Martin Luther and the question of anti-Semitism



Romans 11

25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

28 Concerning the gospel they are  enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy.  32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!

34 “For who has known the mind of theLord?
Or who has become His counselor?”
35 “Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”

36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.


This subject must be addressed for the sake of truth and justice, and because it is critical to giving the Gospel – our Gospel and Luther’s – a hearing in our day, especially after the Shoah (Holocaust) and because of the sensitivity of our nation and world to prejudice and its consequences.


The Unquenchable Flame

discovering the heart of the Reformation

Michael Reeves

Luther and the Jews

“What probably turns more people away from Luther than anything else is his tract On the Jews and Their Lies. Trumpeted and used as traditional German virtue by the Nazis in the twentieth century, and displayed in a glass case at the Nuremberg rallies, it is enough for many to dismiss Luther as an odious anti-Semite, and all his theology as fatally tainted. Undoubtedly it contains horrible material that one wishes he had died before writing. However, not only was it written long after his Reformation breakthrough, after a change of heart toward the Jews (meaning that it is entirely inappropriate to tar all his theology with its brush), but also, the caricature is a distortion. There was no racism involved.

In 1523 he wrote That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, a critique of the common mistreatment of Jews by Christians. He dedicated it to a converted Jew he had befriended, whom he would later support financially and whose son he would house at great personal cost. Over the years, though, he detected what he saw as a hardness of heart in the unbelieving Jews, in that they refused to acknowledge that their own Scriptures pointed them clearly to Christ. Finally stung into action by some virulent Jewish apologetics that attacked Christianity, in 1542 he wrote On the Jews and Their Lies. In it he argued, first, that being children of Abraham was always a spiritual matter, not one of genetics;  he then went on to show from the Old Testament that Jesus must be the promised Christ; only then did he move on to his notorious set of recommendations. While he condemned personal acts of vengeance he argued that then-standard blasphemy laws should be applied to the Jews, making their religion criminal. As such, Jewish synagogues and houses should be destroyed as dangerous hotbeds of blasphemy; and, along with other blasphemers, the Jews themselves should be expelled.

It is hard for a modern audience, not only to avoid reading later racial anti-Semitism into such unpleasant material, but also to understand that these were, at the time, standard measures taken against heretics. Luther was arguing for the powers of the state to be applied to uphold Christianity. And, while his recommendations are repulsive, they had not come from a lack of spiritual concern. Concluding the work, he wrote: ‘May Christ, our dear Lord, convert them mercifully and preserve us steadfastly and immovably in the knowledge of him, which is eternal life. Amen.’


 

8 thoughts on “Martin Luther and the question of anti-Semitism

  1. Excellent post. I just finished reading Ken Follett’s Column of Fire. The 1500’s really struggled with the concept of religious tolerance. England, France, and Spain were burning Protestants at the stake…until the reign of Queen Elizabeth started in England.
    I think this actually makes a strong apologetic case for the design origin of the Bible and the life-script of Jesus Christ. The gospel message that went out from Jerusalem through the early church…filled with the Holy Spirit and the teaching and example of Jesus…had religious tolerance baked-in as persuasion and a life-changing witness were the means for successful evangelism.
    Mankind lost that big-time at the start of the Reformation. The apologetic argument is how was Jesus and the early church so far ahead of the curve…unless this had a divine component?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barton, I couldn’t remember and had to research the book you referenced, Column of Fire. I haven’t read it but it sounds interesting and well written. Studying the sixteenth century has been a joy for me – my husband and I both read mostly non-fiction. I see the Reformation as God’s work and will and am very grateful, especially as a former Catholic. I believe it rivaled or paralleled apostolic times in such ways as purity of doctrine, evangelism, and suffering.

      Thank you so much for a very interesting comment!

      Like

  2. Thanks, Maria. Critics of Luther (including Catholics) point to his anti-Semitism, but in this matter he was a product of his times. Anti-Semitism was a standard of belief and practice within Roman Catholicism for one-thousand years prior to Luther. Judge Anthony Sciolino, a Roman Catholic deacon, wrote a good book on the pervasive anti-Semitism within Catholicism in “The Holocaust, the Church, and the Law of Unintended Consequences: How Christian Anti-Judaism Spawned Nazi Anti-Semitism.”
    https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/catholic-church-celebrates-50th-anniversary-of-nostra-aetate-but-lets-not-forget-its-anti-semitic-past/

    Liked by 1 person

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