Friday, March 16, 2007

Speaking Of Luther And The Jews...

Here's one view:

Luther initially preached tolerance towards the Jewish people, convinced that the reason they had never converted to Christianity was that they were discriminated against, or had never heard the Gospel of Christ. However, after his overtures to Jews failed to convince Jewish people to adopt Christianity, he began preaching that the Jews were set in evil, anti-Christian ways, and needed to be expelled from German politics. In his On the Jews and Their Lies, he repeatedly quotes the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus called them "a brood of vipers and children of the devil"

Luther was zealous toward the Gospel, and he wanted to protect the people of his homeland from the Jews who he believed would be harmful influences since they did not recognize Jesus as their Saviour. In Luther's time, parents had a right and a duty to direct their children's marriage choices in respect to matters of faith. Likewise, Luther felt a duty to direct his German people to cling to the Jesus the Jews did not accept. It should be noted that church law was superior to civil law in Luther's day and that law said the penalty of blasphemy was death. When Luther called for the deaths of certain Jews, he was merely asking that the laws that were applied to all other Germans also be applied to the Jews. The Jews were exempt from the church laws that Christians were bound by, most notably the law against charging interest.

If I recall, that is more or less what Dad (of "Dad's Blog" fame) has told me before? Perhaps that is the official Missouri Synod position? In our politically correct day and age, though, one can't help but admit that some of Luther's language sure sounds a bit harsh to these modern ears. If you're interested in the exact language, I'm afraid I'll just have to let you seek that out yourself...

UPDATE: Should've known a simple bit of googling would do the deed. The LCMS position:

While The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod holds Martin Luther in high esteem for his bold proclamation and clear articulation of the teachings of Scripture, it deeply regrets and deplores statements made by Luther which express a negative and hostile attitude toward the Jews. In light of the many positive and caring statements concerning the Jews made by Luther throughout his lifetime, it would not be fair on the basis of these few regrettable (and uncharacteristic) negative statements, to characterize the reformer as "a rabid anti-Semite." The LCMS, however, does not seek to "excuse" these statements of Luther, but denounces them (without denouncing Luther's theology). In 1983, the Synod adopted an official resolution addressing these statements of Luther and making clear its own position on anti-Semitism. The text of this resolution reads as follows...

I have to admit, I generally do believe there is some validity to needing to understand things in historical context; so, not being entirely versed in the subject, I'm not exactly sure how I feel about a simple, outright condemnation of Luther's "regrettable" words. Certainly, in our modern context, with our modern understandings, the "regrettable" words are something that absolutely could not be defended if said today - but I'm not 100% convinced there isn't some kernel of validity to the above-quoted explanation of the historical context.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is that a simple "condemnation" of the words, without adequate understanding of the historical context, in some way seems to imply that Luther would hold similarly "regrettable" views if he were around today, and I'm not sure that's true. Or, at least, he would probably explain his views differently.

[Cross-posted at the IOP.]

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