[135] Dave Armstrong, Luther vs. The Canon of the Bible. The web-page is no longer extant in the form which contains this quote. However, it is still viewable through web archives at: http://web.archive.org/web/19990222062640/http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ325.HTM . The quote from O’Hare was:

 

“Of the Pentateuch he says: 'We have no wish either to see or hear Moses. Job . . . is merely the argument of a fable . . . Ecclesiastes ought to have been more complete. There is too much incoherent matter in it . . . Solomon did not, therefore, write this book . . . The book of Esther I toss into the Elbe. I am such an enemy to the book of Esther that I wish it did not exist, for it Judaizes too much and has in it a great deal of heathenish naughtiness . . . The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible . . .' The books of the New Testament fared no better. He rejected from the canon Hebrews, James, Jude and the Apocalypse. These he placed at the end of his translation, after the others, which he called 'the true and certain capital books of the New Testament.' . . . 'St. John is the only sympathetic, the only true Gospel and should undoubtedly be preferred to the others. In like manner the Epistles of St. Peter and St. Paul are superior to the first three Gospels.' The Epistle to the Hebrews did not suit him: 'It need not surprise one to find here bits of wood, hay, and straw.' The Epistle of St. James, Luther denounced as 'an epistle of straw.' 'I do not hold it to be his writing, and I cannot place it among the capital books.' He did this because it proclaimed the necessity of good works, contrary to his heresy. 'There are many things objectionable in this book,' he says of the Apocalypse, . . . 'I feel an aversion to it, and to me this is a sufficient reason for rejecting it' . . . His pride was intense . . . In this spirit of arrogance and blasphemy, he did as he willed with the sacred Volume . . . He feels abundantly competent, by his own interior and spiritual instinct, to pronounce dogmatically which books in the canon of Scripture are inspired and which are not . . . He . . . believes he has the faculty of judging the Bible without danger of error. He believes he is infallible. {The Facts About Luther, Cincinnati, 1916, pp. 202-204}”

 

[136] Yet Armstrong says elsewhere, “Luther was not content even to let the matter rest there, and proceeded to cast doubt on many other books of the Bible which are accepted as canonical by all Protestants. He considered Job and Jonah mere fables, and Ecclesiastes incoherent and incomplete. He wished that Esther (along with 2 Maccabees) "did not exist," and wanted to "toss it into the Elbe" river.” See Armstrong’s article, “The "Apocrypha": Why It's Part Of The Bible.” The text above contains no bibliographic references, but its similarities are so similar to O’Hare’s work, I would be surprised if Armstrong had another source other than O’Hare documenting the above alleged “facts.”

 

[137] This is not meant to characterize all Roman Catholic treatments of Luther as negatively biased and poorly documented. For instance, Protestant writer Preserved Smith has written a large volume called The Life And Letters Of Martin Luther (New York: Barnes And Noble Inc., 1968, reprint of 1911 edition). The work probably contains more commentary (some rather negative) from Smith than it does Luther letters. While documentation is provided in a back index, no specific footnote/endnote numbers are provided to mach the bibliographic information with either Smith’s commentary of Luther’s letters. In one such commentary, Smith provides comments not much different than O’Hare. Specific references may be given in the index, but one would have to have all the German books cited so as to find them. Smith says: “But Luther was not the man to be bound by his own rule; few of his followers have ever interpreted, commented on, and criticized the Bible with the freedom habitual to him. The books he judged according as they appealed to his own subjective nature, or according to his spiritual needs. He often exercised his reason in determining the respective worth of the several books of the Bible, and in a way which has been confirmed to a surprising degree by subsequent researches. He denied the Mosaic authorship of part of the Pentateuch; he declared Job to be an allegory; Jonah was so childish that he was almost inclined to laugh at it; the books of Kings were " a thousand paces ahead of Chronicles and more to be believed."  “Ecclesiastes has neither boots nor spurs, but rides in socks, as I did when I was in the cloister" [Smith, 268]. I find the overall thrust of this book quite disappointing, particularly Smith’s commentary. I rarely utilize this work in my studies of Luther.

 Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong wrongly thinks that I choose not to use Smith’s book because it disagrees with my opinions about Luther. Armstrong quips, “My question is: who is James Swan to judge Luther scholars, anyway? He is merely a seminary undergraduate. He's entitled to his personal opinion, but certainly it carries no particular weight or force, and a cynic might suggest that his opinion (when judging scholars) is arbitrary, based on his own preference of a highly-polemical Protestant viewpoint, and little else” [Dave Armstrong, Luther’s Outrageous Assertions About Certain Biblical Books (Reply to James Swan's Paper on Luther & the Canon)]. Armstrong misses the thrust of my criticism, which is the poor documentation given by Smith, and the fact that a book that purports to be a book of “letters” contains more commentary at times than it does primary sources. I would value Smith’s opinions more had he provided better documentation.

 

[138]LW 40:91.

 

[139]LW 35:158.

 

[140] These comments were taken from notes from Robert Kolb’s lectures, “The Theology of Martin Luther.”

 

[141] Roland Bainton, Studies on the Reformation, 6-7.

 

[142] O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, 202 .Hoge’s quotation of O’Hare at this point could have included the entirety of the sentence for a firmer meaning of what O’Hare was implying.

 

[143] Martin Luther as cited in Ida Walz Blayney, The Age Of Luther (New York: Vantage Press, 1957)299. Blayney cites Luther from Dr. Martin Luther, Sammtliche Werke, Deutsche Schriften, Band 1-67; Frankfurt am Main u. Erlangen; Erste Auflage, 1826-1857. (Erl. I: 62, 133f).

 

[144]LW 54:79.

 

[145] The Table talk is a collection of comments from Luther written down by Luther’s students and friends. Thus, it is not in actuality an official writing of Luther and should not serve as the basis for interpreting his theology. Even anti-Luther Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar has pointed out, “Of course, it must not be overlooked that the Table Talks are ephemeral—‘children of the moment.’ While they correctly and vividly reproduce the ideas of the speaker, minus the cool reflection which prevails in the writing of letters and still more of books, they contain frequent exaggerations and betray a lack of moderation. The lightning-like flashes which they emit are not always true. The momentary exaggerations of the speaker at times beget contradictions which conflict with other talks or literary utterances. Frequently humorous statements were received as serious declarations. Humor and satire of a very pungent kind play a great part in these talks” [Grisar, 481].

 

[146] The editors of Luther’s Works point out:” During the last decades of the nineteenth and the early decades of the twentieth century it gradually became manifest that in spite of all his diligence and devotion and in spite of his occasionally faithful renderings into German, Aurifaber had actually obscured and distorted the Table Talk. One after another, manuscripts containing contemporary reports of Luther’s conversations were discovered in remote archives or rediscovered in libraries where they had long been overlooked.”

 

 “Questions have often been raised concerning the reliability of the reports of the Table Talk that have come down to us. Aurifaber’s version, as we have already noted, is far less trustworthy than the manuscripts that were rediscovered at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. There is no doubt that the manuscripts take us much closer to what was actually said than Aurifaber’s text does. But it is too much to claim that even the manuscripts provide us with verbatim reports” [LW 54, introductory comments].

 

[147] O’Hare citation may be taken from this: “The book of Solomon's Proverbs is a fine book, which rulers and governors should diligently read, for it contains lessons touching God's anger, wherein governors and rulers should exercise themselves .The author of the book of Ecclesiasticus preaches the law well, but he is no prophet. It is not the work of Solomon, any more than is the book of Solomon's Proverbs. They are both collections made by other people.   The third book of Esdras I throw into the Elbe; there are, in the fourth, pretty knacks enough; as, "The wine is strong, the king is stronger, women strongest of all; but the truth is stronger than all these." The book of Judith is not a history. It accords not with geography. I believe it is a poem, like the legends of the saints, composed by some good man, to the end he might show how Judith, a personification of the Jews, as God-fearing people, by whom God is known and confessed, overcame and vanquished Holofernes - that is, all the kingdoms of the world. `Tis a figurative work, like that of Homer about Troy, and that of Virgil about Aeneas, wherein is shown how a great prince ought to be adorned with surpassing valor, like a brave champion, with wisdom and understanding, great courage and alacrity, fortune, honor, and justice. It is a tragedy, setting forth what the end of tyrants is. I take the book of Tobit to be a comedy concerning women, an example for house-government. I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities. The Jews much more esteemed the book of Esther than any of the prophets; though they were forbidden to read it before they had attained the age of thirty, by reason of the mystic matters it contains. They utterly condemn Daniel and Isaiah, those two holy and glorious prophets, of whom the former, in the clearest manner, preaches Christ, while the other describes and portrays the kingdom of Christ, and the monarchies and empires of the world preceeding it. Jeremiah comes but after them. The discourses of the prophets were none of them regularly committed to writing at the time; their disciples and hearers collected them subsequently, one, one piece, another, another, and thus was the complete collection formed. When Doctor Justus Jonas had translated the book of Tobit, he attended Luther therewith, and said: "Many ridiculous things are contained in this book, especially about the three nights, and the liver of the broiled fish, wherewith the devil was scared and driven away." Whereupon Luther said: "'Tis a Jewish conceit; the devil, a fierce and powerful enemy, will not be hunted away in such sort, for he has the spear of Goliah; but God gives him such weapons, that, when he is overcome by the godly, it may be the greater terror and vexation unto him. Daniel and Isaiah are most excellent prophets. I am Isaiah - be it spoken with humility - to the advancement of God's honor, whose work alone it is, and to spite the devil. Philip Melancthon is Jeremiah; that prophet stood always in fear; even so it is with Melancthon."[ Table-Talk Of Martin Luther Translated By William Hazlitt, Esq. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society. Utterance XXIV. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/table_talk/table_talk.htm.

 

[148] O’Hare is not the only author to conclude Luther devalued Ecclesiastes: “We know that [Luther] ridiculed the Book of Ecclesiastes…” as cited in “The 40 Questions Most Frequently Asked About The Catholic Church By Non-Catholics,”(1956) authored by Nihil Obstat: Rt. Rev. William J. Cusick, D.D., P.A Censor Librorum mprimatur: + Most Rev. T. J. Toolen, D.D., LL.D., Archbishop-Bishop of Mobile-Birmingham. Available at [http://www.netacc.net/~mafg/que4006.htm.

 

[149]LW 15:10.

 

[150]LW 15:7.

 

[151] LW 35:263.

 

[152] Table-Talk Of Martin Luther Translated By William Hazlitt, Esq. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society. Utterance XXIV. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/table_talk/table_talk.htm.

 

[153]LW 33:110.

 

[154] Roger  Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Michigan: W.B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1985), 13 footnote 6

 

[155] Table-Talk Of Martin Luther Translated By William Hazlitt, Esq. Philadelphia: The Lutheran Publication Society. Utterance DXLVII. Available at: http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/table_talk/table_talk.htm.

 

[156]LW 19:36

[157] The following sermon is taken from volume VII:289-300 of The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1909 in English by The Luther Press (Minneapolis, MN), as Luther's Epistle Sermons, vol. 2. This e-text was scanned and edited by Richard P. Bucher, it is in the public domain and it may be copied and distributed without restriction.