Luther And “the Jews”: A Reappraisal (dr. Christopher J. Probst)

ChristopherProbstbodyIn his article, “Luther and ‘The Jews’: A Reappraisal” Dr. Christopher J. Probst (a visiting professor at Saint Louis University) deals with one of the most challenging and difficult issues in Christian History. How must today’s Protestant Christians understand and deal with the Anti-Jewish works and attitudes of one of their most beloved and inspirational figures – Martin Luther, the great German Reformer.

The article was authored when Dr. Probst was a Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  You are in for a great and an eye-opening read. So grab a hot cup of coffee, sit in a comfortable chair and click here.

More information about Dr. Probst’s book “Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany” is available here – http://tinyurl.com/ov8k6pe

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  1. Dorothy Wood

    I wonder…did Luther arrive at his discoveries through talented academic study of scripture, that the Church had moved far away from scriptural Divine Truth, for I struggle to see the True Enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in the ‘portait’ of Luther. Love in general seemed to be in very short supply in that era! I wonder…did he develop an instinctive distaste for the life he was leading as an RC monk, with the practices and creeds of the then RC Church to which he had given his earlier loyalty? Was it purely through study of scripture, with this distaste as the driving passion, that he discovered lost or abandoned Truths? And that this particular revulsion, deeply affecting him, caused him to overlook other powerful subjects on which Jesus taught because he was keeping his study-focus relatively narrow? – other essential teachings of Jesus such as -“Resist not evil…Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” Matt 6:39,44.
    I wonder…was the spiritual darkness so thick at that time that the Holy Spirit could not communicate Divine love to his soul but He could use Luther’s natural probing intellectual gift that he possessed. So Luther, with say – one foot of clay! – started the Reformation Wave. The fact that enlightened groups like the Lutherans were also sadly motivated to persecute others, gives me the notion that no-one completely gained the Light in that era of deep spiritual darkness where responses related to hate had much control in the human mind, especially in the bigoted religious non-spiritual mind, even in those who hit the right Path.
    To despise a nation because some of their group did evil is surely a response that is ‘anti-Christ’ and is rooted in spiritual darkness.
    How true it is that we Christians are all a work-in-process, clay on the Potter’s Wheel. King David is a classic example of one who fell badly, but true repentance brought him back into God’s Favour. We truly are vessels of clay -like Luther.
    I am new here and a non-academic. Good to meet you! Dorothy

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dorothy, welcome. You don’t need to be academic. All we ask that you would be a thinking Christian. That you are!

      I think David is a great example, but Solomon who started out good and died and old fool is not. All however is in God’s hands and he knows what he does a lot better than we do. Dr. Eli

  2. Kat Hobaugh

    Dr. Eli The articles on Luther and The Sabbath have helped to soften my heart towards different “cultures” (if that is the correct word). God wants all men to come to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

    “he nevertheless left no room for Jews as Jews” (article speaking of Luther)

    I think every day is the same to me in the Sabbath Rest because I came to Christ clueless and had very, very large problems (smile)

    God Bless,

    Kathy

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think the great thing about this blog is that people read the articles and really discuss it with each other. Lutherans, Catholics, Baptist, Messianic, etc. It takes a village! Hillary was right! 🙂 Dr. Eli

  3. Janet Henriksen

    Lutherans came from ‘Luther’, and were not in general (as there may be exceptions) much more peaceful or ready to ‘turn the other cheek’, or see the kingdom ‘as not of this world/age’ that catholicism. The Lutherans were often persecutors of other protestants who sought to follow more closely the Bible. Lutheran persecution was not limited to Anabaptists. I see nothing of the “meekness” asked in 2 Tim 2:25 in Luther. His increasing health problems would most likely be due to a mind far from peace, that may indeed have never been at peace.
    My grandfather was a practicing Lutheran and he chose to work for the German Nazi’s in WW2 when they called for labour from Denmark (In later years as an Australian and subject of the Queen he griped about how the British had behaved to the Danes in 1801 but to work for the Germans who were also enemies of Denmark shows he had no problem with them). Canada refused him citizen-ship due to knowing of his work in Germany. It is by God’s grace he was accepted by Australia..because that record went missing.
    In Australia as a young man my father followed his father as a ood church going beliving Lutheran, but after reading teh Bible a bit was casued to ask the preacher ‘why was he not teaching the Bible..?’ The preacher gave no reasonable answer and so my father gave the lot of misguided theologians the flick.. if they don’t teach the Bible, thy fall into the category of error which is more commonly to be found than truth. Let ‘every man be a liar’ so says the Bible..and let every man seek meekly whether they be in error, and never assume the great of the earth are without error.
    “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” (Rom 3:1-4)

  4. Carol Karp

    This is an interesting comment on Luther and the climate of his time in history. As a member of a “Lutheran church”, I can tell you Luthers’ anti-semism is never mentioned. If brought up by someone, the answer is he was human like everybody else. All the stated reasons are voiced. However, the strongest of Luthers’ critism is for the Catholic church, calling the church anti-Christ, full of scriptual error. Luther is considered to be an important figure in the history of impowering the common man to govern himself.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I am intrigued to see a lot of Lutherans in our Jewish Studies for Christians study group. This also should tell us something.

    2. Janet Henriksen

      Luther didn’t give much room ideologically for the common man to govern himself. The man who changed the thinking to give ‘tolerance’ and who made way for the Enlightement was the man whose followers were persecuted by the Lutherans. His name was Fausto Sozzini (Latin: Faustus Socinus). Very few know of him today.., but it was his works that inspired modern thinking that each man should seek out truth for himself and be given room to do so. The publication to change things was the set of writings “Biblioteca Fratrum Polonorum quos Unitarios vocant” 1668 in Amsterdam. Though you may not have heard of them, these set books circulated among thinkers like Isaac Newton, John Locke, Voltaire, Pierre Bayle and others including the very influential Thomas Jefferson (It may be argued that via his lead in the USA these ideas have had their furthest spread). It was not from Luther, but rather from those persecuted by the Lutherans. These people were being persecuted, in some cases to death, for beliving what they did. Their argument was ‘let us be free to believe what we know is true’ and ‘don’t let state control your religion’, which gelled strongly with the emgergence of Puritan dissent. Luther never said any such thing. He sponsored state religion, and he ripped into dissent from his position. Fausto Sozzini by contrast argued for freedom. It was about the time of Luther the first voices emerged in empowering the common man, but it was not from Luther’s writings or actions, it was from Sozzini’s writings. To underline the line of influnce via the USA and the dissent in UK and were that dissent had it’s source, even today there is a difference between the very uniform Lutheran Denmark where there is some state oontrol, though church has mostly been separated from state, and the freedom and attitude of the Lutherans in the USA.

      1. Janet Henriksen

        As a note to how influential the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum was in Britain, in April 1652 the English Parliament voted to “seise and burn all copies” of it. Clearly there were more than 2 or 3 copies as dissent had multiplied via printed publications. In 1653 Cromwell dissolved that same Parliament. One issue Cromwell was seeking the Parliament to back was ‘liberty of conscience’.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Very interesting, Janet. Any other Luther scholars out there that would like to give their feedback?

  5. Andrew More

    As a lifelong Lutheran, a graduate of a Lutheran seminary, and a teacher of Lutheran doctrine and theology to both adults and youth, I will be the first to say that Martin Luther was not Jesus, nor Paul, nor an apostle, nor one of the early church fathers. Luther lived at a volatile time in the church (much by his own causing), a crossroads of sorts where Luther felt so convicted that he was willing to put his life at stake for his passion for the gospel and his intepretation of the Christian faith. Luther’s bold proclamation of justification by grace through faith alone sent shock waves through the church of the 16th century, and they are still being felt today!

    Luther was a faithful servant of the church, and a tireless scholar, writer, and theologian, but he was far from perfect, and there are certainly places in his theology where he goes to far for me. Luther’s polemical attitude toward the Jews is certainly an example of that in my opinion. I think that Luther missed the boat here, and was simply wrong. If often causes me to wonder, how many Jews of his own day did Luther know? How well did he truly understand Judaism and ancient Jewish culture and history. How was someone who was so fluent in the original language of scripture misunderstand the very words he was interpreting and translating when it talks about “the Jews”?

    While Luther was a brilliant scholar and theologian, his areas of expertise still had limits. I disagree with the beloved Luther in other places as well. For example, Luther completely misinterpreted what James was referring to in James 2:17 when he writes “faith without works is dead”. Luther interpreted the word for “works” in the context of something that contributes to a person’s salvation. James was referring to “works” as the expression of a life of faith (sanctification), not as a basis for getting into heaven (salvation). Luther unfairly referred to James as the epistle of straw.

    Another place where I disagree with Luther is his assessment and attitude towards the Book of Revelation. Here Luther seems to have failed to grasp the significance of the context of writing – eg as apocalyptic literature written to a community facing persecution. Luther would have left the writing out of the canon of scripture if it were up to him. I’m glad it wasn’t up to him!

    Yes, Luther gave us the 95 Theses which highlighted and confronted the abuses of the Catholic Church in his age. Yes, Luther translated the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation, into German from the original Hebrew and Greek. He also made some good beer apparently.

    I can say without hesitation that Luther is not deified or even considered a saint in the Lutheran community. Even in seminary, we were able to note Luther’s shortcomings, including his unfortunate attitute toward the Jews. Luther is considered by many as a person who helped to rouse the church of his day from slavish dependence on the institutional hierarchy of the church, and led people back into scripture as the sole source and norm for Christian faith.

    His contributions to the church were and still are enormous. Still he was just one man, and an imperfect one at that. Just because Luther had an opinion, that does not mean that all Lutherans today subscribe blindly to everything he said and wrote.

    It is important to note that the unofficial rallying cry of the protestant reformation, “Grace Alone! Faith Alone! Scripture Alone!” does not include the phrase “Luther alone!”

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Anyone would like to take one of my favorite contributors on? 🙂 Thanks, Andrew for your comment.