Was Martin Luther Anti-Semitic? How Could He Love Jesus And Hate Jews? Aren't All Lutherans Nazis?

I suppose it would be easy for non-Lutherans to find many reasons to ignore what it is we believe, teach, and confess as Lutherans.

I think back to the time before I became a "Confessional Lutheran" (when I was just a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only") and remember how I abhorred anything at all that even remotely smelled like denominational loyalty.

In fact, I even went so far as to say that "All Denominations Are The Problem In Christianity!" without realizing what I was saying when the truth of the matter is that Christ's Church isn't really a church unless it confesses something, and that's why a confession of a particular church body actually means something and has value (um, the three Ecumenical Creeds anyone?).

Come to think of it, I used to apologize for being a Lutheran. Imagine that! It was like I always had to give a disclaimer of sorts whenever the subject of faith and religion came up in conversation ("Well, yes, I'm a Lutheran, but let's just say I'm a Christian instead since denominations are so divisive and I'm really only a Lutheran because I was raised that way, and...").

What is it we read in the Bible?


1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV) 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.


Whenever I think of those verses, I think about how it's important to not only know what you believe, but why you believe it.
It goes deeper than that though. It also means that you shouldn't be afraid of questions from other people who are either non-believers or who are new believers.

That's why I was pleased to have received this reply from a man who wrote to me years ago when I had my other blog (and long before I was a Confessional Lutheran). I just discovered that his email through Facebook had sat there unnoticed for years!

So, I thought I should respond and point him to my new website that will explain how I went from being a staunch Premillennialist (a.k.a. "Left Behind Blood Moons Guy") to a staunch Amillennialist (a.k.a. "Jesus Can Return For Us At Any Time And Doesn't Need X,Y, And Z To Happen First Guy"), especially since his original message was asking me about something I had written about the Tribulation and Great Tribulation.

Anyway, here was his humble reply and question to me once he learned I was now a Lutheran...


Hi, Jeff. I'd forgotten about contacting you and who knows how these cyber space communications go. Somehow we don't expect them to be at the speed of snail mail. Ha! I popped over to your blog and read a bit. I have a question and I truly do not want you to hear any 'snark' in it because there isn't any there. But I've been wanting to ask a Lutheran this question for a long time and don't want to ask any Lutheran friends for fear of creating a division in a friendship over just asking the friendship. It seems safer to ask you. So here goes. What do you do with the virulently anti-Semitic statements of Martin Luther? He was right about many, perhaps even most, things. But his comments about the Jews are beyond wicked. What say you?


How could I argue with that? I mean, who reading this hasn't had to deal with that common criticism and objection before? I know I have! In fact, I've battled that knowledge myself when I first became a Lutheran too.

Is it really true that Martin Luther was Anti-Semitic? If so, then how could he profess to truly love Jesus Christ, and yet, hate the Jews? Jesus was a Jew, wasn't He? By the way, aren't all Lutherans Nazis then since Adolf Hitler was a German Christian like Martin Luther was?

What do we say to people who bring up questions like that? How do we answer them honestly without seeming like we're avoiding or dodging their legitimate questions?

I thought about that and offered up this on-the-spot answer...


Please don't ever feel like you can't ask me any questions like this. Besides, it's a FANTASTIC one and one I've asked myself. In short, I would always simply acknowledge that Martin Luther was a wretched sinner just like you and me and have admitted that he was disgustingly wrong about that. At the same time, as I've looked into it more and more my opinion about that has changed somewhat. The best, briefest, and yet, most comprehensive thoughtful response I could give you would be this excellent discussion on the subject including several additional links in the Comments Section if you'd like to go deeper with it (http://steadfastlutherans.org/2012/12/steadfast-media-pick-of-the-week-was-luther-anti-semitic/). I hope you find it as helpful as I did. Grace and peace to you and yours, especially during this Holy Week!


The resource I was referring to is an excellent discussion on none other than Issues, Etc. from way back in 2004, which has become my go-to tool to help me answer such questions.


 
Was Martin Luther Anti-Semitic? 
Uwe Siemon-Netto argues against the notion that Martin Luther was anti-Semitic. He argues that while Luther wrote some unfortunate things later in life they need to be understood in the context of the times and his life.


As one person pointed out in the Comments Section...


The Issues, Etc. interview with Uwe Siemon-Netto was on October 29, 2004. Earlier that year, in his article, “Luther And The Jews” (The Lutheran Witness, Vol. 123 No. 4, April, 2004, pp. 16-19), Uwe Siemon-Netto answered the question this way:


“So he [Luther] was an anti-Semite after all, wasn’t he? He was not. Anti-Semites are racists, and racists appeared on the scene much later in history—after the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Luther did not think of Jews in ethnic terms; his bias was religious. Just before his death he admonished the princes to treat converts from Judaism as brethren.”

On p. 17 of the linked article is a box giving “The Synod’s Response” from their Q&A column for October 1994. The current LCMS response to the question, “What is the Missouri Synod’s response to the anti-Semitic statements made by Luther?”, can be seen in “LCMS Views – Contemporary Issues: Luther’s anti-Semitism” (pp. 13-14). In The Cresset, Michaelmas 2012 (Vol LXXVI, No. 1, pp 54-55) Darrell Jodock has a review of Gritsch’s 2012 book, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism. In his review Jodock explains the difference between the “anti-Semitism” used by Gritsch and the “anti-Judaic” concept used by Luther (and Siemon-Netto):

For the author [Gritsch], “anti-Semitism” is essentially an irrational hatred of, hostility toward, or prejudice against the Jews. Because Luther’s stance went beyond a calm theological judgment, Gritsch quite understandably dismisses the claim of some other scholars that Luther was “anti-Judaic” rather than “anti-Semitic” But Gritsch’s exclusive reliance on the concept of “anti-Semitism” obscures an important distinction between “anti-Judaism” and “anti-Semitism.” To be sure, the two concepts overlap, and the effects of one are not necessarily less serious than the effects of the other, but the distinction is still helpful. “Anti-Judaism” operates in a religious framework. It rejects the validity of a religion—of Judaism. In Luther’s case, it involved supersessionism, the idea that Christianity had superseded Judaism and that the latter was a thing of the past. This theological basis remained constant; it was present in 1523 as well as in 1543. On the other hand, modern anti-Semitism has a racial basis. For it, Jews are a malignant presence in society, whether they are religiously observant or not. For anti-Judaism, a Jew who converts ceases to be a problem. For anti-Semitism, a Jew who converts is still a Jew. My purpose is not to “save” Luther from the charge of anti-Semitism, but to argue that the distinction between “anti-Judaism” and “anti-Semitism” is useful when understanding what undergirded Luther’s position and when sorting out its relationship to the Holocaust. Even if he misinterprets the Scriptures, Luther bases his arguments on the Bible rather than racial theory. By contrast, Nazi anti-Semites claimed the support of nineteenth-century racial interpretations of history and early twentieth-century biological science. This shift mattered, because, in the end, removing “the malignancy” was only possible with “the final solution.”


Now, all of those resources alone should provide you with enough meat to chew on regarding this topic, but if you want more, then here's what Rev. Martin R. Noland added when he shared his own perspective, which is extremely helpful I think.


Second, Lutherans need to realize that this topic is one of several “obstacles” to the Lutheran faith for many Americans. We need to learn how to speak intelligently to this subject when it comes up in conversation. Many Americans equate “Nazi” with “Lutheran.” 
Third, I was recently asked to do a similar topic for KFUO. My interview covers more information about the Lutheran church in Germany in the Nazi era, based on the recent book by Lowell Green published by CPH, but also covers similar ground as Dr. Siemon-Netto with respect to Luther. The results are available here: http://www.kfuoam.org/2012/12/08/studio-a-41/ 
Fourth, the present issue of LOGIA is titled “Luther and Anti-Semitism.” It has several excellent articles on the subject and few book reviews on the topic too. You may obtain a single issue here: http://www.logia.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=164:lutheranismaanti-semitism&catid=25:latest


Like I said, I think the hyperlinks and resources shared above provides anyone with more than enough historical information to make a fair and honest assessment unlike the kind I made when I just believed what everyone else was saying about all of this.

There are so many more links to articles and books in the Comments Section of that original resource I referenced so please be sure to spend some time looking through them all.

For me, I was surprised to discover that both C.F.W. Walther and Franz Pieper firmly opposed Jewish propaganda, but rather sought to present the Jews with the Gospel.

What in the world does that mean? Simply that (as one Christian put it)...


"...he wanted to restore the Messianic heritage to Israel..." is what I was trying to get at, albeit, badly done. I agree, sometimes, I think we tend to forget how to speak to others from different faiths. Basic understandings of theirs and what they will leave behind and what will happen if they do, sometimes, gets lost.


There's the key distinction!

See, whenever this topic comes up, it usually involves someone charging Martin Luther with being something he's not. Please allow me to explain.

Being "Anti-Semitic" has EVERYTHING to do with hating, being prejudiced against, and/or discriminating against Jews as a cultural, ethnic, national, and/or racial group.

Yet, the argument that is often made is not the most accurate, because Martin Luther did not hate the Jews because of their culture, ethnicity, nationality, and/or race.

Martin Luther hated the Jews, was prejudiced against them, and discriminated against them because of their religion. That's a VERY IMPORTANT distinction that always seems to get lost in this discussion.

What is so often ignored, however, is that Luther uses the very same harsh terms that he wrote about the Jews with Romanists (Catholics), Turks (Muslims), and other unrepentant (if not the pagan) as well.

Now, I say all of that not to excuse and/or justify Luther. After all, he obviously considered the Jews his "enemies" (much like the unrepentant Romanists and Turks too), but what does the Word of God say about how we should always treat our enemies?


Matthew 5:43-47 (ESV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?"


That's just one example that makes it quite obvious how a Christian should respond to their enemies (and we haven't even looked at 1 John 3:15 either!), but Martin Luther was a wretched sinner just like the rest of us, and he clearly struggled in this area.

By the same token, we shouldn't act as if Luther's seemingly Anti-Semitic words aren't hurtful (or viewed as being "sinful" by others even), but we should know enough to intelligently discuss this topic with other people who ask us about it instead of running from it like it's the plague, IMHO.

We should be able to make the distinction in our minds that Martin Luther was a preacher who preached the Law and Gospel to sinners like the non-believing, unrepentant Jews, and so his words are no more "despicable" or "vile" -- from a religious and spiritual perspective -- as they would be if preached to any other group of non-believing, unrepentant people.

This is probably going too far off on a tangent here, but we might also want to prayerfully consider how his writings about the Jews could easily apply to any group of false teachers and how we are to react and respond to them according to what God's Word has to say.

We haven't really looked at any of the things Luther wrote that regularly gets people so worked up about his sentiments toward the Jews, but let's continue to try to approach this topic with a continued measure of balance.

For instance, how soon we forget that Luther was merely responding to rumors of Jewish efforts to convert Christians, which no doubt upset him greatly, and so he wrote a treatise venting his frustration. As a layman blogger who has treated this blog as a sort of "digital diary" when attacking and exposing the false teachers in my life, I can relate to not only how that feels, but how sometimes I wish I didn't write a piece and publish it against my better judgment and in the heat of the moment.

Furthermore, Luther did not hold Jews responsible for the death of Christ like a lot of Anti-Semitic Christians (yes, those kinds exist!) do. As he wrote in a hymn: "We dare not blame … the band of Jews; ours is the shame." Plus, he felt that at least a few Jews might be won for Christ.

Again, maybe it's just me and you think I'm being insanely naive here, but the more I've looked into this debate and the more I study it, the more I come away thinking that Luther was treating them all as false teachers and doing his best (as a saint and a sinner simultaneously) to react and respond to them the way God intends for us to.

Case in point, he believed that rabbinic teaching was madness and blindness that blasphemed the Holy Trinity. Luther could not "have any fellowship or patience with obstinate [Jewish] blasphemers and those who defame this dear Savior." Besides, blasphemy was a civil crime back then too. To allow it to continue, Luther feared, meant Christians would share in the guilt for it.

At the same time, I must admit that there's still quite a bit that he wrote against the Jews (particularly right before his death) that I personally can't excuse, justify, or explain except to say that it was flat out hateful, ignorant, and wrong for him to do so.

I just keep thinking how I hope that all of my published writings over the years online aren't examined like this one day. Not likely, but I know I'll still have to give an account for them and that's what always serves as my guiding force in this space (Romans 14:11-12; Matthew 12:36-37; James 3:1).

I don't like what Luther wrote about the Jews, it certainly makes me uncomfortable and can be a stumbling block to non-believers and non-Lutherans alike, but I do understand it.

It was deeply emotional and personal for him insofar as that he loved the truth and his Lord and Savior so much that he was willing to vehemently attack those who rejected the truth and the Truth Himself in any way (like the Jews, Romanists, Turks did), and it wasn't because they (the Jews) looked any different than he did.

I hope you don't take my word for it though. Please listen to the audio linked above, search through some of the books and publications, and then make a final decision. Don't be like I was and just believe it because if everyone's saying it then it must be true.

It's like how some people will try to tell you that Adolf Hitler was a Christian because he professed to be one. They then want to blame Germany's Martin Luther for "laying the foundation" that Hitler used to start World War II and eventually murder millions of Jews.

By that logic, I guess we should also conclude that the Muslims in the world today and the leaders of a nation state like Iran must surely be Lutherans then, because they want to wipe all traces of Israel and the Jewish people off the face of the map too. See what I mean?

In a Lutheran layman's terms, Martin Luther was not an Anti-Semite in the racist sense. His arguments against Jews were theological, not biological. 



NOTE: I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or a Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this note, I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little over a year ago. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and point us back to) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Finally, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote on this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). In addition, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries. I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a dude's diary in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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2 comments:

  1. This is a twisted and weird attempt to whitewash Luther's anti-Semitism. It's ignoring the elephant in the room. Why bother? The truth is so much easier on the brain.

    From "On the Jews and their Lies":

    What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice:

    First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. For whatever we tolerated in the past unknowingly ­ and I myself was unaware of it ­ will be pardoned by God. But if we, now that we are informed, were to protect and shield such a house for the Jews, existing right before our very nose, in which they lie about, blaspheme, curse, vilify, and defame Christ and us (as was heard above), it would be the same as if we were doing all this and even worse ourselves, as we very well know.

    Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.

    Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them. (remainder omitted)

    Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor Jews captive with the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 17 [:10 ff.]) in which he commands them to obey their teachers on penalty of death, although Moses clearly adds: "what they teach you in accord with the law of the Lord." Those villains ignore that. They wantonly employ the poor people's obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy. In the same way the pope also held us captive with the declaration in Matthew 16 {:18], "You are Peter," etc, inducing us to believe all the lies and deceptions that issued from his devilish mind. He did not teach in accord with the word of God, and therefore he forfeited the right to teach.

    Fifth, I advise that safe­conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside, since they are not lords, officials, tradesmen, or the like. Let they stay at home. (...remainder omitted).

    etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It amazes me that anyone can read Luther’s “The Jews and Their Lies” and not realize that he was anti-Semitic /anti-Judaic. It does not matter how great his teachings in other areas might be, on this it is very clear cut. To work, pray and wish for conversion is one thing, to promote burning homes, destroying places of worship and enslaving people is hatred.
    I also find it interesting that he did not promote these same horrible steps to Christians that didn’t believe the same way he did.
    I am not Lutheran but I don’t believe I would be ashamed to be one because Luther was anti-Semitic. And because he was does not mean all or any Lutherans are. I believe his hateful rhetoric is horrible and was termodoulously destructive to a lot of people, but it does not negate any/all good that he did.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with...Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all mature spiritually (myself included) then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!